An unexpected miracle arrived in my mailbox one day, exactly when I needed one. A thick envelope with no return address, it was chock full of decorative stickers for my scrapbooks - back when I had some hope of keeping them updated - with an encouraging note tucked in. Its very presence lifted my sagging spirit. I remember sitting on the floor, sifting through the bounty, searching for clues. The sender didn't leave a signature, and I was eager to discover their secret identity.
The gift I received that day, and the others that arrived over the next three weeks, blessed me richly. Someone understood my pain and wanted to give me something to smile about, wanted to let me know I was loved. I couldn't wait to check the mail each day; the anticipation was tantalizing to my thirsty soul. Those anonymous gifts were given with no strings attached, and I never did get to thank the giver personally. So instead of paying them back, I decided to pay it forward.
I wish I could share the details, but then, I'd give away my own secret. It's a simple concept, really. A student is short on change and a stranger spots him a dollar at the convenience store; so in turn, the student adds quarters to someone else's expired parking meter. A mother recognizes her own children could someday require care at a children's hospital, so she volunteers her time there. You get the picture ... paying it forward requires the giver to offer some sort of gift, often anonymously, which will never be paid back, at least not directly. But the "chain of love," as country artist, Clay Walker, croons, doesn't end with you.
As a believer, my call to do this is a divine one. There is plenty of direction in the Bible about giving without drawing attention to yourself, to "not let your left hand know what your right is doing" (Matthew 6:3). The verse goes on to say that when we give to others anonymously, "your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." But there's really no need for thanks or praise. There's a certain thrill in offering a covert gesture or gift that brings joy or relief to someone else. When you leave a little goody at a sick neighbor's doorstep, or bring a warm meal to an elderly shut-in, or pay for a stranger's coffee at Starbuck's, two people are blessed ... the giver and the receiver. And the blessings spread like the ripples of a skipped rock.
Paying it forward often means making a split-second decision to climb out of my comfort zone to help someone immediately. It feels a little risky to walk up to a complete stranger in need to offer a kind word, a ride home, a dollar. But being a disciple means modeling Christ's example of ministering to those who came directly into his path along the road. And it's fun to wonder what other kindness will be generated in the world once the gift you gave was paid forward in full, for someone else to enjoy. So if a fabulous little package arrives in your mailbox, it didn't come from me. Someone else is just paying it forward.
Diane Meehl worships, serves and enjoys fellowship at Mountain View Lutheran Church. She lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her husband and three children.