For twelve years, my church has participated in the Appalachia Service Project. One week each summer, volunteers travel to Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia to repair or build homes for families.
At the age of sixteen, I went on my first volunteer project in West Virginia. On the night we arrived, we discovered that "our family" was living in a trailer that was in poor condition, no bigger than two parking spaces. A crew had been working on it for two weeks, but every time they finished one problem, another surfaced.
The staff soon decided that the only reasonable solution was to build a new house-something highly unusual but necessary under these circumstances. Normally the goal is to repair existing homes. "Our family" was overjoyed with their new house that was 20x30 foot with three bedrooms, a bath and a kitchen/family room.
On Tuesday of that week, while we all ate lunch together, I asked “our family’s” three boys, Josh, Eric and Ryan, "What do you want for your new room?" Anticipating posters, toys and other gadgets that children usually ask for, we were surprised when Josh, the oldest, responded, "I just want a bed."
We were stunned. The boys had never slept in a bed. They were accustomed only to foam pads. That night we had a meeting and unanimously decided that beds would be the perfect gift. On Thursday night, a few adults in our group drove to the nearest city and bought beds and new bedding. They arranged for everything to be delivered on Friday.
When Friday arrived, we could hardly contain ourselves. After lunch, when we saw the delivery truck coming, we told “our family” about the surprise. It was like watching ecstatic children on Christmas morning.
That afternoon, we set up the beds as we finished each room. Josh, who had his own room, wanted to put his bed together by himself. Eric and Ryan shared a room and got a new bunk bed. As we fitted the frames together, Eric, who had been working outside, ran into the house to watch us. Too dirty to enter his room, he observed with wide-eyed enthusiasm from the doorway.
As Meggan, a member of our group, slipped a pillowcase onto one of the pillows, Eric asked, "What is that?"
"A pillow," she replied.
"What do you do with it?" Eric persisted.
"When you go to sleep, you put your head on it,” Meggan answered softly. Tears came to our eyes as she handed Eric the pillow.
"Oh . . . that's soft," he said, hugging it tightly.
Now, when my sister or I start to ask for something that seems urgent, my Dad gently asks, "Do you have a pillow?" We know exactly what he means.