Neighbors

I don’t care if you are religious or not. I don’t care if you love God or hate Him or think He’s made up. If you are a good person, then you want to take care of the people around you.

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I feel powerless over so much in the world.

People kill each other. People kill themselves. People die of disease, of starvation. People get lost. People get taken. There is so much of the world that I am powerless to touch, or to help, or to heal. The interconnectedness of the world places many of the world’s ills in my view and there is nothing that I can do about most of it. And sometimes that powerlessness paralyzes me.

Do you ever feel powerless?

Good people take care of the people around them. I want to be a good person. But in the face of such overwhelming despair, how do I accomplish that? I can’t reach half-way across the globe and change the state of the Middle-East or solve world hunger.

But what if that is not really my responsibility. In my mind, I have a concept that would work spectacularly well if implemented properly and that would expand exponentially. What if I am only responsible for helping the people that I come in contact with? What if I just focused each day on helping the people I encounter? Just them. What if I stopped agonizing over the people on the other side of the world and only focused on the cashier at Walmart, or the guy walking his dog, or the person sitting next to me at the library?

I used to think of power as a single force that was binary in nature. Either you possess it or you don’t. Now I think that power is a snowflake in a blizzard or a droplet in the ocean or ants in a colony. It is thousands of small and simple things all pushing in the same direction toward the same goal.

Imagine if everyone did that. What if everyone focused every day on lifting the people around them? Imagine the love that would pour over the earth as that tidal wave of service moved from person to person across the globe.

That is the power that I want to have. That is the power that I want to be a part of even if I am only one snowflake or one droplet because that power will change the world.

I don’t care if you are religious or not. I don’t care if you love God or hate Him or think He’s made up or you just don’t know or care. If you are a good person, then you want to take care of the people around you. So during this season when some of us will be celebrating Christ, and some Christmas, and some other Holy Days, and some just enjoying family, make an extra effort to lift your neighbor. They are not hard to find, they are all around you.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

NOTE: If you need some ideas on ways to serve, go to Light the World (Mormon.org). Full disclosure this link will take you to a religious website, but it also has really good ideas for nice things that you can do to be good to others, so if you don’t like the religious stuff on there, ignore it and just steal the good ideas. 😉

Fearless

What would my life be like if I didn’t make any of my decisions out of fear?

Little children are the best teachers in the world. They don’t know rules. I’m not saying that they don’t know what the rules are, I’m saying they don’t know that rules are even a thing. So they just do stuff. They do what they want whenever they want. And it is this näive hedonism that I want to talk about today.

There are hard and fast rules in the world. There are. I didn’t make them up, but you have to live by them or face the consequences. Rules like never put something on the floor for a pregnant woman to pick up, and only wear double denim when you want to look amazing. Just kidding. But really there are rules. Learning them is really important. I’m not going to list them all here, that’s not really my point here. There are also a ton of rules that people just made up, and life seems to be the intersect of trying to abide by the real ones and ferret out and ignore the fake ones.

This is where children are the best teachers. They push other children down out of anger or greed and we tell them no. We teach them the rules that you don’t hurt others because they make you angry and that you don’t hurt others because they have something you want. We teach them to avoid what is wrong, but they teach us about embracing what is right.

They teach us about unconditional love, about forgiveness, about trying new things without fear or embarrassment or shame. What would my life be like if I didn’t make any of my decisions out of fear? What would your life be like?

Maybe we should find out.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

Expanding the Circle

There are some life experiences that come upon you without warning

I have my circle. I have always aimed to keep it’s circumference small. It doesn’t really extend that far and I am ashamed to say that for much of my life I have not been interested in expanding it. I have my family and my friends and that is it.

There are some life experiences that come upon you without warning and give you the opportunity to expand your circle out and enhance your ability to empathize with others, or shrink your circle down to the point where pretty much the only person inside of it is you.

The first choice makes your life more complicated but more fulfilling. The second simplifies things tremendously but it stunts your growth.

My family went to a close friend’s house this year for Thanksgiving with her family. She is amazing so she welcomed in several other people to celebrate the Holiday as well. She is always looking for ways to expand her circle and others circles by extension. She is wise. I was nervous, she was not, but we ended up having a great time, and a far better time than we would have had with fewer people.

Never acquiesce to the impulse to shrink, to restrict your circle, to carve out a place for yourself and put up walls to keep others out. If you do, you may end up keeping out the very people you need most.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

Missing Communication

Without love you miss communication altogether.

Today at church we had a lesson about teaching and we were asked to draw the first thing that we thought of. The logical picture was a stick figure, a blackboard, desks, and students. I stink at drawing. My brother who is a very good artist would say that I just have not taken the time to practice. I haven’t and I stink. So I drew two hearts – one inside of the other. I drew hearts because real teaching requires love. Two hearts because it takes two people to learn: each with love enough to listen. Without love you miss communication altogether.

The Greeks called is Agapé. Christians call it Charity. It is the ultimate love of God and one’s neighbor. It is lacking and we need it now more than ever. Otherwise, we are going to keep talking at each other and we are going to keep missing each other. We are not listening. We are not communicating. We are not learning.

The love that I am referring to is hard. Really hard. It is so slippery in the face of all that we experience. This love is what it takes to forgive cruelty and hate. This love is what it takes to dispel fear. This love transcends language. This love is the most powerful force in the universe.

In our day to day interactions with the people around us, in our conversations with family and friends and strangers, we need people who listen, who share real experiences, and who assume the best of each other. We need people who have this ability to love.

I met a man during my time in the psych ward. He originated from a different background and Black English was his native tongue. It is not mine, and I had difficulty understanding him. Nevertheless, we spend hours talking about life, about defeat, and about God. All I could do was listen. He taught me about poverty and prison. He taught me about pride and humility. He taught me about redemption and about paying attention to the signals God is sending. This man knew things I could not know because he has lived a life I have not lived. I had to listen carefully to be able to understand: not to judge, or to respond, or to correct. Just to understand. And in this process, I came to love him.

It is easy to label people, put them in boxes, and ignore them. It is harder to love them. But if we allow that love into our lives it will change us for the better.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

Measure Up

We feed ourselves a steady diet of empty shoulds and oughts and then wonder why we are starving for self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem.

Measurements have always puzzled me. We only know how long something is based on the measure of something else.

Maybe that is why it is inevitable that we measure our own lives and accomplishments against the lives and accomplishments others. We see the perfection portrayed by others in real life and online and we measure it against our weaknesses. That perfection becomes our standard. Inevitably, we fall short. What a sure-fire way to set ourselves up for failure and make ourselves miserable. We feed ourselves a steady diet of empty shoulds and oughts and then wonder why we are starving for self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem.

The people around us are not standards that we should measure our lives against. We don’t really know their lives, their challenges, their failures, their struggles, or their weaknesses. It doesn’t work and it is not what they are there for. We are here to help each other, and comparison steals our focus away from loving and serving others and focuses our attention wholly on ourselves.

Yes, we should strive for admirable qualities that we see in others. But that striving should not be done to help us to measure up to them, but to grow ourselves. The only person I should be measuring myself against is me – the best version of myself – because I cannot be anyone else.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

Refined

Do you ever feel like you will crumble under the weight of the expectations on you?

Note: I do not intend for this blog to be religious. However, as my faith is one of the main lights in my darkness, from time to time, you will get my thoughts on religion. I will always note if this is the case and if that bothers you and you do not want to read it, you are welcome to pass it over and return again another day. 

I used to envision God as a powerful blacksmith standing at his forge hammering away at souls, trying to form them into beautiful, useful, righteous widgets. His commandments and all of the expectations that He has were a big black iron anvil, the hammer was my required obedience, and I was this hideously misshapen lump of semi-precious metal being pounded and pounded and pounded as He tried to form me into something of value.

All that pounding hurt.

This process as you might imagine hardly made me want to keep the commandments, it hardly made me feel loving toward the blacksmith, and it hardly made me feel like any progress was being made. I kept being broken and hurt and He kept hammering away at me trying to fix me. Except I never felt like I was getting any better.

Do you ever feel that constant pounding? Do you ever feel like you will crumble under the weight of the expectations on you? 

There is a scripture in Malachi that is repeated in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants. When this happens, when the Lord repeats Himself, I assume that it is of special importance. It says, “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.”

Silver is a precious metal. It has intrinsic value whenever or wherever it is found. No amount of impurity can take away its value. Period. But a specific amount of refinement is required to make it useful for a certain purpose.

God is not pounding us to make us into something of value. Our value was never in question in His mind. We are His children. We are precious to Him and there is nothing that we can do to negate our value.

This helped me to rethink my mental image. There is no iron anvil, no pounding hammer. The commandments are the heat that help Him to remove our impurities. They provide a standard to live up to and when combined with the grace of Jesus Christ, they help us to be purified. And obedience is not the process by which He hammers us into who He wants us to be, obedience is the process by which we consecrate our lives to Him.

What if I am the way that He made me so that when He refined me and purified me, I would be fit to serve the purpose He has in mind for me? Would that change the way that I feel about my trials?

This is a painful experience. Some days I am still very angry that this is what the refining process entails. But it means a lot to me to know that He allows me to be tried because He knows my worth and He wants to help me to reach my potential. And it means even more to me to know that “He . . . sit[s] as a refiner of silver,” that I am precious to Him, and that I am always in His care.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

On The Road

If you are facing your own road closure sign in life, please remember, the journey doesn’t end here.

I chatted with a friend a few weeks ago who is going through a hard time. Life took an unexpected turn and placed her somewhere new and she’s scared not just of the new path she has to walk down, but because she feels like she fell short. She feels like she wasn’t enough and since it didn’t work out last time maybe something is wrong with her. Maybe she just isn’t cut out for this. Maybe she is a failure. And if it didn’t work out last time maybe it won’t work out this time or the next time or ever. I think she wondered in her heart of hearts if she should just give up.

In 2010, I took a leap of faith and moved across the United States to live with a good friend of mine. I made the decision on a whim in the hopes that moving would draw me out of the directionless rut that my life had fallen into. I packed up my worldly possessions, crammed them into the back of “Peppy,” my trusty blue green Toyota Corolla, and headed out West.

My friend flew out to make the long drive with me and we were having a pleasant trip until, when driving through central Iowa, we encountered an obstacle. We came upon a lake where the highway should have been that was blocked off by several large road closure signs. Unbeknownst to us, record rainfall had flooded the interstate making it impassable for more than 30 miles. We had to take a detour using back roads through a state we had never been to. We had no idea where we were going. It was daunting, discouraging, and completely unanticipated.

 

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Yeah, we’re not driving through that.

But when we got to that road closure sign and saw the river beyond it that used to be highway, it never occurred to us once to turn around and go back to where we came from. It certainly never occurred to us to move there and put down roots. We found another route to our destination. And although it made us take a path that was much more difficult to navigate, we saw so much more beauty in our travels than we would have ever encountered on that bare stretch of highway anyway.

Life is just like that sometimes. We are cruising down the highway singing show tunes at the top of our lungs (don’t judge me) and life says, “Nope, this road’s closed. Sorry.” And we have three choices. We can give up and go back, we can stay where we are, or we can choose another, sometimes harder, path to take us to where we want to be.

If you are facing your own road closure sign in life, please remember, the journey doesn’t end here. Be brave. Keep going. You can and will make it to your destination. I have faith in you. You are not a failure. Please don’t give up. Your detour may make your journey harder and longer than you planned, but I promise there is beauty to be found there too and in the end you will arrive where you were meant to be.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels