Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 24, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: Smile and pay it forward whenever you can

Goshen News

---- — Last summer my family and I visited Niagara Falls in New York. We camped nearly a week at a state park a modest drive away from the Falls and drove up for a typical tourist day. We did what everyone does — rode the boat near the Falls, watched the movies, got drenched while climbing scaffolding behind the powerful waters.

It was a fun affair, exhausting as any long, hot day trekking four small children through tourist sites would be, but fun.

Before we left the Falls to head back to our rustic camping cabin, we needed to eat. I had budgeted — super tightly though — for one meal out at a restaurant. Ouch. I’ve discovered in recent years being a “large” family is expensive. One nice meal at a restaurant can cost nearly as much as our weekly grocery bill, no kidding.

We settled on a chain restaurant, the kind of place where you can get everything from heaping salads to burgers and fries. I usually prefer other restaurants, the kinds of places where the locals eat, but this restaurant seemed just fine to cap our day.

We ate outside and listened to the roar of the Falls nearby, and our crazy family of six enjoyed a typical meal. The children scuffled over waxy crayons and paper placemats. Someone spilled a large tumbler of water. We plowed through a pile of napkins. If I recall, I was working hard to fight off the grumpies. (You can see why.)

Alas, we finished, everyone satisfied, and were waiting a little longish for the check. When the waitress finally returned, she said, “Thank you for coming. You’re all set.”

I frowned. “Oh, we have not paid you yet.”

She smiled.

“Someone has paid your bill already. You’re all set,” she repeated.

My husband and I looked at each other. We were not sure what to do, what to say. Of course I had more questions. “Paid our entire bill? Really? Who? We would like to thank them.”

The anonymous donor had asked to be anonymous; the waitress was not telling.

I looked at my husband and started crying. That was a big bill. Wow, what a blessing. I tried to not all-out blubber and wiped my eyes.

I whispered a prayer of thanks, for our needs were, again, met in beautiful and unexpected ways.

Well, we should give the waitress a really nice tip, I told my husband, say thank you and go on. I felt eyes on us but purposed to not look around and see whose they were.

For the next few days — and even now when it comes up — we talk about that event with our children. They were amazed and curious and inspired, which was the best part of all.

We got the opportunity to remind them how all of our needs — and many of our wants — are met without much effort on our parts. We talked about making sure we are as giving as that person was. We talked about being the kind of people who look around, see needs and aim to meet them.

If you’re observant — as someone was with us — you can spot a way to bless someone a mile away. Here are a couple of ways to do it even if you can’t pick up a $100-plus meal ticket:

• Smile at people. Just do it. Look them in the eye and smile, whether you’re in passing, pressed together in the checkout aisle or at a four-way stop sign. I often think, “I bet that person would like to see a pleasant, welcoming face” rather than a grumpy scowl. Sometimes, too, a smile can pave the way to a conversation, so …

• Talk to people. I likely am “that” annoying person, but if you get stuck in an elevator with me, I might talk to you. I have found many people, me included, like a little conversation, a human connection. I’m careful to not ask, “How are you?” if I’m not willing to listen for the answer, but there’s always something to say. Remember our words *touch* people, so reach out and touch someone.

• If you’re eating out — or slurping coffee out, which is more likely my case — leave $1 or $2 for the person behind you. Discreetly tell the checker to put it toward the bill of someone else who will come to the line. Then smile, of course, and walk away. Most cashiers seem a little stunned at first but catch on. I do this often, but now I’ll have to change my habit because I am convinced anonymity is an important key here. Lastly, then …

• Find “secret” ways to bless people. There’s a law just as sure as the law of gravity: You reap what you sow. If I sow a seed of kindness, I’m sure to reap one somewhere, somehow. Now, may I never *look* for my reward or seek credit for my good works. I’d been giving $2 at Starbucks for a long time, but I was not expecting that Niagara Falls meal ticket to be paid. It was a delightful and humbling surprise. Goodness done in secret is especially rewarding.

I’d love to hear what you do to bless people. Write me and tell me. Now that my coffee gig is up, I can use some new ideas.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”