October 6, 2010

Why I Can't

"Don't touch that!" I heard a woman exclaim as I sat in my office. "Don't touch that!" she said again. I got up from my chair and went to see what she was talking about. Our waiting room is pretty basic and there isn't much that I would consider not kid friendly.

As I peered around the door I was greeted with a red kool-aid stained lipped smile. She had to be about four. Half of her hair held neon bright colored bow barrettes holding braids in place. The other half was not braided and resembled much of what my hair looks like when I wake up in the morning. Her jean shorts fell off of her and her shirt was definitely a bib for her kool-aid.

Mom quickly replied "sorry" when she saw me and started to go into an explanation about her daughter touching things. I reached out and touched Mom's arm and said "no worries."

She looked at me and started to say something else and I assured her that all was well. "Well, when you have kids you'll know what I mean," she had to say as she looked me over.

I hesitated for a second as I stood there standing in a black business dress, with a gold necklace, rings, bracelet, and shiny heeled shoes. My hair styled and make-up just right. Really I felt fake as I presented an image of being perfectly put together.

"Actually..." I began to say. I wanted to tell her I do have three kids and I am just like any other parent, especially when out in public with my kids. That last night at mini golf my kids ran all over the course and threw their golf balls in the water and bushes. And my kids often bare their own food stained faces and clothes, but somehow I could not say this.

So instead I asked her how I could help her. She went into a sad, sad story and I helped her in every way that I could.

Often I try to be empathetic to those that we serve. Often I feel as though I fail. I remember during my first interview at UMI 11 years ago being told that "You can't save everyone." No I can't save everyone, but that does not mean I cannot try in every way that I can to help as many as I can. There are just too many people in this world who need help and are hurting and too many of us do nothing.

I am reminded of this daily.

And when I watch a little girl and her mom leave and the little girl turns around, looks at me with her deep brown eyes, one hand holding up her shorts and the other waving goodbye, I know I cannot stop trying to save everyone. I just can't.

Blessings of a Man

A few months ago I met a man. He appeared in my office door wearing a brown short sleeve T-shirt tucked into his jeans, a brown belt, and mud stained work boots. He was clean-shaven and wore glasses. His eyes were light brown, almost mirroring his shirt.

He took a few steps into my office and I offered him a seat. He shook his head no instead choosing to stand with his right hand holding the back of the chair.

His left hand twitched a little as he starting talking to me. In the course of his dialog, I watched his left hand clench and release, clench and release, over and over. His right hand remained placed on the back of the chair, almost as though he needed the support.

I sat in silence as he story progressed from mildly upset to angry to angrier to hatred for the world. And then with his left hand he reached up and took his glasses off. Almost simultaneously his right hand reached up and he covered his eyes.

The silence in the room was deafening.

I watched as his mud stained work boots moved towards me and when he sat down in the chair I breathed. His shoulders sank as he rested his hands in his lap, left hand still clutching his glasses, and he looked at me as he began weeping.

"I am sorry," was all I could muster up to say. I could find no words that seemed sufficient and was too paralyzed to embrace him.

He looked defeated.

Over the last several months he became a regular visitor of mine, in the beginning he would come in to yell (and always later coming in to apologize), then he started stopping in just to say hello, and then he would come in and share his dreams with me.

I learned in the past few weeks that he is planning to leave. In the midst of all the bad it turns out that he actually had some good things happening to him. It took several years and lots of paperwork, but he is now able to be self sufficient and begin the adventure of working towards his dreams.

He stopped by on Monday to tell me he is leaving this week and wanted to show me the car he had bought. I watched as his eyes danced with excitement as he shared with me his story of purchasing his car. His joy was contagious.

After oohing and aahing over his car, he looked at me with his light brown eyes and said, "I wanted to make sure that I came to see you one last time. You have no idea how much you helped me. You are a blessing and I want you to know that."

For a moment we stood there staring at each other, comfortable in the silence, and our first conversation flashed through my mind. He hugged me goodbye and left. I watched him out of my office window as he crossed the street and got into his car.

And my eyes filled with tears and my heart was happy and I shouted to him, "No you are the blessing."

Pure Sweetness Moments

I first heard the scuffing of feet before they caught my eye as they passed my table at the restaurant. An elderly couple was slowly making their way to the bathroom.

He supported her by holding her left hand and she assisted by using a cane with her right. I watched and snapped a photo because it is these pure sweetness moments that often take my breath away.

Shortly after Cassidy informed me, and half of the restaurant, that she had to go potty. So I took her.

He was sitting on the bench just outside the bathroom, waiting. Cassidy and I entered the bathroom and I immediately saw the woman sitting on the toilet, as her bathroom stall door hung half way open. Trying to avoid Cassidy commenting I quickly ushered her into the nearest stall.

As we were washing Cassidy's hands, the woman came out of the bathroom. I watch her left arm shake as she slowly moved her cane with her right hand. It took everything in me to stand there and not help her.

Finally she made her way to the sink next to us and set her cane down. She washed only her right hand. I placed a paper towel in her right hand and smiled. She quietly said "thank you" while scrunching up the paper towel in her right hand.

Cassidy and I turned to leave and I held the door for her. "Why are you doing that?" Cassidy asked me. "To be nice," I said. Her husband smiled at us and said "Thank you," as he stood up and took his wife's left hand in his.

I watched them as they walked out of the restaurant while thinking about their story--How did they meet?, did they have kids?, what happened to her left hand?-- but knowing that whatever their story contained, it surely contained love.

Thoughts on Love

In July 1999 I was sitting next to Ben when he looked at me and told me he loved me for the first time. I stared into his eyes and replied, “There are a lot of kinds of love. What kind are you talking about?” Definitely not what he was hoping to hear.

C.S. Lewis, Dr. Gary Chapman, and others write about the different kinds of love and love languages. After reading such books I started to categorize and try to understand love. Sadly this over analyzing of emotion led me to minimalize love and miss giving and receiving it.

Today I look and see love all around. From the little girl who stopped to hug the crossing guard this morning to the man who I watched reach up and tuck a wisp of his lover’s stray hair back into place. From the secret glances across the restaurant from a couple who just started dating to the woman who shyly smiled and blushed after reading a text.

Small simple acts, yet so tender.

I admit I am a hopeless romantic and I may glorify the acts I spy, but it is much more exciting to view such moments through the lenses of love. It heightens the senses and makes such small gestures grand and more passionate and simply beautiful.

I am lucky to not only see love but to feel loved. From dancing in the moonlight to sticky kisses from my daughter. From a stranger embracing me to an unexpected message from a friend. Simple unplanned without expectation moments.

I think we get wrapped up in trying to find the narrowed down version of love we create that we miss the pure raw moments that surround us. Love is not something that fits neatly into a definition and that is what makes it so special.

Yes, there are still many kinds of love, but the greatest discovery lies in not understanding love, but seeing it, touching it, and sharing it ---daily.

Singing in the Rain to John

“Happy Birthday John!” the male caller exclaimed. “I have waited so long to be able to say that to you!" The excitement loudly radiated from his voice that I almost jumped out of my chair and starting singing Happy Birthday.

As I sit in my office, door open, I often get the luxury of overhearing one side of many phone conversations. We provide the use of a telephone for specified purposes. Although those specified purposes often end up broken and I end up with daily entertainment. Today included the deep suave voice of the male caller asking, “Hey baby, how ya feeling after last night?”; the high pitch laughter of the female caller, “I can’t believe you hit him with a frying pan”; and the hushed sobering voice of a man to his mother, “Mom, please can you send me some money.”

It does amaze me what phone conversations people will hold in public. I never ask about their phone conversations, although judging from what I hear on my end his partner is feeling pretty good, hitting him with a frying pan was the right thing to do, and his mom is not going to send money.

But birthday boy John got me and I had to ask. And John, well he is “very, very happy, because Dad was able to call him this year---today, today on his birthday!”

My own excitement for Dad and John literally warmed my heart. Add that to my love of celebrating birthdays (well celebrating anything really) and I am compelled to follow the wonderfully wild idea that I have. So I am going to go outside, in the rain, and twirl and spin and sing Happy Birthday.

Happy birthday John! Happy Birthday to you!

Gratitude Reminders

"Hey Miss Sarah,” his familiar voice echoed before he appeared in my door. Slipping my shoes back on my feet, I spin around in my chair to greet him. “It has been awhile Joseph,” I smile and say as I look him over. “You look good!” I say to my surprise and his, and he does. A buzz cut crowns his head and a littler more than stubble accents his pink colored lips. His eyes beam clear white and he skin is clean with a sun kissed glow. He looks good.

I question him about his seizures, and social security, and drinking, and medications. He smiles and answers about each topic. He then begins to tell me about the poison ivy he was recently exposed to. “You know I have moved Miss Sarah. I moved from living under the bridge to a tent. When I was clearing out my area I got the poison ivy.” I make the appropriate I am sorry face, when really I am covering up my own emotion.

He continues, “I have a nice tent, four sleeping bags, more clothes than I need, a coffee pot, and a solar shower. Oh yeah, coffee too.”

I smile and ask questions. I truly am interested and excited for him, yet in the back of my head I see the granite countertop kitchen with stainless steel appliances in the house I recently looked at.

I drift back to the conversation, as Joseph is explaining to me how his solar shower works. “And if you just heat about a gallon of water that is enough to keep the shower warm. I get wet, turn the shower off, soap up, turn the shower back on, and then rinse off.” Again my mind takes me out of the conversation to the burning hot shower I lingered in this morning.

Our conversation then turns toward the photos in my office and I can tell he is ready to leave. “Well Joseph, it seems like you have had a few good months. It is good to see you. Keep me updated,” I reply. “I will Miss Sarah,” I hear as he walks down the hall.

Gratitude reminders.

I will be the first to admit that I have been blessed with a lot in my life, but I have also worked hard, and learned some things the hard way, to be at this point in my life. Yet I will never take for granted all that I have.

Gratitude reminders. We all need them from time-to-time.

Thanks Joseph for my gratitude reminder today.

March 4, 2010

Losing My Religion

I get frustrated when you ask someone about their beliefs and they rattle off what their denomination believes. I have done a lot of reading in the past few years to help discover what it is that I believe and to detox myself from denominational beliefs.

In my reading I recall someone mentioning that often Christians know more about what their denomination believes than what the Bible says. Perhaps they can state the 10 core beliefs of their denomination, but can they recite 10 Bible verses?

I am not saying we do not need help interpreting the Bible because we do, and I have sat in the midst of some great Bible teachers. But it bothers me when we start minimizing verses in the Bible to condemn others. We are told not to judge, lest we be judged, but how many times do we judge others.... even when they are sitting in the pew in front of us in church.

I have been judged because I wore jeans to help out in a children's program at a church. I have been judged because I am a mother who works full-time outside the home. I have been judged because I run on the Sabbath. I was judged because I had a belly ring. And I suppose I will be judged because I have a tattoo. And I have judged others.

I think the wake-up moment came to me when each Sunday I would stand in front of my closet and fret over what to wear to church-- It had to be a skirt or dress. Then one day it hit me... God does not care what I wear to church. God does not care if I have two earrings or five. God does not care if I have brown or pink hair. God does not care what my outward appearance looks like at all.

God wants me to have a relationship with Him. He looks at my heart.

I am not sure if what I said above makes any sense, but below is something that gets to the core of it for me.

(Written by D. Hall)

Religion is simply "a form of worship." Some confuse religion with Christianity. Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son. God loves each and every one of us and is reaching out to us through His Son. (Heb. 1:1,2)

Once we believe and receive the Son of God, we are free to worship God any way we wish, within Godly parameters. James said that if we want "religion," a form of worship which is acceptable to God, go and take care of the orphans and widows. (James 1:27)

Jesus said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." ( John 3:17) Jesus Christ came to bring salvation to the unworthy, to sinners, and it is not based upon a person's religious denomination, theology, or good works. (1 Tim. 1:15; Isa. 64:6)

Some religious groups claim that salvation is exclusive with them, and only those in their religion will be saved. Truth is that God's salvation is available to all who come to Him. He excludes no one and He doesn't deal exclusively with one group, organization, or religion. He deals with individuals.

No religion has eternal life or salvation to give to anyone and there is not one word in the Bible which even implies that we can get eternal life through a religion or that we must go through a religion to get to God. During this era of grace, salvation is contingent on our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son, and nothing else.

No one will be saved and receive eternal life without believing and receiving Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only WAY to God, He is the only TRUTH, and He is eternal LIFE. Jesus is, "the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6)

February 22, 2010

Change Has Found Me

Ten years ago when we moved back to Houghton, NY I thought we would be here forever. I would have never guessed in college that I would return to Houghton. I always wanted to live near the beach. It took me awhile to come to terms with the fact that I would live in the country, 45 minutes from major restaurants, an hour and a half from a mall, no stoplights, one grocery store, no (besides Subway in recent years) chain restaurants. I never imagined that I would have goats as pets or raise chickens. I never imagined living in a place where you could leave your keys in the car and house unlocked. Where Dan the UPS man and Matt the mailman actually come inside your house to leave your mail/packages on your table.
In the last several years I began to accept that we would be in Houghton for the long haul. I felt that if Ben was content in his job, we would stay here. When my grant funded program ran out, I would simply find another job. I began to limit my faith in my abilities and settle. I also began to limit my Faith. In doing this, I lost part of me.
Then one day Ben came home and told me that when I look for my next job to look at what I want, where I want. He was willing to move for my job. This was something I never imagined him saying and (I am not sure why) I never suggested. (All of that is another story for some other time.)
Fast forward to the now. We are headed back to Savannah, GA in a few weeks where I will be vice president of Union Mission's Employment and Training Center. Union Mission provides shelter for homeless men, women, and families, short and long term housing assistance, health and dental care, behavioral counseling, substance abuse programs, lifeskills training, job training; and employment assistance. I worked at UMI in 99-00 and have always yearned to return.
I have worked with some great people in the last 10 years, but none compare to my boss at Union Mission- and I don't just say this now, I have said it throughout the years. I have never worked with someone as passionate, bold, fair, honest, visionary, and unique as Mike. I cannot think of any other president/CEO I would say this to outright or about, but I love the man. He inspires others simply by being himself.
This move is more than just a change in geographic location for me. I have regained my zest for life. I feel more alive, bold, confident, and exhilarated than I have in a long time. I have trusted more in God and explored my Faith on much deeper levels than before. I have dared to dream and have found a greater reality than in my dreams.
I cannot discredit the 10 years we spent in Houghton. I believe that for that time we were suppose to be here. I am just glad that we both knew when it was time to explore what's next. I think fear often hinders us in even thinking "what if?"
But when we let go of fear and embrace the possibilities, we may find something even greater-- I was able to find me again. And it feels great, really great, to be so alive.

February 2, 2010

Thoughts on Grandma

My grandmother passed away today. Sadly the last time I saw her was at Pop's funeral in 1995. Soon after he passed away she moved to Hawaii to be closer to two of her children and her youngest grandchildren. I have thought about her often in the past, but somehow never connected with her personally again. No excuse makes the lost connection right.

So when this news came today, I felt. For our lives are filled with relationships and regardless of the length of time or if they are current or past, they all leave us feeling something. The complexity of feelings is often hard to explain, but we know we feel something, which is where I am today.

There are many interesting stories surrounding my Grandma’s life that I do not dare try to figure out what is fact or fiction. Instead I’ll focus on what I knew.

When I think of Grandma, I smell coffee. I can remember walking into their farmhouse and it smelled like coffee.

I can also remember writing something while at her house and her telling me to write it again… slower and neater…… sadly I still have sloppy handwriting.

I remember the red and white lottery cards she would give us to fill out each time we visited. We would get to choose our favorite numbers and fill in the little circles on the card so Pop could take them to the store.

I remember her huge ornate antique beds that I would get to sleep in when we spent the night. You had to have a running start to jump up into the bed and you were engulfed in fluffy softness when you landed. I remember pretending I was a princess.

I remember her house filled with antique couches, chairs, desks, tables and a player piano. Treasures that I never really saw as unique, but now wish I had. I remember her visiting once and saying how my cousin made her listen to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard on the way to our house. And I remember her telling me…”You know that song is really not talking about sugar, right?”

I remember she completed her GED in her 60s.

I remember visiting her while Pop was in his last stages of cancer and painting her toenails for her.

I remember hugging her at Pop’s funeral without realizing that would be our last goodbye.

As 2010 approached I vowed to really live this year without regrets, letting fear not hold me back from asking, moving forward, or trying. I promised myself that I would intentionally show others I loved them whether through words, actions, or deeds. With Grandma’s passing today I am even more aware that I need to not be afraid to let someone know I care--whether this is through listening, crying with someone because they are hurting, embracing someone because they need to be touched, saying what needs to be said, laughing, dancing, singing, smiling, shouting, calling or writing.

I will love abundantly, seek to bring joy to others, and offer grace where I can.

January 7, 2010


Live. I think for many of us we think we are living, but what I have discovered lately is that often we become complacent in the safety of our lives that we forget to really live. I have always been a pretty positive person, but somewhere along the line, I started to become too practical. "We can't do that... because..." became more and more my response. Perhaps it was out of fear of embarrassment or lack of immediate resources, but my endless field of dreams started shrinking. Due to no specific set of circumstances I began to realize that living had become a checklist of daily routines and that needed to change.

Reflection. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my life and have uncovered some "beliefs" I developed. I am not sure where these "beliefs" came from but I realized I am working hard so that one day I can retire and travel or learn a new hobby, that my daughters will have a better childhood because I am raising them in the country, that my marriage will be better because I live in a small "Christian" town, and that living a life of purpose means settling in comfort. I began to realize that these "beliefs" were faulty and also needed to change.

Change. I am uncertain as to what my future holds and yet I find myself gearing up for the adventure. Retirement will come someday, but I am not waiting until then to travel or learn a new hobby. And my daughters will have a great childhood because of the way they were raised and loved. And my marriage will be strong because I worked at it. I am not bound by fear of practicality or stifled by routine. I am ready to be challenged, uncomforted, and used for whatever God has in mind.

For I believe that in really living we can embrace our passions and find the true nature of who we were made to be.