I like to think of the sun as an old-school deliveryman. Each day he delivers a gift. Sometimes you open it in the morning and discover the contents immediately. Other days you don’t know what it looks like until just before your eyes fall closed and you drift into the warm waiting place for the next day’s gift.
Those days are my favorite.
Last week I drove five other friends on a beautiful 90-minute trip to Petersburg, W.Va. We were headed to present a fireside on missionary work.
The hours leading up to the program were nothing special. It was a perfectly fine day, just like the day before and the day after. There were no hints of an experience that would become foundational to my understanding of the art of service.
After the program, we stopped for a long dinner at a Chinese buffet and lounged in the sweet spirit of the night. After, we drove back to the car-pool point and said our goodbyes in a gravel parking lot at the edge of the freeway. Three left immediately for other commitments, and the other three of us took our time parting ways.
Then, without warning, the day’s gift was finally opened.
We were startled by footsteps crunching through the gravel and coming from the direction of the freeway ramp. A man's voice cut through the thick 10 p.m. air. "Does anyone have jumper cables for my RV?”
I didn’t have time to consider whether I did or not. Josh Golden, one of the two remaining with me, was halfway to his car. He returned with cables and led us to the stranded RV at the top of the exit.
The young man and his sweet girlfriend were returning from having purchased the old RV hundreds of miles away in southern Virginia earlier that day. They were 30 miles from home when the battery died and their journey came to an abrupt halt at the exit that would take them down the rural two-lane highway to their hometown in West Virginia.
I pulled my vehicle up to face theirs and while we waited for the batteries to shake hands, the couple detailed how many passed by in the night and ignored the flashing hazard lights and their calls for help.
It didn’t take long to determine that their battery needed more than a charge, it needed a memorial service and a replacement.
The other friend still hanging around for the adventure, Stephen Funk, suggested we drive them to the nearest Walmart. Never mind that he wakes at 5 a.m. to commute 90 miles to the Washington, D.C., metro area for work each day. Never mind that the couple protested in awe of his generous offer. They learned that night what I’ve always known: Never say "no" to the Funk.
We loaded into my SUV and made the 15-mile trek to the nearest Walmart. We learned their names, Alexor, Joelle and Gi-Gi the RV. We talked about our respective religions, families and interests. The charismatic couple couldn’t have been more gracious.
In the store, we picked up sparklers to celebrate with in the event Gi-Gi fired up with her new battery. At the register, Alexor removed a coffee can full of cash to pay for the battery and Funk and I felt the spirit of service pull out our own wallets. While they were distracted counting money, we were already signing the receipt and carrying the battery away from the register.
Back at the dark exit ramp, with the new battery wedged into place, Gi-Gi’s tired engine honored Lazarus and roared to life. It was nearly midnight, and the grateful couple said their goodbyes and rumbled away. Before their taillights disappeared into the dark, Gi-Gi honked her own thankful goodbye.
Though the night soon ended, days later the teaching moment ticks on.
I’ve considered how often I speak about the Seventeen Second Miracle concept in schools around the country. I talk about how lives can be changed in just a few seconds if our eyes are simply open to opportunities to serve. The more I teach the concept, the more I learn how easy it is to have my eyes constantly searching for life’s convenient service moments.
A door needs to be opened. A friend needs a patient ear. A co-worker needs a few dollars for lunch.
But what about when the opportunities are more involved and require greater sacrifice? Do my eyes squint so I might miss them? Do I avoid the big miracles and make myself feel better by performing every small one that comes my way?
Most days begin with a humble promise that if heaven puts an opportunity to serve in my path, I’ll take it. Many of you do the same. But on a dark and dusty highway ramp, I learned that all too often I’m seeing the small ones, though also important, and reacting too slow when the moments are bigger than my to-do list.
The irony is not lost on me. On a night we traveled away from home to teach about missionary work, my friends taught with action.
Yes, each day the sun delivers a gift. Sometimes you open it in the morning and discover the contents immediately. Other days you don’t know what it looks like until you’re standing in the night saying goodbye to friends and feeling good about all you’ve done that day.
Those days are my favorite.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.jasonfwright.com.