Paying Thanksgiving Forward

Sometimes you come across a neat story that ought to be shared.  I know it’s after Thanksgiving, but this little account has value that might sustain it in spite of a late arrival.  It’s a first-hand account shared with me of a relatively simple transaction that had some interesting repercussions.

Toll Booth--Image by Lindsay Kinkaid

Toll Booth–Image by Lindsay Kinkaid

This guy and his wife were off on a holiday trip to visit family for Thanksgiving and were experiencing their familiar love/hate relationship with travel and traffic—loving the idea of going to see kids and grandkids and hating the fact that multitudes of others not only co-opted their holiday travel plan, but kept getting in the way and cluttering up the road they were trying to use. In the course of their journey, they eventually encountered another road-trip irritation—a toll road.  Toll roads, our traveler opined, are prime illustrations of ‘helpful’ government extortion. They offer blessings like additional stress, more expense, and delayed arrival times. In spite of that, our guy was managing pretty well—so well, according to him, that his grandma would have been proud. But as they inched their way toward the toll booth, his reservoir of holiday-inspired tranquility was beginning to bump into the red zone. He might have been okay had the lady in the car in front of him not decided to engage in some unnecessary extra conversation with the toll collector. It probably only chewed up a few extra seconds, but it felt much longer than that to him, and it was just enough to compel him to think up some unsolicited encouragement for her, like this:

  • “Come on, Lady—it’s a toll booth, not a practice session for your next speed-dating pickup line.”
  • “This ain’t rocket science, Ma’am… You just let go of the money, and then press on the gas pedal with your right foot. Developmentally challenged chimpanzees can do that.”
  • “Please, lady, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Is it really too much to ask on Thanksgiving Eve that you just follow the standard procedure so the rest of us can get on with it?”

Totally Blindsided ~
She pulled away just as he was beginning a serious reflection on the disappointment of being born into a culture that hasn’t yet figured out how to make cheap little flying cars like the Jetsons had.  As he rolled up toward the booth, the toll collector was waving at them in a way he didn’t understand.  More irritation.  “Swell,” he thought.  “It’s not enough that we’re forced to pay a fee to secure a release from toll booth purgatory, now we’re expected to interpret sign language.”  When they got close enough to ask what was going on, the collector said, “You guys can just keep going; that lady in front of you paid your toll—Happy Thanksgiving.”

Blindsided with kindness—no way to see it coming, and no defense against the impact it had on his whole outlook.  It was like emotional and attitudinal whiplash.  Suddenly, his whining and complaining felt petty and very out of place.  He felt undeservedly blessed, and instead of regurgitating more complaints, his mind was drawn toward all the things he had been blessed with that he didn’t actually ask for.  It led him to begin to reflect on how much better the same world felt when the lens colored with little annoyances and minor frustrations is exchanged for one tinted with gratitude, optimism, and hope.  He began to be deeply impressed by the difference a relatively small and comparatively inexpensive investment could make.

Current Act–Ancient Principle ~
An obscure incident initiated by a nameless woman provides an excellent illustration of a principle that Jesus taught.

“Therefore,” He said to His followers, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NKJV).

Later, the Apostle Paul further admonished believers to practice the kind of thinking that undergirds the behavior that Jesus had in mind.

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4 NKJV).

A Mood-altering Moment with Ongoing Implications ~
The woman who paid the toll had no prior contact or personal knowledge of the recipients.  She would almost certainly never meet them face-to-face, and had no expectation of a reciprocal benefit for her kindness, yet she did it anyway.  The process is fascinating.  This simple little unexpected act had an almost instantaneous impact on the mood and outlook of those who received it.  She had ‘paid Thanksgiving forward,’ a very Jesus thing to do, and a very good example of our tag line, ‘Right Side Up Thinking ~ In an Upside Down World’.

It’s remarkable how often this time of year we hear people express ‘being thankful’ in a general, nondescript way, directing their gratitude to no one in particular.  That’s better, I suppose, than not expressing gratitude at all, but God’s preferred pattern is much more detailed, and much more fulfilling and productive.  God’s desire is that we do unprovoked acts of kindness that give people an opportunity to experience unanticipated gratitude, to feel some unexpected hope, and to have a little exposure to the kind of selfless love that can change the world.

Positive perceptions lead to optimistic outlooks that then lead to actions indicative of hope. It’s remarkable what a little unexpected good news can do to change the direction of our thinking and, ultimately, our behavior. Imagine the impact if all of us sacrificed a little time, effort, or money to stimulate some thanksgiving and to help dismantle a negative, complaining attitude. What if all of us took a page from this unknown woman’s book and thought beyond turkey dinners and shopping. What if, instead of looking over our shoulders for reasons to be grateful, we started ‘paying Thanksgiving forward’?

The Rest of the Story ~
By the way, just in case you were wondering, on the return trip, the guy paid the toll for somebody in line behind him at the toll plaza.  He said it was a kind of fun to do.  Amazing how that works, isn’t it?

© 2016 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S.  All rights reserved.

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About Ron Gallagher, Ed.S

Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher, Humorist, Satirist, Blogger ... "Right Side Up Thinking ~ In an Upside Down World" For Ron's full bio, go to
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5 Responses to Paying Thanksgiving Forward

  1. JO ANN WILLIAMS says:

    Thanks for the nice story Ron. Just got around to reading it. It really makes us stop & think before we speak. We all need to be more thoughtful & more concerns for the person in front, behind & all around us. We never know what the other person is going through. Love your blog as God has given you a great talent. God bless you & Dianne in your travels for the Christmas season.


  2. Gratitude, optimism, and hope. It can definitely change our thinking and our reactions to unexpected “interruptions.” Thank you for encouraging us to pay Thanksgiving forward.


    • Thanks, Katy– Seeing how God is using your ministry is one of those reasons for ‘gratitude, optimism, and hope’. I hope your road toward ‘Christmas 2016’ is smooth and full of joy.


      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you so much, Ron! May God bless your ministry and family now and in the new year.


      • Thank you so much–first of all for reading our post, and then for your comment and the encouragement that come along with it. It’s always energizing to know that none of us are in this alone. Comments like yours help keep that energizing realization alive. Finally, thank you for any prayers you might offer for our work.


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