Thankful Thursday – Spring 2016 Books

Lotsa reading happening over here, and it’s been a fun mix of a couple of novels, even more young adult novels, a goofy volume of poetry, and several non-fiction books.

Every Thing on ItEvery Thing on It by Shel Silverstein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A quick-and-easy read-aloud for a poetry reading requirement, but not my favorite Shel Silverstein. Still, a couple of poems stood out: “WRITESINGTELLDRAW” and “THE RAINBOW THROWER.”

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my second time through this book – I read it myself years ago and this time read it aloud with Tween – and I liked it even better this time. And even more so when I read Gaiman’s acknowledgements, which begin with Rudyard Kipling and The Jungle Book. Gaiman read and reread The Jungle Book from childhood through adulthood, and that information sheds such light on what he has created. I thought parts might scare my sensitive Tween, but that was my too-rational adult brain overthinking; he took even the “scariest” bits in stride, as children perceive the world differently than adults – a perspective that helped me appreciate that life’s “scary” bits don’t have to be overwhelming, even to a sensitive mama.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond FearBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the right book at the right time for me. Gilbert blends the right amount of play and seriousness, discipline and joy, storytelling and truth-telling. Highly recommend to anyone who desires to live beyond fear, whatever form creativity takes in your life.

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders: A NovelHarriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders: A Novel by Julianna Baggott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my new favorites! Having allowed myself to stop reading another book, acclaimed and lovely, but not for this moment in my life, I picked up this book. Sentences in I knew I’d found a treasure. Harriet Wolf is an author and matriarch of three generations of women, all broken in their own beautiful ways. Baggott weaves together scenes from Harriet’s books with narratives told in each woman’s voice. Fantastic, moving, healing, wonder-full.

Why Not Me?Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although I went in looking for a lighthearted laugh, some essays left me feeling I wasn’t rich, smart or hip enough to get her humor. And yet I stuck with it to the end, so that’s something. Fans of her TV work might like this more than I did. Still, I do appreciate her vision for her life, her hard work and diligence, and that she’s willing to laugh at even the crappy stuff in life.

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I entered this book with some trepidation. I adored Me Before You–unlikely a story as it tells and as painful in the end–and I didn’t want this one to muck it up. It didn’t. It didn’t exceed Part 1, but it did faithfully continue Louisa’s story. It depicts the roller coaster experience of grief, specifically Louisa’s plod through the loss of Will, while intersecting her story with others who are also grieving and dealing with losses of many sorts. In the end we feel proud of Louisa for having the courage to move on in more ways than one, and we hope that we will have the same courage when it required.

Raymie NightingaleRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate DiCamillo is one of my very favorite authors. This isn’t her typical book. I liked it, but it took me a while to warm up to the story. It’s sad, mostly. But in that bleak landscape, there are whispers of DiCamillo’s usual magic, hope in the darkness or, in this case, Raymie’s soul growing larger as she learns to let go of what she expected and embrace the new people and path before her.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own PersonYear of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

LOVE this book! It reminded me of a mash-up of two other books I’ve read recently: I Dare Me (Lu Ann Cahn) and Why Not Me? (Mindy Kaling). But way better.

Why was I surprised that the woman who has written some of my favorite TV dialogue can write so thoughtfully, so eloquently, with the perfect balance of depth and humor? And while she does write at length about how she wrote Cristina Yang’s “Grey’s Anatomy” character because she (read: we!) need a Cristina Yang in our lives, her own voice sounds a whole heckuva lot like Bailey. And I love it.

She says YES to the things you’d expect: YES to scary invitations, YES to asking for help, YES to play and getting healthy and true friends. But also YES to hard conversations, and to NO, and even to Wonder Woman. To being a badass. Badassery is a word, people: Shonda Rhimes added it to the dictionary.

The Calder Game (Chasing Vermeer, #3)The Calder Game by Blue Balliett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teen read this in middle school and so now Tween and I have read it aloud together. None of us have read the other two books that precede it, although that didn’t affect our enjoyment. This book intertwines art, artists, history, three uniquely gifted kids (one in math, one in language, the other as a “finder”), and a mystery that stretches from Chicago to Blenheim Palace, England. The description of the Calder retrospective in the first few chapters was so beautiful, so alluring, I could easily imagine myself there and also longed to be there.

GratitudeGratitude by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These four short essays written in the last few years before Sacks’ death tell the life story of an extraordinary man who has made an indelible mark on the world. That we should all live so fully, think so deeply, and convey such gratitude and grace as we approach the end.

“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can” (16). It is up to all of us to choose to live richly, for none of us truly knows how much longer we have.

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written” (20).

Creatively Connecting People to Great People

You know what I mean: some people just light up the world. Not just the room, but the hearts and faces and lives of everyone she encounters. Tori is one of those people. The last time I saw her, she arrived on my doorstep with a delightful squeal, an armful of flowers, and a story about the new friend she made in line while waiting to purchase them. People flit to Tori like hummingbirds to sugar-water, displaying in bright bursts their truest beauty.

Which is why I am so excited for you to read the story of her dream come true. As a gifted People Person, Tori was already successful, professionally and personally, at helping people into their best version of themselves. And yet she had a bigger, God-given vision. I first heard about what would become WIT years ago as we traveled to and from an evening event. Earlier that day she’d had an important business meeting to flesh out some of the hard and necessary details to turn this vision into reality. I was so impressed at how BIG she was dreaming and how HARD she was willing to work to make it happen.

Your story isn’t hers, but I wonder… What are your unique gifts? What path have you uniquely walked? And what bigger creative vision might God call you to?

Create Challenge #17: Tori Dabasinskas
A glimpse into the story of creating WIT Professionals

happens

Have you had ‘life happen’ and wondered, “Who in the world do I call?”

As someone who gets A LOT of these calls, I created WIT Professionals (Wellness Integrated Team) to honor my passion for connecting people with the right people.

WIT is my way of being creative! I am excited about WIT. I am excited to see how WIT is developing and growing. I am excited it is creatively doing the job it was set in motion to do: connecting people with great people when life happens and seeing individuals, families and businesses achieve positive change as a result of creative connection!

But first, let’s glance at the relationship story that under girds the business story.

A Glimpse of My Story
As a therapist/pastor’s wife, my experiences in social settings are funny. People either run and hide from me while holding their glass of wine behind their back or engage me in some incredible story while offering to buy me a drink! People either freak out or cannot wait to talk! Trust me, no event is ever the same.

I have walked intimately with relationship dynamics throughout my life. I am a daughter of a mayor and a teacher; a sister to a commercial developer and a politician; a mother of two beautiful teenagers; and a wife of a pastor deeply involved in local and international communities. In my professional world, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice, and founder of WIT Professionals.

Personally and professionally I am deeply aware of the significance of relationships. My heart is full of stories of the rich value of people being connected to the right people when ‘life happens.’ When I say intimate dynamics, I mean it. My conversations over the years have rarely focused on surface issues.Paper Family

As a daughter: My parents were entrenched in community development. I had a front row seat to the value of connected relationships as well as to the destructive nature of painful ones.

As a mom: I was rooted in a community of school children and families. Moms were all in it together: scheduling, parenting, doing marriage, listening and participating in adult community gossip and story telling. At times it’s junior high all over, the issues just ‘more adult.’

As a wife: Marriage is as beautiful as it is challenging. Thanks to our faith in Jesus, the love of an amazing husband, our education and intentionality, we work hard to make something full of weakness as strong as we can. We deeply value our covenant to one another, trust God’s strength, and know what struggles and successes in connection feel like.

As a pastor’s family: When do people call a pastor? I will promise you, those calls aren’t about the weather or the stock market…well, sometimes the market, depending on their anxiety level. We are often invited into the messy and the magnificent. Whether I am invited into the specifics or not, I feel ‘the weather’ of my husband’s daily journey with people and organizations.

As a therapist: The ethically-bound and confidential office setting offers the safety for truths in personal dynamics and relationships that are at times precious and at other times almost unfathomable… The ground is sacred, a privilege, a place I consider it an honor to be present.

People’s stories all have a common thread: “Life is happening.” Leader or follower. Rich or poor. Life happens to all of us. I have counseled CEO’s and orphaned teenagers in Third World countries. All of us need connection. Personal or professional. I live in both camps, personal and professional, and almost always hear the same questions:

Who do I call?
How much does this cost?
Where do I go?
What in the heck do I do next?
Will you pray for me?

At the core of my being, I believe in the value and significance of connection. I feel a sense of richest joy and calling when I am at work connecting people with one another.

Wellness-Integrated-Team-logo1

How does a Wellness Integrated Team of Professionals, contracted by a family or company, support connection? Like a pit crew gets a race car driver back on track, a medical crew cares for a mother giving birth, a legal team toils in tandem to support a signed contract, a city council partners to support a proposition, WIT’s network supports a caller, appropriately connecting them with the best person for them when ‘life happens.’

Yet, how do people connect to WIT? Several ways, yet we’ll focus on one: The Employee Effectiveness Program Model. This is where a Business Owner knocks it out of the park on employee care.

  1. Invite WIT
  2. Connect WIT Professionals & Staff Face-to-Face
  3. Give a Gift Card

INVITE: A benevolent owner who wants their employees to feel well cared for and honored contracts with WIT.

CONNECT: The WIT Network of Professionals (1-3 of them) come to the business setting in person for a company coffee and a face-to-face introduction. Everyone connects. The professional is no longer a name on a website, but a safe new contact in person. WIT provides a tailor-made training/workshop as requested by the company (i.e.: managing stress for the holidays, conflict resolution, etc). This gives staff a feel for the professional’s heart and knowledge.

GIVE: In support of the employees, the company gives ‘WIT cards’ (like a gift card) loaded with a company-selected amount of professional consultations with WIT professionals: a licensed counselor, an executive coach, a nutritionist, a mediator, a financial planner, and others. Through a short-term contract, every staff person and owner who faces a ‘life happens’ moment now has a confidential professional consultant in their pocket to contact ‘as needed.’

FROM ANXIOUS QUESTIONS TO CONFIDENT ANSWERS
I know who to call.
The cost to me is $0. (Thank you, caring owner!)
I can do this on the phone or in person.
I can call right now.

After a WIT connection, you will know exactly what to do next. Phew! Anxiety and distraction decrease; focus and productivity increase.

And that’s just the business side of WIT. Can you imagine what we can offer a family?

Connecting people with the right people takes creativity. It is as complicated as it is fun. In my professional, pro-bono, and personal arenas of life, I am deeply intertwined in personal dynamics with people. I live a deeply connected life. Connecting people with the right people when our ‘Lives are happening’ is simply awesome, complicated, and a place I feel called to serve others. It is my passion. I cannot help myself but, by God’s grace and through lots of prayer, be as creative as possible in hope to make those connections happen!

TDaboTori lives in the Seattle area with her husband and two teenagers. She finds pleasure in anything outdoorsy—including hiking in the beauty of the Northwest, along the waterside or in the mountains—and especially, as life permits, horseback riding and playing tennis. One of her happy places is coffee and conversation with good friends; another is hot tubbing with her family and eating really great authentic taco truck-style Mexican food. She likes yummy wine, and also spinach in her smoothies. Connect with Tori through her website: www.witprofessionals.com

 

 

 

 

Thankful Thursday – Middle School Music

bandWhen my kids were in elementary school, I’m not sure I could have predicted how much I would enjoy middle school band concerts. Teen skipped school music altogether, but Tween got bit by the band bug, particularly the trumpet. He loves it, he seems to have aptitude for it, and he’s got two pretty incredible teachers: one at school for five instructional hours plus after-school jazz band; and another, a professional jazz musician and a funny, generous guy who musically hangs out with Tween a few times a month.

This week I attended the spring band concert. Due to a work commitment I got there late, just as the 6th grade band (Tween’s group) began their final piece. Still, I smiled ear-to-ear through the 7th & 8th grade band performance.

There’s a big jump between elementary music (one hour a week) and middle school music (5+ hours a week). Whereas before we strained to hear music between squeaks, now we hear melody and harmony. And the similar jump between 6th grade band and 7th/8th grade band sounds tremendous.

I love watching kids develop creativity. Seeing pimply, gorgeous, awkward kids count furiously and focus ferociously. Wiggle just a little because the rhythm moves more than their instruments. Kids learning about art and together creating beautiful music; learning to express their thoughts, heart, soul, drama through a productive medium. Music has created a safe place for the one kid in a sea of white shirts who forgot and wore blue instead; for the darling who wears a tiara because she is royalty; for the hipster who wears a fedora because: jazz.

Tween is exceptionally bright but not yet easily suited to classroom achievements. He’ll get there, but he’s only in 6th grade. For now, I am thrilled he gets excited to go to school because he has Band 1st period. For at least one hour of every school day, he works cooperatively with teacher and classmates to create something bigger than each individual contribution. No tests, no pressure, just FUN. Well, maybe some pressure, as he has to do his part, and sometime his part is a solo. Still, making music is mostly just fun. He’s learning so many valuable life skills beyond music while simultaneously learning to appreciate, enjoy and play fantastic music. It makes the other, harder, less fun parts of a middle school day bearable.

Because: music.

And I am so thankful!

Love as Creative Energy

I don’t dance well but, when the music and mood strike, watch out! And I have danced with today’s guest post author; together, we have joyfully boogied at a friend’s wedding celebration and at concerts in the park. She danced with my kiddo first, though…she was one of his fabulous PreK teachers and, though I didn’t know it at the time, I’m sure he regularly moved between observer and participant during “Friday dance.” What I did know, what was abundantly clear, was that she loved him. She loved her students and she loved their parents. Her quiet wisdom draws us all in and keeps us there. I wish everyone I know could spend at least an hour soaking in Kristi’s generous presence, listening and being heard, learning and sharing, praying, laughing, dancing.

Create Challenge #16: Kristi Grover

“Love is the Energy of creation.”–Dorothy Sayers, Mind of the Maker

One of my mentors has often told me how, all her life long, she loved color and shapes. When she discovered paint as a young girl, it brought her great joy to use this medium to celebrate color and shapes on paper and canvas. Though she lived in a community that viewed such artistic expression as wrong and sinful, her father was held in high esteem; under his protection, she had freedom to paint. Moreover, her father was highly creative in his own way and encouraged her to express herself, to grow as an artist.

Eventually she fell in love with a wonderful young man and, after marrying him, moved far from home. No longer under her father’s protection, painting was no longer permissible. While she rejoiced in new love with her husband, she also experienced a private sense of loss and grief.Sunflower_Cosmos

Slowly she found new ways to create beauty which were acceptable within the community: a garden with wide splashes of overlapping color, dramatic stone anchors, and an interplay of light and darkness; quilts and rugs and blankets fashioned of fabric bursting with innovative design; meals which celebrated the senses; a home which brought joy to all who entered. These gave her outlets for her creative energy and yet there remained an essential loneliness–she yearned to paint, and that was not allowed.

One hot summer day she canned fruit and vegetables from her garden. As the day ended and suppertime drew near, all kitchen surfaces were filled with cooling jars of produce. Where could she prepare their meal? She cleared space by stacking several jars on the window sill. As she turned to collect supper supplies, she suddenly saw a brilliant painting on the wide white kitchen wall. The setting sun burned through the varicolored jars and projected purples and reds and greens and oranges in a spectacular display. She stood still, transfixed by beauty. Smiling, she adjusted one jar to make the colors flow better. Then, in a burst of energy, she cleared them all off the sill and pulled together a different creation. After that, she said, “Every afternoon God and I would paint together.”colored light

Eventually the young couple found a different community in which to honor God, where each could celebrate the unique artistic gifts they had been given. It has been a joy to witness their creative life journeys, and yet I have returned again and again to this particular story as an encouragement when I feel alone or stuck in my creative journey as an artist.

I am not a visual artist. I work with words and with the lives of others as I interact with them as teacher, mentor, friend. What I take from my mentor’s story is that creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of love. Everyone is creative, as we each reflect the image of God, so then I choose to love those with whom I am in contact and rejoice in how they uniquely celebrate God.

For the many years I taught young children, “Friday dance” was a tradition in my classroom. At the beginning of each school year I explained that I would play music at a certain time each Friday and those who would like to dance could do so. There was also a place where those who opted not to dance could sit and chat with friends, but I made it my own challenge to find music which would entice the most dance-resistant individuals to participate.

Occasionally I had a student who would fold his or her arms and stubbornly say, “I don’t dance.” That just made the challenge more interesting. Since the variety of music played through the year included classical, movie themes, rock, international folk, and country, even the most recalcitrant would eventually choose to dance, would even feel compelled to dance.

One student in particular stands out. He sat stubbornly with folded arms and rolling eyes for months. “I don’t dance!” he would say again and again.

“I simply haven’t found your music,” I would think.

And then, one lovely rainy Friday, he danced. The music that week, I had told the children, was warrior music; when it was originally played the warriors in a community would leap and lunge and swing swords and enact a battle as they danced. As the music’s first few notes began, I could see my reluctant dancer fighting to hold still. Suddenly he leapt out and, slashing with an imaginary sword and grimacing as he faced imaginary enemies, he danced and swirled his way in and around the other children.

When the music ended he stood, chest heaving and light of battle still in his eyes. He looked at me and slowly smiled. I smiled back. As the next song began, my warrior dancer leapt into the fray once more.dance kids

I truly believe we have all been gifted with unique creative abilities. Some individuals, it is true, use theirs in inappropriate, destructive ways. But many haven’t yet discovered their particular ‘medium;’ they haven’t yet found the music which makes their heart dance.

A friend of mine had recently been named to head a large industrial facility which had experienced dramatic loss in both output and morale. She heard my Friday dance story at a dinner party and told me later, “I need to find the ‘music’ which compels each individual member of my executive team to dance.” Obviously she did not envision her executive team dancing as they worked–given the nature of their work, a chemical research plant, the mind boggles at the thought–but rather she wanted to inspire each one to find joy and fulfillment in their work and then inspire those who worked under them to discover in their own ways a similar joy and fulfillment.

When I have lost the creative spark, I know I need to be quiet so I can once again hear my own music in my heart. Eventually I know I will turn around and be amazed at the beauty of the colors on a once white wall of my life as I hear the unique sound of the love song the Creator sings over me. And then God and I will again create beauty together. His energy and love will inspire creativity as we work together in the lives of those around me.

some things that are true about me:

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller. I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends; working in various ways for justice; hiking along high mountain ridge lines, walking in the woods, and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean; hearing and affirming as people share their life stories; writing and reading; rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat; listening to music and singing and dancing; intelligent conversation and laughter; making a home. These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.

 

Meatless Monday – Chocolate Stout Cake

Last night friends hosted a lovely backyard dinner party.dinner view a

The group was a mix of friends from church and neighborhood. At what became the first annual dinner two years ago, they toasted us off on our Costa Rica sabbatical. At this third annual dinner, neighbors we met two years ago have become friends with whom we look forward to spending an evening. And, sadly, last night we toasted friends who will soon relocate.dinner host

Our hosts prepared the meat and desserts, and guests brought a favorite dish and a bottle of wine. I made cauliflower soup topped with homemade croutons as a warm start to the meal. As I said here, it looks like caramel and tastes like comfort.dinner soup pots

I also made mini chocolate stout cupcakes as a not-too-sweet little bite to end the meal as our gourmet hosts served pot de creme and apricot trifle. I typically make this recipe as a bundt cake, but for this occasion I wanted a simple finger food. I also skipped the ganache and instead topped each cake with a few chocolate chips–just right.

Vegan Chocolate Stout Cake
Makes 1 bundt to serve approx. 12 or 48 mini cupcakes

Cake:
2 flax eggs (1 Tbsp ground flax + 3 Tbsp water = 1 flax egg)
½ c + 1 Tbsp plant milk + 1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 c stout
1 c vegan butter
¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ c white whole wheat flour
½ c whole wheat flour
1 c unbleached sugar
½ Tbsp baking soda
¾ t salt

Ganache:
16 oz non-dairy semisweet chocolate morsels
1 c plant milk
2 Tbsp unbleached sugar
2 Tbsp liquid sweetener, such as maple syrup or agave
¼ c vegan butter

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a bundt pan with cooking spray and dust it with cocoa powder.

Prepare flax eggs in a small bowl and set aside. Add lemon juice to plant milk and set aside.

Bring stout and butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and milk in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Pour cake into prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cake to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely.

For ganache:
In a 2 qt saucepan bring milk, sugar, and syrup to a boil over low/medium heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Do not scorch/scald. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to mixture, whisking until smooth. Transfer ganache to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened but still pourable. Spread ganache along top of completely cooled bundt cake so that the chocolate runs thickly down the sides and interior of the cake. Alternately, you can serve ganache on the side and allow guests to add some to their slice.

Notes:
Perhaps the world’s most common stout, Guinness has traditionally been made with isinglass, a derivative of fish bladders. In November 2015, The New York Times ran an article stating that Guinness will be going vegan, but they didn’t specify a timeline.

I say “unbleached sugar” because refined white sugar processed in the US may have been bleached using animal bone char. Check labels and read this Huffington Post article.

I ❤ coconut milk for baked goods! It seems to make them lighter and fluffier than other plant milks. Use what you have, but if you have coconut milk, use that. (This recipe uses coconut milk, not cream, but you could use cream. Let me know if you try it).dinner stout cake

Kindness Counts

I’ve been thinking about kindness lately.

scatter-kindness-kindness-quoteKindness matters. Being friendly, courteous, generous – yes, those small but gentle acts matter.

The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you It’s golden—and a rule—for a reason. C’mon, who among us wants someone to be short and snippy to us? Who thinks it’s acceptable, tolerable, even funny, for someone to be downright rude and mean? So we treat others as we like to be treated. It’s not that difficult.

So why is it that all too often we feel bruised by others’ unkindness? I guess the other saying is true as well: hurt people hurt people. We all deal with some of life’s aches and pains, and in turn we inflict those on others. Yuck.

Some kindness quotes:

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” –Seneca

“Always be a little kinder than necessary.” –J.M. Barrie

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kindness doesn’t mean squishy-sappy-soft. Sometimes the kindest words can be difficult to say and even more difficult to hear. Sometimes we have to tell people uncomfortable truth; not telling them would be unkind. And yet, even the hardest kind words can be uttered in friendship, with gentle courtesy and great generosity. With love’s nudging motivation.

Earlier this week, I went to the pharmacy to pick up three prescriptions for three family members. The line felt uncomfortably long. I forgot my phone = no easy distraction. I studied the aisle in which we stood: adult-strength low-dose aspirin. Muscle relaxing pads. Athletic tape. I waited patiently.

Finally the man ahead of me was called to the counter. He asked, “Can I pay for this here?” An extra-large bottle of alcohol, cobalt blue, maybe vodka.

“Sure, yes,” the response.

I waited some more while a new staff person clocked in and, then finally, my turn. She had to pull up each of our accounts separately. And as it turned out, my doctor called in the wrong prescription.

Meanwhile, we heard: “Sir, why you look at me like that?” The pharmacist at the next counter sounded agitated.

Big Blue Bottle Man responded brusquely: “What are you talking about?”

“You throw your hands up. Your eyes look mean. I’m just doing my job.”

“What are you talking about?” His anger increased in volume.

“I’m doing my job. I’m not sure why you treat me with rudeness.”

My pharmacist gal and I, we made BIG eyes at each other. She glanced down the counter at her co-worker. I stared downward, not wanting to make eye contact with the guy only a few feet away.

“You’re an idiot. You call me rude, I call you an idiot.” He stormed off. She called Security. He blustered back, yelled some more, and stomped away again.

Later, while Bridget sorted the prescription confusion, I noticed the blue bottle behind the counter. Perhaps his prescription and liquor didn’t mix—was that the problem? Either way, the employee appropriately confronted him for his lack of kindness. His response lacked all human kindness.

Bridget did her best for me, and ultimately was unable to get me what I need. At least for that day. She smiled and made eye contact. She asked questions and listened. She put forth maximum effort, and it showed.

As I left—without the prescriptions I came for—I saw the manager. I grabbed his attention and made sure he knew that Bridget had done a great job. Flustered, he responded, “Oh, yes! Yes, Bridget is great. Um, thanks.” Clearly an enthusiastic response from a customer had not been his managerial norm.

I got in the car, my mind instantly returning to the day’s festering worries. Suddenly, they didn’t fit. I turned on the radio, loud, and sang along to the Modest Mouse song, Float On. Kindness will help us float on even if things end up a bit too heavy.

Yesterday Tween and I went to the Town Faire. He spun the wheel at one of the booths and won a rubber bracelet. The guy working the booth asked if Tween wanted to sign the iKind pledge, which started as an initiative at Tween’s middle school a few years ago and is now spreading to a community-wide message. Because, not just middle schoolers, but we all should be kind.iKind

The guy asked me to sign, which seemed both unnecessary and obvious: Of Course I will sign, because of course I intend to be kind! I don’t understand why it’s not obvious to everyone, why there needs to be an initiative. As we walked away the man said, “Thank you for supporting kindness.”

Seriously? What are we coming to when we need to sign a pledge to support kindness?

Kindness Feels Good! And kindness is contagious.

I don’t want to be Grouchy Blue Bottle Guy. I want to be Bridget, doing her best. I want to be Me, accepting Bridget’s best even when it didn’t produce my desired result. I want to be kind!

Which reminds me of another song, Natalie Merchant singing: You’ve been so kind and generous. For your kindness, I’m in debt to you. For everything you’ve done, I’m bound to thank you for it.

Sing it loud!

Empowered for Creative Investment

During a job transition for us, we were privileged for a short time to attend a small church with the loveliest people. Among them were Scott Sabin and family. Humble and unassuming, it took us a bit (but not that long) to realize that Scott is a world-changer. His work with Plant With Purpose changes lives around the world and empowers people–and future generations–to change their circumstances, provide for their children, and live with God-given hope and dignity.

Create Challenge #15: Scott Sabin

2013-Planting-Hope1

From the very beginning God has invited human beings to participate in what he is doing in the world – creating, redeeming, and loving. In short, we were created for a purpose. Yet for many people that sense of purpose is precisely what is missing in their lives.

I had never given that much thought until one evening in the mountains of Haiti, when the Haitian Episcopal priest we worked with joined a group of us at the guesthouse where we stayed.

Though he had been given a remote rural parish, he had flourished, founding dozens of schools and providing opportunities for thousands of people.

As we sat in the dark, he told us how happy he was that God had given him a task. “God gives each of us something to do for him,” he said. “It’s as if He gathered us together and said to each of us, ‘I have a very important job for you.’”

With childlike exuberance he exclaimed, “It makes me happy that God has something for me to do. I feel excited!” But after a pause he said, “Can you imagine how it would feel if He said to you ‘I have nothing for you to do’? So many of the people in these mountains think they have nothing to give.”

For the first time, I realized how awful it must be to believe you have nothing to contribute, to feel you are and always will be completely dependent on the goodwill of outsiders. It is the very definition of disempowerment.

Since then I have realized that this level of disempowerment is more widespread than I imagined. In Burundi we work with returning refugees, some of whom have spent decades in refugee camps where they have been prohibited from doing anything productive. Men and women who have never worked before have little interest in learning how to farm or participating in microfinance groups until they begin to realize that God loves them and calls them to join him in His creative and redemptive work. Our outreach curriculum was developed locally and encourages people to discover their vocation, calling and purpose.

There has been a hunger for this that has astounded me, with churches all over the country asking for workshops. Few things match the joy on the faces of those who have discovered that they have agency, and can exercise their talents creatively. Innovative businesses have flourished and subsistence farms have become works of art.

The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) comes to mind. For some reason, when Jesus told this particular parable, He chose the man who only received one talent to be the villain, who buries his gifts. This man, perhaps like many in the mountains of Haiti, felt that his contribution didn’t matter, so buried his talent, declaring that his master was harsh.

For years this has bothered me. Even though I still do not understand why those who received more had an easier time recognizing their role, I have seen how often it is those with fewer talents who tend to bury them. The good news in the parable, though, is that everyone received a talent and therefore everyone has a role in the kingdom. No one is told, “I have nothing for you to do.” Everyone has something to create.

I have also learned that even with all I have been given, I am tempted by the same error. Because my talents often seem inadequate, I am tempted to bury them. Because another leader is a better writer, a better speaker, a better manager or a better storyteller, I am tempted to quit. I am tempted to avoid embarrassment, risk, and failure. Once again, I have to remind myself what we are telling people: God loves you. God has a purpose for you. God wants you to invest your talents. God invites you to create with Him.

SSabin

Since 1995, Scott Sabin has served as the Executive Director of Plant With Purpose (www.plantwithpurpose.org) an international Christian organization that empowers the poor in rural areas around the world where poverty is caused by deforestation. During that time the organization has grown from a single program in one country to include a staff of over 200 foresters, agronomists and facilitators in seven countries who have empowered farmers in more than 460 communities to plant over 18 million trees.