The Impact of Kindness: An Interview with Heidi Hess Saxton
- Cheryl Johnston Crosswalk.com Spiritual Life Editor
- 2001 10 Oct
Heidi Hess Saxton: This book was a really exciting opportunity. Basically, this book is a series of short stories. I'd like to share two short stories about how small acts of kindness can make a difference in somebody else's life and how it can also bless your own life if you make that effort. The first story is about when I was a child. I was probably about the age of 8 or 10. My sister was struggling with cancer, bone cancer, I was her older sister (I'm still her older sister). And the experience completely knocked my family financially, emotionally, they were just devastated by this experience. And that time was probably one of the loneliest times in my life, simply because all of the focus was on Chris and I felt like I couldn't add to my parents' burden by telling them what I was struggling with. And so, at that time, I didn't know who to talk to. And one of the first stories is about this old woman who ran a corner five-and-dime and she had a lunch counter there. And I found myself wandering into her soda fountain area one day, and I had 35 cents left from my lunch that day and I plunked it on the counter and ordered a Coke, and for the next hour she kept filling my Coke glass and listening to me talk and then she'd ask me a few questions. And it was just like this dam broke, all this came out of me. And to this day I remember how kind she was to me. And how she listened to me and really seemed to care about what I was going through. Thirty years later, I still remember.
Cheryl Johnston: It's really what you needed.
Heidi Hess Saxton: I guess it was, it was a big deal for a glass of Coke. Jesus talks about if any man offers even a cup of cold water in My name then I have received the reward. It was just such a grace to me at that time when I desperately needed it in my life.
A little later in the book I talk about how, financially, our family was really devastated by this experience. We had an exchange student that year, and I don't know why my parents had agreed to take an exchange student at that point, but I guess they felt like they needed to do something, because everybody had been giving to us for so long. And so we had an exchange student that year, and we had invited her parents to come and stay with us at Easter time. And about a couple months before that, Chrissy wound up back in the hospital and our financial situation just got really dire and we didn't know how we were even going to feed the family let alone these guests.
So we prayed and asked God to help us. And my father said, "Don't say anything to the people at church," because they had been so kind to us. We just asked God to take care of us. And we went to church that same day, came back two hours later, and my father noticed that the front porch door was propped open, the front door. And we went in there and there were 10 large boxes of groceries, with a big chocolate cake sitting on the top, and I remember going in there and seeing this food. And the food was great, don't get me wrong but, at 10 years old, my eyes went immediately to that chocolate cake. And that chocolate cake represented to me the kindness of God, the compassion of God, how He goes over and beyond what we really need to give us the things that really delight our heart. To this day, we don't know who gave us that food, but it came at such a critical time in my family's life. In my spiritual development it was sort of a very profound visual aid at how we can trust God to meet our very basic needs and how He goes over and above.
And so those experiences set the foundation for me about the principles of being kind and being generous to other people and how much it can touch your life. I was a missionary in Africa for a year and I was in Eastern Europe for a while and I went to Mexico. At each of these places, I experienced the same kind of people who just, through simple acts of kindness, made a difference in my life. My co-author, Kim Boyce, was also talking about her growing-up years and some of her formative experiences. And she interviewed some of her celebrity friends like Bill and Gloria and Mark Lowry and members of 4HIM and Point of Grace, people like that. And, again, she was mostly talking to them about the organizations they represent, like The American Bible Society, Compassion International, and in each case they talk about how, through the act of giving, they receive so much more back than what they gave in the first place. In Proverbs it talks about through kindness and compassion we receive long life and honor. And it's a principle in Scripture, you reap what you sow, and God, in His grace, gives back even much more than you reap in the first place. And this book is mostly a celebration of that fact, that, as we imitate God as His children, He is faithful to make us abundant-hearted as a result of it.
Cheryl Johnston: How did you grow through writing this book?
Heidi Hess Saxton: I think one of the things that impressed me while I was writing was the difference between kindness, simple kindness and compassion. Kindness, because we are all made in the image of God, God has inherently built into us the ability to be kind. You don't have to be a Christian to be kind. There are some simply kind people who don't know Jesus. Compassion takes it another step. It is the actual life-giving force, and that as Christians we get plugged into God and the Holy Spirit. It's that ability to be able to actually give life where there wasn't life before. And, as Christians, we get caught up with the idea that acts of kindness are only good if they result in someone praying the sinner's prayer or somebody agreeing to come to church with us, or you know, some kind of spiritual agenda. But that's not really what Jesus was all about. That's really not the idea in God's compassion. There's a parable, I can't remember where exactly it's found in the Scripture, but it's about the seed, planting the seed and the seed falling on different ground. And I've come to believe that kindness and acts of kindness are sort of cultivating the soil and getting things ready for truth. I had next-door neighbors who happened to be Catholic, and I also had another good friend who was, again, Catholic and when I was in Africa she supported me every month. And this was at a time in my life that I did not believe Catholics were Christians, and I actually struggled with the idea should I be accepting money from this person if I don't believe I'll see her in heaven? Now I'm embarrassed to say I believed such things.
In the book there's another story called "Mrs. A. and the Razor." It was when I was in the hospital after my car accident, and I was laid up in the intensive care unit for about a month. And when I got out, I felt awful all over. I stunk. They hadn't washed my hair and sponge baths don't go very far. And Mrs. A., who had been my childhood friend's mother, wasn't like the other mothers I knew. She didn't go to my church, and whenever I went to her house she always had a cigarette in one hand and maybe a drink in the other, and I just assumed she wasn't a Christian. And I used to go in and just lecture her every time I saw her about how she needed to come to my church to know Jesus. And after my car accident, I was finally moved into another unit where I could have visitors, and one day Mrs. A. just walks into my hospital room armed with a basin and a few plastic bags. She just sort of got to work, propped up my legs, shaved me from my knee down to my ankle, painted my toenails, and fixed a way to wash my hair and those kind of things, and I just sat there and for the first time truly felt clean in about a month.
And I looked at her and said, "Mrs. A., why did you come and do this? What made you think to do this?" And she said, "I understand what it's like not to be able to touch your toes." She had had a bad back, and that's why she was laying on the couch all those times. She said, "And I thought you might appreciate having something like this done." And I just felt so guilty after that because I realized how awful I had been to her. I mean, it was innocent, you know. I really thought I was right, of course. But this woman was really modeling the love of God in a way that made a deep impression on me. And those kinds of acts of kindness make a long-term impression and they prepare the soil and get you ready to accept the truth in a way and a venue you might not otherwise. If somebody had come up to me and said, you need to do this, this and this to be saved, I probably would've shut them right up because I assumed I knew what it takes to get to know God. I think a lot of people in our day and age feel the same way. You know, I'm a good person, why do I need to know God personally? And those kinds of acts of compassion speak of a greater love and a greater truth that they may never have encountered before.