celebrate kindness

Archive for January 2016

As many of you know, our big vacation last summer was taking an Alaskan Disney Cruise. One of the awesome things about taking a Disney Cruise is this secret RAK experience called “fish extenders”, which I blogged about here. While that blog post gave an overview of the fish extender process and showcased the fish extender I made, I never told you what happened next!

Since I was late in joining the Fish Extender Facebook group, I was put on a list of “Pixie Dusters”, which meant our family would receive random gifts that others had as extras (we were too late for the official gift-swapping exchange.) I, however, had a secret plan of my own. I decided to RAK fish extender gifts to every person/family that “liked” my Pixie Duster post on the page.  We ended up with list of 10 families – 41 people in all.

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Did I mention that we less than 72 hours before our plane would depart?

We. Got. Busy.

My two boys found pictures of Disney characters online and started recreating them out of Perler beads. My daughter grabbed her paint brushes and started decorating picture frames. I headed to the store to see what small gifts and Disney-themed trinkets I could find. We spent the next three days making, organizing, printing, and gluing so we would be ready to give our gifts away.

We prepared memory-making gifts for elderly grandparents and baby-safe gifts for tiny infants. We bought sparkle nail polish for the teenage girls and painted Mickey Mouse ears on the side for fun. We had beads. We had stickers. We had journals, pens, and more.

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Once everything was spread out and sorted, we packaged the gifts in family bags with a personalized note attached.

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We even packed a huge bag of truffles to bless the Disney Cruise workers who would make our vacation so special.

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The next blog post will share all the fun we had blessing others – check back soon and feel free to share!

 

Tonight as we pulled into the Cracker Barrel parking lot for dinner, my son spotted something on the ground. “Look what I found,” he exclaimed, as he bent over to pick up the rectangular object. “It’s somebody’s wallet!”

  
Have you ever misplaced your wallet? Oh my goodness, talk about instant panic. I could only imagine this poor woman’s plight as she was probably frantic at this exact moment. 

  
I tried to locate some contact information for the gal, but despite having a wallet filled with cards there was no phone number to find. I searched the internet for the address shown on her driver’s license, but someone else’s name appeared. I even tried to find her on Facebook to no avail.

Now what?

The right thing to do would be to turn in the wallet to the manager, but that made me nervous. Nothing against Cracker Barrel, but I’ve had friends who’ve picked up their lost wallets from businesses with everything important gone. I didn’t want that to happen to this girl.

I approached the server stand and asked if anyone had come in asking about a wallet. The ladies stared back at me, shaking their heads no. Suddenly one of them broke the silence. “Wait a minute! Angie! Angie lost her wallet just today when she was helping someone who locked their keys in the car! I bet that’s Angie’s wallet!”

I clutched the wallet to my chest, still cautious to give it away, and asked for Angie’s last name. When she told me the name that matched the information inside, I shrieked with joy and gave her the wallet. “Yes! This is hers! Oh my goodness, how wonderful!” We walked together to find a manager and I wrote a quick note on his notepad:

  
He promised to put her wallet in the store’s safe until she returned back to work.

Sometimes it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. So relieved this story has a happy ending! 🙂

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This past week as I was creating a digital photo book of my family’s vacation from last summer, I came across several photos that reminded me of random acts of kindness I did while traveling to Alaska. The memories flooded my mind and made me smile. From fish extenders to truffles to love notes for strangers, I was overcome by the realization that RAKs have permeated all I do – even vacationing with family.

Unfortunately, not a single blog post was written about any of them.

Sometimes I struggle with blogging. The need to write is visceral, and yet… I falter. I stall. I wonder if people bore of “another feel-good story.” I read posts of some who chastise those who RAK and tell, then find myself lifted up by those who share encouragement. Do I take the time to share my journey or keep it hidden inside?

Sometimes I’m distracted. Sometimes I’m weary. Sometimes I’m so excited to detail my experiences I can’t even settle my thoughts to find the right words. Sometimes my life is so busy I don’t even get a chance to sit down and blog until the midnight hour is chiming and I’m losing my glass slipper, my time already done.

And sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the kindness of others, I don’t even know where to begin.

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So for the next few weeks, my goal is to share a few stories I’ve missed. To reflect and remember. To dig deep and retell the stories that make me smile before they fade away. Some RAKs are grand, others are so small you might question why on earth I would even take the time to write about them.

Because all RAKs matter.

RAKs inspire.

RAKs change people.

And no matter how small, a RAK is never wasted; some stories just need to be told.

Better late than never, right?

Be on the look out, my faithful readers, as I begin a blog fest of RAK memories. As always, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to spend some time in mine!

(And if you’ve always wanted to know what a fish extender is, check back soon – that will be the next post!)

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t gotten your milk and bread yet, you are running out of time. With an enormous snowstorm barreling across the East Cost today and tomorrow, a State of Emergency already in place, you can rest assured there will be lots to talk about in the coming days.

Bread. Milk. Water. Check.

My social media feeds have been filled with reminders all week:

“Bring in your pets!”

“Stock up on supplies!”

“Make sure you have plenty of water if the power goes out!”

What about those who never had power to begin with?

For the past month I’ve been purchasing basic supplies in preparation for the storm. But unlike many, my supplies are not for me, but for strangers who might need them. Several friends noticed and made donations of their own and together we were able to assemble eight fully-stocked blessing bags for the homeless.

My friend, Cindy, came over this week and we sorted all the items, making sure to equally divide what we had collected into separate bags. My cousin Michele had bought thick, warm gloves and hats to go with the blankets Stacie and Suzi donated. I added spoons to the peanut butter Cindy bought (perfect for scooping out and spreading across the crackers.) Even my son got inspired, donating his own school bag and offering to help us organize. It was exciting to think that eight people would receive our surprise of blankets, hats, gloves, water, peanut butter, crackers, hand warmers and more.

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I decided to add playing cards to help them pass away the boredom (thanks Deb for the idea!) and some conversation hearts to make them smile. I even threw in a few dollars and some mints that a coworker had left in my RAK jar at school (thanks Krista!)

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I also added a hand written note to each bag. Everyone needs a reminder they are loved.

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After packing up the bags on Monday, Cindy and I hit the streets on Wednesday to give away our surprises.

We drove towards the city, our eyes looking for people sitting on the streets or anyone looking cold or hungry. The first gentleman who caught our eye was sitting on a plastic crate near an intersection. He carried a sign describing his plight, upper-case letters scrawled across to catch our attention. Even though he was wearing a coat, hat, and gloves, something nudged us to roll down our window and hand him a bag.

So we did.

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I don’t know this man and I don’t know his story. And sadly, since I was now approaching a green light at the intersection, I didn’t have time to say much more than “Stay warm for the storm. God bless.”

We drove on.

When was the last time you drove into a city and really saw how the surroundings changed before your eyes? Large two-story homes surrounded by manicured lawns gave way to ramshackle row houses with tiny front porches of rotting wood. Windows with bars. Alleys. Sidewalk cracks. Graffiti. Welcome to the city.

Homeless people often gather in Monroe Park, so we decided to head there. We parked and put all our bags in a cart, pulling across the sidewalks looking for anyone who we could bless with basic necessities.

We walked. And walked. And walked.

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Unbelievably, we didn’t see a single homeless person in the park.

Maybe it was the police car cruising nearby that forced them away. Maybe it was the throngs of college kids leaving their classes at VCU that kept them hidden from sight. Perhaps, just perhaps, they had found somewhere warm to stay in this bitter cold.

Perhaps.

We walked towards Broad Street, still searching for someone to bless. Cindy and I chatted about the irony of always seeing homeless people down this way, but not on a day when we have something to give. That’s when it stuck me – every day I have something to give, even if it’s just a smile of kindness.

I made a silent promise to do better.

At some point Cindy and I realized our attempts were futile. We had to change our game plan. Our faces and ears were already numb from the cold and we needed to head back to our car before the sky shifted to darkness. We decided to leave the bags in places that might be discovered by someone who needed it. Did it really matter who received our kindness? Maybe it wasn’t really up to us to choose the recipient. Maybe our purpose was simply to pack the bags and go.

I had my notepad of RAK cards and safety pins with us, so we attached one to each bag. In this day and age you can’t just leave a closed bag on a sidewalk without everything thinking you are a terrorist. I wanted a passerby to know that our package was safe. No terrorist leaves their website URL and Twitter handle on their packages.

We sprinkled the city with kindness as we walked back to our car.

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Even though our mission didn’t go as planned, we still enjoyed our RAKs, knowing someone out there would be blessed with kindness. When the last bag was placed, we took a quick selfie then made our way back to our car to head home, a little more thankful for all that we have.

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As I left the city and drove down the winding paths of my hometown, I had to laugh when I saw this church sign. As if I need confirmation that today was, indeed, a planned event.

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I really do enjoy God’s little whispers on my heart. 🙂

A special thanks to the following people who also followed the whisper on their hearts to donate to this special RAK. We will do this again, so if you would like to donate to the cause, please let me know!

Stacie Taylor – blankets

Suzi Tapper – blankets

Lori Cross – bags

Amie Boothe – bags

Emily Cleaton – bags

Daniel Letter – bag

Krista Miller – mints

Michele Payne – hats and gloves

Cindy Ashburn – peanut butter, crackers, Oreos and hand warmers

For those interested in making their own blessing bags, here’s a list of additional items we added: spoons, water, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, soap, candy, playing cards, money, and handwritten notes. Next time I hope to add socks, tissues, and small wet wipes.

Be blessed, my friends, and stay safe in the storm!

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I wasn’t going to run today.

I got up later than planned and spent the morning cleaning the kitchen. I made myself a cup of mocha and curled up in my favorite chair to enjoy the quiet while I continued reading a book a friend had shared with me. That’s when I heard the whisper on my heart.

Go.

I glanced at the clock. 9:15 a.m. The locals at Rutland had already begun their memorial Run for Meg; it was too late for me to join in. Besides, even if I left now, there would be no place to park. And I was cozy warm right here, still snuggled up in my favorite fleece pajama pants. I had no desire to run in the cold.

Go.

Let me interject here that I am not a runner. I don’t record my miles and couldn’t even begin to tell you what my PR would be for any race. I’m more of a Zumba-Yoga-Let’s-Plank-On-The-Floor kind of gal. Sure, I’ve run a few races here and there, but you won’t find me on the training circuit anytime soon. Running just isn’t my thing.

Go.

Suddenly, I was overcome with emotion. Here I was, making every excuse in the world not to run, when Meg would have already been out the door and down the street if she had the chance. How could I possibly sit here, on today of all days, and not run?  The quiet whisper on my  heart was crowded out by the blaring drill sergeant in my mind. “GET OFF YOUR LAZY BACKSIDE AND RUN!!”

Six minutes later, I was dressed and out the door.

I put in my earbuds and started to search for my running playlist, filled with fast-paced, motivating tunes, when I realized there was music already filling my ears. The music was light, lilting, a beautiful piano arrangement of Jesu Joy Canon in D played by David Nevue. Not quite the heavy beats of hard rock to match the rhythm of my feet pounding the pavement. But as the melody swelled with sweetness, I discovered that it was actually perfect for today. This was not a race about time, nor pace, nor stride.

This was a run for Meg.

I have never listened to classical music while exercising, but as the incremental chords moved up the piano keys, I found it a perfect counterpart for today’s run. My mind focused on my senses. The cool morning air whipping against my ears. The sparkle of last night’s raindrops shimmering on blades of grass from my neighbor’s yard. The gentle swish of my arms and legs and they moved forward, pushing up the granite hill. Even the sunshine seemed brighter, more heavenly, more spectacular this morning.

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As I made my way to the back of my neighborhood, I saw a neighbor I had never met walking his dog on a leash. The puppy was obviously excited to be outside as well, running circles around the man.

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I started to run past, his little pup straining against the leash to meet someone new. I stopped running and knelt down, the curly-haired dog jumping into my lap as if I were his long-lost friend. I showered him with attention then stood up and smiled at the man. “He’s so cute!” I complimented, as the man smiled back at me. “I’m trying to teach him how to walk on a leash,” he replied as we both continued our separate journeys.

The rest of my run was quiet. Serene. My thoughts drifted to Meg, her husband, her children and her mom. I pondered endless questions of life, death, and purpose. I thought of all the ways Meg had blessed others in her short time on earth and how many more were blessed by her memory even now. As my legs started to tighten and the sweat rolled down my brow, I thought of the thousands of runners doing the same thing as me, in this exact moment, all for the same person. It was a humbling awareness, to be a part of something so big, even though I was running all alone.

I wasn’t going to run today.

But I did.

I ran for Meg.

And I even wore blue from my shirt to my shoes.

For her.

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I have to ask – have you bought your Powerball ticket yet?

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As many of you know, tonight is a history-making night for the Powerball Lottery. It’s the first time the North American lottery has surpassed the 1 billion mark and people are flocking to have a chance to make their dreams come true.

This week my social media news feed has been filled with chatter about the Powerball. What people would buy. Who would split their winnings. Which numbers are lucky or cursed.

I’ve never bought a Powerball ticket in my life, but I couldn’t resist the charm of “What if?” So there I stood, in a crowded 7-Eleven, asking the gentleman standing beside me to show me how to complete the automated bubble sheet.

I successfully chose my numbers, and requested two sections to be computer generated. The gentleman who had helped me earlier was joking with the cashier, and both complimented me on my precise bubbling skills. (“The product of years of standardized test prep,” I chuckled to myself.)

Tonight I decided to pay-it-forward before the numbers were even pulled. I grabbed a few dollar bills and wrote a quick note, then attached the money to two Powerball sheets.

“I hope this random act of kindness makes you smile! Go pick your numbers and win big!”

Then I stuck the Powerball sheets back with the others for a stranger to discover after I had left.

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While I doubt I’ll win the grand prize in tonight’s drawing, it’s been fun to hope and dream. It gives me joy to know that two more people out there already “won” a little something tonight!

In 2002, almost fourteen years ago, I discovered a new car in my driveway on Mother’s Day. Even though I knew it was being purchased (not quite the surprise Mother’s Day gift that makes for a great commercial), it was still an exciting memory to recall.

We bought a Honda Civic in the same color as my previous Honda Civic and it had exactly 10 miles on the odometer. My daughter, Katrina, was three years old and I grabbed her hand as my husband snapped a photo of our glee that bright, spring morning. (Don’t pay attention to the date listed on the photo – it took me nearly a month to learn how to change the date on my digital camera back then, lol.)

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Today I said goodbye to that very same car.

With 91,730 miles of memories tucked in the folds of its cloth interior, it was time to let someone else make memories, too. My daughter and I stood outside once again, hand-in-hand, and snapped another photo, showing just too clearly how quickly time passes in the blink of an eye.IMG_3523

I decided to leave a surprise for the new owner, a young man who was very appreciative to have a reliable ride to work, and placed it in the glove compartment to be discovered after he drove away.

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Time is filled with changes. We can choose to be sad, or we can appreciate all the memories made in the time we had. For me, I prefer to celebrate everything, big and small, even if my loss is someone else’s gain.

It brings me joy to know that this man will be happy with his new car and can take a moment to celebrate, too!

 

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A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted a message on Facebook that she had piano and ukulele sheet music to give away. Immediately I thought of my co-worker, Paul, who not only plays the ukulele, but had his own collection of ukuleles on display:

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The only catch in this RAK transaction is that my friend with the sheet music, Lea Cale, lives several states away! She offered to bring the sheet music with her the next time she was in town to visit family (since I live in her hometown), and that’s exactly what she did!

Over the holidays, I had the joy of spending time with her and her daughter as we caught up on each other’s lives. It blessed me immensely to have her in my home!

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The first day back to school, I wrote a note to Paul to go with the sheet music, then left the stack with our music teacher, Abby, for the final delivery.

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While it may not seem like much, especially if you aren’t a musician, it brought me joy to play a part in this pay-it-forward RAK. Oh, how I love the generosity of others!

Maybe you have something you no longer need that could bless someone else? If so, offer it up and see how blessed you feel to brighten someone else’s day!

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Here we go with another rainy weekend. You know what I really dislike doing in the rain? Grocery shopping. It seems like every time I go, the parking lot is full, the store is packed with people, and I’m drenched from head to toe after putting my groceries in the car. Going shopping in the rain does not bring me joy.

Normally I park in the back of the lot, enjoying the extra walk, but on this particular day I was thrilled to see reverse lights on a car in the second spot closest to the store. I stopped my car and turned on my turn signal, patiently waiting for the car to leave so I could take its place.

As I lifted my foot off the brake and turned my steering wheel, a silver-beige car scooted ahead of me in the opposite direction and took the empty spot.

Unbelievable!

I literally sat there for a second with my mouth open in shock. Seriously? I was here first! So many negative thoughts filled my head in an instant and it took all I had not to let the moment ruin my morning. After all, it was just a parking spot. Did it really matter?

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As I parked my car and walked towards the store, I saw the person who took my spot. It was a young woman with a small child carried on her hip. I immediately felt horrible for the negative thoughts that filled my head moments before. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in her shoes – a mom dragging my child out in the rain to get the necessary groceries, praying for a spot close to the front door.

We entered the store at almost the same time, both turning to the right to find a cart. Many were wet, having been brought in from the rain, but I found one that was dry and pushed it towards her. “Here,” I said with a smile on my face, “This one is dry.” She smiled back in appreciation and said a quick “Thanks” as she put her daughter in the cart.

My day was filled with joy, just like that!

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I walked the aisles of the store, my mood brightened by the random act of kindness, and decided to do another RAK for a mom who might need it.

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Then, as I was checking out, I overhead the girl beside me mumble that she wished she had brought some change, so I gave her some of mine to help her out.

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It’s funny how being kind to others can change your outlook on the day. When I left the grocery store and put the groceries in my car, I didn’t even notice the rain.

May your travels be filled with joy no matter the weather or season!

If you could choose one word for your New Year’s Resolution, what would you choose?

Strength?

Endurance?

Patience?

Kindness?

I was inspired by Rich Czyz’s blog post to choose #oneword to focus on 2016. As many of you faithful readers know from my professional blog, I chose to focus on the word JOY.

Joy

Today starts a new year with unlimited possibilities. My goal is to live out joy in all I do: in my school, with my family, among my community. I want to recognize joy in others, and how others bring joy into my life. I want to radiate God’s love for me and maybe, just maybe, I’ll inspire someone else to do the same.

One of the wonderful things I love about random acts of kindness is that they don’t have to break the bank; being kind costs no money, merely a bit of effort to recognize opportunity and a nudge to make it happen.

This morning as I was leaving a very crowded service at my church, the line of cars leaving the parking lot crept forward in a single line snail’s pace. At the first intersection, I allowed a car to pull out in front of me which was received with a smile and a wave.

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Then, to my delight, at the very next intersection, this person allowed someone to go in front of them! How fun to see them pay-it-forward right before my eyes!

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Years ago I would have been frustrated and annoyed at having to wait and watch people go ahead of me in line. Thankfully, I have learned how to appreciate the small moments of joy and realize it doesn’t take much to make someone else’s day brighter!

After church I went to Kroger to gather my weekly groceries and decided to do a small RAK to celebrate the new year. I decided to buy cake mix for a stranger!

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I searched among all the different types of cake mixes and chose the one that brought me the most joy: Party Rainbow Chip! I then taped my RAK note to the cake mix box as a surprise for someone else.

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Technically, this RAK cost me $2.00, but how fun that the cake mix is on sale – the lucky person will get to make a cake AND have an extra fifty cents to save!

Thanks for keeping up with all my RAK blogs throughout the year – I hope whatever #oneword you choose for the new year brings you peace, joy, and love each day!

 


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