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.

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.

Taking it easy

Recently, I wrote a post on my personal blog about the lessons learned from my mom regarding academic performance and pushing myself to do my very best.

On the flip side, I’ve also learned–maybe not from my mom, but from my own life experiences and shared experiences of others–that sometimes, it’s okay to make a B. In various areas of my life, the maxim “take it easy” has taken shape.

I used to be the most driven, career-minded person I knew. I’m sure there were others like me, but since I was stuck inside my own egocentric head, I really believed that no one could possibly care more about doing their absolute best at work than I did. This motivation to succeed at work had its advantages; I learned quickly, earned higher salaries, and became extremely flexible and well-rounded in the world of work. I was adept at finding and filling holes in whatever organization I found myself in.

However, after getting divorced and spending considerable time contemplating the direction of my life, I realized my motivation to be the best at work was negatively fueled at times and masking deeper desires. I lacked a significant connection in a healthy romantic relationship, even while married, so digging my heels in deeper on the job fulfilled a need to contribute, to be needed, and to succeed. Looking around, I saw myself surrounded by people who’d done the same thing for decades, and the end result was plenty of career success but very little else. I didn’t want that to be my destination.

I used to say “yes” to everything. I loved being the go-to person for the various non-profit organizations I volunteered for, and I found great satisfaction in spending countless hours raising funds and planning events. At church, if anyone needed a teacher or leader, they knew who to call. I would not only get the job done, but I’d do it well and with gusto. If I was invited to a social event, I’d arrive early and bring the nachos. If someone needed a listening ear, I was more than ready to listen to saga after saga of dramatic, repetitive monologues from friends and family.

Sure, I helped plenty of people in the process and contributed to some very worthy causes. But I realized, after similar contemplation and plenty of alone time with God, that my motives were driven, at least in part, by a desire to be needed, loved, praised, and acknowledged.

I had worn myself out trying to make everyone else happy, and at the end of the day, I felt exhausted and empty, with the same bottomless pit in my stomach and ache in my chest. I figured out that my efforts were futile, and that I would never find fulfillment by fighting for it or by begging others to provide it.

God filled my heart holes when I stopped seeking solutions and simply became still. I found that He had an innate ability to know just what I needed when I needed it and to provide it in miraculous ways. I discovered that I felt needed, loved, acknowledged, and successful not as a result of my own efforts but as a product of the most beautiful relationship I’d ever known. I was able to let go of the unrealistic expectations I’d set for myself and take it easy, leaning on His strong, capable shoulders which carried the weight of the world yet still had plenty of room for the oversized loads I passed to Him.