Editor’s note: Jody Jean Dreyer worked for the Walt Disney Company for 30 years and in Beyond the Castle she shares one-of-a-kind stories and insights into what sets the Disney experience apart, as well as secrets to help readers discover their own “happily ever after.” Jody’s personal experiences and her underpinning faith help her to offer practical and sometimes unexpected principles to better appreciate and navigate our own stories.
You’re probably familiar with the Bible’s account of Jesus feeding the five thousand on the beach.
Here’s the summary: John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin, had just been beheaded. The disciples who had buried John’s body rejoined Jesus by the Sea of Galilee to share the terrible news. Upon hearing it, Jesus drew away — alone. As He set out in a boat to cross the lake, people from nearby villages followed and walked around the shore to meet Him on the other side. When Jesus saw them, He was moved with compassion and loved on the thousands all day long. As dinnertime approached, the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the people away to get their own food. Jesus resisted, asking,
What do we have?
The answer was five loaves and two fish (possibly from some young boy who might not have been thrilled to share from his brown bag). Jesus then asked the gathered crowd to take a seat. After giving thanks and distributing the undersized offering, five thousand men (and certainly women and children too) were fed and satisfied. So satisfied, in fact, that twelve baskets of leftovers were collected. (The story can be found in Matthew 14:13–21.)
Leave it to Jesus to throw a great lakeside picnic. This is what I take away from the story:
✸ Jesus needed time alone to deal with grief.
✸ He also encouraged time in community. Whether the villagers were seeking Jesus for His healing miracles or had heard the news of John’s beheading and were filled with anxiety and grief of their own, they wanted to be in community. Jesus didn’t stop that. He joined the gathering.
✸ When it came time to fill an obvious practical need, He didn’t ask, “What are we missing?” He instead asked, “What do we have?”
✸ And He asked the team — not one person — to fill the gap. Don’t we love a team? Team efforts multiply results.
✸ He invited everyone to sit down. Get comfortable. Join the group. This was not going to be a dine-and-dash event.
✸ He gave thanks and then trusted that all they had was all they needed.
Beyond the obvious, physical miracle of the multiplied picnic provisions, I wonder if God was working less apparent (but transformational) miracles in the hearts of those gathered. Did people dig a little deeper to share what little they had? And what about those leftovers? Were people satisfied more completely by the experience of being together? Maybe the food seemed somehow less important. Our Young Life friend Josh (Griffin) believes the miracle was for the disciples. “I bet they had no idea how much food there was to start with,” he said. “I think that’s even more powerful — that sometimes in the midst of providing for the crowd, Jesus saves the life-changing miracle for His workers and followers closest to Him, to encourage and equip them.” The story tells me that what I have to offer — however scant in my estimation — may be all that’s needed.
What I have to offer matters more than what I lack.
Once you’ve figured out what you have to give, the fun really begins. As my favorite money guru, Dave Ramsey, says: “I can promise you, from meeting thousands of millionaires, that the thing the healthy ones share is a love of giving. Generous giving really is the most fun you can have with money.”1 My favorite example of amped-up giving occurred about a year into the creation of Disney Worldwide Outreach. We had spent the year “assessing our assets” and realized that while we did great work with families and children dealing with life-threatening illnesses, there were some deficiencies we could address.
A visit to Disney theme parks — and meeting favorite characters — is the number one wish of children with life-threatening illnesses. At this writing more than 7,400 wishes are fulfilled every year in Disney’s US parks. If you’ve been a theme park guest, you know how exciting and also how tiring a visit can be, even if you’re healthy. For children dealing with serious illnesses, the visit can be extraordinarily taxing. Often they need to stop, take medication, or just rest for a spell. It only seemed natural to create a space for these VIPs, but square footage within the parks is as valuable as pure gold. It took the collaboration of the right people in the right places to make our wish come true (yay, Phil Holmes). So we met with teams from Operations, Parks Design and Engineering, and Facilities Asset Management to discuss how we could better accommodate these precious guests. The result of those efforts are the Disney Wish Lounges equipped with water and cold drinks, throw pillows and child-sized furniture, books, video games, and DVDs to provide our guests a quiet, comforting oasis. You will never see these lounges. They aren’t promoted. But they serve a deeply significant purpose. That project still makes my heart happy, and it serves as a prime example of seeing a need, assessing your assets, and pulling together to make something good happen.
Now, I know you’re thinking, But Jody, I don’t have the resources of The Walt Disney Company. What you do have are your hands, and those hands can do some mighty awesome outreach once you’ve opened your eyes and your heart.
Lending a Helping Ham
What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Maybe you’re aware of a neighbor who is going through a difficult time, but you don’t want to intrude or say or do the wrong thing.
I have been freed from my compassion paralysis by a ham — several of them, actually. About ten years ago, a friend shared that when her mom died, so many people showed up to console her that she quickly became overwhelmed gathering and preparing food for the guests. That’s when I realized a ham might be the perfect offering for the family and a small way to lighten their load. That friend later sent me a note to say, in a slight exaggeration, the ham was the nicest gift she had ever received. Just what she needed and just when she needed it. Turns out, a little ham can go a long way.
Now when I become aware of difficulties or losses and don’t know quite how to help, I deliver or send a ham or a turkey. (Still awaiting that frequent buyer points program.) I’m inclined to think the ham fills the belly and the thought helps mend the heart. One of the precious kids at our church started calling me the “Ham Lady.” (Not terribly flattering, but I’ve been called worse.) When life happens to my friends, they call or email to say, “For goodness sake, don’t you dare send me a ham.” And then I do. Of course. I’m the Ham Lady. You probably have your “go-to” casserole, soup, or cookie recipe that you make for friends in need. Maybe you like to share by way of a gift card to a local pizza shop. Whatever the comfort, it’s nice to settle on your signature expression of support. Mine just happens to be ham.
With Heart and Hands Wide Open, Show Your Character
I sometimes think it’s easier to write a check or deposit cash in a bucket than it is to give up my time. That’s why I have such high regard for the cast members who literally “spend” their time in community service. Disney operates an incredible program called VoluntEARS, supporting cast members around the world who volunteer hours in local outreach efforts in their communities. The official program was started in 1983. At its thirty-year anniversary, cast members had logged 878 years of volunteer service.2
My immersion in the VoluntEARS program, led by Disney king of volunteerism Jeff (Hoffman), taught me so many valuable things.
✸ Time is a valuable resource that’s fun to give away. Rolling up your sleeves and digging in to do good is energizing and life-giving. The often-repeated cliché is true: You always receive more than you give. Don’t know where to start? Consider the pursuits you enjoy and the causes you are passionate about, then look for opportunities to get involved in those areas. You don’t have to start big — just start! My schedule has always been crazy busy with lots of travel, so I most often volunteer on one-time projects. Some people prefer a regular and consistent assignment on an ongoing project.
✸ The more the merrier, or what’s true for parties is truer for volunteering. This was my second huge observation. When hundreds of VoluntEARS amassed to work on a project, it was a blast! So grab some peeps and go for it. My favorite project with my pals was VoluntEAR back-to-school shopping. A gang of us — along with about fifty kids — would enter department stores before regular hours and power shop. What a rush, made even better in the company of friends.
✸ Anytime you can combine your time, talent, and treasure, you have a home run. This isn’t always possible, but in my experience, the deeper your relationship with an organization the better. This is true personally and professionally too.
1. “The Most Fun You Can Have with Money,” http://www.daveramsey.com/blog/most-fun-you-can-have-with-money.
2. https://ditm-twdc-us.storage.googleapis.com/2015/11/Disney_30Year _Infographic_7.pdf.
Excerpted with permission from Beyond the Castle by Jody Jean Dreyer, copyright Jody J. Dreyer and Stacy Windahl.
* * *
You don’t have to be wealthy to be generous with others. Jesus started with asking “What do we have?” So can we! What do you have? Come share with us on our blog. We would love to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full