Because I grew up in the Soviet Union, I didn’t celebrate my first Christmas until 1991, when I was 16. Until then, I had never seen a manger scene, never heard a Christmas carol, and never been told the story of Jesus’ birth. But that year the truth and spirit of Christmas stormed my heart and mind and left me feeling tipsy with happiness from December 25th (Christmas in the West) to January 7th (Christmas according to the Julian calendar and the Russian Orthodox Church). I spent those two weeks with members of the Family International who had recently introduced me to Christ. We wished a happy Christmas to everyone we met, and passed out colorful posters with the Christmas story to thousands of people, many of whom, like me just a short while before, were hearing it for the first time.
I stood on the crowded bus, heart pounding and feeling flushed. I had read somewhere that a pregnant woman at rest is in effect working harder than the average person climbing a mountain. But that wasn’t the reason for my rapid heart rate and the resultant “glow.”
I was fuming. Here I was, over seven months pregnant, and no one offered me and my prominent belly their seat. I had been one of the last people to board the bus because nearly everyone else had pushed ahead to secure themselves a seat.
At about 3 pm on March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake hit the northeastern half of Japan. It was the worst earthquake in that area’s recorded history. Thousands were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were forced to evacuate and move in with friends or into temporary shelters.
The weather had been dark and rainy, and I felt just as gloomy. It happens to us all, I guess.
As I sat at my desk, I remembered it was the birthday of a longtime friend—a single, middle-aged woman who had dedicated the past 30 years to nursing and loved her work. Knowing that she didn’t have family in town, I decided to give her a call. Sure enough, she was on B shift, scheduled to work late into the evening, and wouldn’t have much of a birthday this year. As always, though, she sounded cheerful and was happy I had called.
The Respect Effect
A banker always tossed a coin in the cup of a legless beggar who sat on the street outside the bank. But unlike most people, the banker would always insist on getting one of the pencils the man had beside him. “You are a merchant,” the banker would say, “and I always expect to receive good value from the merchants I do business with.”
One day the legless man was not on the sidewalk. Time passed and the banker forgot about him until he walked into a public building one day. There in the concessions stand sat the former beggar, now the owner of his own small business.
I was submitting some legal paperwork,and to my dismay there were several discrepancies in my documents. Something that at first appeared easy to rectify instead took several weeks and numerous appointments to sort out.
At one of the offices where I had been sent, I came face to face with Olga. She struck me as efficient, but rather curt. We got off to a rough start. Mine was probably the hundredth problem she had had to deal with that day, and it seemed I would get no sympathy from her. To make matters worse, her computer froze and she had to reboot. She muttered that she was going to take an aspirin and would be back in a minute.
The sun was slipping below the horizon as I drove up the narrow two-lane road in central Mexico. I glanced at my wife, Amber, sleeping next to me. In the rearview mirror I could see our three daughters—Tory, the brilliant four-year-old; Shelly, who had just turned two and hardly seemed to stop talking; and baby Vanessa. All were also fast asleep. I considered stopping for coffee, but decided against it. Stopping would surely wake everyone up. Plus we were in a race against time. I didn’t mind driving in the evening, when the children were asleep and the vehicle was cool. It also gave me time to think. I needed that. It had been a long year!
Knowing that I am actively involved in several charitable projects here in India,an acquaintance introduced me to some of his friends from the business community at a party we all attended. They happened to be discussing The Giving Pledge, an initiative headed by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Those three had challenged 400 American billionaires to commit to donating at least 50% of their net worth to charity and social causes in their lifetimes.
One of the greatest prayers ever taught goes back two thousand yearsand contains a simple point that helps me focus on living in the now: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
For 25 years, my dependence on alcohol and drugs took away my ability to enjoy life. I became so remorseful of the past and so fearful of the future that I was constantly terrorized by the thought of what another day might bring. Then, in that single sentence from the Bible, I found a whole new concept for living. When I live in the day, I’m freed from that life of fear and torment.
A reflection on Bible reading
When I first found my faith as a young woman, I was told that I should read the Bible, but had no idea where to start. With other books, I was in the habit of glancing at the last few pages to find out how the story would end, but skimming the last pages of this book meant plunging into Revelation. That book made no sense to me whatsoever!