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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Day 17: Video Blog feat. Tom, a Pup and My Bed Head

For Day 17 I spoke to a group of 6th graders about my 17-year-old brother who was killed when I was in 6th grade. The irony was not lost on me. I will post a bit more tomorrow on that, but for now you will have to settle for this video blog which captures the awkward family rejection that I experience on a daily basis. 

Please don't mind my hair, I just cut it all off and it's feeling very confused about what is expected of it. 

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 14: Remembering with Ribbons

One of the most powerful and healing results of doing 31 days of kindness in memory of my brother Adam has been seeing that so many people still remember him. His buds and former classmates share stories about him that I had never previously heard. But more than that, the participation in #AdamsActs has given my family the gift of knowing that while Adam’s life was cut short, his legacy of kindness has only grown and thrived beyond our wildest imaginings. For my parents and sisters, there is little that could bring more comfort than knowing that Adam was not forgotten.

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I will be very honest though. Before starting #AdamsActs, we went a lot of years not feeling this way. I remember after Adam’s death people making off-handed comments like “my parents will shoot me in the head if I don’t get home on time.” I remember being so stung by comments like that, even though I knew they weren’t meant seriously or intended hurtfully. I simply felt like what happened to my family was forgotten. It made me feel like Adam died in vain. As an adult I now realize that people just say things flippantly without really thinking about being sensitive to people’s baggage. Still, I remember those years when I felt like Adam was forgotten. And it was really painful. For Day 15, we wanted to give the gift of remembering to another family who lost their son.

Michael Lynch was a fourteen year old boy who attended the local high school in our town of Irondequoit, NY. He was struck by a car while walking to school last spring, and died two weeks later. There was a wonderful outpouring of support from the community and many people expressed this by tying oversized green ribbons to the trees near the school. Twice a day we drive down the street where Michael was accidentally struck on the way to my kids' school, and I cannot help but think of his grieving family. Michael’s mother passed away only months later after a heartbreaking battle with cancer, leaving only his father and one younger brother behind.

I know that upheaval. I know turmoil of tragedy on top of tragedy. I know that sensation of getting knocked down by a wave of grief, finding my footing again, only to have another wave roll in and take my feet out from under me. And I know what it is like for those waves to calm down just long enough to look around and realize that you are standing there alone. So when I drive to school and I see less and less green bows along the way as time passes, I know how that might feel to Michael’s family.

For Day 14 we freshened up some of those green ribbons. We knocked on doors to ask permission to add a green ribbon (really a plastic tablecloth cut into strips) to the big trees and telephone poles near the school.

With all seven of us (plus one pup) we were able to cover all the big trees and most of the poles out in front of the school in less than an hour. My hope is that the reminder of those ribbons lasts much longer than it took to put them up. If those ribbons remind kids to walk safely, and for drivers to slow down and remain free of distractions, then it was a success. If those ribbons also remind Michael’s family that his precious life was not forgotten, then that would be pretty great too.

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In memory of Michael and Bernadette Lynch

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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