Today’s Poverty is Unnecessary Day – Thoughts on Marathons, Orphans and Generosity

Let me start by offering the link this incredible (though long) story in the NYT about people like you and me changing the world. OK, maybe not just like you and me. This is how they open the article:
“Like so many highly trained young women these days, Elizabeth Scharpf has choices. She could be working in a Manhattan office tower with her Harvard Business School classmates…Now 33, Scharpf was interning in the summer of 2005 for the World Bank in Mozambique, helping local entrepreneurs…Back at Harvard, where she was pursuing joint degrees at the business school and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, she began asking friends from Bangladesh, Nicaragua and other countries if they were aware of this problem…”
Mine might read a little more like this:
“CC, a 33 year old re-entering freshman at BHCC could be working at McDonald’s or her Aunt’s Plant-Stand if it was still open for business… She spent the summer of ’95 interning at a media consultation firm, but she wasn’t very good at interning so she went to SDSU where she forgot where some of her classes were located because she was hanging out at the sand volleyball court at the Beta house… Back in Boston where she frequently runs past Harvard and MIT she desperately tries to finish her long runs without dying, ponders the terrible stories of suffering she hears on NPR, in the news and from her world changing friends and she hopes that the smart people at those schools will do something about it and then she hopes that she can make it back to her car.”

OK, OK, that was slightly exaggerated for comedic affect, but how many of you feel that way? Like, wow, there’s so much going on in my neighborhood, my area, my state, the country, the world that I know and care about, but I can’t quite figure out how to help. I am not saying that you have to start an NGO or go to Harvard, but on this day where we acknowledge that we live in a world that suffers quite simply from poor distribution I challenge you to think about where you can begin. I am going to offer three examples and three ranges of ways you might be able to make a difference.

AM&UK hate when I get personal on the blog (for my own protection and safety and in case anyone ever googled me when they interviewed me, but I figure they’d never read through all these posts) but I am going to offer a little personal perspective today. In 1992 I went to live with my youth group leaders, for various reasons, and for a short (probably not to them) amount of time. Now. There were lots of options for me, and plenty of places that I could have gone. My parents wanted me, my family wanted me, this was my deal. And in the end it was best for most of us. Anyway. At the time they were like 23 and 24, and honestly other than loving me and feeding me there was not much they could do for my teenage angst filled heart. But they did it. They were incredible. At 33 with an 18 year old border, who is precious and wonderful, I cannot imagine the task that it was to take me on. I cannot imagine the financial, emotional, personal, or relational sacrifice it was. People thought they were crazy. They were crazy. But you know what? They saw a need, and they met it. They did not keep account of the personal toll it would take, they simply knew that something needed to be done and they acted. This is the #1 key to impacting the world around you. When you see a need, act. It is the tragedy of mankind that we acknowledge and grieve the suffering and poverty of the world around it and do nothing to resolve it. If you know someone is struggling financially skip a meal and leave them a gift card for the amount you would have spent anonymously in their mailbox, you don’t want to give homeless people money, carry a protein bar and a bottle of water and hand it to them when you are stuck at a light, you don’t have to take a teenager in to change the world. You can do it in small ways everyday. Pick up litter, turn off lights, combat over-consumption. What is your tiny conviction? Live it.

I am not an overly talented individual. I grew up with a girl named MP. I always thought she was prettier, smarter and more talented than me. I still secretly think she is. However, when I was younger this friendship was the petri dish for insecurity and comparison in my life. I constantly thought people liked her more, boys liked her more… But you know what? MP and I aren’t that different, the truth is that she worked really hard at what she was/is good at, she has an insane work ethic, BUT ALSO… We just have different strengths. Like when I see her now, after two kids, she looks fantastic. She is totally fit. But she has told me a couple of times, “no matter how fit I am, I could not run a marathon.” She runs like ZERO minute miles, while her kids are sleeping. But she wouldn’t run a marathon. That’s my skill set. That’s right. I can do that. I can run a marathon. I mean, when I weighed 230 pounds I couldn’t. I could run a little while and then I would walk, and then I would run, until I could run a longer while etc. 50 pounds lighter and 6 months after I started I finished my FIRST marathon in 6:42:?? That’s a 15:34 mile. Most people WALK a mile faster than that. But I did it. And later when people asked me how I ran a marathon and lost all that weight, no one wanted to hear the truth. It was hard work, I ran a lot and ate healthier. In the end what I realized that anyone who wanted to, and did not have physical limitations, could run a marathon. To this day and a few marathons and half marathons later, I have never finished a run without at least one person who has never done it before. I think it’s important to find your strength, to not compare yourself to someone who you think is better or is doing it better, and I think it’s also important to bring people along. We’re all here to help each other out. If you are passionate about something, make it a goal this year to find one other person who is passionate about the same thing, but inactive. Help give them the resources to put hands and feet on their passion. This is as generous as anything you will ever do. Speaking of marathons and generosity… Those youth leaders I was talking about earlier – they both finished their first marathon this year. Chicago. With two teenagers still at home. What inspirational people.

Finally. Don’t let generosity have a strict definition. So many of my friends have tiny children at home and there are limits to what they can do. Pour yourself into those little lives and raise socially aware children. Let them see you doing what you can as a family. They will do the same. But do something. Even if it’s working on not saying harsh things about the guy on the corner begging, whose story you do not know. Volunteer. There are Boys and Girls Clubs, homeless shelters, inner-city youth programs, churches, hundreds of places who would be glad to have one hour of your time a quarter, or whatever you have to give. Start where you are and build from there. I didn’t start by running the marathon, I started by putting on my shoes.

Lastly, if you’re so moved. Consider joining me in supporting 30 girls in Kenya. We built them a house last year, we are hoping to build them a school this year. And after that, we are hoping to establish a college fund for every single one of them. We didn’t raise the money for the home with big donors, we raised the money last year $10 and $25 at a time. Please consider giving. You can click here to be a part.

There is enough resource in the world. It is our misuse and mishandling of it that leaves people hungry. You can’t share your electricity with Rwanda, or ship your leftovers to children starving in Ethiopia, but you can follow your own passions and convictions. Changing the world and eradicating poverty is a marathon, not a sprint, and we can’t start by running the marathon. We have to start by putting on your shoes. What can you do today to tie your laces? Then get to it.

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