Monday Mitzvahs: Just Being a Friend

Friends by Extraordinary Boy  CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DeviantArt
Friends by Extraordinary Boy
CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DeviantArt

Thinking about mitzvahs for this week’s post, it occurs to me that sometimes we can perform a mitzvah (act of kindness–for you new readers) without realizing it.  Sometimes simply being a friend is enough.  Today I will share a couple of these kindness’ that I received and one that I gave–without realizing it.

Here is a portion of a journal entry from a year ago:

“. . .I had a good day at church.  Yes, a good day is noteworthy.  The reasons it was a good day:

  1. I left Sacrament before the talk triggered me into a bad mood

  2. Chris W. came to the library after Sunday School, asked for a chair and announced that she was going to stay and visit with me.  I thought that was wonderful.  She said, she wanted me to be able to go home from church happy.

  3. Angela L. took time to talk to me –Having someone re-affirm that I am not invisible, or an emotional leper—by talking to me meant so much.

  4. Also Laurel W. made a point to smile and say Hi as she headed to Primary.

It makes such a difference to know that people care.”

I would guess that none of these wonderful ladies knew what their kindness meant to me that day, but each one was truly significant–enough so that I mentioned it in my journal.

I think that most people are good and kind and want to help others who are suffering, but too often they hold back because they “don’t know what to say”.  As the examples of my friends show, you don’t need to say the right words, sometimes just showing that you care is enough.

My next story that didn’t seem to be an act of kindness when I did it.  I was “just being a friend.”  But when I shared it (much later) with my friend, Laurel, she felt it was “better than a casserole.”

Once upon a time in a far away place.  Okay, I’m exaggerating. but I want to stress (in case my kids ever read this) that this was a long time ago and I am much better now–so much so–that this incident feels like another world.

One night my friend and were chatting on the Internet late at night because I was at work and she has insomnia.  We had both been going through a really difficult time and to be honest the word ‘suicide” had come up.

This night was different though.  My friend was not just thinking about it, she had a plan was ready to act on it.  We talked and talked.  You know the wonderful AA slogan “one day at a time”?  Our slogan that night was one hour at a time. ” Let’s just get through this hour before we make any rash decision.”  I say “we” because even though I was trying desperately to talk her out of it, at the same time, I was asking myself, “Why?  Why not let her?  I understand why she wants to, and I don’t blame her.  And yet, it just doesn’t seem right.”  So I kept talking to her, kept getting her to hold on for one more hour.

When she was finally calm enough to sleep, I made her promise that she would not “do anything drastic” until she talked to me again.  She was really reluctant to make that promise, until I told her that if she did it who would be there to keep me from making the same choice.  And so she agreed.

I share this to make a couple points.  I’m not a professional.  I didn’t know what to say.  Was I afraid to say the wrong thing?  Yes!  But I was more afraid of what would happen if I stopped talking to her.

Just last night, she and I were talking and I thought back to that awful night, and marveled at what has changed since then.  She is so much happier now, and so am I.  The pain that seemed everlasting–wasn’t.

Friendship matters.  Sometimes just saying hello, or encouraging someone even when you are afraid you’ll ‘mess it up’ matters.

And if you are depressed or suicidal, hold on one more day or one more hour.  Please believe me, the pain doesn’t last forever.  I promise.

Monday Mitzvahs were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book 1000 Mitzvahs

Photo attribution

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Monday Mitzvahs: Helping the Homeless

I have soft spot for homeless people.  I don’t know why, but I always have.  For years I tried to figure out how and why people become homeless.  I’ll spare you all my past guesses and theories, and just tell you my current ones.

Mental Illness-You hear this one a lot, in my opinion, because it is true.  In my previous job, I worked with abused kids.  We had one young man who  was medicated for a mental illness.  When he was on his meds, he did pretty well,  But he didn’t like to take his meds, and so he would refuse which was usually followed by him running away for a few days.  Then he would come back with no explanation.  Maybe he was hungry or cold?  He was a very sweet young man until something made him angry and (like the other young people we worked with) you could never be sure what might trigger him.  We had an understanding among the staff that if he got really angry, we would get all the other kids and staff a safe distance away and call the police because he could be violent (and he was a big kid.)  He “aged out” of the system (meaning he turned 18 while in foster care).  The last time I saw him, he had a job, and a place to live.  But knowing his history, I wondered how long that could last.  I have always been afraid that he would be one of those who end up homeless.  I blame his illness,

Abuse–Years ago I had a short term job working in a homeless shelter for families.  Until that time, I had no idea that families could be homeless too.  I was naïve back then and thought only scruffy looking older men became homeless.  I understand better now that some of those families were women with abusive husbands fleeing with their children.  Sometimes teenagers run away from home and end up homeless because of abuse as well.

Job Loss/Unemployment–I have heard stories of people who ended up on the street because of the loss of a job.  Many of us could have ended up in that situation if we didn’t have family to fall back on, I suspect.

Poor life choices–I think it is true that some people end up on the street because of drugs or alcohol.  Still my heart goes out to them.  You may have heard that when you pick up one end of a stick you also pick up the other end.  I think that when people start to drink or use drugs, they don’t fully understand the other end of that stick.  The consequences can be pretty terrible, even if you don’t end up homeless, why would anyone make that choice if they truly understood it?

There are likely many more reasons, but those are my top theories.

If you are even a little curious about homeless people and what it is like to live on the street, I recommend the book, Under the Overpass by Mike Yankowski.  I love this book.  Mike was a college student when he decided to live on the streets for five months.  Why?  He wanted to know if his faith in God would be as strong if  his life were not so easy.  Under the Overpass is about those five months. Because he is religious, he filtered the language for readers.  No F-bombs in this book.  I felt he bordered on being a bit preachy at times, but nothing that would keep me from giving him a 5-star book review.

aaaviennaMy daughter, Vienna, also has a soft spot for homeless people.  And she came to it on her own, not from me.  For her it started when her youth group from church did a service project with Mamma’s Hands an organization that helps the homeless.   It only took one time of going to a park and giving food to the homeless people and she was hooked.  She wrote a blog post about her experience called, A Homeless Man, A Gangster and Me (or something like that).   I’ll see if she will let me post it as a guest post later.

It is Vienna that inspired this mitzvah.  Lately she has been nagging   bugging asking politely, but repeatedly for me to take her to Seattle so she can hand out some “homeless kits”.  Yes, she wants me to drive her around Seattle so she can find homeless people and give them her kits.

Her kits are things she puts together with her own money–a can of soup, a bottle of vitamin water, a tooth-brush, tooth paste and deodorant.  Or things of that nature.  Usually she makes them up and I give them away when I am in Seattle for therapy or other appointments.  But this time she wants to make an afternoon of it!

Like many of you, I shy away from giving homeless people money.  But it is a really great feeling when I can grab one of Vienna’s kits and hand it to someone.  If you don’t want to drive around with a bag of goodies in your car-just waiting- another option could be to buy a couple of gift cards to fast food places.  Those would be easy to keep in the car and hand out when you see someone on the street corner.  Or if you prefer, you could donate money or time to an organization like Mamma’s Hands.  Whatever you do, like any mitzvah you will be left feeling like you were the one most blessed.

Monday Mitzvahs: Sharing Your Talents

Yippie!  I just read about National Non-Fiction Writing Month coming in November.

That excites me because I have been a little jealous of the fun and challenge that fiction writers get in National Novel Writing Month.  If you haven’t heard of it, basically, it is a challenge to write an entire novel in a month.  It would be a first draft, not a finished product obviously.  But it’s more than the writing, there are websites and contests and lots of fun.  Writing is mostly a solitary business.  Since most writers tend to be introverts, we don’t mind too much, but we also welcome a little socializing now and then.

Because National Non-Fiction Writing Month is new and has not yet created the buzz of NaNoWriMo, the organizers have asked people to share the news.  As I pondered about that, I thought I would like to help but it might seem odd to you since my blog is not about writing.  Still if I could find a way to do it, that would be a kindness for the organizers and fellow non-fiction writers.

That’s when it hit me.  Sharing is an act of kindness, a mitzvah!    This started my mind spinning about other ways I could use my writing as an act of kindness and about how talents in general could be used as mitzvahs.

Sharing our talents is a wonderful way to give acts of service.  This is most obvious if you are artistic and can arrange flowers or make something beautiful to share with someone.  For example, one day I received an unexpected package in the mail.  When I looked at the sender’s name, I smiled because it was from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Charice.   But it wasn’t my birthday, what could this be, I wondered.   I opened it quickly and found:

A Handmade Original by Charice
A Handmade Original by Charice

This made me happy for several reasons.

  •  It was completely unexpected
  •  I love elephants.  In Buddhism they are a sign of mental strength
  •  I love the colors
  •  Charice, a talented seamstress, made this herself
  • Oh, and I love the quilting stitches
  • I was touched that Charice was thinking of me
  • I know this took a lot of time to make

Thanks again Charice!  You are the best!

Another friend of mine, Josh, has a wonderful voice.  He has many talents, but lets focus on his voice.  Because I sing tenor (yes, I am a female tenor.  It’s a little awkward sometimes, but hey, I’ve been told I have a “sexy phone voice”–wink).  So I first heard Josh’s voice when we sang in the choir together.  Because I love his voice, once when I was going through a particularly bad time I asked him if he would sing in church for me.  He did.  That was a great mitzvah.  Thanks again Josh!  (Josh is also a writer.  You can read his humor blog HERE)

Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Yeah, but I don’t have any of those kinds of talents, Leslie.”  I understand.  I felt that way for years.  I think we get into a rut of thinking that only “showy” talents like singing, dancing, sports, or playing an instrument matter.  But that is wrong!

There are other talents that are less visible, but just as valuable like being a good teacher, or good listener.  Or being a good organizer–you might not realize what a gift this is until you help someone like me that doesn’t have it!  Some people have real skill in working with children, or teens.  Others are a blessing to the elderly.

Talents can come in many packages, but one of my favorites is the talent of being a good friend.  I believe that being a friend is not something that comes naturally to most of us, but it is a talent we can all cultivate.

Whatever your talents may be, don’t keep them to yourself . . . share them with others, each time you do, it’s an act of kindness.

And to my fellow non-fiction writers, don’t forget National Non-Fiction Writer’s Month!

Monday Mitzvah’s were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book 1,000 Mitzvahs

Monday Mitzvahs: What My Sister Taught Me About Care-giving

Care-giving.  What comes to your mind with those words?  For some it means changing diapers and holding babies.  Others might think of caring for the sick or elderly. We can also be care providers for our pets and other animals.  Recently, my sister taught me about a different kind of care-giving.  Caring for our dead.

I have always felt uncomfortable at funerals and viewings.  I have never dealt with death well.  (What is dealing well anyway?  What I mean is funerals completely unhinge me.)  When my mother-in-law passed away, I decided that I did not want to attend the viewing.  I wanted my last memory of her to be when she was alive.  And so it is.

It’s a lovely memory as far as good-byes go.  I mean, good-byes are never easy, but with my mother-in-law, we knew the end was near and all the family gathered around and had a chance to say good-bye.  I remember her lying in her hospital bed taking a moment to talk to each child, and grandchild individually.

So I didn’t attend my mother-in-law’s viewing.  I decided this was a much better way, for me at least, to deal with death.  I would have avoided my own mother’s viewing also–if it weren’t for my sister, Ginger.

Because of my discomfort with death, I was surprised when Ginger told me that she planned to help prepare my Mom for the viewing.  She wanted to help with Mom’s hair, make-up and nails.  In spite of my discomfort with the idea, I couldn’t help but think that would be a beautiful act of service on Ginger’s part.  If I am honest, I guess I felt a little jealous.  Still I didn’t think it was something I could ever do.

When the day of the viewing arrived, my feelings had not changed.  But I couldn’t bear to let my sister go to the mortuary alone.  To be fair, she would not have been alone, her husband, Chuck, a wonderful guy, was going with her.  Still somehow I felt that it was my job as her sister to help.  I would not have felt any better if one of my brothers had gone.  This was a “sister thing”.  (This is a Leslie rule, so don’t feel bad if you never heard of it.)

So with deep reservations, I accompanied them to the mortuary.  When the mortician met us at the door with a friendly smile, I have to confess, I was a bit suspicious at first.  How dare he smile, and who would choose a profession like this, anyway?  (My own fears were speaking here, of course.  Since I am uncomfortable with death, anyone who isn’t is suspect.)

Ginger had brought some of my mother’s things to decorate the room where the viewing would be held.  Since I was initially reluctant to go to “the room in the back”.  I was assigned the job of decorating.  Having some quiet time alone with my mother’s cherished things, presenting them lovingly for others to view brought some torn pieces of my heart back into place.  I finished before they were done in “the back room”. so I enjoyed a little more  time of quiet contemplation and healing.

I cherish the time I spent alone with my mom’s things, listening to a Marty Robbins CD on the overhead speakers (the mortuary staff had inquired earlier about music and this was agreed upon.)  Perhaps it was my sister’s example, or setting out my mother’s things, but something in me shifted.  When Ginger came out for a moment,  I decided that I wanted to go with her to “the back room”.

When I first entered, seeing my mother lying on a table, with her open coffin near-by was a bit of a shock and I took a seat in the farthest chair, for a moment, questioning my decision.  But as the mortician, Tim, and Ginger worked, and carried on a light banter with Chuck; I found the courage to venture closer.

My mom had always said she wanted to be buried in her boots.  Ginger chose for her some beautiful moccasin-type boots that my mom had adored.  Slowly, I worked up from her boots, to her black pants, her shirt with geometric diamonds in a dark burgundy to her face.  She looked so peaceful that I smiled through my tears.

Ginger was standing at her head curling her hair.  Tim was putting make-up on her hands.  Perhaps it was the peaceful expression on my mother’s face that helped me to see what loving gestures these were.  Not only on the part of my sister, but Tim as well.  In that moment, I understood that care-giving does not end with death.  Hesitantly, I reached out and put my hand on my mom’s arm.

That evening during the viewing, the same Marty Robbins CD played. My mom would have loved it. I told someone teasingly that Marty Robbins was ruined for me because in the future whenever I hear “El Paso” or his other songs, I will be taken back to that mortuary.  I realize now though that ‘ruined’ is the wrong word because whenever I hear Marty Robbins, I will remember–not only my mother’s peaceful expression, but Ginger’s loving act of care-giving.

And I will smile at the beauty and wonder of it.

This is my Mom's casket piece.  She loved crosses.
This is my Mom’s casket piece. She loved crosses.

*Monday Mitzvahs (acts of kindness) were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book, 1,000 Mitzvahs

Monday Mitzvahs: Still Taking Time Out

Dear Friends, Monday comes too quickly when you are out-of-town (yes, I pre-scheduled this)

Sharing Kindness by K-cera CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deviant Art
Sharing Kindness by K-cera CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deviant Art

I love this picture.  It is called Sharing Kindness.  Isn’t that perfect?  I do think that by doing mitzvahs (acts of kindness) that we can be like angels to one another, bringing light into a dark world.

Due to being out-of-town and my “complicated grieving” this will be a short post.  I hope to be back “on my game” by next week.  For now I hope you will enjoy this post, 42 Small Acts of Kindness by Brad Aronson.  As I read it, I thought several of those suggestions could be worthy of a Monday Mitzvah post by themselves.  I’ll work on that later.

How are your mitzvahs going?  Have any experiences you’d like to share?

Photo Attribution link

Monday Mitzvahs: Time Out for Grieving

My grandmother, my aunt and my mom

Dear Friends, My mom passed away on Saturday.  She had been in the hospital since Father’s Day.  She had been moved out of ICU into a regular bed. So we thought she was getting better.

Because my relationship with my mom was complicated, my grieving is complicated also.  I think someday I will write about “complicated grieving”, but I’ll hold off for now.   Since I’m not ready to write about that, and honestly can’t focus on much else, instead of my regular mitzvah I’ve gathered a couple links for you.

First here is a link to a great article  Supporting a Grieving Person

Here’s a “Monday Mitzvah” post–sort of–from Linda Cohen, the woman that inspired my Monday Mitzvahs.  This is particularly appropriate today because Linda started doing mitzvahs to celebrate her father after his death.

So now it is your turn.  For your mitzvah today, I would love it if you leave me a comment.  Just say “I’m here, listening.” or say hello.  Tell me how you found my blog, or share something that helped you with grieving.  Whatever works for you.  Go . . .

Monday Mitzvahs: Sharing Hope

Do you ever feel like an emotional zombie?  Dead inside but still moving?  That is the kind of week I have had.

DID is a mixed blessing.  I do believe that children’s ability to dissociate is a God-given gift to help them survive trauma.  Without dissociation I would be insane (I mean literally in a hospital unable to function) or I would have killed myself as a child.

So DID saved me.  Sometimes it helps me get through difficult situations today.  It has also helped me get some reprieve from the past and enjoy life.  But other times, it feels more like a curse.  Some days I feel so weighted down by pain that I fear I will suffocate, and I don’t even know why.

“Hey Leslie!” You say, “Monday Mitzvahs are supposed to be light-hearted, did you forget?”  No I didn’t forget, I just had a really, really hard week.  I am feeling better now, though I wouldn’t say I am happy–yet.

Today’s mitzvah is born of this week’s pain.  When I get into emotional quicksand like that, I fight like a wild animal to get out.  That does not mean I always succeed.  This time I was “triggered” out of the bad place I was in.  Who would have thought being “triggered” could be a good thing?

While I was in the pit, fighting to get out, I turned to one of my heroes, Marilyn Van Derbur (should I say heroine?)  I wanted someone who understood my pain to tell me it would get better, and she did.

Marilyn Van Derbur was molested as a child by her father.  She dissociated, in the sense that she did not remember any of it until she was in her 20’s and I believe she really began the work of healing in her 40’s.  During the years that she did not allow herself to remember what happened during the night, she was driven to succeed.  Driven, she realized later, to prove that she had worth because her “night child” who did know of the abuse was sure she had no worth.  One of her accomplishments as part of this drive was to become Miss America.

In the attached video, she starts out talking about the worst day of her life.  A reporter had found out that she was in therapy because of incest.  This was big news due to her status as a previous Miss America.

I love this video and her book, Miss America By Day, because of her message:  There is hope, you can get through this.  You can get to a place beyond the pain, but you have to do the work of healing.

Such validating and hope-filled words!

I have to note also–when she is talking about “the work” of healing, she mentions confronting one’s abuser.  I do NOT think this is necessary for everyone.  I suppose if your abuser is still a part of your life, it could be helpful  (talk to your therapist), but I haven’t seen my abuser for many years and have no desire to initiate contact now.  For me the hard work of healing is going to therapy each week, facing my demons and working through the pain of the past.  I am holding on to the hope she offers that some day this will bring me some peace.

So my mitzvah for today is to share this video with those of you who are also survivors.  Sharing hope.

And YOUR mitzvah, should you choose to accept it, is to SHARE HOPE with someone else.  There are many ways you can do that.  You choose.  You could share hope by sharing a video, or a song.  Perhaps by sharing your story–or like my husband you can give a loved one hope by letting them know that you will always be there — no matter what.  (Thanks Honey!)



Monday Mitzvahs were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book 1,000 Mitvahs