Friday, July 26, 2013

Takebacks



Two weeks and two days. That’s how little time is left in my son’s summer. Where did it go? I know, it’s a cliché, but life just goes so fast the older you get. Sometimes you just wish for a takeback. 

We haven’t done a vacation because we’ve been too busy with renting our old house, unpacking the new one, selling my mother’s house, and there’ve been so many extra expenses. But we’re going to do one weekend break away, to a nearby city, to see some sights.

In the meantime, we went school supply shopping yesterday and bought a few extra items for our local program to help underprivileged kids get supplies for school. I bought paper and erasers, the two ends of the spectrum. You’ve got to have paper to write on and then sometimes you need to erase what you’ve written.

Ever want to do that? Erase something you’ve done or said? I have and just recently. My husband’s been out of town the last couple of weeks and one day my son was just getting on my nerves. We’ve had the whole summer together, just he and I because my job ended near the end of school, too. It’s been a pretty quiet summer because as I’ve said, we haven’t gone anywhere.

My son has ADHD and he’s off his medication for the summer. That means he’s a little more raucous than usual and for some reason, by the end of the day that day, I had had enough. He’d been teasing the cat, and I’d told him to stop a few times already. Finally, I said something I shouldn’t have.

It was almost his bedtime when it happened so after a while he went off to bed and I went to my room to work on homework. Only, I couldn’t think. Except about what I’d said. I prayed to God to forgive me but I still couldn’t settle down. Finally, I went in and knocked on my son’s door. He wasn’t asleep yet. I asked him if he had heard what I said. He had. I had hoped I’d kept it under my breath enough for him to miss it.

I wanted a takeback. He granted me one.

I told him I was sorry and I didn’t mean it. I asked him to forgive me. He said he did, but he also said that it was always late in the day when I did things like that. That hit me like a ton of bricks because it meant he remembered other times when I’d asked his forgiveness for something.

You see, there aren’t really any takebacks.

Even though he forgave me, what I’d said would always be there. I know today’s blog is not so much about volunteering and charity, but it’s what’s on my mind.

We can’t really take back anything so we need to do the right thing, the first time and every time, as much as we can. I’m certainly not able to do it all the time, as I’ve explained, but I’ve got to do better.

Please help me, God, not just to have a helping heart, but to show self-control. It’s supposed to be a fruit of the spirit, so I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me through those little times when it’s easy to go off the handle. Instead, hold me back, breathe into me so I don’t do something I shouldn’t. Thank you, Lord.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Being Different




Yesterday was Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. I wrote about him two Fridays ago when it wasn’t looking good for him healthwise. Now the reports are looking up. People around the world celebrated his birthday by giving 67 minutes of service in his name. 

I prayed to be more like Nelson Mandela, braver, kinder, thinking more of others than myself, willing to make sacrifices. But this was done by a white woman in the safety of her own home. Let’s face it, I’ve never been the object of racial discrimination.

Well, there was that one time.

Right out of college, I decided I wanted to travel and learn about other religions and cultures. I wanted to leave America behind and see what other countries were like. Sure, I’d been to Mexico and to Canada, but never for more than a few hours or days. I decided to teach English in Japan for a year.

Japan is a safe place, right? Not for me. Let’s just say it was a year to remember. I got hit by a car on my bike. My house was broken into while I was in it. I was raped.

A few of these things were “colored” by my race and culture. I was told that the “thief” broke into my house because I was a foreigner and he wanted to see how I lived. He was just curious about the gaijin, which is what the Japanese call foreigners.

The rapist was my boyfriend at the time. He had come over for dinner. I was told later that he saw dinner at my house as an invitation to rape. That’s not the way it works in America.

As for the bike accident, it was my fault, I guess. I never saw him coming.

The point is, my race was something that was pretty much impossible to ignore in Japan, at least where I was. I was the only gaijin in the small town where I lived. In Japan, the saying goes, “The nail that sticks out, gets hammered down.” I stuck out.

For the most part, it was not a bad thing. It was a reason some people wanted to be my friend—to practice speaking English, to have a foreign friend, to learn about America. It was why most people tried to help me.

There were just those other two incidents and the feeling of being different. Everywhere I went in my little town, people noticed me. I looked different and it seems I acted different, too.  

I still can’t say I’ve experienced anything like the blacks under apartheid or in America, although I think racism has improved in both places over the years.

There’s just one thing that I try to do because I know what it’s like to feel different. I try to treat people the same no matter what. I read for a blind man in Tallahassee for a while. He was in a master’s program and he needed textbooks that he couldn’t get in Braille or audio read to him. I never took his hand and guided him around unless he asked me to. He liked me for not assuming he wanted help. Said it was nice to have someone treat him just like everybody else.

As a Christian, I don’t believe in gays getting married, but I’ve known gay couples and I try not to treat them differently just because they’re gay. In a private moment, if they asked my position, I’d tell them, but not until the right private moment. Who am I to shun them or shout at them? They’re people, too.

I’m running out of space, so I won’t go on, but the point is this. People don’t want to get pounded down, nor do most want to get special treatment. It is nice to treat people nicely, but not because of their disability, gender, sexual orientation, race or other “differentness,” but because of their souls. We all have one.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Parks and People: A Great Combination



Did you know every state has at least one national park in it and that there are 401 total national parks  in America? July is National Parks and Recreation Month and is a great time to visit a park and volunteer in one. 

I’ve written about volunteer vacations before and some of the best are in parks across the country. Join the American Hiking Society for a week of building and maintaining trails with five to 14 other people in exciting and diverse locations like Idaho, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming. Crew requests for 2014 open this month.

Sierra Club Outings does service through its group and chapters as well as through volunteer vacations. With 65 chapters and more than 400 groups nationwide each contributing to local service projects, Group and Chapter Outings give an incalculable number of volunteer hours to parks and public lands. Many groups and chapters devote special trips solely to service projects.

Through the roughly 90 service trips each year, the National Outings program donates roughly 27,000 work hours to state and federal land agencies. Service trips range from helping with research projects at whale calving grounds in Maui to assisting with archaeological site restoration in New Mexico.

Usually, service trip participants team up with forest service rangers or park service personnel to restore wilderness areas, maintain trails, clean up trash and campsites, and remove non-native plants.

Wilderness Volunteers is another way to go. It organizes trip from March through October for a week at a time and 12 or fewer participants. Participants camp out in places from Hawaii to Maine and do a variety of projects, all for just $299.

The National Park Service itself also has volunteer opportunities by state or park. These can be ongoing like internships or assistantships or one time help for a special event.

When was the last time you visited a park? Was it clean and in good shape? You may have a volunteer to thank for that. With such vast areas to cover, a few park rangers can’t begin to make improvements to parks without the help of volunteers like you. It’s a beautiful way to spend a week and help others at the same time.

Friday, July 5, 2013

I Can Help

Nelson Mandela lays in a hospital bed in South Africa waiting. I wonder if it reminds him of his 27 years in prison. He may not reach his 95th birthday, which is less than two weeks away on the 18th of June. It’s a day set aside as a call to action for people everywhere to make the world a better place.

For Mandela Day, the Nelson Mandela Foundation asks people to set aside 67 minutes for service, one minute for each year of his service to his country. Although there are organized events, one of the easiest things to do is post something on Facebook that celebrates, or brings awareness to a human rights issue for the 67 days starting with his birthday. That may sound like a lot of days to write about human rights, until you start looking for human rights issues. There’s no shortage of them.

Humanrights.com, Amnesty International and other sources report that individuals are:

  • Tortured or abused in at least 81 countries
  • Face unfair trials in at least 54 countries
  • Restricted in their freedom of expression in at least 77 countries

·         In Brazil in 2007, according to official figures, police killed at least 1,260 individuals—the highest total to date. All incidents were officially labeled “acts of resistance” and received little or no investigation.

·         In Uganda, 1,500 people die each week in the internally displaced person camps. According to the World Health Organization, 500,000 have died in these camps.

·         In Guinea-Bissau, children as young as five are trafficked out of the country to work in cotton fields in southern Senegal or as beggars in the capital city. In Ghana, children five to fourteen are tricked with false promises of education and future into dangerous, unpaid jobs in the fishing industry.

·         The US State Department estimates 600,000 to 820,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, half of whom are minors, including record numbers of women and girls fleeing from Iraq. In nearly all countries, including Canada, the US and the UK, deportation or harassment are the usual governmental responses, with no assistance services for the victims.

There are many organizations at work trying to end these problems. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one. The IRC provides health care, counseling and safe spaces to survivors of sexual violence in more than 17 countries. Their economic empowerment programs increase women’s income and ability to provide for themselves and their families. Through July 31, if 300 people pledge monthly support to the IRC, a donor will give $42,500.

Amnesty International is another well known one. They suggest ten ways to make a difference.

Once you start looking for human rights violations, the number of them is overwhelming. What can one do? I have given a few ideas and links to others here. In looking through these websites, perhaps one country or one organization will stand out to you, one cause will cry to you.

Don’t feel like you can do nothing in the wake of all the suffering. Choose to do something. You can do something for 67 minutes on the 18th, write something on your Facebook page for 67 days, or find another way to make a difference. It’s up to you. You can help.