Monday Mitzvah: Expressing Gratitude

Gratitude Wallpaper by dontstealmypen flick CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Gratitude Wallpaper by dontstealmypen flick CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hello everyone!  I’m back with a blog facelift (it’s most noticeable on the home page–how do you like it?) and another Monday Mitzvah.  Perhaps you need this little pick me up more than usual.  Holidays can be hard for survivors for so many reasons.  It’s also the first Monday back to school for many.

In case you are new (and if so welcome!) mitzvahs are small acts of service.  The idea comes from Linda Cohen’s book 1000 Mitzvahs, because Linda’s father loved mitzvahs, after his death she set a goal to do 1,000 mitzvahs to help ease her grieving.   I write about mitzvahs that are small enough that anyone could do them–meaning even someone that is severely depressed, even suicidal, because I think mitzvahs do have power to help us and the people we share them with.

Today, I want to share a video that I discovered on Facebook.  I really love this idea.  Such a small thing–express gratitude to someone who has made a difference in your life.  And yet you can see how powerfully it affected the people in this experiment.

Now here’s the challenge for you–express gratitude to someone today.  You choose how big or how small…you could make a phone call like they did in the video, write a letter, or send a text. It’s your mitzvah so you can make it as simple or complicated as you like depending on how stressed and/or you may or may not be today. Just do it–even if it’s small.

I’ll start.  I am so grateful for all of you that read this blog.  Writing has been such a powerful outlet to me in my healing.  But not just any writing would do–I needed to share what I was writing with someone and blogging gave me the perfect platform for that.  The great thing about blogging is I know you will only be here if you want to be.  So when you leave me comments, here or on FB, when you click LIKE, or when you simply read (and I know someone has been here by looking at my blog stats).  It means so much to me.  It tells me that people care, and I think that is one of the most important parts of the healing process.  At least it has been for me.

So thank you for sharing this journey with me!  Sometimes people ask me, “Is it okay if I share your blog with a friend who is struggling?”  My answer is always YES.  Yes and yes!  Please do.  Sharing is the best compliment.

Now don’t forget your challenge–go express gratitude to someone.  Happy Monday!

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: Validation – It’s Not Just for Parking

My two favorite words are: listening and validation.  And still a couple times recently, I have found myself biting my tongue to keep from giving advice.  It was well-intended.  I just wanted to help.  But in both situations I realized that if the roles were reversed, I would be looking for validation not advice.

RFID Validation Stand by Steven Vance CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr
RFID Validation Stand by Steven Vance CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr

For example, a friend of mine told me about a memory that had surfaced of a time when she had been betrayed by someone close to her.   My first instinct was to make excuses for the person that hurt her.  Somehow I thought that would make her feel better.  Then I remembered that my husband had recently made the same mistake.  He tried to make me feel better by making excuses for someone that had hurt me.  I appreciated that he was trying, but it made me feel even more frustrated. What I really wanted was for him to say, “What you are feeling is understandable.”

Another incident that really brought this home for me was in therapy.  This week my therapist was “off”.  I don’t know what happened but it felt like he was on auto-pilot mode (yes we discussed it).  By auto-pilot mode I mean that I felt he was giving me less validation and more advice.  He didn’t actually give me advice, I just felt the questions were leading that way and I didn’t like it.  I felt let down.

The experience with my therapist helped me understand something else about validation.  It’s more than saying, “what you are feeling is okay.”  By validating someone, and not giving advice, you are saying, “I have confidence  in you to find the answers you seek.”   That feels empowering.

I think that being told that your feelings are understandable, and feeling someone’s confidence in you (feeling empowered) are especially important for survivors of abuse, because those are some of the very things that are taken from us by the abuse.  When we are abused, the messages are clear, “Your feelings don’t matter,”  and “There is nothing you can do about this.  You are powerless.”

So next time someone shares a problem with you, consider validation instead of advice.  It maybe  the best gift you can offer them, especially if that person is a survivor.

NJ - USA by Anna Strumillo CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Fotopedia
Doesn’t this little girl look empowered?
NJ – USA by Anna Strumillo CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Fotopedia

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

Monday Mitzvahs: Compliments are like Thought Umbrellas

Adriana Measures - CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 Fotopedia
Adriana Measures – CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 Fotopedia

Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”   Isn’t that the truth?  Compliments are like thought-umbrellas.  They offer shelter from life’s harsh winds and rain.

These thought-umbrellas are better than chocolate or flowers.  That’s saying a lot because I love chocolate.  But consider this–I can buy my own chocolate or flowers (and I have abundantly), but complimenting oneself is trickier.  We should be kind to ourselves, and try to have positive self-talk, but it’s really not the same as a compliment from someone else, right?

Thought-umbrellas are great to receive and a delight to give away.   That is something I could never say about chocolate.  Once it is in my possession, I want to keep it.  If my kids get too close I pull the chocolate close to my heart and hiss, “my precious”.

Sometimes we imitate Gollum with compliments we should be sharing.  We think, “I should tell her how nice she looks today, but I’m sure she already knows.”  Or “That was a great talk, but other people will tell her.”  And on and on.  We give ourselves all kinds of excuses, but here is something to consider.  Ezra Taft Benson said, “With-holding compliments is a form of pride.”  So be more humble! Open your palm and your heart and share those compliments with the people that deserve them.

There are many ways to share a compliment.  The most common way is in person, verbally, but we don’t need to limit ourselves to that.  You could send an email.  Or you can use social media.

On Facebook, I think clicking “like” is a nice way to give a compliment.  A simple click says, “I like that,” or “Thanks for sharing.”  Facebook Likes always make me smile.

On Twitter, you can “favorite” a tweet or even better…retweet.  Don’t you love it when you get retweeted?  I do!

Blogs:  When you like a blog post, you can compliment the blogger by leaving a comment.  (this is general advice, I’m not fishing for compliments, honest! Sometimes we don’t comment because we don’t know what to say.  I’ve done that.  But really, a quick, “that really made me think,” or “that made me smile” is good.  Bloggers thrive on feedback, we’re not picky.  Another way to compliment a blog is to share it.  If you like it, tell a friend!

You could also go “old-school” with your compliments and write a thank you note, or send a card.

Don’t forget to protect your treasures–the thought-umbrellas that are given to you.  One of the best writing tips I ever read was this: Keep an “emotional band-aids’ file.  Whenever someone compliments your writing, cut and paste it to that file, or jot it down and add it to the file.  And when a rejection notice knocks you down, read that file to keep yourself going.  Writer’s aren’t the only ones that get rejected, though we sure get our fair share.

I have a friend who has a drawer in his home that he keeps positive things that have been said to him.  Once I wrote something about him in my blog (about how he always supported me by simply asking a sincere “how are you?”).  Since he didn’t know about my blog, I printed out the post and gave it to him as a thank you.  He told me months later about his “compliment drawer” and that he put my printed blog post in there.  Apparently, he had needed a lift that day and had come across it again.

So treasure comments in your heart, but you might also want to give them a special landing place on your computer or in a drawer…a resource to draw on when the storms of life beat down on you.

Now go and give someone a compliment today…or give two, after all,  they’re free!

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Monday Mitzvahs were inspired by Linda Cohen and her book 1,000 Mitzvahs

Monday Mitzvahs: Our Mite-size Acts of Kindness

Wishing Well, of Sorts  VAFeuerstein, CC-BY-NC-SA via deviantART
Wishing Well, of Sorts VAFeuerstein, CC-BY-NC-SA via deviantART

“Knowing that I can contribute forces me to admit that I am not completely broken.”  Leslie

I’m not quoting myself, that was a comment from a friend (no, really!) also named Leslie, shared on a previous Monday Mitzvah post.  I love it because with that statement she captured the reason for the Monday Mitzvahs.   You may know that Linda Cohen, who wrote the book 1,000 Mitzvahs, started doing them to honor her father, after his death.  Doing these small acts of kindness helped her heart to heal.  They can be healing for us as well.

For trauma survivors, healing is, by necessity, an inward-facing project.  No one can do the work for you, although a good therapist, and supportive family and friends surely help. Sometimes, though, the depression, anger, shame (insert painful emotion here) can be nearly overwhelming.

This is the reason for the mitzvahs (small acts of service).  As the other Leslie said, being able to contribute even in a small way reminds that we still have value in the world, that we are not completely broken.

When you are overwhelmed with your own pain, it can be hard to reach out.  Even just giving someone a smile, can feel like an insurmountable task.  I know I’ve been there.  After all, smiling requires eye contact, and sometimes that is the last thing you want.   But you can chose your mitzvah, if you don’t feel like smiling there are many other things you can do, for example:

-say thank you to someone who has been supportive

-give someone a compliment (you can do it on-line if you’re feeling shy)

-when you are at the store, grab a cart from the parking lot and take it inside

I know those are really small things, and you may wonder what is the point.  Remember though, the widow’s mite.  Can you imagine the scene?

I picture a large crowd milling outside a building.  It’s still early, but already the day’s heat has begun. People are approaching a small container and dropping coins inside.  Most of them are ornately dressed, and imagining myself as the widow, I feel thrown back to High School with the “popular kids”.  How can I approach and drop in my mites, pennies…after them with their fancy clothes and large amounts of money?

Though it pains me to admit it, my anxiety might have caused me to turn away.  The widow had great faith or courage–likely both–and she approached and dropped in her coins.  Remember what the Savior said about that?  He said she had given more than all the others who had given more but sacrificed less.  If I were her, I would have glowed beneath such praise.  I would have mentally marinated in it for a week!

Our mitzvahs are our “widow’s mites’ given with faith, courage and sacrifice.

And they are accepted.

We are accepted–not broken–but accepted and loved.

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