In Tennessee, there exists a “secret society.” No, it’s not a home-grown underground version of the Mafia, it is different. It consists of nine women who call themselves “The Nine Nanas.” You’ve no doubt heard that a cat has nine lives, well, this “secret group” is made up of nine lives. Their mission is simple – to spread happiness by performing random acts of kindness for those in need. The Nine Nanas have been carrying out this mission in secret for over 30 years. Even their husbands had no idea what the ladies were up to! And to think – it all started with a pound cake!

The Nine Nanas consider themselves sisters and have been together since childhood. So, one day when the ladies got together for a card game, they started reminiscing about the “good old days.” They fondly recalled how Grandma Ruth used to bake and send pound cakes to families who recently lost someone. She didn’t have to know them. She’d read about a death in the newspaper, and would immediately head to the kitchen.

The “sisters” decided they wanted to start doing good for their community too. To do so, they knew they needed money. And that’s when they decided not to use the local dry cleaner, and to do all of their own laundry, setting aside the money saved to fund their good deeds.

“I admit, I protested at first, said one of the ladies. There’s just something about laundering that I don’t like. But I was outnumbered! So, among the nine of us, we’d put aside about $400 a month, and our husbands never noticed a thing. Their shirts looked just fine.” says one of the sisters. And so, the “secret society” of the Nine Nana’s was born.

With their “startup money” in hand, the ladies kept their ears open as they ran their daily errands. Whenever they heard of someone in need, they’d step in to help — paying a bill for a widow or buying new clothes for the children of a single mom. A package would be sent and would always include one of Grandma Ruth’s pound cakes and a note that said, “Somebody loves you.”

Soon, they started to expand their efforts into reconnaissance missions. “We’d drive through low-income neighborhoods and look for homes that had fans in the window. That told us that the people who lived there didn’t have air-conditioning. Or we’d see that there were no lights on at night, which meant there was a good chance their utilities had been turned off. Then we’d return before the sun came up, like cat burglars, and drop off a little care package.”

Believe it or not, the group operated in secret for 30 years! But by then, the husbands started to get suspicious. One noticed extra mileage on the car and large sums of money being withdrawn from the bank account. When one husband questioned his wife about the suspicious activity, the ladies knew it was time to come clean. The Nine Nanas gathered together with the husbands, and the women told them everything.

And that’s when the operation was taken to the next level! Their husbands were in awe over what the group was doing, and they wanted in on the fun. “They were amazed that we were doing this and even more amazed that they never knew. We can keep a good secret! All but three of the husbands are retired, so sometimes they come along on drive-bys. In the areas where they live, all they need is an address to pay someone’s utility bill, so they keep the men busy jotting down numbers.”

Soon, the secret was shared with the children (all grown by now). The children introduced the ladies to the power of the Internet, where Grandma Ruth’s pound cakes could be sold for even more revenue to fund these acts of kindness. The business took off, and soon the home kitchens couldn’t keep up! The group moved their operation into the kitchen of a restaurant owned by one of the sons.

But stealth and secrecy remained a must! The ladies slip into the restaurant at sunrise to complete their baking before any other staff arrived. They even hired “Sunny” (a codename, of course!) to be their “happiness coordinator.” In other words, she helps the group find more opportunities for goodwill. “We swore her to secrecy – her parents think she works in marketing. And, really, if you think about it, she is doing public relations and spends a lot of time looking for people to help at the supermarket!”

Now, over five years since the husbands uncovered their wives’ secret, the Nine Nanas are still going strong. Their online business and expansion into a commercial kitchen allow them to do all the more. They’ve even started celebrating an annual “Happiness Happens Month” in August, where they select one person from each state that made a difference in their community to send a special package of appreciation.

“Not everyone is as blessed as they were to have loving grandparents to take care of them, to fix all those things that are wrong. So, it is their way of giving back. They want people to know that someone out there cares enough to do something. They want to make sure that happiness happens.”

Bravo to these wonderful women and their families for being the humble servants we are called to be. It just goes to show that a simple act of kindness can go a long way. It doesn’t have to be as involved and as big an operation as the “Nine Nanas.” It can be restricted to a neighborhood, an apartment complex, or funneled through a local charity. God does not look at the quantity of work that’s done, but on the quality of the work no matter how small.

Jesus made this clear to His follower when He told them, “Anyone wanting to be a leader among you must be willing to serve. And if you want to be right at the top, you must become a servant. Your attitude must be like my own, for I, the Messiah. I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Apostle Paul made this clear when he told the Galatians that they were called to be free. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to pamper yourself, but through love, serve one another. (Galatians 5:13). And he told the Ephesians that we are made by God’s hands, created in Christ Jesus to do good things for others that were prepared ahead of time so that we could do what He wanted us to do. (Ephesians 2:10). You don’t have to go out looking for strangers to begin this ministry, you can start at home, among your own family members, and let God show you where to go from there. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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