Everybody can be great

Our son Matt in June 2012, with one of his favorite people, Tilly, who comes from England
each summer to help young people with disabilities have a great time at camp.

“Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”Martin Luther King, Jr.

These beautiful words are being quoted more frequently in recent days as the nation prepares to honor Dr. King’s memory with “A day on, not a day off.”  Community service projects are planned throughout the USA as a way to honor Dr. King’s call to service.  As a minister, King took seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:11-12: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Some of the greatest people I know will never be famous, powerful or rich.  They are the women and men who prepare meals for church potlucks and homeless shelters.  They teach in a variety of locations, from school classrooms to prisons.  They clean our buildings, drive our buses, fly our airplanes and watch over our loved ones who are sick or disabled.

I have seen many of these people up close for years, because our younger son was born with multiple disabilities.  As an adult, he depends on the kindness of countless people: doctors, nurses, job coaches and respite providers, and many others too numerous to mention.

The high point of his year is always a week or two at summer camp, where he and other young adults with disabilities gather with non-disabled peers who come from many countries to provide a safe and caring place to have fun.  Because of the wide range of disabilities among the campers, these camp staffers work long and often gruelling days, with tasks most people would shun, but their enthusiasm and love for the job is always evident.  It would be impossible for me to put into words the gratitude I feel for these wonderful people.

The really great thing is that the campers also serve.  Their humor, forgiving spirit and persistence through frustrating obstacles are an inspiration to those who have the heart to interact closely with them.  Though we all have different gifts, “anybody can serve.”

Next time you are working hard and feel taken for granted, remember the people who count on your service, and know that you are appreciated more than you may realize.

This post was originally published seven years ago on Martin Luther King Jr. day. You can view the original with comments here.


  1. Ann

    What an inspiring post! Is Matt still going to summer camp?

    • Thank you, Ann! Matt has not been to summer camp for several years now, though he misses it very much. Now that he spends weekdays with his sponsored care family, he and I take vacations together on his “days off” so we can spend more time together.

  2. Chris

    A great post, and so true. Perfect for today!

    • Thank you, Chris. I really liked when I heard off the “day on, not a day off” community service projects being done in Dr. King’s honor.

  3. mike c

    I watched the MLK service – well some of it as it was three and a half hours long- from the MLK center and there were some folks you probably know.? A highlight was a group of high school kids acting out “Letter from a Birmingham jail” with a portable jail on state. So talented. I have not been to the new King center. One of the speakers who impressed me was Dr. Brenee Brown who spoke of how Dr.King taught her about pain and he was one who did not run from pain, but entered it, expressed it, lived init believing that somehow pain that is shared in part is not as burdensome. Anyway I will look for some of her books.
    So many of his quotes are worth keeping close such as “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So many. Of course, it was in part politicised as both the secretary of state and Senator Kelly Loeghler- recently appointed- were there.
    Also a Rabbi and Islam Iman. I have long admired his ecumenical bent. Pastor Warnock was the MC and did a great job-. Also one of the Pace sisters sang. The annointed Pace sisters.

    • Yes, Dr. King’s work has long been appropriated by various people and groups who want to tap into its power, but that still doesn’t taint his legacy in my eyes, only that of those who try to use his work for their own ends. Interesting that it was politicized, as King himself was a Republican. When I read what you wrote about Dr. Brown’s thoughts on pain, I remembered one of my favorite quotes from Dr. King about “creative suffering” – what a powerful concept that is. You can read the quote in the text of this post.

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