I have the best job in the world! Almost every day at work something happens that feeds my soul and renews my spirit. Even on the days when I drag myself heavy burdened through the door, I most certainly leave lighter.
I leave lighter because my burdens are lifted by joy and laughter. Peace infuses the atmosphere and lifts up everyone who enters. It is as if smiles are contagious and delight is the infection.
Yesterday, I was late to work because I had a meeting to attend first. When I walked through the door, I felt like a celebrity. Everyone came up and hugged me as if I was returning from a month long absence. Walter looked at me with his laughing eyes and beatific smile, “I missed you, Miss Betty!” He said as he gave me a big bear hug.
Walter is black as the ace of spades with a smile that lights up the room with its brilliance. I often joke that we’d certainly be able to find Walter in a blackout. It’s true - few smiles could match the intensity of Walter’s radiance.
One might question what Walter has to smile about. He has little to his name. With his bent frame, he relies on his walker to assist his slow movements. He is considered “developmentally disabled” - a label that has defined and marred his life. Yet, despite these limitations, Walter is always cheerful. His good humor is contagious to everyone who has the pleasure to be in his company. He especially lights up when I enter the room. His greeting and my response are always the same:
“I love YOU, Miss Betty!” Walter says as his enthusiastic smile fills the room with radiant joy.
“I love you, too, Walter!” is always my response.
For a time, there was a sadness - an empty vacancy that hung in the air at the workshop. I was told by the volunteers that things just weren’t the same. I was out for about three weeks due to knee surgery. Walter seemed to miss me most - according to the volunteers, even his smile lost some of its sparkle.
He didn’t despair, though. He prayed. His humble and trusting prayer was a simple request to bring me healing so that I could return to the workshop. Then, one day, I came through the door with a walker - just like Walters. His face immediately lit up.
Of course, the first words out of his mouth were: “I love YOU, Miss Betty!”
I hugged him, taking his calloused hand in mine. “I love you too, Walter.”
“I prayed for you, Miss Betty.” He tells me in his resolute voice. “I knew you’d get better!”
He holds on tight as if his grip on me is the only thing keeping me from melting away. In his grip I sense a special connection between us. Kindred spirits perhaps from some bygone soul bond.
“Thank you, Walter for your prayers.” My words sound so inadequate as I speak them.
I knew that Walter’s prayers were the prayers of a humble childlike spirit - the kind of prayers that God longs to hear from all of us. I knew, too, that it wasn’t just Walter’s prayers that brought me back to the helm of the workshop. It was the prayers of all my Exceptional Entrepreneurs and my volunteers to whom I am forever grateful.
As I survey my surroundings, I see Josh painstakingly painting his flowers with such intensity that he appears oblivious to the commotion of the workshop. He looks up momentarily from his painting and gives me a wave and a smile as if to say, “I’m so glad you’re back.”
Tina and Terri (sisters) are by my side awaiting instructions - I call them my shadows. Allison is gluing beads on vinyl fish, Jason is sewing on the industrial machine, Tito is watering worms, Chris is feeding worms and Ricky is vacuuming. To the casual observer, it appears like a regular workplace, but there is nothing regular about this workplace. None of the Exceptional Entrepreneurs could get a job elsewhere so they’ve come here. Here they are all busy and productive. Here, everyone is happy.
“Walter, you better get back to work. You have orders to fill” I tell him as I take a seat and Terri magically appears with a pillow for me to prop up my sore knee.
Walter takes up his loom and returns to his patient work making potholders to sell for $2.00 each. He works with steady intent knowing that each potholder has a special person anticipating the finished creation. And, indeed, each potholder is sold daily as Walter rides his three-wheeled bike through his neighborhood peddling his wares.
Walter is a simple man with a pure heart. He is the embodiment of all the special people who work at the Exceptional Entrepreneurs workshop. It is a place of great joy and great love and great peace.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5: 8-9