By Anne Maxwell
A few years back, one of my high school friends reached out with a question.
How do I know Donna Parks?
My friend’s parents had moved from our hometown shortly after she graduated and left for college, and this was about 20 years on. I explained that Donna’s kids were a few years behind us in high school and how I would see her at church when I went back home to visit my own parents.
Of course, her question was met with my own question.
Why do you ask?
She’s so positive with anything I post about my kids or my family. It was surprising to me at first because I didn’t even really know her that well when I was in high school. It’s just refreshing to have someone be that nice.
I had to agree.
There’s nothing better than kindness offered in its purest form: to lift up someone else. This was long before a pandemic turned our world upside down and many more jumped aboard the kindness train.
In light of the uncertainty that surrounds our daily lives in these long days and longer hours, I can think of no better time to discuss the importance of responding with kindness. Honestly, I’m blessed to have several examples of those types of people in my life. But Donna is one of the first who comes to mind.
I feel another question coming on, and it’s only natural to ask.
To me, it’s simple. Donna doesn’t share joy because her life is wonderful. Yes, she is blessed with a loving family, beautiful grandkids, and a lot of fabulous friends. Plus, Donna is FUN (my mom is a fellow member of their Tequila Thursday group). But, Donna also suffers from Multiple Sclerosis - and has now for nearly 25 years. I remember a vibrant, young mom, toting her kids to activities and games, always there to cheer them on.
Now, when I get back home to see her, she’s sometimes in a wheelchair or using a walker. Much has changed in the way she gets around in the past quarter of a century. I can only imagine the dark days she’s faced. But, the light from her spirit has only grown brighter.
Donna’s the kind of person who smiles when she sees you. She greets you with, Hey … great to see you back home again! It’s never a lukewarm exchange or something that’s said for politeness.
She means it.
You can feel the warmth in her voice and see the sparkle in her beautiful blue eyes.
If you share an update about your kids or your life on social media, she not only likes it, she follows it up with a heartfelt message. A kind word. Or an encouraging phrase. She always makes the subject about you, even though she could understandably focus solely on herself and her condition. But she only talks about her disease when she seeks prayers. And better yet, she prays for you and your needs as well.
The town I call home reflects the characteristics of many small communities in the Midwest. We not only know one another, we know each other’s parents, grandparents, the cars we drive, who likes Diet Pepsi, who drinks Diet Coke. Who has the most beautiful flowers in their yard. Whose Christmas lights are the first to go up and whose are the last to come down.
Perhaps, at times.
But we know one another.
Support one another.
Cheer one another on.
And that’s Donna.
When you ask Donna about all this positivity, she answers honestly, sharing that MS not only changed her life, it changed her outlook. Turns out, she wasn’t always positive. It took time and prayer to accept the disease. And once she did, she finally realized God chose her to have MS because, “He knew I was strong enough to handle it - and so I could help others.”
All that helping leads to somewhere. In fact, it sometimes ends up right in your own front yard, as it did for Donna earlier this month. With all that’s going on, it wasn’t possible for Donna to gather her team to participate together in the annual Walk for MS event. So, Donna shared information about virtually hosting the fundraiser this year. Countless friends joined the effort online.
But they didn’t stop there.
Many of her friends laced up their sneakers and hit the pavement for Donna. They walked over to her house, stopped by her porch.
Shared a smile.
Cheered her on.
It was such a beautiful feeling to scroll through all the pictures posted to her Facebook feed that day. To see the faces of so many people from my hometown mirror the kindness given by Donna.
It was an extraordinary show of support, yet, so familiar.
Because it’s exactly the kind of thing Donna would do.
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