Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day 30 - Aaron's Wish

     It is so difficult in our world not to be cynical.  I find myself getting irritable after 10 minutes of watching the news or reading the headlines.  Sometimes I have to just stop and think, "really?"  How did society get so twisted?  When did it become impossible to flip through the channels of a television without seeing something offensive or inappropriate?  Maybe it's because I'm older, but I don't think that's really it.  As a society we are becoming desensitized and the line between what is right and what is wrong has been blurred.  Worse yet, many people choose to push the limits under the umbrella of the First Amendment however  their rights step on the toes of those who try to strive for decency in this world.  And like a train wreck, we are drawn to this sensationalism.  We don't really want to see it, yet we can't look away.

     I am not singling out any one issue and I never intended for this blog to be judgmental or political.  This is not the time and place, but all of these bazaar and unusual actions in our world have made me want to seek out the "good and happy" stories in the press.  Why can't people just be nice to each other.

     Today, thankfully, I was moved by a story on the Today show about Aaron's Wish.  Being a lover of Random and unusual acts of kindness, I was drawn to this family and their story.  In a nutshell, a family lost their brother and son at a young age and he left a remarkable request in his Will.  He asked them at some point to leave a large ($500) tip to a random waiter or waitress in a restaurant.  NOT a fancy restaurant but a pizza or burger joint where the wait staff is likely in need of such a generous gesture.  The family had no money for this task so they reached out to others to help with their mission.  Incredibly, they have raised over $57,000--enough to tip 114 people so far.  They are filming their surprise tips and blogging about it as a tribute to Aaron's legacy and to encourage others to make random gestures of their own.  They are heroes in my eyes.

      The link to their website is http://aaroncollins.org/. You should read this family's blog - I could never do it justice.  Start at the beginning.  Watch the videos.  Cry a little. And then hit the paypal button and donate.  I did.  And as this family says on the blog, if you can't donate, then at some point, leave a generous tip of your own.  Surprise someone.  Open yourself up and let God guide you to the exact right person who needs you at the exact right time.

     Oh, and all that craziness on the news - tune it out, turn it off.  I'm happier when I do.

**DISCLAIMER - I have no affiliation to this family and cannot vouch for the use of any donated funds.  I chose to donate because in my heart I believe it to be true.  You have to make that decision for yourself.

"Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God - the rest will be given." ~ Mother Theresa

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Day 29 - I See You

You are all in for a real treat today.  I have been contemplating the purpose of this blog and know that I am slowly reaching people--but being the impatient person that I am, I find it is not happening fast enough! The blog is not about me.  I receive emails and facebook posts all the time complimenting me on the blog, but my intent was never to draw attention to myself. It's about touching people's life with unexpected kind actions in the hopes that they will be moved enough to be kind to someone else.  Since beginning this blog, I have received so many beautiful emails and touching stories that readers have shared about their own ARKs and it occurred to me that I should include these stories {in their own words} in the hopes that this blog will grow exponentially.  You know, "they'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on . . . "  (Anyone know where that quote came from?)  So I asked a few people to do a guest blog and share their ARKs.  I am overwhelmed at the responses and how everyone readily agreed!

Today's post comes from my friend Sandi Keene.  I met Sandi through a mutual friend and she was one of those special people that walks into your life and you have an instant connection. She emanated peace and though I didn't know much about her, I knew that I wanted to be around her - to get to know her better. I felt like I was supposed to know her. She is a gentle soul, yet would aggressively protect those she loves. I shamelessly invited myself to a gathering she was having and was fortunate enough to be included in a private retreat she hosts each year. I spent four days with an intimate group of some of the most inspirational and women I have ever met.  It was done.  Sandi and I were meant to be friends and we will stay that way forever.  And did I mention she was an extraordinary artist? I asked Sandi to guest blog because to me, she is the epitome of unsolicited kindness.  She is always there with a little note in the mail, a 'good morning' text, an unexpected gift, and she works tirelessly to make sure everyone around her is content and their needs are fulfilled.  All of this without ever expecting anything in return.  Ever met anyone like that-where you just want to be in their presence?

So I will stop babbling and let you read her ARK:
"I was honored when Lorraine asked me to guest post on her ARK 365 Blog. I remember when she told me about it and I sat and read the whole blog amazed at the touching things she had done to spread kindness throughout her part of the world.  You can't help but be inspired and motivated to do something yourself.

I had been thinking about what I would do to spread a bit of cheer in someone's life.  I considered how easy it is to spread love to your friends and even strangers. That's when it hit me that the lesson was to gift someone I found challenging with an act of kindness that says - I see you. In my case, it is a teenaged girl I have known since infancy.

I knew that I would have to look past the pervasive attitude and less than appealing behavior to see her heart.  I had to see her with compassion and empathy. I had to focus on how painfully awkward those high school years can be when you are struggling so hard to find balance between fitting in and individuality.  I re-lived the feelings of being ordinary while aching to be extraordinary that seem to be widespread throughout those gawky freshman years where you are one part young woman and two parts self-conscious child.

So I pull out my paper and drew a simple sketch.

And then added watercolor.

This became a card that says "hello", I am thinking of you today.

I hope it makes her feel special, even for a moment.  And as always, the irony is, that this changes me."

A little bit about Sandi:

I am an Artist and documenter of life. I am on a mission to become an expert in simplicity. "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." William Morris.   This is my guidepost on the journey. Relationships are my passion. I am happiest when there is food and conversation mixed with laughter and love.

I asked Sandi to submit her favorite quote to end the post . . .

"Compassion brings us to a stop and for a moment, we rise above ourselves." ~  Mason Cooley

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Day 28 - Now Serving . . .

I had a beautiful bracelet.  It was very special to me.  It was made with lovely silver and aqua beads, chunky and fun, and there was a pewter plaque on the cuff that said "BLESSED."  My friend Maria created it which made it even more special to me because she is an incredibly artsy girl and her jewelry is amazing.  (Check out her Etsy Shoppe, Chickadee Designs,  here).  She is also a peaceful, loving and gentle soul - I feel calm and very happy when I am around her.

Anyway, I am digressing here but I wanted to tell you about Maria first and emphasize how special this bracelet was to me.  I wore it almost every day and I would look at it and be reminded of how blessed I am.  Blessed with friendships that run so deep and true.  I'm blessed with a wonderful husband who has worked hard to provide well for us and I'm blessed with two amazing adult children who are good and decent and the joy of my life. I have a home, plenty to eat, close family, and good health.  Did I say I am blessed?  We all are, really.  We all are blessed--even the dark and troubled times are blessings.  We need only be patient and God will reveal his plan and the blessings will be clear and obvious. But sometimes we forget.  We feel sorry for ourselves and whine and complain when we are down and we take for granted the beauty in our lives.  So my bracelet was a reminder that no matter what, I need only pause for a moment and think of all the grace and blessings surrounding me.

Did you notice I used the past tense when referring to my special bracelet?  Yep, I did have a special bracelet . . . until today.  I was in a fabric store this afternoon and it was crowded and I had several bolts that needed to be cut.  It's one of those places where you have to take a ticket from the little red machine which dispenses a number representing your place in line.  I pulled number 63.  The digital sign above my head said, "Now serving No. 51."  Really? I had 12 people ahead of me!  Really? I knew I had a loooooong wait so I did what I do best and leaned on my cart and 'observed' people.  The ladies cutting fabric were grumpy because they were busy and the people in line were grumpy because the wait was ridiculously long.  I watched this circus going on around me and could feel the dark mood settling in.  I was struck by the irony of the "Now Serving" sign as I contemplated what it means to 'Serve.' I started feeling crabby and judgmental toward the employees - it is their job to serve! But in the midst of this negative vibe, one employee stood out from the rest.  She was like a breath of fresh air as she politely greeted each person.  I watched her as she smiled a genuine smile and asked about each person's day and inquired what they were sewing with their fabric.  She almost reminded me of Snow White as she seemed to  'whistle while she worked!'  The other employees remained grumpy and barely spoke, but I noticed the mood of the customers began to change as this lovely woman made each person feel special.  I just knew I was going to get a grumpy lady but fortunately when "No. 63" was called, I got the sweet employee!  The first thing she said to me was, "What a beautiful bracelet," and she reached out and touched the word 'blessed.'  We chatted while she cut my fabric and I found myself mesmerized by her happiness.  When she finished, I thanked her and started to walk away, but something stopped me and I turned back to her, slipped my bracelet off my wrist and took her hand and dropped the bracelet into her open palm.  She looked dumbfounded and started to protest but I waved her off and said, "you have blessed me today with your kindness - the bracelet belongs with you now."  I will never forget the look on her face as I quickly turned to walk away.  For a split second, I regretted giving away my lovely bracelet, but the joy I felt at seeing her face instantly took that regret away. I will never forget how her kindness blessed my day.  My heart was full and I knew the bracelet was now with its rightful owner.

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” ~ Mother Teresa

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Day 27 - Kind to Myself

It's been way too long since I sat down here to work on this project... what can I say?

Life got in the way?
I've been busy?
Other priorities?
I forget what my goal was?
My goal was too ambitious?
I never finish anything I start?

Well, yes, all of the above. Especially that last one.  That is a hard statement to even read.  I did what I usually do and enthusiastically start a project and then never see it to completion.  I'm not a procastinator, in fact I am pretty much the opposite.  I jump into everything feet first and put those wheels in motion.

And then I get stuck.
Something happens and I find myself paralyzed to move forward.
Those old fears and self-doubt start to creep in.
Am I making a difference?
Is my writing any good?
Does anyone read this?
Does anyone really care?

I do the same thing with my art work and community service and relationships.  I doubt my self worth and abilities. I listen to voices that fill my head with lies instead of the one voice of truth I should always follow.  Sometimes the whispers become so loud that I can't block them out and then I let myself believe them . . .
 You are not worthy.
You are not good enough.
You are invisible.
You are not smart.
You are not important.

STOP IT!!!!  STOP THE NOISE!!!!  I DON'T BELIEVE YOU!!! STOP SCREAMING IN MY EAR!!!!  There is only one voice I need to hear and to listen to . . . it is the soft and soothing voice that is always gently telling me . . .

I see you.
I know you.
You are special.
You were created to love and be loved.
You have a purpose.
You are ENOUGH.
I created you and you are worth dying for.
And one day, you will see yourself the way I see you.
When you come into my Kingdom
where I have prepared a place for you,
You will know the difference you made in other people's lives.
You will know why you walked the earth.
You will know why you lived, why you laughed, why you felt pain
and why you cried.
You will know that your life had purpose and meaning.
One day, you will KNOW I love you.

So I'm not going to give up on this project.  I may not be able to blog every day, but I will finish this project.  I will complete 365 acts of random kindness.  It may take me years, but I choose to listen to the quiet voice of truth instead of the screaming lies that are thrown at me everyday.  And for today, well my random act was for myself.  Today I was kind to myself.

"Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness." - Mother Teresa

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 26: Self Help Love Notes

How many of us have visited the "Self Help" aisle at the bookstore?  I admit it.  I have spent many hours perusing the shelves looking for that one book that would solve all of my life's problems.  Oh and the money I spent!  I have purchased books on coping with divorce, anxiety disorders, dealing with the death of a loved one, motivational books and even emotional well-being!  I can't speak for anyone else, but I never found the answers in any of those pages.  No one ever reached out from the bindings and hugged me with inspiration and a set of directions on how to navigate through the rough patches.  They were comforting at first, but as I read on, I realized I already knew all of the answers.  Can we really rely on some self-proclaimed experts to tell us how to live a bountiful, pain free life?  Maybe some benefit, but I was not one of those people.  In fact, I don't think I ever finished reading a single one.  We all know the answers, don't we?  We know we have to love ourselves and accept who we are.  We know we have to trust and take giant leaps of faith even when it seems the bottom is going to drop out.  We know that the keys to our salvation do not lie in the author's pen or even in our own hands--it lies with a much greater power and when we finally surrender to that realization; miracles begin to happen.

So I apologize if you are an author of a self-help book.  I'm sure your intentions are good, but wouldn't it be great if there was a book of affirmations that spoke to the real heart of the matter?  We all have struggles.  We all have difficult journeys and we all get lost at times.  But if we follow the Way, the Truth and the Light, we cannot possibly fail.  "If God be for us, who can be against us?" ~ Romans 8:31.  How comforting that one statement is.  God is for us!  He is with us!  Which leads me to my ARK today.....

I was at the bookstore yesterday--I'm sorry, I just can't stay away.  I love the smell of the pages, the way the leather and binding feels when I run my fingers over them.  I love the embossed covers and the printed word.  I can't help it, it's a sickness, I know.  You should see me at the Library!!!  Anyway, I digress.....

As I was saying, I was at the bookstore pouring over art books and I couldn't help but notice the amount of people that were up and down the self help aisle.  Just like I used to be.  I watched the people, mostly women, who seemed to be desperately searching for answers. Almost every one selected a book and made their way to the front to pay for it.  Then.....an idea!  I sat down at a table and tore a bunch of strips out of my notebook and began writing little love notes to stick in the pages of the books!  I felt so devious yet excited at the same time.  I wrote things like, "You are loved-don't ever forget it!"  "You are stronger than you think you are." "You can get through anything, this is a minor setback!" "You already know the answers, you can make it!"

My heart was beating out of my chest as I selected random books and tucked a note deep inside {actually, not too far from the beginning of the books because no one ever finishes them!} As I stealthily hid each note, I thought about how the person who finds it might react.  Surprised at first, I imagined, but then maybe it would give them hope. Maybe they would get more inspiration from the note left there than the actual book.  Maybe they would read the note and realize they had to push harder to find their truth.  Whatever the outcome, I knew it would be a kind surprise that would brighten the day of someone who was experiencing darkness.  No harm in that!  So from me to all of you searching for help . . . a little love note to help you move through this and closer to Him!

"Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness." ~ Mother Teresa

Day 21-25: Miracles on St. Paul

I just returned from a five-day trip to Indianapolis where I was a participant in the Fuller Legacy Build (a Habitat for Humanity-like organization).  In fact, Habitat for Humanity was originally founded by Millard Fuller but he was summarily fired under questionable circumstances years ago.  All of that information is neither here nor there and I'm sure there are at least three sides to that story!  Personally, I think all of the in-fighting and division takes away from the true mission of giving a hand-up and not a hand-out.

What I wanted to share was the instances where my life was touched and where I may have touched others during that week.  If you've ever done any work with Habitat for Humanity (and I highly recommend it if you haven't) then you will know that you cannot leave a build feeling the same way you did when you arrived.

In all of my philanthropic adventures and service-oriented jobs, none has ever had as profound an effect as witnessing the look on the face of the homeowner as their new house appears right before their very eyes.  And to think that I helped this dream come true with my own two hands (including my smashed, purple thumb which I consistently banged with my hammer)!

For the second time in my life, I ended up on a 'blitz build' home--where a team of 25 or so people start with a concrete foundation and build an entire home by the end of the week--inside and out.  Literally, the keys are handed over to the homeowner on the last day!  It is a miracle to witness, and an even greater miracle to be a participant.

On a trip like this, the range of emotions from hour to hour is exhausting.  On any given day, I can go from excitement at the prospects of the day ahead to being overwhelmed at the immensity of the job.  I can be laughing and joking with my fellow workers one moment and then sobbing as I hug the new homeowners and share in their overwhelming joy.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I am a people watcher.  I get consumed by their emotions, their actions, their mannerisms. Sometimes I am ashamed when I catch myself doing it, but I can't help but be drawn to the human story.  On this particular trip, I was surrounded by people from all over -- from one coast to the other and Canada as well.  As I work on these jobs, I find myself up on scaffolding or a roof, side by side with another and I can't help but make small talk.  Before I know it, an amazing life story begins to unfold.  This happens to me over and over and over.  These people really touch my life with their journeys and inevitably, I always get around to the question of, "what brought you here to this place?"  I must say that I am usually blown away when I hear how each of them came to be sitting beside me on a scaffold nailing in vinyl siding!

I wanted to share the stories of some of the people I encountered and the miracles I witnessed . . . the first Miracle was the name of the street where we worked...St. Paul.

Alberto and Ted:  I was put in charge of leading this three-person team to install the soffit and sheathing under the eaves of the roof.  I found myself in the great company of Alberto and Ted.  Ted was a very humble and meek man who knew way more about installing soffit than I did, but who wouldn't admit it and continued to let me lead.  As we chatted while we worked, Ted told me tearfully that he was the recipient himself of a Habitat for Humanity Home and he was so grateful that he worked on every build he could to repay his debt and give glory and praise to God.  Miracle number two.  Alberto, who completed our team was from just outside Mexico City and spoke limited English.  Alberto was so eager to learn everything we were doing and always asked the why's and how's when we were measuring, cutting, and bending.  As the day progressed, Alberto and I engaged in gentle teasing and banter and I soon discovered that he was new to the country and had left his home in Mexico to marry an American woman.  In his country, he was a civil engineer, however he could not get any skilled labor in the U.S. because of the language barrier.  No one would accept his credentials from Mexico so he worked in a fast food restaurant.  He worked on Habitat for Humanity Builds so that he could learn the trade and he went to night school to earn a degree in this country so he could provide a better life for his new family.  Miracle number three.

Larry and Cecilia:  This couple arrived on the job site every day with their own trailer stocked full of nail guns, saws, scaffolding, and tools of every shape and size.  Larry ribbed me constantly as he skillfully taught me many things about the building trade.  They were farmers in Indiana and several times each year they drove their handy trailer to build sites and donated a week of their time plus the tools and equipment they shared with everyone.  They also have travelled to every continent doing the same thing with Global Village, an international Habitat organization.  They are headed to Nepal in January and graciously invited me to be a part of their team (I must have done something right!)  What amazed me most about Larry and Cecilia was that they were clearly comfortable financially, but instead of spending money on themselves, they chose to donate their time, talent and treasure to those less fortunate.  They did it as a couple and shared their lives and love with everyone around them.  Miracle number four.

Tiffany:  A lovely young woman (about the age of 25) with two small sons was the deserving recipient of the home we were building.  As I said before, I have been on many, many jobs over the years and have truly enjoyed meeting each homeowner, but never have I witnessed one so humble and gracious.  Tiffany spent the entire week making sure each of us had cold water to drink and sunblock on our faces.  She learned every team members name and where they came from.  She took hundreds of pictures and got everyone's email addresses and promised to send them (which she most definitely did).  Tiffany was a smart and confident woman who happened to be down on her luck, but instead of digging a hole in the sand and hiding her head, she chose to keep fighting and working through the struggles and never gave up on her dream of owning a home.  She was proud and happy and was continually hugging each of us and showing her gratitude.  This is the type of person who can make you feel guilty for ever feeling sorry for yourself!  When you met her, you just knew she was going to do great things with her life!  Miracle number five.

I could go on and on about this trip and the people I met.  Each one of them touched me in a special way and I will carry around the memory of them in my heart forever.  The week was full of ARKs--too numerous to mention and I felt I never wanted to leave that place.  But one thing I truly learned, I don't have to go to a job site to build a home.  I can begin right here in my own soul and seek out the good in others, recognize a miracle when I see it, and spread love and light wherever I go.  If I do that, my own home {soul} will always be a place of great joy!

"... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard." ~ Mother Teresa

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day Twenty - You Are Beautiful and You Are Loved

At a recent trade show, I noticed a young woman in a sea of people that was terribly disfigured.  Her face was swollen and her features were droopy.  Her skin had mottled, purple marks and I assumed this was from perhaps a birth defect.  Instantly I felt pity for her and couldn't tear my eyes away from her.  I watched her for a few minutes and saw her keep her head low and try to hide herself in the crowd.  I was irritated with myself because I couldn't stop staring and I was also disappointed that I felt pity because I was fairly certain that this woman did not want pity from people--at least I wouldn't if it was me.  I was also watching the people who came into contact with her.  They would stare, appear shocked, then hastily turn away.  No one spoke to her and she didn't talk to anyone either.  Just as I was analyzing the situation and uttering a silent prayer for her, she looked up and caught my eye.  I did the same thing everyone else did--I looked away and then was instantly ashamed of myself.  I couldn't bear it any longer; I knew I had to say something.  I pushed my way through a few people and came right up beside the disfigured woman.  When I got closer, I realized she was very young.  I touched her on the shoulder and she turned to me.  I forced myself to look at her and hold her gaze and I said, "You are beautiful, and you are loved."  There was an awkward few seconds, but slowly she formed what I interpreted as a smile (it was difficult to know because her features were distorted) but then, unmistakably, I saw something in her eyes.  There was no mistaking that she was smiling with her eyes.  She uttered an awkward "thank you" then turned and walked away.  I felt she didn't believe me, but as she moved on, she turned to look at me over her shoulder and then - there was no doubting it this time - she smiled.  A wide, beautiful, genuine smile.

I don't know what came over me or why I was so bold to do that--it could have been horrible and I knew that I was risking making her even more uncomfortable, but I imagined that this girl had spent a lifetime avoiding stares, comments, and keeping a distance from other humans.  I had the urge to reach out to her and remind her that beauty is deep inside--we are created in God's likeness and image so she must be beautiful and as God's creation, she most certainly was loved!

"Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work." ~ Mother Teresa