Late one night, a lifetime ago, upon returning from a business trip I found that my car would not start. I thought I would be stranded at the airport. Then I noticed that it had rained recently, and I ‘knew’ the distributor cap had probably allowed some moisture to seep in so that the points would not allow the spark plug cables to make the necessary contact to start the engine. (This was not an uncommon problem with the make of my vehicle.) I called a good friend, Jeff, for help. He soon arrived with a hair dryer. We removed the distributor cap, applied some heat, and in an instant the engine roared to life.
The next day I sent Jeff an e-mail saying that there was no need to thank me for taking him from the comfort of his home, even though I had given him the opportunity of being a hero. It was sent in jest. And yet there was much truth to that statement.
We often think that helping another is for their sake, when in fact we are the principal beneficiaries. I often remind folks when seeking funds for the poor, “It’s not about the poor…it’s about us and how we respond to their plight.” The poor help us to open our hearts…to bring out the God in us…to be our happiest.
I remember watching a PBS special with Deepak Chopra, the renowned spiritual writer, wherein he spoke on “Happiness”. He said that there are different levels of happiness: if we get up in the morning without any pain we are happy; if we have a job ~ especially the job we want ~ we are happier; if we are in love, we are happier still…but the highest level of happiness, based on studies he said, is when we make another person happy. Is it any wonder that for us to have the “abundant life” Jesus promised, his legacy to us is to serve one another?
My own experience echoes this essential message of life, particularly in my ministry with both Food for the Poor and Mustard Seed, helping kids (and being ministered by them)…many of whom suffer from a variety of diseases, some with a head twice the natural size, their little hands swollen, their fingers twisted. They cannot dress themselves or feed themselves. They cannot wash themselves. I have been so blessed in my life, but one of my greatest blessings has been to get up at four in the morning to help bathe some of these children and to feel their hugs…of unconditional love…and to hug them right back.
First time I walked into one of these homes, Hogar Belén (Bethlehem Home) outside Managua, Nicaragua, and I saw the children on their cots and mats, writhing in their pain, I thought, “My God, what kind of hell are they in?” It was almost too much. I started to walk away. But, thankfully, I saw a little hand inviting me to get closer. And I was drawn to that little girl like a magnet. When I got there and touched her hand, it was like an electric current had gone through me. I had goose bumps all over my body. And I knew, as I had never known before, that I had just touched the hand of God.
God is everywhere. God is in each of us! But God reveals Self in a most beautiful, powerful way in the little ones. Perhaps moms experience this when they give birth. Perhaps that is why God came to us as a baby, and why Jesus said, “Whenever you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me…I was hungry and you gave me to eat…I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.” (Mt 25:41)
One of the caregivers at Hogar Belén said, “Padrecito, these kids didn’t ask anyone to be born this way, but it’s not right that they be left abandoned in the streets. It’s not right.” Last year I went to Little House of Jesus in Cité Soleil, Haiti. I brought some balloons thinking to blow them up to give to the children, and perhaps bring a smile to their little faces; perhaps play with them, tapping the balloons back and forth ever so gently to bring some joy into their life.
And so I tried. I would tap the balloons as gently as possible. But, because of their condition, they were swinging at the balloons…sending them left and right, and every which way. I started to run after the balloons to try to catch them. As I was running after the balloons, I heard the most life-giving…the most beautiful laughter coming from the kids. It stopped me in my tracks. My eyes welled up with tears. My heart was racing. And I remember thinking, “Yeah right, I thought I was going to bring a little bit of joy to them…and they have filled me with joy.”
It is such a blessing to serve. It has been a blessing to share some of my stories with you. Thank you for your accompaniment and for your comments from time to time. On this day, my birthday, I begin packing to embark on another journey. I am not sure what this next year will bring. I enter it as a “Sabbath in the Lord”, open to new encounters and spiritual growth perhaps in ways I cannot even imagine. I’ll sign off for now…I may have more to share as the year progresses. A parting salutation might be, “Happy trails to you”, but better yet, may your own journeys be filled with blessings and tears…of joy.