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Good things in small packages

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Good things come in small packages, right? Then why do a lot of us seem to think that doing something small isn't good enough? Here's what I mean. When I think about problems like homelessness or hunger, I want to do something about them. But what I think is worth doing is almost always beyond my reach. Invariably, the action I want to take is too grand or involved for me to actually undertake. So, I either stretch to give beyond my means, or worse -- I do nothing at all.

A few months ago, the Live Jesus spirituality group our family is part of began planning a Works of Mercy project we could do together. Aware of the need to keep it simple, I expected that feeding the hungry would probably involve serving a meal at a soup kitchen, collecting canned goods for a food pantry, or maybe cooking a meal for a family in need.

Instead, however, we decided to respond to a need that a retired teacher in the group brought to our attention. Kids who are dependent on school lunches for a significant portion of their nutritional needs don't have snacks at home -- or for that matter, enough food to eat -- during school vacation weeks. Another woman in the group knew that many otherwise homeless families live at a nearby hotel.

What we did was very simple, and not at all expensive or time consuming. Each of us contributed something. Several volunteered to bring in or pay for enough snacks and drinks for two dozen kids. A few wrote out valentines and added prayer cards. One offered to sew drawstring bags from scraps of material. Another contacted the hotel manager to ask about bringing the food there for February vacation week. Some met at the parish hall on a Sunday afternoon to stuff the "snackpacks." The pastor blessed the food and led prayers for those who would both give and receive it. And a few of us delivered the bags to a very grateful front desk manager at the hotel.

The joy that flowed from that little project overwhelmed everyone who was part of it. It was a tangible experience of faith alive in community, of individual gifts building up the Body of Christ, and of the mercy of God reaching both to us and through us.

I wish I could hold on to that awareness, and be able to see life the way truly holy people have seen it. Mother Teresa often reminded us that there are no great things -- only small things done with great love. St. Francis de Sales was known for gentleness, obedience, patience, and humility -- the "little virtues" he considered the daily staples of the Christian life. St. Therese spoke of taking the "little way." It never ceases to amaze me that many of our greatest saints spent so much attention on such small and ordinary things. To them, the smallest good deed wasn't too small.

I used to feel like I didn't have the time or resources or connection needed to reach out in service. In retrospect, I think it's because I made the mistake of thinking I had to do something big in order for it to "count." I also thought I had to do it all on my own.

Good things can and do come in small packages. I may never be able to do any of the heroically virtuous deeds I wish I could do. But if I'm willing to give up that rather delusional aspiration, I can -- with the grace of God and the gifts of others -- do small works of mercy and little acts of charity. What I can contribute won't impress anyone, but it just might help to bring the love of God to someone.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.

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