A Life-Altering Souvenir

It was an opportunity to surprise our youngest and last at-home daughter with some time away. And yes, another opportunity for her older siblings to whine about how “spoiled” she is. As one friend of numerous children recently told her adult children, “With you, we had lots of family memories with lots of siblings to share them with, but with your little sister we have more money. Period.” It’s true. Our Julia is stuck at home by herself eating at the dinner table and watching a movie with just Dad and Mom. So when I got the idea of taking her on a cruise, we jumped on it.

Soon after we arrived at our cabin, a man in his 30’s with a bright and inviting smile met us. We learned that he is Haitian and has been a cruise steward for seven years. He spends his days cleaning toilets and replacing towels and finding out any special things his guests might enjoy. Learning about my crazy love for ice resulted in me walking into our cabin each evening to find a fresh container of it by our bed.

As the week progressed we learned more about our steward’s life. He is married to “a lovely woman” and they have a 3-year-old son. In the aftermath of the horrific hurricane that struck Haiti in 2010, he and his wife also took in an orphaned child who is now five. That all adds up to this man having a child and taking in another while working 13-hour days, away from his family, for seven days a week without a day off for 6-9 months at a time.

As I listened to his story unfold tears began to form in my eyes.

“Oh, M’am, don’t cry. The Lord has been so good to me! This job is a gift from God and I am able to support my family and help others in ways I could never otherwise do!”

He was raised by a Christian family member who introduced him to a Savior whose love shines through bright eyes and a warm smile. Yet the love and grace of God was mostly demonstrated by his joyful service to others. In answer to our inquires about how tough it must be to work so hard day after day with no breaks and clean up after “really messy college students” and remember to bring a lady who loves freezing cold drinks a fresh batch of ice after she’s been reading lazily by the pool, he once again smiled.

“Oh, I love taking care of people. It’s my job! I miss my family and I don’t like not having a church to go to but God has been so good to me!”

Since we returned from our cruise I have thought about him numerous times. I’m realizing how easily my heart responds with whiny complaints when I have to serve someone even though I don’t feel like it. I want to learn to find joy in doing things for others that they could easily do for themselves. To smile through toilet-cleanings and bed-makings and trash-emptyings because I’m doing the “job” God has called me to do. To look for thoughtful ways to do things for my family and friends just because it’s says, “I remembered you like this.” And to sacrifice my comfort and loss and sadness when God calls me to do what’s hard for the sake of those I love.

Our cruise was a gift from God that allowed us to make sweet memories with our daughter. But it was also an opportunity to experience the gentle conviction of God through a man who exhibited joy in making others lives a little more fun for a few days and gratitude for provision that requires hard work and sacrifice.

I hope to remember him when my daughter makes another last-minute request that inconveniences me; or a friend needs to talk when I’m working through hard things in my own life; or my grandchild asks for a drink of water after I just sat down to put my feet up; or because my life is full of homemaking tasks that just have to be redone over and over again.

His name is Souvenir (yes, really) and his example is the best thing I’ve ever brought back from a vacation.

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