All Are Alike

HOMELESSNESS

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Driving home recently, I saw a man with a sign that read: “Homeless Vet. Anything will help.” I pulled over to talk with him. We only chatted for a few minutes, but I haven’t stopped thinking about something he said. “I got kicked out of my apartment again,” he explained. “Third time! I’m nothing but a nuisance, but I don’t mean to bother people.” A few years ago, I would have been quick to judge this man. “Follow the rules,” I likely would have thought, “and you won’t have to live like this!” I remain committed to principles of personal responsibility, but I now tend more toward the trenches of individual need than the heights of smooth doctrine. Regardless of my own views, this man’s sincerity was deep, and I believe him. He never aspired to the label of societal drain. I know for certain he doesn’t enjoy begging to sustain his life. But given the circumstances, I wonder if he has much of a choice.

Several years ago, I started to notice my brain acting irregularly. Even so, I continued to overload my schedule to meet unreasonable expectations, and my mind eventually broke. As mentioned in a previous post, I now actively struggle with anxiety and depression. Some days are good. Others are not. Thankfully, I am surrounded by the constancy of family, friends, and colleagues. On days of clarity, however, I wonder where I would be without them. Could I find myself in this man’s situation?

I am a faculty member at a major university. My new friend regularly sleeps under a bridge. By the world’s standard, we couldn’t be more different, but are we really? With a few minor twists in our life storylines, might I be the one with the cardboard sign? And could I really rise above this man’s challenges without support? Probably not. I’m not just talking about finances either. I mean without the help of someone—or a circle of someones—who would make the daily choice of love, despite the mental and physical disabilities that undoubtedly circumscribe this man’s ability to keep a job, stay in an apartment, and live a fulfilling life. Despite, to use his own words, being a nuisance.

I may never be cured of depression. I understand the strain that places on those closest to me. They love me anyway. So what am I saying? I’m not sure really. But I do know that the man I met recently at an off-ramp underpass is in fact a man, and not an annoyance to be endured. He is my brother. And we are more alike than society wants to admit. We would do well to judge less and love more. It could save a life. It certainly has mine.

Dating My Children

FAMILY

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My wife was reluctant to marry me. I can’t say I blame her. We met at a church campout in Kamas, Utah. She introduced herself. I mumbled something in reply. She had me at hello. Over the following year, I tried to convince her that I was worth the investment. It began with dinners,
candles, and flowers. But that didn’t win her heart. Looking back, I’m not exactly sure why she finally fell in love. It might have been the chicken soup when she was sick. Or skipping class to scrub her kitchen floor before an imminent cleaning inspection. Perhaps we both realized there was something more to this relationship when she told me she only wanted to
be friends and we still were. Twelve years, six children, and countless adventures later, I continue to work on my soup recipes and she is still my
best friend.

But the story doesn’t end there. With career demands, crying babies, and relentless doses of real life, it is easy to forget that courtship is a lifelong pursuit. Simply stated, relationships need nourishment to survive.
I think we have understood this for our marriage, but this week I learned something new.

After a challenging day at work, I was less than my best self. Desperately needing an evening of peace, I instead returned home to the whirlwind of our daily life. As two of our children started fighting over who knows what, I lost my temper. Our six-year-old daughter became instantly silent. Tears filled her eyes and she ran to her room to hide from her daddy. My quiet knock on her door was returned by an appropriate reproach: “Go away! I don’t like you!” I entered anyway to attempt an apology. “Daddy is so sorry,” I tried to explain. “It was wrong for me to yell at you.” Her response: “I still don’t want to talk to you!” “Sweetheart,” I petitioned, “sometimes daddies make mistakes. Are you ever going to talk to me again?” Her next answer altered my approach to fatherhood. “I might want to talk if you take me on a date!”
I immediately knelt down on one knee and asked my daughter out on a date. Thankfully, she accepted.

My wife chose me. My children got stuck with me. For me, the birth of
each of my children was a case of love at first sight. Perhaps for this reason,
I sometimes forget that they might need more time to feel the same way. And so, I have some work to do. And it won’t be about the extravagance of any one-time event. Enduring relationships, I am learning, are built upon consistent acts of service and love. This will be as true with my children as it was in college when an awkward boy actively sought the girl of his dreams.
I don’t always know how to be a dad, but I have an opportunity to learn more tonight on a mid-week date with a beautiful six-year-old. I look forward to falling in love all over again.

Safe In His Arms

SPIRITUALITY

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January 26, 2:48 am

Our children were sick this weekend. Needless to say, we have not slept
much the past few days. Tonight, our three-year-old daughter was waking
up regularly. Due to canker sores in her mouth, every time she sucked her thumb for comfort, she started to cry. After rubbing her back for a few minutes, she would go back to sleep, only to wake up shortly thereafter. Besides distressing her, this pattern was waking up the other children,
who desperately needed rest.

A few hours ago, I took her to the living room. “Do you need a daddy love?” She nodded between sobs. I held her close for several minutes before placing couch cushions on the floor for my bed and taking some of her crib bedding to place next to me. She instantly fell into a peaceful sleep, safe in my arms.

The past few weeks have been personally challenging. The details aren’t important, but I’ve had more than one occasion to cry out to Heaven.
About an hour ago, my daughter woke me up, this time with a smile.
I touched her gently and asked, “Are you okay now?” She picked up her blanket and walked back to her room, now sure that safety was only a door away.

As I returned to my makeshift bed on the floor, I knelt to pray for my family.
I also plead for comfort. My Father was very near. Like my daughter, I have renewed confidence that everything will be fine. Sometimes, all we need to continue forward is a moment of rest in the arms of Love.

More than Depressed

MENTAL HEALTH

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At the beginning of last semester, I provided library instruction for a new group of Spanish and Portuguese graduate students. As a new librarian,
I was excited to share what I felt were valuable insights into the research and writing processes. The class was engaged, and all seemed to be going well, until one of the students requested help researching the Mexican writer Emilio Carballido. I started to type his name into a search box, but I couldn’t do it. The letters were jumbled in my mind. I froze and eventually had to ask how to spell a name I knew extremely well. Several students, trying to help, started shouting out the letters. I struggled to type. I began to feel my heart rate change. My hands and feet were now numb. This had not happened for several months, and I felt ashamed. I could hear the students whispering.
I somehow managed to finish the last ten minutes of the class without significant disruption, but my mind was in another place. I was having an anxiety attack.

For the past few years, I have struggled with anxiety and depression. Many of you, particularly if you think you know me well, are probably surprised by my confession. You might be thinking: “But you are one of the happiest people
I know!” Depression, for me, is not about being sad. “And you seem so sure in your professional work!” Anxiety, for me, is not a lack of confidence.
I emphasize the words for me because these issues, though often characterized within one-size-fits-all stereotypes, manifest themselves in a variety of ways. As I write about these sensitive topics, I want to be clear that my thoughts and experiences are my own. Though I hope my insights will be helpful to some, they cannot necessarily be generalized, and certainly should not be imposed upon the very personal realities of others. Indeed, depression and anxiety present challenges as unique as the individuals who are affected by them. Writing about my mental health will not be easy for me. It is also a bit risky. But so is remaining silent. In any case, I feel the need to openly describe how anxiety and depression impact my life, what they are for me personally, and, perhaps most importantly, what they are not.

I am very confident, especially in front of groups, and yet I have occasional anxiety attacks. I am a proactive leader in a national teaching association, but sometimes making basic daily decisions is nearly impossible. I am relentlessly self-motivated, but some days I can’t even leave my bed. I am generally very patient, but I also have isolated angry outbursts over small matters. I am athletic, but when I am deeply depressed I hardly have the energy to sit up. I am an optimist, but occasionally a deep hopelessness
takes over. I love life, but some days I am consumed by the thought of death. I regularly complete complex tasks, and yet one day in a library instruction session I was unable to type a familiar name into a database.

I am a happy, fun-loving, and capable person. Like you or someone you love, however, I am actively battling depression. Depression itself does not
define me any more than another disease  or illness might, but my choice to deal with its mental and physical effects most certainly does. Simply stated, I have a medical condition. It is called depression. Sadly, it has taken me a long time to forgive myself for that. Some people have diabetes. Others hypothyroidism. My brain happens to misfire its signals at times.
But I am more than my anxiety. I have some dark days, but I continue to move toward a brighter future, because the real me is so much more than
my depression.

Resolutions

HOMELESSNESSSave the world

With only a few minutes left in 2014, I can’t help but look back on the year and reflect upon lessons learned. This has been a year of transitions for our family: a new job, a new state, a new baby, and numerous other changes. Even in the past few weeks, my life has evolved in significant ways. As you likely know, on December 16, I started a campaign to provide emergency shelter for the homeless in Utah County. Spending time with the homeless has been transformative for me, not only in the way I interact with these individuals, but also in reshaping my life perspective. Below is a list of resolutions I am making in 2015 based upon my recent experiences.

I will listen earnestly.

I have learned so much from discussions with the homeless members of
my community. Listening to their stories has taught me to judge less and love more. Beyond challenging stereotypes I had conveniently accepted,
my interactions with the homeless have helped me realize how often I
make conclusions about others without understanding their silent battles. Several of my preconceptions about homelessness have collapsed under
the weight of a few honest conversations. In 2015, I resolve to listen
earnestly to others.

I will give freely.

Seeing the struggles of the underprivileged has made me rethink my priorities. I am now aware of the impact that a few dollars can have in the lives of those lacking basic needs. But it isn’t all about money. We can give
of ourselves in so many ways. Even a smile can change a life. Personally,
I feel the need to break from my comfortable life to the degree that it truly becomes a sacrifice. In 2015, I look forward to giving freely.

I will see the needs of others.

The day I met Darren (see earlier post), I returned home emotionally overwhelmed. My warm house became unbearable knowing that he was likely freezing on the street. That night, I went back to University Avenue where he said he had slept the night before. I drove up and down the back roads looking for him. Eventually, I gave up the search. As I began to leave for home, I thought I saw him covered by his sleeping bag on the side of an empty building. When I looked closer, I realized that it wasn’t Darren’s bag. Although I don’t advocate approaching strangers in these circumstances, that night I was able to help this man find shelter and a hot meal. Before I had the courage to talk with him, however, I watched him shiver violently in the cold for several minutes. Some things you cannot unsee. It is easier to look only superficially at others, lest we recognize a need and feel the guilt of obligation. In 2015, I resolve to have my eyes wide open.

I will seek balance.

I will be honest. Working actively with the homeless has been both time-consuming and emotionally draining. On top of my professional responsibilities, I have been spending many nights writing blog posts, placing homeless individuals in hotels, and dedicating significant mental and emotional energy to this campaign. A few days ago, my six-year-old daughter asked when I could start playing with her again. This was a wake-up call. Despite my quixotic drive to save the world today, I need to remember that tea parties, hide and seek, and story time are among my most important duties in improving the world for tomorrow. In 2015, I will seek balance in
my life. 

I will find joy in doing what I can.

As mentioned in a previous post, this campaign has had its highs and lows. On numerous occasions, I have struggled with my inability to make a bigger difference in the lives of real people living on the streets in my community. This has also made it difficult for me to enjoy my daily activities. It will not be easy, but my final resolution is to find contentment in what I can do instead of disappointment in what is beyond my reach. I should be grateful for the blessing God has given me to help in even the smallest way. In 2015,
I will find joy in simply doing the best I can.

Today is the last day that my blog, The Weightier Matters, will be dedicated exclusively to homelessness. Please still consider donating to my campaign for the homeless. There remains a desperate need for ongoing support.
For that reason, I will continue to post my experiences with the homeless
on occasion, but I will also be writing about other topics throughout this
new year.

As we make a fresh start in 2015, I look forward to our continued dialogue.
Your kind words and efforts to lift the burdens of others have been inspiring. Happy New Year!


Click here to access the Food and Care Coalition donation page. Under “Donation Designation,” please select “Other: Category of Your Choice,” and then type “Emergency Shelter (Wiseman)” in the comment box. Even the smallest donations make a big difference! I also sincerely appreciate your help sharing this ongoing fundraising campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Thank you!

Carrying the Load

HOMELESSNESS

Cart Man

On the way home from church on Sunday, I saw a woman and her young daughter trudging through the snow as she pulled a small cart of food.
By the time I saw them, it was too late to pull over. I drove to the next turn around and then returned to give them a ride. As I drove toward them,
I was delighted to see that someone else was already helping them place the cart into the back of their van to drive them home. There are so many good people in the world. I am always uplifted by their kindness.

Over the past several days, many of you have shared with me your own experiences helping others in need. One story that touched my heart this week was from a woman I don’t know personally. She commented on a trending story on homelessness shared by another of my friends. I contacted her via Facebook, and she was kind enough to allow me to post her experience here:

I am from New Zealand and did a six month stint in New York as a paramedic. One of my call outs was a homeless mother and son. Wrong place, wrong time, she had been shot. Would be in hospital for a while.
The teen wasn’t allowed to stay at the hospital. That shocked me a little bit. So I put the boy into a taxi and gave him my front door key and paid the cabbie. That boy could’ve ransacked my home. But after a long night of dealing with some eye popping incidences, I got home to find a meal wrapped up on my kitchen counter. Haha. Scrambled eggs on toast with a “Thank You So Much” note. Thirteen-year-old Nathanial and his mother Natalia stayed with me for the duration of my stay. Nat got a job as an emergency response dispatcher and Nathanial is studying to become a mechanical engineer at the Navy. I’m now 28 and I still have that note Nathanial wrote me seven years ago. They’re not the first people I’ve taken in. I enjoy being able to help when others need it. I can’t change the world, but I can make a difference, along with quite a good number of you on this page and others.

I didn’t originally plan to include comment boxes under my blog posts, but I have recently enabled them with the hope that you will share your own experiences. Your words have already inspired me more than you know.

I didn’t meet the family that helped the woman and her daughter make it home this Sunday, but I am grateful to have witnessed their goodness in action. So many of you actively—and sometimes literally—carry the loads
of others. As in the case of Natalia and Nathanial, your simple generosity
can influence lives forever. One by one, heart to heart, maybe we can change
the world.


Click here to access the Food and Care Coalition donation page. Under “Donation Designation,” please select “Other: Category of Your Choice,” and then type “Emergency Shelter (Wiseman)” in the comment box. Even the smallest donations make a big difference! I also sincerely appreciate your help sharing this ongoing fundraising campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Thank you!

Have I Done Any Good?

HOMELESSNESS

Yesterday, I felt discouraged. To provide hotel shelter for 100 homeless individuals in Utah County throughout the winter months, we would need
to raise around $540,000. As of Monday, December 22, my blog campaign
had collected $1,450. I am so grateful for your generous contributions, but I confess feeling overwhelmed by the larger need.

Sunday, when I drove through Provo, I saw a man sitting at the intersection
of University Avenue and Center Street. I parked close to him and invited a conversation. Homeless in Provo since November, he is seeking employment, but lacks proper ID. He also needs time to search. Basic survival hampers the job hunt. I was able to get him enough support to be housed in a hotel for a full week. During that time, he will order an ID card, get on a temporary work list, and hopefully move toward full-time employment. On a wintry Provo day, one man’s future is somewhat brighter. On a personal level, however, I struggle to be content with the one.

I recently listened to a talk titled “Are We Not All Beggars?” by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. His description of Mother Teresa’s approach to service was encouraging:

“A journalist once questioned Mother Teresa of Calcutta about her hopeless task of rescuing the destitute in that city. He said that, statistically speaking, she was accomplishing absolutely nothing. This remarkable little woman shot back that her work was about love, not statistics. Notwithstanding the staggering number beyond her reach, she said she could keep the commandment to love God and her neighbor by serving those within her reach with whatever resources she had.”

Each time I feel the night cold my heart aches for the many who remain unsheltered. Even so, I am also learning to find joy in simply doing what
I can, even if the extent of my personal reach is limited. Our individual efforts are more significant than we often imagine. Together, our potential for good is boundless.


Click here to access the Food and Care Coalition donation page. Under “Donation Designation,” please select “Other: Category of Your Choice,” and then type “Emergency Shelter (Wiseman)” in the comment box. Even the smallest donations make a big difference! I also sincerely appreciate your help sharing this ongoing fundraising campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Thank you!