Dental Drilling: Anybody Else Not a Fan?

“I’m sorry, how many cavities did you say I have?” I ask.

Surely I’ve misheard her.

“Eight,” she responds with certainty and at the same time a tone of apology. It’s obvious that this Mexican dentist doesn’t want to tell me this any more than I want to hear it.

“How is that possible?” I ask incredulously. “I’ve gone to the dentist every six months my entire life and I’ve never had a single cavity.”

“Well, at lot of times in the U.S., dentists wait until you need a root canal or crown to deal with things like this because the payout is better,” she explains. “But I want you to see for yourself, so I’m going to take some X-rays and photos.”

“OK,” I respond, silently praying that somehow she has this all wrong. After all, I was just coming in for a simple cleaning.

But minutes later she shows me the x-rays and the photos she’s taken with my iphone. There are in fact several, tiny, brown and black spots on my back molars – which I’d noticed before but assumed were just stains.

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“Luckily they haven’t gone past your enamel yet,” she says. “But if left untreated, over time they will go deeper until they cause you pain and require much more extensive treatment.”

I can’t argue with the evidence so instead I stare at her, processing a multitude of thoughts and emotions until they spill over… into tears. That’s right, I’m a newly-turned 34 year old crying in the dentist’s chair about some cavities.

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Why? Well, besides the fact that I just canceled my dental insurance last month and I’m afraid this might cost me a small fortune, there’s this other “little” factor called my ego rearing its ugly head. You see, I’m the girl with the “flawless smile,” the “perfect teeth,” – at least that’s what I’ve been told my entire life from dentists, friends and even perfect strangers.

For years, I’ve proudly worn my “no cavity” status like a badge of honor. But now, it’s been snatched away. And replaced with a “scarlet C.”

Scarlet C

And not just a “C,” a “C” with a BIG 8 in front of it!

Besides being embarrassed about my situation and response to it, I’m also angry that my American dentists never breathed a word to me about this and now, with no dental insurance, I’m having to deal with all of this in a foreign country.

“I know this is difficult to hear,” the dentist tells me handing me a tissue. “You don’t have to make a decision today, but it’s my job to tell you this so you can take care of these issues before they become more serious.”

I ponder her words and my bank account before I take a deep breath and respond.

“Can you fix all of them today?” I ask.

She nods.

“Then let’s do it.”

There’s no point in delaying the treatment. After all, why would I want to let problem areas fester when I can take care of them now?

Being a cavity virgin, I have no idea what is going to happen, which explains my shock when the dentist (without any prior warning), tightly squeezes both sides of one of my cheeks with her fingers, takes a gigantic syringe and sticks the needle into my flesh.

The prick isn’t bad, but I feel a slight burning sensation as whatever is in the syringe fills my cheek.

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This happens three more times until she has effectively numbed every corner of my mouth.

I feel my cheeks growing heavy and fat, until I’m sure I look like a chipmunk.

“Isth thaa novocaine?” I try to ask, realizing that my tongue is no longer functioning properly. As a kid I had a terrible reaction to too much nitrous oxide which resulted in me throwing up all over some poor dental tech’s hair – a big, permed 90’s “do” if I remember correctly.

“Yes, you aren’t allergic to it, are you?”

I shake my head no but inwardly I think, “Well, it would be too late now if I was!”

After a 10 minute cleaning (apparently despite my 8 cavities, I don’t have a bit of tartar on any of my teeth), she begins the drilling. See video below.

The sound isn’t pleasant and I don’t realize I’m tensing every muscle in my body until after she’s given me a brief reprieve. “Breath. Relax.” I tell myself. Though I never understood why before, I’m beginning to appreciate why some 75% of adults apparently fear going to the dentist.

I think of Natalie, who had her cleaning before my appointment and is out in the waiting room. I send her a text: “Go head and get something to eat. Long story – it’s going to be a while.”

“Why?? Is everything ok?” comes the response.

I want to tell her the truth – that I’m currently dealing with 8 cavities, 4 shots of novocaine, an emotional breakdown and most likely a few more hours of what I would describe as a form of mild torture. But considering the dentist speaks English and can read what I write, I simply respond:

“Yep. I’ll let you know when I’m almost done.”

This drilling continues again and again. Intermittently she tells me “open a bit wider,” and I attempt to, though I swear my jaw is going to break if it hinges open any further.

For two hours she meticulously removes every last speck of decay from my teeth and then refills them until finally, she announces: “NOW, you have perfect teeth.”

She takes a few more photos to show me and I have to admit that she did an amazing job.

Fixed teeth

This makes me smile, but when I do, I realize the whole bottom half of my face is numb. I hope I’m not grimacing. Or drooling.

“Tho, when can I eath?” I ask. It’s 3 p.m. and after a morning run and yoga, I’m starved.

“Not until you have feeling back in your mouth. You might bite your cheeks or choke if you do now.”

As if on cue my stomach rumbles in protest. I nod my head sadly and pay the $280. This day certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but while I can’t say the experience was enjoyable, I know it was necessary.

The truth is that sometimes there are “cavities” in my life that are easy to overlook. Areas that, while seemingly innocuous or surface level, can turn into much more serious issues over time. If not dealt with properly, these little “problem areas” will go deep, attacking the very core of who I am and requiring a much more extensive removal process – one that will undoubtedly strike a nerve and cause a great deal of pain.

Like this dentist, God wants to bring them to my attention. Not to shame me or cause discomfort, but because he want to remove the “decay” from my life. He wants to ensure my health and help me strive toward Spiritual perfection – the only kind that really matters.

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When I walk out into the waiting room, I can see the concern on Natalie’s face.

“Thith hath been the moth ridiculoth denthisth appointhmenth ever,” I explain.

I see the corners of her lips curl as she struggles to keep a serious expression.

“Oh, iths funny alrigth,” I respond as we both crack up. “I sounth like a completh idioth.”

I tell her about everything (as best I can) on the drive home and we have good laugh.

I know even after all this work my teeth aren’t “perfect” and they never will be. And that’s OK. That even with all of my brushing and flossing, I will likely have other “issues” to deal with in the future.

But this experience reminded me that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if I do have a few more “cavities” that need to be dug out. The process may not be enjoyable, but every time I face and work on my own shortcomings, I’m making progress – which is the most important thing.

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And who knows, in the end, it might even be something I can laugh about.

 

 

What Would You Do?

He is gangly, unkempt and expressionless. Over a camouflaged jacket are slung a few bags, carrying what I imagine is everything he owns.

I’ve seen a lot of homeless people in the 24 hours I’ve been in San Francisco and each time my heart aches a little. Over the years I’ve met, given money to, prayed with and befriended several people in the same position. I think of Eric, Deocito and countless other African American men I came to know through volunteering weekly at my Church’s soup kitchen.

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Perhaps that’s why I feel a certain connection to this man.

As he approaches, I try to make eye contact and smile; something homeless people tell me they rarely, if ever experience, but he stares straight ahead.

When he is about 15 feet away from me an empty soda can falls out of his bag behind him. He turns briefly but decides it’s not worth going back for and continues walking.

I decide to pick it up after I pass him, but before I do, I make one final attempt at eye contact.

Nada. He doesn’t look at me. But instead I hear an unmistakable sound. And then I see it. In seemingly slow motion, a white ball of spit comes flying in my direction. It arcs in front of me and I watch in amazement as it descends and lands perfectly on top of my right tennis shoe. Then it disappears into the cloth.

Wait, did I just get spit on?

I search the ground around my feet wondering if perhaps my eyes played tricks on me but there is no evidence of any wetness on the pavement. Nope, this guy definitely just spit on me.

As I try to process what just happened my mind races. First with indignation; what did I do to deserve that? Then, when the initial anger subsides I think immediately of other people I know who have experienced something similar – in particular, Jesus, civil rights activists and Vietnam veterans. I feel sad, knowing many endured far worse than this and they didn’t deserve it. And finally, I am simply in awe. How in the world did he manage to hit my foot with such accuracy? Does he practice spitting with moving targets regularly, or was this just his lucky day?

I say out loud the only thing that comes to mind. “Seriously?!”

I turn around, hoping for some sort of acknowledgement, if not an apology. But he’s already well past me, nonchalantly strolling down the street. It’s as if he’s completely unaware of my presence or he’s simply relegated my worth as a human being to nothing more than a spittoon.

The feisty, fearless part of me wants to confront this man, question his actions and give him a piece of my mind. The logical, realistic part of me knows doing so is not safe, smart or likely to accomplish anything constructive.

I’m struggling with an urge to respond in some way when I recall that incredibly difficult and unpopular Bible verse: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” (Matthew 5:39)

There’s no way I’m running after this guy and offering him my left foot to spit on, but I remember another verse in Matthew Chapter 5 that talks about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.

Point taken, God.

So, I pray and ask Him to bless this homeless man, whoever he is.

There was a time in the not too distant past when someone spitting on me would have ruined my day, or at least my morning. But now there’s a resiliency inside of me because I know who I am in Christ. That no matter what other people say or do, I am invaluable because I am made in the image of God and loved unconditionally by Him.

As I continue walking I can’t help but think of the giant Red wood trees Natalie and I saw only a few days earlier.

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Besides being majestic, enormous and ancient, I learned that because of the tannin in their bark, they are supernaturally resistant to insects, fire, fungus and disease. I like to think of God as a “tannin” of sorts – giving me thicker skin and protecting me from some of the evil and hate in this world.

Of course, there are some things that can and do hurt me, just like a strong enough fire will damage a Redwood. We saw this firsthand with one particular tree. There was a large opening along the base where the blaze had burned through the thick trunk and hollowed out a 8-foot-wide and 25-foot-tall space within it.

The park guide told us that one hundred years ago this space was actually used as a “hotel room” of sorts that people could rent to literally sleep in a tree.

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Today, visitors can step inside to explore the space, which Natalie and I did.

But it won’t be this way for too long (relatively speaking). The guide told us that Redwoods heal themselves from the outside in and within 60 to 80 years, this opening will no longer exist, though the hole inside the tree will remain forever.

I kind of think the same is true for me. Going through a divorce was like a fire that penetrated my heart, leaving me open, vulnerable and hollow inside.

But God has and continues to heal me. And the new space in my heart has given me a greater capacity to be filled by God’s love and share it with others.

Which I think I have. Or at least I try to.

When I tell Natalie about the spitting experience, I do so with more amusement than anything else. Like me, she’s fairly shocked by the story, but considering San Francisco is a city where people to this day walk around completely nude, I guess we shouldn’t be.

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I had all but forgotten the incident until just the other night when we watched the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” If you’ve ever seen this movie, you may remember there are two scenes in it where people get spit on….and it’s a good thing! Apparently in the Greek culture, it is a way to ward off the devil and wish someone luck or bless them.

While I’m pretty confident this homeless man didn’t spit on me with the same intent, it did bring a smile to my face and offered me a fresh perspective. Though it didn’t seem like it at the time, perhaps this experience really was a blessing in disguise. After all, it challenged me to a greater level of humility, allowed me to empathize with others in a new way and ultimately, offered me a chance to demonstrate Christ-like love and forgiveness.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the point where I want to be spit on or slapped in the check for that matter. But I hope I do become the kind of person that is willing to turn the other one. That I am willing to suffer if necessary, knowing that in doing so I am united with the sufferings of Christ.

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Because even when I am burned and left empty and exposed by a “fire,” I know that God can heal me, if I let him. It may happen slowly, I may never be the same on the inside, but I truly believe this is how it’s supposed to be. After all, the empty place in my heart doesn’t have to be a wasteland of pain, regret and bitterness. It can become a storehouse of God’s love, mercy, peace and joy.

And that is a good thing.

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Embracing the Unexpected

“Hmm, that’s weird… the gas light is on again,” I mumble to myself.

I just filled up the tank two hours ago, and I’ve only driven about 250 miles. Normally a tank will last for at least 350 miles before the light comes on. I guess I’ll pull off at the next exit and fill up again. I’m driving by myself from Tucson to San Diego today. Rachel decided to stay in Tucson for an extra day to visit with her friends and is flying to meet me tomorrow.

I’m in the middle of nowhere Arizona, right next to the Mexican border. I passed through three border patrol stations; which are basically checkpoints where the agents ask you where you came from, where you’re going and if you’re smuggling any people or drugs in your backseat. Each time I stopped, the agents looked skeptically at my overflowing car and asked me a few more questions than normal. I guess it didn’t help that when one agent said “What do you do for a living?” I answered with an uncertain “Um… I guess I’m kind of a travel blogger?” Apparently, this is not the sort of response they’re looking for. Yet despite my questionable answers, overflowing vehicle and barking dogs, I was allowed to continue my journey to California.

As I’m approaching the state-line, I start to see huge windmills dotting the horizon, cloudless skies and a mountain line in the distance. “We’re home puppies!” I exclaim to the dogs, who are sleeping in the back of the SUV. I moved around a lot as a kid, but I consider California my home. My mom was always adamant that no matter where we lived, we would go back to visit family in California every summer. Some of my favorite childhood memories take place against the backdrop of the Santa Cruz tide-pools. I know that we’re only going to be here for a couple weeks, but I’m still overcome with excitement to be home.

Santa Cruz tide pools

Santa Cruz tide pools

Vrrrrrrrrrrmmmm!

I’m quickly snapped out of my California daydreams by the sound of my RPM’s skyrocketing. I have the cruise control set at 78 mph but all of a sudden my RPM’s are around 5,000, rather than the typical 2,500. “Oh no,” I think to myself, “I’m three hours from San Diego, by myself, and I have a car full of stuff… this isn’t going to be good.”

I drove the next few hours with a sense of heightened awareness. Paying attention to every little nuance my car had to offer. I made it to San Diego safely, but based on the noise, the lagging acceleration and the rapid decrease in MPG’s, it was clear that something was wrong.

“We’re not exactly sure what it is,” Ryan, the Toyota guy, says “it might be the exhaust, the brakes, or the transmission. Prepare yourself to spend around $3.5k.”

“Ugh,” I think to myself as the wheels of panic started to turn in my mind, “that’s a major financial hit, and we haven’t even left the country yet!” I take a deep breath and try to quiet my mind. When I signed up for this adventure, I knew there would be bumps in the road, I just didn’t think they’d come so soon.

“Two days.” Toyota-Ryan says. “I’ll get it done as quickly as I can, but I need at least two days to figure out everything that’s going on with the car.”

I take a deep breath, and try to look at the bright side of this equation – I could’ve been stranded alone in the desert, but I wasn’t, I made it to my sister’s house in San Diego and my car will be fixed in two days. Besides, there are worse places to be stuck than San Diego, California.

When Rachel arrives, we try to make the most of our time with my sister, Katie, and brother-in-law, Nick. Their house is a cozy, warm and welcoming California bungalow. And if you’re not familiar with the definition of a bungalow, I’m pretty sure it means – a home that is entirely too small for four people, four dogs and three cats. You guessed it, Katie and Nick are animal lovers too.

That night, I’m about to head to bed on the couch when I notice that Nimitz won’t stop whining, crying and staring under the TV stand. If you’ve met Nimitz, you know that this is his universal language for “I put my tennis ball under here and now I can’t get it… help me!” So I get up, walk over to the TV stand and reach my hand underneath. I start feeling around for the fuzzy, familiar shape of a tennis ball, when I touch it. It’s hairy and wiry, and it’s definitely not a tennis ball.

I quickly make my way to the master bedroom and knock, “Um… Nick!” I say franticly, “I just touched something under the TV stand and I don’t know what it is but it was hairy and it moved!” Nick, being the big, strong, navy-man that he is, jumped into action and went out into the living room, where he discovered what was under the TV stand…  a rat.

Rachel and I bolted into the spare bedroom, shut the door, and jumped onto the bed. It turns out that there’s a limit to our bravery, and that limit is a rat.

This was basically us...

This was basically us…

From inside the spare room we hear Nick, Katie (who’s apparently much tougher than we are) and the dogs working feverishly to corner the rat.

“There he is! Get him Nims!”

“Wait, he went behind the couch!”

A few minutes go by with this soundtrack before I hear Nick say, “Oh, ok… Problem solved!”

Rachel and I yell from the spare bedroom “Is it safe to come out?” and after several assurances from Nick, we finally emerge. I walk into the living room and ask, “What happened?” then Katie and Nick filled us in on how the rat raced from the couch to the buffet and back to the TV stand before he realized he was cornered. Then he tried to make a break for it! He ran across the living room towards the front door when – bam! Mugsy nabbed him. I won’t describe what happened next, but let’s just say – the rat is no more.

We spend the next few minutes laughing as we recount the whole scene – Nimitz’s bloodhound-like nose, Mugsy’s fearlessness and the two self-proclaimed “adventurers” hiding in the guest room. After that it’s time for bed, so I wash my hands for the 37th time and lay down on the couch. Like I do every night, I write out a prayer to God. I thank him for time with my sister, and ask him to take care of the little rat’s soul. I like to think that all of God’s creatures have a place in His kingdom, even the icky ones. And finally, I ask God to help with my car. I tell Him that I’ll spend my money however He sees fit, but it would be great if it weren’t on a new transmission!

The next morning, I get a call from Ryan, who tells me that my car is done and he even threw in an oil change for free.

“Thanks!” I say, “But tell me, what’s the damage?”

“Well,” he says with an upbeat tone, “it wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected. Just a simple exhaust leak that we could fix in-house! It’s only $483.”

“Now that’s a number I can handle!” I hang up the phone and tell Rachel the news. We’re both visibly relieved and after we pick up the car we decide to celebrate with lunch in San Diego.

When we get back to Katie’s house, I check the mail and some of it’s for me. I nonchalantly open the first letter, and when I look at it, I gasp.

“What is it?” Rachel asks.

I look over at her, holding the envelope in my hand and a smile spreads across my face. “It’s a check…” I say, “for 492 dollars.” I stare at the check in amazement, “I guess I overpaid my personal property taxes a few months ago.” We both laugh and know that this was no coincidence.

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That evening, I laid down and wrote out my nightly prayer. I thanked God for all of the ways he blesses me, but mostly, I thanked him for the beauty of the unexpected. It comes in many forms, sometimes it’s a rat when you expect a tennis ball; but sometimes, it’s a check for the exact amount you needed, right when you needed it. I have a feeling that there will be many more unexpected moments on this journey, and that’s ok. All I need to do is have a little faith, lean in and embrace them.

Learning to Embrace a New Normal

Screeeeeech…screeeeeech…screeeeeech.

The sound of the swing is annoying but I don’t stop. I’m a good 75 to 100 lbs heavier and 25 to 30 years older than the average playground user but just as thrilled as any kid to be at this park.

It’s a cloudless, 75-degree Fall day in Tucson, Arizona and I can’t help but marvel at the magnificent mountain view just in the distance.

I’ve assessed the swing set and deemed it safe and sturdy enough to support me.  So despite its cries of protest, I kick my legs, lean back and climb higher.

With each pass the wind whooshes in my ears. My stomach flutters as I reach the height of the swing, my body momentarily weightless, suspended just above the earth and below a crystal blue desert sky.

I close my eyes and smile. I’ve forgotten how much fun this is.

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There’s a mom sitting on a bench engrossed in her cellphone while her two kids zip down the slide, giggle and chase each other around with reckless abandon.

I’ve gone unnoticed until they run past me on their way to the monkey bars. The girl, about 5, slows down as she passes. Her eyes squint and the skeptical up and down look she gives me says it all. “Grown ups aren’t supposed to play on playgrounds.”

“Yeah, I know kid,” I think to myself. “And they’re not supposed to cash out their investments at 33 and go travel the world with no definitive plan for the future either…but here I am.”

Expectations.

At some point, early on, they became a part of my life and I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them ever since.

There are expectations about what to do, who to be, how to look, what to own and so much more. Some expectations are self-imposed. Others I’ve adopted based on societal norms and the influence of others. And still other expectations I don’t even know I have, until they go unmet. But these expectations have greatly influenced and largely dictated the course of my life for more than three decades…until now.

Deciding to leave everything behind and go on a 12 to 18 month trip around the world was a blatant and unapologetic assault on those expectations. It was a ninja kick to limitations, a war cry for freedom from routine and a bold determination to break out of the “box” I’m told to live in.

I have this idealistic image of myself in my mind– a bad-ass road warrior, a “She-Ra” of sorts, rebelling against all that is “normal and expected” and charging fearlessly into the unknown.

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Ok, maybe with a tiny bit of fear.

I’ve gotten many wide-eyed looks of concern, enthusiastic smiles, words of caution and confessions of jealousy when I share my plan with friends and family. The overwhelming majority of people tell me they would love to do something similar, though several have admitted that even if it was possible, they probably wouldn’t have the courage/guts/balls to do so.

I get it. Nothing about this experience is safe, predictable or guaranteed. It’s not logical, financially wise or routine. And yet, those are precisely the reasons why I am so thrilled about this adventure.

I don’t think that a risk-averse life with more money and lots of comfort is the recipe for true fulfillment; which is a good thing, because right now I’m living the complete opposite way.

Last week as we headed from Dallas to Tucson, there was one morning where we woke up not knowing where we would be staying that night. For two people, that’s not a huge deal, but having two dogs as well makes it a little more challenging.

Natalie went to work looking up vacation rentals and other such places online and managed to find a “casita” in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They were dog friendly, very reasonably priced and located just outside the town…on a farm.

Though I consider myself a southern belle, I certainly wasn’t raised with livestock. But for two days, we hung out with horses, chickens, roosters, some sort of alpaca like animal (we’re still not sure) and goats.

Does anyone know what this is??

“Alpaca-like animal” –  Does anyone know what this is??

Oh yeah, and the fattest pig I have ever seen. Seriously.

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Apparently roosters are early risers and insistent that those around them are too. But being awoken at the crack of dawn had its perks because I was able to see the most spectacular sunrise just over the mountains.

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There have been many beautiful, unexpected experiences as well as countless seemingly ordinary ones over the last week. Not all are noteworthy or glamorous. But here are a few of the things that now define our “new normal” on this road trip.

Natalie and I:

  1. Are often confused about the date, day, time zone and where exactly we are
  1. Make every decision – where to eat, stop, and sleep – based on pet friendliness
  1. Live out of a suitcase, spend most of our days in workout clothes and have no desire to buy anything else we will have to pack or find a place for in the car
  1. Visit gas stations, rest stops and dog parks nearly every day and are becoming experts at rationing food, water, dog treats and clean underwear
  1. Are starting to think home-cooked meals, comfortable beds and 80 mph speed limits are the best things… ever.

I think about this as I continue swinging and can’t help but laugh at my “new life.”

While I’m no longer ruled by societal expectations, I’m not exactly trailblazing or leading a rebellion against them either.

But then it occurs to me. Perhaps I don’t need to be “She-Ra.” Maybe I don’t need to buck against all expectations and routines, I just need to find and live by the ones that are healthy and empowering.

Like being Christ’s light to the people I meet on this adventure. Like being fully present and loving those around me. Like making time every day to pray, listen to God and become the woman He created me to be.

These expectations seem so simple. Almost too simple. But maybe, just maybe these are the kind of expectations we are supposed to have. The ones that we learn to love, not only because they bring us fulfillment and joy, but because they bless other people and make the world a better place as well.