Sorry, Not Sorry.

I have spent most of my life vacillating between “I’m sorry for who I am as a person” and “c’mon, just admit that I’m your favorite.” Admittedly, the latter is my playful way of overcompensating for wholeheartedly believing the former. In the past couple of months, I have been peeling back a lot of layers in my heart, and have made some surprising discoveries about what lies at the root of my need to self-deprecate and apologize for myself in perpetuity.

I have always felt “too” something. I once dated someone who told me I was too tall, and tried “requiring” that I exclusively wear flats. Those who know me well will likely find it hilarious that someone thought they could force me to do anything really, and that I would comply just to appease their delicate and inflated ego. Yeah, not gonna happen. In reality, my stubborn behind promptly switched to the tallest stilettos I could find because #yourenotthebossofme and also buh-bye, enjoy being single. While I proudly push back on these types of arbitrary expectations and “requirements” that people and society put on women in particular, there is still something in me that readily internalizes that sense of being too something. It has been suggested by various people along the way that I am too: smart for my own good, rough around the edges, stubborn, opinionated, feminist, open, feisty, passionate, talkative, disobedient, outspoken, difficult, complicated, independent, liberal, conservative, skinny, tall, strong, intense, loud, persistent, insecure, and too empathetic for my own good… among other things. This doesn’t even begin to include all the times I was told that I wasn’t something enough.

We all have lists like that, right? We all have those accusatory voices from our past that tell us we are used up, broken, empty, worthless. Some of us are haunted by those voices and experiences from our past. Some of us are haunted by voices that are currently in our life - people who claim to love us that take opportunities even now to remind us that we are defective in some way. That we are too this, and not enough that. And then people wonder why some of us are constantly apologizing for ourselves.

I want to tell you that I became aware of this issue, and that I am diligent in changing this pattern and am having great success. What is more accurate, sadly, is that I am becoming increasingly more aware of this issue, and I am trying to slowly uproot that which is lurking beneath the surface of my insecurity and constant apologies, but it’s not going great. It is going to be a long, arduous process. I figured that if I am going to do the hard work of making changes, I might as well track my progress here in the hopes that it helps someone else out there besides me. So, in the spirit of learning and growing together, here is what I have discovered so far.

  1. I’m not actually sorry every time I apologize. A lot of the time, I am apologizing for THEM, not necessarily for me. If I feel like I have frustrated them, annoyed them, burdened them in some way… I will apologize. In actuality, I think that is sometimes more their shortcoming than mine, and in my insecurity I apologize to alleviate whatever feeling they might be having. It’s the emotional equivalent of only wearing flats to make them feel taller. I was disheartened to realize this because it essentially means that many of my apologies are actually disingenuous. A better thing to say than “I’m sorry,” might be something like “Have I upset you?” I want to reserve my apologies for when I am sincerely sorry for doing something wrong.

  2. I often apologize when I should express gratitude. I say that I am sorry because I feel guilty for needing anything, when I could just as easily be thankful that a need has been met. Instead of saying “Thank you for helping me out,” I apologize because I feel guilty for needing help. When I should say “Thank you for waiting for me,” I apologize because I feel guilty for making someone wait. When I could just as easily say “Thank you for listening,” I say “I’m sorry I dumped that on you,” because I am convinced that sharing my life with others is too much of a burden - chaotic and stressful. Instead of people in my life feeling appreciated, they feel frustrated and maybe even resentful. When I sense their frustration, I feel worse and apologize more. It’s a super fun pattern!

  3. My apologies can be offensive because they are often filled with assumptions. I am assuming that the other person is bothered or burdened by me in some way. This may or may not be true, but I am definitely making an assumption about their feelings and then responding accordingly. I might be totally wrong, and I can easily project messages I have received from others onto someone who may, in fact, think I am the best. Which I am, so that would make a lot of sense. (See how this works, I can swing alllll the way to either extreme. It’s like a choose-your-own adventure book filled with all my baggage!)

  4. I apologize to give people an out. I only recently learned this about myself, but I learned it the hard way and at great personal cost. I am always expecting people I love to leave. Sometimes, when I really care, I even push them to leave. It’s very healthy of me. (Jk but I’m working on it or whatever.) So, the more I care, the more I apologize for myself, and I present all of my shortcomings on a platter and what my apologies really say is “See, look how awful and difficult I am. Leave, you know you wanna.” If you offer enough outs, people will take them. Like any dysfunctional self-fulfilling prophecy, their retreat proves me right, and deepens my insecurity and that pattern is further embedded into the way I operate.

Literally everyone loses when I do this. Perhaps nobody more so than I. So, I am committing to tracking my apologies, evaluating them, reframing and rephrasing whenever I catch myself erring on the side of being excessively apologetic. I am still in the observation stage. I am simply observing when I feel the instinct to apologize for who I am. It’s often and it’s not pretty.

Here’s the thing though. I am doing my best to lean into this knowledge that there is a perfect God out there and he is El Roi, which is my favorite name for God in the Bible. It means, the God who sees. He is the creator of the universe, and he not only sees me and KNOWS who I am, he actually made me this way. When I spend time apologizing for who I am, I am subtly accusing God of getting it wrong. I am apologizing for his handiwork. Even at the observation stage of this process I know enough to say that accusing God of failing is probably not the best plan I’ve ever had.

So that’s all. I am inviting you all into this with me. I am in process. I am still learning. I am doing my best. I am observing, tracking progress and I am trying really hard. I want to change, but I also know that I am helpless to do better apart from God. The only one who truly knows me, sees me, and created me, will be faithful to tweak things here and there as he sees fit. I will choose to wait on him, to believe even when I don’t feel it and I will not apologize for who I am, because if everything I claim to believe is actually true…

I am his beloved creation.

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?