The Influence of One

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Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I suspect that many small groups are influenced by one person who has determination, perseverance, and commitment to a cause. Amanda and Jackie are two examples.

Pursuing her Ph.D. in Social Work, Amanda’s research studies focus on the plight of the homeless. For some, seeing those who are homeless can make us feel uncomfortable. Perhaps we even blame them for their situation, whether we attribute it to drug use (stop using), mental illness (take your medications), or some other occurrence (get a job) for which we believe them to be responsible. She is more than a researcher who merely studies factors impacting and contributing to homelessness. Amanda has compassion for those who live on the streets and is working to improve their quality of life. Struck by the lack of access homeless individuals have to adequate hygiene products and proper nutrition (something many of us take for granted), she founded the non-profit organization Giving Back Packs Los Angeles ( She does more than work to secure funding and products for the backpacks; Amanda goes out into the community to meet those she serves. She is dedicated to the cause of helping those who are less fortunate and tirelessly works to ease their pain. I believe that Giving Back Packs Los Angeles – and Amanda – will influence the masses for years to come.


(Photo courtesy of

Jackie is proof that when quiet people have something to say, it’s important and they deserve our attention. She is the founder of DIY Bridal Network ( and just as importantly, has become a strong advocate in the Black Lives Matter movement. She is troubled by the continual violence against Black men. Instead of lashing out and spewing hatred towards police officers when Black men are killed, she speaks of the hurt and injustice that abound when the officers are killed, too. After the police officers in Dallas were murdered, she noted that people who had been silent up to this point were now outraged. Jackie quietly asked: Do all lives truly matter, or just some? She is saddened and angered by all of the violence and deaths; she condones none of it. She doesn’t believe in an eye for an eye or retaliation. Rather, she uses her influence to challenge our beliefs so we can improve the landscape of our nation. Her quiet and thoughtful manner is coupled with peace and love. Jackie wants us to look inward and question if we are unwittingly contributing to tension in this country. It can be uncomfortable to think we could have racist beliefs when we don’t perceive ourselves that way. (Check out this article for some insights:,) She wants us to have conversations to raise awareness and have empathy. Due to her influence, I believe the conversations have already started.


Whether we choose to change our city, our nation, or our corner of the world, we can all exert our influence. Every day, we are provided with opportunities to make things better. For instance, my friend Krista was so touched by the outpouring of birthday wishes she received that she announced she was going to pay the kindness forward to someone else. It was important to her that someone else feel joy. Not all of us may be able to start non-profit organizations or feel comfortable proclaiming our beliefs, but we can all be powerful influences in our own way. And in doing so, we can elicit great change. It starts with us.

Happy Memorial Day?

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I find the phrase “Happy Memorial Day” a bit of an oxymoron. After all, when someone has died, we don’t say “Happy Anniversary” on the date of their death to their loved ones. Likewise, when paying homage, respect, and gratitude to the men and women who gave their lives for our country, it seems that happy isn’t the most appropriate word. Memorial Day is an especially difficult day for veterans who have lost their fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

I am honored to work with veterans each day, and to count among my friends people who serve and have served our country. I am fortunate none of these individuals have paid the ultimate sacrifice. But they know people who have.

My buddy Eric grieves the loss of Maj Megan McClung, someone whom he greatly admired. She left us 10 years ago when she was killed in Iraq. For Eric, her family, and those with whom she served, they feel her loss every day.

My friend Melissa lost her husband AT2 Dan Biddle in a military training accident. He died 20 years ago but he is never forgotten. His family and friends remember him every day, and on Memorial Day, his loss is especially profound.

These are just two examples where the loss of one veteran has a deep impact on those left behind. There are countless others – the Vietnam Vets who grieve their comrades who were left behind, the veterans of today who have lost their battle buddies or wingmen to suicide after grappling with the atrocities of war. For all of these people, Memorial Day is not happy. It is a day of reflection and mourning, of grief and sadness.

Amid the cook-outs and leisurely activities of this day, please remember to honor the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice so we may enjoy the freedoms we have.

The Thin Veil of Deceit

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People are allowed to live with their bad choices, someone told me. I agree. With those choices comes the thin veil of deceit, when people attempt to convince themselves and others things aren’t as bad as they seem. They know what they are doing. Everything is under control.

Except things are as bad as they seem, and oftentimes, are worse. Those who choose to do things that are unhealthy, such as use drugs, tell themselves their fellow drug users are friends who will stand by them. Except they don’t. They are only there as long as the drugs are there.

I’ve come to learn – shockingly – that happy, peaceful people don’t become drug addicts. They don’t need to drink away their sorrows, or shoot up to numb the empty feeling that gnaws at them. The empty, hollow feeling that results from the lack of love, warmth, and compassion they needed as a child and don’t know how to show themselves as adults. Time and again, I’ve seen people deceive themselves, trying to fill that void with drugs, sex, and risky behavior to escape feelings of loneliness and emptiness. All are temporary solutions. None take away the pain – both physical and emotional – the addict feels.

The family and friends who watch the addict suffer wear their own veils, deceiving themselves by believing they can “save” their loved one. With enough conversation, logic, love, and even prayer, the addict can forge a new path. If the addict wants to change. But not until then.

All the worry, rage, sadness, despair, and disappointment eats at the souls of the loved ones as we watch the addict spiral out of control. We can not save him from himself, for he has a right to make bad choices, to exchange sex for drugs, to lose jobs, to be a shell of the person he once was. He has the right to destroy his life. But he doesn’t have the right to destroy our lives, not without our permission.

The family and friends have a right to make choices as well. Instead of deceiving ourselves into thinking we will save the day, we can choose to keep the toxicity of addiction at bay. We can focus on our own health and well-being. Keep praying if it provides solace, but pray for peace, wisdom, compassion – for the addict and ourselves. We can support an addict when he is ready for change, but we don’t need to compromise ourselves in the meantime. In order for any of us to recover, whether we are the addict, the family, or the professionals who help, we need to remove our veils of deceit.




Death of a Coworker

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A coworker of mine, not much older than me, died recently. Fighting an illness, she had been in and out of work until the illness wore her down.

She was someone who deeply touched the lives of others. She has been described as kind, gentle, passionate, happy. When a coworker of hers was injured at work, she said the occurrence made her profoundly sad. From some individuals, this would seem overdone or dramatic. From her, it was genuine and heartfelt, as though she herself was deeply injured by the event.

In reading her obituary, I noticed how the focus was on her love of life and those in her life. I started thinking about what I want my obituary would say. How I would be remembered? Am I living my life the way I want to be remembered? Would it be my quick temper, or quick wit? The (appearance) of having little direction in life with my wanderings, or one who took risks which involved meeting some amazing people? Is it more important for others to remember how much money I have when I died, or how much I laughed when I lived?

In the end, the way we are remembered is up to us. Our actions dictate if we will be remembered for our joys, passions, values, and gifts instead of our struggles, travails, and shortcomings. Every moment we live gives us opportunities to write our story and determine the impression we leave behind. DSCN2127

Touched by God?

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I met a young man who said when he took opioids for the first time, he felt he had been touched by God. The joy he felt in that moment was unparalleled by any other emotion.

He reminded me of others who struggled with addiction. One quoted a little poem that said if you have heroin, you don’t need a husband or wife. Another literally said, “I just love heroin so much.” All of them spoke of the difficulty trying to be sober after experiencing this high. All of them wished they could move forward without drugs.

It is sad to hear people speak highly of an inanimate substance that takes the place of all meaningful relationships. It is difficult to watch them struggle with relapse, wishing they were able to find joy and peace without getting high.

I worry about those who experiment, either out of curiosity or because they are trying to fill a void. I worry  young people will inadvertently believe they are touched by God by using drugs and will spend their lives trying to replicate that feeling by using more potent, lethal drugs. I worry they will be afraid of their feelings – the crappy, sad, depressing feelings – and use drugs to cope instead of learning how to be still or rely on others.

I don’t believe that God touches people through drugs that rob of them of the ability to connect with others in meaningful ways. I believe we are touched by God through far simpler, almost ordinary moments. The most peaceful moment I experienced was at the New England Aquarium. My nephew, who was perhaps 9 at the time, and I were staring down into the giant aquarium in the middle of the building. Together, we stood silently amid the noise and chaos, watching the fish swim below us. For a moment, I heard none of the surrounding chatter. Rather, I felt content and peaceful. I am grateful I can attribute these feelings to a fond memory than attributing them to a drug.

It is my wish that others can experience moments of peace and solitude in the ordinary, with those they love and cherish. Perhaps then, we can learn that in those moments, God is touching us.

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