Only one way to make a difference

by | October 21, 2013

nellieVeannetta died this week at the age of eighty-eight.

Her obituary said she enjoyed a wonderful childhood. Her father passed away when she was fifteen years old.

She was a hard worker, always upbeat, always pleasant. She enjoyed sewing and was an exceptional quilter. She loved being outdoors, especially in her garden.

Veannetta married Rex Harris on January 27, 1981. They spent many happy years together in Toquerville, Utah. Rex and Veannetta traveled in their later years and it was a highlight for her.

Veannetta is no one to you, but she is someone to my wife, Queen Karina.

Last Christmas Karina felt inspired to start visiting elderly people in a local nursing home.

From the moment she stepped into the nursing home, she felt overwhelmed by how many people there were to visit, and how much they were suffering, mostly from loneliness.

But she couldn’t visit them all. Randomly, she chose two ladies, Veannetta and Nellie.

Every Sunday since last December she has taken our two youngest daughters to visit Veannetta and Nellie.

I love her for that — as I’m sure Veannetta and Nellie do.

She reminds me of a story: As a man walked along a beach at sunset, he saw a young boy in the distance who kept bending down, picking up something, and throwing it into the water.

As he drew near to the boy, he realized the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed onto the beach from the tide, and he was throwing them back into the water one at a time.

“What are you doing?” the man asked.

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean,” the boy replied, “or else they’ll die.”

“You can’t save them all,” the man scoffed, “there are thousands on the beach. You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The boy frowned for a moment. Then he smiled, stooped down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the ocean.

“I made a difference for that one!” he declared triumphantly.

Perhaps I should just speak for myself, but I think those of us who feel called to make a difference often make the critical mistake of thinking in terms of the masses, versus individuals.

We think our efforts are futile unless we can make a difference for thousands and tens of thousands. Feeling overwhelmed by how small, simple, and weak we are in the face of pervasive suffering, we fail to do the small and simple things that make a profound difference for one person.

In our effort to make a difference, let us never forget that it’s most meaningful when done one individual at a time, one smile at a time, one embrace at a time, one kind word at a time, one helping hand at a time, one listening ear at a time, one friendly visit at a time, one hot meal at a time.

Mother Teresa’s poignant words carry weight because of her extraordinary deeds:

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

“We feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

There are millions of lonely, suffering elderly people in nursing homes across the globe. Queen Karina can’t possibly make a difference for all of them. But she made a difference for Veannetta Harris and Nellie Talley.

For which individuals will you make a difference, and how?

I’ll leave you with the words of Stephen Levine:

“If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?”


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