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Extension Cords Of Hope

by Victor Parachin

All of us should live in ways that make a difference to someone, somewhere.

It was in April 1996, while reading through an optometry journal, that Cheryl Landry received an overseas calling. The optometrist from Woonsocket, Rhode island, noticed a recruitment ad for medical professionals to treat war refugees in Bosnia. When she called for more information, Landry was told the relief organization didn't have an established program. However, if she could pay her own travel expenses and bring all the necessary equipment, the organization's volunteers would help her reach refugees once she got there.

When Landry told her parents and husband, George Rouse, that she felt compelled to go and help, "it went over like a lead balloon." While the family was not surprised by her compassion, they were concerned about her safety. Nevertheless, Landry forged ahead by launching a massive drive to collect used eyeglasses. Friends, strangers and eyeglass companies from across the United States eventually donated 7,000 pairs. For four days prior to her flight, Landry's living room became an eyeglass "factory". Friends and colleagues worked around the clock to clean, repair, label and bag the lenses.

As soon as she landed with her 18 boxes of glasses in Split, Croatia, Landry started examining patients at orphanages, asylums and refugee camps. In a region where a single pair of glasses costs a month's salary, "people were very grateful," Landry says. Yet, her accomplishments were bittersweet because Landry could meet only a fraction of the need.

"When I tried to leave, people were running after me, yelling, 'Doctor! Doctor! Please, please!"' she recalls painfully. She returned again three more times, but on those occasions she tried to focus on children, the war's youngest victims. Even though she saw go children per day, some continue to stand out in her mind. There was a 5-year-old girl whose severely crossed eyes straightened instantly with proper lenses. And there was a little boy in an orphanage who had been found in a garbage can. He was farsighted but was wearing lenses designed for someone with severe nearsightedness. Because of the great need, Landry is planning additional visits to the area.

Cheryl Landry can best be described as a person who is an extension cord of hope. She brings light into the dark and despairing places of life. Like Landry, all of us should live in ways that make a difference to someone, somewhere. "Do all the good you can, to all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as often as ever you can, as long as you can," urged the 19th century minister and writer Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Of course, not everyone can cross an ocean to help in a war-torn country as Cheryl Landry did. Yet there are needs that can be met in every neighborhood, community even within a family. Here are some ways of being extension cords of hope where you live and work:

1) Give someone a break. If it is within your means, make good things happen to someone who is in need. Be stimulated by this wisdom from German novelist Johann Paul Friedrich Richter: "Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good. Try to use ordinary situations."

Consider the generosity and compassion exhibited by a few individuals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A few years ago, 12-year-old Joey Jones was living with his mother in a homeless shelter. There he happened to see ice skating competitions on television. Although he had never skated in his life, Joey was fascinated by what he saw. He pleaded with his mother to take him ice skating. When she was finally able to generate enough discretionary income, she took him to a local ice rink. There, an ice skating coach spotted Joey's natural talent and began coaching him free of charge.

Soon others, inspired by both Joey's ability and the coach's generosity, began donating money to help Joey train. With available money, Joey began working out at the rink four hours per day. Within a year, he won a gold medal at the State Games of America in St. Louis, Missouri. Today he and his mother are no longer homeless and Joey has a beautiful dream that motivates his life—he hopes to make it to the Olympics and become a world champion skater.

2) Shine light into a dark place. Be the bearer of light for someone who is in a dark place. Tammy Parker of Dallas, Texas, is a single mother with one child. They reside in a small apartment and live from paycheck to paycheck. Every Christmas Parker receives a bonus. One year she decided to spend a substantial part of that bonus on someone, like herself, who is struggling financially.

She called her local grocery store manager asking if he knew of anyone who needed some help at Christmas. The manager told her about a young woman whose husband was injured and unable to work. Parker also learned the family had two children aged 10 and 4, both of whom understood why they could not have Christmas that year. Parker and her daughter, Brittany, went out and spent $200 of her bonus to make sure the family had a wonderful and blessed Christmas. For Parker it was not only an opportunity to share from her "abundance" but to show her daughter that although they don't have much, there are those who have less and that it is important to remember them.

3) Put love where there is indifference. Be guided by this wisdom from Mother Teresa: "Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough; money can be got, but [people] need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go; first of all in your own home. Give love to your children to your wife or husband, to a next-door neighbor". Remember that the love you share softens the blows of life and provides a vital buffer against life's bruises.

4) Use your hardships to make life easier for others. "Into each life some rain must fall; some days must be dark and dreary," wrote the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Take the rain that has fallen into your life and use that past pain as a motivator to make life easier for others.

When singer Shania Twain grew up in Timmins, Ontario, Canada, her father, Jerry, was regularly out of work. He was too proud to accept any form of public assistance, which often meant the refrigerator was empty and the children were hungry. "Most kids feel inferior if they don't have the right jeans on," says Twain. I was way beyond that. I was worried about what was in my lunch. Nobody knew we were hungry, and I did everything I could to hide it," often bringing a mustard sandwich to school, she recalls.

Twain has never forgotten her experience with poverty. Today, proceeds from her concerts are donated to local charities that aid hungry children. The connection is intensely personal for Twain: I was that hungry kid," she explains. "My goal is to save kids the humiliation, the anguish of feeling inferior."

Like Twain, we should take whatever suffering, hardship or difficulty has come into our lives and use the experience to humanize our soul, sensitize our spirit and energize our will.

Victor Parachin is a minister and freelance writer living in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 

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