Kindness Reminds Us of the Spirit of Christmas

My friend Liz has been haunted for a year by the way she reacted to her husband’s random act of kindness last Christmas Eve. I’ll let her tell you about it:

“I love the holidays. I look forward to them every year. But inevitably, I am always amazed at the amount of stress I feel during this ‘joyous’ season. So much so, that I become like a Christmas robot. If I stop, I might forget something, or even worse, run out of time.

“So, like most, I constantly shop, hide gifts, wrap gifts, plan meals, make crafts, try to keep up with the advent calendar, shop more, etc. Usually by Christmas Eve I’m so exhausted that I’m going through the motions and hoping for the best.

“Last year, after finishing some last-minute shopping, dressing my family in our ‘holiday best,’ and preparing food for Christmas Eve dinner, it was time for church.

“Knowing I would soon be singing ‘Silent Night’ in a candlelit sanctuary truly calmed me, although not enough. Still, in the back of mind I knew that I had kids to put to sleep, gifts to wrap, breakfast items to prepare and many other Santa’s helper duties to complete before dawn.

“Midway through the service, a man joined. He wore a hooded sweatshirt and carried a large backpack. It seemed as though this was his home, at least for the duration of the service.

“After the service, I smiled at him and hoped he was able to get some refreshments before he went on his way. I noticed my husband talking to him but didn’t think much of it. After all, my husband talks to everyone.

“A few minutes later, my husband introduced me to the man and informed me that he was going to stay in our guest lodge that night. For some reason, my first emotion was anger. How could my husband put me on the spot like this?

“My next emotion was fear. What if he caused harm to my children? What if he stole from us? I also felt inconvenienced. Would I have to share my family holiday with this stranger? At what point would he leave? And where would we take him?

“In the heat of the moment, I pulled my husband to the side and tried to calmly and discreetly express my concerns through gritted teeth. However, my husband was determined to give this man a place to sleep on Christmas Eve.

“I begrudgingly got into the car with my husband, children and our new guest. During the long ride to our country home, I went through the list of things that I was going to say to my husband when we were alone.

“Meanwhile, he and this man quoted Scripture, spoke of Jesus and maybe felt the true meaning of Christmas (I wouldn’t have known because I had abandoned the true meaning of Christmas weeks ago).

“Once we were home and our guest was settled into our lodge, I distracted myself with Christmas preparations. Soon, I heard my in-laws pull into the driveway. They came to take our guest to a hotel. A combination of guilt and relief consumed me. Why didn’t I think of that?

“The next day, Christmas went on as usual. My kids were unfazed by the previous night’s events and were overjoyed with the many presents Santa brought. A mixture of emotions was still swirling inside which left me feeling anxious and sad. I smiled and then cried when no one was looking.

“It has taken me almost a year to realize so many lessons from that night. If I don’t stop, I might forget to see things like my husband does. He views the world with purity, kindness and light.

“I might forget that Jesus shows himself in many forms. He’s not concerned about whether our shopping is done, gifts are wrapped or if the advent calendar is on the third or 22nd day. He’s concerned about how we react in moments of need. To him, it’s not about the kind of car we drive, but rather about who we give a ride to.

“If he ever shows himself to me again, I hope to act with more kindness. Luckily, I’ve got a great role model in my husband, who, in spite of my awful Christmas hospitality, still sees good in me every day.”

Liz has been given the ability to see a difficult situation from a new perspective. It’s an incredible gift that is worth taking an entire year to unwrap.

I hope you receive gifts that are equally as valuable this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.

Kindness Eases Loneliness for Those No Longer With Us

A woman I haven’t seen for 15 years just emailed me out of the blue.

Kris and I met at the wedding of a mutual friend, and although we barely knew each other then, and certainly not at all now, Kris had something on her heart that she just knew I’d understand.Kris is lonesome.

Our mutual friend, Heather, died of cancer nine years ago this month. This weekend, in fact. Today. Nine years ago, today.

Kris knew that she could write me and I would immediately understand what she meant when she said she was “homesick” for Heather.

We all have seasons of “homesickness” for those we have lost, but it sure makes me feel better knowing there is someone out there who loved her just as much as I did and still misses her as much as I do. It seems as if, together, we can keep a piece of her alive.

Debbie Tight, a Fargo woman who lost her son several years ago, wrote to me recently about how much she appreciates the way her son’s friends still work to keep his spirit alive and how it continues to act as a balm to heal her pain.

“Our youngest son, Tom, died suddenly and unexpectedly on May 18, 2001. He was 26 at the time and had type 1 diabetes since he was 16. October 11, 2014 would have been his 40th birthday. It was also the day of the annual Step Out for Diabetes Walk at the Scheels Arena here in Fargo. My husband, Bob, and I participated in the walk, and in preparation sent out emails to family and friends requesting donations to the American Diabetes Association. Since Tom’s contemporaries are all near or at 40 years of age and in their ‘earning years,’ we decided to include some of them in our request for donations to the ADA.

The day of the walk arrived and we were at the arena waiting for it to begin when a good friend of Tom’s who lives in West Fargo walked up to us, with a crutch in one arm and his one year old son in the other. He had just had knee surgery and couldn’t participate but wanted to let us know that he was thinking about Tom, especially on that day.

Another dear friend said she couldn’t make the walk, but sent her 90 year old mother and her sister in her place. Just before the walk started, our friend rushed in saying someone in the back needed to talk to us right away. To our great surprise, there stood Tom’s best friend from Minneapolis and another friend who had flown in from Oklahoma – all to walk with us and remember Tom. We were blown away by their love, kindness and generosity.

Between the morning walk and an afternoon Bison football game, my husband and I scurried around, ordered sandwiches and a cake and had everyone over to our home in north Fargo for supper.

The group included all of the above plus several other friends. We talked, laughed, reminisced and had a wonderful time. This is a day we will NEVER forget – a great tribute to our son, Tom, and much love expressed by dear friends.”

If you are having a season of “homesickness” for someone special, I hope you pick up the phone, send out an email, or do whatever you can to reach out to someone else who shared your love. That simple act of kindness has the power to soften the heartache for both of you.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.

Job Seeker Finds Big Kindness on Facebook

Sometimes social media is nasty. I mean really, truly, ruin-a-person’s-day nasty. It gives people the opportunity to say whatever they want with little, if any, filter.

Some people need excitement in their lives, so they try to “stir the pot” by being downright rude. Then they wait and watch to see how the world will react via the anonymity of the Internet.

What if all that energy was spent on something positive?

I got an email that simply said, “This seems like a good one for you if you’re in need of some ideas.”

Boy, was that person right! Below that one sentence was a series of photos, screenshots actually, taken of an entire conversation between a bunch of strangers on Facebook.

The first post was from a young man named Dustin who had gotten a new job but was still going to be $50 short for rent. He had one week to make up the difference, so he was asking if anyone knew of quick work – snow shoveling or yard chores – he could do.

People responded with all kinds of ideas, like donating plasma, being a pizza delivery driver, or contacting short-term employment agencies.

Then one woman bravely said this: “I know I’m just a stranger to you, but we are here to help our neighbors. I can give you a loan and you can pay me back.”

And then 45 minutes later, the same woman came up with an even better idea and posted this:

“I know that there are many other people out there, like me, who would like to help but perhaps don’t have $50 to give. Well, how about $5?

“That’s all it would take, 10 people to give $5 in a ‘random act of kindness’ or ‘pay it forward’ gesture, and this man would be covered without anything to repay.

“I’ll start… #1.

“Let’s show everyone what North Dakota is made of. Who’s going to be #2?

“Ready? Go!”

One minute later, she had her second donation. Four minutes later she had her third. In less than an hour, all 10 spots had been claimed by people wanting to help a total stranger.

The woman who came up with this brilliant act of kindness is Michelle Hjelden, a paramedic from Fargo. When I asked her why she did it, this is what she told me:

“I was simply compelled, by my faith and who I am, to act on behalf of Dustin.

“I know how warm a heart feels when you give selflessly. It makes me feel a warm, peaceful/soothing inner ‘spark’ that signals to me that God is pleased, and through that he makes me so much more thankful for what I have. The yearning to maintain that special feeling keeps me constantly striving to be a better person and keep that ‘spark’ aglow, because to be honest, not many other things beat it!

“I knew there were others on that post who also wanted to feel that way, but perhaps couldn’t do it by themselves. I could have helped Dustin directly on my own, but I knew that many more people would be affected with that ‘spark’ if we all worked together by giving a little bit.”

People whom Michelle had never met dropped off donations one by one. There were smiles and hugs and many warm feelings as Michelle recognized that special spark in each of their eyes.

And then, she got to give the money away.

“A young, timid … boy ascended my stairs with his hands in his pockets, shoulders shrugged upward as if embarrassed, and head humbly bowed.

“He’s a good kid who needed restored faith and trust in others, and he got it.”

Dustin wasn’t on the Internet looking for a handout. He was looking for odd jobs to make some quick cash to pay the rent. He got the money, but perhaps more importantly, he got the money wrapped in kindness, empathy and a vote of confidence with a gift tag that said, “We see you. We’ve been there. We know you’ll find your way and help others in the future, but today, let us help you.”

Thanks to one woman’s clever idea, many people got to be part of something that was about much more than the money, and at the same time prove that the world – even on the Internet – isn’t such a bad place after all.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.

Season of Giving Unlocks Kindness

The other night I put my kids to bed an hour and a half before their regular bedtime so I could sit on the couch, eat Ben & Jerry’s and watch a Hallmark Christmas movie alone in silence.

I’m not sure what kind of message that is sending to my family, but I’m sure it’s not a good one.

I’ve got a pretty thick selfish streak. Part of me hopes you do, too, so I know I’m not the only one. The other part of me hopes it’s just me. I told you, I’m selfish.

At this point in my life, my selfishness manifests itself mainly in areas dealing with comfort and convenience. I don’t want to have to “suffer” through anything, and I don’t want to use my time doing something I’d rather not be doing.

For example, I didn’t do any Black Friday shopping because I don’t like to miss my full eight hours of sleep, and I don’t want to be bothered by crowds, bad parking and long check-out lines.

I would rather stay in the comfort of my own home and pay more when I venture out next Tuesday than to be inconvenienced so severely for a few really good deals.

Now that I think about it, though, staying home might not make me selfish. It might just make me smart.

Seriously though, when it comes to dealing with my husband and my children, I am pretty selfish. They all know, “It’s momma’s way or the highway.”

The funny thing is that they allow me to be this way. The kids are still young, so what I say goes – even when it doesn’t make much sense. And my husband, Saul, just wants to keep the peace, so he lets his wife pretend to be in charge.

But I know I’m wrong, and I’m working on it.

The war against selfishness starts with a little notebook next to the chair in my office. It’s a gratitude journal. I hope someday to have filled every line on every page with things I’m grateful for, but right now I’m only at No. 402, which means I still have three-fourths of the book to go.

Journaling my blessings is much harder than I had anticipated. Once I got past the house, family, health and car, it became incredibly difficult to put into words those things for which I am grateful.

Some of them are flippant, like No. 6: “Dogs that sleep with their feet straight up in the air.” I wrote that one down because it makes me laugh when I’m in my office so engrossed in what I’m typing and then glance over to see my two golden-doodles sleeping in some bizarre, totally uncomfortable position.

Some are more serious, like No. 193: “That there is more grace in you, God, than there is sin in me.”

And No. 196: “That someone I don’t even know would read my words and send money to help my neighbor in her time of need.”

When I look back at my journal, I realize that gratitude not only has the power to combat selfishness, it also unlocks the desire to be kind to others. I re-read what I’ve written, and I want to put others first because I realize how much I’ve been given. I am renewed from a place I can’t even identify.

I hope you have quiet moments today to really reflect on what you’re thankful for. You might even want to write them down so you can go back and remind yourself of those special gifts later, when life gets hard.

If you get through the entire day without having a single moment to yourself, feel free to send everyone to bed an hour and a half early. You won’t hear me calling you selfish.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.

Handyman’s Act of Kindness Changes His Life

A man came to my house the other day to repair all of those little things in a home that are too difficult to fix myself, yet not so difficult that they involve cutting my losses and just moving.

He actually came the first time to convince the mice who had moved into my basement that they’d be better off finding a new place to make their winter nests. While he was here, he mentioned that he used to build houses, but left that life to instead chase away bats and mice as an exterminator. He said he still enjoys puttering around houses and fixing things.

Fixing things? Big mistake mentioning that, Mr. Exterminator.

Before he knew it, I had talked him into coming back 10 days later and pressed a laundry list of to-do things into his hand so he’d be able to return with all the right tools.

Now, let me just stop and say I noticed something special about this man right away. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was a certain light, a certain joy and peace that seemed to radiate from him.

When he came back to fix the roof, the faucet and recheck the mice, I noticed that light again. And again, I couldn’t put my finger on it.

We sat down at the kitchen table to settle up the bill at the end of the day. As I began writing the check, I asked, “What’s the date?”

“Nov. 4,” he said. “My brother called me this morning to remind me.”

Huh? I looked at him quizzically, because none of my family members call me to remind me what day it is (although perhaps they should sometimes).

He went on to tell me that three years ago, on Nov. 4, he gave his brother one of his kidneys. His brother calls him every year on that day to tell him thank you.

I had never met anyone who’d been a donor before, so I went on to ask the usual questions. Did it hurt? Is your brother OK?

He said it didn’t hurt and his brother was fine. Then he said something that shed great light on this inner peace I saw radiating from his eyes.

He said his brother was really sick and desperately needed the kidney, but that being the one allowed to make that donation changed his own life, perhaps even more than his brother’s.

He said making that decision forced him to evaluate how he was living. He found some things he didn’t like and decided to change them. He quit his job and started doing what he loved: chasing little creatures from people’s homes. He stays busy enough to put a daughter through college, but he also has time to go pheasant hunting for a week, and do odd jobs just because he feels like it.

He said his life may be shortened by a year or two without a second kidney, but that’s OK because he’s living each day to the fullest. He said he sees every sunrise and every sunset with new eyes and a new sense of wonder. He appreciates the beauty in this world that he was too busy or too bothered to notice before.

As I listened to him, I couldn’t help but think of you, reading this column, and my weekly attempt to convince people that life is better with kindness. This man is a walking testimony for what I’m trying to get through to the world: when you help others, you help yourself. One act of kindness, in this case, one kidney, bought his freedom from the daily grind.

I handed my insightful handyman the check. He smiled and said, “I’m gonna spend this money frivolously. I’m going to buy a ukulele. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play.”

I laughed and said it was the best money I’d ever spent.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.

Flowers and Kindness Can Cure Almost Anything

It’s been six months since the moving truck pulled out of my driveway in north Fargo and made the 16-hour trek to Athens, Ohio.

Six months. That seems like such a long time. By all outward appearances, we are settled into our new life: my husband’s face is on posters all over town announcing the basketball schedule; my kids have play dates and cross-country practice; I go out for coffee with friends and volunteer at the elementary school; I’ve even hosted a Bible study in my home.

Every box is unpacked, and the pictures are hung on the walls. My home looks like a home. I thought I had everyone fooled, but leave it to a 10-year-old to call you out on the facade.

The other night when I tucked my daughter, Jordan, into bed, she asked me a curious question. She said, “Mom, are you all right?” I told her that I was fine, just a little tired from the day and that it was time to get some sleep, but as I kissed her forehead, I knew that wasn’t what she was asking.

I strive to have the kind of relationship with my children where they are free to say what’s on their minds, so I reopened the can of worms the next morning.

“Jordan, about last night … what did you mean?”

She went on to say that she senses a difference in me. She said I don’t seem as happy and free and light as I was in Fargo. She said the last time she saw me like that was when my best friend from Fargo came to visit in August.

It was a punch to the gut. Tears started leaking from my eyeballs before I could tell them to stop.

As a mom, I think that if the dishes are clean, the laundry is put away and everyone has a note in their lunchbox when they head out the door, then no one will notice if I’m a little out of sorts.

I was in such a rush to unpack boxes and check things off my to-do list that I forgot how moving takes an emotional toll. Or maybe I thought if I just kept busy I wouldn’t have to feel it.

Here’s where the kindness comes in. After Jordan left for school that day, I texted my best friend from Fargo and told her what happened. I shared with her things I hadn’t shared with her or anyone else in a long, long time.

She reminded me that I’m still an important part of her tribe. She said, “You are the part of my tribe that makes me look differently at the world and the people in the world. I want to be a better person because of you.”

She reminded me that I’m still the same person I was even though I go to sleep in a different town and still get lost sometimes on my way to the grocery store. It felt so good to just let down the walls and be honest about what I was feeling.

When was the last time you’ve done that? Totally surrendered and admitted that you don’t have it all together? Our vulnerability is a great gift to others because it creates a safe space for them to be honest, too. That’s the space where kindness lives.

Later that afternoon, as I was sitting in my quiet house, the doorbell rang. Flowers. My girlfriend sent me flowers to remind me that friendship and kindness can cure anything – even homesickness.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.

Angels of Kindness Have One Thing in Common

Did you know angels drive big, black trucks and often tell people they’re from Jamestown? At least that’s the way they are described in a recent letter I received.

Actually, Angels of Kindness drive a lot of different vehicles and live in every town in America (and beyond). Some make a lot of money, some not so much. Some are old, some are young. Some are vibrant and in perfect health, others struggle with their own daily battles.

The one thing these Angels of Kindness have in common is the size of their hearts.

Have you ever seen “How the Grinch Stole Christmas?” When I was kid, I waited anxiously for the day when Whoville would come to life in my living room during its one airing each December on network TV. It debuted in 1966, it still runs every year, and I still watch it.

My kids now own the DVD of the newer Jim Carrey take on the Grinch. Either way, the point is the same. The Grinch went from a heart that was two sizes too small, to one that grew three sizes in one day.

“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of TEN Grinches, plus two!” – “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” by Dr. Seuss

That’s kind of the way it is with Angels of Kindness. For some reason, their hearts are just bigger than average. And often, they seem to have the strength of ten angels plus two.

I got a letter from an 85-year-old man who explained how fortunate you feel when your path happens to intersect with one.

“I flew into the Fargo airport the other day and was not met by the person who had offered to pick me up. I waited about 15 minutes and was nearly ready to get into a cab and head home.

“That’s when I met two girls from Jamestown who were waiting to pick up friends. We started talking, and I was telling them my problem.

“My cellphone was dead, but the girls helped me get enough charge on my phone to find my friend’s number in my contacts and attempt to call him. Unfortunately, he didn’t answer.

“The people the Jamestown girls were waiting for arrived, but before they walked away, the girls asked where I lived. I told them I was in south Fargo, quite a ways south of I-94.

“They put my luggage in the back of their vehicle and took me home. This was really out of their way, but they insisted on driving me.

“What an act of kindness! I didn’t get their names to thank them, but the girls were driving the largest black pickup I had ever seen in my life. If anyone should recognize who they are, I sure hope they will congratulate them on what they did.”

There are no special qualifications or training required to become an official Angel of Kindness. You just have to be willing to show the size of your heart when someone in need crosses your path.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.

Choose Kindness Under Pressure

Do you want to know the problem with making kindness your mission in life? You actually have to be kind. All the time.

The other day, my husband and I were having problems communicating. Since it was more of a technology issue than a marital issue, we headed into the cellphone store to straighten it out.Saul’s not big into reading the fine print of contracts (or listening as others are explaining the fine print), so a few months prior, he had agreed to a cell plan that neither of us really wanted or needed. What can I say? The guy is really good with basketball stuff; he leaves the rest to me.

We marched into the store a bit out of sorts. We were both kind of mad about the situation but not quite sure on whom our fury should land.

We had planned to demand to speak to the manager, but it turned out we never had to. She greeted us at the door.

I try on a daily basis to swallow my darker emotions and choose kindness, but sometimes it’s hard. That said, instead of pointing fingers at this manager or any of her employees, I just tried desperately to explain our conundrum in the hopes she could make it all better.

She did.

As we were finishing the final paperwork, she looked at me and said, “So, what do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Oh! What do you write?”

And this is when I was so thankful I had chosen not to enter the store on the attack.

“Um. I write about kindness.”

She asked where she could read my column, so I gave her the website. Not only did she read it, she actually sent me a story that reminded me why it’s important to treat everyone we meet tenderly. Because when we’re done with our “day job,” we each still have to deal with the joys and sorrows of real life.

Here’s Valerie’s letter:

“I was really touched by your recent column.

“My grandmother is not doing well. Recently, while in the emergency room, a man came around and was picking up the trash in each room. I smiled at the man and asked him how his day was going. We made small talk about the work day and when he started to leave, I told him to have a good evening. He thanked me.

“About an hour later, I noticed the man passing by the room again. He came back into our room and told me that out of 18 rooms, I was the only person who spoke to him. He said I didn’t just talk to him, but I smiled at him and asked him how he was doing. He thanked me again and said, ‘God bless.’

“I wanted to jump out of my seat because I saw kindness displayed and just felt good. Have we as a society became so consumed with ourselves that we can’t even say hello to a man who is working to change our trash cans? I hope not and promise to continue to display acts of kindness!”

Valerie, thank you so much for sharing your story. That “jump out of my seat” feeling is exactly the reason I started writing this column three years ago.

Thank you, also, for helping this husband-wife team improve our communication!

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.


Overwhelming Kindness Requires No Thank You

I had a friend once whose little boy was diagnosed with cancer. During that dark journey, the family was forced to rely on community support in almost every aspect of their lives. Medical bills, car payments, child care and homework delivery were all handled by a team of people who just wanted to help.

I watched that little boy slowly deteriorate and then gradually regain his life, but what I remember most is one particular conversation with his mom.

She told me she felt guilty over the outpouring of kindness because she worried she could never repay all of those people. She said even the thought of expressing her thanks to that many people was exhausting.

I got a letter from a woman named Marilyn Ouart who can probably relate to my friend’s feelings of being overwhelmed by kindness. Life got unexpectedly hard for Marilyn several years ago, but the amount of kindness she has seen since then continues to lift her up and give her family strength.

“In January 2008 my husband, Rusty, was deployed to Iraq. In May of that year, he was injured from an incoming mortar to his fob (barracks). He was thrown, hit with shrapnel and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“Rusty cleaned himself up and continued suffering with headaches, vomiting, confusion and bloody noses. A month later, he passed out in the Humvee, and when he came to, he was throwing up and had trouble speaking. It was thought he had a stroke and was sent back to the U.S. After months at Fort Lewis, WA, Rusty returned home in January 2009.

“Once home, Rusty traveled to New Orleans for Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments, spending two months each time.

“This was not covered by his health insurance, but with the help of our community hosting a fundraiser, it was made possible. Rusty continues to have many health issues related to his injury, such as headaches, vertigo, vomiting and cognitive thinking, but thanks to those treatments, my husband can walk and talk again.

“I continue to be thankful to those who help when possible and to those who remember our soldiers and their families.

“This letter was hard to write because it’s difficult to name all of the people and businesses who have shown us kindness: The dentist who gives us discounted services, the pool people who exchanged our pool for a better one, the multitude who came through when lightning struck our home in July 2010 and we lost everything in a house fire.

“There have been so many angels of kindness to our family in this community, but I’d like to tell you about the most recent.

“A few weeks ago, our riding lawn mower had steering problems, so I took it to the dealer in Moorhead. I borrowed a trailer from my brother-in-law who helped me load it, and off I went to RDO to get it fixed. When I got the quote of the price to fix it, I struggled with how to make this work on our budget but ended up giving the OK. I have teenage boys who mow lawns in the summer, so getting it fixed was important to them.

“When I went to pick up the lawn mower, I was greeted by five friendly employees. They had sharpened the blades and fixed some additional problems with the mower. I proceeded to take out my checkbook but was told to put it away as this was a ‘no charge.’

“They told me to make sure to thank my husband for his service. It took all I had inside not to show my grateful emotions with tears. Again, we thank the community of Fargo-Moorhead for its unending generosity and kindness.”

Marilyn, thank you for sharing your story and allowing others to experience the gift that comes from helping others.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.

One Special Friend is Enough for Kindness

Have you ever felt like everyone was in on a joke except you?

I’m not sure if I should feel angry or sad, but deep in my heart, I’m feeling a strange combination of dark emotions that are all jumbled together and desperately striving to find the light.

And it’s all the result of a third-grade birthday party.

My son goes to school with a little girl whose momma is in prison. Through a course of odd events that I often seem to find myself in, I’ve become pretty close with this little girl. She is a bubbly, blond-haired wisp of a child, slight in stature but bold in personality. I thank God she’s so consistently upbeat and outspoken, because I think those are the traits that just might save her from being eaten up by this world.

When I found out my young friend was turning 9, I did what I do with all little girls whose mommas are in prison. I threw her a pizza party to celebrate her special day.

Birthday girl and I went to Walmart, where we found Monster High plates, cups and party favors. Then we came back to my house and sat at the kitchen table, where we carefully penned 10 Monster High invitations, one for every girl in her class. We filled zebra-print goody bags (24 of them so there would be enough if little brothers and sisters showed up). Her grandma ordered a huge Monster High cake, and we anxiously awaited Birthday Party Day.

The day of the party finally arrived. We ate pizza, played games, blew out birthday candles and opened presents. The hour and a half came and went before I realized something everyone else probably already knew: None of the kids were coming.

I thought it was odd that only one classmate returned an RSVP, but I brushed it off.

I couldn’t brush off the fact that only the third-grade teacher and Birthday Girl’s one best friend came to the party.

People are busy. I get that. But ALL of them? Every girl in the class, except one? I have a little trouble believing that.

I asked the teacher what I was missing. Clearly there was something going on that I didn’t know about.

As my heart started breaking, the teacher gently explained that perhaps the girls never even showed their parents the invite because they didn’t want to come to this particular party. She trailed off sadly with, “You know how it is …”

Oh God. Yes. I do know how it is.

I went home, took a warm bath and cried. I cried for so many reasons, but mainly I cried because I saw so much of myself in that outcast little girl.

And then, as my husband sat snuggling me in a fuzzy blanket, I remembered something else the teacher said to me.

She said, “You don’t need a lot of friends in this world. Just one.”

That’s right. That’s when kindness truly shines its brightest. When the world seems dark and then you have that one true friend who shows up to your birthday party, and all of sudden, you couldn’t care less if anyone else in the world even existed.

I pray that we can all teach our kids to be kind to the outcasts, but until that day comes, I pray that we each have one special person in our lives who shows us great kindness when we need it most.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.