Journey 14: Witnesses to the Journey

Joplin Globe article

There is a great quote from the movie Shall We Dance. I’m going to adjust it a bit, because she is speaking to her husband. Susan Sarandon’s character, Beverly, says, “We need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? [Another can say] ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.” The idea of being a witness to the life of another resonated deeply and the thought has stayed with me. When I am present with another, whether he or she is performing in a band, singing a song, running a marathon or living a life inspired by passion, I am bearing witness to the significance of their lives.

Having my mentor in Joplin the last couple of days was such an instance of bearing witness. Lu Ann, by her presence here, by her questions, by her sharing of insights and by her willingness to journey alongside me, bore witness to and brought a sense of affirmation to me and my ongoing adventure. In the same way, I got to bear witness to Lu Ann, to her gifts of journalism and putting people at ease and to her courage in striking out across the US, visit 30 cities in 30 days….and doing 30 dares. I was honored to have her here and privileged to share in a meaningful first with her. We used video cameras and iPhones, words and blogs and social media to capture that witnessing.

In a similar way, Andra and Roger, from my city’s newspaper The Joplin Globe, were present with us to bear witness to all that we did, both individually in our past adventures and together in Joplin. Andra is a great journalist with a promising future. I suspect there is a book within her waiting to be birthed. Roger was kind and attentive and quietly snapped pictures without making us aware that he was doing that. His photography is another powerful form of bearing witness to the life of another as he captures each moment and freezes it in time.

The culmination of their joint efforts appeared today on the front page of The Globe. I was surprised and then humbled by that placement. The story so beautifully details how Lu Ann inspired me through her transformational year of firsts and continues in the expansion of her life, and how I grew and opened to new experiences and now continue as well on my journey. Roger’s photo that depicts shared laughter between Lu Ann and me was perfect, and could be titled, simply, Joy.

I am grateful for these witnesses to my life these past couple of days, and indeed, to all those who journey with me who affirm my life and let me know that they see me and see what I am doing. I am honored to do the same. Your life will not go unnoticed because I notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I am witnessing it. I see you. I applaud who you are. You are beautifully YOU.

Lu Ann’s blog post about her visit to Joplin

Joplin Globe article about our shared dare

Journey 13: A Shared First at Watered Gardens

Watered Gardens preparing lunch

One of the things I discovered during my year of firsts was how fun it was to share them. My family members and friends were such good sports and willing participants in the adventure I was enjoying. Today, I had the honor of sharing a first with the person who inspired that adventure, Lu Ann Cahn. During Lu Ann’s 30 Dares in 30 Days tour, she graciously stopped in Joplin so we could meet and do a dare, or first, together.

We chose to experience a first that gave back to the community. We volunteered today with Watered Gardens, a ministry that provides shelter, food, and a variety of services and items to the homeless and those in need. Located at 531 Kentucky, in Joplin, the mission of the Gardens is based on Isaiah 58…“Is this not the fast I chose … To divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked to cover him … And you will be like a watered garden and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” Although I was familiar with Watered Gardens, I have never been inside the facility or volunteered my time there.

Watered Gardens interview

Trish with Roger, Andra and Lu Ann

I am grateful to Trish, Volunteer Recruiter and Coordinator, and James, Co-founder and Executive Director, for setting up today’s service opportunity for Lu Ann and me. Both met us at the facility today and James gave us an overview of the ministry and answered our questions. I was impressed with the programs offered and Shop Worth, which provides an opportunity for the residents to create products, such as jewelry and bags of roasted coffee, that are sold. Each person is valued and given a task to complete for the day. I liked the friendly atmosphere and the general busyness as men and women pushed brooms, mopped floors and cleaned the gathering room.

Donning aprons and plastic gloves, Lu Ann and I got right to work in the industrial kitchen, helping Jean prepare lunch. We sliced bread and slathered on melted garlic butter. We spooned up servings of Jean’s wonderfully aromatic bread pudding, filling two tiered carts with plates of the dessert. Pairing spoons and forks, we rolled them in paper napkins. I have never done that before while wearing gloves, and we laughed until I got the hang of it. All the while, Andra, reporter from the Joplin Globe, and Roger, Globe photographer, kept us company, jotting down notes and taking photos respectively. Lu Ann and I chatted and laughed and shared stories about our firsts. I found her so easy to talk to and be around, like a life long friend who came for a visit. She occasionally grabbed her video camera and interviewed me or James and once recorded a conversation between the two of us, flipping the camera back and forth. At the end of that chat we stood side by side for a “video selfie”, as Lu Ann deemed it, which made us both crack up with laughter. Roger snapped a pic.

Watered Gardens serving lunch

At last lunch was ready, all the food donated by individuals or local businesses. On the menu today was fried chicken (until that ran out…and then chicken nuggets), mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, garlic bread, and Jean’s bread pudding. The sliding door covering the service window slid upward and people began to line up in the long hallway outside the kitchen. Jean and kitchen manager Casie allowed Lu Ann and me to stand closest to the window, so we could chat with the good folks picking up lunch. We started a food line, preparing each plate with generous servings of food. I passed full plates to Lu Ann, who then handed them to each diner as they passed by. It was an honor to serve these hungry people, many of whom had just come in out of the cold, the briskness of the day clinging to their clothes and making their cheeks pink. Men, women, teens, and children filed by, many of them saying “thank you” or chatting for a moment. The food lasted just long enough. As the last few people came in to eat, we scraped the serving pans. Jean estimated between 60-70 people were fed today.

Watered Gardens Lu Ann

Before serving lunch, James asked Lu Ann to share a few words with the group gathered in the dining room. I was touched by her acknowledgement that we are all on a journey. And we can choose to make a change, one small change at a time. She spoke about how stuck she felt in her own life and how doing firsts, even the small simple firsts, opened up her life. Standing there, listening to Lu Ann, watching the attentive faces turned toward her, I agreed in my heart with all that she shared. We are each on our own journey. Where we are today is not an indicator of where we will be tomorrow. There is always hope. And good people like James, Trish, Jean and Casie who are willing to lend a helping hand along the way. Many of the people I met today are without a job, currently, and therefore unable to pay rent. Some have just moved into the area and are out looking for jobs and housing and need a place to eat and sleep. Some have encountered difficult situations that they are dealing with.

All are valuable. All have something to offer. Lu Ann and I heard bits of their stories, looked them in the eyes, smiled encouragement, served them lunch. I went to Watered Gardens today to help. I left feeling ministered to myself, touched by the resilience of the human spirit, and with a new appreciation for others. I am grateful to Lu Ann for her visit and her willingness to reach out and touch lives, and for the staff at Watered Gardens for allowing us a glimpse into their facility and their world. Steve Maraboli says, “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” Compassion is present at Watered Gardens. I will be back.

Watered Gardens James and Lu Ann

James and Lu Ann, as she signs a copy of I Dare Me, which she donated to Watered Gardens.