Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wondering What Gift To Give? Put A Little Sunshine In Someone's Life!

As the holiday season is upon us, it is only natural to think about what gifts we want to give and to receive. Everywhere we look, there is a ton of stuff from which to choose. And with all the advertisements in the stores as well as on our technology, there is no escaping the message – Buy!  Buy!  Buy! It can be overwhelming and expensive. And yet, there is something we can give that is not only completely free but it will give back to us as well!

What can this gift be?

Many years ago, I taught 8th grade English and literature at a brand new middle school in Southern California. I will never forget my first year there where I met an extraordinary student named Sunshine. With her long auburn wavy locks bouncing around her shoulders, her freckled face and pearly white teeth, and always wearing very simple and clean but worn clothes, Sunshine entered our classroom every day with a positive selfless attitude.  Whether it was before school started, or during lunch, or after 6th period, Sunshine did whatever she could to make my job easier and to work with other students who were struggling.

Over the weeks and months, Sunshine excelled in her own studies and yet, she remained constant in her giving attitude and generous spirit toward others. Every day after school while she waited for her little brother at the  neighboring elementary school, Sunshine washed the student desks, cleaned the white boards, stapled and organized papers, and even graded a few for me! She tutored other students in their writing and patiently encouraged others in their reading. Not only was she giving of her time, but Sunshine always had a kind word for everyone.  I mean everyone.  She complimented other kids on their clothes or hair or test scores, she approached kids who sat alone and made friends with them, and she found something encouraging to say to anyone for any reason. On several occasions, she shared her lunch with students who were without one.  Sunshine was all that her name represented – she made all of our lives a little brighter.

As the school year was coming to a close, two of Sunshine’s friends wanted to talk with me privately. We arranged to meet on a Friday, after school.  As Vanessa and Stephanie approached my desk, I saw Vanessa had a small white envelope in her hand.

“Hi, girls. Come on in,” I said.  “And don’t worry.  Sunshine is not here. She already left to walk her little brother home. The elementary kids have early release on Fridays.”

Smiling, the girls came closer. “Mrs. Kenley, we need your help,” Stephanie said somewhat shyly.

“Of course, girls.  How so?”

Vanessa continued. “Mrs. Kenley, Sunshine does not want to go to the 8th grade promotional dance.” She hesitated for a minute.  “You know how Sunshine lives with her grandmother…ummm…both her parents are drug addicts…and uhhh…I think one of them is in jail.”

“Yes, I know,” I replied. I knew of Sunshine’s background after talking with her grandmother at Back to School Night and at parent conferences. “What does this have to do with the dance?”

Stephanie explained. “Well, her grandma does not have enough money to buy Sunshine a new dress for the dance.  Sunshine doesn't have anything to wear, and…..she won’t take our money.”

Vanessa put the neatly folded envelope on my desk. “Stephanie and I put our allowances together, but we still don’t have enough to buy a dress for her…. We were wondering…”

Tears immediately surfaced and my voice disappeared into my throat. “Girls, please, let me help.”

Vanessa smiled, “Oh, Mrs. Kenley, would you?” 

“I will put in the rest, plenty to get a dress and whatever else she needs,” I replied.

Stephanie grinned, “Sunshine is so sweet, to everyone!  She is always giving….she never complains…she is the best person I know….we just want to give something back to her…for all she does.” Stephanie took in a deep breath. “Oh….thank you….thank you….”

I composed myself and added, “Girls, this is so special.  I am very proud of you both….  And, don’t worry, I won’t say anything. I will give the money to Sunshine’s grandmother and let her decide how to handle the shopping!  Agreed?!” 

Both girls nodded enthusiastically.  And just before they left the classroom, Vanessa turned, her face gleaming with joy, “For once, it feels so good to put a little Sunshine back into her life!”

In closing, whether it is holiday season or not, let's challenge ourselves to Put A Little Sunshine In Someone’s Life!  Every day, make it a goal to give someone one of these simple but priceless gifts, or others you can think of:
  • Compliment someone face to face on anything.
  • Post, tweet, or text a positive comment to a friend or someone who may need it.
  • Offer to help with homework, with a problem, or with chores.
  • Look around.  See who is alone or unhappy. Sit by that person, start a conversation, be kind.
  • Surprise someone by doing something special just for them. Then, tell them how special they are.            
  • Share your smile. Give others a reason to smile back.
 And then, get ready! 
As you Put A Little Sunshine In Someone’s Life, feel your life get a little brighter.

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