The Gift That Changes Everything

by Kim on May 6, 2012 · 125 comments

the yellow envelope2

Those of you that have been following this blog for awhile have read these words before:

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote resonates so deeply with me because this journey that we are on, this road to living our dreams, is an act of faith.  We have faith that if we do this thing that speaks to our soul, even if we aren’t quite sure how to do it or what it means to do it, that the next step will appear.  

And so far the next step has always appeared. Maybe not in the way we expect it to appear, or at the time we want it to appear, or even in the place we hope it will appear, but it has always appeared nonetheless.

Last Sunday Brian and were out to dinner with friends and once again the next step appeared.  We were not expecting it, we weren’t even looking for it, but along it came anyway.  And for the past week Brian and I have been a little dumbfounded, trying to digest it’s meaning and the possibilities of it.  Like all next steps, in the very instant that it arrived the world shifted a little and we could see, quite clearly, that this is exactly what needed to happen. And now we do not look at our travels in quite the same way that we did before. This new way is even better.

The story behind the story

Before I tell you what the next step is I want to give you some background information.  So hold tight because this is going to be a long post.  But I think it is worth sticking through to the end.  

I’ve talked a bit about how Brian and I moved to Oregon with whatever we could fit in our car.  But the story behind that story is that we moved to Oregon because I’d been hired by a woman named Michele to run the recycling program at a local university.  Michele hired me over the phone, sight unseen, and took a big chance on me, a young girl from Ohio whom she had never met before. 

So Brian and I prepared to come to Oregon.  Over email I told my new boss my plans, outlining the date we’d leave Ohio, the date we expected to arrive in Oregon, and the day I anticipated I’d be ready to start my new job. Oh, I added, and we’re going to camp until we can find an apartment.

Michele must have thought I was insane. There’s no place to camp in Portland (except under the bridges).  Yet, instead of telling me that I was completely out of my mind (I was) she simply extended an offer: Why don’t you stay with us until you get a place to live?

The offer was incredibly kind but of course I couldn’t accept it. I’d be arriving in Portland with my boyfriend and my two dogs and my best friend Jenny who was tagging along for the road trip.  Were I coming alone, I might have said yes, but I’d be showing up in Portland with a posse.  I explained the situation to Michele. Stay anyway, she said. And because Brian and I were ridiculously naive and because we clearly had no idea how much we were putting them out, I said okay.

So just in case you didn’t catch that: Brian and I drove 2,500 miles across the country and moved in with my boss.  My boss and her husband and her three dogs and two cats.  Brian and I and our two dogs and my best friend.  Oh, and did I mention that Michele and her husband, Glenn, had just moved into their home?  They hadn’t even had time to unpack and we showed up at their doorstep. But their kindness never wavered. They just opened up their door and invited us in.

In the days that followed, Michele and Glenn showed us around Portland and took us to the movies and to dinner and refused to let us pay for a thing.  When, a week or two later, we found an apartment, they gave us their old furniture and dishware and sent us on our way. Brian and I were flying by the seat of our pants. Michele and Glenn were pure goodness and kindness.

Over the years Brian and I have reminisced back on the sequence of events that brought us here and we are always awed that we had the good fortune to show up at the door of the two kindest humans in America.  And over time we really began to see that Michele and Glenn changed everything for us.  They were the reason we were in Oregon, and moving to Oregon transformed our lives in so many amazing ways.

In the early days, when we were fighting loneliness and homesickness, Michele and Glenn’s kindness got us through. Because they had welcomed us with such grace, we never felt completely alone in our new city.  Brian and I began to think of them as our Portland angels.

The gift that changes everything

Fast forward to last Monday, three weeks before we leave on our trip around the world.

Because Michele and Glenn have played such a big role in our lives, it was important to us to have a final meal with them before we leave Portland.  Our plan was to buy them dinner and thank them one more time, face to face, for all that they had done for us over the years. 

But you know what John Steinbeck said about the best laid plans.

As we were finishing dinner and I was mentally preparing everything that I wanted to say to them, Michele and Glenn told us that they had a gift for us.

Michele handed us a beautiful yellow envelope tied with a silky yellow bow.  She explained that for the gift to be properly understood she had written an accompanying letter and that she wanted to read the letter to us.  

I’m not one to cry in public, but as Michele read the letter my jaw hit the floor and my eyes filled with tears. I was moved beyond words.  Completely speechless.

Instead of trying to explain what the letter said I am including it below.  I asked Michele if that was okay, and she said we were free to share it in any way that we wanted.  

Kim and Brian,

We can’t believe that the date of your departure is almost here! We are so inspired by what you are doing, and proud of you for having the courage to do it.

As is often the case when someone is about to experience a major life event: Moving into a new home, getting married, having a child, celebrating a big anniversary– umm, quitting their jobs and traveling the world!– we (society) feel the need to commemorate the occasion with a gift.

So, as we were pondering over this grand adventure you are about to embark upon, we kept bumping into this compulsion to get you a gift of some sort.  In part, this is probably because we sincerely want to acknowledge the enormity of what you are about to do.

But we also think it is because we have the distinct and unique honor of being the first people to welcome you to Portland.  It seems like only yesterday you both rolled up to our house after having driven half-way across the country, with everything you owned in your car, including your two crazy pups (and your friend!). You were both so excited to be off on this new adventure called “Portland” and had such determination and complete faith that it was all going to work out.

It’s been fun to watch your life in Portland take shape- getting and changing jobs, making friends, buying a house, getting married- and starting to bike commute! (Kim’s note: Michele and Glenn rode to work with me when I began bike commuting.  I was too intimidated to do it alone).  We have been so thrilled to be a small part of it. While we are sad to see you go (setting out with even less stuff than when you showed up!) we are so excited for you- and look forward to living vicariously through you by reading your blog regularly.  

Which brings us back to this gift-giving dilemma. We though about this long and hard… after all, what can you get people that are about to strap all of their belongings on their backs? And then, the answer struck us like a bolt of lightening.

While you are out experiencing a myriad of countries and all of their wonders and adventures- we want you at the same time to make the world a better place!

Enclosed you will find the money to create what we are affectionately calling the “Kim and Brian Do Good Fund.”

During your travels, we want you to give all of this money away in whatever way you want. You can give it here in the U.S., or in some foreign land. You can be serious in your giving, or be totally crazy, funny or hare-brained. You can give it away visibly or anonymously. You can plan how you are going to do it, or just give it spontaneously in the moment. You can give it to people, to children, to animals or the environment. You can give it all away at once or you can spread it out and give a little bit here, a little bit there. You can give it away in any combination above.  We don’t care!

We do, however, have three simple rules:

Rule #1: Don’t over think it!

Don’t stress about doing the “best thing” with the money. Don’t dwell on all of the world’s ills and feel pressure to try to fix them. We want you, instead, to listen to your soul. Give the money away in any way that makes you come alive.

It can be as simple as handing out some candy to the local village children or buying admission for the family behind you in line at the museum. Give it to some group you discover doing environmental work that moves you. Give it to a local women’s co-op. Pay the dinner bill of the family sitting next to you. Buy someone a new pair of shoes or a bike. Give the funny waiter or helpful cab driver a $50 tip. Whatever you want!

Rule # 2: Share your experiences! (… if you want to)

We encourage you to share your experiences with friends and family, or even more publicly on your travel blog. But only share what you want- keep the rest in your heart. You are not accountable to us, or anybody else, for how you choose to give the money away.

Rule # 3: Don’t feel pressured to give it all away!

We want you to tuck this money away in your back pocket (somewhat figuratively of course!) and give it away as the mood strikes. We imagine it might be hard at first… but once you get used to doing it we hope it becomes fun and adds richness to your travels. While we encourage you to find ways to give it all away, at the end of the day we don’t want you to feel pressured or stressed about doing so. You can come back with all, some, or none of the money.

You are both two of the most inspiring, fun-loving and compassionate people we know. It seems you have always wanted to make a difference with your lives- and when you found you weren’t quite living up to that dream, you’ve had the courage to hit the “re-set” button in a grand way. We can think of no one else we would rather live vicariously through. In many ways this will make it feel like we are traveling right along with you! And for us, this promises to be much more rewarding than writing that annual check to our favorite non-profits (don’t worry, we’ll keep doing that too!).

At the end of the day, the money itself is just paper. What gives the whole experience meaning are the thoughts, emotions and feelings that come along with giving it away in ways that make you smile and make your hearts sing. While doing this bit of creative philanthropy isn’t going to cure cancer or save the rainforest, we hope it can bring a bit of happiness and joy to folks you meet along your adventure- and that it will give you even more fond memories to look back on.

Good luck, have fun and be safe!

Two of your biggest fans,

Michele and Glenn

By the time Michele finished reading the letter I was a blubbering mess.  I was dumbstruck and speechless and awed.  I felt blessed in the most unbelievable way.  Blessed to have this amazing opportunity, blessed to be a conduit for Michele and Glenn’s goodness, and blessed that these amazing people were entrusting us to do good things with their money.

Suddenly, right there before us, was the next step.

Since that moment when Michele and Glenn handed us that envelope, everything shifted a little, in the same way that it shifted when I said this dream out loud, or when I started this blog, or when we made the definitive decision to sell our house. Once you’ve seen the next step, it’s impossible to pretend that you do not know it’s there.  

This gift that they’ve given us, it is the best kind of responsibility. We owe it to Glenn and Michele to look at every person or situation or experience and ask ourselves: Is this an opportunity to brighten someone’s day? To fix a problem? To add a bit of goodness here?  We owe it to them to do good by their gift and doing good by their gift will add so much joy to our lives.  

I do not know when or how Brian and I will give the money away.  We both believe that we will know when the time(s) is right.  And when that time comes, as long as it is okay with the recipient, I will share the stories.

11/16 UPDATE #1: My first memoir titled The Yellow Envelope about the amazing gift we were given and how we gave the money away around the world will be published in April 2017 by Sourcebooks and is available for pre-order today by using the button below. You can learn more about the book here

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11/16 UPDATE #2: If you would like to request a yellow envelope of your own please visit The Yellow Envelope Project Facebook page and help me spread small acts of kindness around the world!

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