Just stand there shining

The Gay Head Lighthouse, Aquinnah, Martha's Vineyard Massachusetts, September 2012

The Gay Head Lighthouse, Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts, September 2012

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” — Anne Lamott

I don’t want to sound paranoid, but people are watching us.  They watch us in grocery store checkout lines, in doctors’ waiting rooms, or sitting at the wheel at a stoplight in gridlock.  They overhear our cell phone conversations on the subway and at ball games.  And they see how we act and react, in big and small dramas, every day of our lives.

Some of these people are strangers, and some are our children, spouses or friends.  Some of them are doing okay, but many of them are caught in heartaches and crises of their own.  It’s sobering to realize that we have countless tiny chances every day to make life a bit brighter for almost everyone we meet.  A smile, a kind word, patience with someone who’s obviously struggling, even if that person is our waitress or cashier or obnoxious co-worker.

One recent morning I went down to the hospital cafeteria to have breakfast.  It was the day after Jeff’s portal vein embolization, and the doctors were pleased with how things went.  We had begun to feel hopeful again.  The woman who served my eggs greeted me with a beaming smile and asked how I was doing.  “Better than I was yesterday,” I replied with obvious happiness.  You would have thought I was her best friend as she broke into an even bigger smile and said, “I’m so glad you are feeling better! Praise God that you are better today!” I’m not sure exactly why, but that woman’s kindness and sincerity supercharged my already happy mood.  And if my mood had been low, I feel certain she would have had something equally encouraging to say.

The troubles of the world can be overwhelming.  Sometimes we get confused into thinking that fixing global problems requires the authority of the President or the Pope or a greedy CEO somewhere.  We may feel that we are insignificant and powerless, unable to make anything better.  When we feel that way, we are normal and typical, but incorrect.  The positive changes we make may never be featured on the evening news, or even in somebody’s yearly holiday letter.  But that makes them no less real.  I know this is so because of all the times when people who had no idea they were changing my mood, my thinking or my life have given me encouragement, compassion or simple courtesy just when I needed it most, when I was on some undefined edge, about to snap or lose heart.

Today, I hope you will celebrate the opportunity to spread cheer and good will on an ordinary day.  You don’t have to go out searching for ways to make the world better.  Just stand where you are, shining.

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  1. I shall try to remember this. Love you. Keeping you always in my prayers.

    • Thank you Amy.

  2. This fits with what God’s been talking with me about the past few days. We need to be mindful of how our decisions, actions, and words affect others. It’s humbling (and a bit scary!) to think of the huge responsibility we have as Christians to emulate Christ. On ther other hand, if we stay connected to Him it will come naturally.

    • Barb, I think you have hit on the “secret” there – if it feels forced and unnatural, we probably aren’t quite getting the picture. That’s not to say that we will enjoy everything we do — far from it — and there is some value to the recovery motto “fake it til you make it.” But I think that my best moments of being like Jesus probably happen when I’m hardly even aware of it, if that makes sense.

  3. That makes me feel good. Why wait for an auspicious moment to do something good? Why not do the little bit now instead of waiting for the big chance that may never arrive?
    The other day I praised a colleague of mine (for her beautiful handwriting) who rarely got any appreciation from others. I later came to know that she was happily sharing my words with her friends. And that in turn made my day. Life is beautiful!

    • Bindu, yes life is beautiful and how wonderful to have such moments when we understand what a gift it is. I am so happy you took the time to say some words of praise to your co-worker. Whenever I notice something good about someone and let them know of my appreciation, or when someone does the same for me, I realize how powerful words and even small gestures can be. I find a lot of joy in reading others’ blogs and seeing their photos in which they are taking note of praiseworthy things in their world. For me, it can really halt a bad mood in its tracks or add to a cheerful mood. Thank you for shining!

  4. You truly are a beacon in the night, just like that lighthouse in the image! I’m glad things are going well. May Jeff continue to do well so that he can soon pack new picnic baskets for you! z

    • Thanks so much Z, I appreciate your kind words and having you visit my blog. Your blog is another “lighthouse” and we are so blessed to have so many shining from all over the world online. With all the strife in the news it really helps my spirit to “defeat despair” when I can see and read how many people are compassionate, thoughtful, friendly and peace-loving. Thanks for your good wishes for us – I will keep you posted on how things are going. Have a wonderful week!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, you really are a “point of light” and I look forward every morning to reading your words that always accompany a beautiful photograph. The cafeteria worker was serving up so much more than breakfast. What a heartwarming story! I related to your words this afternoon when I offered to pick the two granddaughters and friends up from the movie. My daughter was so overjoyed. It gave her an extra hour before she had to take them to church youth group. Her hug and smile told me I was her lighthouse in her world of busyness. Hope you’re enjoying the weekend. Sheila

    • Sheila, thanks so much for your encouragement – I am always so happy when someone tells me they enjoy my work. YES, what a blessing to give your daughter a bit of time! Because we never lived near our extended families, I have always been so envious of parents who have caring grandparents, aunts and uncles there to give the sort of unconditional support that we all need so much. I agree, the kind lady in the cafeteria was brightening the morning for the people she saw. She had no idea how her words touched me and she certainly could never have guessed that anyone would be reading about her simple expression of warmth. I am sure she must touch many others every day. I am always so impressed to see a cheerful attitude in people who work jobs that involve public contact. As I’m sure you and Bill have learned, you see all sorts of people and sometimes it takes real effort to stay sunny. Hope this week is very good to you!

  6. Judy

    I have a soft spot for lighthouses and loved what you had to say. It is amazing how a smile for a stranger can change their whole attitude. The barriers come down and they find their smile, too.

    • Thanks Judy, I’m so glad you like the post. I love lighthouses too, and have already posted photos of several here. Re: the smiles, lately I’ve become so aware of what a difference it makes. You’re right, everything is instantly more relaxed when people are smiling. Even when I force myself to smile, there’s something about doing it that makes me happier. Thanks again for visiting here, and for your comment.

  7. Julia: Thank you for spreading your special joy to us and for the way you “shine” thru your words!

    • Thank YOU Mary Ann, you are one of my favorite personal lighthouses! 🙂

      • Now I have a huge smile & a “glow” in my heart caused by your kindness!

  8. Susan

    Thank you Julia. You are an encourager. Blessings to you and your family.

    • Thank you so much, your visit and comment are an encouragement to us, too!

  9. I really love that idea of being a beacon for someone when they least expect it. I think I’ve found many on my travels thru WP. So lovely that you were treated with kindness by a total stranger. Reminds me of all that’s good in humanity when I hear things like that. Also glad to hear Jeff’s procedure was a success Julia, that’s a blessing to be sure.

    • Yes, one of the things I love best about travel (whether online or in the “real” world) is the discovery of how many really nice people there are everywhere. I appreciate your good wishes and your visits here!

  10. Because the Other Person is living in his own story, he is filtering your shared experience through his own grid of fears, hopes, experiences. Which is why it usually doesn’t work to take things personally when the Other reacts in some way that is disappointing. A related tangent.

    It’s a pleasure to meet
    a bona fide writer, Julia.


    • Diana, thanks for your kind words and your comment. Yes, I have a lot of trouble at times with the “cognitive error” of personalizing other people’s reactions that may be based in something totally apart from and irrelevant to me. I have enjoyed reading some of what David Burns has written about these types of unhelpful thought patterns. They are so easy to fall into, but as you say, don’t usually work for us. I appreciate your visits here!

  11. Caroline

    Juila, Thanks for the follow! It looks like we have many things in common – thanks for these words and for sharing your heart!

    • You’re welcome, I’m so happy to have you visit here!


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