Too many times I’ve succumbed to deception. I believed my life was not full, and I didn’t have much to give. So, I didn’t give. Instead, I waited to get.
As an adult, I’ve enjoyed more material riches than I ever experienced as a child growing up in rural upstate New York. By the world’s standard, we were poor, and I never even knew it. The 20 acres of woods, pastures, and ponds became our playground instead of toys. It fueled our imagination, and we had the best times there. We grew our food and never went hungry. There was plenty of wood to stock the stove kept us warm in winter.
When I was a child, my father would pack the family into our Chevy van for a Sunday drive. Sometimes we just drove through the countryside, soaking up the sunshine and the beauty of nature. Or we might have an impromptu picnic on our way to the natural spring where we collected our drinking water. These were all small activities in most of my friend’s eyes, but later in life, I realize the root of all that matters stemmed from these memories. I learned that the real riches in life were laughter, family time, and good friends, like “Old Man Bill.”
“Where are, we going?” I always had to know the purpose behind each journey.
“Old Man Bill’s,” he responded with a grin as if he already knew what would happen next. He was right. We squealed with delight and jumped in our seats.
I thought back to whimsical days of my childhood and that warm Sunday afternoon. My siblings and I bounced around with glee anticipating our trip to “Old Man Bill’s.” Mr. Bill was one of the happiest, jolly old fellows I had ever met as a child. He always wore a big straw hat to protect his bald head from the scorching sun. But also, because he had a large tumor on the back of his head, which we only discovered by accident one day when his hat tipped forward, and we all saw the apple size mass peeking out at us. We didn’t dare ask him how he got it, but our rides home frequently included a chorus or two of “the man who went to bed with a bump on his head.”
That Sunday I pulled open the sliding door and jumped out of the big blue van ready to make a quick dash to the old man’s front door. I never quite understood how he always seems to know we were coming. But, there he was waiting at the edge of the dirt and gravel driveway greeting us with a big toothless smile. One of us would be sure to report if the top pocket of his denim overhauls was bulging. A full pocket that we knew very well. Our parents didn’t allow us to eat many sweets, except for holiday time, but they always broke the rule during a visit to the old man.
Mr. Bill leaned toward us and pulled out the pale orange candy. We tried to remain still but could hardly do it. “Ready for the circus?!” Mr. Bill would say in his “country” drawl. It was a good 10-mile drive to a store, but Mr. Bill always made sure he had a stash of jumbo circus peanuts ready for us on every visit. We giggled and hopped with glee, holding our hands wide open waiting for him to drop into our palms a few of these gigantic, soft, chewy candies.
True to our flesh natures, our mission was to get as much candy as our mama would allow. We were confident that we came to get, not to give. But, my dad had a different idea. He wanted us to give our friend something that our money could not buy.
I know now that God doesn’t give us gifts so that we can live spoiled, pampered lives. He gives so we can be givers. All of it, our money, our time, our talents. But mostly, so that we can fill hearts with the love of God as we become the hands and feet of Jesus.
A few years ago, while walking my dog, I glanced back at my tiny house. The moon was bright; the stars glistened like diamonds against the blackened sky. It seemed as if the porch light was beckoning to me, I AM A BLESSING. Tears streamed down my face as God revealed to me that while I was complaining about the size of my house, to someone, this house was a mansion. Still, I think my house is too small, and I need a bigger one but am thankful to finally realize that God has been generous to me through all my adult years, and has given me much more than I deserve.
I’m not sure what Mr. Bill would think of my tiny house. His house was much smaller. In fact, he lived alone in a little shack with no running water. A true “mountain man” who lived off the land and sold a few eggs and vegetables to gas up his truck. I suspect he didn’t have many visitors. And circus peanuts, no doubt, cost him a fortune on his income. He didn’t even have a phone. Our visits to him were random, but we always hoped that the long journey for us would end in sugar.
I believe Mr. Bill coveted our Sunday visits. His blue eyes sparkled as he eagerly shared his circus peanuts. We went to get candy, and in payment, we gave a kind man a few hours of our time on a lazy afternoon. I never realized it then, but Old Man Bill gave us so much more than we gave him.
The last time we drove to visit him, he was not waiting for us. His not being there seemed to upset my father greatly, but he never talked about it. And, we never went back to visit the old man.
Years later, as I recalled those Sunday afternoons when speaking of my father I often praised his effort to be so kind to Mr. Bill. We gave up our Sunday to give a senior man our time and our friendship. Oh, was I wrong… we weren’t the right ones.
“Old Man Bill” was the real deal. He gave us something that only God could allow us to see. We saw a glimpse of pure joy in a man’s heart. Mr. Bill’s inner joy had nothing to do with his earthly riches. He truly had a thankful heart.
I challenge you to think about your gifts. What do you have that you are grateful for – what are you holding back? Is it resources, time, or a chance to nurture a special friendship? Even a cheerful spirit is a gift that God might be calling you to share. Pick something and give it away.
“…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38
Father, I thank you for the many gifts you have given me. I thank you that you have shown me that many of the most precious gifts are not gifts that the world recognizes. Open my eyes so I can see them clearly through your eyes. Show me how I can use my gifts to make someone’s world a little brighter today. In Jesus name.
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Bible quotations from the English Standard Version (ESV). Bible Gateway.