17 years, 9 months & 6 Days

It is a formidable task to summarize my October. It was my strangest experience with #AdamsActs thus far, due to a number of personal factors, not to mention that my grief journey has never been easily wrapped up with a tidy little bow. This explains why this attempt at a videoblog yesterday went so horribly wrong:

Wrapping things up with a tidy little bow is simply not how I operate. It’s not really how grief operates either.

I think I am starting to realize that my grief will do her own thing. She can be bossy and invasive, provoked at the smallest remark. It’s silly, but when people are discussing height, my grief awakens - on the wrong side of the bed to be sure. I am 5’ 9” making my amazon-woman-self  stand taller than both my parents and a solid four inches taller than either of my sisters. Grief noses in to remind me that I am not supposed to be the tallest one in my family. Adam was taller than me. He was supposed to be in sibling pictures with Kristin, BethAnn and I, and he was supposed to balance it all out. My grief can interrupt normal conversations about something as arbitrary as height, and sting me with her reminders.

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Sometimes, the word “sting” is the understatement of the century. My grief, at times, can be oppressive and consuming. Sometimes, it feels like she is threatening to swallow me whole. The totality of my grief in these moments doesn’t even require a trigger. Without warning, without provocation, this form of grief settles over me like a nebulous fog… blurring and shading even the most joyful moments in my life.

Personifying my grief is helping me understand her a bit better. She is a constant companion, and a fearsome thing to behold and no matter what I do, she will always exist. Rather than trying to shut her away in the attic of my memories, I am learning how to get along with her. I am learning to appreciate her. Because the reality is, that she is actually me. My grief is so much a part of who I am, it is so deeply embedded in my childhood experiences, it has shaped so much of my faith and my character, that this wild and unpredictable thing in me… is me.  

So, I am trying to make peace with her. I am trying to see the beauty in her. And I am becoming so fond of the gift that she has brought into my soul. Because, grief is not all thorns and splinters. Grief does not dim light or joy. It is powerful, but it is not more powerful than redemption. And the redemption story here is that God has allowed my grief to be the thing that does not dim light, but it softens and it disperses light. It makes light gentler, and perhaps more soothing, I think. It is the thing that stops me from ever pushing an agenda, it is the thing that makes me long to connect with others before ever presuming I should correct others. It is the thing that humanizes us all, it connects us all, it equalizes us all. It is the reason I don’t want to judge, it’s why I don’t want to be cold, or distant or harsh. It is what draws me into the stories of other people, it ignites care and concern for every person on the planet. Without the defining and elemental presence of grief, this light and fire in me would go unchecked. When a light is so bright and unbridled, it can be painfully blinding to those in its presence. I like that my grief softens things just a bit. I think it draws people in to it’s warmth, it invites anyone and everyone to sit beside it and just be. A softened light does not require anything of others, it just gives off enough light to help them find their way a little easier.

This is kindness. To soften ourselves and our expectations of others just enough to be a light to them. Not a light that overwhelms or pushes an agenda or causes people to recoil, but a softer, gentler, more tender light with enough restful shade that people aren’t afraid to sit a while and talk.

In only 17 years, 9 months and 6 days on this planet, Adam was able to be that sort of light to any and all people around him. The gentle and inviting light of Christ, his redeemer, shone in my brother in a way that was powerful enough to leave this legacy for thousands of people. Not perfectly, but consistently, he set for me a human example of how to love others the way a perfect God asks us to. With a light that is softened with warmth, compassion and kindness… but is still bright enough to ignite a movement around the world.

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I loving memory of Adam H. Provencal,

Love, your baby sister. 

Let Go & Love Your Neighbor

The month is quickly coming to a close, and I have to say… it’s been real weird guys. I have uncharacteristically had to rely on others this month. I have said no to things I would generally say yes to, and I have said yes to things I would typically deprive myself of. It’s been a little disorienting, but also really freeing, growing and challenging.

The other strange thing about #AdamsActs this year is that I feel like I have shared a lot less about my brother. The reality of tragic and unexpected death is that there are no new memories. The stories and experiences that I had with Adam are finite. I do not get to make new memories with my big brother. I will never see him wrestle with my kids when they’re supposed to be getting ready for bed. I will never see him fall in love, have a wedding and maybe children. I won’t get to celebrate his big promotion at work, or make him do one of those really muddy 5k things with me. There is simply no more time with him.

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For a lot of years, I held my memories so close to me, unwilling to share what little I had of him with anyone else. Eventually, I allowed myself to put these memories out into the world, and something unimaginable happened. As I began to open my hand and release these pieces of Adam that I had held so tightly, I started getting new pieces of him back. As I wrote about my memories of Adam, others started sharing their memories of him with me. It was as if God whispered right to my heart, “There is more than you know. If you just let go, I will show you.”

Every year since then, I have gotten to know new sides of my brother - attributes and actions that I would never have known about had I not been willing to let go. I learned that a shy girl once had a crush on my brother and she really wanted to dance with him at the school dance. He was dancing with some friends but when she left, disappointed, he went after her into the hallway and there he asked that shy girl to dance. Just the two of them, alone in the hallways slow dancing without any music.

I learned that he intervened when some big, punk kid was picking on a little nerd, my scrawny brother put the bully in a complicated wrestling hold and held him there until an adult arrived. I learned that he spoke up about racial inequity. We lived in white suburbia. IN THE 90’s. And Adam was speaking out about racism? Long before being woke was a thing, my big brother was WOKE. My brother was an advocate for marginalized people. I would not have known this if I hadn’t let go.

This year, I was given the gift of discovering yet another impressive layer to my brother. I will not share all of the details, as they are not mine to tell. Suffice it to say that as a young girl was in a precarious situation where she was unable to protect herself and was vulnerable to an assault, Adam served as her protector. The phrase that stood out to me was this:

“As the vultures were circling, Adam didn’t leave her side.”

I learned this about my brother in the middle of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, at the height of the #MeToo movement, when thousands of women were finally choosing to break the silence about their own experiences with rape, abuse and sexual assault.

To me, Adam was just my big brother and my own personal super hero. I knew he would protect me if he could. I knew that he was the second best wrestler in his weight class in the state of Michigan, he was a brilliant mind, an excellent athlete, a bit of a comedian and a leader. I didn’t want to let go of that image of him.

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I didn’t want to share those pieces with anyone because part of me felt that it might weaken or cheapen the power of those memories. Releasing that singular perspective of Adam has, on the contrary, allowed me to know who he was in a much fuller way. Now I know him to be all of those things, and also a warrior for social justice, an advocate for women, a protector of the vulnerable.

During a week in which we are being inundated with news stories of hate and violence in our country, I am choosing to, once again, let go. I will not hold so tightly to these memories. I choose to release them and share them with you in hopes that it serves as a reminder that there are good boys out there. Boys who are being raised to love their neighbor - REGARDLESS of who that neighbor is. There are boys and girls in this country who are fearlessly standing in the gap for the sake of defending vulnerable and marginalized people groups. There are people who will see racial and socioeconomic disparity and will refuse to look the other way. There are Christians in our country who take God’s command to love others seriously. They care for the poor, the sick, the oppressed. Some of us even care regardless of your race, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Some of us just plain love our neighbors no matter what, because God told us to.

Letting go of my childish image of Adam has allowed me to gain a picture of the man he was becoming. I believe that he was going to be the kind of man who understood that Jesus gave two primary commands - to love him, and to love others. The more I become acquainted with how my brother operated in the world, the more convinced I am that he understood the true essence of the gospel and the command to love.

For the next two days of October, I want to challenge all of us to be intentional about overtly loving one another. I don’t really care who your neighbors are, just love them. For ten years I lived across the street from an old man who often told me to get an abortion when I was pregnant and more disturbingly, also Disney-frenched me on the mouth once. It was real old and gross guys, but I loved him anyways! I don’t care who your colleagues are, who your in-laws are, who your neighbor plans to vote for in a few days… just love the junk out of them. Love them regardless of their lifestyle choices.

If God didn’t add any qualifying statements to loving others, then why should we?

 

Days 25 & 26 - Resilience

Perhaps softened by the forced reflection that comes with loss and trauma, I have a particular fondness for people who have come from hard places, or gone through hard things. All my favorite people have heaps of baggage. Today, I got to spend a bit of time with a group of kids who fit that description. I was invited to return to speak with students at The Avalon School which is part of Villa of Hope. The Avalon School is a specialized day school for kids who have a variety of psycho-social, emotional and/or behavioral needs.

Y’all, these are my people.

Strength and resilience don’t come from never having been broken. Strength and resilience come from the slow, healing process after brokenness or trauma. After I spoke, there was a brief question and answer time, which is always my favorite portion of any speaking event. No question is off-limits, and being open to discuss anything gives others an opportunity to share some of their own story. I am always amazed at how transparent people are willing to be with me. It is such a sacred privilege to carry someone else’s story, and I do not take that for granted.

Some kids opened up about their traumas for the first time since being at this school. My heart was overflowing and my mind was blown. What was supposed to be my act of kindness quickly became a gift to me, primarily due to their brave willingness to let me in, and then on top of that, they went and surprised me with a gift and these beautiful flowers.

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This is my dream job. I get to connect with hurting people for a living. To offer hope, to share faith, to ask questions, to listen and encourage… what an unbelievable gift.

For yesterday’s #AdamsActs, I treated Jay to a donut after his audiology appointment even though he literally did a terrible job there. Don’t get me wrong, I think he legitimately tried his best. But, man… his best is hovering juuuuust above the worst in history. Hahaha… the child cannot sit still. He cannot be quiet. He cannot stop himself from verbalizing a running commentary of every single thought that pops into his brain. It’s like living with a James Joyce novel playing in fast motion in the background at all times. Except all the words are adorably mispronounced.

At one point, he gives the audiologist a huge grin like this:

Then as soon as she walks out, immediately looks over his shoulder at me, gives me these skeptical “get a load of this lady” side-eyes and says “I don’t think this is very useful. Is she really talking about beef?”

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Clearly he couldn’t hear anything she was saying without his hearing aids. He will be getting an FM system at school - which basically means his teacher will wear a microphone that will beam her voice directly into his hearing aids. It will probably help him learn and pay attention, but he is not thrilled. The idea of kids having to pass around a microphone so that he can hear what they are saying, isn’t exactly ideal for a kid who just wants to fit in. JK he doesn’t care about fitting in. All he wants to do is lie under a cardboard box and pretend to rebuild an engine. Without anyone talking directly into his ear canal. This will be something that will require his own form of strength and resilience, and he has to deal with hearing loss for the rest of his life because he was essentially overdosed with antibiotics at birth… sooooo, he gets a donut alright?

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After that, some of us on the church staff brought lunch to all the teachers at a local public school. It was a lot of Panera. The teachers were really excited and I think they felt supported, appreciated and recognized for the work they do - which was our goal. While this was technically a part of my job, I added a little personal flare of kindness by loudly and spontaneously complimenting people like someone who has no filter - or basically, like myself.

Thanks to all who have reached out since my last post. (Catch up HERE if you missed it.) From the messages I have been receiving, it appears that some of the feelings I expressed hit a sensitive nerve with a lot of you. Thank you for trusting me with your stories and your feelings. If I could, I would buy each and every single one of you a fancy spider donut.

Even if you did a really bad job today and all you were able to accomplish was lying under a cardboard box.








Days 23 & 24 - Two Innocence Projects

Since many of you lovelies have been reaching out to ask for updates on my health shenanigans, I figured I would post a quick update along with my acts of kindness for the past couple of days. The short update is: I still don’t know. The longer story is that it takes quite a while to get into specialists, and even longer to schedule tests, etc. I have discovered that even if your case is marked as “urgent” many openings are last minute cancellations that you find out about right as you are, let’s say, about to drive into Canada. You know how that goes.

I was finally able to get into my appointment on Monday. I like the doctor quite a lot and she ordered several more tests, the most important being in December. So… that should be a nice, long wait until then. In the meantime I have lost a little over 15 pounds in the past three weeks. No bueno, friends, no bueno. The weight loss, general weakness and malabsorption has me feeling all kinds of exhausted, dizzy and lightheaded. I am eating, but still not absorbing nutrients for some reason that I won’t find out until December. It’ll be like a little Christmas present.

Merry Christmas! You’re malnourished!

Okay, so let all that serve to lower any bar you may have set for my kindness. Low bar, people… mama needs a real low bar. For Day 23 I made a donation to The Innocence Project in honor of my friend Andrew’s birthday. The Innocence Project is a non-profit organization that works to exonerate wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA. They are also committed to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful conviction in the first place.

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As a mom of two black boys, I am aware of the statistics. The reality is that my black children are statistically more likely to be wrongly convicted of a crime than my white children. Minorities are more likely in general to be arrested as juveniles and tend to be handed down harsher and longer penalties for crimes committed as compared to white kids for the same offense. Research has found that white Americans are more likely to misidentify a black suspect in a murder investigation. Maybe there is a part of me that still resents the injustice of my brother’s privileged, white murderer remaining in jail for about a year and a half, while some innocent black children are wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life in prison for crimes they did not commit, and this is due to racial bias.

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For Day 24, I said “no” a bunch of times. I know this doesn’t sound very kind. But, guys, I’m not going to lie, I am pretty sick at this point. I have, historically, said yes to virtually everything that is asked of me. When someone calls to talk, I listen. When somebody needs advice, I am the go-to person. If you are hurting, if you and your spouse are fighting, if your kid keeps peeing in the wrong places in the house, if you had another miscarriage, or another negative pregnancy test, whatever it is... I go in. I love going in. It’s one of the few things that I actually really love about myself. I don’t shy away from a mess. I prance right into it with the confidence of someone who believes they can actually make a difference.

Still. I need to not. I needed to say no to a few requests. A couple speaking things, hosting community group every week at my house (which is a bigger undertaking than it sounds when you are too weak and pathetic to push a whole entire vacuum at the moment), and a few other small things. It was a sort of kindness to myself. I have needed to learn to say “no” for a while now, but it is challenging when I so dearly love to say “yes” to my people. But, this year I have been working on loving and accepting myself, and I have striven to possess self-compassion, self-concern, and self-awareness. This process started here, in my tiny closet.

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And this is a picture of me.

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I was five years old in this picture. At this point in my life, I was not broken. I was not in any sort of bondage - to fear or shame or hurt. I was just small and innocent, still untouched and not yet wounded.

This summer, I decided to hang this little girl in my closet as a reminder of who I once was, and as a reminder that somewhere deep inside of me that little, innocent girl still exists. And someone needs to love her and to protect her. Someone needs to think she is beautiful. Someone needs to exonerate her from the offenses I have accused her of for so many years.  I suppose this was my own version of an innocence project.

So, when I go to my closet each morning to get dressed… I don’t get dressed for other people. I’m not trying to make people think I am attractive. I am not choosing clothes for attention. I get dressed for her. I make choices that make her feel beautiful. I have discovered that she loves dresses and bold patterns, big hair and bright lipstick. My inner-child is totally an 80’s girl, an “absolute queen” as I’ve been told. And I love that about her.

Doing this felt silly at first, but it is also, quite possibly, the first step I have actively taken to love myself. This led to other self-care steps - like finally getting my teeth fixed after horrendous pregnancies with the world’s most selfish fetuses, just sucking the life right out of me and my teeth. I have been less critical of myself, and therefore less critical of others. I have been gentler with myself, and therefore gentler with others. I have been more understanding of myself, and therefore more understanding of others. And today, giving myself permission to say “no” to multiple requests and stepping back from extra responsibilities for a while was one more thing I did to be kind, caring and protective toward myself. I have to believe that, ultimately, this will allow me to continue walking into the mess of other people’s lives, but when I do, I will be stronger, I will be healthier, my hair will be big and fabulous, and I will be able push a vacuum all by myself.

Day 22: Haggard Moms Unite

Recently, I showed up to my friend’s house with two pints of good gelato and a tiny little house plant. It was adorable, with sweet, little, yellow flowers. She had texted me earlier that day in a special kind of panic that is reserved for women who are actively parenting kids with trauma issues. When the door opened, I said, “I brought you something to eat. And also something to kill.” Now, technically this was right before October, so it doesn’t really count as one of my #AdamsActs but I can’t think of a more RANDOM act of kindness than bringing somebody something to kill.

If you are closely acquainted with any foster parents, then this gesture needs no further explanation. If, however, you do not have the good fortune of knowing anyone who is resolutely withstanding the US foster care system in order to love, care for, protect and advocate for children who are separated from their birthfamily… then I shall explain.

Parenting kids with trauma is not for the faint of heart. Whether that trauma happened in utero via drug or alcohol exposure, or was the result of abuse, negligence or neglect, a traumatized child requires a level of care that is simply beyond typical human capacity. The traumatized child will fight against any semblance of love. The traumatized child will use whatever they can to push you away, out of a misguided but understandable attempt at self-protection, they will fight, sabotage and control whatever they can, however they can. They will force themselves to throw up, they will rage, they will destroy your belongings - and sadly, they will destroy their own belongings. They may physically attack, they may put all the bodily fluids in all the places, and then also on your one nice dress. And also probably on your toothbrush. The traumatized child is not a bad child, he is a terrified child.

Kids like this will likely be placed in one foster family after another. People will give up on these kids. The message that these kids are unlovable will be sent and resent over and over until the child turns 18 and ages out of the system. Then these kids are, statistically speaking, very likely to become incarcerated, homeless and/or pregnant before being equipped to parent. They are more likely to abuse drugs and have children who also end up in the system.

These kids deserve better. They deserve parents that will stuff their feelings with gelato and kill a houseplant instead of harming the child. These kids need parents who will not give up, communities who invest in them and offer opportunities and compassion. And these foster parents deserve our support.

It sounds like a no-brainer, right? Who would give up on a child just because they are having a hard time? Well, the answer is a lot of people. When my son was at his lowest point in his battle with attachment disorder and our family in complete crisis, countless people told me that we should put him in a group home or consider “undoing” his adoption. This is when I realized how few people really understand adoption. No matter how long he was in my family, there were still people that failed to understand that he is my SON. Forever. He’s just mine, always. And I was going to fight to the death for him.

For Day 22, I checked in with multiple friends who are fighting for their kids. Sadly, most of these mamas feel like they are fighting WITH their kids, FOR their kids. I spent a couple hours on the phone throughout the day talking with different friends about parenting and attachment strategies, therapeutic approaches that actually work, and practical tips to repair their relationships for when they lose their ever loving minds - like that one time that I threw all the bananas or publicly wrote through this mental breakdown. More than anything, we talked about hope, and faith and about having self-compassion. In a moment when some really vulnerable moms are doing jobs that no one person is capable of doing, it is a kindness to listen, to encourage, to commiserate, and to remind them that there is a God standing beside them that shares burdens and carries our load… a God that happens to be quite fond of the lost, the least and the littlest among us.