Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stories to Warm Your Heart

If you are a fellow Michigander, you've probably heard about the Secret Santa sensation that started at a Grand Rapids area Kmart last week. A customer went to the layaway department and said she wanted to help some families pay off their bills. In total, this Secret Santa paid off $500 on the layaway bills of total strangers. She reportedly also spent $300 on merchandise for Toys for Tots during her visit to Kmart that day.

News spread, and copy cat Kmart Secret Santas starting popping up. Wednesday someone visited the same Kmart and paid off $2000 in layaway debt, and the trend has continued with an average of $150-200 being donated daily.

The Greenville, Michigan Kmart saw several layaway bills settled by total strangers. In Jackson, Michigan two men paid on about 15 layaway bills, spending a total of $500. A woman went to the Hastings, Michigan Kmart hoping to pay off every layaway in the store, but considering that the total would have been $95,000, she settled for donating $5000, which paid off the balance of 50 layaway bills. There have also been reports in Omaha; Burlington, North Carolina; and Anaheim, California of people anonymously making layaway payments for strangers. Most Secret Santas have stipulated that the layaways they help with contain toys or winter clothing, especially for children, or that they be in arrears and in danger of being returned to the shelves.

I'm happy to report that this wave of Christmas cheer reached my own neck of the woods a few days ago when a shopper in a southeast Michigan Walmart decided to pick up the $187 tab of the family behind him in line. The family was happy and grateful that a stranger randomly decided to help them out with their groceries and Christmas shopping.

Every time I read one of these stories, I start to tear up and wish I had the money to do something similar. Just today I was over at Single Dad Laughing, and read about a time that Dan and his ex-wife drove around and randomly chose houses where they would leave a plate of homemade cookies and a Christmas card with a cash gift inside. The recipients were all strangers. Dan and his wife just left the gifts on the porch, rang the bell, and ran. A much more fun version of Ding Dong Ditch, don't you agree?

Can you imagine opening up your front door and finding a card with a note from a stranger and $500 cash in it? Wouldn't that just make you feel so good that you would want to do kind things for others just for the heck of it? This is how we spread good will, love, and peace. One act at a time. It's contagious. In my heart I believe that people are good, and they want to do good things for other people. Sometimes they just need a nudge. I know everybody can't afford to go to the store and pay for the bills of strangers (heck, some of us can barely pay our own...), but you don't necessarily have to spend money to make someone's day. A kind word, a smile, a compliment, being patient with a sales clerk in training, an offer to help carry groceries or taking an extra few seconds to hold the door open for someone are all things anyone can do, things that make us feel good and help restore our faith in human kindness. 

Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." If you think the world could stand to be a little more loving and kind, I challenge you to take the first step toward making that happen. Make someone's day. It doesn't take much.

I know I've been on the receiving end of amazing generosity many, many times. Do you have any stories of random acts of kindness? Has the kindness of a stranger ever changed your life?

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