Kindness always takes me by surprise. Not when it is done for someone else .. When I hear of others doing super kind things for people I don’t know, it doesn’t surprise me. I truly believe that people are a worthwhile lot, and I truly believe they are generally kinder and more compassionate than, say, an alien who had only the media to rely on for knowledge of the human species would ever guess. Hearing uplifting stories doesn’t surprise me. But when the unnecessary and totally unexpected act of kindness touches my life directly, I am always floored with shock and disbelief. When someone does something for me for absolutely no reason, for no ulterior motives at all, I’m always left not only touched but awed. Especially when the one who offered the kindness is herself such an awesomely amazing person. I was not given the opportunity to thank this person as she ran out of the room before I was able to so … This post serves as a partial but deeply heartfelt THANK YOU.

Tonight was a busy night at church: it was the rehearsal of next week’s awards ceremony. A ton of kids and adults were in one room, with the noise level kicked up a notch. In the midst of this noise, J, a student in the sixth grade, came in. She handed me a folded piece of paper. Without saying a word, she turned and left, before I was able to even open the folded piece of paper up. When I did, my heart melted. This was the beautiful sight that greeted me:

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This marks the second time in as many weeks that J has added sunshine to my world. Recently, she came into my class with another sweet friend, O, and asked me for a hug. Hugs are important. Hugs tell us that we are important and that we matter. Hugs give us warmth. As big a fan as I am of words, hugs are stronger than words–hugs speak a thousand times louder than a voice. And she asked me for one. Then, tonight, she gives me a beautiful letter. While all three of her items touch me, the one that means the most to me, the one that added the most sunshine to my day is the last one, the number three one: “Just for being awesome.” Whenever someone feels the same way about me that I feel about her, joy bubbles up and out of me. You see, as “awesome” as J may think I am, I think she is even more so.

This is not your average young lady we’re talking about.

I first remember getting to know J when she took part in a class I taught at the church a couple years ago called Imaginations. There were, like, forty kids in the class, and J is a quiet sort of gem–she doesn’t talk much and yet she stood out for me. She worked hard, she followed instructions and when I asked her to help, she did so. I was later to discover that J doesn’t just work hard at church–she works hard at school too, maintaining As and Bs in her schoolwork. Meanwhile, I’ve watched how she interacts with her younger sister — she is a terrific role model, and a much loved one: her younger sister is in one of my current classes and talks often of her big sister. Playing an instrument, J is also quite talented as a musician. Her friends are always smiling and talking with her when she is near. And she is beautiful, too. I don’t know what she sees when she looks in the mirror–but what I see every time I see her is a shining beautiful young princess. She has some of the most awesome hair–it’s dark color used to be the exact shade I wanted mine. Her eyes sparkle when she is happy. And her smile is so sweet it lights up entire rooms. She’s also wise for her age: her mother discovered a note, written in text style, she’d written that encourages others to trust in Jesus’ love for them. And there are undoubtedly major gifts God has blessed her with that I don’t even know of. I hope she knows that kindness is a special gift she has that impacts lives and blesses others. Three times–the first at the conclusion of Imaginations when she asked me to read her a letter I’d written her, the second when she sweetly asked for a hug and the third tonight– she has touched my life, and enriched it. Indeed, above all her special talents, above all her beauty, there lies within J something even more amazing: her open and giving heart. This is what sets J apart, and what makes her shine like a most precious gem. You see, anyone can make good grades if they try hard enough. Lots of people can play instruments. Far fewer people, though, put themselves on the line in order to reach out to someone else. Far fewer people think to give others gifts: out of three classes this year and approximately 30 kids, J’s letter marks the third I’ve received all year. That makes her extraordinary.

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You see, J didn’t just give me a letter tonight: she gave me the gift of words–she allowed me a glimpse into her thoughts. There is no gift sweeter or more precious than being granted access into someone else’s thoughts. That is what makes words so powerful—they give us the opportunity to be understood. I don’t know what I have done that made J think me worthy of the time and effort she put into this letter (the colors are awesome!) but the fact that she thought of me touches my heart. The idea that she sought me out, came to find me one week for no other reason than a hug and then brought me this sweet letter tonight matters to me. She made me believe that my presence every week makes a difference. She made me remember that, beyond the crafts, beyond the songs, lie a monumental reason for attending each week: the human connections that we form, those obvious ones with classmates and leaders but also those subtle ones, the connections that are formed simply by observing and BEING observed. Behind the fun games and activities is a tender and serious truth that binds us all: we are here to emulate Christ and to uplift those around us. We are here to care. We are here to hold hands and support. We are here to love and to draw each other closer. J does all of this consistently — she uplifts those around her and she’s brave enough to show affection for those she cares about. How lucky am I to be included among J’s list of people with whom she wishes to share a connection?

The thing about genuine and heartfelt gifts is that they keep on giving. She thought she was just making a card, a letter. In fact, though, I’ve put her letter in a place I’ll see it tomorrow. I’ll look at it and smile. I’ll look at it and think that, maybe, the youth of my church know how much I care about and love them, maybe my presence is important. I’ll look at the letter and think of God and of what a magnificent masterpiece He fashioned in J. I’ll look at it and its sweetness and beauty will color my whole day, adding a touch of hope and sunshine to my day. I’m not invincible — sometimes I feel discouraged and tired. Sometimes it is hard to imagine why God needs me at the church, or even wants me there. Old fears and insecurities, combined with all the modern day stress and smells of doubt still sometimes cloud my eyes. When they do, though, I have been given a gift of hope and the warmth of a hug from a young girl about whom I deeply care. How great a God I have for granting me the privilege and honor of working alongside this group of youth, who a full of pure hearts, bright smiles and kind natures. Thank you for your recent gifts, J… They are treasured. Ms. T is more and more proud of you every day, and my heart has a special place in it for you. Most of all, though, thank you for sharing yourself with me these past couple years, for allowing me to watch as you grow and for being awesome you!

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