Thursday, January 15, 2004

More Blessed

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
~ Acts 20:35

“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy,
I woke and I saw that life is all service.
I served and I saw that service is joy.”
~ Mother Teresa

Last week I talked about how good works alone don’t get us into Heaven, but that’s not to say that good works aren’t good – and important!

In Matthew 7, it says: “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit…Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” If we truly love God, then I believe that will be reflected in our lives. The natural byproduct of a “good tree” will be the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:23)

Today I’d like to talk about the rewards of volunteering. Wilfred Grenfell once said: “The service we render others is the rent we pay for our room on earth.” If we have been blessed with happiness and good health, then we should try to find the time to share our good fortune with others. There are so many ways to bring joy into others lives. Sometimes it involves money, but in many cases it only involves time.

The Bible says, “This is pure and undefiled religion…to visit the widows and the orphans.” (James 1:27) When my daughter-in-law Lisa was still attending K-State, she volunteered at nursing homes and gave up her spring break to travel on a mission trip to Mexico to work with orphans, AIDS patients and the homeless. In the past, Keen and I have volunteered at the Women’s Crisis Center. (Keen mainly donated his strong back when they needed one.) We went through the training because we both feel great compassion for women who have been abused by the person who is supposed to love them. I’ve also worked with crime victims through Victim Services, a division of the Department of Corrections and with pregnant inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility.

All of this work has been extremely gratifying, but sometimes I wonder if my motives are right. Am I doing these things for the right reason, or because of the rewards I receive from bringing a little joy into someone else’s life? Whenever we reach out to another person who is going through a difficult time, we get back so much more than we ever give. It truly is more blessed to give, than to receive.

Here’s what Thomas Jefferson had to say on the subject:

“It has been said that we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bind up the wounds of the man beaten by thieves, pour oil and wine into them, set him on our own beast and bring him to the inn, because we receive ourselves pleasure from these acts….These good acts give us pleasure, but how happens it that they give us pleasure? Because nature hath implanted in our breasts a love of others, a sense of duty to them, a moral instinct, in short, which prompts us irresistibly to feel and to succor their distresses. The Creator would indeed have been a bungling artist had He intended man for a social animal without planting in him social dispositions. It is true they are not planted in every man, because there is no rule without exceptions; but it is false reasoning which converts exceptions into the general rule.”

I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine who has these “social dispositions” planted in him more than anyone else I have ever met. My friend’s name is Larry Welch. In 1984, Larry retired from the Navy as a Lieutenant (Limited Duty-Cryptology), and is now employed as a force protection analyst with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). In 1996, he became the first recipient of the National Race for the Cure Volunteer of the Year Award; and he was presented the 1997 Jill Ireland Award for Voluntarism by The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in Dallas, Texas. In 1998, his employer presented him a Department of the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award for his leadership in community relations.

Larry currently lives in Singapore – which is how I happened to make his acquaintance. One day I was reading an article in Toastmasters magazine when I noticed that the author of a book review lived in Singapore. Since his email address was listed, I decided to drop him a short note telling him that I lived in Singapore once and met my husband there while attending high school. God truly works in mysterious ways when bringing people into our lives that we never would have had the opportunity to meet.

Larry writes an insightful newsletter for positive thinking people called “On the run….” He is also the author of a book titled, Mary Virginia: A Father’s Story, which is a memoir he compiled for his young daughter. It contains heartwarming stories about the fun father-daughter times they spent together.

Many of those memories included times Larry and Mary spent volunteering together in worthwhile causes such as feeding the homeless and ringing the Salvation Army bell at Christmas time. Such wonderful values to pass on to his daughter!

When I read more about Larry’s philanthropic activities in the “note from the publisher” on – I was truly impressed. “Larry Welch is the father of Mary Virginia Welch, a position he has held for 10 years. A humanitarian, Larry feeds the homeless, promotes programs to find a cure for breast cancer, and runs marathons to raise money to help those suffering from spina bifida, kidney disease, Downs syndrome, and leukemia. He has organized marrow donor drives, recruited bell-ringing teams for The Salvation Army, promoted Toys-for-Tots, helped jail inmates develop self-esteem, listened to the elderly and watched over children.” He has even offered to donate one of his kidneys to a perfect stranger.

Larry is living the truth of Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s words: "Whatever you have received more than others - in health, in talents, in ability, in success, in a pleasant childhood, in harmonious conditions of home life - all this you must not take to yourself as a matter of course. In gratitude for your good fortune, you must render in return some sacrifice of your own life for another life."

Larry is a remarkable human being and I consider it a privilege to know someone who has given so much of himself to others.

"During your life, everything you do and everyone you meet rubs off in some way. Some bit of everything you experience stays with everyone you’ve ever known and nothing is lost. That’s what’s eternal, those little specks of experience in a great enormous river that has no end.” ~ Harriet Doerr