Friday, January 25, 2013

Choosing Our Stories (full post)

I recently had the opportunity to attend a meeting at the Kiwanis Club of Carlisle. This is a cheerful bunch, beginning the meeting by collecting “happy dollars” and ending it with the “jester” reciting a humorous thought for the day. Like many service clubs, it’s a gathering of folks keeping alive some of the constructs of what made our country great – social clubs, volunteerism, and a linking of arms for the greater good. The club members meet weekly, making a choice to sacrifice time and energy that might be spent inward and pouring it out, into the lives of community youth programs for the betterment of others. I had the opportunity to humbly and graciously accept a donation of support on behalf of the Carlisle Family YMCA for the Mentoring Project. I thanked the group and said that their choice to support the Y helps rewrite countless stories unfolding at the Y every day. I said that the Y isn’t about a building or a structure, but it’s about creating a space where people can come together and pursue healthier lifestyles, where they can choose to come in the hope of something more, and where they can choose to embrace the life story they’ve been gifted; sharing, celebrating, and encouraging each other along the way. All of this blending and collaboration creates a stronger community, these relationships are the underpinning of our moral fabric.

Author Daniel Pink tweeted today that 50% of individuals under the age of 27 in this country don’t have a job. I suppose that’s why we received over 50 qualified resumes for a recent job posting at the Y. It’s a difficult time. It’s even more difficult for those growing up without a Dad in the home, almost 1/3 of the youth in our country living in that suffocating space. According to research, “Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families… (“Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004). The dark clouds can loom for all of us. Just this week at work, I learned of difficult marriages, dying grandparents, aging in-laws, and the loneliness of families separated. These are the things that are tossed around in my mind, like damp clothes in a dark dryer, when I’m focusing on the troubles abounding. When I wake at 3:00 a.m., my mind racing and my heart picking up the pace, I wonder why I’m not resting well and I realize it’s the persistent anxiety rooted in these messy stories of life that surface in the cold, dark hours before dawn.
My friend and colleague stood before Kiwanis and preceded stories of mentoring relationships that are blossoming with stories of those youth who fell through the cracks. They need to know that this work of youth development and life transformation story isn’t mathematical, the formulas don’t always compute. Rather, it’s a journey, a standing in the ditch with another and pointing to something Greater, something hopeful. It’s a choice to be present, to show up. recently reported on a high-calorie dish to be avoided at all costs. Or, at least consumed sparingly and on the rarest of occasions. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s annual “food porn” list, the Cheesecake Factory offers a 3,020 Bistro Shrimp Pasta. The accompanying 89 grams of saturated fat apparently can stay in a person’s arteries for up to five days. Just reading the description makes my heart constrict, although I remain not-so-secretly tempted to try the dish. Our choice to regularly consume any unhealthy, fat-laden foods is to our detriment. Life context mixed with daily choices is always writing our story, or we can choose differently; new choices writing a new ending.

It’s contagious, this story-writing process of choosing. The Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962 may have been an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness, nevertheless schools had to be closed down, litigation ensued, and thousands were ultimately affected from this original group of three girls laughing hysterically. Simply, everyone couldn’t stop laughing. Focusing on the troubles around, laughing because others can’t stop, negative or positive energy at home or in the workplace, a dreadful or hopeful lens through which to view the world – it’s all contagious.
As I watch throngs of people join the Y in the New Year with intentions of resolution, I realize that life is all about our choices. People join the Y choosing to pursue healthier lives; many make the ongoing choices to remain, even when it’s difficult. Some choose to leave as life-waves of business drown out their desire. It’s all a choice. Sometimes it’s a choice over which we have some control or action, often it’s a choice in how we view the circumstance or respond. Either way, it’s a choice.
Author Ann Voskamp says, “You don’t get to make up most of your story. You get to make peace with it. You don’t get to demand your life, like a given. You get to accept your life, like a gift. Beginnings and middles, they are only yours to embrace, to unwrap like a gift. But you get the endings. You always get the endings. You get the endings and you get to make them a gift back to the Giver.”

Our stories, these daily opportunities for choice - they’re all gifts. Life is messy and it’s not easy. Voskamp notes, “Isn’t everything that is good always hard?” Kiwanis and many other community social clubs can choose to fade slowly into American nostalgia; instead they choose to continue to do the hard work of coming together and giving back for the greater good. We can choose to ruminate on the rashes of bad news spreading through our screens, instead let’s choose to see the bright glimmers of hope and grace and good that permeate the dark. We can choose to over-indulge on American excess, instead let’s choose simplicity, presence, and selflessness. We can choose to numb and medicate our discontent with unhealthy pursuits, instead let’s choose wellness from the physical surface down to the depths of the heart. Let’s spread these life-giving choices to one another, standing together in the messy middles with hope and welcoming these endings (always begetting a new beginning) with gratitude.

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