Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: charity (page 1 of 2)

On Being Helpful

It’s my fault, really. I bought the children’s probiotics in the shapes of “fun animals.” Thus we need to pick through them every morning for matching giraffes. Every single child must do this. Rue the day that one of them doesn’t get to rifle through for their own vitamins.

Like today. Rue.

The oldest was trying to be helpful, dispersing the “fishies” (because the first time I purchased children’s probiotics, they were in the shape of fish. Now we’re eating jungle animals, but we still seem to have “fishies.”) but Miss M wanted to get her own. She refused the fishies in front of her. No! Never! I shall not! She insisted. 

During the pursuant intervention, I realized a few things about both the situation and the children.

  1. I set a precedent with a one-person-dispersing standard and the oldest was simply trying to follow the rules. He is a rule follower, like his mother, and in his mind, anyone bucking that system needs called out.  Resolved: Asinine rules for the sake of one person’s (read: MY) convenience clearly aren’t helpful.
  2. The oldest wanted to be helpful. That was his true heart. Allow me to do this for you, sweet sister. It is helpful for everyone if I just take control of this. 
  3. The sister didn’t want his help. This help, in fact, was a tad insulting. She was perfectly capable of getting her own damn vitamins, even the two-year-old can do that, thank you very much.

While his heart was pure, eldest child inadvertently sent a message to his junior: you cannot do this. You need my help. I am the capable, wise, giver-of-the-things. His helpfulness overruled her humanness. The helping became the priority, not the person whom he wanted to serve. In that moment, his actions, done in the name of help, actually hurt her sense of self and well-being.

I recently read The Active Life by Parker Palmer. Though not the premise of the book, he mentioned in passing how the best way we can help a person is to simply ask. Ask how we can help, if we can help. You preserve a certain sense of dignity  and worth of a person when you ask permission to serve.

So, this became the morning’s lesson: the oldest is to simply ask. May I get you your fishies this morning? Would that be helpful? This gives her the chance to respond and receive gracefully, or politely decline. To her, we began to instill that receiving help is not an indicator of your own worth or abilities, but sometimes someone’s good and pure heart. Some famous writer, (I’d like to attribute it to Brennan Manning, but he’s not alive to defend himself in case others disagree, so please add salt) wrote that if we cannot receive from our fellow man, how will we ever have the humility to receive from God? In our culture, it’s not common to see a graceful reception of unsolicited help. We hardly solicit it, even when it’s most needed.

All this thought on asking took me to God, as is my habit. God so rarely forces his help upon us. I believe he sees us each as capable human beings, letting us daily get our own fishies. Perhaps he would love to help us, if we were quiet enough to hear him ask, Can I do this for you?

Jesus said more than once, “you do not have because you do not ask.” I think this falls into the category of gracefully receiving help. Our willingness to let others do on our behalf. We’re such a bootstrappy culture, fixated on our own drive and self-preservation that often the idea of allowing others to intervene on our behalf provokes anxiety or even shame. We feel perceived as not good enough or capable.  The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter.

Whether we can or cannot, help is usually coming from a good heart. Yet that good heart must not force its goodness on others.

May we be willing to receive the gracious love of others as they try to be helpful. May we not perceive it as an indicator of our own worth or ability. And may we help lovingly, graciously, and honorably – by first asking instead of insisting.

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When my cousin Tim enjoyed his own roaring 20s, living the DINK* life, he bought a brand new black Camaro. A sensible purchase? Probably not. But at what other time, other than late into retirement, can one enjoy such treats? Somehow Tim knew to grasp onto the momentary lack of full responsibility.

The Camaro. That is not Tim in the background with the surfboard, no matter what he might say. Photo courtesy CC - Wikipedia

The Camaro. That is not Tim in the background with the surfboard, no matter what he might say. Photo courtesy CC – Wikipedia

My 16-year-old self took full advantage of his situation. He made the drive home one Saturday in May to drop off the newly washed and waxed set of wheels. He parked in the barn and showed me how to work the 6-disc changer (which resided in the trunk. Hellloooo again, 1990s!) which I later forgot and listened to Collective Soul on repeat. Then he gave me the mandatory and expected Lecture. The car goes fast, he told me. Be careful. Then he said something unexpected: At the end of the day, it’s just a hunk of metal.

You are more important than a car.

Of course, this goes without saying within the context of being careful and avoiding accidents. Yet hidden underneath, and now that I’m a tad older and wiser myself, I see the beauty in wanting good things for the people we care about.

I can’t imagine the trust he put into my 16-year-old self, let alone my 17-year-old date, whom he never met. His actions told me that believed in the goodness of people and the worthiness of his little cousin, enough to hand over the keys.

This weekend a friend found herself in unfortunate circumstances without a car. We were laying low so we drove JJ’s vehicle down so she could get to an engagement. Even when you fully trust someone, in the back of your mind you always do the “what would happen if” dance, and we were no different. Yet like my cousin, I believed a person to be more valuable. His words echoed in my ears: At the end of the day, it’s just a hunk of metal.

I’m not sure I would’ve had the guts to follow through had the same trust been placed in me. It would be easy to come up with a reason why we couldn’t extend the offer. Family or not, I want to live like I believe that people are always most important. But it’s hard to live your values.

One of the only things that speaks louder than fear is love, and I was fortunate to be loved with a set of keys early in life, which made it possible for me to love in the same way.


*Dual Income, No Kids

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Bottomless Pit

I love to eat. I enjoy healthy food and junk food, salads and McNuggets (though I certainly have tried to curb the latter). I even accepted Indian food into my life again earlier this summer after avoiding it for 8 years following my trip there. (Turns out it I didn’t dislike the food – it was the aroma of dog and feces which invaded my experience that turned me off.) I snack frequently and look forward to social interactions because they likely include food.

Should I be so surprised that my kids also enjoy it? I’m thrilled about this. So far, they eat with a broad palate. We make lunches of sliced bell peppers, cucumbers and hummus or soups. A bean and rice bowl is met by willing mouths. And, like their parents, my kids enjoy dessert. I try very hard to approach all food – even those made of dairy or including gluten, which we avoid – as gifts so we don’t have “bad food” and “good food”. It’s all good. Some of it makes us feel crummy later – specifically H boy and mama.

This evening Lady C tried to convince me that we didn’t eat lunch. Which is completely false because today was McCommunion. Then we went to a picnic with church family for dinner. I reviewed with her our gluttonous menu plan, reiterating we ate 3 full meals plus snacks and daddy generously gave her one of Grandma’s Monster Cookies before bed. Yet the girl insisted that we missed a meal. (Come on. As if her Mama could ever do that.)

As I repeated our 3-meal-2-snack life, I couldn’t help but remember the many kids (and adults!) in places near and far who ate a quarter of such food. I’m guessing that research could provide evidence that we ate more today than most people in the rest of the world. (I tried a basic google search to find a statistic which would catch the eye of you numbers-driven people. However, I got dizzy and a little depressed after my first search result from the World Hunger Education Service).

We walk a fine line with our kids when it comes to waste and abundance. We want them to know they will never be in need – their family will take care of them. That’s not a worry for them to take on themselves. However, we also want to instill in them a sense of responsibility that comes with our privileged place in society.

“Starving kids in China” didn’t really work much for our generation – I wanted to send my mom’s roast over as an offering of my concern – but I don’t want my kids to leave the house thinking that food is a limitless supply. In our circumstance, yes, we can always buy more. But not everyone can. And when we do that – when we toss it in our garbage instead of our mouths, we are removing it from the shelves and changing the economics involved to get needed resources to the people who need them most.

In general, if a full meal is presented yet not consumed by one of our children, it waits on the table for snack time as a second chance and no snack will be served until most (a word defined only by mom and dad) is eaten. I simply can’t bear to throw away one bowl of food only to refill it immediately with another.  Is it so bad to allow my children to feel hunger once in a while? They’re much easier to deal with when well fed, and I’m not advocating a 40-day fast in any sense, but is our easy access to nutritious food standing in the way of naturally learning the virtue of self-control and perhaps even generosity? Just feed one

The Report said that nearly a third of the world population is living on a diet equivalent to $1.25 each day. Now that Wendy’s jacked up their Value Menu, you can’t even get a single sandwich for that, let alone 3 squares and 2 snacks. And we’re not talking about produce. That budget will get you a bag of organic apples for the entire week and nothing else. Can you imagine your week’s groceries consisting of a bag of apples for each person?

A friend of mine pastors a church that spends the end of the Lenten season in a Week of Solidarity to gain an understanding of life for the poor around the world. They use the season of fasting to eat only what $1.25 will purchase and spend time praying for those in need and giving their remaining grocery and food budget to organizations devoted to feeding the hungry. After this evening’s brief discussion, I’m wondering how I might differentiate that for the children so they can begin to understand that the joy of food doesn’t come just in cookie form.

How do we begin to make a lifestyle of acknowledging that our satiation isn’t a reality for all people without heaping guilt upon them every time we sit at the table? I feel a healthy tension is required, one that doesn’t result in worried souls but rather compassionate and aware little humans. I want them to keep their healthy appreciation of food and eat so their little bodies grow strong. It’s not the food that is the enemy: it’s our casual indifference to the waste of it.

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