The Power of One

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In 2004, a 15-year-old student turned an extra credit project into a national movement.
California high schooler Shauna Fleming was unsettled when she heard a news report that American military personnel serving overseas were feeling unappreciated on the home front.  She began to think about the community service credit she could earn at school. 
“Dad,” she said to her father, who was paying bills in the adjoining room, “I’m going to send thank-you notes to the troops.”
“That’s nice,” he said, only half paying attention. 
”How many do you think I’ll need?” 
“A million,” he told her. 
He had no idea how literally his daughter would take that comment.
Shauna called, texted, and emailed everyone she could think of.  Would they be willing to write a note of thanks to a serviceman or woman serving overseas?  And would they help her recruit other people who would do the same?
Her father composed a handful of press releases.  The local paper picked up the story.  Then the national media did the same.  “It just started to snowball,” she remembers.
Earn my community service credit at school.  Check.  Meet my goal within six months.  Check.  Accept an invitation to the Oval Office to personally present the framed millionth letter to President George W. Bush.  Check.
Shauna’s humble brainstorm became A Million Thanks, a movement that now has over 200 chapters across the country.
You can hear Shauna articulate her vision at  As of this morning, nearly 12 million letters have been sent to American military personnel.  Two other initiatives – granting the wishes of disabled vets and providing scholarships for the children of fallen soldiers – have also been launched.  One small step became a giant leap of thanks. 
Although the words are often used synonymously, there’s a significant difference between gratitude and thanksgiving. 
Gratitude, from the Latin word gratus (which means “pleasing”) is a feeling – a readiness to show appreciation.  Giving thanks, on the other hand, is an action – a decision to convert a private feeling into a public expression. 
On any given day, most people experience surges of gratitude – for air conditioning, perhaps, or a good book, or watermelon, or friendship, or freedom, or chocolate.  Definitely chocolate. 
But comparatively few people take the next step and say “Thank you” – whether to friends, public servants, or God himself as the originator of all good gifts.
The Bible doesn’t command gratitude.  Feelings cannot be commanded.  But on more than two dozen occasions, in both Old and New Testaments, the Bible’s authors insist that we transform our gratitude into action.  “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!” (Psalm 107:1).  “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18). 
The wonderful thing is that giving thanks is something all of us can do.  Right now.  And it makes a positive difference in the lives of both the thanks-receiver and the thanks-provider. 
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Shauna Fleming is frequently asked to speak to groups around the country.
Nor should we be surprised at the theme to which she always returns: the power of one.   
One person…committed to a worthy cause…fully engaged…can change the world.