Once you experience the thrill of being God’s hands and feet to someone in need, you will look for more and more opportunities. Your reward? Indescribable joy.
–Caroline Barnett, Willing to Walk on Water, “Chapter 1: Willing,” page 16
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
–Hebrews 13:2 NIV
I often traveled to Buffalo, New York, for my engineering job, and from November through April the work occasionally gave me the opportunity to re-experience one aspect of life growing up in the northeastern United States: cold and snowy weather. And western New York in the winter can deliver some of the coldest and snowiest.
On this particular trip, the Delta Airlines MD-88 I flew in transitioned into the Buffalo-Niagara International airspace on a quiet February afternoon, with temperatures hovering around freezing. In any given year the area gets about 94 inches of the white stuff, and during February the typical monthly total is a bit over 17 inches. But this particular year the snowfall totals had been significantly lower. So as the jet skimmed over the dairy farms and neatly-packed suburbs on approach to the airport, I noticed the area was not blanketed by snow as expected, but covered in the flat brownness of a worn-out winter. Threads of discolored slush huddled in the shadows of the naked woods, and dirty piles of it stood hunched around the perimeters of parking lots.
That night the thin cloud deck drifted out, unveiling a crisp full moon and opening the stage for temperatures to fall below freezing. The next morning when I peeked out the hotel window I saw the cars in the parking lot covered by a patina of crystalline frost. Lucky for me, the rental car I drove came equipped with the one piece of standard equipment all cars in upstate New York need: an ice scraper. Unfortunately, not all rental car companies ensure their customers leave the airport with this critical piece of hardware. After I left the hotel and started the Ford Fusion, I began to attack the ice on the driver’s side window. That’s when I noticed the car next to me was running, steam wafting out of the tail pipe, windshield wipers occasionally stuttering across the ice-covered windshield. The driver, a young woman, tall and bundled in a long coat, swung open the door, rushed out of the car, and hustled into the hotel.
“Well, that ain’t gonna cut it,” I thought as I worked on skinning my Fusion of its coat of rime. Obviously the young lady didn’t have a scraper, and I wondered if she had run back into the hotel to see if she could borrow one. At that moment I determined I would scrape her windows when I finished mine. I’m not going to pass this up, I thought. What better opportunity to do a kind deed for someone? So after I finished the Fusion, I started scraping off the windshield of the young woman’s car. Suddenly the passenger side door opened and another young lady peered over the car roof. “Thank you,” she beamed. “Thank you so much!”
“No problem,” I replied, and kept scraping. The first woman hustled back down the sidewalk from the hotel entrance, hands in the pockets of her long coat.
“Thank you,” she called as she climbed back into the driver’s seat.
“You’re welcome,” I answered. “I saw your windshield wipers moving and I thought ‘That ain’t gonna cut it.’” I worked my way around their car from driver’s side windshield, around the back, and finished on the passenger’s side windshield. The passenger cracked her window to again express her appreciation as I finished up. “Are you going to the airport, or going to work?” I asked.
“We’re going to take the bar exam,” the woman replied.
“Awesome!” I said. “God bless. You’re both going to do well!” After saying goodbye, I climbed back into my car with a smile on my face, a light in my heart, and joy in my spirit. That felt good! Real good! And as I pulled out of the parking lot and headed to work, I actually got choked up with joy: a kind deed, even something as simple as scraping ice off someone’s car windows, had made my day. Literally. I thought of the verse in the Bible where it says to be kind to strangers because, who knows, you may actually be serving angels (Hebrews 13:2). To me, those two young ladies were angels because they unknowingly provided me an opportunity to serve, even in a seemingly insignificant way.
The rest of the day I was charged up–I worked with confidence and assertiveness, and with a clarity and alertness that lasted the whole shift. Man, I thought, if doing a simple kind deed does this, I need to keep my eyes open for every opportunity I can find! What a disproportionately huge reward for such a simple act.
Recently Fred Chapman, a fellow church member at New River Fellowship and an active volunteer for the Parker County, Texas, branch of Kids Against Hunger, invited volunteers to show up one late afternoon at the distribution facility on the west side of Weatherford. The goal for the evening was to load two trailers with enough bags of food to provide over 100,000 meals for people in Mexico. I jumped at the chance to bring Hannah, then five, to participate in this roll-up-your-sleeves service project. She squealed with excitement and anticipation.
After we arrived at the distribution center that hot North Texas summer evening, I set Hannah to one side and told her to stand clear of the line of volunteers wheeling out pallets and passing box after box, bucket brigade style, from the pallets to the trailer. Each box contained a dozen bags of rice and soy mixed with vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. Hannah never complained as she watched, despite the glaring sun and shimmering heat. “Are we volunteering, Dad?” she asked.
“Yes we are, Sweetie,” I assured her, sweat dripping off my forehead. “This is what we do. We help each other.”
After we finished stacking boxes in the trailers, and the crew distributed the loads evenly over the axles, the volunteers hugged and said goodbye to the drivers as they started their long overnight journey to the border crossing into Mexico. Fred then picked up Hannah and visited with her for a few minutes, holding her and talking to her eye-to-eye. Hannah smiled and nodded, perfectly comfortable in the arms of this strong leader who still exudes continuous joy despite experiencing tragedy several years ago. Knowing Fred, he poured as much encouragement and excitement into Hannah about serving as I had, most likely more. I then collected my daughter and whisked her to off to get a dish of ice cream for a job well done. “When can we volunteer again, Daddy?” she asked as we headed to Chik-fil-A.
“We’ll have lots of opportunities to do this again,” I assured her.
“Yay!” she cried. Her joy in volunteering is just getting started, but for that day, her joy was complete.
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes