It's amazing to me that the things that have the biggest beneficial impact on my life are things that, often, the person who did them won't remember or ever know was a big deal to me.
My brother and I discussed once how nice it would be to have a wet-dry kitchen counter vacuum. Then I went home to Vegas and he went home to Salt Lake City. And then, out of the blue, about 4 weeks later, a wet-dry kitchen vacuum showed up at my door. It was a surprise delivery--he had gone to all the work to find out that they do make what I wanted, which brand had the best ratings, and then to buy it and ship it to me. It wasn't just that I had something that made my life easier, it's that I learned how powerful it can be to give a gift NOT at an expected time, but simply because someone will appreciate it.
A couple who are our friends came to visit despite the fact that they hate Las Vegas (just like we do) just to see us! And they spent time with us. And washed all our dishes without managing to make me feel like I needed to get up and do it. And we talked, played games, and had fun. It was like water in the desert. Friends who appreciate what you are and show a sincere interest in you make a major difference, even if intangible and indescribable. When they left, I felt refreshed and more able to face the grind of regular life and the challenges of being jobless in a bad economy.
These same friends have consistently shown me what service means. We've known them for years, and whenever they are around, life somehow is easier and more fun. It's not just that they washed every dish in the house without making me feel guilty. It's something else. For example, when I was pregnant with Caleb, Tim was going to school and working, and I was sick and alone a lot and living an hour from any family. And these same friends just managed to show up every few days to play cards or yahtzee with me. Not 'to be of service' but because it was fun--or at least, I believed they actually enjoyed my company. It helped me get through a rough pregnancy. And I learned what service really is from them (and continue to learn it every time they ask what we're doing and really want to know and get excited about it).
Sometimes the little offhanded things you say make a huge difference to me. For example, one of these same friends, when they were here, made a single sidelong comment about their own health problems and how much housework got done (almost none)--and not as a criticism or comment about me and my messes at all, and my whole outlook shifted. She probably doesn't even remember saying it, and I suddenly was reminded that I am not a failure--I have health problems. My house is not a disaster because of a character flaw or lack of trying. I have a disability--but that doesn't make me less of a person, even though it makes my house less of a tidy place. It was a paradigm shift I needed desperately. A gift I received through the openness and friendship of someone else who willingly discussed their real life instead of the life we always want people to think we live.
Last night, I was up every half hour or so with a sick baby. When it came time for church, I was so tired that the characters in my dreams kept lying down and falling asleep on the ground in the middle of the action. So we missed church. Tim went, but I didn't make it. After church, a family invited us to dinner. When we couldn't come, they brought dinner over to us! Not a huge thing for them--but definitely a huge thing for me.
Today, someone asked my advice about something that I happen to know something about--so I felt like a valuable resource for someone else. Being useful for something other than changing diapers and putting food on the table is really valuable to young mothers. By asking for advice, this friend gave me a huge gift: a chance to be competent and valuable at something I enjoy but don't get to do often.
There are hundreds of other examples and no space for them here.
What I'm realizing is that the little things--offhanded comments, kind thoughts, friendship consistently extended, enjoying being with someone, gifts offered and delivered, asking advice--those things make my life much richer and happier.
Good people who live kindly and connectedly change my life just by being alive themselves. I feel like their lives are gifts to me from God.
Makes me ponder what I can be (rather than do) that will be of use to the Lord.