“The greatest gift that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance. “ Brian Tracy
In a phone conversation, he asks if I would be willing to share a few words at an upcoming breakfast. He is Marty O’Malley, Financial Life Leader and Director of L’Arche Mobile, a non-profit organization that is a favorite of Carol’s, my wife, and mine. Involved with this group a long time, we have contributed financially and with many volunteer hours. Our participation evolves over the years, first in our family’s volunteering, and eventually the association of employees within our transportation company. Kelly, our oldest daughter, now serves on their Board of Directors; and Kim, our youngest, contributes many hours in major L’Arche fundraising events. The CFO of our company is a member of the Finance Committee.
Speakers love to talk. That’s what we do. Marty says, “Rob, you have two minutes.” Hmmm . . . How do you share a meaningful message in such a short window of time?! The answer lies in a very historic, fateful Christmas season 25 years ago, when, shortly after Thanksgiving, Carol and I decide to make a change in our personal Christmas gift-giving practice. Recognizing our good fortune in life, we decide to share personal blessings outside our family – choosing, rather, to take the money we traditionally would use in purchasing gifts for each other, and contributing our resources toward a greater need. This tradition continues to be a cherished observance today.
Knowing that our pastor would offer wise counsel, I call him to request a suggestion. His immediate and strongly stated reply is just merely one word: “L’Arche,” an organization familiar to us because some of their members attend our weekly church service. Originated in France in 1964, the Mobile chapter was begun 10 years later to provide group homes in a community setting for adults with intellectual disabilities. At the moment, I do not realize they are mere blocks away from our home, or that soon we will be taking short walks for afternoon visits.
Carol and I decide to select a small gift for each of the core members. Purchased in local discount retail stores, we choose basic, simple gifts – items that are not expensive — nothing that would elevate to the level of ‘icon.’
What I remember the most from this pivotal Christmas is the response from the L’Arche community, a reaction for which I am not prepared. You would have thought they have won the lottery! There is so much joy and appreciation. I walk away from the experience on Cloud Nine. They love the gifts and shower us with much appreciation. A relationship is given birth. At the time, I think, “What just happened here?!”
Twenty-five years have elapsed. Marty is now asking me to share a few words at the annual L’Arche Mobile breakfast. An audience of 30 in the early days has now grown to over 200 people because of this organization’s wonderful reputation within our local community. Included in this gathering will be guests not familiar with the L’Arche mission, as well as members of the L’Arche USA Board, who are having their meeting in Mobile this week. Marty wants a “good message that is short.”
Thanks to my Toastmaster experience in delivering countless short speeches, this opportunity is right in my wheelhouse. However . . . how can I possibly describe the wonderful benefits and joy of a 25-year relationship in just 120 seconds!? It is a challenge, even for a capable Toastmaster, so I choose two topics for my message: Gratitude and Relationships.
Much of what I have learned about gratitude during the past two decades is taught by my friends at L’Arche. At this juncture in our special association, I am inclined to proclaim, “I will never again complain about anything.” (But, Carol, resident auditor of realism, will say that is probably not . . . alas, going to happen in my lifetime).
When I do complain about things that did not go the way I had hoped, often I remember L’Arche and that first Christmas with them . . . when they literally changed my life! They accomplished this transformation, not by exchanging gifts with Carol and me, as traditionally done, i.e., ‘I give you something in return for something you give me.’ No, but in the simple lifestyle of their community of limited financial resources, they receive gifts with much thanksgiving. And in return they offer something more eternal, a real relationship, built on a platform of love. Simple . . . deep . . . and inspiring.
As I reflect back on that very special Christmas, I embrace a hopeful pause, a moment of internal reflection, inspired by the members of L’Arche and the Christmas Season.
How about you? Is there someone in your life who is influencing you to pause, to take a deeper look inside? Is now the right time?
One of the best gifts you can give to another person is gratitude. A more difficult gift to share is ‘you in a relationship.’ For L’Arche members, this is a ‘piece of cake,’ so it seems. And their ease in fostering relationships encourages me to do this with others.
Zig Ziglar, renowned motivational speaker, declares that the “greatest attitude is gratitude.” Combining ‘great’ and ‘attitude’ produces the word ‘gratitude.’ If you have ever thanked someone for a gift, you understand the significance. Taking that to a deeper level, as L’Arche does daily, ensures that you will recognize the person behind the gift. ‘Everyone has dignity, purpose and value,’ is what I hear them saying. Not in words, but in how they live. Our material gifts offered in hope of making life a little more comfortable for others, often represent something deeper and unspoken. My awkward attempt to deepen our relationship, or to simply say, “I love you,” may be challenging. I want my gift to say that for me. These special people in L’Arche cut right through any perceived barriers. What is often difficult for us is made easy to grasp and put into practice through the inspiration of this loving and grateful community.
If love is the real treasure buried inside my pretty package wrapped in colorful bows and ribbons, I remain a work in progress . . . a really good work in progress because of what I have learned from so many others. L’Arche remains one of my instructors in the school of life – in the classrooms of gratitude and relationships.
Who is teaching you? What have you learned?
What is your understanding about relationships?
What place does gratitude have in your life?
For whom are you thankful?
Is today the day?
Today, I will say “I love you” to . . .
Today, I will say “thank you” to . . .