Couple Shows Kindness Through Fruits of Labor

There has been a big white garbage bag sitting on our back porch for about three weeks.

 My sweet daughter, Jordan, planted a garden this spring, lovingly tended it all summer, beamed with pride when we used her homegrown carrots in a pot roast, and then painstakingly pulled all the left-over vines, leaves and roots when the weather turned cool.

She was careful to place everything in the garbage bag, as part of her bittersweet goodbye to summer.

And then in her beautiful 10-year-old way, she decided she was done.

I have a different opinion, so the bag is still sitting there and will be until she decides that the harvest isn’t complete until the bag is in the trash bin.

Growing, tending and releasing a garden is hard. So is growing, tending and releasing a child.

Jordan didn’t grow broccoli, cucumber, carrots and cantaloupe for her love of fruits and vegetables. She did it for me. She positively beamed each time she got to present me with another fruit of her labor. She felt the joy that comes with an act of kindness that is a long time in the making.

Curt and Ardyth Steele of Mapleton, N.D., seem to understand that sometimes an act of kindness can be done quickly and sometimes it takes months and months to grow.

Curt has a tradition of handing out mint candy to whomever he visits with after church. From little children to the elderly, it’s a quick act of kindness to sweeten someone’s day.

But the Steeles are better known around Martin’s Lutheran Church in Casselton for their garden. The couple plants a huge garden behind their home with the main purpose of providing canned goods and produce for others.

One woman wrote to tell me how much she and another widow from the church appreciate the box they receive every fall from the Steeles. It contains salsa, pickles, spaghetti sauce, pickled beets and other homemade treats.

This is not an act of kindness that happens overnight. The Steeles spend months and months planting, weeding, picking and preserving, all for the sole pleasure of providing a special gift to others. They fill about 800 jars a year.

“It’s just really a good feeling.” Ardyth tells me. “People say ‘Why don’t you sell it?’ and we say, ‘Because it would be a job then.’ It’s more fun to give it away and know that people are appreciative and can use it.”

The Martin’s Lutheran Church annual fall dinner, bazaar and bake sale is coming up on Sunday. The Steeles have spent countless hours preparing bread-and-butter pickles and many other goodies to help raise funds for their church. The event is open to the public, runs from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is held at the church, 602 2nd St. N.

If you go, please say hello to the Steeles for me. It’s not every day you get to meet someone who is literally known for the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at 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

Start Seeing Light in the World Instead of Darkness

Have you ever noticed that when you get something stuck in your mind you start seeing it everywhere?

When I gave up drinking, every billboard I drove past for at least a month was advertising some sort of alcoholic beverage.When Saul and I started thinking about getting a security system for the new house, it seemed like we had a non-stop loop of ADT commercials on our television and every story on the news was about a home burglary.

Life seems to work like that. Whatever we focus on becomes bigger.

So today I’d like to ask you, what are you looking at?

Is it ISIS, domestic violence, human trafficking, poverty, hunger or just plain evil in general?

Or is it love? And kindness? And beauty amid the troubles surrounding us?

If your mind is on the decay of our society, you will notice that our society is decaying. If your mind is trained to zero in on the tiny acts of kindness lighting up a very dark world, you will notice the light.

I use the word “trained” because that’s how it worked for me. I’ve been writing this column for three years. When I began, I had to intentionally look for acts of kindness (and then pounce on the people involved) so I had something to write about each Saturday.

Very quickly, my mind became “trained” to notice people holding open doors, speaking kindly in contentious situations and going out of their way to help wherever it was needed.

Then I took the next step. When I wasn’t seeing kindness, I created it, and kindness became the key that unlocked forgiveness, passion and healing in my life. I believe it continues to keep me healthy, which is why it’s so important to me to keep it at the forefront of my mind.

As much as I focus on kindness, I’m starting to notice a disappointing trend. People around me are becoming scared and discouraged. They seem to feel the darkness closing in around them and are thinking that the little they can do for others will never be enough.

I don’t see it that way. When I close my eyes, I see all of the people on Earth standing and staring at the sky. Only they aren’t looking at the real sky, they are looking at a huge black tarp blocking out the light. Each time someone does an act of kindness, a tiny pin-sized hole is poked into that big, black tarp, allowing in a speck of light.

Someone notices the light and does another act of kindness, creating yet another little hole. Someone sees that new light, realizes what is happening and starts creating more little openings for light through their own acts of kindness.

I see my job, through writing this column, as pushing my fingernails through those pin-sized holes and ripping them open with all of my might. I want to allow in as much light as possible, by drawing attention to the acts of kindness being done.

That’s why I love it when people share with me the kindness they see around them, because it gives me the chance to rip open that tiny dot of light and share it with many more people.

Little by little, we will light up the whole sky with kindness, and it will be impossible to deny all the warmth and beauty shining down on us.

But the question remains, as you stand there, looking up at that big black tarp, what do you see? Darkness? Or light? Your focus makes all the difference.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at 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 Makes World of Difference to Newcomer

Have you ever had a life experience in which you thought to yourself, “If I can just live through this, it’ll all be OK?”

I have had several, and I’m a little embarrassed to say they weren’t caused by the bad things in my life. They were caused by the good things. Those moments of acute anxiety were caused by things I actually wanted. It’s like wanting to be in the pool, but freaking out when the water gets waist-level because it is so excruciatingly cold. You know once you’re submerged you’ll be fine, but getting there is going to be a battle.One of my “If I can only live through this …” moments was my first day on the job as a television traffic reporter in Milwaukee. I was 22 years old, and I truly thought I was going to have heart-failure when that TV camera light flashed “ON.” Once I made it through that first show, I was hooked, but boy was it a scary start.

Another of my “If I can only live through this…” moments happened my junior year of college when I was studying in the south of France. Actually, it wasn’t just one moment. It was an entire year of moments.

I went to France full of fanciful ideas of how I would wear skinny jeans and berets, sip espressos at outdoor cafes and speak fluently with all of my new French friends.

The reality was that I stuck out like a sore thumb in a beret, coffees at cafes were too expensive to drink more than once a month, and I could barely speak enough French to order a croissant.

I was lonely, poor and lost. What I would have given for someone to take me under a wing and help me feel at home.

I did meet someone at a park once who smiled sweetly and spoke slowly, but then he followed me back to my dorm and I had to call security.

Living through the experiences of that year away has given me new eyes for people who are out of their element. It has taught me to be especially kind to those who are finding their way in our country.

David Buchanan of Fargo sent me this story about a colleague who went out of his way to welcome a newcomer.

“One of our North Dakota ag producers was on a flight into Fargo from Chicago last month and was sitting with a young woman who turned out to be a student from Germany coming to North Dakota State University for the first time.

“The flight was delayed, so she was concerned that the NDSU people who were to meet her would not stay at the airport until the flight arrived. He assured her that he had a car and would be happy to take her to the campus if need be.

“When the flight arrived, he saw that the NDSU people were still there, so he watched to make certain that everything was OK for her, said goodbye and turned to leave. The young woman ran after him to give him a hug and ask for his contact information.

“The next day she called him to ask if he could serve as her emergency contact. This was required for her to complete her registration. He asked for her family contact information so that, in the event that he did need to serve as her emergency contact, he could contact her family.

“She then asked him if she could come out to his farm to visit him and his wife sometime.

“A simple airplane conversation and an offer to deliver her from the airport to NDSU turned into an excellent first impression for a foreign student coming to the United States.”

I have no doubt the young woman in this story will still have moments this year in which she will say to herself, “If I can only live through this …” but perhaps because of the kindness of a stranger they will be far fewer than one might expect.

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

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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,

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