Hold up your end of the totem pole…

August 29, 2017

This morning a post from the blog Jack’s Winning Words and a little inspirational quote that I’ve had laying around for a while just seemed to fit together to express what I wanted to say.

Jack’s post – “Many people need someone on the totem pole below them.”  (Dr J’s mom)  A “totem” is a family, or a group, and a totem pole is a way of telling something about that group, using images.  Typically, the most important person or thing is at the top.  That’s the way most of society is structured today.  But, some poles have the most important person on the bottom, supporting all of the others.  Biblically, the humble are the strong.  “Blessed are the meek, etc.”    😉  Jack

And the little quote from my files – “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” —Booker T. Washington

We all strive to be at the top of the totem pole, but only a few ever make it that high, so Itotem pole really like the thought about the importance of the people holding (lifting up) those above them. It brings to mind the strong people at the bottom of human pyramids, whether it be a high-wire act or a groups of cheerleaders. While the spotlight may focus upon those at the top of the pyramid, it is the people below them on the totem pole that make it possible. Truly great people who make it to the top never forget that; and, those who do forget eventually topple from their lofty positions.

For the truly blessed, it is sufficiently satisfying to and uplifting to be one of the people lower on the totem pole who gets satisfaction out of doing their job well, so that others above them can succeed. They lift up others and out of that are lifted themselves. That same feeling of satisfaction comes from helping others around you who need help. When you follow your heart and do what you know is right to help others the reward is the warm glow of satisfaction in your heart. That is the uplift that you get from lifting up someone else.

There are always many people volunteering to be at the top of the totem pole. I find it helpermost uplifting to find volunteer jobs that others may not want to do and volunteering to do them. Usually those are the jobs that nobody sees. Those are the jobs that don’t make it onto the evening news. Those are the jobs for which no trophies or medals are given out; but they are also the jobs that can be most uplifting to do. Those jobs are almost always near the bottom of the totem pole and they usually involve serving others in some way. Most are behind the scenes; but, what is goin

dish washer

g on out front (at the top of the totem pole) could not get done unless someone at the bottom holds the whole pole up. Find things like that that need to be done and volunteer. You will be surprised how rewarding it feels to hold up your end of the totem pole.

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Is it more than just business to you?

May 6, 2017

“If you are helping someone and expecting something in return, you are doing business not kindness.”  (Unknown) – as seen recently on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

I’ve posted here several times before about helping others as a way to do something meaningful with your life. I never once mentioned expecting something in return, unless one counts the great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with a helperselfless effort to help others in need. There are, however, those who do what appears to be volunteer work to help others but who have ulterior motives. Many of these people are in it to be seen, to be considered to be kind and helpful by others; presumably others whom they think it is important to impress.

You may have been involved with a volunteer effort with people like that. They end up the day of hard work looking pretty much the same as when they arrived. Many of them spend the entire time chatting with others or helping “supervise” the work. They always seem to end up in the front of the groups if there are pictures to be taken for PR purposes. To them the effort is just business; it’s a way for them to earn some “credits” for their volunteerism.

One thing that always impressed me about ex-President Jimmy Carter was that, when he volunteered at Habitat for Humanity build sites; he actually worked. He got dirty anddigging sweaty like everyone else on the site. Most important people show up for things like a ground breaking ceremony with suit and tie on and stand there with their silver shovel for the photo op and then are never seen again. Do you know people like that?

The opportunity to help someone, or to help in some effort that will benefit someone in need, is Gods way of letting us do His work with our hands. In fact, that is the theme of a upcoming weekend of volunteerism for the ELCA Lutheran Church – God’s Work, Our Hands. It is somewhat sad to think that for some this annual event is their one time of the year to get involved with volunteer work and get their ticket punched for the year. There are certainly opportunities to do work that is needed every day of the year.

I will admit that I’m not much for the hooky shirts with the theme God’s Work Our Hands emblazoned across the front or back. I think they are tacky and advertising your good works like that is really just an invitation for compliments – you are trying to get something back for the work that you are doing. You never saw Mother Therese running sewrving souparound Calcutta with a T-shirt like that on, nor will you ever see them on the thousands of volunteers who toil year around behind the scenes as food servers at shelters or councilors at safe houses.

Those people and the many, many more who work as volunteers for all of the right reasons don’t do so because they expect a reward, either here or in heaven. They do so because it is the right thing to do, the thing that God has called upon them to do; and, at the end of the day their own sense of satisfaction is reward enough. They are doing kindness and not business.

Have a great and fulfilling weekend.


New Year’s resolutions – blowing in the wind…

December 30, 2016

It’s that time of the year when our thoughts turn to the changes and renewals that we hope for in the coming year. We codify our hopes in New Year’s resolutions, many of which don’t make it past the first week before they are broken or forgotten. But, why is that?

“New Year’s resolutions often fail because toxic emotions and experiences from our past can sabotage us or keep us stuck with the same old thoughts, patterns and regrets.” – Debbie Ford

Perhaps it is our inability to let go of the past, to purge our minds of the poison of let-go-1prejudices or left over anger or regret that causes us to fail in our resolutions to do better in the future. Look closely at that picture to find help with letting go. Or perhaps it is the focus and content of the resolutions themselves that doom us to failure. Maybe we are too self-centered in the topics of our resolutions and maybe the baggage that we drag with us from the past does get in the way. Or, maybe we make resolutions that are too vague or too grandiose. What would be so bad about making a resolution like this one –

“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.” – Goran Persson

I’ve posted here in the past about being there for others. See Don’t try to understand and don’t judge, just be there… and Be there for someone today… or Just be there…

A common theme through all of those posts is the important role that you can play in the lives of others by being there for them to listen, to hug, to reassure, to forgive (if necessary) and to accept them.

We could spend some time discussing what Persson meant by “in the finest sense of the word”; however I think you probably get that and get that it isn’t about something new-years-resolutions-1happening to benefit you, but rather doing things that will benefit others. You would benefit from that too; I think. Maybe time spent worrying about others will take our minds off worrying about ourselves. Maybe “doing the right things” in business and in life will cause the right things to happen for you. Resolve to be there for others.

A second observation that I have about many New Year’s resolutions is that they don’t contain any commitment to accountability. Maybe that’s why we make many of them in private and then don’t share them with others. David Brin said – “When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.”  Resolutions made in private carry no accountability. We might be ashamed that we have to resolve to lose weight or quit smoking or drinking or quite some other bad habit or behavior; but unless we state it in public and have others to hold us accountable it is all too easy to let the resolutions slip away, at first into tomorrow and then into never. If you are serious about making a resolution to change some aspect of new-years-resolutions-2your life, get yourself an accountability partner for that resolution; someone that share the resolution with and then with whom you can meet regularly and share a progress report about that resolution.

My final bit of New Year’s resolutions advice is to shorten the time frame of your resolutions dramatically. Don’t make grand resolutions that are supposed to play out over the entire year. Take Henry Moore’s advice – “I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’. If you start out each day with resolutions for that day perhaps the “resolve” to actually accomplish them will be fresh enough and strong enough to actually be successful. Maybe instead of resolving that you will stop smoking this year, you could start by resolving that you will quit smoking today. If you do that today and tomorrow and the next day, before you know it the grander resolution will also be accomplished. After all it’s just for today, right?

I’m not personally a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but for many the New Year provides an artificial point in time from which to try to move in new directions. More power to you if that is the case for you. I hope that you find some value in the advice that I tried to give above and good luck to you with your resolutions. Have a Happy New Year!


Don’t try to understand and don’t judge, just be there…

December 6, 2016

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  (Harper Lee) – as seen recently on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

I’m not sure I agree with how Harper Lee phrased this quote. I might have said it this way – “You can never really understand a person; but, you can consider things from his point of view.” I’ve made a couple of posts recently about what I called the “frame of reference” through which someone with autism or depression might view life.

The posts referred to in my posts were based upon articles written by people two who view their own lives through those frames of reference. They both wrote “What does it feel arrogantlike..” posts to blogs. My point in both was that it is very difficult, and perhaps even a little disingenuous, to say things like “I know how you feel” or even “I can imagine how you must feel” to someone suffering through bad days with either of those conditions. They may mutter something like, “thanks for being understanding”, while all the while thinking, “No, you don’t understand at all.”

Rather than end up making some lame, condescending effort to understand that person, perhaps you could spend some time considering what is driving them to act and react in the ways that they are. You could try to look at the events that they are reacting to from the point of view of being in pain, or torment; of being frightened and confused; of feeling alone and helpless; of seeing no way out of your situation and having no hope. How do you think you would feel and act, if all of those emotions and feelings came crashing down on you at the same time? Then up walks Mr. or Ms. Dogooder and puts their arm around you and says, “I know how you feel”.

So what do you think you would do? Perhaps you see yourself drawing away or lashing out. Maybe you think that you would panic and run. It could be that you would fall into their arms and sob uncontrollably or maybe push them away and loudly proclaim that you don’t need their help or their pity. If you can imagine any of those responses for yourself; why are you so surprised when they might happen to you when you were “just trying to help”?

handshakeThe support that you might imagine yourself needing does not come from pity or from some false sense of “understanding” how you feel. Rather it comes from them accepting you as you are and offering to help in any way they can. It comes from admitting that, “I have no idea how you feel; but, I’m here to help you find and get to a better place, if that is what you want.” Sometimes the best thing that you can do is just to be there, to listen and to support, not to judge or feel that you must intervene. Sometimes what people need is just a friend to talk to and not a savior (they already have one of those).

One of the hardest things to do is to stop judging people who need your support. What they do is not right or wrong it is just different; and that difference itself is just a valueno judgement judgement that you make based upon what you think you might have done. Making those right or wrong judgments is in no way helpful and actually gets in the way of you providing the support that is really needed.

Another hard thing is to stick with it. Providing the support needed that people with any number of conditions that make them a little different is not a short term thing. These are not usually things that they can just “snap out of” or “get better”; rather they are conditions with which they will live for their entire lives. So, you cannot expect to fly into their lives, work some magic to make it all better and fly out. Long term understanding and support are what is needed.

Perhaps the point of view that you need to adopt is one of an accepting and understandinghugging-bears friend who is ready to be there when needed and to back off when necessary; ready to lend a shoulder to cry on, without pity; and ready to listen when they talk without judging. Be the person that you imagine that you would need if you were experiencing life as they are living it. Don’t worry about understanding them; you won’t ever; so, don’t judge, just be there for them.

Have a great and non-judgmental rest of your week.


Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

November 25, 2016

“Feel good about who you see in the mirror, not what you see.” – Norm Werner

I’ve posted recently about topics that may not have appealed to everyone – autism and depression. The posts were more about being aware that a so-called “normal” person has no good frame of reference through which to view the world as a person living with either of those conditions sees it and thus we should strive instead for acceptance, empathy, patience and a willingness to listen and offer support.

Today I’d like to return to you, or to me, as the case may be, and how we deal with our self-image. The society that we live in puts a great deal of emphasis on what we see in the mirror and not who we see there. Physical beauty and fitness are good; while plainness mirror imageand deformity or obesity are bad. By implication, the image that we see in the mirror of our physical appearance predisposes us to draw conclusions about the character and worth of the person that is there. Yet, stare as hard as you might, you will never actually see the traits like honesty, integrity, humility, kindness or a loving and giving heart that really makes up who you see in that mirror.

Mahatma Gandhi was not an imposing or even impressive figure of a man in the mirror, yet he led a nation to freedom.  I’m sure that some who may have encountered Mother GandhiTeresa in India, and not known who she was, would have just seen a squat, homely looking old lady in a nun’s habit and not realized that they were seeing someone who would one day become a Saint. Many who met Lech Walesa in his early years as an activist in Poland might have just seen a somewhat angry little Polish electrician who could be dismissed, rather than the future leader of Poland and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. And, how about Detroit activist Rosa Parks? She was certainly not a lady trading on her looks when she decided not to move to the back of the bus, adding fuel the civil rights movement locally. Do you think that any of these people were concerned about what they saw when they looked in the mirror? I suspect that they were much more satisfied with who they saw there, and not the least concerned with what they saw.

How do you refocus so that you feel good about who you see in the mirror and not worry so much about what you see there? First, realize that all of those people would have almost always seen others around them in that same mirror – those that they were helping and those that were helping along with them. So, join in the movements and groups in your community that are trying to help in your area – get involved. They would have also noticed that they seemed to always be doing something and not just standing there by themselves and admiring themselves. In fact they probably passed many mirrors andcaregiver never even noticed themselves in those looking glasses, because they were too busy “doing” to spend time looking.

Get busy doing. Don’t worry about what others may think of you; focus instead on what you can do for others. Commit yourself to what you can do, to your part in the bigger scheme of things, and be happy with that contribution. If asked about their contributions to society, the people mentioned above might have had answers that sounded amazingly similar, “I’m just one person trying to do what I can to help others.” Reflect on that.

Do you see yourself in roles like that? Do you see yourself helping others, without personal concerns about how you look? Do you see yourself joining others in efforts to help that are helperbigger than one person can accomplish by themselves? Do you see yourself stopping to ask the homeless man what he needs and how you can help? Do you see yourself getting your hands dirty on a weekend helping to build a new home for someone? Do you see yourself standing in the middle of a street with a collection bucket doing what you can to help people that you will never meet? Do you see yourself serving a Thanksgiving meal at a shelter? Do you see yourself visiting a shut-in in a local retirement home? Do you see yourself reaching out to help someone who is experiencing a tough time in their life and just need a friend to talk with?

If you see yourself doing any of those things, or performing other acts of kindkissing mirrorness, charity or love towards others when you look into the mirror; then you are seeing who you are, not what you look like and that’s a beautiful thing. If all you see in the mirror that you hold up
to your life is someone looking back at you who needs a bit more mascara this morning or who might need to visit the gym to lose a little weight; perhaps you need to find a new mirror.

Who do you see when you look into life’s mirror?


Putting another leaf in your table…

September 9, 2016

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog featured this quote – “If you are more fortunate than others, it’s better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”  (Unknown)

Jack went on to write – Battle Creek, MI was once known as the city with the longest breakfast table.  It stretched several city blocks with room enough for all who wanted to come…and the food was free.  In today’s world we talk more about fences than about long tables with room for all. 

It is unfortunate that we hear so much during this political silly season about building a taller fence (a wall, actually) to keep people out, rather than about finding ways to build introducing friendbigger tables to include more people. Today’s quote is about inclusiveness and sharing and not about just trying to protect what is ours and keep it away from others. It’s about inviting others to share the bounty that you enjoy that helps you in putting another leaf in your table..

It is not hard to find people in need. One doesn’t have to look to foreign countries; there are plenty of people in need, right here in America. One has to look no further than the local school systems to see that need. In our local school district over 50% of the children in many of the schools qualify for the free school meals programs. A national program called Blessings in a Backpack was created to send these children home on weekends with enough food in a backpack to feed them for the weekend. There is a local Blessings in a Backpack group that is trying to provide that service and food to the students in need within the Huron Valley School system. . Contributing to that program is like putting another leaf in your table.

helping handsThe message of caring and inclusiveness is not restricted to just sharing food; it is really about helping other whenever and wherever you can, with things other than food, such as clothing or furniture or counseling services or housing. There are many opportunities in every community in America to be a part of efforts to help others, whether they be church related groups or just volunteer community organizations to provide helps and services for the less fortunate. In our area we have a group called Community Sharing that provides a wide variety of support to those who may need a little help. It is a group; that you could join if you are interested in putting another leaf in your table.

Those opportunities to serve are great and very worthwhile; but there is another opportunity to share something other than bread. One’s faith also provides the elca-godswork_ourhandsopportunity to share, rather than to hide or safeguard the blessings that we enjoy because of our belief in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is often considered something untoward and to be avoided. We live in a secular world, where public displays of faith are to be avoided and speaking of one’s faith best left for Sunday’s. Yet silence about the Good News seems somehow to be contributing to the height of the walls around us rather than like putting another leaf in your table.

It would seem to me that one doesn’t have to drop to their knees and begin loudly praying in public to be displaying their faith. Doing the right things, helping others, displaying compassion and inclusiveness are all ways that we can display the faith that we share and being kind 1that we want to extend to others. Doing the little things to help each day when we interact with others and see needs in others is just as important as volunteering once in a while for one of the many charitable groups in our communities. Each of those little acts of kindness and compassion is putting another leaf in your table.

So, I ask you; how long is your table? Have you put the leaves into your table to be inclusive and caring and compassionate? Are you sharing the bounty that results from your belief in Jesus with others? What are the little thigs that you can do today that will result in you putting another leaf in your table?


Don’t yell it; live it…

April 15, 2016

“It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.”  (Jefferson) – a recent post on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

In addition to being one of the founding fathers of our country, Thomas Jefferson was Thomas Jeffersonquite a philosopher. His views on religion were focused around how you lived your life as a Christian example, rather than how loudly you might proclaim your faith. We could us more of that thinking in politics today, where loud and vociferous claims of being an evangelical seem to be the order of the day.

Many, and I count myself among this group, are what I would call quiet Christians – those who try to live a life based upon Christian principals rather than making public displays or showy verbal proclamations of faith in order to prove their bona fides. I quietly do my part at church, volunteering for leadership positions or just volunteering where needed, without having to thump my chest and say, “Hey, look at me: I’m a Christian; I’m evangelical.” I work within my community for many good causes, without making a big deal that these are religious acts. They’re not; they’re acts that I am driven to do based upon the teachings of my faith to serve others.

I’m pretty sure that I haven’t seen anything in the teaching of the Bible that would lead me to exclude people or discriminate against them, just because they are not like me or they chose a different lifestyle. In fact, many of the stories that become fodder for Sunday sermons are those about Jesus reaching out to those who were different or who may have helpereven been despised in the community in those times, whether they were lepers or women of ill repute or tax collectors. I suspect that He would have difficulty with many of the “holier than thou” attitudes that drive modern day words and actions of the so-called evangelicals directed against those with different appearances, opinions or lifestyles.

I think Jefferson was right. At the end of the day and at the end of life, the measure of one’s life will not be taken in the words that they have loudly professed; but, rather, in the style in which they lived their life. A life well lived in service to others and acceptance of the teachings of Christ will hold up better to the final scrutinyWWJD that one devoted to loud proclamations of evangelism while acting in bigoted and hateful ways. So, don’t yell about your faith; let that faith shine through in the way that you live your life.