Just a moment to say thank you

Today’s post was written by one of my English Composition II students, Crystal Riley, on the topic of the motivation of gratitude. I have known Crystal since junior high school. When God allowed our paths to cross again and for me to serve as her instructor, I felt truly privileged and have enjoyed watching her grow as a person and as a writer. I have learned at least as much from her as she has from me–isn’t this the beauty of teaching?

We all have had someone to wait on us and say thank you for your patronage. Have you ever really said thank you back to the person who waited on you in a way that was meaningful?  In my life I have had several jobs that required me to wait on people.  It is not a gratifying experience.  Sometimes I wanted to say, “Here is your crap, please don’t come back!”  I never did; I always took the time to force a smile and say thank you. I got so good at the routine that I caught myself sending off my unwanted family guests in the same way I thanked the unwanted customers who left the store.

There was an old man who came to the gas station every morning at 4:30. I made his coffee and waited on him every day.  I thought he sat in that booth sleeping until his friends came in shortly after.  All the old men would drink coffee and share stories.  My shift ended at 7:00.  Every morning just before I closed my drawer, he paid for his breakfast and told me I was a good ole’ girl or told me how good the gravy was.  He always said something nice; he even commented on how well I had shined the floors!  I never thought much of it.  I always just thought he appreciated that I personally filled their cups instead of making them get up to get their own coffee.  It was a small thing.

Later I worked at a video counter in the local grocery store and missed the old men from the gas station.  One night my old man came in, and I waited on him and his granddaughter.  He had been left to babysit.  I helped them select a video, and as he was paying for it, he thanked me.  He had a genuine smile and kind eyes.  He patted my hand and told me he knew I was a nice girl.  It is a crazy thing that the way he said thank you to me just made my day even if the praise didn’t come from my boss.  I told him I just loved waiting on him and how nice he was.  He responded that it costs nothing to let someone know that they are doing a good job, but it could mean the world to the person doing the job.

I thought about him often and what he said.  I’ve had some of the worst jobs you could imagine, and I think about my co-workers at times, and how awful things are for them. I make it a point to say thank you when someone helps me, to take that extra moment to let them know I appreciate them.

It only takes a moment, and it may be the only kind word that person hears all day.  If we all just take a moment to offer a word of encouragement or take a moment to simply be kind, we could all make a world of difference in how someone’s day goes. I never knew that old man’s name, and he never called me by my name, but I think about him because he was so nice, and his extra words of encouragement made my day nearly every day.

Gratitude: humility for the smug

Today’s post is an essay written by one of my English Composition II students, Kyle Hill, who happens to be an amazing writer and critical thinker. Kyle wrote this essay in response to a question regarding his motivation for expressing gratitude. It has been a privilege to teach Kyle, and I can’t wait to see what God does with him over the next few years. 

Little progress can be made with a closed mind.  As Albert Einstein once said, “A problem isn’t solved with the same level of consciousness that created it.” Personally, most of my positive character development has occurred amidst the humility resulting from an often self-imposed disaster.  While reeling in the aftermath of a fight with loved ones, the guilt of bad behavior, or a harsh court sentence, humility opens my mind. Before such incidents, I am often stubborn and arrogant, unwilling to listen and unmotivated to curtail my behavior. After my world comes crumbling down, as it has many times, I am blessed with both willingness and a keen ear for suggestion. With the newfound enthusiasm for character development that is brought on by failure, much progress is made. Then the humility slowly wears off. Arrogance, pride, and pretention creep back in and set me up for yet another self-inflicted crisis.  If only humility had a longer shelf life, but it doesn’t. Try as I may, I cannot maintain humility. If, through a miraculously divine act, I was granted eternal humility, I would end up bragging about it to friends and strangers. A substitute for humility is needed for my continued growth.  The only sufficient substitute for humility I have found is gratitude.

The problem with humility is that it is a feeling. Feelings never last. Whether it be extreme happiness or abysmal despair, emotions are temporary. Gratitude, on the other hand, is an action I can take regardless of how I may be feeling. I can thank my family for their patience and understanding. I can thank my friends for their support and encouragement. Both teachers and mentors can be thanked for going the extra mile. Never is my character more honorable than when my actions are guided by gratitude. Self-respect runs rampant when I do something nice for the many loved people in my life. Sharing a list of the superficial things in my life that I am grateful for is both self-centered and also does little to improve the lives of those around me. I prefer to take actual, loving actions to express my gratitude. I help the people I love because I am truly grateful for them. Help may be lending an ear to their troubles or assistance with a menial task. Help may be as small as an invite to the coffee shop, with the promise of good laugh, or as large as making a house payment for a friend in need. Talk is cheap. Love is an action.The actions of gratitude infect my mind.

After a session of gratitude driven actions, something peculiar happens inside of me. The too familiar feelings of pride, greed, and arrogance subside, and I see just how lucky I am. I am not thankful for my morning coffee; I am thankful for the unearned ability to attain it. I am not thankful for the roof over my head; I am thankful for the undeserved skills I have been blessed with that ultimately provide the roof. Most, if not all, of the truly great, beautiful things in my life are gifts. I neither earned the countless blessings in my life nor did I conjure them into being. Whether it be the product of luck or the grace of the Divine, I have done very little to warrant such a fantastic existence. Humility is elusive to me, but my gratitude is beyond abundant.

Why gratitude?

I asked my Composition II students to write a brief essay explaining their motives for expressing gratitude and offering at least one example of a moment when gratitude was expressed to them or when they chose to express gratitude to someone else. This essay was written by my student Jessica Whitmire, who is always smiling. Students like Jessica make my job lighter and brighter!

My family has always instilled in me the concept of treating others the way I want to be treated. Generally speaking, if we are kind to others they will, in return, be kind to us. At times this does not always happen, but that cannot be helped.  The Bible tells us to help those who are less fortunate. I believe that it is my responsibility as a Christian to help others when it is needed. I know that at times I have needed a helping hand or encouragement, and there has been someone there for me.

FullSizeRender-2My Granddad passed away two years ago but was in the hospital for two weeks before he passed, and the amount of love that was poured out on my family was immeasurable. People sent food and cards, constantly for those two weeks he was in the hospital and the week following his death. They came by the hospital and prayed with us and so much more. Without all the love and support I do not know if I would have ever made it through that difficult time. From that moment I knew that I needed to repay all the generosity and love that was given to me and my family.FullSizeRender

I feel that if everyone worked together and lifted each other up instead of tearing each other down, our country would be a much better place. There is too much hate and not enough love. Everyone has the ability to make a difference, and no act of kindness is too small or insignificant.

Dear Rhonda

Dear Rhonda,

2013 year in review maggieThank you for helping me find my house. I resisted liking that house since it was more my ex-husband’s preference than mine. You might even say that I resented that darn house for a long, long time, actually. Slowly but surely, the longer I lived in it (particularly the longer I lived in it by myself), the more it grew on me. The house and I made our peace. I learned to love not only the house but the yard, the view from the front porch (thank God for the pasture and horses paid for by the neighbors!), and the woods behind my property. With lots of help, significant elbow grease, and minimal financial investment, I converted the house into a home.

Rhonda, thank you for introducing me to Cheryl and Henry Wilson. They became surrogate parents to me. I miss them so much, particularly this time of year when I just long to go home to their house and bake, bake, bake spicy pfefferneuse cookies with Cheryl. 252482_516930600632_6872391_n

Rhonda, when you offered me the opportunity to work for you as a sub-contractor six months after we closed on my house, doing odd jobs under the umbrella of real estate, I felt relieved and honored. The offer came in the nick of time. As my life mentor says, “God goes ahead and plans in love.” He certainly did that time. I was recently divorced and desperate for extra income with flexible hours. Working with you was much more classy and fun than serving drinks at the Underground Pub, and I gained experience in real estate for three years, picked your brain on a regular basis, and benefited under your leadership and guidance.

229694_506890022032_1308731_nRhonda, thank you for mentoring me and teaching me everything you could in every situation we encountered while working together. I never felt bossed around by you; I felt like a team member. I watched you open your own business. I learned how to be fearless and brave. I listened to you open and close deals while upholding high ethical standards. I observed you undergo difficult business and personal situations with grace and dignity.

I cannot even begin to list the lessons I learned from you in one measly letter. Thank you for going to lunch with me and going shopping with me and convincing me to serve on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters with you (not to mention the countless other non-profit service projects we tag-teamed on together!). It was refreshing to share my passion for non-profit fundraising and development with someone who approached volunteerism and fundraising from a business perspective. You helped me grow and develop my personal interests, weed out some of my potential career paths, and hone in on my real passion: writing, reading, and teaching these two things to others. 189672_502826380602_5699_n

I know that we don’t make or find time to talk over the phone or face to face now (shame on us!), and we live two hours away from one another, but I hope you know that you made a significant impact on my life. You helped shape me into who I am today.

Did you know that I actually LIKE who I am today, thanks to people like you? Did you know that I have direction in my life now, and that I absolutely love waking up every single day with the people in my house and going to work every day, thanks to people like you who chose to invest in my life? It’s true.

If it hadn’t been for people like you, Rhonda, I might still be floundering and trying to find my way. Thankfully, you cared enough to share your experience with me. You cared enough to share yourself with me; you shared your time with me, and that is a gift I will keep giving back to those I mentor and teach for the rest of my life.

Thank you, my friend.

I love you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Bethany

Dear Daniel

*Today’s letter is written by fellow blogger and writer Mary Agrusa. Thank you, Mary, for your willingness to share your gifts with the world!*

Dear Daniel,

blog mary agrusa nov 14From the first time Mikael demurely admitted she was seeing someone, her tone of voice told me you were special. For the longest time she tantalized me with this well kept mystery – like a decorated gift under the Christmas tree. The suspense exhilarated me.

Every now and then she’d let something slip, “Daniel’s soooo.” My gift appeared to be exquisitely wrapped…but what was inside? Hmm. She’d drop clues, share tidbits. I’d pick up the box, feel its weight and shake it for any revealing noises. Still the contents eluded me. Who was this person who’d captivated my little girl’s heart?

Finally the trip to Boston came. In addition to time spent with Mikael the opportunity to begin to unwrap my gift arrived. What would I find? I rooted for fireworks and shooting stars, and I wasn’t disappointed. When you casually mentioned that the two of you had discussed marriage, my heart soared. “He’s a keeper!” it proclaimed.

That afternoon in March I was only privy to half of the phone conversation between you and Joe. I could read between the remarks on our end that a wedding was in the works. I spent the next six weeks with my head in the clouds. Mikael had found her Prince Charming and I couldn’t be happier.

On that Friday in May at the Marriage Bureau in New York City, the gift was totally revealed – a son, and what a son he is! It was an honor to stand as a witness to your commitment to Mikael, complete with a non-return clause LOL. Blessed with a kind, compassionate heart, a great sense of humor, a profound love of God, coffee, all things Irish and Boston sports teams, you are Mikael’s perfect counter-balance. I marvel daily at God’s gracious addition to our family. He thought of everything.

Daniel, thank you for being “the one.” You took Mikael into your heart and made her (and Joe and I by default) an integral part of your life. In you I’ve received a gift of immeasurable worth and one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Love,

Mary

Dear World

*Today’s letter is written by fellow blogger and wonderful writer Toi Thomas.*

Dear World,

Sometimes life gets hard in ways that are difficult to explain. You look around to your support group, the people you have in your life like family and friends, for comfort but sometimes it’s not quite enough. You don’t want to come off as ungrateful or selfish, but sometimes it really doesn’t help your situation when your mom, or sister, your husband, or bestie tells you for the hundredth time that they love you and believe in you. Sometimes it takes a familiar stranger, an acquaintance, a work friend, a colleague, or a fellow club or group member to really get through to you… And when that happens, it changes your whole outlook.

I’m more than blessed to have the family and friends I have. They love me and support me, but there’s another group of people and few very special ones who have impacted my life, and I’d like to say thank you to them now. Thank you to all the people I’ve met online who have actually had conversations with me, not just liked a post or commented on a picture or shared a video. I’m grateful for making real true connections with people that last.

I’m grateful and blessed to have encountered open-minded people from diverse backgrounds who have agreed to disagree on certain matters and who choose to live in harmony with those who are different from them. These are the people who openly and peacefully express their opinions and then step aside so you may do the same.

I’m blessed to live in a country where I can believe what I want and still have the freedom to express myself as an individual and to make friends with people who do the same. I accept the fact that I may not be able to be best friends with everyone I encounter, but I can reach of level of respect that goes beyond common curtesy, to creativity, professionalism, and new ideals for friendship.

There have been many times when I’ve felt lost and disconnected from the people around me, in life and on the web, and in those moments I was blessed to have someone reach out to me. Thank you M.C.V. Egan for being who you are and making a difference in my life. Thank you Tricia Drammeh for being who you are and making a difference in my life. Thank you Chrystal Erickson for being who you are for more making a difference in my life.

Toi Thomas Nov 14Thank you Tori J. Jones for being the best sister I could have ever asked for. Thank you for being who you and for making a difference in my life. Your prayers, your guidance, and your example are more precious to me than gold.

I thank you, God, for all these encounters, opportunities, and people in my life; whether for a life time or a moment in time.

Love,

Toi

The Ravine

*The following essay was written by one of my students, Samantha Jones, in English Composition I about a place of significance. While this essay is not in letter format, it does pay homage to the memories of her childhood and her sister. For that reason, I asked for her permission to share it with all of you this month.*

arkansas pinesThere are many places that make lasting memories, but there is one special place I will never forget. Lynn, Arkansas, is where that special place is for me. Take a right on Lawrence County Road 318. Pass the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, and Dry Creek Cemetery on your left. Then there is the old Highfield place down the road. The next driveway leads to my childhood home. Behind the house there is a barbed wire fence. Crossing over the fence leads to a thicket of pine trees. Those pine trees enclose my special place, the ravine.

As children, my brother, sister, and I spent many days in that ravine. The pine trees surrounded the entire circumference of it like a security fence. This kept our hideout a secret. The pine needles blanketed the ground, making it a great place to take a nap. When I woke up I would smell of pine, and would have to pick the pine needles out of my hair.

We gathered old pots, pans, and other miscellaneous things from an old dump pile. Throughout our childhood we hoarded up quite a stockpile. We even had old tables and chairs. We used rocks, mud, and grass to pretend we were cooking. We made good use of the pine cones too. They made good baseballs and kick balls. The ravine was our own little paradise.

We would spend the entire day down in the ravine. There was not a game we did not play. Sometimes we would play house, school, or hide and seek. I liked hide and seek the best. I would cover myself in pine needles. When my brother or sister got close I would jump out and scare them. I can still remember how they would jump and giggle. We would also use the fallen branches as swords. That usually ended up with someone tattling to mom and the swords being confiscated.

When we got older, we thought we would camp out in the ravine. I was scared out of my mind. My brother kept making coyote howls. He was trying to scare my sister and me. It sure did work. However, he did not know that a real coyote was going to visit us that night. We heard something moving around outside our tent. Even my brother was scared. So we unzipped the front zipper. That is when we saw the vicious coyote. All we had was a pellet gun. Thankfully, that was enough to scare it away. Needless to say we went running and screaming to the house. That was the last camping trip in the ravine.

As we grew, so did the pines around the ravine. It seemed as if they touched the skyline. We got too grown up to play the silly games we used to play. Even though we did not play there anymore, the ravine still served its purpose.  My sister and I would go there to talk about boys we liked and all the things girls talk about. I can still feel her head in my lap, and hear her talking about the cutest boy in school. We were at peace there. It was the only place we could go where it seemed as if the world stopped for us. Anything we said inside the confines of the pines stayed within them.

The biggest trouble we ever got into was in the ravine. We would ride the bus to school. After first period classes, a friend would drive us to a field that was near the ravine. We would climb over a fence and walk through a pasture. That is where we would all hang out and smoke. My brother even snuck us our first beer there. One day the school called our mom to ask her why we were not there that day. So mom waited at the ravine, and there we all came running through the pasture. She had gathered our empty beer cans, and cigarette packs, and was waiting inside the ravine. We were grounded for what seemed like months.

I guess you could say we grew with the pines. My roots are planted there just as theirs are. Every time I smell pine in the air I am instantly brought back to the ravine. With each memory I get to be a child again, even if it is just for a moment.

Now that we are all adults, it is hard to imagine what our childhoods would have been like without the ravine. My brother and I lost our sister in a car accident five years ago. The memories we made with her and the trouble we got into in that ravine are priceless. Even nowadays when I see those pines standing tall, I can still see her trying to get us to eat her famous mud pies. Those pines and that ravine gave me a place to make the happiest memories of my life.