Thankful Thursday #100

This week I’m thankful for…

  • laying in bed Saturday mornings
  • my Ugandan kids who are teaching me to speak and write Acoli
  • Pretzels dipped in Nutella
  • the 7th grader (who is one of my former little ones) who sought me out to tell me she’s proud of the work I’m doing in Uganda
  • the trace of my husband’s cologne on our blankets
  • weird, but beautiful 80 degree weather in January
  • the kids at my school who are doing acts of kindness and accepting donations for Uganda, specifically the little girl who donated her tooth fairy money and the little boy who takes his elderly neighbor’s trash cans in each week for a quarter per can and then donates his quarters
  • this last bit of Mary Oliver’s Summer Day:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the field,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

  • my one wild and precious life

Thankful Thursday #99

This week I’m thankful for…

  • the many people who have stepped up to become Vigilantes of Kindness for Uganda with me
  • my new bicycle bracelet
  • The Hubs, who makes me laugh like no other
  • my kids in Uganda
  • being back in school with my little ones
  • the dedicated teachers in my writing inservice session
  • chicken tacos
  • writing New Year’s wishes for the world with my little ones
  • watching basketball with the Hubs
  • my hot tub

Vigilante Acts of Kindness: Lessons from Leptons

Earlier in the week I spoke to one of the local Rotary clubs about the work I’ve been doing in Uganda.  I talked about how small acts of kindness can make great differences.  I told the story of my friend who dropped by just before I left for Uganda last July and gave me a handful of bills with the simple instructions to, “find a kid in need and help them”.  I told the Rotarians how I’d used that money to buy a kid a mattress.  Of course there’s more to the story than that, but you can read it here.

I told the story of the mattress and lots of other Vigilante Kindness stories and when my talk at the Rotary meeting was finished, a kindly man approached and shook my hand.  He pressed a handful of bills into my palm.  Then he thanked me and said, “Find a kid in need and help them.  I wish it could be more.”

He slipped away before I could even catch his name.  I tucked the bills into my purse and later in my kitchen I smoothed them out and smiled at the seventeen dollars on my kitchen counter.

What a lovely gift.

Last spring a friend of mine popped by my classroom and handed me a wad of crumpled bills.  She offered up some kind words about the things I’ve been up to in Uganda and then she said, “I’m sorry it’s not more.”  I tucked her donation into my pocket and that night when I was changing into my pajamas, I took it out and counted each bill.  I couldn’t help but smile at the three dollars in my hand.

I learned a great lesson from my friend and her three dollars.  In fact her three dollars caused me to trip over my pride and do a big ole faceplant into a puddle of my own mucky ego.

If I were telling you this story in person over a cup of coffee, here’s the place where I’d lean in and whisper because I’m not proud of what I’m about to say. I can recall countless times when I’ve had the opportunity to donate to worthy causes and have been too embarrassed to find that my wallet has a lone five dollar bill.  Or one tired dollar that has been through the washing machine too many times.  Or frankly sometimes the only thing in my wallet was a quarter sandwiched in between two pennies.

And I didn’t give anything because I was embarrassed by what I thought was an inadequate, meager amount.

So I gave nothing.  Not a cent.

You tell me who was the kinder person?  Me the embarrassed person who didn’t give anything or my friend who gave three dollars?  She wins the kindness race by a landslide.

I don’t mean to get all preachy on you, but these donations carved from the hearts of my friends remind me so much of the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12.  Writer Laura Turner, who is a kindred spirit because she, too, hates birds lays out the story beautifully.

We enter the scene with Jesus and his disciples in the treasury, the place where religious people gathered from far and wide to make their donations to the temple. The treasury was in the inner part of the temple, and the coffers placed around the room were shaped like trumpets, each with a different purpose for contribution. According to tradition, some of the trumpets received sin-offerings of burnt pigeons and turtledoves, some for contributions for incense, and some for general, voluntary offerings.  (I kind of wish it was still encouraged to burn pigeons for sacrifice. Stupid animals.)

“Many rich people threw in large amounts.” But this story is not the story of many people. This is not the story of large amounts of money, or of someone doing something flashy and noticeable. This story is about one of the least noticeable things in the entire New Testament. There are no angels winging around the throne of God; no demons being cast out into a flock of pigs or man being lowered down from a roof to receive healing. There is this woman – this small, unnoticed, uncared-for woman who hardly counted as a person in her society. And there were two coins. 

250px-Widowsmite‘Mite’ is not the actual name for what the coin was. It was a term in use when the King James Bible was being translated in the early 17th century, and it was the equivalent of a few minutes’ work. ‘Lepton’ would have been the word used for the smallest copper coin in Israel at the time; this is the story of the widow’s leptons. And this story was probably going unnoticed for years.

We don’t know how long the widow had been going to the treasury with her two coins, but we can assume that when her husband was alive, she would have had more. Not much more, necessarily, but she would have had resources to live on. Poor and without resources or power, she came to the temple and walked among the crowd who gave a lot of money mostly to increase their sense of stature in the community.  And she came with the most meager of amounts to drop in the trumpet, and she did not draw attention to herself as she gave, but her story lives on as one of the most powerful examples of generosity and radical trust that we know.

Because Jesus saw the treasury then, and he sees it still today. Jesus knew this simple truth: How we behave in the treasury is a direct reflection of the internal reality of our heart. This woman was a hero of our faith. This act of giving was not foolish and was not undertaken lightheartedly. She gave all that she had.

I feel incredibly, gratefully, humbly blessed to get to see the internal realities of the hearts of my friends and family as they give their two leptons to help the people I’ve come to love in Uganda.  Beloveds, I can’t tell you how deeply it moves me to watch you fold my Ugandan family into your hearts, to wrap your arms around them all the way across a vast ocean.

I meant it when I told the Rotarians that I believe small acts of kindness can make a great difference.

My friend’s three dollars was enough to buy a mosquito net.  In the kitchen after the Rotary meeting as I stared at the seventeen dollars on my counter, I wished I could tell the anonymous man that his seventeen dollars is enough money to take a sick kid to the hospital, to be seen by a doctor and to pay for antibiotics.

Dear ones, if you’re able to donate and be a part of the story unfolding before me in Uganda, I accept your generosity with love and gratitude.  But please, I’m begging you, please when you give, don’t apologize.  Don’t even for a second entertain the thought that your donation is too meager or somehow not enough.

Hear me when I say this to you.

It’s enough.  

You are enough.  

And here’s the lovely thing about small kindnesses, when I put my two leptons with your two leptons, what may have felt small in our pockets adds up to something far, far greater than four coins.

Thankful Thursday #98

This week I’m thankful for…

  • New Year’s Eve with The Hubs and our dear friends
  • dark chocolate covered pomegranate seeds
  • sleeping in
  • lunch dates with my mom
  • messages from my sons
  • learning how to tease people in Acholi thanks to some of my other kids
  • the scent of the Christmas tree
  • sharing with others about my time in Uganda
  • the sound of The Hubs snoring next to me
  • the book The Power of Habit
  • church
  • driving with the top down in January

A New Year’s Benediction

Um, is this thing on?  I forgot how to use it.

It’s lovely to be with you again.  I feel like I should explain why I haven’t been here in quite some time, but the truth is I don’t have a reason.  I just didn’t have anything worth saying.

Two things have compelled me to write today.  First of all, tomorrow I get to speak at a Rotary meeting about my loved ones in Uganda, my Vigilantes of Kindness here at home, and the beautiful story we wove together last summer.  I’m thrilled to share and horrified, absolutely horrified, at the thought of speaking to a largish group of adults.

Just thinking about it makes my armpits drip sweat.  Hang on a sec while I go administer copious amounts of deodorant.  Talk amongst yourselves.

Alrighty, now that I’ve got that under control, the second thing that made me pound away at the keys today is Neil Gaiman.  You know him, right?  Amazing author, incredible speaker.  He probably doesn’t sweat a drop when he speaks.

Anyway, Neil Gaiman has written several brilliant New Year’s benedictions for the world.  You should read them.  You’ll be better for it.  Promise.

For the conclusion of my Rotary talk, I reflected on my trip to Uganda and the year as a whole and then I wrote my own New Year’s benediction.  It’s as much for me as it is for you, but most especially it’s for my Vigilantes of Kindness from last year and the Vigilantes who are already on board with me as my return trip begins to take shape.  I’m grateful for each and every one of you.  You inspire me.  You move me.  You make me absolutely giddy to see what’s in store for us this year.

A New Year’s Benediction

love ringsIn this new year, I hope you love deeply and are loved in return.

I hope you find family in the most surprising times and places.

I hope you make beautiful plans, but more importantly I hope that when your plans fall broken at your feet, because they sometimes will, that in quiet solitude you’ll want nothing more and nothing less than to hear God.

And then I hope you’ll listen for His voice, listen so hard that the pounding of your heart overwhelms your eardrums and your very spirit.

I hope you’re tickled and delighted when He answers you in the most unexpected of ways and suddenly you find yourself living a dream greater than you ever fathomed.

I hope you discover depths of humility that compel you to lay aside your own ideas and speak the soothing words, “What do you need and how can I help?”

I hope that when you encounter inequality that you will resist the urge to run and instead stand with feet firmly planted in justice.  I hope that your voice, quiver as it may, rises from your throat in defense of those who have not been allowed to speak for themselves.

I hope that both in the warmth of joy and in the cold face of contempt, you’ll know beyond a shadow of a doubt that beauty rises from our tender, broken places.

Most of all I hope that in this new year you’ll be passionately, unswervingly, desperately vigilant in lavishing kindness on one another.

Thankful Thursday #97

IMG_0925I’ve been traveling a lot recently and have fallen out of the habit of writing down all that I’m thankful for each week.  I’ve missed it and am glad to have a moment to catch my breath this week and give thanks.  This week I’m thankful for…

  • date night with my hubby
  • laughing so hard with the hubby that I was crying and gasping for air.  My stomach muscles hurt the next morning from laughing so hard.
  • riding my bike to school
  • good books
  • my friend who fell so hard in love with a book that she teared up telling me about it
  • Yosemite in all its fall splendor
  • the pomegranate scented candle on my nightstand
  • my VP who has my back on big things and also does little things like offer to give me bathroom breaks
  • riding my bike to school
  • listening to audio books on road trips

Vigilante Acts of Kindness: A Cinderella Story

I thought when I returned home that this chapter of Vigilante Kindness would come to an end until I return to Uganda next summer.

Boy was I wrong.

It started with an early morning message from my friend, Kristine, an educator in Uganda.  It was the wee hours of the morning here and approaching afternoon there.

Kristine was struggling to help one of her students keep his younger siblings fed and in school.  Kristine had paid his tuition and arranged for food for the family.  But they were struggling to pay the school fees for seven of his siblings in school.  Kristine listed the name of each sibling, the name of each school and the remaining balances.

All told, $120.00 was needed to pay the fees.  It was a check I could have easily cut, but when I woke up later that morning, I was compelled to share the need with my friends and family.  With a quick post on Facebook, I was off for the day.  About thirty seconds after I posted it, my friends stepped up on behalf of this young man and his siblings.

Within a day I had more than enough to cover the fees.  It came from friends who shoved checks into my hand while I did bus duty after school.  It came from the lean pocketbooks of fellow teachers.  It came and it didn’t stop.

Two gifts in particular struck me, both from former librarians.  The first came with an apology.

“I’m sorry it’s not more,” said my friend placing three dollars in my hand.

“Every little bit helps.  Three dollars goes a long way in Uganda,” I assured her.

She gave her three dollars gladly and I thought about the widow’s mite.  I thought about how haughty I am and how I always feel like my donations have to be substantial to matter.  It’s such bologna, this lie that we have to give a sizable amount or not at all.  I tucked her three dollars into my purse, grateful for each one and for the lesson they taught me.

The second gift was from another former librarian at my school.  She’s moved on to being the librarian at a local high school, but when she was the librarian at my school I loved when she read to my class, particularly when she read interesting versions of fairy tales.  The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig and so on and so forth.  The more unusual the fairy tale, the more I loved it.

“It was my birthday a month ago,” the librarian told me in my living room.

“Happy birthday,”

“Thank you.  My son gave me $100 for my birthday and I’ve looked and looked for something special to spend it on.  I thought about buying a piece of jewelry, but couldn’t find one that was right.  Then I saw a vase at school sculpted by a fellow teacher.  It was beautiful.  I asked him if it was for sale and if I could buy it.  He gave it to me instead.  So again I was left with nothing to spend my birthday money on until I saw your post and I knew that’s what I should spend it on.”

“Thank you so much,” she and I both fought back tears.  I couldn’t believe she would give her birthday money to help a family she’d never even met in a place she’d never been.  Would I be so generous?  I already knew the ugly answer.

I wired the money over to Kristine, each wrinkled dollar, each scrawled check, each cent from a birthday wish reaching around the world.  Just before I wired the money, I looked over the names of the children again, double and triple checking the amounts to make sure it was enough.  It was.  And then some.

I don’t know how I missed it, but the second time I looked at the names, one of them reached out and grabbed me.  I couldn’t help but smile when I realized that because of the Vigilante Kindness of my friends, twelve-year-old Anena Cinderella would get to finish fifth grade halfway across the world.

I shook my head in disbelief that once again I got to play a small part in what can only call the sweetest of all Cinderella stories.