Seeing kindness, sacrifice and love in a Wendy’s dining room

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“Simply Love”, watercolor 6″ x 8″

I must look like an approachable person, because I often get random strangers coming up to me and starting the oddest conversations or just saying random things out of the blue. This often happens when I am having lunch at a fast food restaurant for some reason. I have had strangers come up to me and say all kinds of things, from the construction workers at Arby’s who accused me of skipping school and wouldn’t leave me alone until I showed them some ID, to the elderly man at McDonald’s who came up to me and said that he just had to tell me that I was “one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen in person” (I must admit when he said that I thought he might need new glasses lol). I’ve had other strangers start random conversations with me about religion, politics, food, cats…and lots of other stuff I just don’t remember right now.

However, today’s chance encounter at Wendy’s was even odder than many in the past. I was sitting in the Wendy’s dining room, eating my french fries and working on puzzles in my word games book, when I noticed someone standing over me. I looked up to find an older African American gentleman who was dressed a little eccentrically (he had thick chains hung in an X shape on his chest over an old faded rock t-shirt). He handed me a quarter, smiled and walked away. I looked at the quarter and at his back – a little confused. Never had a stranger just walked up and handed me a quarter unless I had dropped one or left it laying somewhere. A few minutes later, I noticed him standing over me again. “Are you a school girl?” he asked. “No, I graduated,” I answered (not bothering to say that I had graduated about 13 years ago). He handed me another quarter. I thanked him and told him he was very kind and he smiled and walked away again.

A few minutes later, I was about to throw the rest of my food away (just some leftover fries) when he stopped me and asked if I was going to throw the fries away. I answered yes and he asked if he could have them. I started to hand them over, when another man (a Caucasian businessman from the looks of him) overheard our conversation and asked the elderly man if he had any money for food. “I had fifty cents, but I knew that wasn’t enough to buy anything to eat, so I thought I would give it to this sweet young lady in case she needed it,” he answered.

I was a little stunned by the whole exchange and not sure what to say, but the businessman jumped up immediately and took the old guy up to the counter to get him some lunch. I looked at the quarters and realized that even though I had wondered why anyone would give a stranger two quarters, that this had been all the man had to offer and he had wanted to give me something as a gesture of kindness. I thanked the businessman for his kindness to the elderly man and headed out for my doctor’s appointment which was next door. When I told my doctor about the encounter, he was pretty sure that he knew the older man. He explained that the man lived nearby and had some mild to moderate mental disabilities. You just never know who you will meet in this world or how they will impact your day.

I want to save the world…but I can’t. Not alone.

world_in_hands

I think I have a savior complex. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not delusional. I don’t think I’m Jesus Christ or anything like that (the whole being crucified thing honestly kind of freaks me out). However, in my mind I have this ridiculous idea that I have to save the world. Sometimes I think it is because I am overly sensitive (a bittersweet gift from my Asperger’s Syndrome). It could also be because I grew up in a generation where we were constantly told “you can change the world!” Or maybe it is the fault of a stranger who came up to me at a truck stop when I was around 12. The guy walked right up to me, handed me a $20 bill and told me “God has a very important plan for you. Make sure you fulfill it.” Weird encounters like that leave a mark.

Regardless of the reason behind it, I can’t just look away when I see children starving, animals abused, the earth destroyed or people being cruel to one another…regardless of where it takes place in the world. There is this driving voice in my head that continually tells me that things have to change and that I need to be actively working on changing them. I feel a sense of urgency, like more is at stake than I even realize. Sometimes this drives me crazy. I feel like I should always be doing more. I should be feeding the poor. I should be saving the animals. I should be fighting against the mere appearance of injustice and prejudice. It is almost like a compulsion, with the voice in my head always shouting, “Do more! Do more! Do more!”

Sometimes I wonder if other people feel this. I like to think they do, but when I look around I don’t see that. Instead, it seems like most people are caught up in their daily lives and in being entertained or distracted from reality. Maybe that is why I feel so heavily that I need to do more all the time, that it all “depends on me”. Because many others just don’t seem to care. Perhaps I feel like I have to do enough for me and all of them too in order to really make this world better.

However, I know that I can’t do it all. I am just one person in a sea of humanity. I have few material or physical assets. I have health problems that limit what I can do. I can’t drive more than about 20 minutes away from home without getting lost. I am a woman, and as such, often seen as some kind of “inferior” being. Doesn’t seem like I have much of a chance of saving the world, huh? However, I keep doing what little I can do. Speaking out about things that matter to me. Looking for little opportunities to lend a hand or show kindness. Drawing attention to things that many people would rather not see. Trying to shine my little bit of light on this often dark world. Hoping that others will join me and shine their light as well. Alone, I am little more than a spark, but together, we could brighten the world tremendously.

Picking on the poor in the name of Christ

Christ of the Breadlines

Over the years I have heard some of my fellow Christians say truly awful things about the poor, the disabled and the needy. In one conversation a fellow Christian declared that the poor “deserve to be poor” and almost always cause their own problems. I have heard similar sentiments from other Christians that almost always make me want to wince in discomfort.

I have also heard fellow Christians (and Fox News) say repeatedly that most people on disability are able to work and are just lazy people who want to rely on the government. I’m sure if they knew firsthand how hard it is to get disability, how long it takes and how worthless and depressed many disabled people feel when unable to work, they might change their minds. If they went through it themselves or someone else in their immediate family needed those services, you can almost guarantee their opinion might change. I would say the same for other services for the poor, such as food stamps and Medicaid.

When I hear negative comments about the poor and disabled from anyone in the Christian community, I can’t help but think of these verses:

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31.

“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” Zechariah 7:10 (The word “alien” in this also makes me think about our treatment of immigrants – legal or otherwise).

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21 (Jesus commanded this kind of extreme sacrifice and yet we balk at helping the poor in even small ways?)

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Luke 12:33 (I’m sensing that Jesus really wasn’t a materialistic guy and didn’t want his followers to be either. Could be wrong there, but I definitely get that feeling.)

“Bess the Book Bus” picture book review

“Bess the Book Bus”, written by Concetta M. Payne and Freda Roberts is a book that I was excited to read before I even opened it to the first page. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the library bookmobile that used to visit our school every week. “Bess the Book Bus” takes this great concept and goes even further with it.

Like the bookmobile that many of us are familiar with, Bess is a real-life bus that delivers books and joy to children. However, Bess is unique as well. For one thing, Bess was created by a woman named Jennifer E. Frances. Jennifer named Bess after her late grandmother, Bess O’Keefe, who taught Jennifer how much fun reading could be.

Another characteristic that sets Bess apart from the traditional bookmobile is the the children who visit Bess actually get to keep the book they pick out! I don’t know about you, but that would have made my day when I was a kid! Free books would still put a big smile on my face today! Reading this book made me wish that every town had their own version of “Bess the Book Bus”.

As for the story itself, it is told in a charming, personal manner that kids will find easy to relate to. Bess is personified during the story, making her more accessible and exciting to kids. You feel like you really get to know her. The illustrations that accompany the text, which were done by Andrieanna Barnes, are colorful and visually appealing, with a hand-drawn flair to them. I feel that is is also important to emphasize that a portion of the proceeds received from the sales of this book go to support Jennifer Frances’ cause so that Bess can continue to deliver books to children.

I would definitely recommend this book for any school or library system and also think it would make a great gift for any child ages 3-9. For more information about this book and how to order it, please visit the “Bess the Book Bus” page on MagicBlox, http://magicblox.com/books/bess-book-bus.

Who Inspires You?

I belive that inspiration is very important.  I probably drive my foster kids nuts because I am constantly trying to encourage them to look to truly inspiring role models rather than the latest teen heart-throb or reality star.

To me, someone is really only worth admiring and emulating if they use their talents and time to do good for others or to pave a path that is worth following.  I don’t care what field they happen to be in, but I do care that they open their hearts to their fellow man and try to make the world a better place.

So my question to you today is, who inspires you?  Here are a few of the people who have really influenced my life (other than family and friends):

*Jesus

*Buddha

*St. Francis of Assisi

*Mother Teresa

*Joan of Arc

*the current Dalai Lama

*Emily Dickinson

*Hans Christian Andersen

*Edgar Allen Poe

*Tim Burton

*Joni Eareckson Tada

Lions and Tigers and Bears – Oh My!

Ok, so I didn’t see an African lion today, but I did see a mountain lion, a couple different kinds of bears and some Bengal tigers.  Where did all this take place?  At Heaven’s Corner, a little animal rescue sanctuary not far from where we live.  This isn’t our first time visiting, in fact, we have been somewhat regulars there.

We have listened to the workers there explain how most of their wild animals are pets that people obtain illegally, and then when the wild animal gets too big or tries to kill their owner, the animals get dumped.  We have also talked to the guy who feeds the mountain lions and saw his half-eaten Nike sneaker.  Apparently he went into the lions den one night dressed differently and wearing cologne, so that the lion didn’t recognize him and almost mauled the guy to death.  The people who work there are brave and caring, but most importantly, they are doing what they love – rescuing animals that otherwise might be put down for good.

So here is my plea…I know illegal pets can be tempting.  Perhaps like me, you have always dreamed of owning a leopard, wolf, penguin or baby bear for a pet…but if you really care about the animals, think it through.  Are you really qualified and able to care for a truly wild animal?  Wouldn’t these animals be better off and happier left in the wild, rather than caught and sold as novelties?  It’s sad to see animals caged up that might have been free.  While you watch the bears or the tigers pace in their small jail cells, think about what that life must really be like.  Although I am thankful to animal sanctuaries for taking in these animals, I wish that it wasn’t necessary to do so.

By the way, while I’m thinking about it, make sure you support any local wildlife sanctuaries or conservation efforts near you.  Whether you donate money, time or your natural talents, the earth and all of its creatures will be better off for your efforts.

“Soul Surfer” – truly inspirational with an unexpected message

Today my husband and I went to see the movie “Soul Surfer” while our foster son had his visitation with his biological family.  I wanted to see this movie because I figured it would be inspiring.  The story is about Bethany Hamilton, the girl who lost an arm in a shark attack back in 2003.

Beth was on the fast track to becoming a champion surfer when the attack happened.  Even with her arm gone, Bethany never doubted that she would surf again and even become a pro.  Perhaps it was because she was still so young, or maybe she just has a fighting spirit, but Beth never really gave up hope on her dream, even when things looked impossible. 

The movie also shows the turmoil that Bethany’s friends and family went through after the accident.  Although everyone was supportive and encouraged Beth, it was obvious that many of them didn’t think that Beth could really achieve her dream anymore.  In some ways, Bethany’s friends and family started treating her like an invalid, even if it wasn’t intentional.  They wanted so much to make things easier for Beth that they almost crippled her.  However, Beth refused to let them treat her differently, regardless of whether it was at home or during a surf competition.

The movie did have one unexpected aspect.  It had a strong Christian message, even quoting the Bible at various spots.  I didn’t realize that Bethany was such a spiritual girl, but since her faith seemed genuine, I didn’t mind the religious overtones.  When Bethany won a Kid’s Choice Award for courage in 2004, she even told the audience that she believed it was Jesus Christ who gave her the courage she possessed.  What is even more inspiring is that Bethany doesn’t just use her faith to help herself, but has also been using her unexpected fame to help others by partnering with World Vision, a charity that helps children and disaster victims all over the world.