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A Simple Cup of Cheer

by Dr. Gary Chapman

Love isn’t wrapped up in a pronoun, in “he,” “she,” or “them.” It’s not about who other people are or how they treat us or what they do to make us value them. It begins with you, and it’s not primarily about what you say or feel. Instead, love is an action word. Love is a Choice!

Our actions don’t have to be grand gestures or extraordinary behaviors to make a difference in someone’s day. They can be small things, such as a smile, a friendly word, or even a cup of coffee.

I hope the following story will illustrate what I mean.

I carefully parted the curtains and peeked out the window of the warm, dark motel room; I wanted our three young children to sleep just a little longer. White feathers of snow were drifting down to blanket the cars outside as the winter sun began to light the cold, blustery scene.

We had arrived in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the evening before with plans to take the children on a hike into McKittrick Canyon to see the fall foliage. This early snowstorm would cancel our hike, but we could still visit Carlsbad Caverns. A sign on the highway told us the cave was “56 degrees year-round.”

My wife and I bundled the kids, all under ten, into their warm coats and blue jeans. All three were giggling about the snow and anticipating the day’s adventures. After breakfast, we got them snuggled into the car under a warm blanket. We sang and laughed as we drove through the winter landscape toward the caverns.

The snow blew across the main highway without much accumulation. However, when we turned off the main road, the snow was deeper. A national park service car stood in front of the gate to the seven-mile road into the park. Three rangers were sloshing through the freezing mush. As each of them stopped at the cars ahead of me, I noticed that some of the frustrated travelers seemed to be arguing with them.

When it was our turn, the young man who approached my window was wearing a park service uniform and a standard-issue jacket that looked better suited to the 56 degrees in the caverns than the current 26 degrees outside. Like the other rangers, he was in his early twenties. He looked tired, cold, and more than a little frustrated. I speculated that he was more comfortable with his usual job of answering interesting questions about the park than with today’s job of delivering bad news.

“Good morning, sir. I am sorry; the conditions on the winding road into the park are not safe because of the snow. The park service has closed the park for at least until tomorrow. You can call the park number for updated information.”

“Thanks for telling us. I know it’s cold out there. We appreciate your looking out for us.”

He looked relieved. “Thank you, sir. You have a nice day.”

We turned the car around to head back to the motel. On the way, I noticed a coffee shop. “How about some hot chocolate?”

As we walked into the restaurant, the aroma of hot chocolate and coffee embraced us. The tables were crowded with families dressed in winter coats, hats, and scarves. As we sat down, we remembered our motel had a heated indoor pool and decided it would be fun to swim while there was snow on the ground.

I looked back out onto the cold, snowy terrain and realized being together as a family, splashing in a warm indoor pool, would be a lot more pleasant than what those rangers would be up against all day. Then I had an idea.

“Honey, why don’t we get those rangers some hot coffee?”

“That’s a great idea!”

I ordered three coffees to go and loaded up a cardboard tray with plenty of creamers and sugars. We got back into the car and headed to the entrance of the park. I pulled around the line of cars and stopped near the gate. Coffee in hand, I approached the nearest ranger.

“Hey, you guys look pretty cold out here. We thought you could use some hot coffee.”

Taken aback, he stammered, “Well, thank you. Thank you very much.”

We watched him through the window of our car as he gave the coffee to his fellow rangers and gestured toward us. Seeing their happy faces was more fun than any hike.

As we drove back to the motel, we talked with the children about how cold those rangers must have been standing outside. We said our gift would give them warmth and encouragement that could last all day, because, despite their important jobs, many people did not appreciate the work they did, and even made their jobs more difficult.

Later that day, I thought about the concept of random acts of kindness. Why is it such a rich tradition? Why is it so gratifying when we do it? Why is it so surprising to those it benefits?

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that sometimes I have been just as frustrated, and perhaps almost as unpleasant, as the travelers who argued with the rangers. We all go through life preoccupied with our plans. We tend to view other people who disrupt us as adversaries rather than as those who are simply trying to do their job. No wonder we treat them badly and ignore their feelings.

Why did I take the high road this time? I was in a different mindset that snowy November day. I was focusing on my wife and children. I wanted them to have a good time. I was grateful for our time together, even though the weather had already changed our plans once. I was on vacation and didn’t have much of an agenda. Perhaps because I was looking outward, I noticed the humanness of those rangers. I empathized with their problems and their suffering. I saw them as people just like me.

So many times, I see people only in their roles as park rangers, salesclerks, bank tellers, or whatever. I forget that they are mothers, daughters, brothers, and friends. The lesson I learned that day was that when I interact with people, I need to look beyond their job descriptions and see them as fellow human beings, even friends. I have to realize that they have their desires, plans, hurts, and stresses. I want to reach out and be an encourager. If I do a better job of loving strangers, they may be more loving to me and others, and all our lives will be richer for it.

The next evening as we rode home together, we watched the sunset over the melting snow. Reflecting on our weekend, we decided our small gesture of serving coffee to the rangers warmed us as much as it did them. (End of story)

I desire to inspire you to build, rekindle, and experience the kind of love and friendship that endures after the warm fuzzy feelings have faded.

When we get in the habit and express these light touches of caring, not only do we make the world a better place, but we also make our own lives better. We become more loving people, and fostering such an attitude offers its own wonderful reward.

Adapted from Love Is a Choice: 28 Extraordinary Stories of the 5 Love Languages in Action by Gary Chapman (© 2023). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

Dr. Gary Chapman is best known for helping to improve or heal our most important relationships. His own life experiences, plus over fifty years of pastoring and marriage counseling, led him to publish his first book in the Love Languages™ series, The Five Love Languages®: The Secret to Love that Lasts. Millions of readers credit this continual #1 New York Times bestseller with saving their marriage by showing them simple and practical ways to communicate love to one another. Dr. Chapman speaks to thousands of couples nationwide through his weekend marriage conferences. He hosts nationally syndicated radio programs, A Love Language Minute, and Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, that air on more than 300 stations. After fifty years of service, Dr. Chapman recently retired from his role as senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


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