No Little People

by Harvey Hook

I grew up with the underlying belief that I was a little person from a little place.  It shaped my identity at an early age. As a result, I’m naturally inclined to discount my influence and abilities to impact others and the world around me.

I’m an introvert, the baby of the family, the youngest of three boys born to Depression-era parents.  My dad was born in 1908 in Brewer, Maine.  He was a lumberjack who left school to find work after the 6th grade, due to the death of his father.  His was a road of hard work, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, while working three jobs to provide for the family.

Mom was born in 1914 in Ontario, Canada.  She was seamstress with an 8th grade education, unable to attend high school because she was physically unable to walk the distance, due to her displaced hip and chronic bronchitis.

Not a single ancestor in my family tree attended college dating back to 1620 when my 10th great grandfather, Myles Standish, arrived on the Mayflower and docked at Plymouth, Massachusetts. You could say that my genealogical history suggests that I come from a long line of “little people.”

I was born in Lincoln, Maine.  To find the backwoods shack of my birth, get on any highway in Maine and drive north.  Eventually, every paved road converges into a single bumpy dirt land that leads into the mountains.  When you stop seeing moose, deer and bear, you arrive at a small clearing with a sign:

LINCOLN, MAINE – 1 MILE

END OF CIVILIZATION – 1.1 MILES

You could say that I come from a “little place.”

Now while I’ve given you an accurate account of my lineage, I may have taken a humorous jab in detailing my birthplace. (Actually, the end of civilization is 1.2 miles away!) 

I was born into a backwoods world, where my combined hospital and doctor’s bill totaled $52. I grew up in the village of Wassaic, New York, and graduated Dover High School, alongside 47 others. My small world was centered on family, neighborhood, hard work and faith.  There simply wasn’t anything else.

It never occurred to me that what I did with my life would ever take me anywhere big.  After all, those achievements were reserved for the gifted and talented people in life. And yet, my journey has led me to places never imagined. 

How did I arrive here?

I’ve dined with Mayors and Governors, shared coffee with heads of industry, been photographed with a United States President, met world leaders, and hung out with social icons and cultural influencers.

No, this is not the part where I now say “I’ve arrived.”  Those things were never the goal; they were never the purpose for being. 

Let me explain. I spent far too much time in my early life focusing on what “I wasn’t” than on “who I was.”  I struggled to answer the questions: “Does my life matter?” “Can an, all too-ordinary person, make a difference, let alone change the world?” 

In so doing I allowed my perceptions of others to define my value; and my sense of insecurity to create my worth.  It was the ultimate lose-lose that dominates so many lives in our culture.  Of course the opposite of this is the type-A person who has to so dominate others, as to obliterate the same feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.

I’ve received far more pure joy from loving and serving the poorest of the poor in the Dominican Republic, than any visit to the White House could ever match!  Here are a couple of secrets I discovered along the way that makes this statement true for me. 

First, it matters not where you are from, but it matters where you are going.  Second, we can best determine where we are going, only after coming to grips with who we are and discover our purpose for being.  When we know who we are, and are guided by our purpose for being, it matters not who we know, who we serve, what our title is, how large our office is, the size of our paycheck, or with whom we dine.  Because, all people, all relationships, all interactions, have meaning.

Here’s another thing I discovered.  In 1974, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a renowned philosopher and theologian published a book titled No Little People.  To summarize his book in two sentence that profoundly influenced me: “In God’s sight there are no little people and no little places – only individuals who lives their lives in consecrated obedience to God. And when they do this, he gives them the power to influence the flow of an entire generation.”

He also spoke of how we often belittle ourselves: “I am so limited.  I am such a small person, so limited in talents (or energy or psychological strength or knowledge) that what I do is not really important.” 

Have you ever been there?  I have.  I’ve asked, “Does anything I do really matter?” “Am I making a difference?”  “Is my life having an impact?”  “What will be my legacy?”

The turning point for me was agreeing with God and Dr. Francis Schaeffer: “With God there are no little people:” and then doing the many small things in life, which supported this truth.

When this was discovered; the moment, the journey, the person in front of me, and the task at hand were immediately saturated with meaning and purpose.  Even in the difficult and trying circumstances of life, I’ve discovered fortuitous outcomes.

My “outside the comfort zone journey of servant leadership” began at age of 17 while working with severely and profoundly mentally and physically handicapped children.  At age 24 I spent three days a week offering friendship and counsel to incarcerated youth in a maximum security facility in Denver, Colorado. By age 29, Rita and I were living in the inner-city, addressing the needs of high-risk court appointed urban kids and their families.  At age 35 I entered the world of business, professional and government leaders to offer counsel and address moral, ethical, leadership and spiritual growth issues.

Please note, I never felt qualified for any of the above.  However, when I embraced my God given identity, I discovered my talents and “readiness for service” were of far less value than my availability, care, love and mere presence. 

So I’m no longer that little person from a little place, I’m just someone on a journey, who knows where he is going.

Does any of this resonate with you?  Is anything holding you back?  And yes, I wrestled with fear every step along the way at age 17, 24, 29 and 35.

Making a difference begins when we reach beyond ourselves, outside our comfort zones to serve another. 

It’s important to be honest with ourselves and look in the mirror in order to do this.  We all have a tendency to create the world in our own image, and then we ask others to conform to our image, desires, wants and goals.  We can become enslaved to our fears, our conveniences and our comfort zones.  We create artificial worlds around ourselves that serve our needs – and these small worlds confine us.  These comfortable walls, reassuring boundaries and coddling prison bars prevent us from becoming who we truly are meant to be. 

comfort-zone

Breaking out of our comfort zones helps us to expand and take the risks necessary to making a difference in the world.  We begin to break free as we open ourselves to serving those around us.  Stepping onto unfamiliar turf, in a world with an ever-expanding learning curve, can be frightening, but it’s always, always worth the risk!

In other words, as I quote from “The Power of an Ordinary Life,” – “To reach beyond ourselves violates a part of our nature that continually seeks self-satisfaction.  It requires a new ethic, an ethic of servant leadership and godly service. Opening up to the world outside of yourself may mean beginning to put this new ethic into action.”

Let me close with a couple of final thoughts and an invitation.

I never gave it a second thought when I jumped on a plane in 2006 and flew to the Dominican Republic to work with impoverished children in the villages of Cielo and Nazaret in the Dominican Republic.  It was a no-brainer, I just did it.

I’ve since discovered in conversations with multiple peers, that many successful and accomplished adults fear such a journey.  They have medical, safety, cultural, and language fears, blocking them from this life-enriching experience.

Here’s the invitation I mentioned above and it doesn’t require a journey to the dirt floor homes of my families in the DR.  It just requires $15, a little curiosity, and a willingness to hang out in an after-work, informal setting with other people from Columbus and gather around local food, micro-brew and coffee roast. 

What am I talking about?

Relā(te)

Please join me Thursday evening October 22, 6 – 8PM at Dock 580 for Relā(te).  Three times a year we gather people in Columbus to connect the uncommonly great for the common good.  Through compelling stories and informal interaction around a cause or social need, we hope to catalyze grass-roots action to bring positive transformation to Columbus.  This could be your on-ramp opportunity to serve in a new way.

While there you will enjoy food, brew, fellowship and hear compelling stories from three individuals addressing the cause of homelessness, that impacts and imprisons so many who live among us.  You will leave informed and hopefully consider serving this population is some small way. 

Here is everything you need to know.

In the very least, it will be a great evening of conversation, information and interaction in a relaxed comfortable setting. Or this could also be an opportunity for you to participate in the uncommonly great, while serving the common good.

What will you do today, in some small way, to change the world forever?

I hope to see you there.

harvey-hook

Harvey Hook is the Executive Director for Relā where he has served the Columbus, Ohio community for over 26 years; and is the author of The Power of an Ordinary Life

harveyhook@relaleadership.org

 

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