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Give yourself a gift this Christmas...Be Kind.

To find some shelter from the rain and cold he had spent the day sitting under the eaves of an empty video store near the entrance to our local grocery.  He held a simple sign which read "Need food for my family please help."   It wasn't the best location for an answer to his plea.  Even though everyone would see him as they were driving in to get their last minute Christmas Eve dinner items.  It would require that they make an effort to return and stop their car on the way out before hurrying home to their families and various holiday festivities. 

Now I have no doubt that the majority of people (just like me) who noticed this man sitting there considered his plight and even had the thought to do something - they simply never acted upon it.  What I didn't realized was that the Christmas Peace I was looking for that morning was sitting next to him waiting for me to reach out my hand in Kindness. 

I saw this man at 8 a.m. that Christmas Eve three years ago.  I had no idea at the time the events that would unfold in the coming hours.  I honestly didn't even think about him as I left the store and parking lot from a different exit.  The phone rang at about 2 p.m.  It was my father-in-law asking us to arrive at his home an hour early for Christmas Eve...he had something he needed all of us to do.  With grumbles all the way around and questions as to what he could possibly need us to do on Christmas Eve I let all my children know the new time of arrival. 

When we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's home that afternoon they had two boxes for each of their children's families waiting for them with a turkey and some food items for a meal.  At the time they were working at the local food bank and they knew first hand the needs of local families at this time of year.  They simply gave us the boxes with instructions to go to the store and supplement any items we felt might be needed in the boxes and then deliver them to two families of our choosing within the next hour.  When we returned we would have our family dinner and evening festivities. 

We were in shock.  An hour? We had already participated in the Giving Tree at our Church - wasn't that enough?  Two families? We didn't even know one family that we could think of that needed a meal that day...or did we?  We took a deep breath loaded our family (ten of us that night) back into our vehicles and headed towards the grocery store. 

As we added fresh vegetables and a few non-essential Christmas goodies we discussed our options for delivery.  It was then that my daughter mentioned seeing a man in this very parking lot at noon when she came in to pick something up.  My son too remember seeing the same  man at about two when he came through the parking lot.  I then had to admit that I too had seen the same man at the beginning of my day.  Was it possible that he could still be sitting in front of that empty video store at 5 p.m.?  We didn't think it was. 

Out of the store and across the the parking lot to the far entrance.  Sure enough there he sat with the same sign in the same pouring rain eight hours after I had first seen him.  I imagine he wondered what was going on when ten of us piled out of two cars to approach him.  I hadn't previously noticed that he had an old bicycle leaning against the brick wall near him.  We offered him the items in our box and wondered if he a way to prepare it.  He said yes that his family lived in a small apartment nearby and that he hadn't had the heart to return home for Christmas Eve empty handed so he had remained there late into the afternoon.  We exchanged our box for several sacks he could manage on his bike (something to be considered in our future giving adventures) and after thanking us multiple times he headed home with a Christmas meal for his family. 

Success! Our first meal was delivered but we still had one more box left.  There were no other people out on the street that night, it was already dark out, and very cold.  My son then thought of the clerk at the local gas station we all got deli food and sodas from each week. (I am sure that Peace had jumped into the car with us and sat right down next him...) We all said no...to awkward...we see her all the time.  But he insisted.  At the time he was working delivering pizzas at night.  Almost every evening he would stop at the store for a popand for a few minutes he would talk with the woman behind the counter.  He knew she would be working that night and more importantly he also knew that she could use the Christmas meal the next day.

We were out of anonymous delivery options  - this one would be personal.  And all the sweeter we would soon discover.  As we walked into the store she was happy to see all of us.  "What are you all doing here?  Are you heading to your family Christmas party?" We told her we were but that our son had suggested that we stop by here first for a pop and to wish her a Merry Christmas.  "Merry Christmas!" she returned with a smile.  Then we showed her the box with the Christmas dinner items.  "What's this?" she asked.  "Christmas dinner...or the day after Christmas if you already have other plans!  Merry Christmas!"  This was the moment I had been nervous about...would she be angry or embarrassed?  Would she be too proud to accept our gift?  (or was I actually envisioning my own reaction if I was in a similar circumstances?)

With tears in her eyes she stepped out from behind the counter to give us each a hug and a thank you.   An extra moment was spent looking into my sons eyes as his were welled with tears and then a hug for him too.  She knew he was her friend and not just a customer any more.  Three years later she still works at the same store.  My son no longer delivers pizzas so their evening talks are much less frequent.  However, anytime when we do happen in on an evening our connection and friendship is revalidated as we update each other on our lives and families.

Recent news headlines out of New York City tell the story of a random act of kindness extended towards a man sitting on the busy sidewalk without any shoes and the police officer who saw a need a decided to act upon it.  (See NY Times article)  For a day or two the response was one of admiration for the police officers actions caught on a cell phone camera by a tourist. However, it was only a matter of a few days before naysayers began to try to take away from the kind act by putting forth evidence that the unsolicited gift did not change the circumstances of the receiver and that perhaps the man should not have ever received the gift in the first place. (See NY Times article)

I am going to go out a limb here and suggest that a random act of kindness will never benefit the person on the receiving end of the act more than the person who delivers the kindness. I am certain that our box of food left with the  man in the grocery store parking lot did nothing more than feed them for a day or two. It did not change his circumstances for any length of time and quite frankly I have no idea how "deserving" he was of our kindness.  My point here is that those things simply do not matter.  It was my life and perspective that was transformed in that exchange.  I discovered where Peace could instantly be found - resting on the extended hand of Kindness

I have also come to believe that there really is no "random" act of kindness.  I believe that Kindness is one of the choice and consequences sticks I have previously posted about.  Throughout each day we are given (and I personally believe we are literally given) opportunities to be kind.  Very frequently profound circumstances will bring to pass those opportunities in a manner which will leave you asking - was this really random?  When I was discussing this post with the lovely woman who does my hair she told me her recent experience with kindness.

She had been trying for months to sell a set of tires that her father had left for them at her home.  Various attempts at selling the tires had not been successful.  Then one day she had the thought that she was just going to load them up and take them to a nearby used tire dealer.  She wanted them out of the back yard and would take whatever he offered.  She left the store with $100.  She and her family then went to dinner at a local family owned restaurant they frequently dined at. (Why not?  They had some extra cash.)  A conversation with her waitress revealed that it was her child's birthday the next day.  The same conversation also revealed that the waitress was more than willing to go without her cell phone in order to make sure the birthday would not be without a gift.  As they left their $100 tip that night it included a note on a napkin which thanked her for the great service each time they came in telling her to enjoy the birthday party and keep her cell phone on too. 

It was then she hestitated in her story and said she really felt like she had the thought to go to that specific tire place on that very day just so that she would have the extra money when they went to dinner that night.  I could tell she was wondering if I would validate that belief or brush it off as a random act on her part. 

My past experiences with Kindess allowed me to validate her own.  She knew it was no random act and so did I. 

It is not always easy to to be kind.  I have found this often to be most true within the walls of my own home.  And yet, is that not where we want Peace to reside on a daily basis?  Opportunities for kindness abound.  Look for them and you will find Peace in the process.  So forget the notion that your acts of kindness are all about the other guy - they are really all about you! (That right there makes my next kind act easier!)

When an opportunity for Kindness comes your way  - reach out. 

You will hear Peace whisper - "You're right...I knew you would pass my way today."

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