My Dad was a Community Organizer, Am I?

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It’s an intentionally provocative headline, especially for my Dad reading up in Heaven…  But it hit me tonight…

I am worried about this country – the one I love  – but the one I fear is headed in the wrong direction.  And I fear that we can’t solve our problems as a country, because we have lost our ability to truly, genuinely, authentically engage in conversation.  The conversation has become too polarized to be productive…  At least that’s my fear.

Tonight, it hit me.  I’m worried about my role.   Actually, I’m worried about the fact I’m sitting on my comfortable couch, but not truly playing a part in this conversation.

And, for the record, that is not what my Dad taught me to do.  He taught me to engage (before that word was trendy),   He taught me that one man can make a difference.  He taught me that you should ACTIVELY (read:  well beyond voting) take part in the political process.   You should volunteer your time.  You should give your money.  He even bought not one but THREE newspapers so he could write the editorials.   He was part of the process.  As a result, he had the ear of a Governor, two Senators, and at least one Representative (and I suspect more).   He made a difference.

I love my Dad, who died almost three years ago.  And we didn’t agree on everything.  In fact, my job as an adult was to gain the confidence to create my own opinions, and then later (much later) share that with my Dad.   And, to his credit, he accepted the differences and loved me just the same.  What a gift.

I’m a parent today.  And as a parent of a 19 year old and and 18 year old, I realize that my example speaks much lower than my words.

I worry about our country, but do I do anything substantive about it?  I’m almost embarrassed that I was proud I took the time to send emails after that last ‘government shut down’ debacle.  Really? I should be proud of that?

Are we just so many generations removed from the struggle that we take all this for granted?  Can we look at the struggles around the world and think that democracy is easy?  Or, worse, that someone will do it for us?

My Dad’s political activism was all on behalf of the political right.  Part of my struggle is that I feel the political party that raised me has deserted me.  By today’s definition I’m not a Republican, but can’t yet call myself a Democrat.  So I’m a social liberal without an island.  But I know that I need to be part of the process.  Because my country needs each and every one of us.

So, how do I serve?  I’m thinking about that tonight.   Wondering how I can be a community organizer.  It might not meet my Father’s definition.  And certainly won’t support the party he served.  But I know this world needs the gifts I was given.   So how am I called to serve?

It’s a question each of us should ask every single day.  I hope you join me in asking the question.  Let’s open our hearts, and our minds, to how we can serve.  Above all, let’s find ways to talk through our differences.  For, I am convinced, that once we get through the rhetoric and the spin, we have much more in common than we admit.  After all, I’ve been in marketing for over 3 decades, so I understand a bit about how to make a point.

But, at the very essence, everything is simply about love.   At it’s core, every debate is about how we love and serve others.    So let’s unite around that.  It makes me wonder about what the conversation would be like, if it started with an acknowledgement that we’re here to figure out the best way to love each other.   Why don’t we try it and see?  It’s not an original idea.  In fact, it’s supported by every major world religion.   So maybe we can agree about that for a start.

Reflections: The World Just Got a Wee Bit Smaller!

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It was just another pile of mail, but it included exciting news.  CFCA sent  us sponsorship packets for Eri and Berdimon!  This filled my heart with joy!

Alex, Jimmy and Eri had jabbered away for hours on our trip to Mazatenango.  They happened to see each other at the Hentzen arrival and Eri passed the sweetest note to Alex.  Alex really wants to see Eri when we return to Guatemala three years from now.  So his wish has been granted.  We will be back for a reunion with Eri in 2014!

Josefina was the “SuperMom” who was so involved in the same day at Mazatenango.

Super Mom Josefina

She welcomed us to her house, which she shares with her sister, mother, and their children.  Berdimon is her sister’s son.  I felt a real call to help that family, and am so grateful that they will have the support of two “benefits” for the years ahead.

We got beautiful letters from each of these families.  I look forward to writing them back – and visiting in 3 years.  But in the meantime I know that the CFCA family is caring for these two families – as well as so many others.

So my heart is happy!

Refections: After 36 hours of Hope

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Kids are just kids. No matter their economic or social circumstances or the country they live in. This is certainly not an original thought, but one of the lessons I have relearned this summer.

I have been blessed to counsel at Hope Camp this week. This camp serves the underprivileged of Nashville. We have played games, swam, explored the creek, worshipped and prayed. Most important, we have laughed and talked. These kids remind me most of my very privileged teenage children.

Most of the counselors are considerably younger – 16 thru maybe 25. They are remarkably good with these kids, consistently kind, patient and loving. It is a blessing to watch them serve – a glimpse of Jesus and the little children.

This morning, the heat has broken a bit. Here’s to closing out camp with something less that. 95 degrees with 100% humidity! (certainly not a theological reflection, but from the heart!)

Reflections: How Much Space Do We Need

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This piece of art on the wall at the Room at the Inn headquarters touched my heart this week. Each leaf has a name – a Nashville homeless person who has passed away. So many leaves. But what truly touched my heart was when Wendy Smotherman explained that the tree gives hope to their participants because it reassures them their life will be remembered.

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Room at the Inn works hard to show the homeless they are valued and remembered. Isn’t that what we should do every day with everyone we meet! It’s so easy to pass people by without thinking. And we are taught to believe that we need our ‘space’. But what is the cost of that ‘space’?

So I leave you with a quote from psychologist June Singer: “The space between us, is it a space that separates us or a space that unites us?”

Reflections: Live Slow Enough

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I’ve been back home just over a week now, and normal life creeps in with its own force…  Can I remember to eat simply, as the Mayans do?  Can I remember the value of money – and how much hope that can provide in Guatemala?  Can I remember to savor every moment and every encounter with another human being?

Today’s devotional reading focused on slowing down to actually be part of life!  The crux is captured in this quote from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening (which I heartily recommend):

“…. simply slow your thoughts to the pace of cracks widening, slow your heart to the pace of the earth soaking up rain, and wait for the freshness of the beginning to greet you….”

While that may feel very Zen, it spoke to my soul.  This “sabbatical summer” has taught me the value of the tiny moments in life.  I find great joy from watching the hummingbird approach the feeder.  I love being in the garden in the morning or late afternoon – to see the finches battle over their feeder or to the tomatoes beginning to ripen.  And the chance to spend quiet, little moments with Steve, Kasey and Alex.

That is the way I approached Guatemala – by accident.  We were blessed with 3 great guides from CFCA who managed all the details.  And the country around me was so foreign that I could give up my “need to be in charge”.  So I didn’t worry about our schedule.  Instead I relaxed and opened myself to the experience.    I reached out in love.  I tried to speak my fractured Spanish, but truly communicated best with a smile.  I remember intentionally trying to look in the eyes of the people I met to connect as deeply as I could in a brief moment.

In doing so, I found myself in a very thin place.  In the Celtic tradition, thin places are where the boundary between heaven and earth is very thin.  As a very intuitive person, that feels like a deep feeling of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  As I was surrounded by those lovely Guatemalans, I deeply felt the presence of God in this place.

Now, back home, it’s so easy to get caught up in the pressures of life… My morning had not started auspiciously, but rather with the tedium of cleaning up after a dog and a coffeemaker that decided to overflow.  But the reminder to “live slow enough” was just what I needed to turn my day back around so I could focus on the small moments of grace.

And welcome rain has just come – needed rain.  So now I must “slow my heart to the pace of the earth soaking up the rain.”

A picture is worth a thousand words… so 5,000 pictures are worth countless words

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How could I forget the pictures??  Jim and Emmie didn’t… they had pictures scattered all around the Gathering Space this morning and it was great to share our stories with the greater Woodmont family!  We walked to Clay about a Wednesday night to tell our stories and show our pictures.  And he liked the idea of having some of the youth do the offering at worship… details TBD.

In the meantime, if you need more pictures, check out Jim’s Smugmug site.   I have also enjoyed (and downloaded pictures for this blog) from Nicky and Natalie’s facebook albums. If you have pictures posted somewhere, please add a link as a comment here, so we can all enjoy!

Editor note:  I figured out that the FIRST time you make a comment, it goes to me to moderate.  That protects us from spam… once I have approved you once, you can add comments whenever you want…   just a bit of protection – but don’t be dismayed if your initial comment(s) don’t show up immediately!

June 28: Smiles, hugs and tears as we leave our new found friends

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We left our hotel at 7:15, after loading our luggage onto the van.  We walked a couple of blocks to the project.  We were greeted by balloons and beautiful decorations.  The CFCA staff was at the entrance.  The tables were surrounded by scholarship students (high school aged) who had left room for our kids to sit with them.  I went over to greet two small ninos – and immediately a staff members asked if I was Katie.  (The day before we had asked for several more children to sponsor, and without realizing it I was talking to one of them).  We sat down at the tables.  After greetings and a beautiful prayer service led by the scholarship students (some of which had to be up really early that morning because they traveled a couple of hours), Katie was called up front to meet Angel, her sponsored boy.

Katie and Angel, her sponsored child. Photo by Jim.

Lee greets his sponsored child. Photo by Natalie.

(Angel has significant medical issues – Katie had requested a special needs sponsored child).  In quick succession Lee met an adorable girl, Kasey and Natalie met Cindy (dressed in a strawberry shortcake jacket) and Alex met Manuel (five years old and a soccer player!).  My eyes filled with tears and my heart swelled.

Manuel and Alex share breakfast. Photo by Natalie.

It was such a joy to watch my kids rise to this occasion, which was so uncomfortable just a few days before when we met our sponsored children at the CFCA center.  And it was a joy to know these kids would be well cared for by the CFCA family.  In a few short days I have grown to have great trust in both their hearts and the amazing job they do in caring for families that are almost forgotten.

The newly sponsored families joined us for breakfast and I wedged my self between Manuel/Alex and Cindy/Kasey/Natalie (even summoning up the courage to ask the armed “Department of Tourism” to move over one seat!). What a roller coaster it must have been for the families that have found they have new sponsors in the past 24 hours!  Excellent translators filled in the gaps, but all the kids did remarkable jobs communicating with their sponsored children!  Alex has come a long way with 2 years of Spanish in the past 7 days!

Cindy loves pink! She is Kasey and Natalie's new sponsored child. Photo by Jim.

After breakfast, the staff quickly broke down the tables so we could use the same space to talk.  We created a circle of chairs.  Several scholarship kids spoke of what CFCA has meant to them.  Then, slowly, a discussion emerged on a range of topics from what they are studying in school to what they like to do on vacation.

Then the music came on  and dancing broke out.

Amanda and friend dancing. Photo by Natalie.

The kids seemed to enjoy each other.

Katie and I pulled out bags of toys we had toted all week.  Katie had silly bands and pencils for the scholarship kids and I had small toys (frisbees, bubbles, jump ropes) for the younger newly sponsored children.

Fun breaks out.. notice how Taylor looks over the Mayans! Photo by Natalie.

Then came time for good byes.  Chico thanked the staff for a wonderful morning.  Then he asked Jim to speak.  Jim spoke of the lessons he learned, and his gratitude that our youth learned them at such an early age.  He introduced “Take a Little With You”, the song we sing every Youth Sunday to send off our Seniors.  This song, written by Thom Schuyler, felt very appropriate in this situation as well.  Our moist eyes turned to tears as we shared that song  — we got through it but barely!  After Brenda translated it, I asked for the floor.

... and his heart grew three sizes that day.....

I introduced the story of the Grinch who Stole Christmas.  When I paused for translation, Kasey asked “where are you going with that?”… When I concluded that my heart had grown three sizes in Guatemala, just like the Grinch, Russell gave me a huge smile and put his arm around me.  At least to our group, my point was made.  The people of Guatemala have shown me a magnificent, unquestioning love that I did nothing to deserve but “show up.”  For me, they have been the truest reflection of Christ’s love that I have seen.

After tearful farewells, we said good bye to the beautiful people we shared the week with.  They left indelible impressions on our hears and minds.  Now it is ours to figure out how we reflect that love to the world around us.

God is with us always….

As I write this, we are in final descent to U.S. soil.  The hardest part begins.  How do I live up to this example I have been shown by these humble people?

Lord, show me the way!

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