Do you ever wake up to a busy new day, anticipating great things and much productivity? And maybe somewhere around 2:00 in the afternoon you find yourself sitting down to do the first thing on your personal to-do list. And does the thought perhaps go through your mind… “It feels like my day is just starting… but oh… the day’s half-gone!” … ?
Well good! I’m so glad I’m not the only one! 😉
Not that today wasn’t productive. I took 50 something packages to the post office which Bethany and I hand-stamped for the next half hour (while long lines of people watched us with anxious ‘I can’t wait to get out of here’ looks on their faces)… and then off we went to a series of different places on family errands. And quite honestly, this really was productive in my mind!
But when one store is out of something that your brother desperately needs like 20-some of for a wedding he’s catering in 2 days… and then you forget to stop at the last store on your list… and there’s forever-long-lines of stand-still traffic on the highway… and you leave a return-item in the car which means leaving the store and going back in… well, it only takes a small series of setbacks, “forget-ables” and other small incidents to make one weary 😉
I told the sister who accompanied me on this particular all-morning shopping trip (who doesn’t drive yet), “I’m so (physically) tired I can’t imagine driving to 1 more store!” And despite the fact that I really was feeling happy (we were laughing, talking, and listening to one of our favorite instrumental CDs) I developed a headache (I *never* get headaches). And so by the time we arrived home around 1:30 pm, I felt myself dragging just to get the groceries out of the van and into their proper places.
And that’s when I looked at my to-do list and realized that “my day had just started”…
But do you know what? When there’s a tendency to feel overwhelmed, discouraged, weak, irritated (don’t you love it when customer service can’t answer your simple product-related questions… and you have *no* idea what you’re doing and desperately need answers?), even bothered by physical pain (a dull throbbing headache) or exhaustion (short nights add up quickly), there will *always* still be something to give thanks for. And that’s the beautiful thing about true joy – it is a constant, without respect to circumstances.
Joy is a constant, without respect to circumstances.
I can have joy, no matter what I’m going through.
This post is not really about my long day – or whether or not what I did for the first 7 hours felt productive or not… or even whether or not I finished my to-do list today!
I’m writing this post to acknowledge the ‘special’ people in this world – and very specifically, the ones that changed my life today.
Have I ever told you about Joel?
Joel is a really sweet man at one of the stores we get groceries from. I don’t visit this store on a regular basis, but when I do, he is always there. He’s out in the driving rain, the icy cold, the sweltering heat. Joel’s job is to collect the carts from the cart returns, and put them back up front where you can grab one as you head inside to do your shopping.
In the world’s eyes, Joel has ‘needs’. He’s ‘different’ than the average person. Some would say he’s ‘not quite right in the head’ but I know better than that. Joel is special. He’s very much right in the heart. He smiles at *every single person* who passes by him while he’s collecting carts. He will ask you in his wonderful enthusiastic voice how you are doing today – and if you happen to forget something from your car and have to walk by him twice more in the next 5 minutes, he will ask you again each of those times how you are doing today. Always with a smile. Always with enthusiasm.
And then when I’m coming out of the store with groceries in hand, Joel asks me if he can help me with my groceries. The most I usually have from this particular store is 25 pound bags of flour for the bakery, which I know I can handle just fine… but it doesn’t really matter what I have in my cart. Joel has a heart for loving and serving people. He has a very big heart for everyone.
Today when I was feeling busy, and only 1 place down on my list of many places to go… it was Joel that made me smile. I never walk by Joel without feeling joy and happiness in my heart. And I *always* comment out loud to a sibling or two how incredible he is – because hundreds, maybe thousands of people will walk by Joel in a single day. And if each one of them is as blessed as I was (and am), I’m convinced he’s reaching more people than most of us will in a lifetime. I wonder why we don’t have more people with a heart like Joel.
An encounter with Joel is like an encounter with Jesus – because the love of Jesus shines through Joel in a beautiful way. And it doesn’t matter if he’s not ‘normal’ or ‘like you or me’ in every single way. Joel has something that very few people in this world possess. And if each one of us would learn from him (and his story) we could make such a difference in this world. He didn’t ask to be born ‘special’ – but he was. And now he lives his life making an impact on hundreds, thousands of people. I look forward to shopping at this particular store, just because of how big Joel’s heart is.
I want a heart like that – for everyone.
Now let me introduce you to Sarah. Sarah is ‘special’ too. In a much more obvious way than Joel. Sarah has down syndrome and a lot of people would find it awkward, and incredibly difficult to carry on a conversation with her. She’s in her late twenties, much older than me. But I love Sarah. I only met her once – many years ago. She came to our home with her parents, and she and I quickly became good friends.
Sarah has written me more letters than just about anyone else I know. She called me several times on the phone back when we first met. The last letter I received from her was a *very long* time ago… she told me that I was her role model/hero. But I think the opposite is true. Sarah is one of my greatest heroes. Because she (quite unknowingly) has touched my heart in an unforgettable way.
Today Sarah called me. I had great difficulty understanding any of what she was saying. She laughed and talked and chattered for all of 4 minutes about life, and then told me she would write me a letter soon. I haven’t the faintest idea how she remembers me, where she got my phone number from, or if she will ever write me that letter. But I love Sarah. She is special!
She called me at a time when I had much to do. And what a surprise when someone said, “Remember this family… their daughter… Sarah? She’s on the phone for you…” And I took that call. And hearing Sarah’s voice and knowing that she remembered me and found my phone number and called to talk with me was special.
So. very. special.
Two special people – very special people. They do not have to be awkward. It does not have to be difficult to be friend with them. They are not ‘needy’ or ‘weird’ or ‘strange’. They have something in common. They have big hearts. They have hidden ministries (which are really very evident) that they probably don’t even view as ministries. They’re never too busy to love someone, to ask how someone is doing, to share a smile or a word or a greeting.
Not only did Joel and Sarah make my day sweeter and more beautiful… but the sunshine that flows out of their words and smiles and acts of kindness, brings healing to many many broken people. I know this. It is the truth. And how many times I miss out on the opportunity to be a part of healing in someone else’s life. Because I do not faithfully love hurting people with the love of Jesus, like I should.
Too many times I walk by them and don’t look into their eyes and smile. I don’t say “hello”. Inside I’m afraid. What if they think I’m weird? What if they’re not friendly? What if they prefer to keep to themselves? What if they don’t smile back? What if they take that the wrong way?… and my focus on self can so easily keep me from having a big heart for everyone. But the truth is, that everyone needs to feel loved. Everyone needs healing. Everyone wants to know that they’re special, and cared about. Everyone wants someone to care deeply about them.
Joel and Sarah are gifted in ways that I consider far more valuable than the average person who has great speaking or marketing or selling skills. They may not learn to read or carry on a conversation with ease, or acquire great professional skills that will take them to the top of high ladders in our modern-day world. But they have big hearts. And they pour out the most beautiful, sweet, healing love into lives – all lives.
They greet the ones who reject them, with the same enthusiasm and sweetness that they greet the ones who care deeply about them. They tell everyone (with their words and actions) that they are special, and that they are loved.
I watched. I saw it today. It touched my heart deeply.
And today my outlook changed. I was given a new reminder, a fresh perspective on life. What does it matter if I accomplish all of my to-do list today… and will all of my glorious accomplishments count in the end… if I forget to live life with an outlook like Joel or Sarah? What will my life look like if I miss out on serving and giving like they do? How many hundreds, thousands of times today did I pass by an opportunity to have a big heart like Joel or Sarah?
Because surely I could have taken the time to smile at every person I made eye contact with today (oh yes… including the ‘dreaded’ young sales guy at the entrance of one store that is always trying to sell me a TV… I admit, he has a hard job and he probably get a lot of rejection!). Surely I could have said “How are you doing?” or offered up a warm greeting to everyone I interacted with (how many cashiers and employees did I stand face-to-face with today for several minutes??)…
It doesn’t take extra time to have a big heart.
Joel and Sarah have learned to live their lives from a big heart. Their gestures of kindness are a ‘special’ ministry that reaches hurting people. Today was just another normal day. But it doesn’t matter that they’ve showed kindness to me a dozen times already… I came away blessed in more ways than one.
Joel and Sarah are two of a very small few that I will remember from this day. Because when you encounter someone who communicates love and kindness to you, in a way that ministers healing or hope to your heart, or simply blesses you in an incredible way… you don’t forget them!
It really doesn’t matter how many times you give a smile or make eye contact, or share a word of encouragement. Each and every act of kindness you give to someone else, is a precious and beautiful gift that reaches into the heart all over again.
And no one *ever* grows tired of being loved.
I want a big heart like that.