We’ve all heard the expression “Pay it Forward.” Essentially, to
‘pay it forward’ simply means that when someone performs an
act of kindness for you, instead of paying that person back
directly with a similar act of kindness, you instead perform an act
of kindness for someone else. For anyone who has ever
engaged in this practice, one thing becomes very clear – Paying
it Forward always Beats Getting Paid! I lived out this experience just this past week
For over 20 years now, a ministry called Sheltering Wings (www.shelteringwings.org)
has been providing emergency housing for both women and men survivors looking to
escape domestic abuse. This Christ-centered ministry has helped thousands of women
and men to establish stable, independent lives. In support of this ministry is a men’s
group called ‘Men IN Action’ and once a year these two organizations work together to
sponsor what is known as “Men IN Action READ.”
So, once again this past week I had the opportunity to “Pay It Forward” and volunteer
my time with “Men IN Action READ”. This year I would be visiting two different
elementary schools in the Avon School District (Avon, Indiana) to read a book to some
of their students called Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match. It’s a wonderful book about a
young girl (Marisol) who others see as a total ‘mismatch’ of things that don’t make
sense. Then, one day she totally changes who she is to try and please everyone else
and in doing so, learns the most valuable lesson of all – we need to be who we are even
if that makes us different from everyone else. It is a wonderful book and it is written with
both English and Spanish translations in the same book.
In my first reading session, I read to three combined Kindergarten classes (probably 30-
35 students). So there I was; a 70 year-old, white-haired grandfather who has 9
grandchildren of his own sitting in front of some 30-35 Kindergarten students patiently
waiting for me to read to them. As they all sat quietly “Indian style” on the floor, I looked
at their smiling faces. White kids, black kids, kids of Middle Eastern backgrounds and
Asian backgrounds as well, and most were sporting “Green” as it just so happened I
was there on St. Patrick’s Day. The look of anticipation in their eyes was almost
overwhelming and I suddenly thought to myself, Am I going to be able to pull this off?
But, there I was in front of the group and I had come there to do one thing – READ.
And so I did.
The children were good listeners, very attentive, and as soon as I had read a page and
turned the book around to show them the illustrations, at least 3 to 5 students had their
hands in the air! As I called on the students it dawned on me that not only were these 5
year-olds listening closely to what I had been reading, but they had amazing insights.
They noticed things in the book’s illustrations that truly added to their understanding of
the message in the story. I was totally impressed with these 5 year-olds. I was able to
get through the story and some additional questions and discussion in about 20 minutes
and then it was time for me to leave and head to my next school.
One of the teachers prompted them, “And what do we say to Mr. Boughton?” And the
30+ voices chimed in together, “Thank you, Mr. Boughton.” Sweet. But it wasn’t over.
As I stood up to leave, one of the boys came up to me and said, “Hey, are you going to
come back to see us again sometime?” I chuckled and said, “Well, we’ll have to see
about that” knowing full well I would not be coming back. But, how very nice of that
young boy to ask me, pretty much a total stranger, would I be coming back?
And then one of the girls came up to me and in a soft almost angelic voice said to me,
“Thank you” as she offered me a St. Patty’s Day necklace of green beads she had been
wearing. Before I could even say ‘No, that’s your necklace,” she was hugging me. So, I
gave her a gentle, one-armed hug back and suddenly, the floodgates opened! Once
the other kids saw her hugging me, one-by-one they all kind of “piled on,” or should I
say, “piled in?” The next thing I knew, I was at the center of a group hug of 30+ laughing
Kindergartners, kids I had never seen before that morning and possibly, kids I would
never see again. But in that moment, I looked at all of those smiling, laughing, giggling
faces and realized what it means when we talk about being “one humanity.” Much like
the story of Marisol McDonald, as different as all these kids are with different skin and
hair color, different facial features, different body types and height and weight, in that
moment, there was no mismatch in that group hug. There was just an amazing feeling
of oneness and togetherness. God was in the room with us.
As I got in my car to drive to the next school, I looked back on what I had just
experienced and how blessed I was to have had such an experience. Certainly this was
a special moment for me; one of those God moments that I will always remember. And
what did it cost me? Nothing. Just some of my time to ‘Pay it Forward’ on a Thursday
morning. No, it doesn’t get any better than that and it proves a simple point – Paying it
Forward always beats getting paid!