The Funny Hat Man

So encourage each other and build each other up. — 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT

 Byron Depp was known as “The Funny Hat Man” because of the silly hats he wore to work at the local Wal-Mart. On Groundhog Day, it was a furry groundhog hat, complete with standup tail. On St. Patrick’s Day, he was the perfect leprechaun. Around Easter, it was a frilly ladies’ bonnet with lots of ribbons and flowers or a white, fuzzy rabbit ears hat.

Whatever the occasion—and even when it wasn’t a special occasion—Bryon had the hat: a joker’s hat with jingle bells (this one was my favorite), one of those silly, homemade sun hats crafted from yarn and plastic. Whatever the hat, it brought a smile to even the most dreary face and lightened the heaviest heart.

I first met Byron when I was a reporter for the local newspaper. A veteran of the U.S. Army, he was an active leader in the local American Legion post and kept me informed of the post’s activities. His commitment to veterans stoked up my latent patriotism, awakening in me an awareness of the sacrifices they made and a pride in the men and women who selflessly serve—and have served—in the armed forces.

Bryon has since passed away, but his legacy remains. I—and many others, I’m sure—will remember him every time we step into the local WalMart.

And, really, isn’t that what we’re here for? To encourage one another by bringing a smile to a sad face, restoring faith, hope, and confidence however we can? 

I’ve heard over and over from graduating seniors that they don’t know what they want to do with their lives. How sad! My parents’ generation did what they had to do to pay the bills and put food on the table. They worked in the local steel mill or followed their parents in farming or construction. They found purpose and meaning day by day as they provided for their families. They were truly an outward-focused generation.

The trouble with today’s “follow your dreams” advice is that too often it’s all about only one person—me. What I want. A self-serving philosophy of a me-first, inward-focused society. 

There’s a story about a man who died and was being shown around the afterlife. His guide first brought him to a large banquet hall, where the diners sat at long tables laden with all kinds of tasty dishes. The diners, however, were skinny and malnourished. 

“Why,” he questioned the guide, “are they so skinny when they have all this wonderful food?”

“Look closer,” the guide advised.

He did—and noticed they were using spoons with handles so long the food couldn’t reach their mouths. Every time they tried, the food would drop off. Groans, complaints, and sobs filled the air.

Next the guide took him to another banquet hall. Same food-laden tables, same long-handled spoons, but the healthy-looking diners were laughing and having a ball. The man looked puzzled.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “What’s the difference?”

“Look closer,” the guide said.

That’s when he noticed that in this room, each person used his spoon to feed the diner across the table from him.

There’s a connection, you see, between the mouth and the heart. Bryon Depp understood this. With his funny hats that made them smile, he fed thousands of people starving for a little bit of joy. 

Frederick Faber once wrote, “There are souls in this world which have the gift of finding joy everywhere and leaving it behind them when they go.”

Byron was such a soul.

And, Lord, may you and I be, too!

 Dear God, open my eyes to those around me who need a funny hat man. Amen.

 Read and reflect on Romans 15:1–13.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. 

Now, THAT’s a Plan!

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established. – Proverbs 19:21 (RSV)

Now that I’m somewhere between “middle-aged” and “over the hill” (closer to over-the-hill than middle-aged), I look back on my life and view the unexpected—the things that interfered with my plans—quite differently than I did at the time they happened.

My father’s layoff from the steel mill when I was nine led to tough times that taught me resourcefulness and thrift. The broken engagement that shattered my heart when I was 20 freed me for when Mr. Right entered the picture a few months later. (We’ll celebrate our forty-seventh on Dec. 22.) An unexpected pregnancy with child number three altered our dreams for the future.

No, my life certainly has not gone the way I played it in my head when I was growing up. I’d dreamed of traveling the world, free as a bird, but the road I traveled was one of diapers, doctors’ appointments, piano and dance lessons, sporting events, school programs, occasional teaching gigs to help make ends meet, and endless dust, dishes, meals, laundry, forms to complete, and papers that needed my signature.

The road was neither well-paved nor well-marked. There were no signs warning me of a “rough road ahead,” “construction: expect delays,” or that I’d soon be encountering fog, blowing snow, ice, or severe crosswinds.

In the words of Louisa May Alcott in her classic Little Women, “My castle is very different from what I planned, but I would not alter it.” 

Although “into each life some rain must fall; some days must be dark and sad and dreary,” she adds in the closing words of her character, Jo, “I’m far happier than I deserve. … Fritz is getting gray and stout. I’m growing as thin as a shadow, and am thirty. We never shall be rich, and Plumfield may burn up any night, for that incorrigible Tommy Bangs will smoke sweet-fern cigars under the bed-clothes, though he’s set himself afire three times already. But in spite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing to complain of, and never was so jolly in my life.”

I echo her words: “I’m far happier than I deserve. My husband is getting grayer by the day, and I am growing stouter as I edge closer to 70. We’ll never be rich, and everything we’ve spent our lives building can be lost in the blink of an eye. Obnoxious people will plague our paths, anyone can sue us at anytime over anything, and the economy will continue to be as stable as a sputtering firecracker.

But in spite of these unromantic facts, I have nothing, really, to complain about. I have my hubby, wearing out though he may be. I have my three grown children, their loved ones, and nine grandchildren who fill my life with love and joy. And I am truly happy and at peace.

And, most important, I have God, the One who is control of all things at all times (1 Chronicles 29:10–12). His Word is the only road sign I need (Psalm 119:105). For I’ve experienced the truth of Romans 8:28. I’ve conquered fear with Romans 8:31–39. I’ve faced my own inadequacy and seen His adequacy in Isaiah 55:8–9.

And I’ve vanquished insecurity with Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Now, that’s a plan!   

As I light the third Advent candle, Father, I am reminded that Your Son came to give me a hope and a future. Help me daily to recognize and yield to Your awesome plan for me. Amen.

Read and reflect on Matthew 1:18–25; Luke 1:26–2:20.

© 2008 by Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.