The Measure of a Life

Image by Hilary Clark from Pixabay

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:4 NIV

Every spring they amaze me—these plants that come up in our garden on their own. They sprout from seeds left over from last year’s discarded tomatoes, squash or pumpkin, or a missed spud. One spring a nice, straight row of onions pushed through the yet untilled ground. The garden isn’t the only place surprise plants appear. They nudge their way through the hardened soil of my flower pots, too.

These self-sprouting plants are called “volunteers,” and gardeners know they can be hardier and produce better crops than plants intentionally seeded and cultivated.

I’d always thought of volunteers as people who donate their time to a cause they believe in, folks who step to the plate and fill a need and don’t ask for anything in return.

I thought of volunteers one Sunday on the way to church. Every week I’d bemoan the litter alongside the road, and grumble about the thoughtless people who tossed their garbage out the window. I was often tempted to take a day and pick up the trash myself. But I never did. 

Then one Sunday bags filled with litter lined the road, thanks to the volunteers who adopted this section of highway to keep it clean. I felt ashamed. Why don’t I join a group? I chided myself. Or grab a trash bag and a pair of disposable gloves, pick a section of road, and just go do it? 

It reminded me of the time my former pastor happened upon a man cleaning up a local walking trail on his own. When my pastor commended him for his unselfish spirit, the man said, “Thanks, but I sure could use some help!” So my pastor organized a group from our church and set up a couple of work days to maintain the trail. 

Volunteers. I think of the folks who donate their time to hospitals, personal care homes, local historical societies and libraries . . . (I’m sure you can think of many more.) 

I think of the local fire companies and the men and women who volunteer their time and energy to keep them running. They not only drop what they’re doing at any time of the day or night to fight a fire or respond to an accident, but they also must maintain and update equipment and raise funds. I am in awe of the dedication and commitment of these courageous men and women. 

Volunteers spend their time and talents to make a difference in the community, to better the world around them, without expecting anything in return.

“We seem to think our reward is fame or money,” says a quotation on my bulletin board. “But the true reward is the one you feel inside when somebody touches your heart.”

It’s time for me to put aside the excuses and find some place to volunteer. I don’t have to do it all, just pick one tiny corner of the world where my efforts, even an hour a week, can make someone else’s life a little bit better. 

Like Holocaust survivor and author Corrie ten Boom once said, “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”

Remind me, Lord, when I serve others, I serve You. Amen.

Read and reflect on Matthew 25:34–40.

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

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.