Whether or not you are a resolution-maker or goal-setter, chances are good that over the past few weeks you’ve found yourself thinking about one or more ways to improve your life this year. Losing weight, eating healthier, reducing stress, being more present, attaining work/life balance. With books, podcasts, videos, articles, blogs, and even vlogs, our lives and our search histories are packed with 10 Ways To a Better You.
So I walk up on high
And I step to the edge
To see my world below
And I laugh at myself
While the tears roll down
‘Cause it’s the world I know
Oh it’s the world I know –Collective Soul, The World I Know
While we are busy reading self-help books, our radios are belting out song after song about changing the world. Pop stars with newfound riches are inspired to improve something beyond their own lives and pen songs such as I’d Love to Change The World, We Are The World, Perfect World, and Heal The World. The message sent and received is “If we can only change ourselves enough—lose that 20 pounds, run that race, make that first million, or second—we, too, could positively affect the world around us, beyond our recycling bins.”
I’d love to change the world
But I don’t know what to do
So I’ll leave it up to you –Ten Years After, I’d Love To Change The World
Early last December, I was introduced to a woman named Joshlyn. Four years ago, after a string of bad relationships and less than wise decisions, Joshlyn found herself living at James Bute Park. Her children were staying with family members, she didn’t have anything in her own name, and she was homeless.
But here in the real world
It’s not that easy at all
‘Cause when hearts get broken
It’s real tears that fall –Alan Jackson, Here in the Real World
One Sunday afternoon, a group of people from a nearby church came to deliver hot food to the people living there at the park. Being barefoot, Joshlyn approached one of the women and asked if she could help her get a pair of shoes. The woman, whose name is Andrea, told her that she could have the shoes she was wearing, but when Joshlyn tried them on she found they did not fit. Andrea gave her the address for the church and instructed Joshlyn that if she showed up the next day, she would meet her there, and help her. Joshlyn did meet Andrea there, and she got a pair of shoes.
Then, Joshlyn asked Andrea if she could help her find a job. Andrea told her to ask the manager of the coffee shop/café located inside the church if they could use any help. She did ask, and they offered her a job.
Then, Joshlyn asked Andrea if she could help her find an apartment. Andrea, along with a Manny and some others from the homeless ministry at the church, helped Joshlyn make the right phone calls, connect with the right people, and complete all of the necessary paperwork to qualify for housing benefits. She did everything required, and she got an apartment.
I’d like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves –The New Seekers, I’d Like to Teach The World To Sing
After moving into her new apartment, Joshlyn began getting to know her community. What she found was a lot of people like her—people who know what it is like to need.
This is when Joshlyn started asking questions for other people. When she noticed that one of her neighbors was in need of essential baby gear, she asked around until she found another neighbor who had extra. This process repeated over and over and soon grew into a fully-formed neighborhood swap/share program.
When Joshlyn noticed that the families around her were predominantly made up of single moms with young children, she decided to throw a huge Christmas party. She did not have any food, she did not have any gifts, so she started asking. She asked people at the café if they knew someone who would donate food, and huge plates of barbeque showed up. She asked around for donations for gifts for the children, and piles of wrapped packages were delivered full of toys, books, and clothing for the kids. People from all over the community came, and no one went home hungry or empty-handed. That is when the neighborhood parties began.
I got invited to one of these parties just a few days before Christmas. When I showed up at the scheduled time, her apartment was almost empty. Not even Joshlyn herself was there, as she had been held up at work. One by one, however, the children started to come. First one group, then another. Some lived nearby and others had driven over from her old neighborhood, and before we knew it her small apartment was so full that people were spilling out onto the grass outside the front door.
Joshlyn’s oven unexpectedly went out, so she had to borrow a neighbor’s oven to cook the food. One little girl performed an impromptu dance routine as entertainment. The tree was piled high with presents that had miraculously shown up that day, and the table was overflowing with donated snacks. It was a great party.
Send them your heart so they’ll know that someone cares
And their lives will be stronger and free
As God has shown us by turning stones to bread
So we all must lend a helping hand –Michael Jackson, We Are The World
If you ask Joshlyn how she does it, she will tell you that God supplies all her needs and she thanks God at every opportunity for how things in her life have turned around. And I do not doubt her sincerity or her source.
But I also credit Joshlyn. She is illiterate, so she could not read a self-help book, but she knew to ask for shoes when she had none. She did not take a course in 10 Steps to a Better Job, but she asked “What job can I do?”
The next question Joshlyn asked was not “How can I save the world?” She asked, “How can I help my neighbors in my little corner of this apartment complex?” Then, she pulled other people into her vision. She asked, “What do you have in your hand, and do you have enough to share with someone who doesn’t have any of that?”
It is a question we could all ask at this time of year. When we are making our goals, and already breaking our resolutions, can we add “What can I do to help one person this week, this month, this year?” What can I do to better my corner of the world?”
If we each ask this, if we each follow through, no matter how little we think we have, what could our world look like one year from now? Like Joshlyn, I would love to find out.
There are ways to get there
If you care enough for the living
Make a little space
Make a better place –Michael Jackson, Heal The World
For more Real Stories Houston.