This is traditionally the time of year when our hopes and dreams turn to thoughts about . . . Christmas
presents! The exchanging of gifts, or for the children of the world, the receiving of gifts, creates excitement in the hearts and minds of all of us, all around the world. It is an incredible time of the year.
As we grow older and wiser, the excitement of receiving gifts begins to wane and our focus tends to be more on the giving of gifts than on the receiving of them. We begin to find more joy in making someone else happy, someone other than ourselves. That's a good thing. The funny thing is, when we focus more on the giving of gifts, it often seems like we actually receive MORE gifts for ourselves. And the value of those gifts goes right through the roof. Let me explain by way of an example.
This past Saturday I volunteered at one of our local food pantries - Ruby's Pantry. I have been doing that for a few years now. I have gotten to know many of the other volunteers as well as many of the people going through the lines. They are all amazing people, all of them. Well, I received several "gifts" the other day and I KNOW that God gave me each and every one of them. And the value of those gifts was priceless.
I usually get to the food pantry around 7:00 in the morning to pre-register people. There are usually several dozen people waiting in line by the time I get there - some of them have been there for hours in the sub-freezing temps. I am usually the first person they see from Ruby's. That fact alone should send many of our guests running and screaming but they actually seem to like me. It's probably the candy I give them.
As I was about half way through the line a car pulled up and three adults got out. They were wearing leather jackets, bandanas, and some of those gloves with no fingertips in them. All three looked rather "bikerish." I began talking to this one young man. His name was Chris. The guy was probably in his late 20's - early 30's, divorced, four kids. He said he had gone through a bad stretch in his life but "this last month has been amazing!"
He got a new job in town which he loves. He really likes his boss and things are finally looking good in his life again. And guess what. He attributes it all to God. We became fast friends. Later, as we were loading his food into his car for him, he thanked me once again. This guy thanked everybody! He was SO appreciative! Then he stuck out his hand to shake mine. I ignored it and gave him a hug, which he accepted with thanks. He climbed into his car with his friends, thanking us once again as he did so. That young man made everyone feel incredible. Chris was truly a gift from God, for all of us.
Later, I met a lady who had nearly completed her trip through the food line. She was just leaning on her shopping cart, staring at nothing as she waited patiently. I walked up to her and, placing my hand on her shoulder, asked if there was anything I could pray for. She immediately began to cry saying. That's when I learned that her husband had just left her and her girls.
I motioned for my friend John to come over and told him "This lady needs a hug from John" which he freely gave. "I almost made it all the way though without crying until this guy came along," she said, pointing to me. Her name is Kate. Kate received a gift she really needed. Love. She was loved on by two of the ugliest guys you'd ever want to meet, but she was loved. Something she desperately needed, right when she needed it.
Everyone who goes through the line at Ruby's Pantry has a story. Some are amazing stories of resurrection like Chris. Others are the tales of incredible lows like Kate whose husband abandoned her family just one week before Christmas. But everyone, EVERYONE, leaves that place being fed . . in more ways than one. Everyone leaves there feeling loved.
I was talking with a friend of mine that day, another volunteer at Ruby's, who told me that her sister suffers from depression. "You know what I tell her to do? Volunteer!! Help someone else out!" Volunteering is truly the cheapest psychiatrist money can, or should I say "can't," buy. Because love and being loved is truly priceless. Oh, and my new friend and brother, Chris . . . he wants to come back next month . . . to volunteer. I look forward to that day. :)
"42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47
Here's something you don't see everyday. A celebrity giving his time and money to help others. The late Paul Walker . . . volunteering.
"3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." - Philippians 2:3-4