Yesterday I was jumping in my '95 Camry in a hurry when my neighbor, Tommy, yelled my name. I had my handy iPhone earbuds already in, ready to multi-task with a phone call while driving, but hadn't dialed yet. I considered pretending my "music" was too loud and ignoring my neighbor with whom I hadn't made eye contact, but I opted to be polite and turn around to say hello. That's when he proceeded to come over to my car, hug me, and then ask me for money.
Tommy was almost killed in a horrific car wreck when he was 13 years old and after 30+ years of therapy his brain damage is still quite evident, but now he's able to live on his on. He wanted to know if I would support him for the Brain Damage Research Walk coming up in a few weeks. Again I considered how I might escape this situation, not wanting to part with my hard earned benjamins, but I knew he was my neighbor and I couldn't just hide. The only cash I had in my wallet was a fresh ATM $20, and I was already running late, so I just filled out his paperwork and half-heartedly surrendered my Jackson.
As I handed him the money and began to say goodbye so I could get on with my important "ministry" tasks, I was met with a smile that went to the moon (and back). Tommy then gave me another hug and exclaimed "You're giving me TWENTY?!!!" From his expression you would have thought he'd won the lottery. He was so grateful and deeply sincere. He couldn't believe I would give him that much! All of a sudden, the hurry seemed to run out of my day. I paused. I walked back into the house and told my wife what had happened. I sat down and remembered the many, many friends who had so generously and sacrificially given money to support me and Young Life over the years. I recalled how I'd arrogantly scoffed at $20 donation checks when they arrived in the mail. I was humbled. I was grateful. For Tommy. For the gratitude he showed me. But most of all for the reminder that a thankful heart is a choice.
Yesterday afternoon I sat down and wrote a few thank you notes that were long overdue. We have so many folks to be thankful for in this incredible ministry that we get to be a part of. When I was going through YL leader training back in the day, one of our "YL Nuggets of Wisdom" was to "thank people well." I want to be a person who does just that. Not because I'm supposed to, or because it sometimes results in getting more from people, but because the best gratitude is genuine gratitude. Because sincerity speaks loudly. Because I'm tired of taking people for granted. Let's be Young Life leaders who thank people well.