Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pay it Forward--Plan B . . . or C

I've been thinking a lot about hopes and dreams lately. We all have them--some big, some small. Sometimes, not very often, our dreams work out exactly as we hoped they would. Sometimes they don't work out at all. A lot of the time they end up evolving, or are set aside in favor of new dreams. Dreams are great. Hope is healthy. In fact, it is essential. But what happens when things we have really wanted take a turn that is disappointing to us?

A friend of mine recently shared this hypothetical: You plan a trip to Italy. You really, really want to go there. You learn Italian, you save money, you read up on art, food, history, architecture, and culture. You get a passport and visa. You plan for years, and finally you get on the plane for Italy. Halfway across the Atlantic, a flight attendant comes on and tells you the plane is not going to Italy, but Holland. You arrive in Holland, speaking no Dutch, knowing nothing of the people or culture, and not wanting to be there. How do you react?

Do you sit in your hotel room and mope about how you wish you were in Italy, or do you embrace the adventure and enjoy Holland?

Changing our mindset is harder for some people than others. But one key to happiness is the ability to adapt to what life throws at us. And if we have an attitude of selfless service, the bumps and difficulties can be greatly eased. Looking outside ourselves is one way to focus less on what we want, and more on what God wants for us--because I believe that while He wants us to fulfill our dreams, He also see what we do not, and sometimes He has other things in mind that we don't realize will make us better, happier people.

So my advice to people who are caught up in how life isn't turning out the way they wanted is always, always to find some way to serve others and forget about themselves for a while. My dear friend Liz is an excellent example of this. She has hoped for marriage and children for a long time, and these things haven't come to her yet. I know this makes her sad. But she has thrown herself into loving and helping others, and she is an absolute delight to know and be with. For years she has worked with autistic children, and now she is in Ghana working with schoolchildren there. What a fantastic experience! She blogs about it here, and I hope you will feel her enthusiasm, joy, and love of life when you read her stories. Nowhere will you sense any bitterness at how things have turned out differently than she imagined. This is the way to do it, friends. In the process we'll bless a few lives and forge eternal bonds of friendship. I can't think of a better dream to have.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pay it Forward--Sometimes Things Don't Work Out

Sometimes compassion just doesn't bear the fruits we expect it to. This seems to happen to me frequently when I notice something or someone that I think needs help and try to step in and offer assistance.

There was the time I saw a blind guy tapping all over the bus station, walking back and forth, stopping, seemingly confused about which way to go. I watched him for a few minutes while others just walked by, ignoring him. Finally I approached him and asked if I could help him find his bus. He snapped at me angrily and walked away, looking like he knew exactly what he was doing. Maybe he really did need help, and my asking just embarrassed him. I don't know. But I felt stupid. This seems to happen to me a lot. I know some people that are always offering the right kind of help at the right time, and I don't have that gift.

The other day I saw a bunch of people waiting in line for a Red Box machine, and there was another one in the store that I had noticed didn't have a line. I went up to the people waiting and told them there was no line inside. As a couple of them broke away to to inside, someone said, "Hey! That machine's broken." Fortunately, the nice people in line let them have their places back.

This is frustrating and a little bit painful to me. Every good deed should be met with gratitude, or at least grace, right? Sometimes I think that maybe I should stop trying to offer help where it isn't needed. I make mistakes, I get rejected. But . . .

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. - Dalai Lama

What if the stranger who fell among thieves had risen up when the Samaritan came to help him and said, with his last breath, "No way am I accepting help from someone like you"? Or, "I'm fine. Really. I don't need any help." Would the Samaritan have gone on his way resolved to never extend a hand again? I hope not. I hope he would have stopped and offered help again and again. Because the rescue wasn't about him. It was about the man in the road.

There are a lot of times when we don't realize we need rescuing or help. We are too proud to accept that someone else has something we don't have, or we think we show weakness by being in need. That doesn't mean we aren't still desperately in need. And there may come a time when we are humble enough or just down enough to finally accept that help. And what if everyone around us had stopped helping because they'd been turned down too many times?

So I'm going to keep getting back on the horse. I resolve that no matter how many times I am turned away or misinterpret people's needs and do the wrong or unneedful thing, I will try again. I will pray for more inspiration to discern needs. I will reach out. I won't wait for the sting of rejection or humility of the mistake to go away. And I will be happy.

Here's an excellent post highlighting a few things that you can do today to get on the horse or get back on it. While you're there, take a look around the blog. There's a lot of good stuff to read.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Interview with a Samaritan--Bernson Family

This is not an interview I conducted, but a link to a recorded Mormon Channel story you might enjoy. I think the title: Being a Good Samaritan, makes it a perfect story to share. It's about an hour long, but you can download the mp3 file and listen piecemeal if you like. From the synopsis:
Siblings Greg Bernson, Cappey Jones, and Stephanie Kirk have spent a lifetime organizing service—home makeovers, financial assistance, and other acts of service to those in need. During this episode of Enduring It Well, the Bernson siblings share ideas on how to “go and do likewise” as the Savior taught. We learn the importance of service by example, as they learned from their service-oriented parents. They teach us that giving service means giving of our time, resources, and love.
One of the things I love about this interview is that the interviewees were not out there trying to get publicity--they were in fact reluctant to be put in the spotlight, and ended up talking about other people and influences a lot. I've been thinking about interviewing others from time to time, and I know it won't be easy--because people who serve generally aren't interested in tooting their own horns, and often they don't even see what they're doing as anything worth highlighting. I'll have to get creative, but there are awesome stories like this one that need to be told!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

If it's worthwhile, it counts!

Here are two ways to serve that are a little unconventional. I'm bringing them up now because my friend Holly has started a meme, and I'm an enthusiastic participant. I think you'll see why when you check it out.

Spreading good news is arguably something good we do for other people, right? So it can be as easy as sitting down to your computer and sharing something fine, inspiring, or even funny (as long as it doesn't ridicule anyone) via email, Facebook, or your blog. Voila! You served others, without even getting out of your chair. The idea of "paying it forward" is a bonus!

As part of my participation in the meme, I want to share a little bit about the blog post I'm highlighting. I devotedly read Shannon Hale's blog, squeetus, and I highly recommend it for a down-to-earth, fun read by a gifted writer. The post I'm linking to today talks a lot about Shannon's interview with a friend of hers--Stephenie Meyer (you may have heard of her). The story of that interview may interest you (I think pretty much everything Shannon writes is readable), but there's a little gem toward the end of the post that I particularly want to promote. Take the time to read down to it and consider the service Shannon is suggesting: sit down with another person, with no distractions, and fully focus on them for a couple of hours. Ask them questions about their life, their passions, their successes and failures, whatever comes up. "No agenda," she says. "Just listen and love." If you record your interview, you'll not only be serving the person you're interviewing, but you'll be doing something priceless for their loved ones.

So, a couple of easy, relatively quick ways to bring some light into another's life. And that's what we're all about on our road to Jericho.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Getting Started, Part I

Taken from a talk I gave at the 2010 American Fork City Volunteer Fair.

The first time I can remember being formally involved in community service was when I was twelve years old. My mom heard that our local library operated a service delivering books to shut-ins. That sounded like fun, so I agreed to participate. The volunteer coordinator was reluctant to sign me up as I was young and had no car, but my mom convinced her that I was dedicated and responsible, and loved to ride my bike (all partly true). I was assigned to an older woman who was totally bedridden. The volunteer coordinator's fears proved to be well founded. We lived a couple of miles outside of town. It was very hot, and very windy. I had to ride my bike about six miles against the wind to get to the library, and then another five or six miles to the woman's house carrying up to ten heavy, large-print books on my handlebars. I was a little shy, especially of elderly people, and had trouble chatting with the lady, whose situation made me uncomfortable. I don't think I delivered books more than twice, and then I just quit going. Tragically, I was ashamed and afraid to go in to the library for a long time after that. The experience did not turn me off to service, but it did teach me two things:

Volunteering should be convenient.*
No matter how much you want to prove yourself as a person who can sacrifice everything for a worthy cause, a sustainable endeavor has to be something you can do using the time and resources already available to you.

Volunteering should be enjoyable.
Don't sign up for the most awkward, uncomfortable opportunity you can find--even if your friends or neighbors are telling you it's for a great cause. There are thousands of great causes out there. Take your time and find the one that will bring you personal fulfillment as well as provide a service to the community. It's okay, in fact it's preferable, to find joy in service. You're more likely to enjoy it and keep at it if you do.

*That said, there are times when we need to simply step in and do what is needed. We may not have time, we may not be qualified, and the need may not provide an opportunity to interact with another human being. This does not mean we shouldn't act. We should act. We must occasionally rush to the aid of others and throw ourselves in to that service with all our hearts. However, we can also be looking for long-term opportunities to do good in the world. It is at that time that these guidelines can be helpful—both in ensuring that you will do something of value, and that you will find fulfillment in doing it.

Unselfish Service


I'm not an expert. But I do try to live a life of service, and I have access to a lot of people who are experts, and I like to write. So I'm going to share ideas, inspiring stories, and insights, as well as what works and what doesn't when we try to help others.

Hopefully you'll share your experiences and questions, and together we can get a little further along on our own "roads to Jericho," binding up wounds and lifting sagging spirits as we go.