random acts of kindness

I Come Empty Handed

Historically, I have not handled criticism terribly well. Anyone remember this mental breakdown from last year? Perhaps one of my finest public shame spirals, if I may be so bold. I have learned and grown a lot in the past year, so I decided that since more than 5,000 people have already read Day 1, this year I am going to get ahead of some of the most common questions and critiques. This time, not because of my insecurity, but because I want to convince you that we are doing good work together, and you should definitely consider getting involved. Let’s take a look at question/comment #1...

Q: For starters, shouldn’t we all just perform acts of kindness anyways? And shouldn’t we do it anonymously? Isn’t it really self-serving to post kind acts so publicly?

A: I can appreciate this question because, at first glance, I would probably tend to find a public bragfest to be quite off-putting. However, I do not believe that people are doing this to “brag about being kind.” I have been doing this for seven years now and I have had the honor and pleasure of watching this idea grow into an initiative and then develop even further, into a movement. It has caused people to move.

I have seen angry, bitter, hurting people move toward softness, toward healing. I have seen people who are fearful and guarded, move toward openness and vulnerability. I have seen people who are trudging through the same heavy, thick grief move toward peace and freedom, toward levity. Kindness moves people to become more kind. Kindness had the redemptive and restorative power to heal people, to invite them in to something bigger and more meaningful than themselves. I have seen this month of kindness give people purpose. We can be privately kind for 11 months out of the year, but for one month… let’s be out loud and in your face about the impact kindness can have. Because, that is what moves people. That is what makes it contagious.

Q: Aren’t you just trying to get attention? Shouldn’t you be over this by now?

A: Eh nope! Okay admittedly, I haven’t received this particular question (to my face) since high school. However, as my brother’s story is being circulated by strangers multiple times over, its reach gets further and further removed from me. That is exactly the goal! What tends to happen though, is that people feel freer to make potentially hurtful remarks like “get over it by now.” To that question I would say a few things: 1) You, sir, are lucky that I am stable enough in this moment that I will not hunt you down and throat punch you for your insensitivity. 2) You, sir, are quite fortunate that you do not understand the depths of timeless grief because that means that you have never lost someone who you loved so much that you can’t “get over it,” 3) You will someday, and you will want to apologize for what you said, 4) I already forgive you. But also 5) Shut up so much.

When Adam was killed so suddenly, I was still just a girl. For a child to navigate an ocean of grief without the maturity and capacity of an adult, the grieving process is delayed. While I do not think we should compare our grieving process to another person’s process, I think it is understandable to do so. What is even more misguided, would be comparing an adult’s grief to a child’s. I am not saying either is harder or easier… but I am saying that a child will need to first become an adult in order to fully and effectively grieve. So, that is what I have done. I started this process seven years ago. And now it feels like Adam died 7 years ago. In reality, Adam was killed in 1993. But my process started many years after that. So, see #5 above and have a blessed day.

Finally, my favorite frequently asked question:

Q: What if I forget to post? What if I run out of ideas? What if my acts of kindness are just very small?

IT’S ALL OKAY. Trust me, after you read what I did for Day #2, you are going to feel a lot less worried or pressured to do something epic. I LOVE the creative ideas that people are already coming up with! Here’s the thing though, we aren’t all in that space. I have five children people… there were years where I counted the absence of an outburst in my home an act of kindness. There are times that I have done nothing at all, so instead I made a terrible video explaining myself. There have been times, like today, where I totally failed at my kindness altogether!

You will forget. It’s okay to double up, or to give yourself a pass. If you run out of ideas, type #AdamsActs into Google, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and you will find a butt ton of ideas. If you are sick or tired or feeling particularly lazy - SHARE MY POSTS! Liking, commenting, reposting… all these easy actions are a kindness to me, and they put this kindness campaign in front of more eyes. It helps us connect with more people who could use a little kindness in their lives. If you are consistent, but feeling as if your kindnesses are “small” then I want to challenge you to try this exercise:

Think of three of the kindest people you know. Now think of something nice each of them said or did. Were they all huge, life-changing things? Or were they smaller, consistent efforts to encourage you? In the same way that small things can trigger big feelings of grief, small acts of kindness can make a big impact on someone’s day. One compliment, one encouraging message, one extra moment to make a human connection… these are the things that, if done consistently over time, have the potential to change someone’s life. Remember that our cumulative efforts are what make the biggest difference.

Now, without further ado, my Day #2. I made a very sizable donation to a fundraiser that my sweet friend Anna is involved with to raise money for her High School’s production of Pride and Prejudice - which is one of my all time favorite books and I also love the movie. In related news,  I think that the BBC version was well done in regards to character development (many thanks to Pete Nesbitt for that astute observation), but I don’t care what anyone says Keira Nightly is a better Lizzie. Okay, I know that was a really self-indulgent moment but this technically is still my blog and you can see #5 above if you have any further questions. Back to my sizable donation. By “sizable donation” I mean that I bought a five dollar raffle ticket, And by “bought” I mean I forgot to pay for it. So, for Day #2, I stole. From a child.

Here is the ticket I stole:

Oh wait, that’s just an empty hand. Because after stealing the ticket, I lost the ticket.

Oh wait, that’s just an empty hand. Because after stealing the ticket, I lost the ticket.

See? Bar set super low! Now, go, and be as kind as you possibly can be. Give joyfully! Steal accidentally! I mean, pay people back and stuff, but don’t beat yourself up about it! And it’s okay to tell the world. It’s also okay to keep it private. Whatever would stretch you the most, then do that thing. At the end of the day it won’t be the recipients of our kindness/theft that will be most impacted, it will be us.



Day 1: The Hardest Story I never Told. #AdamsActs

Several years ago I was challenged by some friends to participate in a 31 day kindness challenge. These friends knew that I struggled through the month of October with loads of unresolved grief from my childhood. My little girl self had a world of grief that I had never processed as an adult. So, I accepted the challenge and forced myself to unpack said baggage in a super public and vulnerable way! Hooray for having zero boundaries! The story I share below is that original post, virtually word for word. I only make minor edits each year because I like the raw vulnerability of it, and because frankly… the story of what happened that night does not change. My brother’s fate will never change. The only thing that I have the power to change about this story, is my reaction to it.

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I am going to tell you a story. 

I haven't done this before, told this story, so detailed and so publicly. But, I am going to try something big this month, and I think I need to tell this story in order to do it well. So, here goes nothin...

It was Halloween night many years ago, and my 17 year old brother, Adam H. Provencal, was driving home from the Regional Championship Soccer game. He was a senior in high school and the captain of the soccer team, and this victory was worth celebrating, and it was news worth spreading for our small Michigan town.

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When my brother (and his friend Mike) were driving home and passed some of their friends out playing some harmless Halloween pranks, it was the perfect time to spread the news.  So Adam pulled the car over and was telling his friends about the big victory. I have no idea what my brother was thinking or feeling in that moment but, my guess, is freedom. I imagine a boy - crazy about sports, working so hard to maintain his 4.0 GPA in mostly advanced placement classes, editor-in-chief of the nationally recognized school paper, and all-around nice guy - and the pressure that that brings on a kid. I imagine him in this moment, and the hard work (for now) is done and has paid off with a regional championship. And he's free. He is young and free, and he wants to tell to his friends.

So, he pulls over and he and his friends are joking around and talking and hanging out, and they are young and free in this moment.

The whimsical youth of the moment ends when a homeowner comes out and is irate about the pranks and, though my brother had not been involved in them, he had the car and perhaps that made him seem to be the ringleader somehow. I don't really know if that was why Adam felt the need to go to the door or not, but he did. He decided he would walk up to the door, to apologize for being there and to offer to clean up the toilet paper in the yard, and he no longer felt young and free. He was probably terrified that he was going to get in trouble. So, he dutifully walked up to the man's door and knocked twice. 

The man did not open the door and hear him out, he did not yell at Adam to leave, he did not call the police. When my 17 year old brother knocked on the door that night to have a hard conversation, he had a baby face and scrawny limbs and braces in his mouth. And when Adam knocked twice on that door, the man gave no warning before he pulled the trigger of his shotgun, sending one, single blast through the closed front door. 

One bullet.

One bullet changed many lives, some lives even devastated. But only one life was ended. My only brother, my parents' only son, my hero, my friend... the only person strong enough to jump on a trampoline with me on his shoulders, and the boy who led me to Christ, and taught me to dance like M.C. Hammer, and to be funny enough to joke my way out of trouble. He was gone. 

His murderer was in and out of jail after two years, for a boy's life taken in a rage over some harmless pranks.

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Needless to say, when October rolls around I get stuck. It is almost like my body involuntarily braces for a trauma. The crisp fall air, the smell of leaves and bonfires... they are all beautiful reminders of fall, and nightmarish triggers that put my physical and emotional self on high alert, tragedy-ready. 

I started doing these acts of kindness because I had to do something. I had to be productive and focus outward or I would implode with this seasonal grief and cyclical depression. I wanted to commit myself to honor all the good Adam would have done to the glory of God if his life had not been cut short. This is why we call them #AdamsActs, because these are the types of things Adam would have spent his life doing. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. Well, here is my chance... 37 is pretty grown up, so here goes nothing. 

I cannot change the outcome of Adam’s story. So, this is how I am choosing to respond to the greatest loss of my life. If I can’t change Adam’s story, I might as well try to change the world. One act of kindness at a time.

For Day One, I am sharing this story. I am rallying the people around me to participate, and I am bossing you into participating too. You're welcome. This is the seventh October that I have asked and encouraged whatever participation you can muster. The greatest kindness you can do for me and my family is to like and share these blog posts to your social media, and why not challenge everyone you know? (Unless you hate kindness.) Spread the word. Do any act of kindness you can, no matter how small. To follow along and contribute to our collective journey, please use the hashtag #AdamsActs in pictures and posts so we can all see how far reaching an impact our kindnesses can make. Each year we gain thousands of new readers and I believe that this year is going to blow our minds. I want you to be a part of it.

Thank you for allowing me to share my family's story with you. If I can't spend my days watching my brother live out all the remarkable kindness that was in his heart, the next best thing is watching all of you do it in his memory.

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In loving memory of my buddy and hero, Adam H. Provencal.

For pointing me toward God's restorative kindness.

Love, your baby sister

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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