Paying It Forward

100 Dollars:
What it Costs to Give Back

My life is nothing to preach about. I would say I've had a very normal life, whatever normal means. I grew up in a relatively religious household. My grandma was my influence to go to church every Sunday. As a family we attended a Mormon Church.

The greatest part about being a child was the idea of God. You never questioned who he was and what he was capable of. He was it!

When my grandma left we started going to a Methodist Church and I was enrolled in a Catholic School. I was getting religion from all angles. I still had my faith and attended church every Sunday. While I was at the Catholic school I never participated in the "church" part. I never took the ashes or did confessional like all the other kids. I simply sat quietly and watched, with my sister.

After I started attending a public school, life became busy and church every Sunday turned to "We'll go next week". Then my father got a religious bug and we took a trip, which I'll never forget.

After high school I became very interested in philosophy and all the major questions about life. Why are we here? What's our purpose? Who is God? Is God real? After two philosophy classes, a half dozen books about life and an attempt to read the bible I came to one question; which religion is correct about God and life?

Then I started thinking about what I believed. It was a big deal for me at the time because my parents were going through a divorce, my sister just got married and I was ending the first relationship that involved actual love. It was a confusing time and a time I wish I could change. I sinned and sinned a lot!

They say that college is supposed to be the best time of your life. No... Not for me. It was the most confusing time of my life! The best move I ever made was getting a job in northern Wisconsin at an all boys' camp over the summer. The timing was perfect! Everything had just turned for me and I needed to get out! So I left! Then, while at school, I was given a 100-dollar bill.

Before I get into that story I want to fill you in about my life and who I am and maybe you can figure out why I was so lucky to receive such a special gift.

My "normal" life started on December 9th, 1983 in a relatively large town in Illinois. Born to my mother and father, I was as healthy and innocent as the child next to me. My father was a carpenter and my mom a hair stylist. She worked in the basement of my grandma's house for a while but eventually opened her own salon in our basement. I have one sister, Lianne, who is two years older than I am.

As I said before, my grandma was the one who took the family to church. We went every week and sometimes-on Saturday. I can only remember bits and pieces of those days but I know it was a time when I never questioned God and who He was.

A lady from my grandma's church looked into my eyes one day and saw something. She said that the Lord has blessed this child to be a leader! There was no ceremony or baptism. But I like to think that this lady knew what she was talking about!

I was just a kid so I did all the great things kids do. I caused trouble and got punished. I did good things and got rewarded. Life was great and I never had a worry! Thinking back I can truly say I was blessed with great parents, grandparents and friends!

At this point in my life you would expect me to remember more than I do but it just doesn't come to me. I think it's because of my epilepsy. We didn't notice it until I was 13 but the doctor said that when I would "day dream" I was truly having a petit mal seizure. I can remember times when people would try to get my attention and it would finally come down to them touching me saying "Hey, wake up! " or when my parents thought that I was just ignoring them... "PAY ATTENTION WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU!"

My memories are scarce but what I do remember most is attending the Methodist Church after my grandma moved to Georgia. That's where I made most of my childhood friends and where I was confirmed. I sang in the church choir, rang the bells, put out candles and attended functions put on by the church. The Kleckner family was a church goin' family!

Then we moved to Oswego. Nothing against the town, it's a great place to live and I would not mind moving back. But it changed us. Church wasn't a weekly thing and my life was starting to change.

This is when I went on a trip with my father to Washington, D.C. for the Million Man March. I think my father realized that we had taken a "break" from church so he was trying to establish one final push towards God and living on His path. It was an amazing trip and one I will never forget!

First off, it was my dad and I with about 40 other men on a bus traveling from Aurora, Illinois to Washington, D.C. I remember smells and frequent stops for food and bathroom breaks. At the time I really didn't understand what the Million Man March was all about until I was about 18. A movement that helped inspire different communities to overcome differences, reconcile with their issues and move forward together as one and under one God.

I don't remember the speakers or their speeches for that matter but I do remember the feeling I had when everyone started cheering. It was overwhelming. It was the power of so many different men trying to make a difference in their lives and the lives of their children. I also remember a group of women protesting the inequality of men and women... they were topless.

After that I think my father let me decide whether or not I wanted Jesus in my life. He still tried pushing me in the right direction but I never caught the hint. I attended a Christian basketball camp with my best friend for 3 or 4 years. I learned a lot and I'll be honest, I do remember the devotions we'd have.

One in particular stuck out in my mind.

It was the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and the furnace of blazing fire (Daniel 3). This one stuck in my head because it was about three men who stood up for what they believed in and in turn their belief saved them from a blazing fire.

Would I ever believe in something with such passion? At that time I didn't. High school, sports, girls and a social life were more important than attending church. I'm not saying I never went but it dwindled, as I got older. And at one point, I questioned God.

My second year of college I started taking philosophy classes and tried to answer all of my questions. I looked so hard and tried to believe in everything I found.

Still, I couldn't find the truth I was looking for.

I didn't know why I was living my life and I didn't understand the meaning of faith. I finally asked my sister for help. She was just married and living in Ohio with her husband Mike. They had strong beliefs and an even stronger community of friends. They smiled together, cried together, suffered together and overcame together. It was something I wanted in my life. I needed someone like my sister's husband.

Mike is the type of guy who will give it to you straight. He strongly believes in his faith and answered all my questions in one letter. He told me to stop looking for the reason of life. He said that life isn't about making a plan and then living that plan; it's simply about living. He told me to breath and dive in, live it and do it. Overcome, confront, reconcile and love. I've lived by those words ever since.

I'm not saying that my life has been perfect but I believe I'm on the right path. I have faith in which who I am and I have faith that the Lord will guide me where I need to go. It is amazing how He works and who he sends into our lives.

On a regular day in the fall of 2007 He sent me a young woman that offered me a gift I'll never forget.

It was the third day of class and I was still in "camp" mode. Rugged beard, longer hair, dirty shoes and not exactly clothes you would wear out of the house. I've sat next to this woman all three days and I've made small talk here and there. I found out that she lived close by with her husband and child. She was tying to finish her health degree and graduate college.

At the beginning of this particular class she handed me a folded up note. Thinking nothing of it I said, "Oh thanks" and put it in my pocket. As I was walking towards my dorm after class I opened my note and a 100-dollar bill fell out. The note said,

"Please do not be offended by this. Use this money for anything you need; clothes, shoes, food, or bills. I don't want anything in return. Let the glory be to God".

Standing there in amazement, I quickly looked around for her but she was gone. I had no clue what to do. I must have read the note 15 times before I took another step.

I quickly called my sister and asked for advice. "Don't spend it on booze!" was her fist choice of words. Obviously that wasn't on my mind! She told Mike and they both were just as amazed as I was. The conversation got nowhere and I was running late for my next class.

Afterwards I called my dad and asked him what I should do with the money. He said to pay it forward, like the movie. "Give it to someone who needs it more than you do" he said. Then I called my mom and she said something similar. Then I called my friends from camp and they told me I could donate the money to charity.

None of the advice I was getting seemed right. Although they were all very noble and great ideas I just couldn't agree with anyone.

A couple days later Mike called me asking what I'd do with the money. I told him that I still had no clue and that I'm still looking for advice. He told me to sit on it. Wait for a moment to come where you are absolutely positive it's the right time. Wait until you are certain it's time.

After a couple days to think about what had happened I knew I had to confront her and ask her why. After the next class I pulled her aside and asked her why she chose me.

She said, "I believe that God speaks to me. He tells me to do these specific things and I've never questioned it, I've always done them. He told me that you would need this money. So I didn't question Him and I just did it."

"Wow" was the first word from my mouth. Then I tried to explain to her that there are people out there that need this money way more than I do. Then she said, "I know and you'll find them."

I hugged her and told her that if she ever needed anything to give me a call. I haven't seen her since the last day of that class and I still have that 100 dollar bill in my wallet waiting for its purpose.

This story motivates me everyday. I am always trying to find ways to give back to those who don't have all the luxuries I do and even to those who do. Everyone is in need of something whether it is physical, mental or spiritual.

This story also inspires me to be a better teacher, coach, person and mentor for the kids I will soon have in class.

It's not everyday you are blessed with a story like this one but hopefully this will inspire more people to follow in the path of the Lord. Breathe and dive in. Overcome, confront, reconcile, and love...

Your brother, Jacob.

Copyright 2009 Jacob Kleckner --- Submitted by Danika