Gift list

Today’s post is an essay by one of my English Composition I students, Hannah Shell. Hannah is a true ray of sunshine. After spending a semester observing her in class and getting to know her through her writing, I completely understand why her parents would want to bless her by surprising her with a car on her 16th birthday. I hope my daughter has as lovely a spirit as Hannah someday. 

I have been given numerous amazing gifts that I am beyond thankful for. The first most memorable gift that I have received this year was on June 27, my 16th birthday. I had just finished a rigorous cross country practice that took place in the hilly trails behind Batesville High School. It was a scorching hot summer day, and after that long run, my legs felt as if they would collapse any second.

As I stumbled to the parking lot, searching for my dad’s white farm truck, I realized that there were no cars in the parking lot, and he was running 15 minutes late. I sighed and began to dial his number when I heard three honks that came from a car pulling right up in front of me.

photo (1)My stepmom, her short blonde hair bobbing up and down, was clasping her hands together in the passenger’s seat, and my father, who sat in the driver’s seat, was waving his hand out the window, almost as if his arm was about to fall off. The radio was blaring, making the mirrors shake, and there was a giant red bow that sat on the hood of the maroon Pontiac G6. I threw my hands over my mouth and started jumping up and down out of control. I was completely surprised and immediately ran to give my parents a huge hug. My first car was more than perfect, and I am so grateful for such a wonderful gift.

The second favorite gift that I have received this year was on Christmas morning. My whole family was gathered around the Christmas tree with so many gifts underneath. The gifts were wrapped in  all kinds of beautiful wrapping paper and brightly colored ribbons. Christmas music was playing softly, and we were all drinking hot chocolate with fluffy marshmallows scattered on top. I had a red fuzzy blanket wrapped around me and a permanent smile on my face because I just love the happy atmosphere and warm feeling of Christmas morning.

After unwrapping many wonderful gifts of clothes, makeup, and jewelry, I held my last present in my hands. It was my turn to open, and my family looked at me with just as much anticipation to see what was inside. I eagerly ripped off the wrapping paper. It was a white box with the Apple symbol on the outside, and I immediately knew what it was. I looked at my parents with an even bigger smile. I opened the white box, and an iPhone 5 was perfectly placed in the center. I picked it up out of the box, and the cold screen felt so wonderful in my warm hands. I flipped it over on its side to pet it as if it were a cat. The smooth back had absolutely no scratches. It was exactly what I had been wanting, and I am very thankful for it as well.

The third greatest gift I received this year happened one evening when I was at Colton’s Steakhouse. Although I had spent most of my money on gas for the week, I was craving Colton’s buttery rolls, and I was willing to spend what was left of my money on some delicious food.  After inhaling three oozing, hot rolls, I ate a fresh dinner salad topped with tomatoes, cheese, and my favorite salad dressing, ranch. Then I proceeded onto the main entrée of a sizzling sirloin and crispy French fries. The steak was cooked perfectly with only a little pink in the middle, and the thick, warm fries melted in my mouth. As I leaned back in the booth, feeling full and content, suddenly the friendly brunette waitress with red lipstick and extremely white teeth came to my table. She informed me that some gentleman had paid for my dinner and then briskly walked away with a smile.

My jaw dropped; I was in complete shock. My heart was so full fo happiness that someone was so generous to pay for my meal. This was not a new car or brand new iPhone 5. However, it was a random act of kindness, and sometimes, the gifts that cost little to nothing are what can make you the happiest.

Embodying the spirit of giving

With MIdge on My Wedding Day*Today’s post is written by contributor Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, one of my former professors. Dr. Murphy is a fabulous writer; I’m thankful that she regularly contributes to my blog and still takes the time to mentor me as a writer, demonstrating to me the true spirit of giving as well. Merry Christmas, Dr. Murphy!*

Christmas is just around the corner, and I know of no one who embodies the spirit of giving more than my aunt, Midge Brewer.  I’m grateful to her, and I can say without reservation that many other people have also benefited from her acts of kindness – not just at Christmastime, but all year around.

One of my favorite stories about Midge happened when I was fifteen.  For Christmas that year, Midge gave me a beautiful turtleneck sweater from Neiman Marcus.  She had spent the fall taking an extensive training course in Dallas, but she took the time to go Christmas shopping and find a lovely gift for me.  I had never had such a fancy sweater before, and I wore it for years.  On that particular Christmas, the sweater was the perfect present because it provided a beautiful cover for the back brace I was wearing for my scoliosis.  She probably had no idea how much that sweater meant to me, just as I’m sure she has no idea how much her kindness has meant to me and to the other people she has come in contact with over the years.

Another Midge story occurred one day while I was waiting to have my hair cut in my hometown of Batesville, Arkansas.  Even in a small town, it’s rare to overhear perfect strangers engaged in a conversation about someone you know, but on that day I overheard a man and woman talking about Midge. Of course, I listened in.  They were discussing a wedding shower she had given for someone at the church they all attended and remarking on what a wonderful job she had done. I’m certain that Midge lost count years ago of the number of showers she has given as well as the number of weddings she has directed.

In addition to giving showers and directing weddings, Midge is also skilled at making wedding cakes and has made dozens of them.  Several years ago, she made a wedding cake for a relative and placed it in the church kitchen so it would be there for the reception.  In the meantime, a man broke into the church and helped himself to some of the food in the church pantry, including a slice of the beautiful wedding cake Midge had made.  When the mother of the bride discovered what had happened, she called Midge.  With no time to bake another cake, Midge whipped up some frosting and filled in the space the thief left behind with a Twinkie.

Midge is generous and resourceful, but she is not one to call attention to herself, and I will probably get into trouble for writing this post.  I’ll take the risk.  We live in a culture where sensational acts of heroism are celebrated.  While that’s important, people who quietly practice acts of kindness and generosity on a daily basis rarely get the recognition they deserve.  Midge has spent her life in service to others, and this Christmas I’d like her to know that I am grateful for all the things she has done.

Angels unawares

My car angel reminds me of all the people God has used to help me in the past.

My car angel reminds me of all the people God has used to help me in the past.

My whole life, God has used people to help me, serve me, minister to me, and reach out to me without my knowledge and without my permission. These people, whether they intended to be or not, were used by God in my life. Some of them might not have wanted to be used by God, but God didn’t give them a choice, thankfully. He uses whomever, whenever, however He wants. He is God, you know.

If I’m looking for these moments–little miracles when God transforms ordinary people into angels for my benefit–I find that there are too many to count and certainly too many to write about.

When I was five years old, I stayed after school for Brownies–not the fudgy kind. The kind who wear brown uniforms and aspire to grow into Girl Scouts someday. My mom was at home, sick with a cold, and I knew it. Even at five, I felt the need to take care of others. So I abandoned the meeting and raced outside to try to catch the bus. I was too late. The bus was leaving the parking lot, and as I ran after it, I tripped and fell and skinned the palms of my hands on the rough surface of the asphalt. I cried, knowing I’d waited too long to catch the bus and that my indecision about whether to stay after school would mean that my mom would have to drive to school to pick me up in her ill condition.

Thankfully, one of the “big kids,” a high school boy with a rockin’ mullet, saw my plight and asked the bus driver to stop. He opened the back door of the bus (probably without the driver’s permission) and beckoned me to the bus. I was relieved and thankful when he lifted me off the pavement into the bus and wiped the snot from my face. I’m sure he didn’t know that he was helping me help my mom, a single mother of four daughters.

When I was in high school, I worked as a carhop at Sonic. Granted, I quit in December when the temperatures plummeted, and I realized that I could make almost the same amount of money per hour while contained in a heated, dry building serving up hot fries and Big Macs. But prior to quitting, I sucked it up and carried trays of fast food out to patrons while freezing my tail off. One school night, right before closing as the wind wailed and the rain pelted my classy black Sonic jacket, I delivered two Brown Bag Specials to a minivan. A pretty Asian woman was behind the wheel, and she handed me a $5 bill as a tip and thanked me for facing the elements so that her family could have supper without getting out in the storm.

I’m not sure if she was always a kind, generous customer, but God used her that night to remind me that even seemingly insignificant tasks can serve a greater purpose and that there are still good people with compassionate hearts in the world. I still see that lady around town once in a while. I’ve never told her thank you, but maybe I will next time I am in line behind her at our local coffeehouse.

My sophomore year of college with my little sister, Jessie

My sophomore year of college with my little sister, Jessie

As a college student, I blazed a trail between my hometown and Bartlesville, Oklahoma, more times than necessary to visit the man my heart beat for. I’d traveled those highways so many times that it had become second nature. In true irresponsible college student fashion, I often drove on too little sleep, too late at night, with too many things on my mind. One day after leaving Bartlesville, one of my tires blew out just as I pulled away from the tollbooth. I panicked. I called the boyfriend, but he was two hours away. I told him I’d figure something out and would call back if I couldn’t. My version of “figuring something out” was to roll up my windows, lock my doors, and pray for God to miraculously inflate my tire.

He didn’t. But a kind, middle-aged man in a pick-up truck pulled up behind my little Honda Civic. He approached my window slowly, and I cracked it just a tad so I could hear his words.

“Ma’am, I can change your tire for you. You don’t have to get out of the car.”

I hesitated. My mom had warned me about creepy perverts on the interstate and had told me about her near-death experience when one of them tried to attack her after pretending to know who she was and getting her to pull over onto the shoulder. Two truckers used their CB radios that day and helped her escape, blocking the man in and helping police officers identify his vehicle. I didn’t want to go through that kind of ordeal.

“No thanks.”

He had a pained look on his face, a look that told me that he understood exactly why I was declining his offer to help and a look that told me that he felt sorry that he couldn’t help because of all the jerks in the world who’d given men like him a bad name. He walked away.

Then I remembered that I’d seen a sign along the highway in Oklahoma with a number to dial for emergency assistance. I dialed it.

A grumpy state trooper approached my window 20 minutes later. I then learned that the emergency number was for real emergencies, not flat tires.

The state trooper told me that he normally would never change a tire for someone, but since I was a single, white, tiny female so far from home, he would do it just this once. He made me watch him change the tire and explained what he was doing. I told him that my stepdad had taught me the same thing, but that I had barely paid attention. He told me to buy a better car jack and used the one in his squad car instead of mine. After putting the spare on my car, he instructed me to turn around in the median and follow him back through the tollbooth and five miles into Muskogee to buy a new tire. I did exactly as he instructed, and when we got to Wal-Mart, he waved and drove away.

I never thanked him, and I never thanked the man whose help I refused. But God used those men to remind me that not everyone has bad intentions and that He loves me enough to take care of me, even when I have been too irresponsible to take care of myself.

As a young director of career development, 2006

As a young director of career development, 2006

A few years later, as a young professional woman on a business flight to Michigan one cold November, I sat next to a man who, if my memory serves me well, was named Steve Price. He worked for Steelcase, a corporation responsible for designing and selling state-of-the-art office furniture. He showed me pictures of some of the chairs he was designing and told me about his home, his children, and his job. After circling over Grand Rapids a few times, our plane headed to Detroit. The pilot informed us that we were unable to land in Grand Rapids due to rough weather conditions but that we’d  be landing in Detroit and could catch a flight to Grand Rapids the next morning.

This put quite a damper on my business trip, which was a two-day, full-to-the-brim excursion in an effort to better understand the inner workings of the world of career development in higher education. I felt the same panicky feeling I’d felt when my tire exploded in Oklahoma. I was alone, inexperienced, and afraid.

Steve calmly led me through the airport. He negotiated hotel stays for both of us, and he hailed a taxi cab. He paid for the taxi and told me to meet him in the lobby the next morning at 6:30 a.m. He treated me the same way I imagine he would have treated his own daughter if she’d been sitting next to him on that  plane.

God showed me His love and care through the kindness of that man, and He reminded me that He would always provide for me, sometimes without me lifting a finger.

He always has.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unawares.” –Hebrews 13:2

 

Day 20–Becoming a vessel

*Thank you, Debra Dickey, for serving as today’s guest contributor as part of the “28 days of love” project this February. Debra’s a regular contributor to this blog; I’m thankful for the wisdom she shares and for her friendship, too.*

White River, 2012.Photo by Bethany Wallace

White River, 2012.
Photo by Bethany Wallace

[Online ‘Dictionary’ of vessel]  Rare: a person regarded as an agent or vehicle for some purpose or quality; a conduit

Honestly, I personally don’t agree that it is so rare to discover or identify a person who chooses to be, and could be intentionally described as, a vehicle or conduit for some purpose or quality – to be the vessel, then let the Glory fall where it may. Hallelujah!  I know an abundance of those kinds of folks.

For the most part, we’ve been conditioned to seek acclaim, to go for the gold, to have our name in print, to be sought out for our diverse and multi worldly successes.  And so we should work hard, so we should absolutely do our best, so we should strive for the goals that get us where we need to be.  Yet we must not also forget that we are working neither at earthly employment for only earthly rewards, nor with only earthly tools for earthly recognition, but with, and for, a higher Authority, who supplies tools in the form of omnipotent gifts and resources, and who introduces goals and missions for our omniscient ‘work’, that far-reaches our day-to-day jobs, going well beyond these finite terrestrial expectations.

Certainly, I am much aware of what is involved and how much is required to become even slightly successful at genuine vessel-age (J). Truly, there must be a putting aside of one’s own ego, a mighty attitude adjustment, and an alteration in one’s own heart and mind in accordance with one’s own personal walk of faith.  Letting God fill your being with what He will, then use you as He chooses for His Honor and Glory!   Surprise, surprise, it’s not always easy.  Matter of fact, sometimes it’s downright hard!  But despite those drawbacks, in the midst of even those challenges, you won’t be surprised to learn that it is being done, and quite phenomenally, on a regular basis, by persons of every sort, in all walks of life!  People who are sensitive to the leading of God’s Spirit, people who walk and commune with God for greater understanding, people who seek first the kingdom of God.

Yes, people do it every day.  Spouses.  Parents.  Regular people.  Lovely people.  People who invite the best for others, people who are acquainted with the big picture, magnanimous people who love watching others succeed, then go about the business at hand and take the time to help those in their sphere of effectiveness to find their true path, to aspire, to learn, to strive for their goals, to recognize and own their particular accomplishments and achievements, then celebrate those successes right alongside them … without ever giving a thought as to who should receive the credit!   Modest, they say.  I say otherwise.  I say:  Accomplishing the Mission that we were put here to accomplish by following the Guidelines that we were put here to follow. So it is written as ‘The Gift of Love’:   “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  [I Cor. 13 (13) ]

“The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”—Mother Teresa

Isn’t that truly what love is?  Whenever possible, be the vessel.  Well, look at you . . . you’re already doing it!