Blessed by God

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You know that maybe you’re aging when CBS Sunday Morning is your favorite TV show. 

This morning they had a segment about hunger in the US.  There is a photo from earlier this year with thousands of cars in San Antonio in line waiting for a food distribution center to open.  THOUSANDS.  Thousands of hungry people right here in the US.

Last Tuesday I spent several hours at the YMCA in Garner, North Carolina, helping to distribute boxes of food to people in my community.  They drove up and volunteers loaded a small turkey, hamburger meat, a large casserole and a box of fresh produce into their trunk.

My job that evening was greeter.  As each car drove up, I welcomed them, determined how many folks were in their family and logged the amount of food they would take. 

I arrived at 4:30 PM, the distribution was slated to start at 5.  There were about 30 cars already in line.  For two hours I did not stop – greeting family after family after family.

A few of the folks I met were a bit reticent, seemingly fearful I would ask a ton of questions – maybe auditing who they were picking up for or logging their address.  Some seemed a bit embarrassed to be there.  Understandable.  I might feel the same way if in that position.

The great thing was that we had no questions for them – they just told us how many people they were feeding, and we loaded. 

I worked really hard to put folks at ease asking if they had a good day or if they were feeling well.  I thanked them for stopping by the Y as if they could have chosen to pick free food up from a competitor.

What I noticed is that many of these folks who are concerned about where their next meal might come from seemed joyful.  Not all, but many.  I could see it in their eyes, the way they lit up at my questions or expressed massive gratitude for our work.  A genuine smile, one you can see in the eyes; a belly laugh; or happy kids singing in the backseat. 

When responding to my question, “How are you doing today?” one lady responded, “I am blessed by God.”  She then added, “I just have to keep reminding myself.”

A friend shared with me that they were lamenting about a problem in their life when another friend suggested:  You should go volunteer, help someone else.  (i.e. – take the focus off yourself!)

It is surprising to me that I don’t always readily see how blessed I am by God.  Last week was certainly a good reminder for me.

All In For the Y!

I’ve been working at the YMCA in Raleigh, NC, for thirty 35 years.  My first job was driving a Y bus into marginalized communities, picking up kids and bringing them in for activities in the gym, swim lessons and a nightly devotion.  The program was called Y Boys, and we certainly had come characters including Budda and Meatball!  It’s been a long time, but I remember my kids well.

This past year I’ve run across two of my former campers.

Sarah, a teacher, has raised three kids of her own.  She told me she didn’t know she was poor until after she left her neighborhood.  Her generation was the first to attend college.  Her brother is an engineer, now living in Texas.  Her sister has a degree and lives up north.  Two of her children are in college, one working on her master’s degree, and one is thriving in high school.

Sarah told me that the Y was her respite.  When the Y bus drove into her neighborhood on Thursday afternoons, you did not want to miss the bus, she said.  She even remembered the boots I wore on a regular basis and several of the devotions I shared!  Who knew they were listening?

I also ran across Albert.  He was working at a restaurant – he came over to me and gave me a huge hug.  We grabbed lunch the next week to catch up.  Every time the Y was open, Albert was there.

Albert wasn’t a lucky as Sarah.  He had been sexually abused by his uncle for years.  His mother suffered from mental illness with no treatment.  Like too many other kids in tough situations, Albert had no idea that what was going on in his house was abnormal.  He just assumed everyone’s experience was similar to his.

He’s in his thirty’s now, and he said to me:  “Coming to the Y was the best thing that ever happened to me.  It was the best time of my life.”

When he told me that, my first though was How sad.  I then thought that perhaps is our sole role for some kids, to provide light in a dark world.  I’m grateful our organization has been able to do that for so long.

Since the mid 80’s, we have expanded our service in marginalized communities to include academic assistance after-school for 1,800 children at 55 different program sites here in the Triangle area.  We run full day summer camp where children get breakfast and lunch, learn to swim and receive an hour of academic remediation each day.  They pay $10/week (if they can).

Today at noon, the YMCA of the Triangle Areas kicks off our 48 Hours of Giving.  If you are in a situation where you might be able to contribute and help me meet my goal of raising $5,000 by Friday at noon, I encourage you to click on the link below.  And if you need assistance from the Y, please let me know.  We are open for ALL, regardless of your ability to pay.

MY GIVING LINK

Oh, and Scotty McCreary, a former Y camper, is holding a concert Thursday at 4 on Facebook for the Y.  Join in if you can.

 

 

Sunday Post 181: My Friend Theara

A beautiful thing happened this week.  About 15 staff and former staff members at the Cary YMCA celebrated Theara’s 30th birthday.  I can’t remember when I felt any prouder of the place where I work.  I can’t remember when I felt more full as a person.

When I first arrived at the Cary YMCA, one of the branches of the YMCA of the Triangle, Theara was about 9 years old.  I was put in charge of the youth department, overseeing several after-school and day camp programs.  She was one of our kids.

In many ways Theara was like all of the other kids.  She was excited, happy, funny and glad to be alive.  She built a connection with every person she came in contact with.  Some days she might get frustrated with someone, but her anger didn’t last long.  She primarily brought joy to all she came in contact with.

There were also ways that she was different.  Sometimes she moved slowly.  We’d walk a group of kids to the park about a half mile from the building.  Theara would get tired.  When she did, she would stop, refusing to complete the journey.  At those times, she couldn’t be moved.  We discovered the best plan of attack was to simply rest with her.

Oh, and one more way Theara is different.  She has Downs Syndrome.

There are a lot of people who don’t conform to the norms of the world.  Sometimes they intentionally choose to be different.  Sometimes it just happens.

The beautiful thing about life is that sometimes those who look at the world through a different lens, from a different perspective, make others laugh, love and grow the most.

As I moved up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming the director of the Cary Y, Theara would often drop by our office suite after her high school bus dropped her off in our parking lot.  She would fill us in on her day, share a little sunshine, and then she would line the only three men in the office up.  And each afternoon she visited, she would announce that one of us had won the “It’s Your Lucky Day to be Handsome Award.”  I often dressed up in suit and tie, and I’m proud to say that I took first place in this afternoon ritual more than not.  And I would boast to colleagues the entire next day about my recognition.

As we celebrated Theara’s life this week, I felt genuinely happy.  The memories were sweet, her smile still infectious.  On my way home Tuesday afternoon, I thought to myself, I hope my girls will bring as much joy to others as Theara has brought to me. 

If they do, they will be lives well lived.

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

 

 

How! How!

Posted by Danny

Every spring for the past nine years I’ve headed down to Camp Sea Gull with one of my daughters for a Y Indian Princess weekend outing.  DJ and I started going with nine other dads and their daughters in 2003. 

Y Princesses is a father/daughter program for kids in first through third grades.  It’s sort of like scouts – but you can’t do any activity without a dad/kid pair.  You earn patches for service projects, hikes and campouts.  One time we sorted pasta at the food bank – had to wear hair nets.  I didn’t like that. 

Each participant chooses an Indian name.  I was Screamin’ Hambone.  DJ chose Shining Star – booooring.  Stephanie was more compliant – she went with Little Screamin’ Hambone, a name suggested to her by her Big Brave.  Michelle chose T-Bird, a nickname I’ve used for her since she was 2. 

Michelle was my last kid in the program and this was my last trip down highway 70 to camp.  I’ll have to admit when we drove out of the camp gates on Sunday to head home, I sort of had a lump in my throat.

I’m not sure why.  These are not particularly fun weekends.

My first two tribes had some of the snorinest people I’ve ever heard in my life.  I used to take two Tylenol PM, put in ear plugs and hold two pillows around my  head – and I could still hear them.  Cherry Point Air Force Base is right across the Neuse River from camp.  I’d doze off a minute and wake up thinking a F1 Fighter Jet was about to land on the cabin’s devotional table.  I was afraid one of those dudes was going to snort one of the little princesses right up into his nostrils. 

Ten dads in bunk beds – me on the bottom, a 250 pound dude in the bed above with the mattress springs sagging down – inches from my protruding nose.  It’s like sleeping in a medium security penitentiary. 

There was a curtain draping the bathroom “stall”, the floor grittier than the Mojave desert.  The toilet paper like wiping your behind with sandpaper.  I’m still raw from last weekend, and I only went once.

In year two, the organizers of this program bring in a special act called Snakes Alive.  As if pooping behind a paper-thin curtain with 9 elementary aged girls you scarcely know running through the bathroom isn’t enough, they top your experience off with coolers full of reptiles. 

“Which dads out there want to hold the python today?” the handler asks.

Every child raises her hand and begins pointing to her father.  “Pick him!  Pick him!”

My kids knew better. 

“Dad, will you go up?”

“I’d rather sleep in a single bunk with Mr. Brown for three months.  PUT-YOUR-HAND-DOWN-NOW.”

And to top it off, there’s the annual ride down the zip line.

The zip line combines all of my favorite things:  heights, cold water, standing in line, and harnesses strapped around my crotch.  (This video is not of me – but it is at Camp Sea Gull).

I have to be honest though, as much as I complain, I really did enjoy almost every minute I spent in the Y Princess program.  My best friends are the men I’ve spent weekends with – chewing on politics on a freezing cold night by a campfire – melting marshmallow goop dripping on our winter boots.  The individual time I had just driving to and from our outings with my daughters was priceless.  And the memories from Camp Sea Gull…wow!

I’ve heard of a dad who stood up at his daughter’s rehearsal dinner.  He looked his new son-in-law in the eye and pulled out his daughter’s Indian vest.  “Take care of my little princess,” he implored as he passed him the buckskinned garment.  I may just do the same.

How! How!  Big Braves; How! How!

Sunday Post 23: The Best Summer of Our Lives

I used to struggle to use all of my vacation days.  I guess you could say I was addicted to work.

It wasn’t that my employer didn’t encourage me to take my time – they were very supportive of me using my vacation days to recharge.  It was that I enjoyed what I did and was driven to do more.  I think I got a lot of strokes at work.  Having an incredible fiscal year or raising more money to help kids through the Y motivated me to do more. 

I remember working all weekend long and sometimes multiple weekends in a row.  It’s as if I thought things would fall apart if I wasn’t there.  How could they survive without my input?

What I gained at work, I probably lost at home.  Perhaps my overriding commitment to working harder put barriers between my children and me.  The truth was the more time I spent at work, the less time I spent with them.  And I know that I often put work before my marriage.  I’d work late or bring my computer to the bedroom.  Speaking from experience, that is not helpful in the romance department.

But over the years, I found myself spending less time in the office and more time with my family and friends.  I’ve seen the view from my office window 20,000 times.  I’ve only seen Old Faithful once.  I spend about ten days a year on the beach, I’d like to spend more.  Tonight I sat with some of my best friends in a backyard – just eating, laughing and talking.  What a beautiful, beautiful view.

The year Lisa was diagnosed with cancer, our family went to Disney World, Yellowstone, Topsail Beach, Lake Gaston and spent a romantic weekend in New Bern.  We sat on our screened in porch countless times and ate dinner with friends.  In August when our last summer vacation was complete, I said, “This was the best summer of our lives.”  That was two weeks before we found out she had stage 4 colon cancer.

It wasn’t the best summer because I’d spent more hours in the office or because I’d made more money.  It was the best summer because we’d spent time together – and with our family and friends.

I work hard.  I bring value to my job.  I enjoy what I do and I want to leave a strong legacy at the Y.  But more importantly, I want to make sure that when I die, whenever that may be, that the previous year has been the best of my life.

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