It's difficult to listen to the radio and/or television, or use the internet without being  subjected to something hateful, vitriolic, demeaning, and hurtful about someone or some group of people. Sometimes, we allow others' views to influence our opinions, attitudes, and actions towards others.

TODAY, what if we:

  • Have a conversation with, or say hello to, someone who differs from us in: age, appearance, culture, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual preference, political leanings, socioeconomic status, attitude, etc.? Try to understand a viewpoint different from our own? How can we understand others if we maintain distance from them? Why do we judge or criticize what we don't know or understand? Why do we paint others with our broad brush of intolerance based on our lack of knowledge or understanding, our fear, perceptions, assumptions, preferences, etc.? Why must we agree with someone, or be like them, to love or care about them or, at a minimum, treat them with dignity, kindness, and respect?

TODAY, what if we:

  • Lend a helping hand to a stranger? We're all strangers to someone and need a helping hand from time to time.

TODAY, what if we:

  • Show compassion to a homeless, or less fortunate, person in need? Why do we shun those we perceive to be "less than" or "beneath" us? Many of us live from paycheck to paycheck; are fearful of losing our jobs and benefits; have significant education, credit card, medical, and/or other debt, and know that it's nothing but the grace of God that we are able to keep our own heads above water.

what if we move outside our circles and our comfort zones and treat others the way we want to be treated? What if we loved--or tried to love--our neighbors (our fellow man/woman) as ourselves?

I used to complain like it was a badge of honor. Life was bringing me down, and I wanted everyone to know. I couldn't see it at the time, but being a constant complainer was a drag; it only served to make me feel worse about my life and, in the process, bring down others around me--at least those who did not also have complaining spirits. But as the adage says, "water seeks its own level", so I spent plenty of time with others with complaining spirits. Tragically, we were our own support group. Being around others who weren't in the group--you know, the grateful, joyful folks--was uncomfortable and annoying. What did they have to be "happy" about? They, too, had problems, so they were just faking it so everyone would believe their lives were great, or their problems weren't as bad as mine. That's how I used to think before I found, and committed to, joy. Back then I seemed to be more interested in complaining than taking action(s) to change my circumstances. I sometimes took "comfort" in bad circumstances rather than taking the risk of stepping outside my comfort zone to make things better. That was too scary. Have you ever been there? I should have been afraid of killing my soul because that's what was happening. No doubt, there were some circumstances that were beyond my control. But if I couldn't change my circumstances, what about working to change myself? Nope. I was mired in self-pity, so that option didn't occur to me at the time.

Now, I'm in a different support group--one for grateful, joyful folks. Some think joyful people don't need support and encouragement. To the contrary, we need it like everyone else--maybe more--since there is always something or someone trying to steal our joy. Don't get me wrong, I still complain from time to time, but it's no longer my way of life. As I've written in a previous blog post, joy is now my default mechanism. I've got more blessings than problems.
When I focus on my problems, I overlook my blessings--all that's good in my life. And even in my problems I can find blessings if I'm willing and able to look beyond the immediate. Honestly, if I found benefits in having a complaining spirit I might regain an appetite for it. But there's no value in it--not for me. So, I'll stick with being one of those grateful, joyful folks. The rewards are great!

The movie, "It's a Wonderful Life", reminds us that friends are a blessing. I feel blessed to know I have friends, and am humbled by their love. Here are some quotes that remind me of the gems in my life:

Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That's why it's a comfort to go hand in hand." Emily Kimbrough

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Proverbs 18:24

"The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are." C.S. Lewis

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." Author unknown

Friendship isn't about whom you have known the longest... It's about who came, and never left your side...." Author unknown

I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar. " Robert Brault

"Friends pick us up when we fall down, and if they can't pick us up, they lie down and listen for a while." Author unknown

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17

Friends are like walls. Sometimes you lean on them, and sometimes it's good just knowing they are there." Author unknown

The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart." Elisabeth Foley

"Remember, you don't need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends who are certain." Author unknown

"No matter how sure you are that a friend will be there for you, it's still the greatest feeling when the time comes and there they are." Robert Brault

"A friend can tell you things you don't want to tell yourself." Frances Ward Weller

Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." Oprah Winfrey

The best kind of friend is the one you could sit on a porch with, never saying a word, and walk away feeling like that was the best conversation you've had." Author unknown

"The most memorable people in life will be the friends who loved you even when you weren't very lovable." Author unknown

"Any day is a great day to say 'thank you for being my friend.'"  Natalie Taylor

"No man is a failure who has friends." Quote from the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life"

Not all of us will be news makers and/or trendsetters, but life is so much richer when we use our lives--or at least a portion of our precious, limited time on this earth--to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Many, the world over, are now celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela, who made a significant difference in the lives of others.
In the struggle for freedom, equality, and education for all, Madiba's later years epitomized this quote from Robert Brault: “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” 
In two weeks, many of us--the world over--will celebrate the birth of Jesus, the ultimate difference-maker and model of forgiveness for Christians. Wishing you and yours the love, joy, hope, peace, and spirit of Christmas.
Have you seen the movie "It's a Wonderful Life"? It's broadcast on television during the Christmas season, but I sometimes watch it at other times of the year as its messages resound throughout. In the movie, the life of the protagonist, George Bailey, is challenging--to say the least. As a young man, George dreamed of college and traveling the world. Those dreams were dashed when George's father died and George had to take over the family business. After that, George did what he could to make the best of his life--a great deal of which included helping others. And just when it seemed things were going well, something happened that shook George to his core. Having endured one setback too many, George got tired. He was at the end of his rope, and believed things would be better if he wasn't alive, or had never been born. But before he was able to act on his despair, George was sent a guardian angel who showed him the blessings he had and how his life made a significant difference in the lives of others. In the end, George saw that despite his challenges he had a life worth living, rich in love. It seemed like he was so accustomed to making sacrifices and being there for others that he didn't realize they would be there for him in his time of need.

Some of life's greatest lessons are learned in the midst of our trials and tribulations. We may be devastated or discouraged along the way, but it's important to hold on. As older people used to say when I was growing up, "just keep living . . . chances come around." Nothing good or bad lasts forever, so we must make the best of our circumstances and allow our blessings, our faith, our hope, our joy, to cushion life's harsh blows. One thing from the movie that really resonated with me was that George didn't reach out to his family and friends to say he needed help. He suffered in silence. Many of us do so, thinking no one will understand; no one will be there for us; others will criticize us; we can handle it on our own, etc. I've been there. But like George, I have learned that when we have others who will love and support us in the midst of and through our pain--and allow them to do so--we'll find that it is, indeed, a wonderful life.
When we're preparing for work, an event, a meeting, an interview, etc., we usually spend time considering what to wear. We want to be properly dressed. Have you ever gotten all gussied up and then found you weren't dressed for the occasion? Recently, I attended a life celebration/funeral that caused me to reflect on the necessity of being dressed for the occasion in a different context--that is, being ready when my time comes. You and I may differ on what it means to be dressed for that occasion, and I know this subject is morbid to some. But that time comes for us all. And whenever the call comes for me, I want to be ready to answer based on the condition of my soul and the life I've lived.

I live a joyful, textured life full of rich and diverse experiences. I'm living my purpose,  loving my journey (well, not all of it, but I gotta take the good and the bad), and I've been blessed beyond measure. But what's most important to me is trying to live a life pleasing to God. It's not about trying to be perfect, as that's impossible. We all have our struggles. Remember this "shining" example? We ALL have our struggles. And if you follow this blog, you know I'm big on self-examination, soul-cleansing, maintenance, and improvement. I routinely ask myself questions like: "am I who I say I am, am I doing the best I can do, giving the best I can give; would my colleagues and neighbors be surprised to find out I'm a Christian because of the way I carry myself on days other than Sunday; do only my Christian friends and church members know I'm a Christian?" My answer, no matter the question, is that I can always do better. I want to live a life where my words, deeds, and attitudes consistently reflect what I say I believe and what's most important to me. 'Cause when it's all said and done, I don't want to be all gussied up, but not dressed for the occasion.
Who are you? If someone posed that question to you, how would you respond? Would your answer begin with your résumé --that is, what you do, or have done, to earn a living. If so, what about if/when you can no longer do what you do? Would you then be nobody? How often do we define ourselves by our work resumes? What about our life resumes--our legacies? On our life journeys, are we both resume builders and legacy builders? For some, the work they do for a living will ultimately be part of their legacy. Their work by its very nature will change or impact others' lives. But what about those of us whose work doesn't have such an impact on others? What will be our legacy? Are we doing anything other than what's necessary to sustain our lifestyles? Are we making a positive difference in the lives of others? Or is it all about us and ours? On the path to building our work resumes, it's worth making time to find and live our life purpose--something that serves others. Because when it's all said and done, our resumes will be discarded. Legacies live on.
Her eyes sparkled like stars in the sky, her smile lit up a room like the sun, her heart was open, and her love unconditional. My friend, Gigi.  She was the kind of friend who supported and encouraged you when she was the one in need.  Gigi battled cancer throughout most of our friendship.  And battle she did.  She battled it with faith in God and joy.  It was difficult to believe Gigi was sick because she didn't look sick and spent as much time as possible loving, giving, laughing, and dancing.  She never hesitated to thank God for the many blessings in her life, and always counseled me to have faith--that "doubt is the thief of God's blessings."  I remember when Gigi called to tell me she had breast cancer.  And I remember years later when she called to tell me that her breast cancer metastasized to her bones.  Throughout this time we would attend church together and I would watch in amazement as she praised God.  I had no understanding.  Although I was a Christian at the time, my faith was weak and I was a "woe is me" disciple, so I did not recognize or understand Gigi's joy.  I found her circumstances depressing and could not figure out why she wasn't in bed cradled in a fetal position.  But Gigi had that fire on the inside.  She knew something I didn't--that you may not be able to choose whether illness befalls you, but you can often choose whether you suffer or live joyfully.  Gigi chose to live joyfully.  I had the pleasure of seeing her raise her children, find love and get married during her battle with cancer.  By no means was her journey easy, but she lived her life with a fierce determination to make it as rich and meaningful as possible.

I have learned that life's lessons are sometimes presented before we need them.  Rarely does a week go by when I don't think of Gigi and all she taught me about living joyfully in the midst of illness.  It has been seventeen years since Gigi died a physical death, but her legacy of joy lives on.  What a gift!