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About the Author
Alice Gray is an inspirational conference speaker and the creator and compiler of the bestselling Stories for the Heart book series, with over 5 million in print. She and her husband, Al, live in Arizona.
Nancy Jo Sullivan
Nancy Jo Sullivan has written articles for Guideposts, Reader's Digest, and Focus on the Family magazines. A co-compiler and editor of Stories for the Heart, she has also authored three books, including Moments of Grace and Did You Get What You Prayed For? Nancy lives with her husband and three young daughters in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Judy Gordon is a writer, editor, and speaker. She has published magazine articles, poetry, and five books, including two compilations. Judy has three grown sons and lives in Sisters, Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
* * *
Things I've Learned Lately ...
Looking people in the eyes is showing them respect, My grandma is my friend, Memories are a treasure you should never let go, And I never want to get too big for a hug from my dad.
* * *
Going to an affluent high school wasn't easy. I watched with envy as many of the "rich" kids drove their parents' sports cars and bragged about where they bought their designer clothes. I knew there was never a chance for me to compete with their wealthy status, but I also knew that it was a near crime if you wore the same outfit twice in the same month.
Coming from a family of five, with a tight budget, allowed us little hope for style. That didn't stop me from badgering my parents that I needed more fashionable clothes. My mother would frown at me. "Do you need them?"
"Yes," I would say adamantly. "I need them."
So shopping we would go. My mom waited outside the dressing room while I tried on the nicest clothes we could afford. I can recall several of these "necessity trips." Mom always went without complaining, never trying anything on for herself, though she'd look.
Oneday, when I was at home, I tried on one of my new outfits and modeled it in front of my parents' full-length mirror. As I was deciding what shoes looked best with the outfit, my eyes wandered to their closet, which was partially open. What I saw brought tears to my eyes. Three shirts hung on my mom's side of the closet. Three shirts that she'd worn endlessly and were old and faded. I pulled open the closet farther to see a few work shirts of my dad's that he'd worn for years. It had been ages since they bought anything for themselves, though their need was greater than mine.
That moment opened my eyes to see the sacrifices my parents had made over the years, sacrifices that showed me their love more powerfully than any words they could have said.
* * *
Never forget the nine most important words of any family I love you. You are beautiful Please forgive me.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
* * *
from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens
When I was in ninth grade, my big brother Hans, who was a junior in high school, seemed to me to be the epitome of popularity. He was good in sports and dated a lot. Our house was always filled with his cool friends, guys I dreamed would some day think of me as something other than just "Hans's dumb little kid sister."
Hans asked Rebecca Knight, the most popular girl in the school, to go with him to the junior prom. She accepted. He rented the tux, bought the flowers, and, along with the rest of his popular crowd, hired a limo and made reservations at a fancy restaurant. Then, disaster struck. On the afternoon of the prom, Rebecca came down with a terrible strain of flu. Hans was without a date, and it was too late to ask another girl.
There were a number of ways Hans could have reacted, including getting angry, feeling sorry for himself, blaming Rebecca, even choosing to believe that she really wasn't sick and just didn't want go with him, in which case he would have had to believe that he was a loser. But Hans chose not only to remain positive but to give someone the night of her life.
He asked me! His little sister! To go with him to his junior prom.
Can you imagine my ecstasy? Mom and I flew about the house getting me ready. But when the limo pulled up with all of his friends, I almost chickened out. What would they think? But Hans just grinned, gave me his arm, and proudly escorted me out to the car like I was the queen of the ball. He didn't warn me not to act like a kid; he didn't apologize to the others; he ignored the fact that I was dressed in a simple short-skirted piano-recital dress while all of the other girls were in elegant formals.
I was bedazzled at the dance. Of course, I spilled punch on my dress. I'm sure Hans bribed every one of his friends to dance at least one dance with me, because I never sat out once. Some of them even pretended to fight over who got to dance with me. I had the greatest time. And so did Hans. While the guys were dancing with me he was dancing with their dates! The truth is, everyone was wonderful to me the whole night, and I think part of the reason was because Hans chose to be proud of me. It was the dream night of my life, and I think every girl in the school fell in love with my brother, who was cool enough, kind enough, and self-confident enough to take his little sister to his junior prom.
* * *
* * *
from More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talk
As a ninth grader, Dave was the smallest kid in his high school. But at five feet tall and ninety pounds, he was the perfect candidate for the lightest weight class on the school's wrestling team.
Dave started out as the JV lightweight, but moved up to the varsity position when the boy at that spot moved away.
Unfortunately, Dave's first year was not one for the record books. Of the six varsity matches he wrestled, he was pinned six times.
Dave had a dream of someday being a good enough wrestler to receive his athlete's letter. An athlete's letter is a cloth emblem with the school's initials on it, which is awarded to those athletes who demonstrate exceptional performance in their sports. Those who were fortunate enough to receive a letter proudly wore it on their school letterman jackets.
Whenever Dave shared his dream of "lettering" in wrestling, most of his teammates and friends just laughed. Those who did offer encouragement to Dave usually said something like, "Well, it's not whether you win or lose ..." or "It's not really important whether you letter or not...." Even so, Dave was determined to work hard and keep improving as a wrestler.
Every day after school, Dave was in the weight room trying to build up his strength, or running the stadium bleachers trying to increase his endurance, or in the wrestling room trying to improve his technique.
The one person who continually believed in Dave was his grandmother. Every time she saw him, she reminded him of what could be done through prayer and hard work. She told him to keep focused on his goal. Over and over again, she quoted Bible verses to him, like "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!" (Philippians 4:13).
The day before the next season began, Dave's grandmother passed away. He was heartbroken. If he ever did reach his goal of someday getting a high school letter, his grandmother would never know.
That season Dave's opponents faced a new person. What they expected was an easy victory. What they got instead was a ferocious battle. Dave won nine of his first ten matches that year.
Midway through the season, Dave's coach called him into his office to inform him that he would be receiving his high school letter. Dave was ecstatic. The only thing that could have made him feel better was to be able to share it with his grandmother. If only she knew!
Just then the coach smiled as he presented Dave with an envelope. The envelope had Dave's name written on it in his grandmother's handwriting. He opened it and read:
I knew you could do it! I set aside $100 to buy you a school jacket to put your letter on. I hope you'll wear it proudly, and remember, "You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength!"
After Dave finished reading the letter, his coach reached behind him and pulled out a brand new jacket with the school letter attached and Dave's name embroidered on the front. Dave realized then that his grandmother did know after all.
Not All Valentines
Come in Envelopes
* * *
Robin Jones Gunn
As a teenager, I worked as a waitress at a Coco's restaurant, in Southern California. Although California nights are supposed to be warm, on this particular February night the brisk wind shrieked through the front door. Around nine o'clock things slowed down and that's when I started feeling sorry for myself. You see, all my friends had gone to the movies, but I had to work until closing.
I didn't pay much attention to the man who entered the restaurant. A flurry of leaves followed him in. The sound of the wailing wind fell silent as the door shut itself. I busied myself making more coffee. Suddenly the hostess grabbed by arm. "This is really creepy," she whispered, "but there's a man with a white moustache over there who said he wouldn't eat here unless you were his waitress."
I swallowed hard. "Is he a weirdo?"
"See for yourself," she said.
We carefully peered through the decorative foliage at the mysterious man in the corner. Slowly he lowered his menu, revealing thick, white hair, silver-blue eyes, and a wide grin beneath his white moustache. He lifted his hand and waved.
"That's no weirdo!" I said. "That's my dad!"
"You mean he came to see you at work?" The hostess balked. "That's pretty strange, if you ask me."
I didn't think it was very strange. I thought it was kind of neat. But I didn't let Dad know that. Poor Dad! I acted so nonchalant, ratting off the soup of the day and scribbling down his order before anyone could see him squeeze my elbow and say, "Thanks, honey."
But I want you to know somethingI never forgot that night. His being there said a thousand things to me. As he silently watched me clear tables and refill coffee cups, I could hear his unspoken words bouncing off the walls: "I'm here. I support you. I'm proud of you. You're doing a great job. Keep up the good work. You're my girl. I love you." It was the best valentine I received that year.
* * *
* * *
from At Heart of Every Great Father
The day I drove a white, 1960 Ford pickup truck to high school, I had my eye on a cute little flute player who sat in the front row during band. Jeanie was fourteen and claimed to have "vast experience" driving a stick shift. I figured one way to impress a fourteen-year-old girl would be to let her drive "my" truck around the school parking lot. Jeanie became very excited about the possibility. I became very excited that she had become very excited. What a wonderful way to flood sunshine on a blossoming relationship.
Only two problems existed with this arrangement. First, "my" truck actually belonged to my dad. Second, the only thing "vast" about the girl's experience with stick shifts was the size of her imagination. Her actual logged experience with a stick shift, it turned out, amounted to one quick drive in somebody's VW Bug.
After my hasty explanation of which pedal did what, she followed my instructions and pushed in the clutch, extending her short little left leg as far as it would go. With her toes trembling, she held that pedal down.
With her other foot, she gently pressed on the gas pedal.
The old truck roared to life as she turned the key. As I had explained, she began slowly lifting up on the clutch with her left foot while at the same time slowly depressing the gas pedal with her right foot.
That's when the plan began to unravel.
Her footwork became a bit erratic when the clutch engaged and the truck lurched forward. She tried to cram her foot back down on the clutch pedal but forgot about her right foot, which was jammed down as hard as she could push ... onto the accelerator.
Sitting in the middle of the wide seat, I watched little sections of the nearby shop-class building jerk by in the rearview mirror. I felt like a rodeo cowboy riding his first bucking bronco as the truck jerked forward in wild, untamed motions.
Trying to remain calm, I yelled, "It's okay!" Who was I kidding? With nothing to hold onto, I was lurching back and forth like wet jeans in an unbalanced spin cycle.
"Just push down on the clutch and let off the gas," I hollered above the noise of the engine, which was revving and dying in time to the jerking motions of the truck.
"Which one's the clutch?" she screamed back. I guess my lesson hadn't sunk in.
"The one on the left," I said.
"Is what?" she asked. "Which one is the brake?"
We really didn't have time for this conversation to be taking place since we were quickly running out of parking lot. Just about the time I thought to help her by grabbing the stick shift and yanking it into neutral. I noticed the chain-link fence looming dangerously close to our left and just ahead.
The fence wasn't what bothered me so much. It was the faculty parking lot filled with cars just beyond the fence that really got my heart racing.
Suddenly, before I had a chance to turn the key to "off" or to grab the steering wheel and turn it toward open space, I heard the sickening sound of metal against metal. Nice, straight, shiny-aluminum poles began bending like pipe cleaners as the Ford-pickup-turned-tank mowed down a healthy section of newly installed fence.
Finally, for lack of gas and momentum, the old truck stalled, and silence filled the cab. I noticed my friend's cute little legs trembling as she stood straight up on both pedals, with her knuckles white and locked onto the steering wheel.
"Well," I said, breathing for the first time in several agonizing seconds, "that wasn't so bad, for a first try."
She crawled over my lap onto the passenger side of the truck while I surveyed the damage from the window. I couldn't believe what I was looking at. The bumper of the heavy old truck was resting less than twelve inches away from the bumper of the vice principal's Buick Regal.
My heart finished the bossa nova and returned to regular rhythm again, and I decided to own up to the experience. I backed the truck into an actual parking space, thanked my young friend for a lovely time, and excused myself to the vice principal's office.
Maryvale High School in Phoenix was quite large at the time since Trevor Brown High was still under construction to our west. So, with five thousand kids to handle, our principal, David Goodson only dealt with really major issues like riots and gun control. The vice president, a.k.a. "No Mercy" Miller, was the guy who got to hear all the really good stories ... like the one I told him.
I took full responsibility for my actions and for driving the truck into the fence, feeling a bit unsettled by the wide, silly grin on his face the whole time.
When I finished my tale of woe, Mr. Miller said, "Tell you what you do. Call this number," and he handed me a business card. On it was the name and phone number of a fence company.
"They just installed the fence you ran into ... yesterday."
My knees grew weak. It was at that very moment I realized just how fortunate I had been. If that wonderful fence hadn't been there to stop our forward progresslike a cable stopping jets on an aircraft carrierwe would have nailed Mr. M's Buick but good!
He continued, "Tell the owner what happened, and see if he'll let you pay for the damages out of your own pocket. Since this happened on private property, we won't have to call the police for an accident report."
Sigh. Ah, at that moment I could have almost kissed that man. Almost. The V.P. could have given me what I really deservedor worsebut instead, he gently helped me learn my lesson and take responsibility for my actions. He remained absolutely calm through the entire ordeal.
I called the name on the card, and a very kind man answered, "Oh yeah, heard about that little incident." I didn't know if he was loud because he was shouting over machinery noise or if he always talked like that. "I'm a little surprised to hear from you," he shouted. "One of my installers called me with the details. Says he was able to bend back three of the four posts you knocked down. The fourth one snapped like a toothpick. Why don't you come down here to my office and pay me ... oh, say, ten bucks for the pipe, and we'll be back in business."
All the way down to his office I was repeating, "Thank You, God. Oh, thank You, thank You, thank You!"
With that taken care of, I faced the most difficult part of this trial. I still had to break the news to my dad.
I parked the truck as far up in the driveway as I could, with the left front fender facing away from the house. When Dad arrived home from work, I caught him as he was stepping out of the car, so I could set the right mood.
"Hey, Dad, how was work?" I acted really friendly. Maybe a tad too friendly.
"Just fine, Son. What's up?" He must have been able to tell by the way I was shifting my weight from side to side that I was a little hyped. That and the fact that my voice was up to an E-flat.
"Well, Dad, you'll never guess what happened today at school. The funniest thing." I laughed, mostly out of pure nervous energy but also hoping he would catch it and laugh with me, at least just a little.
Using the most animated and humorous expressions I could muster, I explained in detail, from start to finish, the entire episode to my father; including the fact that the vice principal had worn that silly grin on his face the whole time I was telling him my story. Then I said, "Kinda like that one you've got on your face right now, Dad!" And I laughed some more.
He sighed, chuckled, shook his head from side to side, and then put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Let's take a look at the truck."
I tried to find enough saliva in my mouth to swallow as we walked around to the damaged fender and surveyed the scratches. They weren't that bad, considering what it'd been through that day. Those old trucks were really built. He looked at the damage, sighed one more time, and then said, "You know what happened to me and one of my brothers when I was about your age?"
Suddenly I was able to swallow. I had heard his sermons before, but I figured being preached at was better than some other forms of punishment he might have devised. I acted really interested.
He said, "Your uncle and I found an old truck that belonged to our dad, your grandfather. We decided to surprise him by getting the truck down the hill, into the barn, and back into working order."
(This was getting interesting. Better than most of the sermons I'd heard before.)
"Well, it wasn't until we got the old truck rolling downhill that we made a very important discovery. There were no brakes. In this instance it wasn't a chain-link fence that stopped the truck. It was a 4-inch by 4-inch fence post."
I caught myself gawking just a bit, so I closed my mouth, which had opened as Dad revealed this compelling truth about his boyhood. Not as fearful as I was before his story, I awaited sentencing.
Dad said, "I suppose that if you sand this area, first with a coarse grit and then with a fine one, we could probably match that color pretty well with a store-bought spray and just touch it up a little. This is an old truck, after all."
It had been a hat-trick day for gentleness. Three times in one day I had not been yelled at. Not once.
First the vice principal, then the man at the fence place, and now my dad. I almost couldn't believe this was happening. I followed Dad's advice, and in no time at all we had the old truck back in nearly good-as-used shape. The whole day had been a terrific learning experience for me: telling the truth to the vice principal, paying for the fence, helping with the bodywork on the truck, and all the while absorbing an even more valuable lesson in the process.
I learned that day about gentleness and about teaching lessons to sons who make mistakes. Dad's message sank in deep because he combined strength with gentleness. The gentleness softened the shell around my heart and allowed the arrow of truth to pierce right into its target.
* * *
The best way to keep kids at home is to make the home a pleasant atmosphere ... and to let the air out of their tires.