I once heard a parable about a young boy on a beach that was covered with thousands of dying starfish. A man was walking on the beach, and saw the boy picking the starfish up, one by one, and returning them to the ocean. The man commented that the boy was never going to save them all, and that he wouldn’t make a difference. The boy tossed another starfish into the ocean and replied “I made a difference to that one.”
I would like to say I was always like the boy in the parable, but I would be lying to you. When I was in college, I was not a Christian, and I was 100% focused on my career trajectory. I was going to be an archaeologist and travel the world, and while I cared about the pain and suffering in humanity, I only served if it came in the form of a Salvation Army bucket or giving someone a quarter on the street. It wasn’t until I was working on my MA that I suddenly became enflamed by the desire to give back. For the first time in 25 years, I saw poverty through God’s eyes, and my gaze turned towards others rather than myself.
Once I had seen God’s heart for the poor, I was no longer 100% content in archaeology. After a summer as an archaeologist where I enjoyed the work but still felt my life was missing something, I decided to completely abandon all 8 years of education and training and pursue non-profit work. Despite my significant lack of experience in the non-profit sector, I heard God calling me to follow Him, and I was determined, so I found myself moving to a city I had only heard stories of and starting an internship with Lydia’s House, a house of hospitality for women and children in transition out of homelessness. Everyone I know thinks I am crazy for giving up my life to follow God’s calling, but I see it more as finding and deepening the life that was given to me by God. It’s true, Lydia’s House can only serve up to 10 people at a time, in a city with more than 7,000 homeless, and many times what I do for the house seems just like a drop of water in an empty bucket. But in times like these, I turn to the story of the boy and starfish. You see, sometimes it feels like the task is overwhelming and you will never make a difference. There are too many starfish, and only one of you, and it’s hard to give up your free time when you’re tired from studying and there’s an enticing marathon of America’s Next Top Model on tv. But at least with every bit you do, you make a difference in the life of that one starfish you rescued.
My purpose today is not to convince you to abandon everything you love and have planned for your life. I’m here to encourage you during Advent, as well as throughout your lives, to keep your heads and hearts open to opportunities to serve others the way Jesus served those He encountered. This Advent season, let’s give all of ourselves without expecting anything in return, just as Our Savior gave to us, so that others might not feel as cold, hungry, or alone, but rather full, cared after, and loved. You might not be able to hold a banquet for tax collectors and sinners, like Levi. You might think that your donation to the Philippines isn’t going to do anything, or that buying a coffee for the homeless woman on the street won’t save her, and you may be right. But each act is a drop in the bucket, a starfish thrown into the water, a banquet for the unloved, a traveller sheltered for the night, and a step closer to bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.
Want to support Lydia’s House? You can donate online here. And… just want to say that Lydia’s House didn’t ask for the plug. One of our editor’s is taking this opportunity to shamelessly ask for support for this amazing ministry.
Hilary Wolkan is an intern with Lydia’s House, a house of hospitality in Norwood, OH for women and children transitioning from homelessness, and with Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade organization located in Cincinnati. She also is a part of the Floral House intentional living community in Norwood.