So much of what life is all about is learning how to see. Truly living, is all about cultivating an awareness of what is most real, most important or most valuable. I cringe to think about how much time I have wasted over what turned out to be imaginary, trivial or outright worthless. The saying I’ve heard attributed to Mark Twain captures this well: “I’ve lived my life from one tragedy to the next, most of which never actually happened.” We could substitute for “tragedy” in this saying any number of other words: shallow dream, selfish fantasy, trend, fad, whim…most of which never actually profit anything. For the rest of my life, one of my greatest goals is to learn how to see what matters most and to help others do the same.
This kind of perception is so valuable because often the greatest gift we have is whatever is right in front of us at any given moment.
Sometimes that is the most difficult thing to see. The eyes of our minds and hearts turn so easily back to what once was, or forward to visions of what might be, leaving us blind to greatest gift of all: what we have in the present moment.
And yet, every now and then we are given the gift of sight: the ability to recognize that moment itself as the real gift. I had a day like that just before Christmas here at Community Outreach. It started with a regular visit to a patrol briefing at our Sheriff’s Office. One of our deputies, “Bill,” was there, and he recounted with deep gratitude the honor and power of his father’s funeral, sharing memories of the man whose legacy shapes Bill’s own great service today. This moment was sacred space, and I sensed the privilege it was to stand in this building behind the barbed wire of the county jail, hearing his words of gratitude for a father who actually “got it right.”
Now, I must say, I expected to see Bill on this day, so it was a bit easier to grasp the gift of the moment. But little did I know there would be a whole series of sacred moments to follow. On the way to buzz out of the locked fence I stopped to chat with another deputy, “Doug,” I hadn’t seen in a while. When I asked about his holiday plans, Doug couldn’t wait to share how he and his wife had learned they were expecting their first baby. Our officers face so much pain and destruction in their work, so my joy overflowed with every smile, story and sonogram-moment he shared.
Still animated from the previous two encounters, I walked through the administrative section of the Sheriff's Office on the way out. As time was getting short, I almost passed one of the administrative assistant’s offices I usually drop by, but something told me to turn around. Popping in to see “Sandy,” I received her gift of vulnerability—Sandy briefly shared her tears and hurts of that day and let me stand in the doorway speaking a word of prayer over her precious family.
Any one of these connections would have been more than enough to bless my visit that day, but God was not finished with his barrage of priceless moments. On the way out I was blessed to see our Sheriff, and I will use his name as I want to take a moment to honor our own Jeff Long, the man who has served with incredible dignity, class and excellence for years now. As you know, he has been called to serve our state in another critical capacity, with Governor-elect Bill Lee asking Sheriff Long to join his cabinet. So, with this impending transition, I took this moment to look him in the eye and thank him for serving our state with such grace and for the incredible honor of serving under Corky’s leadership as chaplains for his office. And I will never forget the simple gesture he did before I left, which symbolizes the integrity and humility of the man who has served us so well: he asked if I would say a prayer for him. Corky has done this week in and week out for years, and I pray in my personal prayers for the Sheriff regularly, but it was a great honor for the first time to kneel next to his chair and pray over this great servant-leader.
As I walked to my car, a sense of overwhelming gratitude flooded me. This day, this moment, this work, these priceless people…it’s all a gift. And perhaps the greatest gift of all is the ability to see how much they all meant, right there, in that instant. Now, I realize that on this particular day the moments of connection, the gifts of friendships and relationships, were a bit more obvious. But doesn’t every day for each of us present some opportunity for wonder, appreciation, or the beauty of service?
I think of one of my favorite stories in the life of Jesus, where he heals a man who had been blind from birth (see John 9:1-41). The whole episode becomes the subject of a religious fight, but it begins with the uncanny power of Jesus to see what was right in front of him. The story begins with these words: “…he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1). Four breathtaking words: he saw a man. Jesus actually saw a man, a human being, right there with him. Not a theological question like the disciples did, not a troublemaker like the religious leaders did, not a relational crisis like his parents did. Jesus saw a man: he recognized the value and potential of the person right in front of him. Every day of our lives presents the same opportunity—to see the gift of the people right in front of our path.
I wonder, how many “moments” in life do we just miss? How many days go by when we overlook the greatest gifts of all—the people right in front of us. People, in all of their joys, struggles, pains and celebrations. It is the time for resolutions, with the turning of the calendar to another year. So how’s this for a resolve, a convicted pursuit in the new year: to learn how to see the gift of what and who we have in our lives—right here, right now.
On behalf of Community Outreach Ministries, thank you for the gift of seeing and being present with people like Bill, Doug, Sandy and Sheriff Long. We could never have days like this one without each of you who make this ministry happen.
Happy New Year!
-Dean Barham, Community Chaplain
Community Outreach Ministries is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that shows up in the critical moments of people’s lives. Please help us hit our goal this year of 1000 people joining Club 60—with a simple $5 donation each month you will enable us to provide a consistent presence with those who need it throughout the year. Click here to join.