Her name was Mary…
When she crossed the pathway of my life, Mary was working as server at a truck stop in a relatively small community. She was a senior-aged widow and had been for several years. I later learned that she and her husband had no children.
At the time of our acquaintance, I was working as a development officer for a large non-profit organization located in the greater Seattle area. I had been encouraged to call on her since she had been a major donor to the organization for several years.
Our initial conversation was at a café where we talked while sipping a cup of coffee. Mary was very open about her interest and commitment to the work that our organization was doing around the world in underdeveloped countries.
At that point in our conversation, I shared with her that she was one of our most generous donors, and I wanted to thank her for her ongoing support.
At that point in our conversation, she said, “Mr. Simmonds, every dime I send to you people comes from the tips I receive working as a waitress in this place.” And then she added, “And I will continue to do so as long as God continues to bless me so abundantly.” I have reflected on that conversation dozens of times. And I keep coming back to the same question.
What makes a person generous?
I have come to believe that the answer is “abundance.” However, we misunderstand abundance if we think of it in terms of “having a lot.” In fact, one of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in our country is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income.
If abundance doesn’t come from wealth, then what’s it source? I have come to believe that “abundance” is first and foremost an attitude about life. It’s intimately connected to how we approach relationships.
Early in my professional career, I sought to distinguish myself. As such, I had a very competitive mindset. I wanted to defeat others in order to win personal victories. And then I began to mature (thank goodness).
I began to realize that I could accomplish more by linking up with others
who were like minded than by working alone. As such, I joined with others to win team victories. I discovered that success is sweeter when shared.
At this point, I stumbled across the satisfaction of coaching others – helping others to excel. I experienced significant satisfaction from spending time and energy training others to succeed.
Finally, at the pinnacle of my career, I learned to multiply my influence by reproducing myself in other leaders – however arrogant that may sound.
I mentored and equipped up-and-coming leaders, who in turn developed subsequent influencers.
In other words, what I had learned is that leaders win great victories by empowering a network of leaders to make a transformative impact on the next generation. Stated differently, success comes from selfless service; the leader pours his or her life into others so that they can shape the future of our nation and society.
The bottom line…
Abundance is not having more to give; it is giving more of what you have. To paraphrase a Hebrew proverb: “Whoever, hoards life’s benefits will impoverish himself, and whoever gives them away will live abundantly.”
Thank you Mary for being a mentor to me. You enriched my personal life and that of many others around the world.
If you are reading this column, I would now ask how you can challenge yourself to a greater level of generosity during the upcoming holiday season and the years ahead.
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is also a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.