Alex Sheen, of Lakewood, Ohio is the 28-year-old founder of Because I Said I Would, a nonprofit organization dedicated “to bettering humanity through the power of a promise.” When his father, 55, died from lung cancer 2 years ago, Sheen reflected on the quality he admired most in his Dad: His father was a man of his word. He kept his promises. That night Sheen launched his organization on line. He challenged people to make a promise and keep it.
Sheen came up with the idea of distributing cards to his “customers.” The cards are the size of a regular business card—large enough to write on but small enough to carry around. The white cards are blank except for the black words at the bottom which read, “Because I said I would.” Sheen gives 10 free cards to anyone who requests them. The requests became so many, he soon needed several volunteers just to mail out the cards. Now, at his website, he offers the option of printing your own cards.
What do you do with the cards? It’s easy. You write a promise on the card. It can be anything. Something big or something small. It can be a promise you want to make to yourself or to someone else. It can be things like these: “I will clean the garage…I will donate blood…I will eat more healthily…I will volunteer with the homeless…I will take a watercolor course…I will pray every morning…I will read ____ (insert book title).” Then you give the card to someone else. When you have fulfilled your promise, you ask for the card back. “It’s a reward for keeping your promise,” Sheen says. And he adds, “Why shouldn’t we reward ourselves for being true to our word?”
The idea of being true to your word crosses cultural lines. Because I Said I Would has sent cards to people in more than 48 countries. In addition to distributing cards, Sheen’s organization also takes on other philanthropic projects. His company, for example, recently raised money to send 100 children to Disneyland.
Sheen’s company got global attention last fall. You may recall the incident. A young man named Matthew Cordle, 22, confessed on YouTube to causing a drunk-driving fatality in June. On the video he made, Cordle held up one of Sheen’s cards on which he had written: “I will take full responsibility for what I’ve done.” In less than 10 days, the video racked up more than 2 million views. Cordle eventually turned himself in to authorities and is currently awaiting trial. He kept his promise.
Alex Sheen’s story impresses me. (I want to thank my friend Sister Dion Horrigan for telling me about Sheen.) His story demonstrates (once again!) the power of one individual to make the world a better place. He has focused on a single attribute—keeping promises—which translates into qualities such as self-discipline, honesty, courage, patience, personal integrity, and love.
Scripture describes God as a Keeper of Promises. After the Great Flood, God makes a promise to Noah never again to destroy the world by a flood. God then puts a rainbow in the sky and says, “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you” (Gen. 9:12). Later on in salvation history, God promises Moses and the Chosen People to deliver them from slavery in Egypt—a promise God keeps. Jesus too makes promises—about God’s unfailing mercy, about rising from the dead, about being with us always.
We too need to make good promises in our life, the kind that nurture what is best in us, keep us on the path of righteousness, and help us to grow into women and men of freedom and love. Today we might ask ourselves: What promises have I made that have been life giving for me? What promises have other individuals made that nourished me? What helps me to keep my promises?
Let us pray:
Loving God, our Great Promise Keeper, help me to be a person of my word. Help me to make promises that are good and then give me the strength to keep them. When I am tempted to stray from the path of righteousness or to choose those things that lead only to servitude, help me to remember the promises I’ve made to you, to others, and to myself. I ask for this grace through Jesus and the power of his Amazing Spirit. Amen.
NOTE: I have written the Catholic Update for Lent this year published by Franciscan Media. The 8 1/2″ x 11″ 4-page booklet has a brief reflection for every day in Lent based on the Mass readings. It sells for 75 cents each, but discounts are given with bulk orders. For example, 10-99 copies are 49 cents each; 100-199 copies are 39 cents each, etc. You can order by calling 800-488-0488 or by visiting FranciscanMedia.org.