Because People-Love

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Every single day I’m reminded how beautiful my life really is. But every single day I’m also reminded how hard life can be. And hard times feel even harder during the holidays. My dear friend, Sister Johnice at the Response to Love Center in Buffalo, NY helps take care of people during hard times. And honestly? It’s so easy to make a difference. Way too easy to sit back and do nothing. This time of year wipes out the food pantry at the center. And when clients do come in, many of them have no winter gloves. Over the next few weeks I’ll be collecting canned food and winter gloves for adults.

If you’re a Buffalo local, would you consider adding to my Canned Food & Winter Gloves Collection? I’d love to have you join me.

Wondering how I got connected to the RTLC? Diapers. It was through Diapers. Read more here…

4 Words That Are Changing my Life

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Photo Cred: buffalorising.com

I always feel conspicuous when I do something like this. Driving down the well worn, depressed streets of Buffalo in my happy little Candy Blue car, wearing my Michael Kors parka and listening to Taylor Swift. Just add Ugg boots and a Starbucks’Pumpkin Spice Latte and I am the Ultimate Basic White Girl.

But my heart was in the right place, despite my uber-sterile style.

A few weeks earlier, I had read an article in the  the Buffalo News   about Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz and the Response to Love Center. The center serves its neighboring residents with a food pantry, hot meals, clothing, GED and ESL programs, as well as spiritual ministry and much, much more. But the focus of the article was their shortage of diapers.

Nearly 30% of parents in the United States cannot afford diapers, which can cost up to $100 every month per baby. And it is an expense not covered by food stamps.

(http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/10/us/cnn-heroes-cannon/ )

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After reading the article, it seemed simple enough:

Put a call out to my local friends on Facebook and collect some diapers. Drop them off. The end.

Except yesterday, when I dropped them off, it wasn’t really the end. As I cautiously pulled around to the side of the building and unloaded the haul with a volunteer from the center (who knowingly reminded me to lock my car doors), he asked if I would please come in and speak with Sister Johnice, “because she’ll want to thank you in person.”

I can’t explain it, but I felt myself getting choked up and at first I said no.

“No, that’s okay. I’ll just drop these off and be on my way.”

But he insisted she would want to thank whoever had brought the diapers.

And the whole thing was starting to give me big feelings.

For a few years now I have felt an unrelenting pull on my heart to be more involved in some sort of social justice or humanitarian work; To be involved in something bigger than myself, outside my usual comfortable little circle.

You can’t keep reading books and journaling and crying in your bed over the needs and brokenness of humanity but never actually get out of your bed and do anything about it. You just can’t.

I mean, you can. But it doesn’t make sense. And I think sometimes we just get so paralyzed by our fears or inadequacies or by not knowing quite WHAT to do or how to do it.

And then we do nothing.

But a diaper drive? A diaper drive seemed like such a simple place to start. Babies in my city need diapers. I can buy diapers and I can ask my friends if they want to buy diapers. And then I can bring them to the Response to Love Center.

I sat in Sister Johnice’s office with a life-size cardboard cut out of Pope Francis behind her, fighting back tears as she started to share with me detailed ways the center helps struggling families.

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I can’t lie– I also sat there fighting back the urge to ask if I could take a selfie with her and the Pope. Self-restraint and social dignity won this time. But when I’m there next time, I’m going for it. I figure why else would there BE a LIFE SIZE POPE FRANCIS, if not for the selfie op?

I listened to story after story of the way Response to Love Center changes lives every single day and I started feeling like maybe I had found my place. I confessed to her that I had been wanting to make a more thoughtful and examined contribution somewhere, somehow. I told her how I keep wrestling with so many different ideas and plans– because there is so much need EVERYWHERE. In fact, I was just about to get involved in a Livestock program to purchase goats for poor families in other countries for Christmas.

RTLC-Building

But here I was, sitting in an outreach center in my own city. My own city that has hungry, needy people. My own city that has babies who need diapers. My own city with tired, scared, insecure mamas and daddies trying to figure it all out.

Sister recounted her meeting with Mother Teresa in 1985. Mother Teresa held her hands, looked her in the eyes and charged her with these words: “You must find your own Calcutta.”

Woah.

Find. Your. Own. Calcutta. 

And I feel like maybe I just did. And so I’m telling you friends. I don’t have an answer to the refugee crisis facing our world. I don’t have an answer for WORLD hunger or human sex-trafficking. But there are hungry people in my city and babies who need diapers, and that’s where I’m going to start.

What can you do, right where you are? 

7- foot Deep Thoughts from Buffalo

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Unless you live on a beach or in a free field of daisies, you know what “Snovember” is. You know that Buffalo got absolutely tucked in tight, snug as a bug by Mother Nature and the Snow Gods this week. In some places, as much as 7-feet of fluffy white love fell upon us, spread out over just four days.  When you’re trapped in your home with no means of escape, your brain starts to squirrel cage and you start to think in very different ways. And if you can’t relate…well, it’s obviously a Buffalo thing.

1.  Doing nothing leads to a whole lot of doing nothing. I was not nearly as productive as I thought I’d be. Lots of wandering around the house. Lots of lounging. LOTS of social media. And we never played a board game. Not once.

2. I’ve previously been way too hard on Netflix. Netflix saved our lives. I love Netflix. Even with all of my relationship issues and concern for retinal damage, I would now marry Netflix.

3. I don’t know who named this Storm Knife. It’s more like Storm Knife, Fork and Spoon. We ate. A lot. Not to “fuel our bodies” but as an activity. A constant, glorious activity. I would like us all to agree on a term for the storm-related weight gain and be gentle with one another. Because you know, WE GET IT.

4. I buy a lot of food. I could’ve made Thanksgiving dinner. With appetizers and desserts. But I still thought things like, “Should I eat this whole banana? Should I save half for the children?” What the what? Meanwhile, I’ll actually have to make banana bread with them. No one was eating bananas. They were eating brownies and cupcakes and Pringles. It was a food free-for-all.

5. I don’t stock enough to drink. At one point running out of Half ‘n Half felt like a very real problem. And beer. And wine. And I also had to make the harrowing decision of whether or not to use 3/4 cup of skim milk to make Bailey’s Chocolate pudding shots. I made the shots. I chalked it up to a morale booster. But I almost didn’t.

6. Wherever you’re gonna live, make sure you like your neighbors. This is a big one. I have fantastic neighbors. We shoveled. We laughed. We ate. We drank. We had that true Buffalo community spirit other towns only read about. It’s much more fun to be trapped with people you like. Trust me.

7. I cannot believe how much time we were previously wasting on personal hygiene. Really. In our defense, at random times of day, I would aimlessly call out, “Have people brushed their teeth?” But that was about it. It just seemed so pointless. Sleep, eat, shovel, lounge, repeat.  I would know the storm was over the day I had to put on a bra and take off the leggings. Which I will burn. But our nails have never looked better.

9. As much as we complained, as much as we “hated” it, we secretly loved it. It was like the self-indulgent days off you would never actually give yourself. Except for the shoveling 17- feet of snow. Because there was that. But otherwise. Heaven. Today I’m going to make the children pretend-play Starbucks and Target with me. Because, you know, we’re still prisoners in our own home. But I’m sure we’ll be free soon and miss this.

10. There’s still no other place I’d rather be stuck. I love you, Buffalo. Snovember and all.

It’s Easter Week and Love Wins

jr_sunriseIt’s Easter week, Peeps. Jellybeans. Chocolate. Jesus. Food. I’m Italian and Polish so it’s an ethnic fantasy of food. Something about this week has always felt special to me. There is an anticipation in my heart that feels sort of tender and raw as I think about the significance of Easter that is hard to explain. It’s different than Christmas. I’m not a huge Christmas fan. Christmas requires preparation that makes it feel like a part-time job for me and admittedly, I can never quite get entirely out of my own way to make it different. Easter holds none of this for me.

Tomorrow we will make our annual trip to Broadway Market- a Buffalo landmark for all things food, culture, and this week, Easter. I’ll make my girls get a picture with the Easter Bunny. We’ll color eggs. Make some candy. If we say it once, we’ll say it ten times that it’s the best ham or rye bread we’ve ever had. I think back to the people and places I’ve shared Easter with. Polish sausage with my Lithuanian and Polish grandmother. Easter Pizza and Pineapple Ricotta cake with my Italian grandmother. Years spent around my parents’ dining room table wherein my mom so beautifully and gracefully combines the best of these traditions. I think of Easters in Virginia where a best friend and I would Easter shop and then stuff and hide eggs late into the night–over tired and silly–making memories for ourselves and our kids. I think of Easters spent on Fort Riley, Kansas. Sunrise Easter morning service. Church potluck breakfast. An egg hunt. My little boy in a pastel plaid tie and my baby girl in a hat and bloomers. The ultimate small town celebration. Always smiling faces. Full tummies. Happy hearts.

And Jesus. I think, of course, of Jesus. Growing up, on Good Friday afternoon, we were made to play quietly and respect the hours during which Jesus was thought to be crucified. I suppose we probably hated being stifled that way–and yet as a grown woman, I’ve replaced it with watching The Passion of the Christ. It, too, is not a fun activity. I do not look forward to it. There is no popcorn. And yet I sit with rapt attention, knowing what my eyes are about to take in and how it will pierce and hurt my heart. Because I already know this story inside out, backward and forward. But I want to watch. I need to watch. I need to see and feel and be brutally reminded of my Savior’s love. The lengths to which this unstoppable love drove Him. For me. For this life I continually call my messy closet. I think of Mary. I think of her mother’s heart and it’s almost too much to bear. And so I watch because I forget. I’m ashamed to say just how very quickly, quickly I forget. I’m so much quicker to question. To doubt. To wonder. To shake my head, shake my fist, let my wild heart be shaken than I ever am to remember the cross. And I need to be reminded of how the story ends. The anticipation that builds in my heart as the movie is coming to a close. There is brutality. There is fear. There is death. There is grief. But then. Ahhhh then. It is glorious. He is glorious. He is whole. He is resurrected. And He wins. Jesus wins. Life wins. Love wins. Life conquers death and love wins. May my heart remember, there is life after death. And love wins.