Two cycles influence our lives: vicious cycles and virtuous cycles. Vicious cycles begin with a self-destructive action that brings a negative consequence. That consequence leads to the perpetuation of another self-destructive action, which naturally brings a negative consequence, leading to a downward spiral that is hard to escape. Virtuous cycles have similar momentum, though the trajectory of the cycle is upward.
The blessings of service are available all year, though the topic receives special attention at Christmastime. Service to others is usually inconvenient, often uncomfortable, sometimes even embarrassing, and requires proactive effort. There is, however, great irony in service. The more one gives to others, the more the giver is magnified. The old adage proves to be true: The more you give, the more you receive, and the more you want to give. It becomes a wonderful, virtuous cycle. The ultimate impact of service is often not fully known or understood by the giver.
Such was the case with Old Bill. In my new book "Bill’s Christmas Legacy," Mark receives an assignment with his father to provide service to a disabled old gentleman, Old Bill, who has become severely limited in his ability to care for himself. The young man’s assignment is to help provide daily exercise. It is not fun, but through his service, Mark gradually gains an appreciation for his elderly neighbor.
Mark is subsequently called on his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he receives a powerful gift from his former neighbor that changes his perspective on life, service and the tender mercies we all receive from a loving Heavenly Father. The giver becomes the recipient, with an increased desire to give further.
A couple of years ago, between Christmas and New Year’s, I read a book authored by a good friend. I was inspired, and as I closed the book, I had the motivation to put my own story to paper — a story that had been gestating for a few years. Writing may be painstaking, but this time, the story came quickly. It simply needed to be written. It was published later that year in time for Christmas. The exact events of the story are fictional, but the story is based on a real experience between “Old Bill” and Mark.
Here’s the rest of the story.
A year after writing my story, my son, now serving a full-time Mormon mission, was assigned to train a new missionary. The “greenie” was quiet and homesick and alienated from the warmth of home for the first time at Christmas, trying to share a message many did not want to hear.
As I was preparing for work one morning, I had the random thought that the young missionary my son was training was the grandson of the old fellow in my book — Old Bill.
"What a preposterous thought," I said to myself. The man in the story passed away many years earlier, and I had no reason to consider this situation as even a remote possibility. But the thought wouldn’t leave.
I immediately called my mother, who still resides in the neighborhood where I grew up and where Old Bill actually lived. She made a few inquiries, and confirmed that my impression had been correct.
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The gift of inspiration to write a story that would describe the goodness of a man whose grandson (a young man he never knew) would be serving as a mission companion with my own son was a wonderful tender mercy. Of all the missions and missionaries in the world, my son happened to be assigned to this particular companion at this Christmas season.
Service blesses both those served and those doing the service. Nothing is lost on the Lord, and his tender mercies are a meaningful and real part of our lives.
Shawn D. Moon is an executive vice president at FranklinCovey. He is the author of the book "On Your Own: A Young Adults’ Guide to Making Smart Decisions" and the recently released "Bill’s Christmas Legacy."