If you haven’t pulled every red, white and blue decoration out of storage by now, you’re late. If that’s you, grab something colorful from your closet and then come back and finish reading this column.

The colors have been unfurled for a weekend of family, food and fireworks. While festive, I appreciate that combination of colors for the switch it turns on in my brain.

I start thinking deep thoughts around this time of year about things like freedom, the American flag and what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America.

The way I see it, there are two ways to help this country retain its beautiful independence. You can either serve, or you can show great gratitude and kindness toward the people who serve.

I have a friend in Fargo whose husband has been on several deployments. With support from people in her church who like to cook, somehow this woman was able to single-handedly parent six kids for nine months at a time. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard that was on everyone in the family.

She told me once how much she appreciated the holiday train rides, military appreciation days and other “perks” that came with being in a military family.

Another friend in Fargo told me about his dad who has escorted several World War II Veterans with no living family members to see the memorial in Washington, D.C. What a beautiful way to serve a service member.

Thousands of individuals and organizations across the country collect items to send to our troops, and thousands more donate to the cause. It is an incredible collective act of kindness.

Maybe those types of causes don’t grab hold of your heart. Maybe that’s not how you choose to acknowledge our military personnel. That’s OK.

Gratitude doesn’t have to come in a large pre-planned event or wrapped carefully into a care package. As Beth Kern from Wisconsin writes, it can come in the day-to-day way we recognize someone else’s sacrifice.

“I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a conference. In the morning, the hotel had a breakfast for its guests. An Army captain was getting coffee and spilled some creamer. I cleaned it up for him saying, ‘You serve us, let me serve you.’ It choked him up, but he said thank you.”

As we go about the task of scraping off the grill and repacking the Independence Day decorations, I hope we continue to have deep thoughts about the beautiful gift of freedom and how we can best show kindness to those who protect it.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.