celebrate kindness

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From one #JoyfulLeader to another, this post makes me smile! We can all experience greatness through JOY!

Learning and Leading

JOY. I love this word. When I hear it, I want to smile. I constantly look for it in others, and if it isn’t there, I strive to instill it. JOY. Everyone should have it. Everyone should feel it. We are meant to experience joy, but we are also meant to share our joy with others. My favorite word has become part of who I am, how I live, and how I lead.

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How can we make sure our joy is seen, heard, and felt? We must be intentional. Sharing our joy can “just happen”, but it is so powerful when it is intentionally spread to others. I have found that sharing joy, even when I am struggling with my own, ultimately comes back to me in a powerful way.

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My school family at Central Elementary has been blessed to serve as a model school for Jon Gordon’s The Energy…

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This past Friday, I arrived at school to discover the sweetest surprise from my coworker, Krista: a stack of “Be Kind” to-go cups for our Tiny Tech Cafe!


What a sweet addition to our room! Several teachers stopped by throughout the day and enjoyed their coffee and hot chocolate in these very cups.

My day flew by, jam-packed with lessons and video editing. After work I planned to make a quick stop at Kroger before heading home to get ready for A Night to Shine, a Prom Night sponsored by Tim Tebow, celebrating people with special needs. (My sweet neighbor, Ashton, was attending for the first time and I couldn’t wait to surprise her there!)

I grabbed the few items I needed at the grocery store, then headed for the self-checkout line. There was a gal in front of me, doing double-duty as she pushed an oversized grocery cart with one child turning a steering wheel on a bright, plastic car and her other child lying horizontally across her chest, fast asleep.

She went to her register; I went to mine. As I started to scan my Kroger card, I felt that all-too-familiar nudge on my heart. “Turn around and help her.”

Now let me pause the story for a moment and remind you – I was in a bit of a rush. I had several things to do at home to get ready for the prom, I had to drive more than 30 minutes away and every moment more would increase the risk of additional rush-hour traffic. My goal was to be right there on the red carpet to see sweet Ashton make her entrance, but if I was late…

I took a side glance at the woman beside me, trying to awkwardly scan a bottled drink while balancing her sleeping child in her arms, and a flood of memories filled my soul. I remember what it was like to go grocery shopping with more than one little child in tow. I remember the complete exhaustion. I remember the frustration of not being able to complete simple tasks others took for granted. I remember the fear of one misstep causing my overtired, sleeping child to wake and not sleep again for ten hours or more.

It all came back in an instant.

“Here, let me help you with that!” Her eyes met mine, in disbelief, as she smiled back at me. “Are you sure? Wow! That would be great!” I scooted over to her register and started scanning her items one by one as we chatted a bit. I scanned her card and placed the bags in her cart. “Thank you so much!” she exclaimed as she tried to readjust the child in her arms so she could push the shopping cart out of the store. Once again, I felt that nudge.

“If you can hang on a sec, I’ll scan my items and help you take your groceries to the car. You need to let your baby sleep!” Once again she smiled, and it was apparent that she was appreciative of the offer. A few minutes later, we were heading out of the store together, her oldest child “driving” us through the parking lot to her car.

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As she opened her door and transferred her youngest into a car seat, I helped the other one get settled in his seat, then I loaded the groceries in her car. As the trunk door closed shut, we hugged as she thanked me once again for the kindness. “We’re all in this together!” I said as I started to walk towards my car. “You deserve a moment of kindness. Have a great weekend!”

I was so caught up in the random act of kindness, I totally forgot that I was in a rush to get home.

This morning as I was sitting in church, our pastor spoke of the power of being a follower. Two slides resonated with me: “Being sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting” and “A readiness to share the story.”

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See, this whole kindness thing isn’t about me and it isn’t about you. It’s about us. It’s about living your faith out loud so others can see an example of how life should be. It’s having a willingness to follow and do when you hear that whisper on your heart.

You are a part of someone else’s story.

As for that magical prom night? I made it there just in time to see my beautiful neighbor glide down that red carpet, wearing a sparkling tiara that matched the sparkle in her eyes.

We always have time for kindness.

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The first days of the new year brought excitement of a possible snow storm at the end of the week. Now for those of you who’ve never lived in Virginia, let me fill you in on a little phenomenon called “Southern Snow Madness”. With just the talk of snow, us southerners start getting ready. Everyone runs to the store to get milk and bread (sometimes more than once!) and parents start digging through closets trying to find snow clothes for the children who will be clamoring to play outside.

We are no exception. It doesn’t matter if we receive an inch or a foot, all three of my kids will end up outside for hours sledding down hills, making snow angels, and having snowball fights (if the snow is wet enough).

As I was gathering the hats, gloves, boots, and bibs, I found a pair of like-new snow boots that my youngest son had outgrown. I decided to sell them on our community Facebook page and quickly received seven requests for purchase.

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I looked over the list of names in my inbox and felt led to open one by a gal named Susan. (This isn’t her real name – she asked to remain anonymous.) She definitely wanted the boots, but wasn’t sure when she could come by my house to get them as she was waiting for her husband to get home from work.

I told her I was flexible, any time would do, then she replied that if she couldn’t get them tonight she could get them after the snow.

No. 

Absolutely not.

I felt my heart squeeze tight as these thoughts flew into my head. Pick up the boots after the snow? What on earth? These boots are FOR the snow!

Immediately I responded that I would bring the boots to her. In that moment, I had no clue where she lived, but I knew with full certainty that she needed these boots NOW.

We went back and forth a bit with her protesting my offer to deliver, and finally she realized I was serious. “Are you sure?” she asked, her question of doubt making me smile.

I. Am. Sure. 🙂

Twenty minutes later I was at her doorstep, snow boots in hand. She came out the front door, her joy radiating through our hug. As I backed out of her driveway, her little boy waved to me from their front door.

Later that night, she sent me a message on Facebook with a photo of her son wearing the boots. She told me how she had tried to purchase snow boots at the story, but they were too big, how her husband had just switched jobs, how money was tight and she couldn’t afford $30 snow boots. She was so very appreciative for these boots that were obviously meant for her son.

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This morning I awoke to a yard blanketed in white. It brought such joy in my heart to know that there’s a little boy out there having fun in his new-to-me Spiderman snow boots, with a happy Momma by his side.

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A few weeks ago, my daughter was going through her old coats and vests, seeing what was no longer needed. Although she is still in high school and doesn’t have a job, we still make her purchase her own gifts for friends and family, so she finds ways here and there to make some extra money for her holiday shopping.

She found two vests in like-new condition and asked if I would list them in our local Facebook yard sale group. She set the price at $7 each and it wasn’t long before someone replied, wanting to buy them.


The buyer replied in a short message with broken English; it was obvious that Spanish was her native language. After a few message back and forth, she revealed that she couldn’t drive to my house to pick up the vests because she lived on the other side of town, but asked if I would be willing to ship the vests to her instead?

I will admit, I hesitated. The last week of school was SO crazy busy. I barely had enough time to get from place to place myself much less figure out how to wrap up these bulky vests and ship them out. I was feeling overwhelmed trying to get everything accomplished and this one extra task seemed like that straw that would break the camel’s back.

She must have sensed my hesitation as she sent another message offering to send me a money order to pay for the vests and the shipping costs.

A money order.

I literally froze when I read her message. It was obvious this woman wanted these items, probably for a Christmas gift for a child or grandchild. I knew if she took the time to get a money order, then mail it to me and if I waited to get the money order then ship the vests to her, there was a really good chance they would not arrive in time for Christmas morning.

That’s when I heard the whisper on my heart: “Give her the vests for free.

You already know how this story ends. 🙂

I responded back, asking for her address to mail the vests. When she requested my address for payment, I said there was no need – I was sending the vests for free.

Her appreciation for such kindness literally poured out in her Spanish/English messages. The vests were for her disabled daughter who was in a wheelchair. She had an infant daughter as well and three boys of various ages. She sent me nine photos – NINE PHOTOS! – of her precious family, and explained that even though her husband was deported, they chose to stay and live here in faith.

Sometimes you just have to listen to the whisper on your heart.

I decided to pick up a few more items and wrap them all as Christmas gifts. A checkers/chess game with some sour candy canes for the boys. Some toddler books and a teddy bear for the baby. A sparkly scarf and a $20 Target gift card for the mom. And, of course, the two puffy vests with an extra stuffed animal for the daughter in the wheelchair.


The box was big. Bulky. Heavy. But standing there in the long line at the post office made my heart fill with joy! Time slowed down. I smiled at everyone I saw. The postal worker wished me Merry Christmas and I returned the sentiment.

Merry Christmas, indeed!


I can only imagine the surprise on the mom’s face when she received the package, opening the box to see wrapped gifts for “La Hermana Mejor”, “Los Hermanos”, “Bebe” and “Mama”.

I can see her in my mind, placing the gifts under her tree, or perhaps hiding them to be revealed Christmas morning. 

Or maybe the curiousity and excitement was too much and everyone in the family ripped into the presents moments after they arrived.

No matter when or how the gifts are opened, this family will know they are loved. They are valued. They are not forgotten.

And that’s what Christmas is all about. 

Today is the day.

I wish I could end that sentence with the exclamatory exuberance I usually display when I speak and write, but the simple fact is I’m weary.

I’m weary of negativity. I’m weary of trash-talking. I’m weary of back-biting nastiness that benefits no one.

So today, on such a most important day for my country, I choose joy because despite my weariness, I am blessed.

I am blessed to live in a country that allows me to speak my opinion without incarceration or death.

I am blessed to have the opportunity to engage in debate, but hold true to my values and beliefs without fear.

I am blessed to have the privilege to be anything I want to be: student, teacher, mother, wife, author, speaker, entrepreneur.

I am blessed to make eye contact with anyone I meet, to smile and say hello no matter the perceived or actual level of social hierarchy.

I am blessed to live in a place of prosperity. I have all my basic needs met and never find myself walking miles for clean water or sanitized facilities. I don’t sleep on a hard floor. I enjoy the luxuries of a refrigerator, a washer/dryer, and air conditioning in the summer.

I am blessed to stand in a line that wraps around an elementary school building, to have the opportunity to cast my vote for our country’s next leader.


I am blessed to stand next to my daughter, who at the age of 18 is voting in her first presidential election.


And even though it’s not much, I’m blessed to show kindness to others by giving away little gifts of appreciation to the volunteers at my voting precinct.


I have the option to choose anger and hate or love and joy.

Today I choose joy. 🙂

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One sure sign of birthday season is an absence of my blog posts filling your feeds. Every September and October, as I focus on my children and their joyous days-of-birth, I tend to wrap my attention around them, leaving less time to stop, pause, and reflect.

Does this mean that I have stopped showing kindness to others? Oh, goodness, no! But my time has been limited, thus impacting my natural ebb and flow of writing.

Since my last blog post, there have been countless acts of kindness, too many to recount and post. Nothing spectacular, no grandiose expressions of greatness, just me being me and you being you; small acts of love shared here and there.

I received two new book donations to our Tiny Tech Cafe which is so exciting! Our lending library is expanding!

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I was able to pay-it-forward with a few notes to coworkers to lift their spirits and remind them that they matter to me:

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Today when I arrived to work, there was a darling container of hand-picked flowers with a sweet message waiting for me:

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When was the last time you received an anonymous gift that made you smile?

This small ray of sunshine was actually a perfectly-timed gift of compassion. As many of you know, my mom is walking through her journey of Stage 4 small cell lung cancer. There have been ups, downs, and moments where I swear I thought the train was derailed. This was one of those weeks. But these flowers reminded me that all things blossom in their own time and small things matter!

So today, I’m celebrating the small things.

My mom had to get a lung test today as she struggles daily to breathe and her pulmonologist needs to know what’s going on inside. Right now we are taking it day-by-day. To make my mom smile and focus on other things, I promised her a yummy lunch to celebrate her very first lung test.

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We ate at Baker’s Crust and had the most attentive waiter one could hope for. We tasted samples of homemade soup, shared stories of my kiddos, and I even got her synced up with Words With Friends again (so feel free to invite her to a game!)

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Then came the main meal. Oh. My. Goodness! We both agreed her Wine Country salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette was much better than my Caprese Panini.

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On the way back from lunch, we talked again about her visiting my Tiny Tech Cafe. “Maybe we could go next week.”

No.

How can we live in the moment, if we keep putting off today?

Forty-five minutes later, I was popping wheelies with my mom in a wheelchair as we made our way around campus.

(OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. You know if I tried to pop a wheelie with mom in a wheelchair we would BOTH end up on the ground!)

Today was a good day. My mom got to sit in the Tiny Tech Cafe!

JOY!

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As much joy as this brought to my soul, what actually made me happiest was hearing my mom’s laughter as she fussed at me for holding on to her wheelchair going down the ramp in our building. “Let go of the chair! I want to feel it roll!”

So I let go and my mom was free.

Her laughter echoed against the walls, her arms outstretched, bracing for impact as the wheelchair gained momentum reaching the bottom of the ramp.

For just one moment, there was no cancer, there were no worries, and everything was right with the world.

Friends, thank you for being such faithful readers. Thank you for allowing me to pour my heart into your life through my stories. Thank you for lifting me up when I can’t find the words, when my writing comes to a standstill, when my thoughts are going in a thousand different directions, but not a single complete thought is shared.

We are sharing this journey of life together and I appreciate being on the road with you.

Until next time! Be kind and #CelebrateEverything!

 

 

Oh friends, what AMAZING progress we are making on the Tiny Tech Cafe!

If you’ve been following our GoFundMe campaign, you know that purchasing a sofa was a huge goal of mine for our little Cafe. Flexible seating is the crux of this project and a sofa would be a perfect addition to that vision. (It would also make a great natural border for the edge of the cafe!)

For months now I’ve been eyeing up this cute little sofa at Kroger. Yes, that’s right – Kroger! Did you know you can buy furniture there?

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When I finally got enough donations in the campaign to purchase the sofa, I went back to Kroger only to discover the price had been raised substantially. Whaaaaaat?? My heart sank. Here I had precisely planned for each and every purchase using these funds and now I would have to cut something out of my budget to cover the new price of the sofa.

I. Was. Devastated.

The first person I found was Kenny Williams, who greeted me with a smile. “Let’s see what’s going on with that sofa.” He and another gentleman walked with me back to the sofa, scanned it, and sure enough – the price was increased. He looked at me a bit perplexed and suggested I come back the following Wednesday (after Labor Day) to see if the price would return to its original price.

I had someone take a photo of me and Kenny right there in the moment because he gave me hope!

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That Wednesday (which was exactly one week ago today), I went back to Kroger and as luck would have it, Kenny was working that day. The sofa was still available, but the price hadn’t budged an inch. It was still listed much higher than it had been all summer.

There are times in our lives when we have to make tough decisions, and this was one of them. Kenny had heard all about my Tiny Tech Cafe fund and he knew how important this sofa was to Mechanicsville Elementary. He also had the power to hold firm to the current price or bless me with the purchase price I would have paid had I bought the sofa the previous week.

Kenny honored the lower price.

Integrity. 

I was so excited I purchased the sofa RIGHT THEN (you should have seen me race to the self-checkout; it was QUITE a sight!) Then I realized I had created another dilemma for myself… how was I going to get the sofa from Kroger to Mechanicsville Elementary?

I left the sofa at the store, with my name and a large SOLD sign, then put out an open request on Facebook for help:

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Have I mentioned lately how much I dislike asking people for help?

Let me tell you, this Tiny Tech Cafe is teaching me quite a lesson in teamwork, relationships, and community support. I am discovering that this project is SO. MUCH. BIGGER. THAN. ME!!

When you ask for help, people answer.

I had more than half a dozen people respond to my frantic plea. The first person to comment on my post was Stephen Bahen, a former MES parent (who also worked with me at Kings Dominion a million years ago, lol.) He met me the following afternoon, right after I finished leading a professional development session for my teachers, and off we drove to Kroger, ready to pick up the sofa once and for all!

JOY!!

We entered the store and I immediately took Stephen to the sofa on display. “C’mon, Stephen! You have GOT to sit on this sofa! It’s amazing!” Well, sit we did, side-by-side, in a grocery story full of shoppers. I turned to him and started laughing at how absurd we must look – two full-grown adults just hanging out on the store furniture!

It was in that EXACT moment, I saw a dear friend of mine approaching us with her seven-month daughter in tow.

I couldn’t make up this stuff if I tried! What were the chances?

Michelle Henry was all smiles as she saw me, surely knowing why I was there because I know she’s been following these blog posts. I invited her to sit with us and then had to take a selfie simply because the whole moment was PRICELESS!

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We shared some hugs and a lot of laughter, then who should come down the aisle… but the man of the hour – Kenny Williams! He knew exactly who I was and went back to the storeroom to bring out our sofa, packed neatly in a massive cardboard box.

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Ladies and gentlemen! The sofa is on its way!

As we drove from Kroger to Mechanicsville Elementary, Stephen stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts and blessed me with an iced coffee. A RAK and a sofa?? This day couldn’t get any better!

We arrived at school late in the afternoon and grabbed anyone we saw to help us move the box into the laptop lab. Kate Miller, one of our very first donors, jumped in with smiles. I was delighted to have students helping us, too, since this is for them as well!

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I knew we would have to wait for the sofa to be put together (by my very handy husband), but for now it was cause for celebration!

Then… when I thought it couldn’t POSSIBLY get any better than this…

That night we received even more donations to our campaign! OH MY GOODNESS!!

My dear friend and oh-so-fun Zumba teacher, Vicki Williams, blessed us with a donation as did my next-door childhood friend, Rachael Rafferty. Neither gal is connected to Mechanicsville Elementary as a parent or student; they are simply friends of mine and members of the local community who want to be a part of something extraordinary! I am so humbled by their support.

Then…

I know – how could it POSSIBLY get ANY BETTER?!?!

Then… I received the largest donation of the entire campaign, from an anonymous donor, making this campaign fully funded!

HAPPY DANCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! The joy!! The excitement! The realization that this is OUR project, OUR Tiny Tech Cafe, OUR gift back to our students and teachers! YOU ARE PART OF THE DREAM!

It was in this exact moment of exuberance that I KNEW this dream is so much bigger than me.

And then…

Yes… there’s more…

And then…

Just yesterday, one of my sweet ZTA sorority sisters whom I haven’t seen in more than two decades, almost matched that gigantic donation from the week before. Kim Carabetta literally brought me to tears with her contribution above and beyond all my wildest expectations!

You are not donating to a classroom. You are not donating to a piece of furniture. You are donating to a dream, a vision, a way to bring a little joy into other people’s lives. You are blessing us with flexible seating, yes, but you are creating a learning environment that lends itself to quality conversations, a welcoming smile, a listening ear.

You are helping us learn and grow in our knowledge of new things, whether it’s learning how to make a green screen video or stretching our minds by trying new strategies showcased in best-seller books like Teach Like a Pirate and Kids Deserve It.

Your donations are helping us in SO many ways.

And for this I say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am so blessed you are part of my tribe.

For more information on how you can support our ongoing needs, click here! We would love to add you to our list of supporters!

More updates to come… I can’t wait to show you what the sofa looks like SET UP IN THE CAFE!

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The cards I made as random acts of kindness to bless others through iServe #iservecsbc #rak
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