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Posts Tagged ‘helping others’

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Have you noticed that some seasons of life are filled with action, adventure, parties and people? Others are not. Over the past month I’ve been living the life of a hermit.  Winter has felt cold and grey, and I’ve caught the never-ending flu virus, which has led to quiet weekends and plenty of solitude.

Over this time my main companion has been Bobbie, my son’s blue budgie. Even when my voice is only a croak and my hair is beyond a mess, he is always delighted to see me, chirping along merrily with his ‘Hello Bobbie’, ‘Who’s a Pretty Boy?’ and ‘I Love You’s.  He’s always ready with his surprisingly gentle peck on the nose when I lean in for a kiss.

Bobbie’s companionship has sustained me through many lonely and bleak days, but despite his reliable nature, now and again he does disappoint me. Just as we are conversing happily, he catches a glimpse of his little blue face in his hanging mirror, and becomes transfixed by his reflection.   He is mesmerised by the gorgeous bird before him, and instead of offering his enthusiastic words and loving pecks to me, they are suddenly all directed at the bird in the mirror.  On it goes – ‘Pretty Boy’ and ‘I Love You’ along with his selfie-kisses, beak tapping madly on the mirror. Our conversation is suddenly over and I’m left talking to myself too.

Bobbie amuses me because his mirror-gazing fixation isn’t a trait limited only to budgies. People do it too.  Have you noticed?  Humans have their our own form of ‘mirror-gazing’.  It may range from a Facebook page populated heavily with selfie-shots, to an obsession with special projects and personal agendas, where little interest is shown in anything other than these particular projects and agendas.  A tell-tale sign I’ve noticed is a particular “glazed-eye look” which comes over a person which seems to prevent them from any shift in their focus. I’m sure most of us can relate to the Non Stop Talker in meetings, who ploughs on and on relentlessly, talking right over anyone brave enough to try to interrupt them. They are so focused on the reflection in the mirror that they can’t see or hear the people sitting right in front of them. Social media promotes this mindset, with all the: ‘Look at ME and all the fun I had today!’ mentality. There’s a temptation to turn away from the people right in front of us and gaze into our own little mirrors.   I fear that one day the human race may become so stuck in selfie-mode that we have with no connection at all to one another and the world around us.

Recently I met with two friends for morning tea. We had cups of tea in elegant yellow and black cups and saucers, rice paper rolls and delicious cake cut into little pieces.  Months had passed since the three of us sat together, and there was so much to discuss.  Each of us spoke in turn, sharing deeply about our struggles – laughing, crying and nodding in agreement.  The only thing that exceeded all of the talking was the quiet listening.  I felt listened to and heard each time I spoke, and spent a long time intently listening.  We each had our turn.  After three solid hours of free-flowing, authentic communication we held hands and prayed for each other.  Nothing banishes a mirror of self-interest like praying for someone else. It’s like emotional health food – building up our spiritual core strength and restoring the inner balance of joy and peace better than any Pilates class or detox shake.

Now I’m not too sure how Bobbie feels after a long session of mirror-gazing, but I know it leaves me feeling anxious and heavy-hearted.  The reflection in the mirror looks okay to begin with. Let’s face it, we’re all fascinated with ourselves to a degree.  At the start I’m like Harry the Mosquito in ‘A Bugs Life’, flying toward the bug zapper:  “I-can’t-help-it. It’s-so-beautiful”.  But once I spend some time gazing at myself all I can see are my failures, imperfections, problems and frustrations. Sometimes a coffee with a friend, listening, laughing and lightening up, or reading a chapter of a good book is enough to lift the heaviness. Other times I walk outside to look up at the wide expanse of sky and breathe in the cool fresh air.

Reflected in the mirror is a distorted egocentric world, but just outside our door are the wide open spaces, the big picture that exists beyond our selves –  painted by our Creator with humble love – a masterpiece of beauty, authenticity and promise.

 

 

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I once heard a story of an old Cherokee Indian which goes a bit like this:

“One evening a Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

The grandson asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee replied, ‘The one you feed.’”

Australia is often considered the ‘lucky country’, the laid back land of long summer afternoons at backyard barbecues, of freedom, laughter, ocean breezes and the collective mindset of ‘she’ll be right mate’. The threat of public beheadings by militant terrorists is so unexpected to most of us that it seems almost funny. It sounds like a sick joke. But it’s not a joke.  As the media regularly remind us, it’s a sobering and gut wrenching reality.

A byproduct of living in this new era, of facing unpredictable anger from people we scarcely understand let alone know how to deal with, is the uprising of fear. I’ve listened to the conversations around me. Kind, unassuming people are starting to question the wisdom of multiculturalism on our shores, despite their own diverse ancestry. Suspicion is rising against those following the Muslim faith, no matter how moderate they profess to be. Fear and lack of trust are appearing in places where peace and harmony once occupied.

One way to take control of a nation is by physical aggression. Another way is to rob the people of their peace of mind, values they hold dear and their freedom of thinking. We must rely on our government and military forces to protect us from the former, but the latter extends to each of us at the grass root level.

As we hear of wars and threats of wars, and terrorism and threats of terrorism,  we are rightly angered and perplexed. But there is one choice that will make or break us. We can react to the madness with our own hatred, aggression, prejudice and violence, as victims taking on the characteristics of our aggressors. Or we can choose to feed the other wolf:  the good wolf who acknowledges evil yet continues to live in the spirit of love, with joy, peace, hope, serenity, kindness and generosity.   The story of the Cherokee indian rings true to me.  Choosing which wolf you feed does make a difference.  

When my heart aches for the journalist on the TV screen, kneeling helplessly to meet his fate, I can use the energy of my disgust to start turning the tide. Rather than feeling paralysed, I can channel that energy into some random act of kindness.  I can lend a hand to a stranger in need, stand up for the underdog who is having a hard time at work, fight for our environment or the rights of suffering animals, cook a meal for a friend during a difficult time or just drive the car with courtesy and good manners. I can smile at somebody I don’t know in the supermarket.  As we do these things, we are feeding the other wolf.

So which wolf will win? It will be the wolf we feed.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32

 

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Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends
Ooh, I get high with a little help from my friends
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends,
with a little help from my friends 

(John Lennon/Paul McCartney)

bobby

January in Sydney is the perfect time for a beach holiday.    After Christmas we packed up and headed down the South Coast, where lush green hills meet the aqua expanses of the Pacific Ocean.   The fifth member of our family, Bobbie the budgie, went to stay with friends.   We felt a hot car trip in Christmas traffic and staying in a crowded caravan park may not be to his liking.

We worried that Bobbie would miss us and fret. He is a friendly little guy, constantly chirping, giving us beaky kisses on the nose and doing his best to impersonate our conversations and dance to our music.  

Our friends already have a bird – a peachface who has sadly suffered a stroke and was spending much of her time ambling awkwardly around the bottom of her cage.  She had lost her ability to fly and even walking was difficult as she would lose her balance and flop to one side.  The vet said there wasn’t much that could be done but the bird wasn’t in any pain.

The special bond between the two birds was instant.  After 12 months without leaving her cage, our friend’s peachface flew across the room to converse with Bobbie.   Miraculously, the symptoms of her stroke vanished.

The two birds chirped, kissed and played, and the flying visits continued throughout Bobbie’s two-week stay.

Now Bobbie is home we often hear some new ‘peachface’ cries coming from his cage and he has resumed his happy kissing, dancing and saying hello routines.   No doubt he learnt many new tricks from his friend, and hopefully she has continued with her new lease on life.

Bobbie’s holiday reminded me of the times when I was ill with cancer, recovering from surgery and having treatment, when friends would drop by to visit or my husband would wake me with a cup of tea, opening the blinds and windows to let the fresh air and sunshine into a dark room.  Some days I’d wake feeling so weak, I would wonder how I would ever get out of my bed.  It was like sinking into a deep, numbing pit, and it was scary.   On the days when somebody would drop by to visit, I would drag myself up, brush my hair and attempt to act normal.  Amazingly, these were the days when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and felt the energy returning to my body and soul.  In the laughter and banter about everyday life, I felt the blood flowing in my veins again, and knew that one day I would again be in the land of the living.

The effectiveness of an encouraging friendship is played out in mentoring and coaching relationships in the workplace, and in one on one counselling and mentoring sessions leading to emotional healing.   The personal trainer has now become an integral part of our fitness regime and seems to motivate us to action so much more than being one of many anonymous participants in an aerobics class.  Jo-Anne Berthelsen writes about spiritual mentoring in her book ‘Soul Friend’ (http://www.soulfriend.com.au) which describes beautifully how this concept extends to our spiritual wellbeing  as well.

The key seems to be in the authentic nature of the relationship, the mentor truly believing in the potential of their student and showing them how to step up and live out that potential in their lives.    I think it  also has a lot to do with human connection and love.   When Jesus healed the lame, the lepers and the outcasts he would look them in the eye, speak gently to them and reach out and touch them. He would touch the lepers who hadn’t been touched in years.   This act of compassion and human warmth was the starting point in their healing journey.   Most of us would not like to compare ourselves to Jesus, but even in our human frailty we can reach out to others in compassion and use our own hands as a catalyst for healing.  God works through our human hands, however imperfect we may feel we are.

If you’ve ever been betrayed or hurt by a close friend, you’ll know that the damage caused by a broken relationship can be just as powerful in bringing about our demise as a healthy friendship in bringing about our healing.   Whenever I think of the pain of a friendship gone wrong, I think of a homeless man who lived in the doorway of an office in High Street Kensington in London where I worked many years ago.  He wore a filthy tattered business suit and when he wasn’t sleeping, a torrent of abuse was pouring from his mouth at everyone passing by.  I learnt new profanities each morning as I hurried to unlock the office door. One day I found out that he had been a successful accountant with a nice home and family but had walked in one day to find his wife in bed with his best friend.  The story was that he had turned around and walked out of  his home with only the suit on his back. He lived on the streets from that day on.   I suspect that his wife’s betrayal had been devastating, but his best mate’s betrayal had been the agonising final nail driven into his coffin.

Bobbie and his friend reminded me of the power of simple everyday friendship. An authentic and loyal friend can help us join the world again, to get back on our feet and fly out of whatever cage we may find ourselves trapped in.   Let’s remember the power of friendship this year, when the demands of work and financial security cloud our vision.  Let’s choose wisely in how we treat our friends – to always be kind, generous and sincere.   We have a responsibility to look after each other.  If two little birds can do it, surely we can too.  It is the love of family and friends which truly enriches our lives and brings about healing to our bodies and souls.

A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”    Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy.    Mark 1:40-41 (The Message)

bobby 2

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We can do no great things, only small things with great love.  ~Mother Teresa

I spend a lot of my life flying blind.   I want to help others, but what can I do?  As much as I’m inspired by the life of Mother Teresa, I’m not an extraordinary Nun living in the slums of Calcutta, but a forty-something woman, who is prone to laziness and selfishness, living in the affluence of Australia.   I have ideas about ‘changing the world’ but most of my ideas and plans never get past the embryonic stage. It is easy to have ideas, but taking the step to actually birth an idea into reality takes energy and courage.

Yet occasionally an idea captivates me to such a degree that I’m compelled to go through the labour pains and see it come to life.   One of the main motivators for me is an assurance that the idea will truly benefit others, and that God himself is breathing his energy into the venture.

The best way to determine if an idea is worth pursing is to just let it be for a time.   Perhaps run it by a few close friends, stick it in the ground like a seed and see if it sprouts.   If it continues coming to mind and filling you with a sense of anticipation and wonder, then it may well be an idea with a purpose.    If the idea doesn’t die, then take the first step in making it happen, enlist some help from friends and ‘put it out there’.   The door will either open or slam shut.  If it flies open, then you’re on your way.

I was reminded of these simple truths this morning as I delivered a boot-load of Welcome Packs to a local refuge for women and kids.   A small group of us have been providing colourful baskets of essential toiletries and pampering products  to ‘welcome’ women to refuges after escaping abusive relationships and homelessness.  We also provide beach buckets filled with toiletries, colouring books and toys for the kids, and baby hampers with all the essentials for new-born babies living out their first few months in a refuge.

Making Welcome Packs isn’t rocket science.  It does, however, require a lot of preparation time, making sure each pack contains everything each woman and child may need in a time of emotional turmoil and physical exhaustion.  I always ask myself what I would need if I were in this situation.  How can I provide basic nurture and comfort?  We include simple things like soft fluffy socks, soothing hand cream  and some lipstick for the women and a friendly, huggable teddy for the kids.

The other challenge is coordinating the donations we receive.  Sometimes we end up with 47 tubes of toothpaste but 3 toothbrushes and 15 kids colouring books but no pencils.  I’m not a methodical person and have never worked in retail.   My inventory of donations is haphazard at best and I have a tendency to ‘fly by the seat of my pants’, but each time the packs come together in the end.  That’s when I recognise the gentle breath of God as he stands beside me, prompting me to move this way or that, steering me away from silly mistakes and generally cheering me along.

This morning’s delivery was again a series of little miracles.   I work, raise children, run a home, enjoy a close marriage and numerous friendships, so any time I devote to charity work is limited and precious.   A friend and I assembled a dozen Welcome Packs on Friday.  Between us we had a half hour overlap in our busy schedules.   We talked, drank tea and speedily created the hampers.   When my friend raced off to take her daughter to an appointment, I had another half hour left to finish the job.  With only five minutes to spare before school pick up time I realised I was short one toothbrush holder.  The refuges ask specifically for toothbrush holders as the women often share bathrooms.  Oh dear, how would I find time for a shopping trip for one little toothbrush holder?   My only chance was the ‘bits and pieces leftover box’.  Tentatively I opened it and there right in the middle was one pink toothbrush holder.  What a relief!  The packs were now complete.

Yesterday I wrapped the packs in cellophane and found matching ribbons.  As I wrap I pray for each recipient – that they will find hope and healing in their lives and will overcome the considerable obstacles they are facing.  I pray that the Welcome Packs will signify new hope to them and help them to realise that there are people in our community who are on their side, and willing to spend time offering support.   I never find out if my prayers are answered, but I just keep on praying and hoping.

We made one pack for a newborn baby.   A kind woman knitted a soft pastel jacket and bonnet and one of my friends put together an inviting assortment of baby goodies to welcome the little one into the world.   I phoned the refuge this morning and said “You probably don’t have a baby at the moment, but we’ve made a baby pack anyway“…  She replied enthusiastically “Funny you should say that, we had an 11 day old baby come to stay with us yesterday.”   What a joy to provide a few special items to this little person and his Mum.

Another friend donated a pretty party dress with bright pink flowers, a gift for her granddaughter which was too small.  At the last moment I grabbed it to deliver with the packs.   As we carried the packs into the refuge I noticed a woman with a little girl.  Their faces were so serious, sad and withdrawn.  The little girl watched me warily.   I pointed out the dress to one of the care workers and she showed it to the girl.  At first she seemed reluctant to even touch it, but then a bright smile lit her face and she held the dress up in front of her.  When I left she was walking around, grinning widely and cradling the dress to her chest.  I had to sniff back the tears until I reached my car.

Was it a coincidence that I had a dress to give to that girl, a baby pack ready for the baby and one last toothbrush holder?   Trivial little things I know, but important just the same.   I’ve seen it happen too many times – I no longer believe in coincidences.

Giving is its own reward.   There is no greater happiness than helping others who genuinely need help.  Yet how do we know how to help or what steps to take?  I’ve found that it is only when I walk to the beat of a drum played by One who is much larger and all-seeing than I am that I get it right.  On my own I’m clueless.   Even when I’m flying blind my faith somehow knits together the loose threads of my attempts at goodness.   We are simply hands and feet and God is calling us to help Him help a world in pain.   A God of love cannot stand by and watch women and children suffering alone.  We often accuse God of allowing suffering, but do we ever consider that He may want us to be part of the solution?   He plants ideas into our minds and then prompts us and prods us until we take action.   Each of us can play a part and make a difference.  Allow compassion to drive you, and just watch the little details fall into place.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.  Proverbs 16:9

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What attracts you to someone?   Is it their good looks, intelligence or sense of humour?  Perhaps it’s their impressive list of achievements, their career or their bank balance.  In Australia many heroes are born on the sporting fields.  We forgive their many indiscretions, drunken binges and even wife-beating, so long as they outrun their foes, and tackle their opponents just before the try line.

For two winters I’ve huddled on chilly fields watching my two sons play rugby union.    What they lack in athletic prowess, they make up for in size and shoving ability on the field, and I’ve become content to clap politely when the other mums’ agile offspring glide like gazelles to score try after try.  My sons do, however, possess a quality not often valued on the footy field, but certainly valued by their mother.   Whenever one of their teammates is kicked, pummelled or punched to the ground, my sons are there to offer them a hand up, a pat on the back, or a drink of water.    As much as I would love to see them score some tries, my eyes well up with tears whenever I see them helping their distressed teammates.   They display a rare and undervalued quality in football and in life – kindness.

Occasionally I catch a glimpse of it whilst driving on city roads.   While most drivers tail-gate, beep their horns, make ungracious comments and give the one finger salute if they are kept waiting for more than a nanosecond, there is the occasional driver who waits patiently, brakes slightly to let you merge into a lane and offers a warm smile.   I’ve become so immune to the rude, obnoxious people, that I am taken aback when somebody is thoughtful on the roads.   Their kindness is so refreshing that it shocks me. These rare individuals have something to offer the world, a calmness and peace that impresses me, and an outward focus that inspires me to follow their lead.

Kind people invite you to look into their eyes – which are usually sparkling and full of fun.   They are rarely miserable and obsessed with their ailments and issues.   They want to listen to you, and find out what your dreams are, so they can devise creative ways to help you achieve them.  Kind people may not be the types to score all the tries in life, to have the fancy houses and sought-after careers – in fact they are often overlooked by our society altogether.  You may find them helping out in a nursing home or homeless shelter, or assisting a disabled neighbour with their gardening.    Their pursuits may not be prestigious, but you can be sure that they will possess a happy contentment many strive for.    I know a handful of kind, thoughtful and inspiring people.   Their words and actions are a tonic to the ugliness we are bombarded with daily – on the news, on the roads and even at times in our own families.

Sometimes kindness can be mistaken for less attractive qualities such as weakness, people-pleasing and flattery.   On closer scrutiny, kindness stands out like home-made chicken soup, simmered lovingly with fresh ingredients, as compared to powdered soup which is prepared with a cup of boiling water and very little effort.   Kindness grows from authenticity and sometimes from years of intense personal pain.    There is no room for wimpiness in true kindness.  Underlying the gentleness is a steely strength.  Artificial kindness, like artificial soup, lacks substance, tastes of chemicals and fails to nourish your soul like the real thing.

Kindness costs nothing, but is more precious than gold.   It will often go unnoticed, but its power and impact to bring about positive change far outweighs all the proud arrogance, clever schemes and ambition of our world.

The best portion of a good man’s life – his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.  ~William Wordsworth

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Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.
Mother Teresa

Many years ago I left a nightclub in Kings Cross with a group of friends, laughing and clowning around.    I felt warm from the cocktails and being part of what I considered the ‘cool group’.   As we walked to our cars we crossed a dark laneway and it was then that I saw her, slumped in the gutter, in her mini skirt and stilettos.   Everybody stepped over the adolescent sex worker as if she weren’t even there.    Those who noticed her, sniggered at her predicament.   It was as if she were a piece of rubbish, used and discarded.    There was no Good Samaritan that night, no comforting Salvation Army worker, just cold concrete to embrace this lost child.  

Later as we drove home, my mind drifted from the hilarity of my friends’ conversation to the young girl on the concrete and I looked out the window so nobody could see my tears.    I had stepped over her and left her there.    Deep within me was a longing to help the needy, the homeless and the hurting, but what could I do?    The only options I could see were giving up my life and travelling to Africa to be a missionary, or joining the Salvation Army and trading my nightclub dresses for a matronly navy blue uniform.   These options posed insurmountable challenges, so I did nothing and the deep longing has haunted me for years.

A few months ago I sat in the back garden with a new friend who I can be real with.   We talked about our dreams and desires, and what we would love to do if we could.   We soon discovered that we shared a passion to help the homeless and the needy, but we each felt paralysed in our need.   What could we do as busy mothers, holding down jobs and caring for our own families?    Surely the large welfare organisations had the situation covered, I reasoned.  However, rather than giving up at that point as I have done so often in the past, we asked each other a little question – ‘Well, what can we do?’.

My friend recalled a friend who works for the Department of Community Services who needed pre-loved clothing for children taken from their families in crisis situations.    I suggested timidly an idea to provide toiletry items to homeless people.   My friend’s idea was certainly do-able and I wondered about my idea.     After a few emails and telephone calls, we discovered that it was do-able also and in fact was much-needed by a local refuge for women and children escaping domestic violence and homelessness.    When I questioned the welfare worker about their needs, she told me to imagine I had just arrived at the refuge with nothing but the clothes on my back.  What would I want to find in a ‘welcome pack’ on my bed?

We shared our idea with two other women and the four of us embarked on a hunting and gathering expedition to our local reject shops and supermarkets, finding bargain-priced and good quality toiletry items and treats.    As I filled my shopping basket, I felt an overwhelming rush of warmth and love.   It was such a small gesture, but I was no longer stepping over the girl in the gutter, I was acting on that deep desire to help.   I was doing something and the exhilaration was intoxicating.

We met one Friday afternoon to pool our items and arrange them into hampers, with cellophane wrapping, pretty ribbons and butterflies to decorate.  The completed hampers looked beautiful, and when I delivered them to the refuge I felt like I had completed my personal climb to the peak of Mount Everest.  I had conquered my mountain of doubt and procrastination, and couldn’t wipe the stupid smile from my face.    We’ve also since  delivered several bags of pre-loved clothing to the DOCS kids.

Our next project will be some welcome packs for the children in the refuge, and then hopefully some Christmas treats for the women.    With some help from our local church and friends, donating small toiletry items, chocolates and colouring-in books, we are hoping to continue to support our local refuge well into the future.

So what is your heart’s desire?    Does it seem too big, or too hard to make a start?   My advice would be to avoid thinking of what you can’t do, but focus on what you can do.   No matter how small or insignificant it may seem, work on that idea.   I know our ‘welcome packs’ won’t change the world, but they may bring hope to one woman or child who has lost all hope.    I no longer want to live my life stepping over the girl in the gutter.    My time to reach out and help is now. 

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress….   James 1:27

 

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