We do make a difference!


By Jenna Ebener

I think we all have heard at some point how one person can make a difference, whether it is through hearing stories about the ripple effect of random acts of kindness or learning about saints or famous leaders. However, in our bigger-is-better and never-enough society, I think it is easy to lose sight of how each of us truly can make a difference, even if we never become someone of renown.


During times of doubt that I am making a difference just by being me, I like to remember this conversation between two persons in the “Star Thrower” story by Joel Barker, inspired by the writing of Loren Eiseley: “‘Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?’ ‘The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.’ ‘But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!’ The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. ‘It made a difference for that one!’”

There are times I have felt like all three characters: the old man, the young man and even the starfish. In our nonstop and often self-centered world, it is easy to feel overlooked and to think I am not making a difference or to think that what I am doing will never be enough. Working with students who are primarily nonverbal can make it challenging to get feedback and to know whether I am truly making an impact. Then, there are times when I see clear signs of my impact, such as a student walking into a previously non-preferred room after six months of daily desensitization practice or a student using a coping skill instead of hurting himself or others.


Most of the time though, I do not see the potential ripple effect of my actions, especially after random acts of kindness to strangers. I simply have to trust that what I am doing matters, even if I cannot know for sure. For God knows, and he sees the beauty in each of us for he created us in his image.

Lately, there have been countless times when I have felt like the starfish. I have been working through a lot of challenging emotions and often feel overwhelmed. What often helps me are surprisingly simple acts, such as a friend making eye contact and genuinely saying I will be missed at an upcoming event or my therapist saying, “I see you.” During these times of connection, I no longer feel alone among thousands of other helpless starfish.

I see how suffering can unite us and bring us closer as we support those around us or allow ourselves to be supported. I think of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus on his way to crucifixion. I imagine the relief and connection Jesus must have felt during the darkest time of his life when a woman who did not care what others thought chose to comfort someone who was being publicly shamed. That one act of kindness may have given Jesus a reminder of why he was suffering for us — and the strength to continue.

Such small words and acts may seem like no effort and thus meaningless, yet the impact is immeasurable. Remember that the next time you question whether you can make a difference. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

(Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)

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