Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Fool-Proof Resolution (Seriously)

Ah, the new year is freshly upon us! A time to reflect upon the past 365 days and then pledge our allegiance and dedication to what is important and how we we will resolve to accomplish these amazing feats and challenges. How will we better our lives in the upcoming year? Here are a few suggestions...

Loose weight? This is a popular goal and usually lasts until the spring when the other, non-human bears come out of hibernation. Then we slowly and methodically make our way from shopping at the healthy, organic grocery store to parking in the furthest recesses of the Golden Corral parking lot so no one recognizes our car.

Exercise? This is so excellent in theory... Waking up at 5:30 am. Lifting heavy things. Stretching in uncomfortable places. Sweating. Pass.

Being kinder? Of all the goals we set forth for ourselves, this seems the most attainable and the most benevolent. Well, until we have to forage our way through the various return lines and checkout counters and parking lots sprinkled throughout Kalispell. Perhaps it is a good thing no one can hear us at traffic lights.

So there you have it; sometimes even our best intentioned plans can start strongly only to fade as time progresses. In order to help you set realistic goals for the new year that will make this city a better place, please allow me to offer two resolutions that will help several people at once: Time or money.

In terms of how to help the homeless, there is really no wrong way to assist. Any help is beneficial for the community in general. If you are wondering on whether your money or your time would be a better donation; either contribution is vital as both are crucial to the daily operations of Samaritan House.

Time is a precious commodity and for many people there are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish their own tasks, let alone tend to the needs of others. Volunteering time is not an option for some people. Giving money will provide clothing, education, food, and shelter. It will help the homeless in more ways than you may realize and the more money that is given, the more services and help can be provided.

But giving money is far from the only way to help. You can also give your time to the homeless. We depend heavily upon volunteers, especially in regards to our meal services. We understand not everyone is able to donate finances because times are increasingly tough for many of us and our money is hard-earned and well-deserved. Donating time is just as valuable as giving money. You can spend your time volunteering to serve or prepare meals, or working on numerous projects that will benefit the homeless. Samaritan House never has a shortage of projects needing to be finished... Everything from sorting food and clothes, to deep cleaning.

While many look past the homeless, caught up in their own busy world, you have the opportunity to do something. If you have a desire to help, then give to the homeless, be it money or your time. Your contribution helps provide hope to some of those who need it most. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog and if you have any questions about how you can help, please don't hesitate to call our office at 257-5801.

And, have a happy new year!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The (Homeless) Brady Bunch

In an attempt to make us reexamine how a family can end up either homeless or at least a step or two away from becoming homeless, here is a classic tale retold. What if one of our favorite television families were transported from the 1960s to today? And what if they endured a few bumps in the road along the way. Here is a modern rendition of the Brady Bunch.

The first thing we need to do is update the cost of living for the Bradys. Their living situation needs to be adjusted to the current market in California, where they lived. A mere apartment in Los Angeles can demand the renter makes nearly $60,000 a year just to cover the basic cost of rent, insurance, and utilities. Have you seen the size of the house they lived in? The price would be astronomical.

Another variable to consider is the size of the Bunch. The Brady family consisted of 2 parents, 6 kids, a housekeeper, and a dog. I suppose we could also throw in cousin Oliver even though he was the most contrived and annoying story line ever. There is no feasible way that a family of 10 could live in that San Bernardino neighborhood on Mike's single salary as an architect. It makes fine television, but it is simply not realistic.

Say goodbye to Alice, the housekeeper. Her salary would be absolutely unattainable on a single-income budget when combined with the rest of the family expenses. Hopefully, Sam the butcher would be willing to either make an honest woman out of her or at least give her a job at his shop. If not, a life on the streets becomes a very real possibility for our favorite quirky maid.

The next change would most likely be Carol getting a job to help out. To support their lifestyle, the Brady family would have to have a dual income with each wage-earner pulling in a nice amount. But the problem is Carol's options are limited because she has only a high school diploma and no real working experience, so all she can find is something that pays minimum wage. Being a trophy wife on TV is fine... not so much in the real world. Another conundrum is that she is forced to be away from home while she's working, so what about the children? They cannot be left unattended or every lamp in the house will be broken due to errant footballs being tossed to and fro.

This is where the revisionist narrative really takes a U-turn. Because the mom is gone for long stretches while working, the oldest children, Marcia and Greg, take over childcare duties. Affording child care is out of the question, so this means Greg never gets to form his rock and roll alter ego, Johnny Bravo, and Marcia never has a chance to meet Davy Jones and secure that perfect kiss. Lives are changed forever on several fronts.

Unfortunately, family trauma and stress can lead to the worst possible scenarios. Mike, the father, begins to feel the weight of the situation and starts to drink and become abusive. Money is stretched thin and nerves begin to fray. Carol gives him an ultimatum to either clean himself up or move out, groovy polyester suits and all... so he bolts.

Ugh. Now Carol is a single mom trying to raise an entire family on a minimum wage job while maintaining her current standard of living. Not happening. With Mike, the primary wage earner, gone, the Bunch now has no choice but to move out of their swanky neighborhood and into a smaller two-bedroom apartment in Reseda. Carol decides she needs to go to community college but that further complicates the issue because her work schedule demands she must take classes at night.

Marcia and Greg now must enter the workforce and they both get jobs slinging burgers while the next oldest kids, Jan and Peter assume watching the youngest three siblings (Remember, cousin Oliver is with them). Life has grown more somber because they had to get rid of Tiger, their beloved dog because the apartment complex does not allow pets. This takes an emotional toll on everyone.

Life has changed. Cindy and Bobby, the youngest Bradys, decide they have become too great a burden on the family and they run away, never to be heard from again. Cousin Oliver begins hanging around the wrong crowd and gets sent to jail for grand larceny and aggravated assault. This is definitely not the show Sherwood Shwartz had envisioned. The Brady Bunch has fallen apart and now resembles a more modern story that is closer to reality for many families.

I understand I have created several characterizations and engaged in some sweeping stereotypes. But I hope you can see the greater picture of what I'm trying to convey, which is life is not a romantic or family-based comedy. Not all of our problems are solved in nice and tidy 30 minute increments. There are real families who go through things like this every day and they don't have the luxury of turning the TV off and restarting the next day.

As we approach this new year, let us remember there are others who are constantly living paycheck to paycheck, just one catastrophe away from becoming homeless. least do it for Alice!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays!

I like the peace an solitude this time of year affords.

Many of you are experiencing a few days off from work as the year winds down and the holidays arrive. Others are still working around the clock, doing what it takes to provide for your loved ones. No matter what your job entails, please take some time to remember that the world is a better place when you realize you are not the only one living in it.

Samaritan House would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, our readers and supporters, for your partnership over the past year. We appreciate everything you have done for us and we look forward to partnering with you again in the new year. It is difficult to predict, with certainty, how the coming year will unfold. We have some definite goals we want to accomplish and are honored to have your support. If we truly want to rid the Flathead Valley of homelessness, then it is going to take effort and community collaboration. But for today, tomorrow, and the remainder of the holiday season... We are going to take a breath and reflect on what it takes to accomplish that.

Have an incredible holiday season as you reflect on what has happened in your life. Enjoy and cherish the loved ones who matter to you. Remember that you play a role, daily, if affecting the lives of those around you. This world would not be the same without your contributions of love, empathy, and kindness. You make this planet better for being on it!

So... Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Kwanzaa. No matter what your traditions or beliefs are, please have a wonderful time of joy, peace, and reflection as we approach the new year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The World According to Yoda

"Fear leads to anger, Anger leads to hate, Hate leads to Suffering." -Yoda

The whole universe is transfixed by the latest incarnation of the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens. Don't worry, this is not a blog about the movie or anything related to a galaxy far, far away. Having grown up with the original three movies (which are actually now the middle three movies), I always loved the above-mentioned line mentioned in The Empire Strikes Back and I think its brilliant and witty and it espouses an excellent sentiment that applies to life no matter what planet a person is from.

When a person fears someone or something and the fear starts to take over, the person may become angry with and then do something drastic. Fear and anger are similar emotions. They often intertwine around each other but the fear usually leads to anger and the anger leads to action in order to eliminate the possibility of the fear becoming reality. We often fear what we don't know or understand because its easier to judge the unknown than to embrace it; we have a real problem with feeling uncomfortable.

Anger then leads to hate because if you become angry and can't stop feeling that emotion, you start to hate other things around you. It is rarely a sudden emotion that flashes and alerts everyone around you as to what is happening. Hate is methodical. It festers and boils and then comes out of hiding once a person has reached their limits.
Hate turns to suffering very quickly. Hating one someone could turn into a physical or emotional manifestation that causes you to act out. This will cause you to suffer as other people will not want to be around you.

Suffering destroys humanity because it lacks love and compassion and people walking around without compassion and empathy leads to us not realizing that other people are hurting, hence the suffering. Suffering is the logical conclusion of fear if we let fear get the best of us.

Fear and anger are similar emotions. They often intertwine each other but the fear usually leads to anger because the anger leads to action in order to eliminate the possibility of the fear becoming reality. Once anger sets in, it leads to suffering either due to revenge against an act caused by anger or it leads to suffering because negative emotions are by themselves cause suffering inside those who have it.

People often do not realize that when one suffers due to anger, it is poison for the spirit. It eliminates happiness, hope, and love. Without which, no kindness can grow or exist. But there are other emotions which have this pattern: envy, confusion, loss of control, and the like. We must strive to make it evident to ourselves exactly when we experience these things or we shall surely become victims of those things which can destroy us at the hands of another or worse, by our own hands.

So, please forgive the extreme nerdish advice. I hope it makes sense and I think it more than applies as we make our way through the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Heart and Mind

Although I am writing this blog in December, my message is not about the holidays. There is no “Ho, Ho, Ho” to be found in this article. You will find neither reindeer or mistletoe. Instead there is one simple message I think worth sharing: happiness through giving. Genuine giving can bring you incredible joy while assisting others on their paths to happiness. The greatest, most wonderful and sublime state is not Montana; it is the state of unconditional charity towards others. This the type of sentiment that is based on our ability to empathize with others while actively doing things to improve the situation of those around us.

It is more than merely sending a card.

We are all members of one humanity and in that sense must honor and give to others in order to benefit all of society. For things to work best, the power of love and giving must be heart-based, not negotiated only through the mind. The heart is the source and repository of love and joy. The mind by itself is not capable of feeling emotions and is used to process those emotions. You can teach your heart to resonate with love and joy. Too many people love according to their 'heads' and not their 'hearts.

But this takes effort. I wish it were as easy as typing these words, but as humans we are not capable of avoiding negative feelings. Circumstances of life catch us up into states of negative vibration. If we remain in these states we cannot experience love or joy, and our mind will continue to torment us with negative thoughts and resentments. It's all about refocusing our energy and efforts into positive channels. For example, anger at the politicians who allow homelessness and starvation can be transmuted into the joy of giving food to the needy.

The final thing I want to mention is to remember the origin of our humanity in the natural world. There is a rhythm of life and compassion for living things within the natural world. We can feel pure joy as we interact with nature other human beings. So let’s remember to turn off our electronics and other distractions which pull us away from our original nature of empathy and compassion. Not permanently, mind you, but just long enough to breathe and notice those around us.

As we aspire to live our lives within these principles we will find ourselves experiencing the pure joy of giving to ourselves and others. Let’s aspire to this on a daily basis, not just during the Christmas season. Giving does not have to be a present, nor money, although these are appreciated when appropriate. Giving can be time and energy and loving kindness, not just volunteering your time in a shelter.

Giving can be loving thoughts, prayers and meditations. With all the heart ache and chaos in this world, giving can be prayers for peace and ending wars. Giving can be signing petitions. Giving can be joining with others to improve the life conditions of other people or animals in this world. January will arrive after Christmas with the opportunity for New Years Resolutions. We don’t have to wait for January; we can start today, living in our hearts and in a state of unconditional love and joy.

Monday, December 14, 2015

One of a Kind(ness)

I will be the first to admit that I often have to "try" to get into the holiday spirit. It is so much easier to simply ignore all the chaos and hubbub that surrounds us this time of year. Inflatable reindeer and elves camped on our neighbor's lawn; multicolored lights dangling from every imaginable precipice... It never ends! So, the question becomes: how can I remain sane and even show a little kindness?

I mean, everyone benefits from showing kindness to others. Research has consistently shown that humans feel happier when they are performing acts of kindness. By finding ways to be good to others, you are creating opportunities for self-growth through this mutually beneficial exchange. Being kind to others does not mean that you have to sacrifice time or give away all your money. It is all about incorporating small and caring gestures into your everyday life. I think this is something the entire Flathead Valley can do.

It is a human instinct to be kind and compassionate toward others. This explains why you automatically jump out of your chair to help when someone falls or pull over to assist when you witness a car crash. Well...I guess one our of two isn't bad? The problem is that society has become increasingly individualistic, and people are constantly repressing that instinct to do good. We are almost afraid to help each other. Notice yourself resisting that urge and don't let it keep you from doing things such as stopping to help a person pick up the books she dropped, changing a flat tire for an elderly person or picking up the tab for a person who forgot his wallet.

But kindness doesn't have to be solely reactionary, it can be intentional and proactive!Challenge yourself to do something good for someone a certain number of times each week. You can bake cookies for your elderly neighbor, visit children at a local hospital, pay for a random person's drink at a coffee shop or send notes of appreciation to people you have worked with in the past. The beauty of these random acts is that you will spread happiness to others, and they are likely to "pay it forward." A study published in the March 2010 issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" found that cooperative behavior is contagious. Your small gestures are likely to create a chain reaction of kindness or an epidemic of compassion and empathy,

It is very important to also show love and kindness to those who are closest to you. If a friend is going through a loss or difficult time, you can show your support by cooking meals for her or helping her do household chores. You probably already do many things to support your loved ones, but showing them kindness randomly or without them asking you adds extra value to your gesture. Offer to baby-sit for a family member's kids so she can have a date with her spouse, treat a friend to a game or movie or host a "just because I love you" brunch for all your loved ones.

Anyway, it doesn't matter how you show kindness... Only that you DO show kindness.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Alone for the Holidays

Everyone experiences the holidays differently.

Throughout the many years we have been providing shelter for the homeless, we've housed thousands of people during this this time of year. Each scenario is as different and unique as the person staying with us. Often, we focus on families during the holidays because there might be children involved and it is sad to face the difficult truth that some kids spend this time of year in a homeless shelter. No one likes to imagine the holidays from a homeless child's perspective. But we also realize there is a particular kind of heaviness connected to those who are single and homeless.

And being alone for the holidays is not limited to those who are homeless. Just because a person has a place to live doesn't mean they are exempt from feelings and isolation that can result from being alone during the holidays. So here are some tips for how to cope with being by yourself during this time of year.

If you’re alone because someone close to you has died, or because your marriage or relationship has ended, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. There are others going trough the same thing you are experiencing and you don't have to feel like a pariah.

Sometimes spending time alone allows a person to recharge their batteries. There can be peace and solace when a lot of people are not always around. their Ask yourself – are you actually okay with being alone during the holidays, but feel that you should be spending it with other people? We’re all bombarded with images of happy families spending time together during the holidays. Remember that as wonderful as it can be to be with family, it’s also very stressful.

Don’t tell yourself that it’s not worth decorating or cooking when it’s just you. What’s wrong with decorating your place or cooking a special meal just for yourself? Chances are that doing the holiday activities that you’re used to doing with family or friends will give you a lift.

Don’t hide the fact that you’re spending the holidays alone from acquaintances or colleagues. If you’re frank about it, there’s a good chance that someone will invite you over for Christmas dinner.

Don’t drink. Alone and drunk is not a good combination. Chances are that you’ll become even more depressed.

Line up a special treat for yourself, like evening strolls to enjoy the lights, a concert or something else that will get you out of the house and make the holidays memorable.
Do some of the things that you did as a child, like watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or making Christmas cookies.

And last, you don’t have to be alone at the holidays. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship.

Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Volunteer your time to serve or deliver holidays meals for people in need. Ask your local hospital if the children’s ward needs volunteers.

At Samaritan House, we want everyone to enjoy this time time of year and we acknowledge it can be just as difficult for homeless singles as it is for homeless families.

Monday, December 7, 2015

For Your Reading Enjoyment

Have you ever heard the same phrase so often that it loses all connection to reality? Something uttered so many times that you tune it out and give it no serious thought, whatsoever? This happened to me a few days ago and it almost went unnoticed until I actually stopped and gave pause regarding what was said to me: "Enjoy the rest of your day."

The circumstances were unremarkable and mundane. My wife and I were exiting a movie and the theater attendant cheerily spouted this harmless-but-overused catchall phrase; six little words we utter to each other with about as much involuntary regularity as breathing. And we rarely pay attention as we meander about our lives. But what if we took this salutary snippet seriously and really did try to enjoy our day? Would we behave differently than if we merely went about our day with no emphasis on enjoyment? I mean, how does one enjoy a day, anyways?

I wasn't sure this endeavor was even possible, so I decided to take note of my surroundings for the rest of the day. I wanted to see of this if this pseudo-hippie attitude was even possible.

Driving away from the shopping complex, I shot a subtle glance sideways at my wife as she scrolled and tapped her phone. She held a device that could literally answer any question she desired, stream any movie or song she fancied, or connect her with any person on the planted she might want to converse with. But I don't know if she was enjoying it.

The guy next to me in the huge SUV at the stoplight looked agitated. His automobile was doing all the heavy lifting. I'm sure he hadn't walked from Calgary to Kalispell. I bet he never considered manually transporting all the packages he had in his trunk. Maybe he couldn't find a decent XM Radio station to listen to.

The couple across the aisle at the restaurant were complaining about the rareness of the gentleman's steak.

At the grocery store, there was a lady robotically chatting on her Bluetooth (I know... they still exist) but she didn't seem overly enjoyed regarding the 6,000 items in her cart.

Later that evening, I sat stone-faced on the couch when the football team I was rooting for gave up a game winning touchdown to the other team with 42 seconds left. There was no enjoyment to be found in my living room, for sure.

My kids argued and fought more than they played while on their XBox. This was not enjoyable for anyone within earshot.

So, as I finally crawled into bed and let my head sink into my overly soft pillow (again, sans any really enjoyment), I thought back to kid at the theater and his impossible request. How dare he have the audacity to taunt me with such a cruel and unattainable mantra!

Enjoy our days... How can we possibly do that with so many things lined up against at every single turn?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mark Twain (continued)

Here are some final thoughts from Mark Twain. I've officially held out as long as I can in regard to holiday posts...but next week I shall delve into the festive, Yuletide spirit!

5. Release yourself from entitlement.

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

When you are young your mom and dad may give you a lot of things. As you grow older you may have a sort of entitlement. You may feel like the world should just give you what you want or that it owes you something. This belief can cause a lot of anger and frustration in your life. Because the world may not give you what expect it to. On the other hand, this can be liberating too. You realize that it is up to you to shape your own life and for you to work towards what you want. You are not a kid anymore, waiting for your parents or the world to give you something. You are in the driver’s seat now. And you can go pretty much wherever you want.

6. If you’re taking a different path, prepare for reactions.

“A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

I think this has quite a bit of relevance to self-improvement. If you start to change or do something differently than you usually do then people may react in different ways. Some may be happy for you. Some may be indifferent. Some may be puzzled or react in negative and discouraging ways. Much of these reactions are probably not so much about you but about the person who said it and their life. How they feel about themselves is coming through in the words they use and judgements they make.

And that’s OK. I think it’s pretty likely that they won’t react as negatively as you may imagine. Or they will probably at least go back to focusing on their own challenges pretty soon. So what other people may say and think and letting that hold you back is probably just fantasy and barrier you build in your mind. You may find that when you finally cross that inner threshold you created then people around you may not shun you or go chasing after you with pitchforks. They might just go: “OK”.

7. Keep your focus steadily on what you want.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.”

What you focus your mind on greatly determines how things play out. You can focus on your problems and dwell in suffering and a victim mentality. Or you can focus on the positive in situation, what you can learn from that situation or just focus your mind on something entirely else. It may be “normal” to dwell on problems and swim around in a sea of negativity. But that is a choice. And a thought habit. You may reflexively start to dwell on problems instead of refocusing your mind on something more useful. But you can also start to build a habit of learning to gain more and more control of where you put your focus.

8. Don’t focus so much on making yourself feel good.

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”

This may be a bit of a counter-intuitive tip. But, one of the best ways to feel good about yourself is to make someone else feel good or to help them in some way. This is a great way to look at things to create an upward spiral of positivity and exchange of value between people. You help someone and both of you feel good. The person you helped feels inclined to give you a hand later on since people tend to want to reciprocate. And so the both of you are feeling good and helping each other.

Those positive feelings are contagious to other people and so you may end up making them feel good too. And the help you received from your friend may inspire you to go and help another friend. And so the upward spiral grows and continues.

9. Do what you want to do.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Awesome quote. And I really don’t have much to add to that one. Well, maybe to write it down and keep it as a daily reminder – on your fridge or bathroom door – of what you can actually do with your life.

10. I am leaving this internally blank so you can add your own mantra. Do it! Feel free to comment so others can see your idea and learn from it.