Gift of understanding

I fell to the floor, hysterical. In hindsight, it feels like an overreaction. You don’t really know how you are going to react, though, when you hear something so life changing. Cancer. Lymphoma. Stage Four. Fifty percent survival… at best.

My dad was on the other end of the phone. He had just spoken with the doctor who found the grapefruit-sized tumor in his abdomen and immediately called to tell us he’d be in surgery the following Monday.

My dad lived in Boise, a 2,000 mile plane ride with a layover in O’Hare between us. I was used to spending my summers there; I had been doing it since I was two. The summer after my freshman year of college was supposed to be one of the first where I stayed in one place, got to do what I had planned and wanted to. Instead, I would be on another plane, traveling across country again, hoping that this time wouldn’t be the last.

I’m kind of a take-charge, no bullshit, Type AAA person. Even though I was eighteen, I fell right into line, stepping in to coordinate my single dad’s treatment and care for the summer.

It was exhausting. My dad and I had a somewhat strained relationship as it was. Chemo and steroids and mortality looming did little to improve the underlying issues created when I was much, much younger.

The one thing I did have was hope. And humor. I researched my dad’s cancer to the point that doctors asked about my medical background. I questioned my dad’s oncologist when she seemed overly concerned about his lack of response to the treatment… I had read it could take several months (and as it turned out, I was right). When my dad’s hair started appearing around the house and I told him it was time to shave it, I bought hot pink and neon green hairspray and turned my OCD, attorney father into a punk. It might be one of the greatest memories he and I share.

There were many days still where I felt very alone. It is hard to understand the realities of being a caregiver until you are sitting in a hospital chair with a sleeping family member trying to figure out when you can go grocery shopping between chemo sessions, blood draws, and appointments with specialists.

On my birthday, one of the greatest moments of my 30 acts of kindness was taking flowers to the oncology floor and asking them to give them to someone having a particularly rough day. Today, I will take flowers not only for a patient but also a caregiver. Those are lonely days filled with fear. It is very easy to believe that no one understands. I hope that today there is at least one person who knows that someone does. And that they care.

Day of Sadness

I spent the morning at City Light, the local shelter for women in children here in Boise. Small rooms lined the facility, but they were rooms of comfort and hope, safety for these women and their kids in times of hardship.

How sad I was to come home and see the news that children in another part of the country were denied that safety today.

As a mother, my heart aches. I send my four year old off to school every day, never doubting that he will be kept safe. Those parents, too, sent their kids to school with the same assumption, believed they would be coming home today. I cry for their losses.

I was fifteen when Columbine occurred. I don’t remember mass shootings before that time. If they did happen, I was too young to know. In the past fifteen years, however, I can name a list of mass shootings: schools, political rallies, movie theaters, universities. The question is always the same: why?

Why, in a world that I believe to be good, would someone open fire on a group of people… a group of children? What could be so horrible in that person’s life that murdering twenty children is the answer?

I just spent over an hour in a facility that houses nearly one hundred homeless women. Fifty eight of them sleep in beds a few feet from one another. And they still have hope. They still believe in the goodness of humanity. What could be so horrible to justify such a horrific act?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, though I know the media will ask them for days and weeks to come.

I do know that I believe the world is still a good place. Maybe I am overly idealistic, but I believe that even on a day like today with such unbelievable violence, there are people across our country engaging in simple acts of kindness that have the potential to change lives.

I will mourn for all of those who lost their lives today. I will hug my children tightly tonight and cherish the moments I have with them in my life. I will also go out into the world, open my heart, and extend kindness in hopes that the small deeds help change the world and create a space where violence is no longer welcome.

Let it go

I have a lot to be angry about.

My parents divorced when I was two, leaving me without *one* memory of a life within a nuclear family and a childhood of layovers at O’Hare. My dad was diagnosed with Stage Four non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was eighteen, and instead of a summer working at a camp for adults with disabilities, I spent it in chemo boot-camp, just me and my dad, learning a whole new language: Rituxan, large B-cell, follicular, CHOP. When I was eight months pregnant, my house – and neighborhood – were engulfed in flames, my baby’s recently completed nursery in ash. The week my son learned to smile, I lost my ability to do the same. Just Bell’s Palsy the doctors said. *Just* paralysis.

I know anger. It’s familiar. It’s easy. It’s a scapegoat. I can deflect the responsibility for my own emotions through the anger I have for my life’s circumstances. It’s easy to believe that others, that extenuating circumstances, are responsible for where we are, right now, in this moment. But you know what? Anger doesn’t serve me. It isn’t helping me get where I want to go or be who I want to be.

Being mad about my parents’ divorce(s) when I am thirty years old is insane. Begrudging my father for the poor parenting choices he made doesn’t change anything about the moment I am living in right now. Getting angry at my husband for being late doesn’t make him any earlier. Being angry only does one thing: hurt me.

Let it go.

Let go of the anger and you will find that love, happiness, peace are standing in the doorway behind it.

 

I’m Sorry

I pushed the stroller four paces behind him.

We were on a skinny dirt path, I reasoned. I can justify walking in a single file line.

This wasn’t the walk I had envisioned when I went to bed last night. A week of chaos was winding down. Our lovely guests would be leaving bright and early. And I could finally sit in relative silence (at least for two minutes before one of the kids started crying). We would take a walk in the brisk air, reflect on his brother’s visit, plan for the week.

Instead, hurtful words were exchanged minutes before we left, words that revealed damage that had been done over seven years earlier. I had said something unkind, not intentionally malicious but unkind all the same. We had visited those words before, briefly. I didn’t expect to be swallowing them again in this moment.

Who is going to talk first? I wonder. I always start the conversation. I don’t want to today. Instead, I let thoughts percolate in my mind. I get angry. Even when I try to refocus my thoughts, I get angry.

Doesn’t he know how much he’s hurt me?

It’s been SEVEN years.

I am not that person anymore.

I shouldn’t be blamed for something so long ago. 

We stopped. He talked. I listened. And just as I was about to get defensive, I hear myself say, “I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry.

Two little words that make a big difference.

I’m not good at saying I’m sorry. It’s far easier to be right, to deflect blame. But I knew I had been wrong, that version of me had been wrong to say what I did. I wanted to remind him I was different, had changed. He didn’t need that reminder. He needed an apology.

It was in that moment, our words changed, our tone changed, our defenses lowered. I’m Sorry.

Is there someone in your life who needs an apology? Make that a part of your month of kindness. I’m sorry. Such simple words that much such a difference.

Walls

You are fat.

You are abrasive.

You say the wrong things.

No one likes you.

You don’t deserve to be loved.

I could fill a post with all of the critical thoughts that go through my head every day about myself, all of the parts of myself that make me unworthy, that make me unlovable. Even as I extend kindness to others, the person I am hardest on, the person who receives the least amount of kindness from me each day is ME.

Criticism is normal to me. Our family time involves judging others, making fun of those who are “lacking.” Growing up, we would watch Wheel of Fortune every night at dinner. As I’ve gotten older I realized it wasn’t for the puzzles; it was a different kind of sport. Make fun. Laugh about their clothes. Laugh about their weight. Laugh about their accents. Judge them.

My grandfather is a rancher. Trips to his house are far more enjoyable if you bring a few stories about others, if you gossip with him while he rocks back and forth on his wooden rocking chair. Criticizing others is how we bond as a family. It’s disgusting, but it’s what I know.

I was a kind child. I received the Citizenship Award at school every year. I did for others. I was generous, kind, loving. Through the last decade of my adult life I’ve wondered what exactly happened, where did that person, that kid, go? And I’ve listened, listened to my family talk to each other, listened to myself talk about others, about myself. Where did that kind person go?

She was swallowed by all of the negative thoughts, a reality I created within myself. I realized that all of the negative self-talk was a defense.

If I tear myself down first, no one else can hurt me.

If I point out all of my faults, if I pick myself apart, there is nothing left for anyone else. I call this self-reflection. Truly, it is self-annihilation.

When I was twenty-two, about to graduate college, I had a life-changing realization: I’m not that important. I know that sounds counter to this entire post, but it’s true. We are a selfish species. Everyone else is so caught up in their own crap to be worried about mine. Sure, they might talk about me occasionally. Hell, they might even be talking badly about me. But mostly, they are worried about themselves. Yes, my family is critical. Yes, they judge everyone. But they aren’t the whole world, and I can choose to surround myself with those who focus on building others up, rather than tearing them down. But first, I have to change my own thoughts about myself.

Of all the thoughts that course through my head each day, rarely do I hear You are beautiful. You are smart. You are strong. You are worthy. You are loved.

You are beautiful.

You are smart.

You are strong.

You are worthy.

You are loved.

Take time today to be kind to yourself. Write yourself a letter about how wonderful you are. Treat yourself to a massage, a workout, a walk. Sit in silence and breathe in you. You are here, now. And you are beautiful.

Abundance

I started clearing my house out last week. Too much clutter. Too much stuff.

My house burned down four years ago. I had nothing: no toothbrush, no pillow, no change of clothes. But we rebuilt. And we acquired. And acquired. And acquired. If you were to walk through my house now you would have no idea that I lost all my “stuff” only four years ago.

For one, we had kids (a month after the fire to be exact). And kids tend to require a lot of “stuff.” After the first, we saved all of our baby items for the eventuality of the second, who made his appearance last February. I have consigned much of our baby goods, and some of it I continue to save for the next sale, hoping to finally rid my house of this “stuff” I no longer need.

Enough.

I have enough. All of these baby items, all of this stuff, is just taking up space in my house, space I would like to use to move, to breathe. Even if it’s just in the garage, this stuff is weighing me down. I knew about the fundraiser for the women’s shelter and had planned to go. But instead of just going, I decided I would sort through all of my things, try to get rid of that which I no longer needed, all of the stuff that was sitting in my closet or a tub in the garage or on a back shelf that was no longer serving me. It still has purpose. It still has a need.

 

Today I donated a pack n play, maternity pants, a baby tub, blankets, lotion, diapers, diapers, diapers, tylenol, vitamin C. I took a car load of items to help this shelter. Part of their mission is helping those recovering from addiction as well as the homeless.

In addition to the items donated, they raised over $6000 today for the shelter at this fundraiser. The director of the program told us that was enough to cover the cost of food for a YEAR for their programs. A year of food. Oh, we have enough.

What I have realized in the 5 days so far of this challenge is that we all have something to give, even those moms who are recipients of that charity. It might not be money. It might not be time. But we are all capable of generosity. We all have enough of something. Our lives are abundant.

 

Kind words

I’m a yeller.

It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s not something I will readily admit most days. But I am. I grew up with yellers. And it’s how I’ve learned to get someone’s attention, whether it’s my husband, my kids, or someone caught in the crossfire.

I don’t yell at everyone. I rarely yell at strangers. I rarely yell in public. (I do write a sharp letter every so often though laying my feelings out on the line.) Those I am most likely to yell at are those closest to me.

Last spring I received a phone call that opened my eyes to the destruction yelling was doing to my family. I own a web design and development company, and this client wanted a blog about her challenge, the Orange Rhino Challenge she called it, to stop yelling at her FOUR kids… for a whole year. I admittedly thought she was crazy. In some ways I admired this challenge. In other ways, I thought it was… well, wrong isn’t the right word. It’s not that I admired yelling, it’s just that I looked at it as my parenting tool. I don’t spank my kids, so I still needed a way to let them know they were in trouble.

The thing is, yelling wasn’t really all that effective. I’ve always said that I felt like spanking didn’t really teach my kids anything and teaching was the ultimate goal of discipline… and the biggest tool in the parenting toolbox. Spanking to me was about release of anger for the parents. When I considered it, yelling didn’t really teach anything either and was more about me than my kids. Sure, it made me feel better for about half a second, at which point I got even angrier about whatever I was yelling about.The more I thought about it though, I realized that yelling was my spanking. And that didn’t make me feel very good.

My goal was to try to avoid yelling for the entire 25 day challenge; if our client could do it for a year, surely I could make it 25 days. And then Sunday happened (a whole day and a half – go me!). Family drama ensued. And we all raised our voices. And we all ended up feeling really badly. A day, surely I could do it for a day. I set myself up today, prepared mentally to not yell. And yet, I woke up this morning and my day started off like it always does: I’m awake, my husband isn’t, the four year old comes into our room and immediately hurts himself and starts crying for a band-aid for the cut the size of a poppy seed and then the baby starts crying and needs to be held and changed, and it’s already 7:20 and my son needs to be at school by 8:30, and the dogs still need to be let out and fed, and the kids need to be dressed and fed, and… well, my mornings are really challenging. I felt myself getting worked up. I had been awake for twenty minutes and already had forgotten about the challenge. I was starting to raise my voice. I caught myself. I breathed and remembered and calmed down and didn’t yell.

It’s ok, Brooke. 

I found this quote yesterday and it has been playing through my head all day: “Raise your words, not your voice. It’s rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” Raise your words. Raise your thoughts. 

It’s so easy, I think, for us to get caught up in our chaos, and even as we slow down and do for others, we forget about the smallest (and yet the most powerful) part of our day: our thoughts. Kind thoughts breed kind words that make kind actions. Kindness starts with our thoughts. Today, think kind thoughts. Speak kind words. Grow flowers.

Sharing kindness

The other night I asked those on Twitter and Facebook to share their thoughts on what defined kindness. I had some really great answers: “Gentle in Understanding,” “Showing compassion even when you think someone doesn’t deserve it.” One answer in particular caused me to pause. @MarketingMusing said: “doing/helping others even when no one is around to notice or take a pic and talk abt it on social networks.”

We had an interesting dialogue. I asked whether sharing an act of kindness diminished the goodness of the act or whether it was the intention behind the sharing that somehow changed its inherent goodness.

We love stories of anonymous donors who donate money to strangers on the street. But would those stories be just as amazing if the donor was public? Does the donor keep his identity secret so the act stays selfless? Does anonymity make us any less interested in the donor?

This project, in its creation, is social. I did not do 30 acts of kindness on my birthday for mentions or likes. But I did share my experience online… and I asked others to participate. My day would have been no less amazing had I not shared it. But the active doing for others by my friends as a result of the project made it that much more special to me.

Does sharing this project, does posting the acts online, somehow make the kindness less selfless?

My answer is that sharing ENHANCES the act. What I love so much about social media is that it creates communities, communities that can mobilize behind an act (sometimes for good, sometimes not). Take Momastery’s Holiday Hands (which I just learned about for the first time last night). What an amazing community. What amazing acts of charity done BECAUSE of the social element of that site. Acts of kindness are acts of kindness regardless of whether there is a camera there to document. What defines the act for me is the feeling that I have as a result of doing, of giving. Giving the parking attendant a gas card this morning literally changed my day. I have smiled more, felt more positive, been more joyous. Amazing the gifts that giving gives. My hope is that this project inspires others to be more generous, to reach out just a little bit more. That is what I believe can be achieved by sharing these acts, these days of kindness.

No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.

-Amelia Earhart

 

Request for cards

One of the Acts I had planned this month was to ask for all of your help. You see, I love cards. I lost the ones I had saved for twenty years in the fire. But I got cards and cards and more cards after. Cards from people I never met. Cards from people I hadn’t spoken to in years. Cards from people whose lives I impacted but didn’t know. And those cards mean the world to me. I want to give the gift of cards to someone else. But who?

Last night, that who was introduced to me by way of a Facebook post. A little boy with Down Syndrome who was diagnosed with cancer at age 3. He is sick now, and I want to give this family some love, let them know that they are being held up by strangers, by those whose only connection to them is a simple sentence.

Will you send a card? Will you have your children make a card for this little boy? Will you add his family to your Christmas card list? I would love to have the cards by December 15th if possible (2 weeks). The address to send them to is my office:

Digavise
c/o Cards for Kean
910 W Main St. Suite 354
Boise, ID 83702

Words that heal

In 2008, I stopped smiling.

My house had burned down ten weeks prior, my son born six weeks before, and then my face stopped working (yeah, it was really awesome being me that year). The entire right side of my face was paralyzed, a reflection, quite honestly, of how I was feeling emotionally. Within weeks, I was sick, really, really, really sick. I thought I was dying. Everyone else just thought I was depressed. It took a year, and quite a lot of doctor and ER visits, before a neurologist finally tested me for Lyme. And even with a positive test and symptoms that fit the disease to a T, I still had doctors call my labs “false positives.”

It took another year to regain health to 80% of where I was. I have had a rare few months where my health has been a bit better. My doctor doesn’t accept insurance. His office is an hour plane ride away. I had a PICC line, home health. Until the Affordable Care Act was passed, the likelihood of ever being insured under anything other than a catastrophic plan was slim. I am lucky that I have the resources to be able to pay for medical care, even though it ate through a lot of my savings. I know the realities of this disease and the financial toll it can take.

This year, even though I’ve been battling my own relapse and long-term nerve damage, I am giving to others who are not so fortunate, others who are fighting this disease and who are struggling as a result. I have four kids for whom I am sending shoeboxes full of small gifts: an 8 year old boy, a 10 year old boy, a 13 year old girl, and a 16 year old girl.

As I was buying the items for the shoebox today, I was thinking about chronic illness in general. One of the kindest things you can do for someone who is sick is simply ask “How are you feeling today?” For those of us who have been sick for a long time, we know that it is exhausting to discuss health problems over and over (it’s exhausting to us too). We know that it seems like we are always sick (we are). But those words are so much more than a question. They are an acknowledgement, an acknowledgement of the struggle, of the journey, of the successes we have every day. Because Lyme in particular is so controversial, it can also be an acknowledgement that we truly are sick and not just crazy. Another great question? What can I do to help? A home cooked meal can truly be such an amazing gift when you are sick and working to just get out of bed each day. Coffee with a friend can return normalcy into a life that has been turned on its head. Stopping at the store to pick up some groceries may not be a big deal to you, but for someone whose head spins from the noise and the lights, it can be a true life saver.

It isn’t always easy to listen to others talk about their health. But those words can heal. Your words have power; use them kindly!