Will you engage this moment with kindness or with cruelty, with love or with fear, with generosity or scarcity, with a joyous heart or an embittered one? This is your choice and no one can make it for you. If you choose kindness, love, generosity, and joy, then you will discover in that choice the Kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, this-worldly salvation. If you choose cruelty, fear, scarcity, and bitterness, then you will discover in that choice the hellish states of which so many religions speak. These are not ontological realities tucked away somewhere in space—these are existential realities playing out in your own mind. Heaven and hell are both inside of you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside.
– Rabbi Shapiro
My daughter, Lara, inspires me on a regular basis. Two or three years ago, when she was still in elementary school I asked her what she was enjoying at school, what did she like best? She told me her favorite part of the school week came on Fridays. Why? Because that’s when she got to go help the disabled/other-abled kids. Wow, I thought and still do! When I was her age I wouldn’t have even considered loving others in such a selfless way. Lara’s kindness and care knows no bounds, as it comes to her naturally and freely, and I’m convinced the Love filling and flowing out of her is not only all around us, it is IN each and every one of us.
It seems to me Lara views things much the same way as I do … and I honestly think it makes ALL the difference in the world. She beautifully and boldly declares to the world on her Instagram profile: “Every person and thing in this world is amazing. No matter who you are or what you do god made you perfect. You have been created with no mistakes.”
Now, you may have philosophical or theological reasons for disagreeing with Lara’s conclusion, and we could have a really interesting discussion about why/how it’s true versus why/how it’s not true, but there’s something I think is, and have found to be better, more life giving, and more loving: Try living as if you and every other person is AMAZING. Try seeing everyone as a beautiful daughter/son of a Divine Parent.
Before moving on, I just want to share I spent years and years believing everyone was inherently sinful, bad, broken, evil, or whatever other term you care to use. I believed original sin was true and real. Long story short, as Rabbi Shapiro indicates when I saw myself, others, and the world through a negative/hellish lens I struggled to love and care for anyone with any degree of success. It wasn’t great … at all. Conversely, treating and seeing others as if WE are inherently good, as if the core of our beings is love from the Divine, has led to what I think is the best version of myself, and all sorts of joy, peace, goodness, and love.
Starting from a place of goodness, leads to love, joy, and kindness; while beginning elsewhere, pushes us toward mistrust, fear, despair, and insecurity. That’s been my experience anyway, and it seems it’s been true for my daughter too (fortunately, she discovered the blessing of positivity MUCH younger and sooner than it came for me!).
Lara takes it for granted that people are good, which led her two years ago to a bold and loving plan. “Dad,” she told me a few months before Christmas, “I want to get presents for a lot of kids who wouldn’t otherwise receive gifts for Christmas this year.”
Smiling and nodding I asked, “How many are you thinking, sweetie?”
“Fifty,” she replied to my surprise. As the days passed and Christmas drew nearer, she kept coming back to this desire/hope/dream of hers, so we developed a plan to try and make it happened. We had a garage sale where all the proceeds went toward gifts for kids. Every cent was earmarked for bringing tangible bits of joy into the worlds of children living through hard times. While we didn’t raise enough for 50, we raised well over $200 and were able to provide presents for 25 kiddos.
This year, though, Lara wowed and inspired me even more. Every year she creates a wish list on Amazon, so we have ideas for what she’d like for Christmas. She leads this year’s list with: “I don’t want stuff I want to donate.” After listing a couple of things she would like for herself … if we want 🙂 Lara goes on to say: “I would like to pick items off of World Vision such as animals, medicine packs, and female help” and “I would like to start sponsoring a child from World Vision”. (World Vision is an organization through which one can sponsor children in other countries, thus providing food, education, health care, and such where otherwise there wouldn’t be)
Finally (I cried when I read this) Lara says: “I would like to donate my Christmas money to people and children who need the money/ presents more than me. The actual Items on this list are few because I don’t actually want presents these items are more for like if you REALLY REALLY want to get me a present.”
As you can see from the pic, not only is Lara incredibly kind and loving, she’s a beauty in pretty much every way. Although I am having fun bragging a bit about how AMAZING she is 🙂 I share this to hopefully inspire us to greater love and kindness this Holiday season, because Christmas is Love and comes 365.25 days a year. (I think technically it’s a tad less and we skip a Leap Year once a century or something like that, but I digress 🙂
I’m convinced Love is the essence of what Christmas is, and it can come every day and every moment of the year. Yet, what on earth does that mean? Love is simply mindful words and deeds that increase thriving and flourishing. Love is the big, small, and regular ways we each bring more of heaven to earth. Love GIVES life, in any/all of its richness and fullness.
I’ve nearly finished reading Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett, and not only do I think the title is FANTASTIC and HIGHLY recommend the book, it has some really great things to say about love. Krista writes:
“Love is the superstar virtue of virtues, and the most watered down word in the English language. I love this weather. I love your dress. And what we’ve done with the word, we’ve done with this thing—this possibility, this essential bond, this act. We’ve made it private, contained it in family, when its audacity is in its potential to cross tribal lines. We’ve fetishized it as romance, when its true measure is a quality of sustained, practical care. We’ve lived it as a feeling, when it is a way of being. It is the elemental experience we all desire and seek, most of our days, to give and receive.”
In bringing tangible care, encouragement, and attention to children who lack and kiddos of other cultures, as Krista describes, Lara is crossing tribal boundaries and providing for others.in practical, loving ways … and you and I can too! We can do this at food banks, coffee shops, grocery stores, via organizations like World Vision, and much, much more. A smile to a stranger or hug to a friend, for instance, or two great examples of tangible ways we can lovingly make the world a better place.
Krista is a journalist, so a good bit of the book is her interviewing, quoting, and tying together the thoughts of wise and loving people (“On Being” is a fantastic podcast where she does this!). John Lewis, a civil rights leader and congressman, has some especially poignant observations for us as he reflects on his experiences with “difficult” or harmful people:
“In the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine. So you don’t have a right as a human to abuse that spark of the divine in your fellow human being. From time to time, we would discuss that, if you have someone attacking you, beating you, spitting on you, you have to think of that person. Years ago that person was an innocent child, an innocent little baby. What happened? Did something go wrong? Did someone teach that person to hate, to abuse others? You try to appeal to the goodness of every human being and you don’t give up. You never give up on anyone. … The human condition is one of belonging. We simply cannot thrive unless we are in relationship. I just gave a lecture on health. If you’re isolated, the negative health consequence is worse than smoking, obesity, high blood pressure—just being isolated. We need to be in relationship with each other.”
I think the joy Lara found in helping disabled kiddos gets at this truth. We are made for each other. We belong to each other. We are here to love and be loved. Krista talks of loving people and communities in the world being “critical yeast.” “What is love?” she then asks, “Answer the question through a story about the last time you saw it. Then go and be critical yeast.” Being a fan of metaphors, I like this one and will add to it. I think each and every one of us is critical yeast, which (borrowing from Glennon Doyle) put another way is a Love Warrior. Each of us is a warrior armed with love and courage, able to change the world in small, tangible, and mindful ways. With that in mind, I encourage you and I to give more hugs, smile more often, compliment people A LOT, encourage others, support organizations that resonate with you, and so on. In a favorite song of mine, P!nk sings: “It’s only love, give it away” … YES! THAT!
In closing, I think Lara shows us Love is not only the essence of what Christmas is, it’s all around us, in us, and available for/through us everyday and everywhere. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the blog. May all you AMAZING people have a Merry and Incredible Christmas!
I leave you with a fun Christmas song, “Love’s Not Just For Christmas”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96jOezZhlRQ
Grace and peace,