Every once in a while something happens that causes us to take notice and reminds us that we could be paying a little closer attention to what’s happening in our lives and to the people around us. Sometimes a reality check comes unexpectedly like the reminder I got that I’m not as young as I think I am when I popped my knee, not working out, but shifting on the couch. It hurt so much I had to put my head between my knees because I was starting to pass out. Sometimes we know those reminders are out there, but we avoid thinking about them like the scale sitting there waiting to let us know where (or how heavily) we stand. And there are some reality checks we purposely set up to make sure we’re headed in the right direction like a list of goals we want to achieve.

As I walked with a friend and we talked about this and that, she said that there are people who, when they see her, cross to the other side of the street or pull their children closer or clutch their purses a little tighter…even though she herself is walking along with her own children. Not only have I never experienced anything like that, but because it’s not part of my reality it hadn’t occurred to me that that kind of thing still goes on regularly. I realized that it’s too easy to live in our own little bubbles, not paying attention to what’s really going on around us. It’s so easy to go about our comfortable lives and never see the injustices and tragedies happening around us. Maybe that seems a bit melodramatic, but only because many of us are fortunate enough to have never experienced prejudice, poverty or violence firsthand.

Watching the news isn’t the same as seeing the world up-close and personal. Growing up, I’d seen footage of starving children on TV and always felt sorry for them, but it wasn’t until I had the privilege of going to Africa on a mission trip and interacting with children just like I’d seen on TV that it really hit home. We may not all be able to go to another country, but it’s not necessary. There are people suffering in one way or another right around us. We just have to pay attention. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved with people who need our help. And please, while it does take money to help people, just giving a donation here and there is not the same as getting involved.

Making a difference could mean volunteering at a homeless or women’s shelter, or at a school (don’t even get me started on the subject of our school system), or at a food bank. Another option is to adopt a “grandparent” at a local nursing home or retirement center. Or adopt a soldier overseas who doesn’t have anyone supporting them. Or it could be as simple as deciding to smile at every person you come in contact with each day. You never know, you could be the only one who showed kindness to one of those people you encountered and what a difference that would make.

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