Today’s post is the featured article from the June 2008 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.
My daughter, Kelly, was fighting a bad upper respiratory infection in her chest last month. It was much worse than it had appeared to be. She had battled through the final games of the her high school varsity soccer season mostly ignoring the symptoms. The symptoms were not glaring, but rather subtle. They didn’t seem to impact her trademark ability to burst into supersonic speed on the soccer field — but her nagging cough and “off-the-field” sluggishness eventually landed her an appointment with her family doctor. Dr Scott Love was surprised she had been able maintain her performance on the soccer field. But he has known Kelly for years and wasn’t surprised that she had just kept going. And if his diagnosis didn’t open our eyes to what we had all ignored, the $200 prescription certainly told us we had ignored it a bit too long.
Kelly’s chest infection was in her lungs. I have met others where their chest infection was in their heart — if not penetrating to their soul. It doesn’t keep them from performing in their field of work with incredible bursts of productivity. But there is a tugging sense of emptiness. Or an uneasy sense of too much focus on self — or a sense of self pity. It might not be a focus on self at all, but rather a focus on others — in an endless trap of comparison.
There is a timeless prescription for this chest infection and it won’t cost you a dime — just some time. I have often heard, if you find yourself in the pits, just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get going again. The bootstraps are usually a short-term fix for a long-term issue. A better cure is pulling someone else up by the bootstraps! Growing up in the “Volunteer State” of Tennessee I often heard of the concept of showing up for others. But my concept of volunteerism was blown away when I recently met Don Moss while delivering a keynote to the North Carolina Baptist Hospital at Wake Forest University. You see Don Moss hasn’t donated a few hours of time. He has donated his life — 43,000 hours of it anyway. No, that is not a typo — it really is forty-three thousand! He has given his life to the hospital that saved it. And in doing so, you might not be surprised what he has found.
Don had a full platter in his life. At the time, he was the father of 8 and 12 year-old boys. It was just another cool winter day as Don headed to work on Monday, January 21, 1980. The next thing he knew, it was Friday — three months later! As he reflects on his life-changing experience, Don doesn’t prolong his description of the automobile accident, but focuses more on the fact that God simply let him sleep for three months. He woke-up to a new life on a spring day, Friday, April 25th. Maybe there is no coincidence that it was his birthday! Soon after he precisely recalls waking up between 2:00am – 3:00am to hear a voice saying
“‘I have not forsaken thee’”. His first thought was that this voice came from a nurse. He soon realized there was no human in the room. Forsaken he was not, but his road ahead would prove to be demanding as he moved from bed to wheelchair to walker to cane.
You would think that would be enough challenge for any one life, but several other mishaps would follow. Any one of them could have ended his life, but he was spared each time. He laughs as he tells you about them leading you to believe he has a warped sense of humor. But don’t be confused. He laughs because of his love for life. While well into his recovery, but not yet at a hundred percent, he was volunteering to cut the grass at his church. With a move in the wrong direction he flipped the riding lawnmower with the exposed blade still running. It could have cost him his life — but only demanded surgery on his hands. As you fast forward to another first day of spring, while Don was back out in the yard, he ran across a dangerous snake. He went in to get his pistol. As he approached the snake, he tripped falling directly toward the snake and shot himself in the hand! A few years later, he was cleaning the leaves from gutter of his roof. Once up on the roof a strong wind blew the ladder down leaving him stranded for hours. He was finally rescued only to find himself in the same predicament 2 months later. His determination once again proved to be too much for his own good. That determination left him stranded again when he decided to get a heavy iron table up from the ground to his raised deck. With determination, but no help, he decided he would pull it up with a rope. It seemed to be a creative thought at the time! The weight of the table proved to be too much for his balance. The weight of the table won the tug-of-war pulling Don over the edge of a 7-foot drop. Don’s wife, Janie, came home to find Don on the ground rather than the table on the deck. He continues to laugh as he tells you of all his predicaments and his own sense of needing to learn from them!
After all of this, you might think that Don would be down on life. Anything but! Every fiber of Don’s body is filled with joy. Don has been dealt a lot in life and it would have been easy for him to put on the mask of a victim. Filled with a deep faith, he made a different choice — to put on the apron of a servant. Don’s volunteer service at North Carolina Baptist Hospital really started as a matter of circumstance. As he returned to the hospital for his day-long rounds of physical therapy there were gaps of time throughout the day that needed to be filled. So he decided to fill the time by trying to help the hospital staff with their work. Those time-fillers eventually became a way of life. A better life.
Susan Washabaugh, Director of Volunteer Services at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, describes Don as the most dedicated volunteer she has. “When he’s not here his presence is missed and his work has to be transferred to another volunteer or staff person. Don’s happy disposition is always consistent and you can’t help but smile when you are around him. He likes to joke around and his mission is to make you feel good about yourself and life in general. Don has taken the tragedy in his life and turned it around to benefit the staff and patients at Baptist Hospital. Everyone thinks he’s an employee because he’s here so often and knows so much! Even though Don has suffered much from his automobile injuries, you would never notice because of his humility and great personality. For years Don was able to help our Rehab patients in a way that the trained professionals couldn’t — he’d been where they had been and was able to give them hope after their accident. Don provides much encouragement to our guests, patients and staff and we couldn’t do it half as well without him. It’s our honor to have Don as a volunteer – he’s a part of Baptist Hospital!”
In June 2008, Don crossed the 43,000 mark of hours volunteered! That is about 21 years of a standard full-time schedule! It is a little overwhelming to think about. But what is clear is that Don exudes nothing but joy. He is joyful about his marriage of 86 years (he says 43 for him and 43 for Janie, his wife!). He is joyful about his two young boys grown-up to be fine men and he is joyful about his 8 grandchildren. The bottom-line is that Don is joyful about every hour of every day of life.
Don has no congestion in his chest, in his heart or in his soul. In the midst of enormous challenges he has found his way to live life well. I think we could all learn from the prescription he takes — a life of simply giving. A life of finding joy.
ACTION IDEA: Think about where you are currently giving of your time, talent and treasures.
Does it truly align with your gifts? Do you reactively give to whatever comes along or are you intentional about giving your time, talent and treasures to something that brings real value? Think about the experiences, the success and the challenges you have faced in your life. How can you share the wisdom, insights and empathy you have nourished through your own path of life? Someone currently needs you. May I suggest if you plan to find meaningful joy in your life … you, in-turn, need them.