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Most of us are busy. When people ask how things are going, we respond, “I’m fine. Keeping busy.” If they give us a few more seconds of their time, we might run through the list of things we need to do: pick up groceries, do the laundry, finish schoolwork, pay bills, meet with so-and-so.

When I started seminary almost three years ago, one of the requirements of the Master of Divinity program was to participate in an hour of volunteer service each week. This requirement encourages students to model lives of service both now and in the future. But I saw it as one more thing to add to my already overwhelming schedule.

For the past two years I’ve participated in Kids Hope USA, a mentoring program for at-risk children. Every Thursday afternoon I drive to a local public elementary school to mentor my fifth-grade friend. I’ll call him Jeremiah. Jeremiah greets me with a warm smile and we spend an enjoyable hour together playing games, finishing math sheets, and memorizing multiplication tables. My weekly visit with Jeremiah breaks up my day and gives me energy for the other things I need to accomplish. This hour is a bit of an escape from my life as a student. For me it’s an hour of joy.

One of my favorite “Jeremiah memories” occurred this past December. I went to his school early to help deliver Christmas fruit baskets to Kids Hope participants. After choosing a basket for Jeremiah, I walked upstairs to the fifth-grade classroom. I knocked on the door, opened it, and asked, “Can I pull Jeremiah out of class for a couple of minutes?” Jeremiah gave me a confused look. He wasn’t expecting me. I handed him a white plastic bag and said, “Jeremiah, I know I’m early, and you’re surprised to see me. I wanted to give you and your family a little something for Christmas.” Jeremiah peered into the bag, eyes wide. A big toothy grin formed on his face. His eyes met mine. He exclaimed, “Thank you, Ashley. Thank you!” The fruit basket I’d given Jeremiah wasn’t anything spectacular—an apple, an orange, a pear, and some grapes wrapped in cellophane. Yet to Jeremiah this was a wonderfully unexpected gift.

I hope I never forget the look on Jeremiah’s face as he expressed thankfulness about something so small, so simple. I wonder how often I miss moments of thankfulness because I’m too busy or because I think I deserve what I receive. Jeremiah reminded me that even the little things in our lives are gifts that can evoke joyful gratitude. Thankful lives reflect the great gift of salvation that we have received through Jesus’ death on the cross—the gift of grace that is undeserved yet fills our every need. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Thank you!

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