Two times in my life I’ve gotten star struck. I got sweaty. My words tripped over my tongue. I was too shy to maintain eye contact. In short, I looked like a fool.
The first time was when I met Jennifer Buffett. She was speaking at a Greater Milwaukee Foundation event and I was working at a non-profit at the time. I attended the luncheon with my Executive Director, who knew Jennifer, and introduced us after her speech.
I was struck dumb. The daughter-in-law of Warren Buffett is the single most influential female philanthropist in the world through her work at the NoVo Foundation and her famous father-in-law’s billion dollar pledge. Her work improving the lives of women and girls around the world, and especially her vision of creating ripple effects in underserved communities, was everything I aspired to do myself. I just don’t have a billion dollars or a famous family member.
I don’t even remember what we said to each other, just that I left feeling like I knew my purpose in life and I was motivated to go and make a difference.
The second time I was struck dumb in the presence of someone I greatly admired was when I met Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, at Marquette University. She was there to share her book, Iran Awakening, and speak about her work as a human rights activist in Iran.
The luncheon with Shirin was inspiring. It was life-changing to hear about her rise as a lawyer and judge in her home country followed by her losses once Islamic fundamentalists came into power and women were subjugated. We can’t imagine anything like that happening in the U.S., but it happened to her. And instead of accepting it she fights every day for the rights that she lost, often at the expense of the safety and security of her family.
I never got to meet James Foley, but I did hear him speak at Marquette University after he had been held prisoner in Libya and liberated 44 days later. He saw a friend and colleague die for the simple crime of doing his job. James was humble about his experience and work and he was incredibly generous with his time and truth as my friend, Tim, has so eloquently written. It was never a question whether he would return to conflict and continue to tell the story – be a beacon of light for a world in darkness. It was his calling. There was something about his countenance, his drive, that was otherworldly.
It was the same with Shirin. And it was the same with Jennifer.
In the Christian community we would say their concerns were with the Eternal.
In the tech world I suppose we’d say they were “so meta.”
Perhaps we can just break it down to the fact that they are focused on something bigger than themselves.
This week, after hearing the horrific and tragic news of James’ death, I couldn’t stop this phrase from repeating in my head, “What are we doing?”
What are we doing?
We’re so focused on our small, little boxed-in worlds that we can’t see the forest for the trees. We get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, make dinner, and then repeat the process the next day. We cash our paychecks, pay our bills, budget for a family vacation once a year or so, and then do the same every billing and pay cycle. Pretty soon weeks have passed, months, and then years. The kids grow up and we get a little older. Retirement is only a few years away. The house will be paid off soon.
We spend our lives this way, people. Spend our lives. Spend.
Ever wonder why we phrase it that way?
Because time is a valuable commodity. We can always – always – make more money. But we can never make more time. And how we choose to spend our time determines the kind of life we live.
What are we doing?
Have you ever met anyone like James or Shirin or Jennifer? Someone so focused on the big picture, so dedicated to a cause, so passionate about being change and speaking truth that they almost seem otherworldly?
Francis Chan has an excellent illustration of this. Again, from the Christian perspective, we call it living for eternity.
What are we doing?
I got the chance to speak with Shirin during our lunch and I asked her one question. She had spent the past hour talking about the injustices happening in her country, the fear and insecurity her family has to live with on a daily basis, and the instability Iranian children have to deal with as they become adults. I asked her, “what can we do to make a difference?”
Just start making a difference now wherever you are with the resources you have available. Just start being the change in your community with the time you have in between work and paying bills and raising kids. Just start.
This is a little inspiration, a power anthem of sorts, to motivate you and encourage you to start:
I’ll be writing more in the days and weeks to come about what God’s doing in my life and some exciting and terrifyingly cool things He may have planned for my future. But for now, I’ll leave you with one question: What are YOU doing?