Luck Needs Your Faithful Reminder Tonight

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve really become serious about making progress on what has evolved from one huge book with every life-improving/motivational topic under the sun to a much more digestible series of eBooks that will each cover one topic. One night a week I come to a Starbucks in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago because its open later than any other coffee shop I’ve seen. And, I write.

It’s a really great spot for writing. This location has an awesome set-up with a sort of counter-stool area that allows you to work while you look out onto the street. Watching people walk by and life happen while I write just helps me stay focused in a weird way. I am productive here. My creative juices just go buck wild.

Now this is also the neighborhood where I volunteer every other Saturday with what is mostly street-based youth. In the last couple of weeks, as I’ve been writing and watching life happen from this Starbucks window, I’ve seen several of the youth I volunteer with walking by. A few of them pace back and forth for the several hours I sit here, suitcases in hand, often looking lost and as if they are just passing the time, because well, they have nowhere to go. And it’s incredibly heartbreaking.

Here I sit drinking my $5 coffee, thinking of myself as unprivileged because of the circumstances I come from, constantly stressing out because of the mountainous debt that keeps me up at night,   and forever worrying about how and when I am going to get to where I want to be in my life with respect to career, love, family stability and everything else I worry about. When will I finish these books, when will I have financial stability, when will I truly get past the issues of my troubled childhood?

But then I see these kids, walking back and forth, with everything they own in one suitcase, trying to figure out where to sleep tonight, and I remember just how incredibly lucky I am. Suddenly, I focus less on everything I do not have, and focus more on all of the great things I sometimes take for granted in my life. I start to pay more attention to all the luck I do have, despite whatever misfortunes I might struggle with.

So I just thought I’d write a little note to encourage you to focus on everything that you have, and try and give less heart and brain space to all of the things you wish you had or you feel you’ve been cheated out of in life. Because if you have a roof over your head, health in your blood, and food in your stomach, you are already so much more fortunate than a lot of people out there in this troubled world. 

If you really try and focus on the fact that you are indeed very lucky just a little more often, I think you will find more HAPPY in your heart and more peace in your mind. So tonight, before I go to bed, and every night after that, I will say to myself, “You are very lucky,” and I hope you will give it a shot too.

With eternal love and hope,

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Even the Hopeless Have Hope

Hope

This weekend was a true lesson in hope for me, and I want to share it with you. After all, anything that can strike a little hope in your heart seems especially fitting this week after the nauseating events that took place at the Boston Marathon yesterday afternoon.  So here it goes.

On Saturday, I spent a few hours (ended up feeling more like five minutes) volunteering with a church program called Youth Lounge. Please note that whether you believe in church or religion is not the point here at all, so regardless of your beliefs, I urge you to read on. Anyhoo, I had been searching for a volunteer opportunity for a while now, and this really seemed like the perfect fit. I felt that my positive energy and optimistic attitude could help uplift these young people and inspire a little hope in them. I never thought they would do the same and more for me.

Youth Lounge essentially provides a safe space for homeless and at-risk youth in Chicago’s Lakeview community. A majority of these teenagers and young adults identify as LGBTQ, 90 percent of them are people of color and a little over half of them are homeless. Youth Lounge is put on by Broadway United Methodist Church volunteers twice a month on the second and fourth Saturdays, and provides a home cooked meal, activities and a loving environment for these struggling youth.

This particular Saturday was my first time volunteering with the group, and as a hyper emotional person, I was afraid. I was afraid to unintentionally make it about me. I was afraid to make these kids feel as though I felt sorry for them or looked down on them in any way. And as they started walking in the door, many of them with luggage and bags in tote, the tears began to well up in my eyes. I took deep breathes, and kept telling myself, you have to smile, this is not about you, they need your HAPPY.

Little by little, I completely forgot about my tears, and began to be inspired by them. Here they were, so young, many with no place to live, no safe environment to trust, and yet they were so luminous. Many of them knew each other and ran to one another in warm embraces. Many also made jokes and were happy to see the volunteers they already knew. Suddenly, they were not victims in my eyes. They were just kids and despite their situations, they seemed joyful and full of life. They seemed to be oozing with HOPE.

The afternoon began with several musical performances after which the kids all sat down to brightly decorated tables for a warm, home cooked meal prepared by some of the volunteers. They all gathered with their friends, chatted and laughed as the volunteers came by to take their orders and serve them. Some kids seemed very comfortable being served and others seemed almost shocked at the niceness and attention being offered to them. One particular youth could hardly look me in the eyes as I asked him what he wanted to drink and thanked me quietly almost five times.

Dinner time went by so quickly. I forgot about all of my feelings, and suddenly I just felt so focused on giving them what they needed. Soon it was time for the beauty parlor activity. Before the youth had arrived, I had helped set up a little nail spa in the back of the room. Their names were all put in a hat, and several were chosen to receive a manicure. Although my shift was over, I decided to stay a little longer and help do nails. I love getting my nails done, and did it on my own for many years when I couldn’t afford to get them done. I still get a great sense of progress and relaxation when I go have them done, and I couldn’t wait to offer the youth a little pampering and sense of being special.

I had two gentlemen “clients,” and they were so excited to be pampered. They both chose to have their nails polished in addition to the manicure, and I was happy to help them express themselves. One of them told me all about his foster mom as I did his nails, and the other told me about his struggle with drug abuse and having to fight just to be himself in public. He had been to rehab and told me all about how he’s doing much better now.  I was so glad to hear it. They both laughed and joked with me, opened up to me, and taught me more about hope and resilience than I had ever expected them to.  They had fighter spirits, and despite everything they had been through, they seemed to appreciate life and find ways to smile.

I learned so much from these kids in just a few hours. I learned that you can have nearly nothing and still have a huge smile on your face. I learned that there is always something to look forward to in life if you choose to see it that way. I was also reminded that even though I have my own childhood and adolescent noise, I am so, so lucky. I always had a roof over my head and food to eat, and my parents, despite their many imperfections, never abandoned or disowned me. I was reminded that there is hope all around me, all around us, even from unexpected sources. And most importantly, I was reminded that if those who we would expect to be hopeless can find a way to have hope in their lives and in their hearts, those of us who have been more fortunate can certainly find a way to be more hopeful and optimistic each day.

My thoughts, prayers, hope and heart go out to these beautiful young people, to all those affected by the events in Boston, and to all of you out there searching for a better day. I urge you, as I always do, to pay attention. Hope is all around us, and ready to help us make it through just about anything. At least that’s my hope. 

Sonia, Word Share Junkie