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Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

Sometimes, words can be the greatest gift of all

Friday, December 9, 2011

I wanted to quit. My shins had turned to splinters, my lungs groaned, and I was bored.

While running on the Fort Scott Community College track for the first time following a year's hiatus, my frustration must have shown ... or perhaps my snarls and guttural noises gave it away, but about the time I turned to head home, Kristin Downing, a former student of mine, sprinted past, going the other direction.

"Don't quit, Mrs. LaRoche. You can do it," she said.

And suddenly, I knew I could (or perhaps I was just too humiliated to not quit). Whatever the reason, with eight simple words, Kristin had offered encouragement for me to hang in there and not give up.

As Christmas approaches, we can't help but be reminded of opportunities to give, and sometimes words can be the greatest gift of all. There are, after all, multiple ways in which we can use them to brighten others' lives.

Simply striking up a conversation with shoppers who are grumbling at their kids while fighting the crowds at the local shopping center, or actually listening to their answers when we ask, "How are you doing?" can totally change attitudes -- theirs and ours.

Unfortunately, most of us are so stressed to get our shopping done or meet holiday deadlines that we extend little of ourselves to cheer up people we encounter. We selfishly forget that the Christmas season does little to pass the ho-ho-ho test for most people

Author Sharon Jaynes writes that one million Americans battle the "holiday blues."

"The holidays seem to tug at the masks we carefully hold in place or push the emotional buttons we desperately try to hide. The arrival of family members can resurrect painful issues that have never really been resolved. Financial pressure opens up like a sink hole waiting to steal our joy and destroy our peace. Schedules demand every ounce of energy, and false expectations leave us empty and hollow. Before we realize it, the dark, slimy pit swallows us up."

Two weeks ago I was determined to participate in Wal-Mart's "10 o'clock p.m. sale-a-thon extravaganza" in order to get some Rubbermaid containers, a Crock Potand a food chopper. Imagine my shock as I pulled into the parking lot at 9:30, only to find it completely packed with cars.

No one had told me there were unspoken rules to this competition, but I found out quickly that I was not a serious contender. With no shopping cart, I was limited as to the amount I could purchase. Too, friends had come in packs, separating to hover over specific items, waiting for the official proclamation to start grabbing.

I, on the other hand, must have appeared helpless as I jogged from pyramid to pyramid of wares, trying to prioritize them on the run.

"Mrs. LaRoche, are you wanting a Crock Pot? I'm getting one for my mother and I'll be glad to get one for you." "Hey, Patty, I'm getting four of the slicers. Want me to save you one?"

The spirit was contagious. When I saw a former student lamenting over which stack to watch, I offered to pick up one of the Rubbermaid items for him. He was delighted. Most people I encountered were friendly and helpful, and I loved every minute of it. Obviously, that experience was not shared by all. Others found fellow shoppers rude and disrespectful. Certainly not a good start to their holiday experience.

This month, brighten someone's holiday by speaking words of encouragement. As you run your Christmas errands, tell a young child how sweet she looks and watch her face light up. Thank a soldier. Smile at a stranger. Notice a young mother, harried and overwhelmed, and offer to help load her groceries in her car.

And most importantly, look for those who are weary and heavy laden and remind them of the Reason for the Season. Those words, I promise, will be the greatest gift of all.

Patty LaRoche
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