31 days of kindness

Day 29 & 30: Loving My Terrible Neighbor & Seeing the Invisible

I used to have this old crotchety neighbor named Mr. Al. He was hands down the second worst neighbor I've ever had. (The only neighbor worse than him was the lady who got drunk and drove up her brand new deck and smashed into her own house in the middle of the night while I had five little girls camping a few years away in my tent for a sleepover birthday party.) That was a little worse than Mr. Al who's just being old and bossy. It's taken me a lot of years to learn this about myself, but I don't like to be bossed. If you tell me to check my email I will not check my email. I will likely throw away my computer and end our friendship. I'm working on this by the way. (Except that I'm not.) The point is that Mr. Al really bumped up against my personal pet peeve of being bossed around. Literally every time I had a conversation with Mr. Al he was always telling me what to do.

He (aggressively) told me who to vote for, he told me how to invest all the money I still don't have, he told me where to put my mulch and also to have an abortion because I was really sick during my pregnancy. He was always so grouchy and bossy and unapologetic that I couldn't take it. Still, I tried really hard to be nice to him. We made a lot of effort to serve him and show him love, kindness and patience... even when I secretly felt violent. Even when we explained why were were okay with "the blacks" moving in. 

We had a breakthrough several years ago with Mr. Al when I brought him a meal and he Disney-frenched me in excitement. That upsetting kiss showed me that even the loneliest and grouchiest among us need a little TLC. And when they get the TLC they might respond with a little PDA. 

We no longer live next to Mr. Al, but since we have been back at our old house repairing damages, he has been on our minds lately. So, we invited him to join us for Grandpa Day. If you aren't familiar with Grandpa Day, allow me to explain. Grandpa Day is a fictitious holiday where we all gather to deep fry various foods in oil, under the guise of celebrating Grandpa. It's not a real thing. It's just something we made up so we can eat donuts. Mr. Al did not come to Grandpa Day. Because he hates joy and fried dough and babies and black people and all the other good things in the world. Still, I brought home a piece of pie to bring to him later. I am counting that and the impending geriatric makeout sesh as my #AdamsActs for Day 29.

For Day 30, I participated in a great opportunity to connect with some of the homeless population in Rochester. My friend Allie heads up a community organization called Supports on the Streets.  What I really appreciate about their vision is that it is all relationship-based with an emphasis on helping without hurting. Sure, we brought some care packages with essentials (see list below for needed items) and some dental hygiene kits, but more than that... we simply connected with people who are often marginalized. The best part of the evening for me was connecting with a man who also considers himself a writer. He told us about his poetry and about a book he is writing. I told him that his story is an inspiration for me to keep writing and he asked if we could exchange our writing sometime. I'm about 99% sure that this guy is a better writer than I will ever be, so I am looking forward to that exchange - not just of our writing but our experiences. 

The homeless population in our country is often invisible. Please consider how you might be able to love on the most under-served people in your community. I hear a lot of Christians talk about "being Jesus" to others. But in scripture Jesus refers to the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and imprisoned and says that "whatever you did for the least of these you did for me." Followers of Christ hear this and the takeaway is to "Be Jesus" to those who are marginalized. But I don't think that is what Jesus is saying. He didn't say to be him. He said that how we treat the marginalized is how we treat him. We aren't supposed to "Be Jesus" to the marginalized, we are supposed to treat the marginalized as if they were Jesus. However we would interact with Jesus himself if he was living in a tent off the inner loop is exactly how we should interact with the poet I met tonight. With honor, with humility, with genuine interest. We were never called to be the savior, but to honor the savior by loving those who are most often overlooked.

Here is a revised list that I compiled last year of some things that I have learned over the years about homeless outreach.  

  1. Due to the lack of consistent dental hygiene, many people have sore or missing teeth. So, stick to softer foods that are easy to chew - bread, soft cereal bars, pudding, applesauce, bananas, soups, cheese sticks, even pizza. :) Avoid foods like apples. A lot of people cannot eat raw apples. 
  2. Keep clean socks in your car. The health of your feet is of utmost importance when you spend your life walking from place to place. Limited access to showers or fresh socks can often lead to foot issues and pain. 
  3. Chapstick, disposable toothbrushes, trial size deodorant, travel size packs of baby wipes and other small personal hygiene essentials are very helpful. And don't forget to supply the ladies during that "extra special' time of the month. Can you imagine dealing with all that on the streets? 
  4. Some helpful items we may not think about are large, sturdy ziplock bags, a waterproof tarp, hats and gloves, rain poncho, and those rubber shoe cover things that protect shoes from water. 
  5. Touch them. Living on the fringe of society often means these people are overlooked. If you are invisible, you are probably not being affectionately cared for. So look into people's eyes, say good morning, ask how they feel, ask if there is anyone you can call for them. Give them a hug, touch their shoulder, hold their hand. Ask what their name is. Ask if they'd like to tell you how they ended up on the street. Ask if they need to go to the hospital. Ask if they are in touch with anyone for services/supports. If you can, sit and eat a meal with them. Treat them like an equal, with value and a little dignity. 
  6. Expect to see a lot of mental illness. Contrary to what most people believe, a large majority of homeless people are in that position because of mental health problems. Expect a lot of confusion. Just be compassionate, and let them swear a little because they think you want to steal their cat. (They don't have a cat.) Just tell them you love them and get then get the crap outta there. 
  7. Remember that it could be you. I try to remember that with each lost soul I see, that I am not better. I am just as capable of losing my mind. I am just as capable of losing everyone I love in some freak tragedy. I am just as capable of making a terrible choice that leads me down a path of destruction. I am not better. You are not better. We all need Jesus. So don't judge, don't make assumptions, just help without hurting and be grateful for your teeth.  

Catching Up on Kindness: Kisses,Cousins & Candy Dinner

I once read a really sophisticated blog post (okay fine it was a makeup tutorial) where the lady referred to her readers as kittens. I won't do that, but sometimes I want to thank all of my kittens but I don't have the right word. Saying "readers" doesn't quite capture our relationship does it? I am open to suggestion here, but for now, suffice it to say that I am endlessly thankful that you all continue to show up, share my posts and use #AdamsActs in your own posts. I also appreciate your understanding while I was an absentee blogger over the weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with my family in Michigan (which you can read about HERE), but felt a touch disconnected from all my precious kittens. 

Okay, I said I wouldn't call you that, but it's totally happening. I'm not any happier about it than you guys. Please suggest alternatives. 

As I mentioned before I'm having trouble with my website platform, so my most recent post (linked above) did not get sent out to all the coolest cats - my subscribers. To join that awesome club you can subscribe here. 

Now, we have a lot of kindness to catch up on! First and foremost, spending time with my family was a true kindness to me. It was very moving to watch my nephew Adam finish out his senior year by crushing their opponents. The GOREDHAWKS is it?

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Then for day 21, I went to my nephew Ty's soccer game and tried to buy donuts for everyone afterwards but I got aggressively out-generoused by my sister BethAnn and her husband Dan. (This feels like a fun time to inform you that their full names are BethAnn and Dan Mann.) With donuts already covered, I needed to give back. So I gave BethAnn the greatest kindness of all - physical affection that she pretends not to enjoy but secretly adores. My other sister, Kristin, and I were able to see through her protestations for what they were - a cry for more affection.

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Obviously this is her happy place. Day 21? Check.

We headed back to NY yesterday and my act of kindness was giving my kids "candy dinner" on the car ride home. On the drive to Michigan I deprived them of all drinks (and fun) so we could make really good time. And we did. With all those kids AND a puppy, we only stopped once. And that was for the pup! My kids were so dehydrated that stopping on the way there wasn't even necessary for them. For the return trip Melissa and I decided to make it a bit more fun. Enter: a dinner of candy and chips. My kids were chanting in unison "Can-dy for din-ner! Can-dy for din-ner!" Proof that this is out of character for me? In the picture below my kids were chanting "Who is this lady!? Who is this lady!?"

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They each got their own bag of chips and a pile of Canada's finest ninety nine cent bags of candy.

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I always feel slightly depressed after returning home from a trip to Michigan. I really love my family. On the way home Melissa commented on how many kids there are between the three of us girls and that every single one of them is great. Kristin and BethAnn each have four kids and I have five. (My mom proudly announces this fact to every person within 6 counties.) That's a lot of kids to cram into one house for a weekend, but they are all such cool kids it's nothing but a delight. I honestly get really emotional thinking about proud I am of who they are all becoming. It breaks my heart a little every time I pack up my kids and have them say goodbye to their cousins. 

I thought of Adam a lot this weekend. I felt a palpable relief being home with my mom and sisters and knowing that they. just. know. I don't have to tell them how wonderful and also heart-wrenching it is to see my nephew Adam also wearing #17 on his jersey. I don't have to say that Ty runs like his Uncle Adam. I don't have to tell them that I wonder how many kids Adam would have added to that crazy mix of cousins.

I don't have to say any of it, because of all my kittens, they're the ones who just... know.  

For Day 23 I did something that must remain a secret for now. I will likely post later, but for now I want it to be a surprise for this person. In the meantime, I am going to offer you the opportunity to watch two short videos of my hilarious nephew Camden. He is the youngest of Kristin and Joe's four kids. I was the youngest of four in my family, and I definitely feel his pain in this dance video:

And finally, a throwback video that I took when Camden and I were on the Sea Dragon together a few summers ago. His reaction was epic and hilariously disproportionate to the thrill-level. Sharing this with you counts as my #AdamsActs to you because I promise that it does not disappoint. 

Day 18: All The Yeses (and a Few No's on Accident)

Yesterday I mentioned that I had the opportunity to speak with this crazy bunch of sixth graders:

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I shared Adam's story with them and I challenged them to participate in #AdamsActs. They have a board all ready and set up and I am anxious to see if they can fill it up with acts of kindness!

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One of the interesting things their teacher (my friend Michelle) asked me to discuss with the kids was how to write with purpose. I was challenged by this because I still feel like I'm not a real writer. I am just a kid who wants to be a writer someday when I grow up. In my "real life" I am a mess, I'm a wife and mom and a mediocre daughter/sister/friend. I have no marketable skills or any qualifications or noteworthy achievements. So, who am I to tell a group of kids how to write? 

This is the process that every phony goes through. We live in constant fear of being found out. The more I think about it, the more aware I am of my fear and insecurity. I don't want to call myself a writer because what if the stuff I produce isn't any good? What if I call myself a speaker, and I stop getting speaking gigs. There is safety in keeping my dreams at arm's length. You cannot fail at something you do not pursue. 

 Here's the thing though, as scary as it is to fail at something meaningful, I am more afraid of doing nothing. I think I would rather fall on my face in front of the whole world because I am chasing down the person God has designed me to become than never scuff a knee because I didn't dare take a single step forward. So I did it. I looked at this group of kids and even though I am afraid to fall, I told them I was a real writer.

And I told them that they were too. 

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For Day 18, I made it a point to say yes to the little things. When I was in a rush, but my friend/neighbor's daughter asked if I'd like to come up to her room to smell all of her chapsticks, I gave a hearty yes. (That's a lie. Because I'm the worst... I actually said "Oh honey, I actually can't stay but maybe next time.") Then I quickly said, "Wait ya know what? I must be crazy to pass up THAT incredible opportunity! Sure, I'd love to smell your chapstick collection."

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Who could turn down this face??

When Jay asked me to sing Five Little Pumpkins for 16 hours straight, I did it. When London wanted to bring the puppy to the girls cross country meet, I said yes. When Harper, London and Jay wanted me to tell funny stories for our half hour drive, I said yes. Little moments of being totally present are all our kids really want, so I said as many yeses to silliness and frivolity as possible. 

We brought (almost) enough ice cream bars to treat Annalee and Marlie's cross country teammates after their race. #fail 

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Another fail to add to the list was that I tried to take a Facebook Live video for my family in Michigan to watch the girls' race, but my battery died just as Annalee was finishing in first place. Sorry Grandma. 

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Days 15 & 16 - Kindness Co-op

I am going to combine Days 15 & 16 because I am a day behind on blogging. I blame Squarespace website swindlers (the people who make you buy your own name on the internet) because they won’t allow me to save drafts as I am working on them. They do this because they don’t just want your money, they want you to go absolutely insane. Well played Squarespace, you obvious victor you.

There is a bit of a theme to my kindnesses for these past two days so the last laugh is on Squarespace. Days 15 & 16 were really all about kids. The smallest of these #AdamsActs was for London and Harper (my own kids.) There was a bit of an altercation in the morning and we are really big on having the kids make repairs to their relationships with people when they’ve done something wrong or hurtful. They don’t just apologize (in fact I don’t like them to insincerely apologize ever) but they do have to acknowledge a few things. They must acknowledge:

  1. This is what I did wrong.
  2. This is why it’s wrong.
  3. This is what I can do differently next time.

After acknowledging those things, they need to ask how they can make the other person feel better. After the struggle du jour, London decided that what would repair the damage to their relationship would be having Harper's help when cleaning her bedroom after school.

She doesn't exactly love cleaning by herself.

She doesn't exactly love cleaning by herself.

We always enforce that they follow through on the reparation agreement. This sounds like a lot of work, but I promise you that when you have a child with a behavioral disorder, there is a lot of opportunity for siblings to harbor resentment. This actually preserves relationships and in the long run actually saves a lot of time because they have learned how to resolve conflict themselves. Between this strategy and my husband's invention of The Tattle Tax, our children are practically parenting themselves.

So, here we are at #AdamsActs for London and Harper. They can both easily become overwhelmed with a multi-step chore. To make it more fun for them to work together, I will sometimes make these silly lists for them to break a big chore down into manageable - and sometimes silly - steps. They LOVE when I do this and it really is a kindness to myself because they work so much better together when the mood is light and playful. And a touch of potty humor usually does the trick.

This list:

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Makes this job:

Suddenly way more fun.

Suddenly way more fun.

My first act of kindness was to help my own kids, but my second and third #AdamsActs are about other kids. For the past two nights Tom and I spoke at two final panel discussions about foster care and adoption and I spent some time today connecting with a few different people from those meetings who wanted more information.

And finally, we signed up to sponsor a child through Compassion with our neighbors Danielle and Derek. You may find it ridiculous that we are going halfsies on a sponsorship, but look… these are some lean months for us and it would be reeeeeally easy to say no. But instead of saying “No, we cannot afford another $38 a month” we creatively decided that we probably could do $38 every other month! For some of us $38 is nothing, but for a lot of us it’s a really huge sacrifice to commit another $38 on top of regular giving. No matter what $38 means to us though, I can guarantee it means a lot more to these families who receive support through Compassion. I want to encourage you all to sponsor a child, or give to a different organization whose mission you value. And if you cannot afford to do it alone, grab a neighbor to share the burden with you. If you and your neighbor can swing it together, get the whole neighborhood involved. I don’t care if your kid’s whole soccer team splits the $38 a month… just do something! Do anything. And if we all partner together with these small kindnesses and small donations, we will collectively make a huge impact for kids like Erick.

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Day 13: Privilege.

My blog posts are officially a day behind, so if you haven’t caught up on all the blogs… don’t feel too bad. I mean, feel a little bad, but just enough to go back and get all caught up. For Day 13 I was a guest speaker at Monroe Community College. I was asked to organize a diversity training for the student leaders of a group called Campus Ambassadors. The training will take place over the course of a few weeks, but my favorite place to start is with a privilege walk.

I think that this eye-opening experience should be required in schools. There are a number of ways that these privilege walks are done, but here is how I do it: I have all the participants stand next to one another, holding hands, in a straight line. I read aloud a series of prompts, such as:

-If your parents were married for the majority of your childhood, step forward.

-If your grandparents owned property, take a step forward.

-If you can freely travel the world without fear of sexual assault, step forward.

-If you were brought into this country illegally as a minor take a step back.

-If you had more than 50 books in your home growing up, step forward.

-If you regularly rely on public transportation, step back.

-If you ever participated in an activity that required a participation fee, step forward.

-If you grew up assuming you would attend college, step forward.

-If you can easily and reliably find hair and skin care products for your ethnicity and skin color (at an affordable price), step forward.

These are just some examples of questions that I ask. I do not allow participants to speak during the exercise because I think that the most common reaction to becoming aware of our privilege is to explain it away. When participants are taking steps forward while their peers/colleagues/friends are taking steps back, they eventually have to release hands. In that moment when you realize that your privilege has benefited you in a way that others have not experienced, it's normal to feel guilty and want to explain it away. We want to say “Sure, I went to a well-funded school but that doesn’t mean it was easy for me! I still had to work really hard. Should I feel guilty that I happened to go to a good school?”

No. You shouldn’t. That’s not the point of the privilege walk. The goal isn’t to make the people who are really far out in front (almost always the white males) feel guilty. The goal is to make everyone more aware. So, I ask people to remain silent and aware. This time, I asked one of the white guys to volunteer to try walking in someone else’s shoes. I had him respond to each question in the opposite way than he would in his real life. So, for example, when I said to “take a step forward if you grew up with fresh fruits and vegetables available on a daily basis” he would not step forward if that was true in his real life. Answering the opposite of his reality allowed him to experience a very different perspective than if he answered these questions as a white man who came from generational wealth opposed to minority woman experiencing generational poverty.  

This volunteer was so far behind the rest of the group there was a point that he could no longer hear the questions I was asking. He was leaning forward, cupping his ear, straining to hear the next prompt. If that isn’t a powerful picture of privilege… I honestly don’t know what is. People want to deny that white privilege exists, but to me, that is it in a nutshell. That by no fault of his/her own, a person’s inherited circumstances can put him/her at a significant disadvantage. Comparatively, some of us have unearned privileges that put us at an advantage.

What I like about this visual image is that it shows that privilege is not just racial – it’s also about socioeconomics, class, gender, religion, culture and physical/mental health. Can you imagine answering this series of questions that have nothing to do with a person’s personal choices, work ethic, values, etc. and telling the kid who is a dozen yards behind everyone else to pull himself up by his bootstraps? Can you imagine saying “Hey, I know you can’t hear the questions anymore because you are so far back in your circumstance that you no longer have access to all the tools, information and resources that are readily available to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t work hard. You just need to work harder!”

No, you wouldn’t say that. Because you aren’t an enormous dirtbag. Still, that’s what a lot of us do in real life. We talk about equal opportunity, but we don’t talk a lot about equity. Yes, we all have equal opportunities… but those of us that are really privileged are standing a couple feet from opportunity while others start off life a half mile back.

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My brother Adam won a Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest while he was in high school. His essay was about racism and cultural appropriation. This was the early 90’s by the way. Let that sink in a minute. The stuff we are all in a huff about right now in America – kneeling during the anthem, exploiting black culture via cultural appropriation, implicit bias, racial and social injustice… these were things that my brother – a privileged 17-year-old white kid from the suburbs – was intentional about exploring and understanding. Not only was he aware of his privilege, he leveraged his power, privilege and influence to educate and inspire others to think differently.

I know that discussing our privilege is uncomfortable. I know that I will get really hurtful and even hateful messages from some of you about this topic. But I also know that I will keep talking about it anyways. Because as hard as it is to ask people to become aware and to think differently, it is also right. Not because it is what my brother did, even though I think it’s pretty bad to the bone that he did in fact live this way. But I will do it because it’s what Jesus did. Loving people beyond reason, seeing beyond wealth and beauty into the heart... that is what Jesus did. It’s who he is, and it’s who I am called to be. So for Day 13, I asked people to examine their own circumstances and imagine the circumstances of others. I encouraged them to be willing to lay down their privilege in an effort to create equity for a friend.

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