What a toy drive and a bartender taught me

Sometimes when I’m calculating totals or percentages that I could likely do in my head, I open the calculator app on my phone and use that, instead.

Because math is hard.

In many situations in life, it’s easy to walk away from the situations that are scary or uncomfortable or unfamiliar or that might get in way of the plans we already have in place. It’s easy to do only the things we want to do or only the things that are most convenient for us.

But the easy route isn’t the best way to go when people’s hearts are involved.

Every year for the past 11 years, rather than celebrating herself, my friend Lucy has turned her birthday into an event that helps people who need it more than we’ll ever really know. There’s no party; there’s no cake with her name written on it; there’s no huge group singing to her; there’s no indication of any kind that it’s her birthday. Instead, there’s a toy drive full of presents that are later delivered to children who have to spend Christmas in the hospital rather than in the comforts of their own homes with all of their family members. While toys won’t necessarily change their circumstances, the love that’s behind those gifts can put a little joy in their hearts.

And love is certainly a powerful thing.

I look forward to this event every year, and I did again this year, but I was also slightly nervous because of the weather: The forecast all week said a high in the 40s with a 100-percent chance of rain. To me, that translates as “blizzard.”

Normally there’s a fun run that goes along with the event, but wet near-freezing conditions (I’m from Texas, so this is an accurate statement) don’t exactly define “fun” for most people. So the normal spot of the event became a drop-off place for the toys, and Lucy and her husband, Matt, had canopies set up to keep the toys and all of the people who came sheltered from the rain. Such weather—especially on a Saturday—usually makes most people want to stay indoors, curled up in comfy clothes on their sofas for as much of the day as possible. That would certainly be the easy thing to do.

But that wasn’t the case for Lucy and her people.

td5k2016

Photo by Matt, who was supposed to Photoshop himself in the pic

It was so wonderful to see how many people faithfully showed up—and stayed for a good amount of time—to her event. They didn’t let the rain and windy, cold weather keep them at home. They didn’t let the thought that being outside in the chilly rain would not be comfortable stop them from showing up.

Because when people genuinely care, they might surprise you.

A few weeks ago, I was at a restaurant with a friend and had a rather insightful conversation with a bartender. We were talking about important life stuff, and he made me realize some critical truths by reminding me that the people who care about you most will make at least some effort to commit time and effort to you. And the ones who don’t won’t. We were obviously talking more in terms of personal relationships and whatnot, and it made me think about whether or not I put enough time and energy in investing in others.

I want to be better about showing people I care more—I know how it feels when you realize you aren’t as important to someone as you want to be. I really admire Lucy because she’s consistently that type of caring and dependable person to everyone. When she says she’s going to do something, she follows through with it. And it was no different at this year’s toy drive. She easily could have canceled it and opted to avoid a long drive and stay inside her house by a warm fire. But that’s not who she is. She knows how meaningful it is to bring smiles to those children’s faces, and Lucy is in the business of making hearts happy.

When I was in the first grade, I invited my teacher to come watch my soccer game, which was on a weeknight. I will never forget how I felt when I looked over on the sidelines right before the game started and saw her standing there, waving and cheering for me. I played one of my best games that night and made sure to score a goal just for her. I used to be a teacher, so I know it wasn’t the most convenient thing for her to do. She lived pretty far away, and I’m sure she had a million other things she could have and should have been doing that evening. But she didn’t worry about those. She showed up because she genuinely cared—and she knew that the heart of a little girl who deeply looked up to her was at stake. And it obviously meant a lot and left an impact, because I remember it so vividly all of these years later.

Life happens, and we can’t always be everywhere for everyone. And there are times we really aren’t supposed to be. But sometimes people really need us more than they can even explain. When hearts are on the line like that, it’s best to think with your own heart rather than your head.

Because people are worth it.

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About Natalie

I love sports and romcoms. Two very important truths: Anything matches if you wear it with confidence, and there is never a wrong time to eat froyo.
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