Creative Thinking: Goods acts will make you, not break you

December 8, 2013 

I was always involved in the youth department at our church when I was a teenager. I served on just about every committee I could sign up for. As you can imagine, I was especially interested in anything that involved creativity or decorating.

From backdrops and centerpieces to themed banquets and special programs, I was always ready to lend a hand. Even back then my imagination ran as wild as a deer. Leaping freely from one thing to another, I envisioned everything in epic proportions. Most of the time my visions didn’t exactly coincide with the budget we were allotted. In fact, there wasn’t ever much of a budget at all.

To this day, I feel everyone should dream big without restricting their imagination. It is far better to dream without limitations and then slowly back pedal to reality. Our reality was, shall I say, perhaps more constricting than others. But when I think back, we sure put on some first class events back then.

The reason is two-fold. First, when you have less money to work with, your creativity is challenged. Any time you challenge yourself, great things can happen. Second, we had special people who donated to our causes without hesitation. In my case, often these people were my parents.

“But, Mother, I’ve got to have a large roll of colored construction paper to create this backdrop,” I would say to her, punctuating my pleas with genuine passion. “Without it, we can’t go further with my idea. I’ve called around and this is the best price I’ve found. Please don’t make me go see Mr. Collins.”

I then held my breath waiting for Mother’s reply. She knew I was scared to death to ask Mr. Collins -- a very nice man who took his job as our church’s treasurer very seriously -- for money for glue or glitter or anything else for that matter.

More times than not, Mother said she would take me to get the items I needed for my creation. Usually without hesitation, she also agreed to pay. Of course, I was thrilled but deep down inside I knew my parents really didn’t have the extra money to spend.

It was then that my mother would say a phrase I have kept stored in my mind and called up in my adulthood more times than I can count: “Mark, what I’m spending for these supplies will not make me or break me,” Mother said without reservation. And with that, off we went.

I hadn’t thought of that phrase recently until the other day when I was in line at a store. A lady who was two or three people ahead of me in line at the cashier needed a few dollars and some change to complete her transaction.

Frantically digging through her purse, she was starting to panic. I was about to offer her the cash she needed but a kind man in front of me beat me to the punch.

“Here you go,” he said to the lady. As the lady thanked him profusely, he muttered to himself, “That couple of dollars is not going to make me or break me.” I smiled because I heard my mother’s voice uttering those words just as clear as I did the man’s. I left the store with a renewed sense of humanity. Even though the small amount of money would not make or break him, there was no doubt his kind action had most definitely made the lady’s day.

As I drove away from the store, I began thinking. How much does it really cost to make someone’s day? It was evident the man in front of me in line had accomplished it with just a few dollars and some change.

As I continued to ponder, I reminded myself that many times making someone’s day costs absolutely nothing. I had a first-hand experience with this last week.

As I was leaving the grocery store, it was storming. The rain had started without warning and many shoppers had been caught without their umbrellas. I, for some strange reason, had mine, which is extremely rare for me.

As all the shoppers were exiting the store, they realized what was going on and panicked.

A well-dressed older man in front of me was trying to get someone to watch his cart while he darted to his car to retrieve his umbrella.

No one was responding to him as he stood there contemplating the situation. “Take my umbrella,” I said to him. “I’ll watch your groceries until you get back.”

He looked at me in shock. I couldn’t determine if it was because I was willing to help or that I looked sweaty and completely disheveled from a visit to the gym when compared to his pristine attire.

He took my umbrella and bolted out into the rain while I stood by his cart guarding his groceries. For me, making his day didn’t cost a penny and only a minute or two of my time. But, to him, it made a much bigger difference.

As we go through the hurried and hectic few weeks leading up to Christmas, we all have it in us to make someone else’s day. Whether we’re rich or poor really doesn’t matter. This is the season of giving and, if we listen to our hearts, we are all rich with love and compassion.

Take a second to listen to your heart. As my mother said so perfectly many, many years ago, doing this is not going to make or break us. What doing a good deed will do is make your day. And, the best thing is that your gift doesn’t even have to be gift-wrapped!

More with Mark

• Mark will be at Creter’s, 2374 Ingleside Ave., from noon-3 p.m. Saturday with all his books, new comedy DVD and much more. Call 478-745-6709 for details.

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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