vulnerable path

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Stop and enjoy the olives

Last Saturday, I met a child who took tremendous delight in a green olive.  Actually, he enjoyed lots of green olives, devouring as many as I would give him.

I was serving food at a picnic for bike riders from the Community Bike Works, an organization in Allentown that mentors inner-city children through their bicycle maintenance program.  The riders, nine children and five adults, met up with us at Sand Island in Bethlehem.  They were riding along the Canal Towpath, a section of the D & L Trail, from their start in Allentown’s Canal Park.  My employer, EZ Micro Solutions, sponsored the lunch.

Bike Riders from Community Bike Works enjoyed a picnic at Sand Island in Bethlehem on Saturday, July 25, 2015.  Christine Reber, far left, and David Dooley, second from left, provided the lunch on behalf of EZ Micro Solutions.  Kim Schaffer, Executive Director of Community Bike Works, far right, led the group on the ride, starting at Allentown's Canal Park.

Bike Riders from Community Bike Works enjoyed a picnic at Sand Island in Bethlehem on Saturday, July 25, 2015. Christine Reber, far left, and David Dooley, second from left, provided the lunch on behalf of EZ Micro Solutions. Kim Schaffer, Executive Director of Community Bike Works, far right, led the group on the ride, starting at Allentown’s Canal Park.

Among the spread of wrap sandwiches, chips, cookies, and drinks was a very large container of green olives.  I love olives, but I wasn’t sure that this group would eat them.  I had forgotten to bring a serving spoon, but that was no deterrent.  Young and old alike were pouring them onto their plates or simply grabbing a handful.  And there was much appreciation for all that was offered.  We must have heard a hundred thank-yous that day.

bike_editedThese children brought a warm and infectiously happy attitude to an already beautiful, sunny day.  “Wow, I’m really ready for this!” one child announced.  “I know what’s in this box,” said another as he hovered over the cookies.  A few others kept riding in circles around the path, having too much fun to stop for food.  One of the older boys managed to climb a nearby tree.  We finally corralled all of them for a prayer before digging in.  A young hand shot up, “Oh, may I say the prayer?” he begged.  Absolutely!  We bowed our heads as he asked God to bless the food we were about to eat and thanked Him for the many blessings in our lives.

It brought tears to my eyes.  I wanted to drink up the boundless energy that poured from these kids, taking it in like a much needed antidote to the worries of my adult life.  Will my car make it through at least one month without needing repair?  Can we solve a big software issue at work?  But seeing the joy these kids took in something as simple as an olive, or a bike ride, or a tree, made me think.  Have I forgotten the importance of play in my own life?  Lately, it seems that my commitments have filled up too much space on my to-do list.  I need to make time for pure, un-obliged fun.

Community Bike Works has found a way to encourage kids to have fun while also sneaking in lessons in work ethic and responsibility.  Their youth development programs provide kids with mentors who serve as experienced friends and role models.  Students who regularly meet with mentors are less likely to skip school, or abuse alcohol or illegal drugs.  Children gain companionship and supervision.  They learn leadership skills and build their self-esteem.  But let’s not overlook one of the most fundamental elements of a program like Community Bike Works — it helps kids benefit from play.

tire_editedThere is much research that supports the belief that play is vital to a child’s growth and development.  It’s through play that children learn about their world.  Play helps kids learn to read, solve problems, understand math, and build social skills.  So it’s not hard to imagine what these children are learning at Community Bike Works.  CBW has been teaching bike maintenance to kids for 20 years — four or more nights per week, all year long, 16 kids per night “play” with bikes.  Maybe some former students have gained employment because of their training, or earned a college degree.  Maybe some have become teachers, businessmen, or engineers.

I hope all of them, no matter how old, are still going on bike rides.  Because as adults, we still need the benefits of play.  We focus so much on work and family commitments, that we end up leaving little room for some pure fun.  Work may keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.  But it’s the childlike bliss of play that will keep us healthy, happy, and peaceful.  Make time in your life for a bike ride.  Play tag with the neighborhood kids or fetch with the dog.  Climb a tree!

No kids or dogs at home?  No problem!  Community Bike Works would love to have you join their ranks as a volunteer.  They are always looking for adults to mentor their students, help out with bike mechanics classes, or chaperone bike rides.  If biking isn’t your thing, there are lots of other organizations in our community that support children and animals.  Consider becoming a volunteer.  Volunteering can be a great way to spend leisure time with individuals who enjoy the same activities that you do.  But it can also give you a sense of fulfillment beyond the play – the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have helped to improve the lives of others.

Whether you volunteer or just simply make time to have fun, you are bound to reap the rewards.  Play may be vital to a child’s growth and development, but it’s essential to an adult’s sanity.  In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”   I think the young boy I met on Saturday would say, “Stop and enjoy the olives!”

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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An Overwhelming Sensation

Do you ever get that overwhelming sensation?  It’s not a physical one, like exhaustion or hunger.  I’m talking about an emotional one.  It has been happening to me a lot in the last few years.  It’s the emotional response that rises up inside me when I hear about a young person’s success or when I read an article about how someone has improved their local community.  I am overcome with the feeling that I must help make the world a better place.

Alan Jennings knows that feeling.  He is the executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, an organization he has been a part of for more than 30 years.  I don’t know Jennings personally, but I can certainly relate to him.  He was featured recently in an article in The Morning Call, saying that he had the “overwhelming sensation” as a young child that he was “born to save the world.”  Jennings joined CACLV fresh out of college.  He has been instrumental in not only saving it from shutdown, but growing it into an organization with a $20 million a year budget.  CACLV is the engine behind numerous neighborhood improvement programs, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens throughout the Lehigh Valley.

Few of us are fortunate enough to realize our calling at such a young age.  For some, it may take 50 years.  For others, it may never come.  For me, it’s finally arrived and has been transformative.  I believe this passion was born out of my role as a parent, to help my daughter become the best person she can be.  I have seen this evolution taking place, that my hope to improve people’s lives has grown beyond just she and I.  If I make this effort for my child, I can take many others along on the journey.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, advertising a “speed networking” event geared to help local non-profits find volunteers.  I had barely finished reading the first few lines when I knew I needed to participate.  This was an opportunity that I simply could not pass up.  It was a way for me to act as a liaison — to bridge the gap between Girl Scouts and the larger world of service organizations for the girls and adults that I work with.  Because if I am to support the mission of Girl Scouting, which is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place, then I have to help girls to connect to the community and world beyond Girl Scouting.

I was utterly overwhelmed at the speed networking event.  There were about 25 organizations represented, and I had to choose five to meet with.  It was difficult to narrow it down to five!  I chose Community Bike Works, The Center for Humanistic Change, The Lehigh Conference of Churches, the Third Street Alliance, and Gress Mountain Ranch.  I was able to meet the executive directors of all of these organizations, present them with my resume, and talk about the passions that we have in common.  My goal now is to get to know these groups better, introduce others to them, and find ways to help them expand their own missions.

Clockwise from top right, the ceiling of the parlor, one of many stained glass windows, a close up of a tile surrounding the fireplace in Mr. Simon's office, a mosaic in the lobby.

Clockwise from top right, the ceiling of the parlor, one of many stained glass windows, a close up of a tile surrounding the fireplace in Mr. Simon’s office, a mosaic in the lobby.

I began last weekend by taking my daughter for a tour of the Third Street Alliance in Easton, PA.  They are based in the Simon mansion, a beautifully restored building in the heart of downtown Easton.  You cannot tell by looking at the French revival façade of this building that it houses a homeless shelter for women and children.  Additionally, this dynamic organization provides the community with a Keystone Stars accredited child care program and an adult care program for seniors with special needs.  It’s a stunning mash-up of art, architecture, and social service.  We learned that they need help to sort donations, to make care packages for clients, and to garner additional funding to make their swimming pool ADA compliant, just to name a few.

I left there with my mind reeling, mulling over the many possible ways to help them.  And I could see that it made an impression on my daughter as well.  She’s 13, and yet she wasn’t underwhelmed, as is so often the case at this age.  She was intrigued by the interior design and the art work, and listened intently to our tour guide’s stories.  There’s a world outside of herself, and she’s beginning to open her eyes to it.

Our next stop will be at the Community Bike Works.  We are visiting them this week, donating an old bike and taking a tour.  I can’t wait!

I have tremendous respect for the individuals that serve at the heart of these organizations.  They often dedicate many hours of overtime and accept less than adequate wages.  They are all “saving the world” in their own unique ways.  Jennings states in the Morning Call article, “Let’s face it, I’ve been at this a long time and the world is still really screwed up. I’ve failed a lot.”

I have to disagree.  Mr. Jennings, you have not failed.  I am certain that you have changed the lives of many individuals for the better.  In fact, even if you have only changed one life, you have still left the world better than you found it.  That’s accomplishing your mission.  That’s leaving a legacy.  That’s making lives better beyond your own.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  That’s my new motto.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 

 

 

 


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Lights, Camera, Confidence!

It was that moment when the spark ignites, the moment I look for all year long as a Girl Scout Leader.  “Miss Chris”, said one of my Scouts, “I think that people who are bullies really feel bad about themselves.  And maybe if we try to help people have more self-confidence, then there would be fewer bullies.”  Then another one added, “If people had more self-confidence, bullies and cliques wouldn’t bother them so much.”  These kids were on to something, and I knew we had the ingredients for a great Take Action Project.

Award_editedIn case you are unfamiliar, a Take Action Project culminates a Girl Scout Journey.  Journeys are an integral part of the Girl Scout Leadership experience.  It’s the heart of the National Program, and Journey curriculum is available for every age level in Girl Scouting.  It focuses on three core themes — It’s Your World, Change It; It’s Your Planet, Love It; and It’s Your Story, Tell It.  Journeys teach girls the three keys to leadership — Discover, Connect, and Take Action.  Discover something about yourself or an issue that is important to you.  Connect with others in your community who hold those same beliefs.  And Take Action to create a sustainable solution to that problem.   The ultimate mission in all this is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character that make the world a better place!

The Journey our Cadette troop (6-8 grade) did this year is called aMAZE, and it focuses on how teenagers can improve their relationships with their peers.  I knew how much my girls needed to have the chance to talk about what they are going through in school.  I knew that several of them had already suffered bullying.  And I knew some of them struggled with self-esteem.  They needed tools to navigate “the twists and turns of getting along,” as the Journey book calls it.

As adults, we sometimes forget.  But being a teenager is not easy!  I wanted to encourage some heart to heart discussions about peer pressure, gossiping, cliques, stereotypes, first impressions, bullying, and more.  But in the end, my girls pinpointed one root cause of many of these issues — a lack of confidence and self-esteem.  And they decided to throw a “Confidence Rocks Party” to help solve it.

pop rocks_editedThe girls created a playlist of confidence boosting songs that they felt would uplift and inspire others.  We decided that a good place for a party is our local roller-skating rink, and the Skateaway was more than happy to partner with us on this project.  We designed a flyer to promote the event and emailed it to all the Girl Scouts troops in our community.  We pulled inspirational quotes from the songs on the playlist and made party favors with Pop Rocks candy, attaching the quotes.  We created some awesome decorations by “tie dying” coffee filters!  And we set up a photo booth with a backdrop, costumes, and props to encourage Party-goers to let their Confidence shine.

When I plan Journey sessions, I go on a Journey myself.  I learn just as much, probably more, than my girls do!  I find amazing resources on the Internet that I use in my lesson plans.  This year, I found so much good stuff that I decided to put it all in a blog post so I could share it with parents and other Girl Scout leaders.  Here’s how my journey began.

ConfidenceOne day last summer, I received an email from my niece.  She sent me information about a group called Lehigh Valley Girls Rock.  She thought my daughter would be interested in their program.  What this group does is pretty amazing.  They teach girls how to play instruments, help them write music, form bands, and perform — all in a week long camp setting.  But if that wasn’t cool enough, it was through their website that I discovered some other very inspiring women who have a thing or two to say about self-confidence and self-love.  A whole bunch of inspiration just fell into my lap!

First there is Gala Darling and her Radical Self Love Manifesto.   Gala started out as a fashion blogger, but soon discovered her true calling and devoted herself to helping other women fall in love with themselves.  Admitting that her teenage years were full of turmoil, she found a way to overcome her struggles and turn her life around.  She is now a very successful entrepreneur.  Her website is just chock full of inspiring essays and activities such as her “Radical Self Love Bible School” which is an art journaling self-discovery program.  I recommend watching her TedEX talk on You Tube.

Then there is Jaime Karpovich.  Jaime is a Vegan, produces a cable TV Show called Save The Kales that airs in several markets, and keeps a blog of the same name.  She’s a freelance writer and public speaker and loves to talk about vegan cooking and lifestyle, body positivity and self-esteem, and personal empowerment to name a few.  I tried to arrange for her to speak to my Girl Scouts, but it didn’t work out this year.  I still have my fingers crossed that we can work together soon!  I think she would really impress upon them how important it is to be true to yourself and follow your dreams.

crafted with beautySomewhere along the line I stumbled upon a gem of an article by Anna Lind Thomas called, “Life is too short for crappy friends,”   Thomas is a writer and comedian who really nails it when it comes to explaining to girls why being “popular” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  She also has some hilarious things to say for us grown-up women.  Here’s a link to her blog.

Oh, and I cannot leave out Brene’ Brown.  I am absolutely obsessed with her book The Gifts of Imperfection.  I carried it around for months on end.  I read and re-read it, marking it up with pencil and highlighter.  I preached it to anyone who would listen.  Her guideposts for wholehearted living resonated with me like nothing else ever has.  It just makes so much sense.  It was inspiration from her research that led me to create this blog and name it Vulnerable Path.  If you follow my blog, you know I have talked about her A LOT in previous posts.

The one thing that Brown has to say that I felt was very important to convey to my Girl Scouts was this:

You are WORTHY now, right this minute, AS IS!!!!!

Brown has an amazing TedEX Talk and other videos on her website– even one about empathy that I recommend for kids.  You can find all of them on here.

The thing is, confidence and self-esteem isn’t just a teen issue.  There are many times throughout our lives that we struggle with a lack of self-confidence.  If we feel bad about ourselves, we are performing that script for our children.  Their young eyes are on us every day as we make choices and navigate our own complicated lives.  We are in the spotlight, the camera is focused on us.  So it’s up to us, first and foremost, to be a good role-model for our children.  As I’ve said before, we can’t give our children something that we don’t have.  (Actually, I think Brene’ Brown said that!)

hero_editedTo help our children gain self-esteem, we have to change the script.  We have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I look great today!” instead of “Do you think I look fat in this dress?”  We have to show them that it’s OK to walk out the door with no makeup on.  We have to make positive changes in our lives when we are unhappy.  We have to stand up for ourselves when others treat us poorly.  You can tell them everyday how awesome they are.  But what they really need to see, in addition to all that, is how awesome you think you are!

All I want for my daughter, all any of us want for our children, is that they do better than us — be wiser, smarter, stronger.  We want them to discover their talents and ignite that spark that leads them to their dreams.  The first step in helping them is to help ourselves.

This is a Journey for all of us, young and old alike.  I hope you rock your confidence!

You can download our Playlist and our confidence activity calendar from these links:

Playlist for Confidence Rocks Party

Confidence Rocks Calendar

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 


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Welcome to May

It’s been a long 5 months.  Back in January, I was sending up my wishes for the new year in bird seed, peanut butter, and pine cones.  Let’s see — I wished to embrace my failures.  Check!  It feels like that’s all I’ve managed to accomplish since New Year’s Day.  All the other wishes — well, life got in the way.  But there is still hope! Welcome to May!

bush 2_editedMay makes me happy.  The days are getting longer.  It’s warm enough to get outside and take a walk, go bicycling, or head to the trail for a hike.  Thank God for May!  It had gotten to the point where I could not set foot in the gym and bear that treadmill one more time.  I NEEDED to get outdoors!

I finally had the opportunity to break open the shed and dust off my bike last weekend.  I missed her so much!  “You and me, Bike, we are going to have a really nice ride today!  Let’s get you spiffed up!”  Put a little air in those tires and we are ready to roll.

Until I was out there, cruising down the road, I had not realized just how much I missed this activity.  It’s the way I keep my sanity.  It restores my balance.  It clears my head of all the gunk of everyday.  I was so thirsty for a bike ride.  And it quenched my soul!

cherry blossom 3_editedI feel so blessed to live in a community that has such a wonderful network of recreational trails.  We have the Delaware and Lehigh Rail Trail running straight through the heart of our area.  It’s actually a 165 mile trail system that runs from Wilke-Barre, PA all the way past New Hope along the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers.  I haven’t ridden the whole trail — yet!  You can read all about it here.

May ushers in the downhill run toward the end of the school year.  And this is a good thing for me.  Not because I’m a teacher, and I look forward to my summers off.  Actually, in some respects, I am a teacher.  I’m a Girl Scout leader, and we teach lots of things.  At least we try to.  And while I love my volunteer work more than my paying gig, I’m still ready for a break.  Summer re-charges my batteries.

White hearts_editedMy plan is to get re-connected to nature this summer, and in the process, re-connect to those wishes I made on January 1.  Maybe I will explore a new section of the Rail Trail.  Or perhaps I will brave a kayaking trip on the river.  It would also be awesome just to sit on my back porch, under my umbrella, with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other.

The explosion of new life in springtime is revitalizing.  Gone are the browns, grays, whites of winter.  The trees burst with blossoms and colors.  Things turn GREEN again!  I had to take along my camera and capture nature showing itself off today.

violets_editedI’ve noticed that not all wild plants are weeds.  How can you argue when you find these delightful violets popping up in your grass?  When I was a kid, I always looked forward to finding violets in my yard.  I would carefully pick them, place them in a tiny vase, and present them to my Mom.  Being a Mom myself now, I know that is the best gift!  I also picked Dandelions, clover, butter cups, and wild strawberries.  Did you ever hold a butter cup up to your chin?  A yellow reflection is supposed to indicate a fondness for butter!

bleeding heart_editedRalph Waldo Emerson said that a weed is a plant whose virtues have never been discovered.  Maybe this is true of ourselves sometimes too.  When we are unsure of who we are or where we want to go in life, we doubt our virtues.  But they are waiting to be discovered.  When we are criticized or bullied by others, we may feel as worthless as a weed.  But weeds are survivors.  Pulled out, cut down, poisoned, yet somehow finding persistence, power, roots, and new growth again.  Perhaps the weed sees the beauty in itself, refusing to let go of it’s wild confidence.

I’m refusing to let go of my New Year’s wishes.  I still wish to grow in spirit, strengthen my will, change those failures into opportunities, and improve my forward fold.  There is still time.  There is always a new day and a new chance to blossom.


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Cookie of Hope – learning about homelessness in Philadelpha

He was wrapped in plastic from head to toe.  He had layer upon layer of plastic tied around each foot, tightly secured somehow, as though he was wearing spaceman boots.  He blanketed himself in several huge sheets of plastic, pulled up over his head, and he held them in place with a hand under his chin.

PhillyHe was the first homeless person I saw last month when I arrived at Philadelphia’s Suburban Station at 5:45am in the heart of the city’s downtown.  We came to sell Girl Scout cookies in the station.  And we undoubtedly were going home with quite an education in city life.

As we unloaded our cookie stock, a fight erupted nearby between several men.  SEPTA workers and police descended immediately to break it up.  A minute later I was greeted by Robert.  He introduced himself, and at first I wasn’t sure if Robert was a homeless person or simply on his way to work at that hour.  Robert said that someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the dry cleaning business around the corner last Friday, injuring the Asian couple who own it.  Robert said the couple is not coming back.

From above us in a stairwell, a woman began screaming and cursing.  It seemed as though she was arguing with someone, but we could not hear anyone respond to her.  This went on for 20 minutes or longer before she became silent.  But she erupted in a stream of profanities several more times throughout the day.  At one point, the woman was carrying on an argument right behind us.  It was then that I realized her adversary was invisible.

A police officer stopped by our cookie booth, and I asked him why the screaming woman hadn’t been arrested.  He just chuckled and said, “You can’t lock up a crazy person.”

boothPlastic man milled around the loading dock area, while other folks wandered by to see what we were doing.  We brought about 60 cases of cookies.  That’s a veritable smorgasbord when you are used to fishing scraps out of trash cans.  We built ourselves a fort with cookies and camp chairs.  By 6am, we were smiling and greeting commuters with a chipper “Good Morning!”  As the day wore on, there were a few homeless folks that approached us and asked for cookies.  There were a few who lingered for a long time by our booth, just observing.

For two single moms from the suburbs and their 12 year old daughters, this was a whole new world.  Witnessing this issue made selling cookies seem trivial.  But, on the other hand, if a cookie helps to bring an important issue to a determined girl’s attention, you never know how that cookie might change someone’s future.

The Girl Scout program teaches girls to look for the root causes of problems in their communities and find ways to take action to address these issues.  In Philadelphia’s Suburban Station, our girls came face to face with a serious community issue.  And it’s overwhelming.  Where could we possibly begin?  Our girls are still learning how to address small problems in their own communities.  For them, this could mean finding ways to teach their school mates about bullying or the harmful effects of smoking.  Tackling homelessness is one issue they will need to grow into.

I wanted to learn more about homelessness in Philadelphia, so I took to the Internet and found an organization called Project HOME.  Their mission is to help break the cycle of homelessness through street outreach, supportive housing, and other community development activities.

According to Projecthome.org, a May 2013 street census counted approximately 494 individuals living on the street in Philadelphia. It is difficult to calculate the exact number of homeless people living on the street, considering the number of individuals that live in obscure park areas, vehicles, or abandoned houses.  Project HOME also estimates that, on any given night, about 6,000 people live in city-funded shelters or transitional housing.   Many of these individuals face economic hardship, lack of education and jobs, or may be victims of racial or ethnic discrimination.  But estimates run from between 34 to 53 percent of the homeless population suffers with addiction and mental illness.  This has been exacerbated by the removal of institutional support for people with severe mental illness and lack of universal health care.

As I read more about Project HOME, I learned that this organization has a service center in Suburban Station. It’s called Hub of Hope, and it was shut down without warning in November of 2014.  You can read the story of the Hub of Hope here.  But I am happy to report that the Hub is once again open and assisting the homeless in Suburban Station.  Next time we have the opportunity to sell cookies in Philadelphia, we will also take along some donations for the Hub of Hope.

There is one other fact I learned about Project HOME — eight of its top executives are women.  I wonder, were they Girl Scouts?

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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And there sat Mary

I left my office last Friday night after our office Christmas party.  It was dark, windy, and a cold 36 degrees outside.  And while I would have preferred to go straight home, I had one more errand to run.  As I pulled into the parking lot at the Post Office, I saw her sitting on a bench by the flag pole.  She was tucked into a sleeping bag, zipped up to her neck.  She had a knit cap pulled down over her ears, and she looked like she was settled in for the night.

My office is in a suburban area, with lots of retail shopping malls nearby.  It’s not the kind of place where you would expect to see a homeless woman.  But Mary is no stranger to this neighborhood.  I’ve seen her on some early mornings, camped out in a concrete corner between stores, still bundled into her sleeping bag.

One day I saw her sitting in a local eatery.  She was by herself in a booth.  There was a coffee cup on her table and dozens of sugar packets ripped open and piled into a mound in front of her.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that was all she had to eat that day.  I asked one of the employees about her.  The clerk said that she comes in often and never bothers anyone.  I paid for a gift card and asked the clerk to give it to her.

But on this particularly cold night, only weeks before Christmas, the site of her on that bench just broke my heart.  We have many shelters close by, including one run by the county Conference of Churches that will not turn anyone away between November and April.  I would have gladly given her a ride.  Or bought her another meal.  Yet I hesitated.  Not wanting to upset Mary or risk my own safety, I instead drove a few blocks to the police barracks.

Yes, the police officers are quite familiar with Mary.  Yes, many people have tried to help her.  But she refuses most help.  I was told that she prefers to sleep outdoors rather than go to a shelter; she feels safer by herself.  Sometimes, regardless of our many efforts, there are some souls we cannot help.

For many years I have been involved in volunteer efforts to help homeless and struggling families.  Through my employer, we have provided Christmas gifts to families through the Conference of Churches and donated food and clothing to local shelters.  And I have involved my Girl Scouts in these activities so that they can become aware of what is often invisible to us, even in our own neighborhoods.

tree_editedYou can become involved too.  Call local shelters and ask what kinds of donations they could use.  Volunteer your time to assist these organizations.  Use your talents to help others.  These groups are often in need of legal, medical, or educational services for their clients.  Inquire about what you can do to make life permanently better for a homeless person, rather than just collecting or donating items.

In a way, I believe it was Mary who helped me that night.  My stress level had been rising to a crescendo all week long.  My schedule was packed.  When I crossed one thing off my list, I added another.  The car was in the shop, I fell up the steps at work and smashed my hand, and then came down with a cold the next day.  But so what?

I have a home to go to, and family that love me, and a job, and groceries, and all kinds of stuff that I could certainly do without.  Most of all, I have a healthy mind and a healthy body.  I am blessed in so many ways.  And Mary reminded me of that.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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Diplomacy is a dish best served by a Girl Scout

Open mouth, insert foot. I’m not exactly known for my diplomacy.  I admit, it’s something I need to work on.  I remember the first time someone pointed this out to me about myself.  I was young and naïve, thinking that is was OK for me to say whatever is on my mind.  And an older woman who I worked with at a local arts organization conferred the advice upon me:  You really need to learn to be more diplomatic.  I didn’t even know what that meant!  Now I realize that it was probably some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.

There is a quote that goes, “Diplomacy is thinking twice before saying nothing.”

As a volunteer Girl Scout leader, I rely on the graciousness of others to be able to fulfill my mission. We have partners in the community whose generosity enables us to bring our programs to our scouts.  These partners are providing meeting space, materials, and places to conduct fundraising activities.  I couldn’t do what I do without these partnerships and I am very grateful for them.

This week, I found myself across a table from one of these partners with whom I needed to resolve a few conflicts. There had been some complaints that we had not cleaned up after ourselves while using their space.  During this meeting, an inference was made that our lack of tidiness was a reflection of the quality of the program we present.

Wait; let me get this straight. So if I leave a mess behind, then I am likely presenting my scouts with a careless, messy program too.  That’s like saying if I have dust bunnies on my floor at home, then I surely do not love my family very much.

I’m not justifying being messy.  We certainly need to be respectful of the space we use and leave it better than we find it.  But that remark stung, and I balked.  “Are you questioning the quality of our program?” I blurted out.  And with that, my diplomatic intentions went out the window.

Anyone who knows me knows how much effort I put into my Girl Scout program. I care about it deeply.  I invest a tremendous amount of time into planning and preparation.  I try to send these young women off with something of value that they can use in their lives, both to be better as individuals and to help make the world a better place.

But there’s the key: my friends KNOW me.  This person, with his inferences, doesn’t know me.  And I doubt he knows much about what Girl Scouts do.

In anticipating this meeting, I had spent a lot of time thinking about how to create compassion between us. How can I help this person to understand my mission and want to work with me rather than reject me?  My younger self would never have taken this approach.  She would have plotted out a defense against these accusations.  But these days I find myself trying harder to understand other people’s perspectives and trying to find common ground.  So I tried my hardest to not show how offended I was by the remark.  I’m not sure I was successful.  But I reached for the information that I had brought along to show what we do in Girl Scouting and how it aligns with his organization’s goals.

To approach our relationships with compassion requires us to be respectful listeners, to set aside judgment and look for the reasons behind other people’s actions. Our willingness to take the time to get to know others helps us to establish a relationship of trust, and to ultimately make connections – to build bridges rather than destroy them.  I’m working on it.

Sometimes I still need to back-peddle and remove that foot from my mouth!  A piece of pumpkin chocolate chip cake would taste much better.  Those of you who know me know I needed some Kitchen Therapy after that meeting!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cake

cake_collageI found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website.  You can find the whole recipe here.  The recipe calls for bran flakes.  And I wasn’t so sure how that would work out.  I was surprised to find that you can’t even tell they’re there!  And I think the flakes thicken the batter and help to suspend the nuts and chips better.  I cut back on the sugar a little, adding only one and a half cups.  This cake is quite moist.  I served it at a school event, and the kids devoured it!

Prepping ingredients is my favorite part of the cooking process.  It’s relaxing.  I get all the ingredients ready before I begin.  I like to be organized!

 

batter_collageLittle surprise that I also clean up as I go along.  I can’t leave the mess until the end.  I doubt that a clean sink is a sign of the quality of my food, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

I have a very old mixer.  It is a hand-me-down from my Mother.  It’s not a shiny Kitchen Aid.  No stainless steel bowls for me.

mixerIt has small and large glass bowls.  And two mixing blades, instead of one like modern mixers.  And the large glass bowl has a few chips on the bottom.  The cord barely stays connected to the mixer anymore.  Sometimes the cord falls off in the middle of mixing.  Fuses get blown.  But I can’t seem to part with this cherished antique.  Whenever I use it, I know my Mom is with me.  And I think about all the love that has been cooked into our family recipes over the years.

I don’t think the old Sunbeam Mixmaster will last until my own daughter is whipping up cakes and cookies for her family.  But I hope there are a few things here that will become her treasures.  What object of mine will she hold dear?  Maybe it will be my iron.  She’s been using it lately for Perler bead craft projects.

It’s a Black & Decker with a non-stick coating.  I told her that my Mom bought the iron for me when I was in college.  She paid for it with S & H Green Stamps.  I had to explain to my daughter what Green Stamps were.  Now we earn gas extra rewards points at the grocery store.  Back then, the grocery perk was Green Stamps.

finished cakeMy Girl Scouts voted to earn a badge called New Cuisines this year.  Lucky for them that they have leaders who love to cook.  We will be exploring foods from around the world and from our heritage.  It’s an opportunity to learn about other cultures and to get to know each other a little better.  It’s a great tie-in to the ongoing discussions we’ve been having about stereotypes, peer pressure, and friendships.  Food unifies us.  I think I can also teach them a lesson in diplomacy if we invite our community partners to join us and sample our fare.  I’ll let you know how that works out!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014