Giving Encouragement For the Holidays

When I was a boy, my father rigged up a large water barrel to use as a solar-heated hot water source.
smileHe wasn’t environmentally friendly. We just lived a simple life in the backwoods of West Tennessee.

Until we had an actual hot water heater, Dad’s makeshift one perched on a small rise of red dirt just outside our basement home. He had welded a water handle to the base of it where he connected a garden hose. Once it was filled with water, he would place the metal lid on top and let the sun do its work of warming it.

At the end of a bright day, Dad would turn the handle and use the warm water for a quick outside shower. During colder months, we just heated water the old-fashioned way–on the stovetop. We would fill a metal, galvanized tub with it and take turns bathing.

Friday nights were special because we’d drive to my grandparent’s home to watch TV and take turns bathing in their nice, modern bathtubs.

I rarely meet someone my age (in their mid-40’s) that grew up like I did. In fact, I didn’t realize how many conveniences we lived without until I was much older. I just knew I was well fed and well loved. Gathering eggs, drinking fresh cow’s milk, or riding my bike a mile up the gravel road to use a telephone just seemed ordinary ways of life.

One day during junior high, my math teacher was teaching when somehow the conversation led to electricity. I explained that when we first moved into our place, we lived with lanterns for lights during the first three months. “Well, William,” he said, “I’m sure it didn’t faze you; you probably just felt like you were camping out.”

He gave me a wink and a smile, and I remember feeling really proud of my upbringing at that moment. Somehow, my teacher had expressed value and respect for my family’s hard work and simple living. I also remember times when small gifts like warm socks or a pair of gloves were big encouragements for a growing boy.

As we prepare for Christmas break, it’s sometimes easy to overlook simple blessings—like warm water, good meals, and modern plumbing. But it’s also easy to forget to look for the visible and invisible needs others around us may have. Teachers are often on the front lines in meeting the needs of students so here are a couple of examples that encouraged me this past week:

The Gift of Giving

Last week one of our teachers was walking to her car after school. It was a breezy, cold afternoon. She noticed two students waiting for their ride. “Why aren’t you wearing coats?” she asked.

“I don’t have one,” said the first student. “Neither do I,” said the other.

So that night, the teacher contacted one of our local outreach services, and they provided two brand new warm coats for her to bring to school.

The next morning she discovered that both students were in the office withdrawing because they had found out they were moving.

She grabbed the coats and rushed to the office before they left. It was a tearful and happy moment when she gave them their gifts. They left not only with warm bodies but also with warmer hearts.

The Gift of Song

Our choir teacher told me about a student who was practicing for our Christmas concert. The teacher was surprised at how boldly and beautifully the student was singing—especially in light of how quiet and shy she had been the year before.

Later she asked her, “What’s happened? I’ve noticed you’ve been singing-out and you have such a beautiful voice!”

The girl explained that the past year had been a difficult one. Her father had passed away, and she had lost her desire to sing. “But as I began to practice for the concert,” she explained, “I thought that one way to honor his memory would be by singing again.” Now she sings with a voiced restored by hope and inspired by love.


You may have students who could benefit from simple expressions of kindness–like kind words, warm coats, or the encouragement to sing a new song. Either way, looking for ways to help others makes your own life richer in the process.

Now It’s Your Turn

As you wrap up another semester, it’s easy to be consumed with long lists of to-do’s. So keep your eyes open for the needs around you, and then remember that in the long run, time invested in helping others produces bigger dividends than you may ever know.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker