It’s my firm belief that our society could use a lot more attention. Not the “hey, look at me” kind of attention, but the kind that notices others. Attention to others: kindness, caring, listening, looking, touching, smiling, and sharing.
Of course, in order for this to happen we’d need to lift our faces from our device screens. If you know that I am someone who sits in front of a computer many hours a day, this statement could seem hypocritical. However, I make my beyond-the-screen moments really count. Balance. That is what’s needed. I’m a relationship-builder and I notice people. It’s not that hard, really, to actually look at folks. Study them. Listen. But also, respond.
It seems that so much of our society has “acquired self-centeredness”, to coin a phrase for my purposes here. Though most of us are not typically wired from birth to be self-absorbed for all of our lives (usually humans reach an age where they outgrow this for the most part), it seems to have become an increasingly consistent trait through adulthood.
Which is truly sad. Think back. I know you can remember a time when someone’s smile, touch on the arm, or hug reached your hurting heart for a moment. You were strengthened by having someone connect with you and share your burden.
Why is it often the norm to step back from other’s emotional journeys, whether good or bad? Is it because we feel that our own journey stinks so badly that we want no part of more emotionality? But isn’t it possible that when we reach out to someone they could actually help share our journey too? Ahhh, but we must become vulnerable and make the first move. Whew, not many of us like that word! Nope, not us. We want our backs covered. Better yet, let’s stand in a corner with our shield in front of us and our helmet on so no one can penetrate.
But this is not living fully! And how, may I ask, are we going to have a fulfilling job with people, satisfying relationships with loved ones, or success in building a life if we choose not to relate wholeheartedly with others? How, if instead we cocoon ourselves away from interactions, connections, and reaching out with our hearts in compassion? Because, remember, we need that just as badly.
“No man is an island, entire of itself.” John Donne
If you spend some time becoming acquainted with people who have long-term, successful marriages/relationships, or who are making an impact on their world, or are top entrepreneurs, or leaders in their companies, you will most likely find they have two common characteristics:
Brenѐ Brown, in her book Rising Strong, says that
“hiding out, pretending, and armoring up against vulnerability
our ability to lead, our love, our faith, and our joy.”
And then what is left of our lives?
When we brace ourselves against reaching out to fellow humans, or fail to look into people’s eyes and actually talk with them, we are killing our own spirits. By our actions, or lack thereof, we are sending the message that other people are not worthy of our time or valuable enough to be noticed and we are way more important than anyone else in our sphere. Is this the impression we want to give? Is that really how we want to live our lives?
Every time I choose to become vulnerable and speak with people—online, in person, or to a group—and share the stories of my personal experiences of loss and then living, of how I broke free of a life driven by other people’s opinions and expectations, of my own rising above setbacks and circumstances, I am amazed. I am encouraged and heartened by the lives touched, hope that is received and embraced, and the new paths chosen. That is what happens when we connect, when we tell our stories in order to lift another, when we reach out with our hearts to let someone know that we see their pain, understand a little, or share how we survived. And every time I do, my own life gets stronger through lifting their burden during that poignant encounter.
We are placed on earth for others—to share journeys side by side. We are not created to be self-contained, excluding others. Thus, when we extend beyond ourselves, touching hearts and sharing burdens, our own hearts grow stronger.
“Go out and make a difference in your community. You don’t need endless time and perfect conditions. Do it now. Do it today. Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating.”
Hopefully my own bold choices will affect and inspire others to step out, risk, and make brave choices too. But what about the ways YOU have been courageous? The fact you are human means you have survived difficult circumstances, walked through grief and loss, suffered betrayal, endured your share of heartbreak, and yet have been brave, valiant, and bold (if not you wouldn’t be reading this). So tell your story, and shine your light for others.
Do you realize that you already make a difference in the lives of people every single day? It’s your choice whether you are adding value or not.
Will you smile and warm the eyes of that person you squeeze past in your rush to accomplish your errand?
Will you hug, hold, or touch the person who is alone and hasn’t felt human warmth in many weeks?
Will you visit the one who is physically trapped inside a home, longing to see the sunshine and feel the breeze, and to hear another person’s voice?
Will you listen with stillness, full intention, and focus as someone, with stuttering breath, reveals their story of need?
Will you sit, in the moment, with grief and pain, and breathe alongside another to divide the burden?
Will you whirl and dance in steps of celebration of another’s blessing without asking “why not me, when’s my turn”?
Will you hold the young child of a friend who needs to go, do, be “not-a-mommy” for a bit?
Will you take the time to write and mail a note expressing gratitude toward someone who has given their time and heart? There are many, many unsung heroes in our lives.
Will you share from your bounty, or maybe from your just-enough, to lighten the despair of another who is hungry and afraid, unable to feed her child?
Will you share from your buy-a-coffee-on-the-way stash in order to diminish the lack of another?
Will you call someone and personally voice your desire to help, so they hear the warmth of your humanness instead of just reading a text?
Add value to other’s lives.
“The question is not ‘Can you make a difference?’ You already do make a difference. It’s just a matter of what kind of difference you want to make during your life on this planet.”
Julia Butterfly Hill
As mentioned, the word “WHOLEHEARTED” has gained attention because of Brenѐ Brown’s books The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong. She so wonderfully voices for us the need to live with our whole hearts in a sincere, unreserved, and unconditional way. Why? Because those who do choose to live wholeheartedly experience longer-lasting relationships, more success in their work, and the highest satisfaction with their lives.
When we connect with another person through acts that add value to their lives, we live wholeheartedly. You do become vulnerable when you live like that, and must be brave to choose it. However,
It’s impossible to add value to someone’s life
without also adding value to your own.
This is your mission. Will you choose to accept it?
Jesus’ disciples had just been through the worst time of their lives. Jesus, their teacher and friend, had been killed and placed in a tomb. Three days later when some of the disciples told Thomas they had seen Jesus as the risen Lord, Thomas told them he had to see it to believe it. He wanted proof that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Jesus, being, well, Jesus, and loving Thomas deeply, appeared again to the disciples when Thomas was present. When Jesus showed Thomas the scars from his crucifixion, Thomas immediately believed that He was the Lord and had returned from the dead.
Are we like Thomas? Do we have to be shown something that is written in God’s word (for example His faithfulness or His promises) to believe it’s true? But what happens to us when we haven’t seen yet? What happens when we are still struggling and God hasn’t provided a solution? Do we begin to doubt if He will? Do we doubt His love for us and His faithfulness? Or even if He can provide what we need?
We are a society of gratification—the quicker the better! But God is not interested in our societal expectations. He loves us and wants us to grow in Him. He knows that adversity can bring us closer to Him, to His heart of love, to closer communion with Him. Even if that communion consists only of, “Oh God! Oh God!” (The Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows the cry of our hearts.)
How can our faith grow if it is never tested? It’s often through these hard times of testing that God is able to prove His unfailing love and attention to our needs. Don’t you know that Thomas was at the end of any faith he might have had in his dear friend, Jesus, who claimed to be the Messiah. That “Messiah” had been killed, and in the worst, most agonizing and humiliating way possible. Thomas was in deep, deep grief, and perhaps feeling a bit of anger too. “This is not how it was supposed to go. Where is the kingdom, the reign, the wonderful life I thought Jesus was talking about? I saw him die. You say he’s risen, but buddy, I gotta see it to believe it. I believed once and now I’m paying for it.”
You gotta love Thomas. He said what a lot of us think, really. Jesus commended those who believed without seeing him first (verse 29). But we can ask God if He will prove to us that He exists and give us the faith we need to believe in Him.
By now in my life, I have firm convictions and believe in God—period. During some intensely difficult times I began seeing items in stores with the word “believe” on them. I picked up a few and it became my “word” for the season. I embraced this word, not because I lacked belief in God’s ability to take care of my problems, but because I chose tobelieve He would. Those words were affirmations of what my heart chose and reminders for my brain. Around the house whenever I’d see one, I’d breathe the prayer, “Oh yes, God, I believe You will provide.”
I grew up in an environment of belief. (Many times, my parents had to believe for food on the dinner table that night. And God, being the faithful one He is, provided for our family of five.) I’m very thankful for the foundation that belief provided me. AND the gift of faith that God has given me. Did you know that you can ask God for the very thing He requires from us? That blows my mind. It’s like He says, “Child, I want you to give me your faith, lots of faith. I want you to fill this big box with your faith in me. But first, let me give you a warehouse full of faith so you can give me a box full of it back.”
I know this is very elementary, and probably not exactly scripturally accurate, but faith is a gift from God. And the more we are in difficult situations where our faith in God is tested, the more we choose to believe in His ability and desire to help us, the stronger our faith becomes. Because He will always come through for us.
Lest you think that I’ve had an easy life so it’s easy to talk about God’s faithfulness, I’ll share some of the most dramatic ways God has proven His faithfulness. (Believe me, there’s more!)
Shortly after marriage when our total income for the year was minimal to say the least, the refrigerator broke, my husband’s contact (which was necessary for him to see since he was legally blind) tore, and our car was stolen and joy-ridden until it was totaled (two cars were necessary because I drove 45 minutes one way to work). We had no money in reserve and no way of getting any. But, God came through and provided not only a car, but for our financial needs as well.
When my husband was attacked and chemicals thrown in his face and eyes, not once but twice, God came through and healed his eyes.
When I was left totally alone, betrayed by most of those I’d been closest to, God came through and not only healed my heart toward them, but as a result of that emotionally bereft time, came into my grief with more and more of Himself. I wouldn’t trade those times for anything because He drew me even closer to Him than I’d have ever known. I didn’t much care for the excruciating barrenness and alone-ness at the time, but I say now that the experience was worth knowing deeply, and personally, of God’s faithfulness and love in a way I’d never experienced before.
When I went through another devastating time–this one ended in divorce, God came through and provided a place of safety for my children and me to stay. He provided for all of our physical needs, and also healed my broken heart, helping me to parent my two very hurt and confused seven-year-olds. He knitted us together in a stronger bond, making a sweet, loving family from the three of us. My children were content, even in the midst of their grief.
After a period of years during which I was stripped of all my “identities”—wife, daughter, sister, teacher, pastor’s wife, worship leader, home owner, person with good credit—through the deaths of my family members, my divorce, my retirement, and bankruptcy, I had no idea what to do next. I didn’t have a clue “who” I was anymore, had lost most of my support system, was adrift in emotions, and felt weighed down. Over a period of about two years God and I did a lot of work on me. He came through with direction, provision, and so much love to flood my grieving heart. He set me on a new path that brings fulfillment and allows me freedom to be the person He created me to be.
I have many experiences of my own to prove God’s faithfulness and love to me. I know He has our best interests in mind. Do I ever get willful and try to do things my own way? Of course I do. But I’m better at relinquishing the reins these days.
I choose to believe. I choose to seek Him. There is no room for doubt in my life because to doubt God means that I’m believing the lie that God is not able. And I have learned and know, deeply in my “knower” that:
And you can know it too. Carry this verse with you, say it throughout the day and ask God to help you believe it. In a culture that glorifies the self-made person, it’s reassuring to know that it is GOD in us that is carrying out His purpose and satisfying the desires of our heart—way more than we could imagine.
Be blessed beyond measure, my friends, and thank you for stopping by.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong
is the only choice you have.”
Most of us have been through things that have shown us—beyond our imaginings—what we are capable of. As we think back on those horrible days we are in awe of our perseverance and accomplishment, wondering how we ever survived. But we are strong, and we rise to meet need as the warriors we are.
I have a close friend who has walked through some of the most difficult things life has to offer. A particularly bad season was when she was making the drive to Detroit several times a week to take her infant son to Children’s Hospital. This went on for several months. She barely saw her husband and other infant son and was physically and emotionally worn out—the kind of worn out that trying to sleep in the hospital and fighting for your baby’s life will bring. The kind of exhaustion that causes you to nod off at the red light. When I exclaimed that I didn’t know how she’d done it, her response was, “What option did I have?”
And she was correct. Sometimes we just don’t have a choice and have to keep putting one foot in front of another. And somehow the strength comes when needed.
One of the most grueling seasons in my life was during the time my mom lived with us while battling cancer. That was difficult enough, but my husband also had two back surgeries which put him out-of-commission on pain meds (so I was basically single-parenting), I was managing my mom’s in-home caregivers, both she and my husband were making frequent trips to the hospital, my two special needs 4 year olds were not sleeping, or if they were my daughter’s feeding pump would jam—sometimes two and three times a night, and I was rising at 4:30 each morning to get everyone ready so I could go teach my second graders—on very little sleep. Oh, and did I mention I was older—fifty-two, but who was counting? Let me tell you, I’m not sure how I ever survived those months!
So how do we find the strength to make it through these times? Looking back it seems impossible, but somehow I found the strength to do everything that was needed. I know that I prayed a lot! My prayer was often only, “Oh God! Oh God!”. (Good thing He can read between the lines.) And I talked with my close friend, who gave me amazing support.
Some women turn to yoga, meditating, or exercise to calm and restore. Some attend support groups, community functions, or read. Sometimes just talking to a friend will help us see perspective and cause us to realize how strong we are and how far we have come.
Talking out loud can help us process our next steps, or just receive the support from another that gives us strength. Never discount how powerful helping to bear someone’s burden can be!
It’s important for women to gather, share, and support each other. Women are social creatures and amazing things happen when they gather and hang out together.
Don’t be afraid to tell your “warrior” stories to others. You may well inspire someone and help them gain strength in their journey. Yes, we may wish we’d done some things differently or better, but in the long run we did the best we could at the time. And most likely we were amazing! And look how strong we have become!
Hang in there Warrior Woman. And share your story.
Much love, Mimi
This post was originally an article written for Women2Women Magazine, of which I’m the editor. You may view our digital magazine online to read other great articles.