Kindness Paves Road to Miss America

Seventeen years ago this very weekend, I competed in the Miss America pageant representing my home state of Wisconsin.

When the pageant was over, I came home with an interview award, $10,000 in scholarship money and a whole bunch of sparkly earrings (some of which are still in my jewelry box).

When people ask how I did, I like to tell them I won 11th place. In my day, they only announced the top 10 finalists, so I feel I can safely assume I must have been 11th.

The thing about Miss America is that you only get one shot. Once you’ve been on that stage, you can never compete again. You have to give it all you’ve got, which is hard when you have no idea what the playing field even looks like in real life.

I had never been to Atlantic City, N.J., until I showed up for the pageant, so I had to rely on my committee and trust they would prepare me for the unknown.

I remember staring blankly at my traveling companion who was on her knees on her living room floor laying out every outfit I would wear for two whole weeks, complete with underwear, jewelry and shoes. Then she started labeling everything “Miss Wis.” It wasn’t until I was in a dressing room with 49 other contestants that I realized this was not her first rodeo. I’m certain her kindness and great attention to detail is the only reason you couldn’t see my undies on national television.

Of course, the Miss America program is about so much more than hair, clothes and nails. It’s about giving young women at every level of competition the chance to speak about an issue that has become their personal ministry.

Mine was “Overcoming Crisis.” I spent the year talking with kids about what to do when life rolls over you with those big, turbulent messes like divorce, death and moving. I can’t promise I changed the world, but I still have letters from several high school kids telling me I changed their lives.

I know I wouldn’t have been in that position if it hadn’t been for all of the people lifting me up and acting as my personal cheerleaders for that one magical year.

Now it’s someone else’s turn. Jacky Arness is our current Miss North Dakota. On Sunday night, she will step out on that Miss America stage for the final night of competition. This Fargo girl will give it all she’s got, and if she wins, you’ll hear me screaming all the way from Ohio. But even if she doesn’t, she’ll come home and continue to change her part of the world, one life at a time through her platform of empowerment.

I know Jacky is feeling the same support and love I felt 17 years ago, and so is her mom, Amy, who wrote me this letter about the kindness that is surrounding their family:

“Just when Jacky is feeling fatigued, discouraged, like she can never accomplish enough, or be prepared enough, we will receive something from a friend or even a brand-new acquaintance.

“We’ve gotten messages of encouragement and overwhelming offers of generosity, including a year of massage services, a year-long lease on a car, nutritional supplements, personal training, dietician expertise, a restaurant willing to host a fundraiser, a theater willing to donate space for a send-off party, a private plane ride to Williston to be at an important state-wide event, gas cards for travel and restaurant meals.

“It all helps defray the many costs of preparing a girl to be on a somewhat level playing field with these other ‘pageant’ states that get huge amounts of support.

“There are moments when I as a mom feel I need to be 10 people in order to provide the assistance needed, and then something will happen that will cause me to pause, get choked up, and sometimes literally have to sit down on the ground right where I am because I am so overwhelmed with gratitude!”

I remember feeling that way, too, Amy. Thank you for sharing.

These days I watch the pageant from the sidelines (aka my living room couch), while eating ice cream, but reading Amy’s words and thinking about the emotions her daughter must be feeling right now bring me back to my own year as Miss Wisconsin. It was a special time filled with special people and more kindness than a person could ever imagine.

Cheer on Miss North Dakota as the Miss America Pageant is broadcast live on ABC. The pre-show starts at 7 p.m., and the final competition starts at 8.

I need kindness stories! Please share your stories of kindness with me atinfo@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.

Kind Words Help Frazzled Mom Remember She’s Not Alone

There is a unique solidarity among coaches’ wives.

Coaches’ wives get the fact that our husbands watch tape until 2 a.m., and that they are on recruiting calls while we are on vacation, and that they walk around a little grumpy the day after a big loss.

Coaches’ wives who are also moms understand something else: We often parent alone.

I pride myself on being independent, on being able to get the kids from Point A to Point B every single day and perhaps even teaching them some life lessons along the way.

During the basketball season, I spend so much time in my “I am woman hear me roar” zone of solo parenting that when my husband is home, I get angry with him for throwing off our routine. It usually takes me about a week after tournament time to adjust to co-parenting again. The poor man now knows to just ride it out.

I’m sure there are lots of women who can relate: military wives, single moms, spouses of traveling businessmen. The circumstances may be different, but I think we probably go through many of the same emotions. We are proud of what we can accomplish on our own, but sometimes we are just plain worn out and need some help.

I have one new group to add to my little sorority: pastors’ wives. My friend Maria, whose husband is a pastor, shared with me an experience she had in Fargo this summer with her four small children.

Maria’s husband may not be watching tape and taking recruiting calls, but I bet he spends a good amount of “free time” planning sermons and making hospital visits.

And I know that while Maria is proud of her independence, she is certainly grateful for helping hands.

“We needed groceries on perhaps the hottest day in July. It was stifling hot, but we were out of almost every snack and basic food in the house, so, after the toddler’s nap, we headed to the grocery store.

“That particular hot day reflected my son’s mood perfectly. He was grouchy. We got near the watermelon, and he started saying ‘apple.’ I explained they were watermelon and that we’d have to pay for them.

“Things went downhill from there, so we shopped the produce section with a toddler shouting ‘Apple! Apple!’ in the most pathetic ‘please can’t I have an apple’ tone that you ever did hear. I stayed fairly calm on the outside but had made the decision to get just a few more items and beat it out of the store.

“When we got over to the grapefruit/orange section, an elderly woman leaned down to my little boy, who was in tears, and told him his shirt was ‘sure nice’ and asked him where he got it. As his tearful shouts of ‘apple’ subsided, my tears nearly fell because the woman reminded me of how my grandma might have calmly talked to a little person in a store.

“My son didn’t answer the lady, but he smiled and calmed down after she visited with him. I guess he just needed his mind taken off the forbidden ‘apple.’

“We ended up getting our entire list thanks to that kind woman who helped out a sad little boy instead of just staring and shaking her head.

“I hear of other people getting that kind of reaction, and I wonder if I just don’t notice when it happens to me or if I’m just somehow blessed to find all these really kind people in my path! Either way, I want to be like that elderly woman someday.”

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I’m so thankful when I run into those people who, with just one kind word, remind me I’m not alone and help to hold down the fort until Daddy gets home.

Please 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.

Let Kindness Take the Wheel

This weekend is the last big hurrah for the lake crowd (sorry for reminding you) and for everyone else who wants to sneak in one last long weekend of fun before we buckle down for the fall.

I’m not sure if you know this about me, but I’m kind of a hermit. I would much rather stay home with my little tribe than fight the traffic on a two-lane highway on a holiday weekend.

Driving and I don’t get along well. I’m what some would call impatient. Perhaps that is why (as my husband likes to remind me) I get speeding tickets once in a while. I just want to get to where I’m going and be there. Now.

I’ve never been the type of person who gets so impatient behind the wheel that I get angry, but I see that on the road once in a while – very kind people in real life who become very unkind behind the wheel.

The good news is there are still people driving around out there with kindness as their co-pilot. I got this letter from a woman whose friend just happened to run into one of those people. Literally.

“(My friend) Dennell Benson was recently in ‘rush-hour’ traffic in Fargo on Interstate 94 heading toward Moorhead. Distracted by the beautiful day, she realized too late that she needed to start braking, and braking fast, to avoid rear-ending the brand-new car in front of her.

“She didn’t brake fast enough, hitting the car at 60 miles per hour, damaging the car in front of her and completely totaling her own. Despite not wearing her seat belt, she and the other driver were completely fine.

“What’s incredible about this story, other than the fact that everyone was OK, is the way the other driver reacted. Rather than getting out of his car yelling and screaming, the driver gave her a big hug and asked her name. When he noticed her last name was Benson, he exclaimed that it was a wonderful Norwegian name, just like his, and began reassuring her that everything was going to be OK and asked if she needed any help. His kindness wasn’t something she deserved or even expected, but he gave it freely when she needed it the most.”

I hope as you travel this Labor Day weekend and into the future that you run into drivers as kind as the one in Dennell’s story. But not literally. Drive safely!

Submit your kindness stories

Please 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.

Kind gift helps couple celebrate 50th anniversary

I never wanted to get married. I didn’t believe in the institution of marriage. I honestly thought it was impossible for a man and a woman to remain faithful to each other for a lifetime.

I dated. I eventually wanted children. I hadn’t worked out all the details, but I was certain marriage would not be part of the equation.

I’m not sure what happened. It’s almost as if God stepped in and said, “OK, that’s enough of that foolishness. Here’s your husband.” And as quick as that, I was in love with Saul and was willing to face whatever lay ahead, as long as I could face it with him. It never occurred to me again that we wouldn’t be faithful. We were meant to be together, and that was that.

I still count Saul as the greatest blessing in my life. Boy, am I thankful for divine intervention.

In a few days we will be celebrating 14 years of marriage. Like any married couple, we have our moments. It bugs me when he snores. It bugs him when I nag.

In some ways, we are an old married couple, but we both realize we are still newlyweds by many standards, especially when compared to the man who wrote me about his recent anniversary celebration.

“Dear Nicole,

“I am writing to inform you of an act of kindness that recently happened to my wife, Judy, and me.

“Judy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008. I have taken care of her at home for six years now. The good people of hospice have helped me for the past year. I made Judy a promise when she was diagnosed that I would take care of her as long as I could. So far, the Lord has given me good health, and I will continue to care for her until He calls her home or my health will no longer allow it.

“We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on May 16. I set up an appointment with the hair salon that Judy has gone to since we moved to Fargo in 1998.

“I have been able to take her to her weekly hair appointments during this entire time. Her hair stylist, Janelle, the owner of West 13th Salon in West Fargo, thought it was special that I would bring her in on the morning of our anniversary.

“When she got done styling Judy’s hair, she got her camera out and asked if she could take a picture of us. About two weeks later, when I brought Judy in for her hair appointment, Janelle handed me a gift and said it was for our anniversary. It was the picture of us that she had taken. It was in a special 50th anniversary frame with the following inscription on it: ‘It doesn’t matter where you go in life, it’s who you have beside you. Happy Anniversary Bill and Judy.’

“It is a wonderful gift. I thought it was so special that Janelle would go to all that time and expense to give us that gift.

“Those are the kinds of things that happen in the Fargo-Moorhead area and West Fargo area. It’s a great place to live.”

– Bill Sunderlin, Fargo

There is great kindness in doing the little things in life well. Like caring for the one you love each and every day. In sickness and in health. Till death do you part.

Happy anniversary to the man who was (and is) the best gift I’ve ever gotten.

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.

Anonymous Letter Prompts Look for Special People in Our Lives

I remember the first time I saw a $2 bill. I was about 5 or 6 years old, and I thought someone was playing a joke on me.

It looked real, but that 2 in the corner, where the 1 or the 5 or the 10 should have been just seemed so odd.I’ve run into a few other $2 bills in my life, but not many. It’s always kind of a treat, like finding a four-leaf clover or a lucky penny.

The $2 bill was first considered legal tender in 1862, and although the design has changed and printing has stopped and started at various times, it is still a denomination of U.S. currency. Translation? You can still spend it.

I’ve mentioned before that I have the best writing gig in the world because of the amazing letters I get in the mail. I got one the other day that tops the list and was just “two” sweet:

“Nicole, thanks for sharing your gifts and talents so willingly with others. You are a God-based inspiration to many. Trusting God with all the real scenarios in life and allowing kindness to shine, I’m certain makes God smile and encourages others.

“Enclosed are a week’s worth of $2 bills. Give them to whomever God lays on your heart and tell them they are ‘too’ special!

‘This is my small ‘pay it forward’ plan in thankfulness for the grace bestowed on me by such a loving Savior and for giving me a godly wife for 43-plus years and running. I’m married to my best friend.

“The $2 isn’t a monetary windfall, but the words are what Jesus would say to each of us, no matter our situation.”

Sure enough, tucked inside that anonymous envelope were seven crisp $2 bills. I had been reading my mail on the living room couch, and I just sort of gasped. I read the letter to my husband and kids and then pulled out the bills. Each child wanted to take a turn looking at them, feeling them, holding them. It was a really neat moment.

Now I have the unique opportunity to create seven more moments. There are so many people who cross my path each day and fill it with light through their kindness that I’m actually having a problem giving the bills away! I haven’t been able to decide if I should give them to people who have helped with our transition to Ohio or if I should send them back to people who have touched my heart in North Dakota.

It’s hard to know who the perfect recipients should be when I truly feel surrounded by kindness.

And that’s the neatest thing about this whole situation: The man who sent me those $2 bills gave me the greatest gift of all. By having to choose seven people who are “too special,” he has allowed me to see the multitude of people who show me love, compassion and kindness every single day.

I’m certain the people to whom I end up giving the bills will think it was a sweet gesture, but they will never know that by being the conduit, I actually became the biggest recipient. I was forced to slow down and contemplate just how many people go out of their way to make my life better.

If you can manage it, I hope you’ll play along with me. Get seven crisp $1 bills (or $2 bills!) and carry them around until your heart tells you to give them away, one at a time. I suspect it will open your eyes to the number of people who shine with goodness in your life.

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.

Mysterious Sign Revolves Around Kindness

Have you ever driven by a sign outside of a business again and again, always wondering what it meant but never taking the time to find out?

My interest-piquing sign is at the corner of Main Avenue and Fourth Street in downtown Fargo. By my math, I’ve driven by that Cenex station more than 2,600 times (You don’t even want to know how long it took me to make that calculation).

Every so often, the marquee sign will include the message “Tanks of Thanks.”

Now, finally, the answer to one of my mysterious sign questions has fallen into my lap. It turns out it revolves around kindness, and I never even knew it.

Tanks of Thanks is a program by CHS/Cenex that rewards people for their contributions to their neighborhoods with free fuel.

Tom Linnertz of Harwood, N.D., recently won $50 in fuel for providing military veterans an Honor Guard at funeral services. Tom has been using his time, talent (he plays the bugle) and own gas money to attend and even arrange these events since 2009. Sometimes he works with the American Legion Post 21 in Moorhead, and sometimes families contact him on their own.

“I started reading that they couldn’t find buglers, so they would use an artificial bugle or a recorded version. To me that’s just wrong. I knew the Legion was starting to do it, and they didn’t have enough live buglers and I thought this is something I want to do. It was something that called me in.” Tom says.

“I get a deep feeling of satisfaction, like I’ve really helped somebody. I can provide tradition and help in grieving. It’s very moving.”

Tom spent two years in the Marine Corps and 19 years in the Army Reserve before retiring as a Master Sergeant in 1997. He estimates he has played “Taps” in about 230 funerals in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Since the beginning of the Tanks of Thanks program in 2011, Cenex has awarded 16 winners from the Fargo-Moorhead area and 12,000 people across the country. It’s almost like a kindness on top of a kindness since community members get to nominate people they know for their good deeds.

Each month, 100 nominees are drawn at random to receive a Tanks of Thanks gift card worth $50 to use at any Cenex location. In addition to the monthly drawing, Cenex retailers can also give away Tanks of Thanks gift cards to reward individuals they see doing good in their local communities.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I know someone who totally deserves this,” you can nominate them at any time at www.TanksofThanks.com. All you need to do is briefly describe why he or she deserves a Tank of Thanks. I checked it out, and I can promise you, it’s easy – WAY easier than trying to figure out personalized license plates or cryptic business signs.

And if you think you deserve a nomination but are too humble to do it yourself, email me your story, but beware, I’ll probably use it for a future column!

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.

Boy With Epilepsy Turns Mean Joke Into Act of Kindness

I recently talked to the father of a Minnesota boy who could very well capture the attention of the nation and change the way the medical world uses marijuana.

Brett Solum is a 13-year-old boy who, in many ways, is like a lot of other teenagers. He goes to Moorhead Middle School where he’ll soon be starting seventh grade. He likes the Green Bay Packers and hopes they’ll win the Super Bowl. He hangs out with the neighbor kids, and his 6- year-old sister thinks he hangs the moon.

But there is a difference between Brett and the other kids at school. Somewhere between 45 and 100 times a day, Brett has seizures.

They started out as absence seizures, a short period of time when he would just blank out and stare off into space. Lately, he’s been having grand mal seizures, lasting between 15 and 20 minutes each.

Brett’s father, Paul, tells me that all of his son’s medical options have been exhausted, so Brett will never drive a car or even live on his own unless someone discovers another way to control his epilepsy.

The Mayo Clinic may have a Plan B. Doctors will soon give Brett marijuana drops as part of a study on the drug’s effects on young epilepsy patients.

So now that you’ve got some background information, let me tell you a little more about Brett and what he goes through every day.

Brett arrives at a special entrance to his school where he can enter without the noise and chaos found at the other doors. He immediately turns left and heads directly into his classroom where he spends most of the day with other kids with disabilities.

He has an incredibly kind heart, and while he is totally communicative, his mind does not comprehend sarcasm or teasing. So when a student from another part of the school invited Brett to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, Brett gladly accepted.

His dad took him to Target to buy a gift and then headed to the restaurant. They waited 15 minutes before asking an employee about the reservation, only to find out that there was never a party planned at all. It was a joke. A mean joke by someone who was picking on Brett.

Two weeks later, it was Brett’s birthday. His parents told him to invite some friends to go bowling, but it wasn’t until they got a phone call from a stranger that they realized how their boy had turned that hurtful fake-party experience into an act of kindness for others.

Brett’s parents got a call from a mom asking if they would pick up her daughter on the way to the bowling alley. They picked up the girl at Churches United for the Homeless.

Brett invited kids with severe disabilities, kids who were homeless and kids who just plain felt rejected. He invited kids that no one else ever invites to parties.

We can’t control how people treat us, but we can control how we treat others. Brett knows that truth well, and his actions go far in proving that we are not limited by our limitations when we look outside of ourselves and into the hearts of others.

Brett, I don’t know much about the medical marijuana controversy, but I do know about kindness. You have shown great kindness to others, and on behalf of everyone who has ever felt left-out, thank you. I’m praying you are touched by a miracle, my friend.

You can follow Brett’s journey on his Caring Bridge site, www.caringbridge.org/visit/brettsolum.

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.

A Token of Kindness Can Heal a Heart

Nothing scares me more than the thought of losing a child. And yet, tragically, it happens.

I have never been able to grasp how parents get through an experience like that. And yet, miraculously, they do.

Jeanette Maré lost her son, Ben, when he was just 3 years old. His airways constricted, and he was gone in moments.

“The depth of pain we were experiencing was beyond description. Every parent’s worst nightmare was our reality, and we didn’t know how we would possibly survive. More than anything we just wished we could die. Perhaps we would have died if not for Matthew (our 6-year-old son). He was still alive, and he needed us as he had never needed us before,” Maré writes.

“Slowly, we began incorporating coping strategies into our lives. We came up with a design for “Ben’s Bells” and started making them in our back yard studio with friends. The therapeutic effect of working with clay was amazing, as was the power of being surrounded by people talking and working toward a common goal.

“We decided to make hundreds of the bells and distribute them randomly in our community to encourage the kindness that we so depended on to get through each day. Since Ben’s death, it had been the kindness of others, strangers and friends, that had helped us begin to heal. We wanted to find a way to pass on that kindness and to help others in the process.

“On the first anniversary of his death, hundreds of Ben’s Bells were distributed throughout Tucson, Ariz., hung randomly in trees, on bike paths, and in parks with a written message to simply take one home and pass on the kindness.”

People did, and in no time, Tucson had a new community-wide mission.

That mission is spreading across the country and has made it all the way to West Fargo, thanks to an elementary school counselor named Deb Boyer.

Deb was in Tucson several years ago for a Nurtured Heart training conference. She brought home several coins created by the Ben’s Bells organization and started giving them away along with compliments to help “recognize little moments, blowing them up big, allowing people to bask in the glow of positivity.”

The main principle of the Nurtured Heart approach is to put your energy toward what you want to see more of out of people, especially children. Instead of pointing out the negative, the idea is to point out the positive.

Deb says the coins are a tangible way to affirm the good she sees in the people around her.

“I put them in connection with their potential and their dignity. It warms my heart to see their face light up,” Deb says.

The parent of one coin recipient wrote to tell me about Deb’s kindness. It had been a few years since the act of kindness occurred, but it stuck with the mother and daughter, perhaps even longer than the compliment alone would have.

It’s still remarkable to me that a woman in Arizona grieving the loss of her little boy would have the energy to spread kindness, but it makes me wonder if maybe kindness has an energy all its own – an energy that spreads, nurtures hearts and perhaps even heals them.

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.

Serving Others Makes ‘A Wonderful Life’

I’m way out of season here, but do you remember that movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life?” My husband and I watch it every Christmas snuggled up on the couch. I start getting misty-eyed right about the time Clarence, the guardian angel, jumps into the river, forcing George Bailey to save him. When the town comes through for George at the end, I’m an absolute mess. Oh, I love kindness!

That particular movie always reminds me of the words from Hebrews 13:2: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”

Jordan Ohlson is one of those people who apparently entertains angels. He is a Guest Services Manager at Sanford Health, and recently, he picked up an 81-year-old man who needed a lift. But that was only the beginning of the story.

Jordan shared his experience in a memo to his employees, one of whom was so touched by her boss’s act of kindness that she wanted me to share it with the whole community.

“Guest Services Team:

“I want to share with you a story to emphasize a couple of points that I’ve reiterated and will continue to reiterate. Keep in mind that I’m not sharing this story to brag or make you think that I’m an extraordinary person!

“I went to Sioux Falls yesterday. On my way back to Fargo, I noticed an older man walking along the interstate, carrying what looked like a heavy backpack. I pulled over and offered him a ride, which he gladly accepted.

“His name was Clarence, and he had been walking for hours. He explained that he had a spell of bad luck and was trying to get to Fargo, but that he eventually needed to get to Reno, Nevada.

“Long story short, I decided he was a really nice, harmless guy, so I brought him to Fargo and took him to my house. My wife was obviously surprised, but she and the rest of us worked to feed him and do his laundry.

“My kids showed him all their tricks (my kids loved him and he thought they were great), and we let him sleep in our basement overnight. I cooked him breakfast the next day and took him to the bus station where I bought him a ticket and gave him a little cash. Off he went!

“The reason I’m sharing this is because serving Clarence brought a tremendous amount of happiness and satisfaction into my life. It would have been easy not to pick him up. It would have been easy to take him to Fargo, only to drop him off alongside the interstate where he could have continued his journey. I think that’s what he expected to happen.

“But I’ll tell you what. The joy that my family and Clarence felt would not have been as great if I would have decided to leave him alongside the road upon arriving in Fargo. It would not have been as great if we had decided to only feed him and not provide him shelter. It certainly wouldn’t have been as great if we hadn’t ensured he had a way to safely travel to his final destination. In doing all this, our intent was to help him, but we may have gotten more out of the experience than he did.

“I know I’m not alone in my philosophy on how we should treat one another. I want to thank all of you for taking the same approach to serving others. Doing so will truly fill our hospitals and clinics with the spirit of service, which will make the Sanford experience one people appreciate. Remember, the joy we and others feel will be proportionate to the time and resources we dedicate to helping others.”

Thank you, Jordan, for reminding us that when we live with the goal of serving others through kindness, it truly is a wonderful life.

The Red, White and Blue of Kindness

If you haven’t pulled every red, white and blue decoration out of storage by now, you’re late. If that’s you, grab something colorful from your closet and then come back and finish reading this column.

The colors have been unfurled for a weekend of family, food and fireworks. While festive, I appreciate that combination of colors for the switch it turns on in my brain.

I start thinking deep thoughts around this time of year about things like freedom, the American flag and what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America.

The way I see it, there are two ways to help this country retain its beautiful independence. You can either serve, or you can show great gratitude and kindness toward the people who serve.

I have a friend in Fargo whose husband has been on several deployments. With support from people in her church who like to cook, somehow this woman was able to single-handedly parent six kids for nine months at a time. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard that was on everyone in the family.

She told me once how much she appreciated the holiday train rides, military appreciation days and other “perks” that came with being in a military family.

Another friend in Fargo told me about his dad who has escorted several World War II Veterans with no living family members to see the memorial in Washington, D.C. What a beautiful way to serve a service member.

Thousands of individuals and organizations across the country collect items to send to our troops, and thousands more donate to the cause. It is an incredible collective act of kindness.

Maybe those types of causes don’t grab hold of your heart. Maybe that’s not how you choose to acknowledge our military personnel. That’s OK.

Gratitude doesn’t have to come in a large pre-planned event or wrapped carefully into a care package. As Beth Kern from Wisconsin writes, it can come in the day-to-day way we recognize someone else’s sacrifice.

“I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a conference. In the morning, the hotel had a breakfast for its guests. An Army captain was getting coffee and spilled some creamer. I cleaned it up for him saying, ‘You serve us, let me serve you.’ It choked him up, but he said thank you.”

As we go about the task of scraping off the grill and repacking the Independence Day decorations, I hope we continue to have deep thoughts about the beautiful gift of freedom and how we can best show kindness to those who protect 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.