By Jenny Gehman
In a world where you can be anything, be kind. So says the tee-shirt I just bought at our local thrift shop.
“We tell the story of your kindness all the time,” I relayed to Alberto in my email. “You are now famous.” To which he replied in broken English, “I did never imagine that something as simple as going for a run with your son would have that effect.”
Alberto, who is from Spain, lived with our little family almost twenty years ago. He was not only a businessman who came to learn English, but an athlete training for the New York City marathon. Everyday, he would lace up his shoes and head out on a run. And everyday, our 12-year old son, Ryan, who was on the autism spectrum and being homeschooled at the time, would watch him with fascination.
One morning, after about a month of witnessing this routine, Ryan asked me if he could join Alberto on a run. My reply was a fast and firm no. While Ryan had boatloads of energy, he lacked any and all physical coordination at that time, and had never run before. I didn’t want him to bother our new friend.
Ryan promptly ignored me and, possibly with an inner knowing that I lacked, marched up to Alberto. “Can I run with you?” he asked. Not yet having a command of the English language, Alberto simply smiled, said, “Si, Si,” and off they went, Ryan in his velcro shoes!
Seven miles later they returned. Seven miles! And Ryan’s life has never been the same. Alberto returned to Spain and then flew back to the US for the marathon, arranging for us to join him in New York. At the age of 13, Ryan was afforded the opportunity to watch, in person, the marathon he will now run in a few short months. It will be his 5th one and, God-willing, far from his last.
Ryan is now a sub-elite distance runner with the goal, and very good chance, of being a 2028 Olympic trials qualifier in the marathon. He tells others all the time how running has saved his life, and how Alberto’s kindness opened the door. He has made Alberto famous.
Another person now made famous for her kindness is a little old lady I met during local elections a year or so ago. When I went to our neighborhood polling place to vote and stepped up to the registration table, she was on the opposite side. After finding my name on her roster, she looked up at me, spoke my full first name, Jennifer, and surprised me by asking, “Do you know what your name means?” Before I could answer, she told me, “It means gracious gift from God.” And kindness was bestowed upon my head.
I wrote a column about this woman and how she named me, in which I explained that she got it all wrong. Gracious gift is not what my name means (I googled it many times over). My name means “Fair One.” However, that night, she named me new and it was holy ground. I felt like bending, like bowing, like removing my shoes.
When a man from Kansas by the name of Al read that column, he set about making little wooden coins emblazoned with the words, “Gracious gift from God.” He wanted to give them out to others, to carry on the kindness. As I write this, the story of that sweet woman’s kindness to me has gone out to over 10,000 people. And those coins Al makes have been placed into the hands of women living at a shelter, a highschool youth group, 79 people at a family reunion, a group of graduating seniors, a group of ex-cons, and a young girl freshly rescued from sex-trafficking. All named as gifts. As grace. And I wonder – to what effect? I bet this precious little lady would be astonished to know the impact of her kindness.
Jesus made someone famous, too. In Matthew’s gospel (chapter 26), we read about an unnamed woman who came to Jesus with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, and proceeded to pour it on his head. When the disciples grew indignant over this costly act of kindness, Jesus came to the defense of the woman. Not only did he tell the curmudgeonly disciples to leave her alone. Not only did he acknowledge her gift to him as good. But he went on to say, “Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Matthew 26:13 NRSV).
Tell of the kindness, friends. Tell of the kindness!
“I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,” the prophet Isaiah proclaimed. “The deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us—yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses” (Isaiah 63:7 NIV).
Practice the kindness. Proclaim the kindness. Pass the kindness on.
*Reprinted with permission from Anabaptist World magazine, AnabaptistWorld.org.*
Christine Sine’s book The Gift of Wonder
“Can you imagine a God who dances with shouts of joy, laughs when you laugh, loves to play, enjoys life, and invites us to join the fun? I couldn’t until recently. I grew up with a very serious, workaholic God. Even when my theology changed, I struggled to live into my new way of thinking. Then Jesus words, ‘Unless you become like a child you cannot enter the kingdom’, began to resonate in my head.”