Giving away lipstick: 10 ways to give away dignity and courage

feb09-lipstickA friend and I were sitting in a coffee shop yesterday. He is someone I learn from nearly every time we are together. We have completely different upbringings and our pasts could not be more different. I love spending time with him.

As we were chatting yesterday I asked a question which prompted him to send me an article. The article chronicled the story of a Horror Camp where people were dying daily. Shortly after the discovery of yet another death a box arrived from the British Red Cross, in it was found tubes and tubes of red lipstick. Many were baffled by the gift, but it was this gift that brought dignity to those encamped in this horrid experience. (it is a short story, I encourage you to take the time to read it)

I immediately was struck by the thought of lipstick brining dignity. I then remembered a time where I brought bouquets of flowers to women who made their home on the street and how it was important because every woman wants to feel beautiful lovely and seen and when you give a woman flowers that is what you are telling her without words.

The needs of this world are great. Every day greets us with more hatred, pain, death, useless violence, poverty and darkness. I want to be a person who brings light. A person who steps out of the comfort of home and acts. A person who brings dignity and gives courage to all she meets. A person who gives away flowers and lipstick.

I don’t always know the best ways to do bring dignity and courage away but here are a couple of thoughts:

1. Smile at people. A smile acknowledges a person exists and says that you are glad they do. It’s inexpensive but the pay off is great.

2. When a person wears a name tag, refer to him or her by name. Be the first to ask the question at the cash register. Be warm and engaging, treating each person as though they are a friend in the making.

3. Leave early when driving somewhere. When you’re not pressed for time other drivers don’t seem to be so annoying. Be kind, let other drivers in. Assume that those in a hurry or seemingly rude have something hard going on in life and instead of internally flipping them off, take a moment to pray that God would meet them in their need, in their rush and in their pain and intervene.

4. Pray that God would give you a friend who lives a story that you may have prejudices against. It’s amazing what happens when our life crosses paths and friendships are created with those who against whom we hold prejudice. (Here is a great story about just that.)

5. Know someone who struggles financially? Buy them a gift that is not practical. Give them something that says you are worth more than just making it. It could be something as little as flowers or as big as a night in hotel.

6. When you see a person holding a sign asking for money, roll down your window and start a conversation. Acknowledge, smile at and warmly invite the person to conversation that speaks to their personhood.

7. Buy products that give dignity to their workers.

8. Be kind, assume good things, and be generous with your attitudes and beliefs.

9. Tip really well. Tip extravagantly. Over thank and encourage any who serve you. (Simply because we are paying someone for a service doesn’t mean that they have to be perfect. They too may be having a bad day or have just had hard customers. Maybe a relative is going through a difficult time? We don’t know. So instead of complaining and not tipping, tip extra and look your server in the eye and say something like, “I hope your day gets better.”

10. Be a good neighbor, to all of your neighbors. Be a good neighbor to your local businesses, postal workers, lawn care and landscaping workers, the neighbor who hides and the neighbor who knows everyone. Be the kind of neighbor you want.

You and I may not be able to alleviate the worlds darkness on our own, but if we each bring our light and give away light and dignity and courage… the darkness sure dissipates quickly.

How have you seen dignity given away? How have you been given courage? I’d love to learn from you too.

Beyond labels: Getting to the inside of the Pinata Part 3

People are like pinatas. We come in one form and look a certain way, but we carry with us a million ideas, personal history moments, passions, cares, stories. We are more than our appearance, job title, profession, school, stage in life, relationship status and so on. But how do we discover the good stuff beyond titles?

This question is important and it takes time, practice and the willingness to get shot down. People don’t know it, but you and I, we hide in our title or label. We use it as a way to keep people at bay and to govern an image. When we ask questions to get beyond the title or label, you may run into resistance. It’s okay. People are worth fighting for. And you don’t get to the middle of a pinata on the first try!

Here are some practical helps to get to the middle of the human pinata:

1. Love the person. Seriously. Don’t just say it! Do it. Love the person no matter what their label is. You might need help with that. So ask Jesus to increase your love for people.  Love is the most important aspect to getting beyond labels.

2. Care about the person’s story. A person is not a frog to dissect as you did in 8th grade biology. A person is soul that is to be handled with care. Only ask questions you care about! Only ask questions if you care! (see practical hint 1)

3. Know their name. A person’s name is the first break into the unknown. So learn it and do your best to remember.

4. Think about a good novel. Every good story is full of what? People, places, things, a thesis, a storyline, a protagonist, an antagonist and more. Questions are a way to get to story. Take a minute, yes, right now, to write down five questions that would lead to knowing a story.

5. Ask questions without question marks. Tell me about growing up. Describe a typical day for you. Tell me about one of your passions. I’d love to hear more about that. I’m very interested in this, tell me more. Each of these questions leads to answers longer than one word and that my friends is key when getting beyond a label.

6. Pay attention when in conversation. Remember things. This may seem mundane, but if you remember and connect dots when listening a person is more likely to share and to trust. Listening is one way of showing you love, care and are interested in the person.

7. Know how you best listen. If you want to get to know someone and you know you’re easily distracted, if possible move to a location where you can best give the person in front of you your greatest attention. If you get distracted by comings and goings, put your back to the door and face the wall. If you are at a party and there are lots of interruptions, sit at table, by each other in the living room or even suggest, “i’d love to get to know more of your story, would you want to get coffee and then set a plan at that moment!”

8. Think about questions you’d like to be asked. What are the things you wish people knew about you, but never ask to find out? Take a minute. What are they? Form questions that you could ask yourself to get to  these things. Then when in conversation with someone else ask questions that get to that stuff.

9. Don’t have an agenda outside getting to know the person.

10. Be willing to be known too. You too are a pinata and if the other person is going to trust you to go beyond their label, you must put your label aside too.

People are most of all human. That is the most common thing we share. It is intrinsic to us. It is who we were created to be. And the human experience is full of life and story. It takes time, but every human has a story worth knowing. And every human life has value beyond their prescripted label.

Live beyond labels. Love Human. Seek Story and Find it! You’ll get to the good stuff!!!!

Labels and Pinatas Part 1

I was talking with a friend today who is a new mom. She was telling me about how her identity has suddenly shifted. She is no longer Sarah, but she is Austin’s mom. She has some how been lost in the equation. It makes sense, people like boxes and categories, as they help us to know where to put others in our minds. But in the process we turn people into something, rather than accepting them as human.

She and I spoke about how labels keep us from getting to know a whole person and how labels also keep us from being known. We meet someone and immediately ask for their label, “Hi, what do you do?” Label. We see someone with a significant other. “Are you two married?” Label. We see two men together. “Are you gay?” Label.  We see a woman with children. “How many kids do you have.” Label.

The answer to any of the above questions becomes a label and it becomes the entry point through which we get to know an individual. But something often gets lost in the interaction. Instead of getting to know a person we’re getting to know a mom, a teacher, an engaged couple, a gay, or a single person. We then arrange our questions and dialogue around those topics, forgetting that a person is more than the sum of their label.

I joke around with people that I am a pinata. I look like one thing, but if you were to open me up you’d find a whole bunch of other good stuff. I’m pretty sure we’re all a lot more like pinatas than statues.  We aren’t the sum of the label we carry and we actually have to work to get out from under them. We also have to work to keep from putting them on to others.

What is your label? Does it describe all of who you are or just a part? What do you wish people knew about you that your label does not communicate?

Now take a moment and think about the people in your life. What are the labels you’ve given others. Do you ask questions beyond their label? Do you think about others outside of their label? Does a label keep you from wanting to know a person? Does a label automatically cause you to think you’d have nothing in common with them?

This week challenge yourself to ask questions beyond labels. You might be surprised at what you’ll find!

Leave a comment with the labels you’ve given or been given!

Love is too Big: 1

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the topic of love lately. It’s Advent season and Love is one of concepts given to a week of Advent. As I’ve spent some time thinking and praying over the topic I’ve decided that love is too big of a topic. It is something not easily defined with words.

Every culture has a definition for love. Some have more than one. Check this out:

Most English speakers define love as an intense feeling of affection or an emotion.  If you think about it, ideas of love permeate our culture in movies, books, music and art. It is one of the most common themes.  There are different kinds of love, interpersonal: between people, impersonal: between a person and an object, there are scientific understandings of love, styles given to love, and theories of love.  Religions also carry with them various understandings of love.

Christianity, much of the time equates love to, agape, one of many greek words for love.  Agape love is a love that is charitable, altruistic and unconditional.  It is a kind of love that creates goodness and is reciprocal between God and people.

A Jewish understanding of love holds a much larger view of love. Love is given between people and between God and people. The idea of loving your neighbor as your self and Loving God with all your heart, mind and soul. So basically love is, in the Jewish understanding, expressed with good deeds, willingness to sacrifice one’s life, willingness to sacrifice one’s possessions and being grateful to the Lord despite adversity.

Many other religious views see love only in terms of pleasure and therefore are filled with sexual concepts and ideas. Indulging these desires is a gift to their god.

As I continued to peruse articles, books, websites my understanding of love got more clouded from the pure love I was wanting to describe. Love as a concept has so many definitions and interpretations. And although there are many definitions for love, our personal understanding of love is greatly influenced by how we were and are loved by others.

Love is BIG! Love is misunderstood. Love is at the core of human desire. Love is expressed. Love is withheld. Love is given. Love is received. Love is… you fill in the blank.

How do you define love? I’m still figuring this one out.