Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Living with Less

The crisis in Haiti is a stark reminder of how little so many others are able to live on. Of course, it’s not just in Haiti; it’s all over the world and in our own backyard. How many times do you see people appear to be perfectly happy living with a lot less than you have?

The other day, one of our producers circulated an article called, “What Could You Live Without?” which immediately struck a chord with me and my circle of friends for a variety of different reasons, I’m sure.

I had just had a conversation a couple days earlier about having moved three separate times and still had boxes that had never been unpacked; just moved from one place to the next. I had decided those were clearly items that I could live without and had either trashed or donated the contents. I also have a storage unit with things that I guess I still want - some because they mean something to me, but I just don’t have room for them, and others simply because I purchased them, and they belong to me. But really, if they’re stored away and neither I or my boys are using them, what’s the use of keeping them?

How many of us have stuff we feel entitled to but don’t really need? Why is it so hard to part with them? I think the only way to deal with it honestly is determine what stuff represents in our lives.

Most of us go through a period where the stuff that we own defines us in a way. After all, when we’re in college, working toward landing our dream jobs, we seldom are thinking in terms of the happiness that career will bring us or the service we will be providing others. We’re more likely to be thinking of the salaries we’ll earn and what material things we will be able to purchase. No judgment! It’s only natural to want our lifestyle to reflect our earnings, and in this material world, most of us are judged by our homes, our cars, our clothes, our jewelry and our purses.

But there comes in a time in our lives when we get a sort of wake-up call that makes us realize either we can or have to learn to live with less. And then, we come to see that the people who wanted to be around us because of our titles, cars and homes were not that important after all. It’s amazing how scarce those people become when either we or they begin to lose some of the stuff that had us so puffed up in the first place.

At some point, we begin to shed the things we thought we had to have, and it’s better when the decision to part with these things is ours. But either way, we learn that more isn’t always better.

The reality show "Hoarders" is an extreme view of our sometimes-pathological desire to hold on to things past their usefulness. My son Tyler’s favorite program, “Clean House,” (yes, he has a thing for Niecy Nash) is another more realistic look at how people can let too much stuff get the best of them, causing their houses and their families to look like a hot mess.

I’ve never been one to collect a lot of clutter in my home or in my life. When things and people are no longer useful - or I should say no longer helpful and positive - I’m pretty good about letting them go.

On the other hand, I have a friend who this Christmas realized that she hadn’t even put away some of the gifts she and her family got the previous year. Her tendency to hold on to stuff, people and issues adds a lot of unnecessary stress to her cluttered life. She has to determine for herself what she needs to let go of and what she needs to keep.

Over the last few years, I’ve downsized my life in all kinds of areas, but I’ve tried to upgrade where it counts, hoping to reach the balance most of us strive for. I’m not there yet. But I’m close.

I’ve been blessed with all the trappings that spelled out success professionally and personally. And I’ve also struggled. And through it all, God has been with me.

Philippians 4:12 says, "I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need."

What can you live without? What can your family live without? What can your kids live without? The people in Haiti - many of whom probably thought they were living with as little as they could before that earthquake struck - found out they could live with even less.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We Are the World

The earthquake that plunged Haiti into darkness is another blow to a nation that has seen more than its share of misery.

My heart weeps for Haiti and her children.

The situation in Haiti has been so challenging for so many years, due to politics, poverty, prior natural disasters, etc. But this current situation is truly catastrophic.

Watching as Haitians piled bodies along the devastated streets of their capitol after the strongest earthquake in more than 200 years hit the poor Caribbean nation is almost more than I could bear.

And there was no discrimination – thousands of structures, from schools and shacks to the National Palace and the U.N. peacekeeping headquarters were crushed.

The devastation was so complete that it seemed likely the death toll could run well into the thousands – and I think that is a conservative estimate. Seeing the faces filled with pain and desperation, hearing the stories of unimaginable horror and hopelessness brought the same rush of feelings that I experienced during Hurricane Katrina.

At that time, I was hosting the morning show in Chicago, and we took call after call from people who were missing family members or friends and couldn't get in touch with them because of the power outage and downed phone lines. One in particular - Nate - was on the phone with his fiancée and three children when the water started to seep, then gush, into their home. This was Monday. The line went dead as he begged them to press towels under the door to stop the flow of water. He hasn't talked to them since. It broke my heart.

I remember the turmoil that we faced in 2004 when my mother was in Jamaica spending time with her mother, and Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc on the islands of Barbados, St. Vincent and Grenada. It spared Jamaica its full fury, but it still destroyed homes and infrastructures and killed at least 16 people.

We were unable to reach my mom for two days. It was the longest two days of my life, but she made it home to her husband, two children and six grandchildren - not like the mother who begged her husband to just let her go so he could save her children. He doesn't know if she made it or not.

In light of the tragedy in New Orleans, a co-worker vowed to mend a relationship with his estranged father of more than 30 years who made it safely out of the city. And others have just vowed to reconnect with estranged family members or friends. Sometimes it takes destruction of this magnitude to make miracles happen.

The earthquake in Haiti has been estimated to be 10 times more devastating than Hurricane Katrina. But that allows for 10 times the blessings to flow from such a tragic situation.

The show will be traveling to Haiti today and will broadcast from Port-au-Prince tomorrow morning (Friday, Jan. 15th). Tom’s goal is to set up a communication center that would allow the Haitian community to contact their loved ones in the states and abroad to give them some assurances that they are okay.

My thoughts and prayers are continuously with the millions who could have so easily been you or I, and I can’t help but wonder how those who have been dealt such devastation can ever rest easy again. I'm not sure how any of us can.

It is time to go about the business of healing and rebuilding, not only at home but globally. And not just for the immediate, but long term.

We are our brother’s keeper, but we haven’t been taking very good care of each other.

Time after time we get reminders that we should not wait until a tragedy strikes to realize who's important to us and why. If you're blessed enough to be in reach of someone you love, let them know today. But it’s also time to start treating the world as family.

There may not be much that you can do to help in Haiti – even though I would stress that every little bit counts – but there are some situations in your own community, block and home that need help.

What change can you make today?

I challenge you to start an earthquake of your own. A good deed done today will send aftershocks for a long time to come.