Be Kind and Give Yourself Some Grace

I don’t even care that I have breast cancer right now. I really don’t. Do you know what I’m distraught about? I’m grieved that the parents of two Park Christian students had to bury their sons this week. I’m grieved because it feels like the entire nation is divided over recent decisions by the Supreme Court. I’m grieved because a man in Fargo, 10 blocks from where I used to live, was killed when he answered the door to a guy asking for a glass of water. I’m grieved because nine people were killed in South Carolina during a Bible study. I’m grieved because I got an emergency phone call from the police department stating that a minivan was stolen with a child in the backseat.

Enough. It is enough.

I want to lock my whole family in the house and refuse to let anyone in or out.

I want to stand on top of a mountain with a megaphone and scream for everyone to just BE KIND.

But since neither of those options will produce the results I’m longing for, I will do the next best thing. I will be kind. Me. I will be kind.

I will simply do what I can today to make the world a little bit better for the people around me. I won’t worry about what the fallout will be from smiling at a stranger or giving money to a neighbor in need. I will just do what I can do today.

We live in a free country where we can set off fireworks and buy guns and worship or not worship. That kind of freedom comes with risk. We are like children who are given a taste of adulthood and get to pick their own bedtime or eat as many treats as they’d like. But as we know, that sort of freedom means we have to pay bills and act responsibly, or we will wind up needing a nap and aching from too much sugar.

What I am trying to say is this: None of us has mastered life. We all get it wrong just as much as we get it right. So give the people around you some grace. When they are hurting because they have lost a child or a friend in some senseless accident, sit with them. Don’t worry about taking a side or getting angry on their behalf. Simply sit in the uncomfortable silence until it becomes comfortable. There is no “right thing to say,” so don’t worry about saying anything. Let your kindness speak for you.

When politics come between you and a friend, ask yourself, “Is it more important to be right or to salvage this relationship?”

Again, I implore you, give others some grace. We never know what path they are walking. And while you are at it, give yourself some grace, too.

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 column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.

An Act of Kindness Could Last for Generations

We’ve all been there, in line at the grocery store, when either we came up short or the person in front of us did. Maybe that’s why last week’s column about the woman who paid for the elderly man’s groceries resonated with so many of you.

In the past week, I’ve been delighted to hear your stories. Each act of kindness is precious and unique. I’d like to share two of them with you now.

The first is from Alden Sprecher, who lives in Mapleton, N.D., and works at the Village West Hornbacher’s store.

“Last week around noon, a young lady in her 20s stopped at our deli for some lunch. She only spent about $3.50 or so, but when she swiped her EFT credit card, it was rejected. She tried two or three more times with the same result. She comes in quite often, so I knew her, and of course she was embarrassed. She then told me she would have to skip the order and do something else for lunch.

“Almost immediately, the next lady in line said, ‘Let me pay that for her,’ which she did, and the young lady thanked her for her generosity. When the transaction was finished, I thanked the lady myself. She said sometimes people just need to be shown a little kindness.

“Many times I’ve taken some money from my own pocket to help a customer who is short some coins, but sometimes I don’t think fast enough. I could have swiped one of my own credit cards and helped the young lady, but to my shame, I didn’t. I felt embarrassed myself.

“People in the FM area continue to amaze me with their generosity.”

Thanks for sharing your story, Alden, and just think, if you had quickly pulled out your own money, the other lady in line would not have been given such a special opportunity to save the day with kindness! I bet she walked out of the store feeling renewed and energized by her ability to help another woman in need.

Here’s another grocery store story that really touched my heart. It’s from a woman named Jessica.

“My grandpa, John Julius Novotny, passed away two years ago at the age of 92. He served in the Korean War, raised six children in a small home, and worked as a butcher at a neighborhood grocery store called Churchill’s for more than 50 years. In fact, after he ‘retired,’ they called him back to work, less to actually cut meat and more to just talk to the customers. He was a humble man and prayed on his knees every night until he couldn’t get down on his knees anymore.

“I knew he was a great guy, willing to give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it, but someone told a story at the funeral that really made me stop in my tracks.

“A man in his late 50s walked up to the podium. He said when he was a kid, he was sent to Churchill’s for some ham, but he had already spent the money, so he was stealing the meat. My grandpa caught him in a corner. The guy was sure he was going to call the police. But instead, my grandpa pulled out his wallet, handed him a $5 bill, and said, ‘If you want the ham, you can’t just take it. Now go pay for it. And if you ever need anything again, come to me.’

“As a butcher with six children, my grandfather didn’t have a lot to give, but yet he still gave a lot. This story and my grandpa’s legacy of kindness have inspired me many times to do the kind thing.”

Thanks for sharing your story, Jessica. How long will our acts of kindness make an impact? I guess we never really know. It could be something people talk about for generations to come.

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 column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.

Being Kind Doesn’t Have to Make Sense

Just after moving to Ohio, I did something really weird. I was standing in line at the tiny neighborhood grocery store when a man came up behind me with a case of beer. He had to hold it because my groceries were taking up the whole conveyor belt, so I shoved some things forward and said to him, “That looks heavy, here, please set it down.” The man smiled, and with a thick accent said, “Thank you.”

Now, that wasn’t the weird part. The weird part was when I said to the cashier, “Let me buy his beer, too.” As soon as it came out of my mouth, the sane part of my brain started screaming, “What?! You are going to buy alcohol? For a man? You are a married woman! He’s going to think you and your small children are propositioning him!”

But the man immediately saw that I was only trying to be kind, and in broken English, he said excitedly, “I want to buy something for you, too!” He began looking around frantically until his eyes settled on the cases of soda nearby. “This?” he asked. I smiled and said, “Sure, my husband loves Mountain Dew.”

I don’t know what prompted me to connect with that man that day in the grocery store. Maybe something in me knew that he was far from home and could use a friendly smile and a gesture of kindness. I’m glad I did it. It feels good to be kind. Even when it makes no sense at all.

A Fargo man sent me another story of a beautiful act of kindness he witnessed while at work.

“Nicole, I retired about seven years ago and after a few months of ‘doing retirement,’ I discovered that having something to do was very important in one’s older years. So I reverted back to what I was doing while in business school in Sioux City, Iowa, when I was 19, and I took a job at Osgood Hornbacher’s in the front end. When people ask me what I do, I often reply that I hand out suckers and kiss babies. I guess management calls it customer service. I just call it fun.

“Just recently, I was working a checkout line when an elderly gentleman came up to check out his few items of groceries. I think his total was less than $10. After several minutes of digging in his old worn-out black billfold he determined he had only $2. Realizing that he was short a few dollars, he quietly exited the checkout line and slowly walked out of the store.

“The checker began to cancel his order, when all of a sudden a lady in the next checkout line shouted out that she would pay for his groceries. So we restored his order and I quickly pursued the gentleman, who by now had left the store and was walking down the sidewalk. I managed to catch up to him, thanks to his slow gait, and gave him the groceries. He was surprised and smiled and said, ‘Thank you.’

“Upon returning to the store, I encountered the lady who had paid for the groceries, and I thanked her for being so kind to this elderly man. She smiled and said that paying it forward was such a pleasure and she was happy to do it.

“I returned to work with a good feeling about people. The elderly gentleman got his few groceries and benefited from the kindness of someone he did not know. The lady who paid for the groceries benefited from the pleasure of helping others in need. And the checker got to witness the generosity of someone paying it forward. In reality, at least four people benefited from one person’s paying it forward.

“I might finish with the fact that I have seen this happen many times in the store. Yes, the hearts of people living in this area are large and generous indeed.”

I’m glad to hear North Dakota Nice is alive and well in North Dakota and Ohio!

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 visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.

Spreading Kindness Through Peace Corps

Mark this down: At age 11, my daughter, Jordan, has decided to become a missionary. Unfortunately for Jordan, her parents have not, so she will have to hit the pause button on that dream for a few more years.

Jordan’s passion and compassion was recently ignited when she attended a presentation by a woman who spends time each summer volunteering in El Salvador. This woman painted a vivid picture of the struggles people in other countries face. All of a sudden, my child was able to view the act of turning on a faucet as a luxury.

Now she is trying to make sense out of why some people are born into education, health care and surplus and others are not. I’m still trying to figure that one out, too.

I got an email from another mother who has a daughter with a heart for helping. Deb Mohagen, of West Fargo, has felt both the pride and worry that come from having a child who lives a life of courageous kindness. Deb’s daughter, Amber, has spent the last two years helping the hurting in Albania.

“About three years ago, my daughter shared her dream of wanting to join the Peace Corps. Immediately, I thought of all the third-world countries she could be sent to, her safety, being so far from home and the lengthy time commitment. My daughter, being very determined and dedicated to fulfilling her mission, left for Albania 27 months ago. I am so proud. I worried I had not passed on the importance of serving others, of sharing kindness and love, of dedicating each day to this purpose. But I was wrong. Amber was a girl with a degree from North Dakota State University who decided she wanted to do more with her life before graduate school or starting her profession. This same girl is now returning as a mature young woman who makes kindness her first priority.

“If you ever need to experience random acts of kindness, just read through the blogs of these special Peace Corps volunteers. They live in third world countries and do not have many of the things we take for granted every day, simple things such as heat in their homes, running water and electricity. They give of themselves for two years to their assigned communities. They work with that community to address challenges in agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth development. They do all of this in return for housing and a small living stipend to cover food and incidentals. Many of them return to America with no job, no apartment and hefty college loans, yet they return with an experience that is beyond measure.

“Here is some insight from Amber’s blog (https://amberinalbania.wordpress.com) after being in Albania for one year. ‘Whenever work, life and Albanian encounters get extremely frustrating, I start counting. Calculating in my head, the exact amount of days until I return to the infamous land of America. Where things are safe, expected and from what I remember: easy. As most volunteers know, you settle into this spot between uncomfortable and a hard place. I have forgotten what it is like to walk into a store and know exactly what I am getting. Or ordering something on an actual menu and having no surprises. Or having safety regulations and food sanitation laws. Or speaking English. (Oh, how I miss that!) But then I remember why I came here. This is the kind of adventure I was looking for. And of course, that along with the bad days, there are always good days. That I am not here to change the world. I am just here to try and make a positive impact on one person’s life.’ ”

Deb recently traveled to Albania to see where her daughter has lived during the past two years and got a glimpse of the lives she’s touched. Then the proudest mama in the world got to bring her baby home.

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.

Kind Acts Fuel Healing Amid Breast Cancer Diagnosis

“You’ve done a lot of acts of kindness today, Mom.” I seriously cannot get anything past my 11-year old-daughter.

I had just hopped back in the car with a Diet Mountain Dew that I picked up at the gas station for a neighbor.

“What do you mean, Jo?” I honestly couldn’t think of any act of kindness I had done besides the current one.

“Well, you just bought that soda for Cathy and earlier we dropped off shoes for Ashlyn and before that you took me to JoAnn’s to pick out fabric for Michelyn.”

Oh. Right.

My daughter had just cracked my code: On days when my spirits are low and my anxiety over the future is high, I start overdosing on acts of kindness. It’s like medicine to me. The more things I can do to brighten someone else’s day, the more energy and positivity I pump into my own body.

I just found out I have breast cancer. My doctor says we caught it early and with a little (or big) surgery, we will be able to fix this thing.

Here’s the backstory: I turned 40 on May 7 and, like I do every year on my birthday, I went in for my annual check-up. The doctor felt a lump that I had never noticed. She sent me in for an ultrasound, then mammogram, then MRI and then a biopsy. Before I even got the diagnosis, I knew it was breast cancer. I could feel God whispering to me that everything was going to be OK and that he was going to use this experience to help other women.

If you don’t have this type of relationship with God, I understand it may sound strange to hear that I was hearing from the Great Almighty, but I’m telling you, that’s just how it worked for me.

Most days, I am filled with an incredible peace and joy (yes JOY!) as I am being loved up by my friends and soaking in each suddenly precious moment with my family. However, every once in a while, fear creeps in. It fills me with lies and starts my heart racing. And that’s when I turn once again to kindness. Intentional, systematic, courageous kindness. I go out and look for ways to brighten other people’s days.

It’s like my own private form of chemo—only there are really no negative side effects. Sure, it may cost you a few bucks. And it may take up a few minutes of your perfectly timed-out day. And you may get a strange look from the recipient of your kindness. But the return on your investment is priceless.

If you don’t believe me, try it. The next time life overwhelms you, send out an encouraging email to an unsuspecting soul, or buy the silly magnet that reminds you of a friend and deliver it to her or him, or pick up a soda for the lady who lives next door. Be random. Go off script. Do something no one would expect you to do. Take a risk. Be courageous in your kindness.

It’s the most healing medicine you could ever take, for whatever ails you.

If you’d like to follow my day-to-day journey with cancer, please visit www.courageouslykind.com.

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.

Kindness Comes to the Rosebud Reservation

“No more homework! No more books! No more teachers’ dirty looks!” With apologies to all of my teacher friends out there, does anyone else remember singing this song on the last day of school?

I have very vivid memories of a warm, sunny day at Westside Elementary in Reedsburg, Wis. I don’t remember which grade I was in, but I do remember taking off at a dead sprint down the sidewalk when the last bell rang for summer. My friends and I ran and laughed and chanted those words at the top of our lungs. Ahhh … summer. I’m sure my parents were as thrilled as I was. Or maybe not.

I’m pretty certain the recent graduates of Park Christian High School didn’t run down the streets of Moorhead singing any songs, but I bet there is one experience that they, too, will remember well into adulthood.

Park Christian teacher Matt Larson took a group of students on a senior mission trip this spring to work on a reservation in Rosebud, S.D. His thoughts on kindness were beautiful, as were the thoughts of his students.

“I think the first thing that we learned on this trip is that life is not about us. This trip took our eyes off ourselves and helped us focus on people around us,” Larson wrote.

“The woman who manages the Habitat for Humanity dorms we stayed in has been a missionary in both Sudan and Haiti and now in Rosebud. She told us that the toughest place of all three is the Rosebud reservation. They have 87 percent unemployment and are the third-poorest county in the United States (after Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River, also both in South Dakota). Many of these kids come from terrible home situations, and look forward to school and the community club where they will be valued, loved, fed and cared for.

“We teamed up with the local Boys & Girls Club where our seniors played for three days with the kids and loved every minute of it. There was an immediate bond as they helped with homework, played games, spent time outside, and taught the kids finger weaving.

“We also had students painting the baseball dugouts, creating a fenced-in garden, working on broken vehicles and still others who cooked, cleaned, and served quietly in the background.

“I hope to do this every year with the senior class. I also hope that our relationship with these kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud is not just a once a year thing. We intend to write letters, send needed things, and pray for them regularly.”

Here’s what the students had to say:

Xander Grohman: “Jayden looked at me and said, ‘You’re my hero.’ All I thought was he was the real hero.”

Jordyn Viland: “Many of these kids are abused in some way, and yet they have this unspeakable joy. It amazes me! I’ve realized now how much I’ve taken for granted in life.”

Olivia Thimjon: “Seeing the kids on Rosebud Indian Reservation completely changed my life … They taught me to be joyful in every situation. They completely stole my heart.”

Nick Nelson: “A few of us spent time building a garden starting with just a 20-by-30-foot lot on virgin soil. When we were finished we had a garden with a fence around it and completely turned up soil. We painted the fence and built the whole thing with hand tools. It was a lot of fun.”

Lexi Madlom: “Going to Rosebud was such a great experience … Seeing how the kids live in abusive, broken homes, and yet they are still happy, makes me look at my life and see how I can learn to make my mindset more like their mindset.”

Christian Borgen: “This trip was very eye opening for me. Seeing how joyful these children were in the face of such adversity made me aware of how much I have to be thankful for. I’m so grateful I’ve had this opportunity to make a difference in these kids’ lives, even for a few days.”

Bryce Payne: “Chilling with the kids was a memorable experience. They are filled up with so much joy. By far, the best trip with my class yet.”

I think the Park Christian students did a remarkable job of illustrating the truth that when you seek to change someone else’s life with kindness, the life you change is your own.

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.

Unseen Sacrifices Count as Kindness

I got invited to a new friend’s house for dinner the other day. She has boys the same age as my 5-year-old son, Ben. Twin boys. Yikes.

Anyway, the boys are truly delightful and have all become fast friends in preschool.

This fall, Ben and the twins will part ways as they head to different schools for kindergarten, so we got our two families together as a sort of end-of-the-year celebration.

During this cookout, I got to peek into the life of a woman who is a full-time nursing student, a mother of three children (she also has a first-grade daughter) and the wife of a lieutenant colonel in the Army.

We were standing in the kitchen visiting when she reached into the freezer. All of sudden, frozen, heavy things started cascading loudly onto the floor. We were all forearms and elbows and giggles trying to force the freezer goods back into their rightful places.

“What was that?” I exclaimed, in a not-so-tactful manner.

She told me her husband would be leaving soon for a month and she would be handling things on her own, so they were making meals now and stockpiling them in the freezer for later.

We decided the kitchen wasn’t safe, so she gave me a tour of the rest of the house. In the hallway hangs a really cool piece of artwork that says, “Home is where the Army sends us.”

It turns out my new friend moves about every two years. She’s lived in Kentucky, Virginia, Hawaii and now Ohio. From a practical mom point of view, that sounds like an impossible feat. Packing up three kids and an entire household of clothes, toys, furniture, pots, pans, plates and knickknacks and moving them into a new home every two years? And then you have to unpack everything? No, thank you.

Yet, to this woman, it’s all part of the fun adventure that is known as Army life.

Hats off to the men and women who enlist in our Armed Forces and to the support staff they call family.

Sacrifices are being made for us every day that we don’t even know about. That’s why it’s so special when we find out there are people out there doing what they can to say thank you on behalf of all of us, like the staff at a repair shop in Minnesota who were so kind to a World War II veteran who walked through the door, as Cleo Ritter shared with me in this letter:

“Random Acts of Kindness are such a fun thing to do. This time the act was directed toward my husband,” Cleo wrote.

“My husband had a chip in the windshield of his new truck and took it to Tim Parker Family Glass in Park Rapids, Minn., to be repaired. While he was waiting for the work to be completed, he was visiting with the office personnel. He is a veteran of World War II and he must have been telling them about that. He was wearing a cap that he had received when he was on the Honor Flight from Duluth to Washington, D.C., which was several years ago.

“After the windshield repair was finished, the receptionist said she would get him a receipt and took the bill in the back room. When she came back out the statement was marked ‘no charge.’ My husband asked what was going on and why there wasn’t a charge. She said they like to honor WWII veterans, so this time the service was on the house. My husband was so impressed and felt so honored. He said, ‘I have been honored twice for being a veteran — the Honor Flight and now this gift.’ ”

There are so many things we can’t do for others, but there are also so many things we can do. Like letting a man relive his Honor Flight by sharing his stories. Or perhaps paying for his windshield.

To all of our veterans on this Memorial Day weekend, thank you for your kindness to our country and to those who love it.

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.

Kindness isn’t about the Money

I used to think kindness was all about the money. Boy was I wrong. Anyone can walk by a beggar on the street and throw some coins in a can. But the person who stops, kneels down, looks that beggar in the eye and says, “Hey, I care about you because my creator cares about you” is the person who truly unveils the power of kindness.

My friend Ann sent me this touching story. She says the experience wasn’t about the money, it was about the message.

“It had been a long day. I worked and ran lots of errands before arriving at the library to support a friend who was having a public art show. It was an amazing opportunity for her and I wanted to be there to share in her joy. But man I was tired.

“As I was waiting for the event to begin I noticed a young man sitting on a bench outside the library. He was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants and the only skin I could see was his tattoo-covered hands. His head was hanging low. Texting fast and steady, he never looked up the entire time I was watching him. Who was he waiting for? He had a story and I guessed it was a hard one. He just looked sad.

“When I came out of the art show, I noticed he was still there, sitting all alone with his phone. He hadn’t moved in over an hour and a half. I started to pass and then I just couldn’t. My legs stopped in their tracks. I quietly asked, ‘Are you doing okay, sir?’ He looked up with a startled face and answered quickly, ‘Um. Yeah.’

“I told him I noticed he had been sitting in the same spot for over an hour and wondered if he was waiting on someone. He explained that a friend had planned to pick him up, but now couldn’t. He had been texting his mom who lives a few hours away in Columbus asking her what he should do. He knew no one, didn’t know the area and wasn’t sure how to get home.

“I reached in my purse and pulled out three $5 bills. I handed it to him and told him there was a cheap commuter bus which travels between Columbus and Athens once or twice a day.

“I said to him, ‘Look at me. Tell me you will use this money to take the bus home.’ He stared in disbelief. His eyes filled with tears. He took the three bills and said, ‘Are you an angel?’ He seriously was so shocked by the generosity that he meant the question.

“I looked straight in his broken eyes and said, ‘I am not an angel. I could be exactly where you are right now. If I got what I deserved I would have absolutely nothing. Nothing! God had mercy on me, and when I gave my life to him, he took the broken pieces of my life and fixed it. I am blessed beyond measure. Not an angel, but a follower of Christ. Turn from whatever path you are on and follow him. Things will get better.’

“He said, ‘I’ve been sitting here for hours asking my mom, what can I possibly do to get out of this situation? I have no one. No one cares for me. How did you know I needed this money to get home? Why me?’

“I pass people with little signs every day. Homeless. Hungry. Need help. I look and I pass. I don’t intend to ever hand money out to a drug user. Not always are we led to act. But sometimes we are. Sometimes we need to allow the God of all creation to move in someone’s life even if you don’t know why. Do what the Spirit says to do. Obey. It might not be about food or bus money. It might be about a lonely, desperate young man, who just needs to be told and shown he is worth it.

“As I got up to leave, his hand reached for mine. ‘I’m Rob,’ he said with a smile on his face. ‘I’m Ann. I’m praying for you tonight, Rob, that the bus will get you home and that God will bless you and keep you.’

“I’m glad I was kind. It felt good to know the gift I gave him had nothing to do with money.”

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.

Challenge Yourself to Kindness

There is a woman in California who may love kindness even more than I do.

I know, it’s shocking. Her name is Marla and I’m thinking of road-tripping to sunny California to see if it’s true. I may even be able to write off the trip off on my taxes next year under the heading “research.”

Anyway, when Marla emailed me about something cool happening at her daughter’s school, I had assumed the school was in the Fargo-Moorhead area. It wasn’t until I followed up that I found out the school is in Tustin, Calif. Very confused, I wrote her again asking, “How does a woman in Orange County, Calif. find out about a kindness column in Fargo, N.D.?”

She said she gets Google alerts about kindness-related articles. Wow! I didn’t even know that was possible. That is a whole new level of Internet savvy.

Marla’s story tugged on my heartstrings. Her daughter had to switch schools in the middle of the year because of bullying. Her daughter is in elementary school. Kindergarten through fifth grade. It’s hard to believe that unkindness can start so young.

Marla’s daughter is having a much better year since making the switch. In fact, her new school, Red Hill Elementary, not only prohibits bullying, but it actively promotes a culture of kindness.

There are so many schools in the F-M area that operate this way I had assumed that’s just how elementary schools work. Not so. It turns out that creating an environment of kindness is something both people and educational institutions need to purposefully pursue.

Marla’s daughter’s school is part of a worldwide movement called The Great Kindness Challenge.

More than 4,100 schools in 47 countries agree to dedicate a week to “catching” kids in the act of kindness. More than 2 million students have participated in 2015. That’s a lot of kindness.

Each school gets a checklist of 50 ideas which include, “draw a picture and give it to someone,” “pick up five pieces of trash on campus,” and “sit with a new group of kids at lunch.”

Kids are kids. They are still learning and they like prizes, so the students earn rewards along the way for their kind behavior.

Marla said she and her daughter have continued to use the checklist, even though the challenge is over, because they love it so much.

This month, the Tustin City Council will honor the students and the teachers for their efforts, and the principal is already looking forward to participating in The Great Kindness Challenge again next year.

You may not be able to partner up with a school or business to make kindness a team effort, but you can partner up with a bunch of strangers who all agree that doing good is a good thing to do! For the week of May 11-17, a group called “Do All the Good You Can” is promoting a week of kindness. Basically, you do as many random acts of kindness as you can and then post them on Facebook.

If social media isn’t your thing, then perhaps you can use this next week to just quietly do something you wouldn’t have otherwise done. Consider it your own Great Kindness Challenge. But watch out, because kindness is contagious.

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.

Kindness Says ‘Happy Birthday’ Best

I’m turning the big 4-0 this week. When I was a kid, 40 sounded so old, but now that I’m here, I have to say I would never want to go back to being 20 or 30. My skin may be a little wrinkly, but it’s so much more comfortable at this age.

Heading into this monumental birthday, I gave myself three goals: 1) to lose the 8 pounds I had gained since moving to Ohio a year ago, 2) to finish reading the Bible cover to cover (I’ve been working on it for four years now), and 3) to finish writing a book that’s been on my heart for the past 10 years.

Done, done and DONE! I don’t know what sort of life goals I’ll come up with for my 50th birthday, but I’m sure there will be something since we are all a work in progress.

The funny thing about birthdays is that they are really special, but usually only to the person who is actually celebrating. I humbly admit that my birthday is way more important to me than it is to you or anyone else. So, to celebrate my special day, I’ll spend the evening sitting in a mandatory parent meeting for my daughter’s upcoming class trip to Gettysburg. Not exactly what I’d like to do on my birthday, but maybe I’ll bring along cupcakes and force everyone to pretend they care that I’m nearly over the hill.

It sure is nice when people go out of their way to make you feel special, on your birthday or any other day. I got a letter from Sharon in south Moorhead who wrote to me about an act of kindness that made her feel “warm and special.” We all deserve to feel like that at least once a year.

“It was in December of 2013, on my birthday, at Hornbacher’s in Moorhead. I had finished buying groceries and found that my car wouldn’t start. I called a tow company, and expecting to have to wait awhile, I was taken by surprise when two young gentlemen arrived in such a timely manner. I told them I was so surprised they arrived so quickly. Having recently started up this business, they remarked that it is their goal to not have anyone wait more than 5 to 10 minutes.

“As we were driving to south Fargo to the automotive shop, they needed my license to fill out the paperwork, and they noticed it was my birthday. They wished me a happy birthday and we had such a nice conversation during the short ride. After dropping off my car, they asked me how I was going to get home, and I told them I would wait until my husband got off work in two hours and have him pick me up. They offered to take me home, though I knew they were not required to do so. I tried reassuring them that I didn’t mind waiting at the shop, but they insisted they would help. I took my groceries along and off we went. Again, I was amazed at their willingness to help me.

“Once we got to my house, they carried my groceries and the other packages I had purchased that day, and didn’t leave until I was inside with all of my things. I offered to pay them and they absolutely refused! They were all smiles and again wished me a happy birthday and off they went.

“I had plans that evening to have dinner out, and because of these men going beyond the act of duty, I had time to get ready and enjoy the evening. I will be forever grateful for such acts of kindness.”

Those men at the tow shop didn’t send flowers, they didn’t run out and buy a last-minute gift, they didn’t even zip off a quick “Happy Birthday” Facebook message. They simply made this woman feel special on her special day by showing her a little kindness that went a long way in saying, “This day is important to you and therefore it’s important to us.” Isn’t that just what kindness is all about?

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.