By Jennifer Richardson
I was blessed to be brought up in a home that was filled with kindness. In fact kindness was central to our existence. My parents lived their ideals during my childhood and they still do today.
My parents’ care for others was the driving force that allowed us to be a family of service. We helped with funeral dinners, and made food for families in need. There were frequent nursing home visits to cheer up people I never really knew. I can remember moments like an elderly woman touching my cheek and crying about a granddaughter who never visited her. I was eight years young, but I was old enough to know her life was touched in that moment.
My mother is legendary for her hospitality and kindness. She sews, bakes, makes cakes, wallpapers, decorates, cuts hair, arranges flowers, writes a great bible study, runs a business, and much more. I can say with confidence, I will never be able to fill her shoes.
Our lives were not just industrious and service-minded, they were also unique. My parents had the courage to be different—and when they said, “we don’t care what goes on at Johnny’s house, we are not raising Johnny” they meant it.
In some ways my parents’ choices made my life very unlike my peers. For instance, dating just for the sake of dating was viewed with heavy skepticism. My folks felt we should use our time for things that have eternal significance—and since they could not think of any permanent use for a casual boyfriend, that option was just not encouraged.
I can clearly remember a persistent boy who, despite the fact that he knew my father was a serious roadblock, called the house wanting to talk to me. Kids today may not understand that these were the days in which you needed to go to a phone attached to a wall, in plain view of the household, and any other phone in the home could be picked up to hear the call. My father promptly got on the other extension, joined our conversation, and asked the young man what was the purpose of his call?
The young man stammered something about wanting to talk with me, and my dad graciously assured the young man that (while his daughters would not be available for talks on the phone) my father was certainly available should he ever want to talk in the future. Apparently the prospect of a chat with my dad wasn’t as appealing as it could have been; the young man never called back.
There were many upsides—for instance, my sisters and I had many opportunities for employment. When it came to babysitting jobs—everyone knew they could call the Smith house any weekend and get a quality babysitter—who was sure to be available because they had no weekend plans.
Also, I learned that any man who isn’t capable of talking with my father is probably not worth marrying. In fact, the best outcome of having your first date when you are 19, and getting engaged when you are 22, is that you can end up married to the only man you have ever loved. I know because I did.
No doubt the values my parents lived in front of me factored into my choice for a life partner. Their daily life choices and their care for others set the standard for the kind of person I should choose to share my life with.
I have seen my husband Robert do so many amazing things. He has spent decades as an educator, so his life has been wrapped around our local schools. Quietly giving lunch money to students in need, moving a thousand heavy objects for 100 different people who needed help, going into school on snow days and shoveling the sidewalks in the dark, calling parents just to tell them he witnessed their child doing something good at school; these actions are his normal.
I remember a year when he quietly made sure a family in desperate need had what they needed for their child. He spent his Christmas morning at a homeless shelter shoveling snow the next year—-and a thousand things he thinks are ordinary but show his extraordinary character and kindness.
Ultimately my parents’ care for those around them and their life example of reaching out to others taught me how to live and who to look for. Their kindness had hands and feet, and spoke to me about the kind of person I should share my life with. Their example helped me make a wise choice for a life mate, which has made my life.
How we live changes lives around us, and reaches beyond our own generation. I’m thankful my parents set the example they did, and I earnestly hope my children will say the same someday.