Random Acts of Kindness: Surprise with a Note of Thanks

Random Act of Kindness

 

One of my favorite acts of random kindness is sending an unexpected basket from Edible Arrangements. While I love flowers, I love fruit more :-)

One year, I sent a basket to the compliance department at Scentsy, which is based here locally. The Scentsy employees had the unfortunate task of contacting consultants who were not adhering to corporate policies. I couldn’t imagine having to deal with that on a day to day basis, and the basket was a way to show appreciation, knowing that their work is important.

Another time, I sent a basket to a friend, whose daughter was hospitalized with a horrible respiratory infection. I knew that eating healthy foods was difficult in this situation but also important for this particular mom.

And today, I sent another to a group of people who I am sure work very hard, are often under-appreciated, but who make our literary world that much better.

Often I find myself surrounded by people whose jobs aren’t glorious, are sometimes messy, and sometimes even make others disappointed. But their roles are just as important, and they help keep order. Who do you know who may be under appreciated? What can you do tonight to reach out and say thanks?

I hope this finds you surrounded by peace and joy. And if not, let me know how I can help.

2014: Donate to your Food Bank

25 Days of Kindness Food Bank

Welcome to 25 Days of Kindness, 2014 Edition.

I love Thanksgiving. I love the food in particular: turkey, gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, orange rolls. It’s a great day to celebrate abundance.

It’s why I felt kicking off my 25 Days of Kindness project with a donation to the Food Bank was so appropriate. I am thankful for so much in my life and am grateful to have the luxury of a hot meal every single night. Many aren’t as fortunate. I have donated money in the past directly to the homeless. Sometimes I still do. But I find myself leery of this more and more and worry that the money is not actually going where I intended and that I can do far more good by donating to those who have the resources to reach the hungry.

I am also grateful that our grocery store has a way to donate to the Food Bank directly from the store. I know that cash donations can sometimes be more valuable than food directly. They know what is needed and are much better at managing resources than I am (trust me!!).

Here are some great resources about donating specific items to the Food Bank:
10 Things Food Banks Need But Won’t Ask For
What Food Banks Need Most This Holiday Season

I’ve also included the Food Bank locator here from Feeding America.

I look forward to sharing this month’s journey with you once again!

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.

 

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.

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

 

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!

What is kindness?

What does it mean to be kind?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times and one I asked repeatedly during my 30 acts challenge on my birthday. What are acts of kindness? What acts ‘count’?

I’ve read lots of stories, especially around the holidays, of random acts of kindness. The ones reported by the news are almost always monetary, and are nearly always large in scope. A mystery person paying off layaway (which was admittedly really awesome!). A secret Santa giving away $100 randomly. As I started compiling my list of acts of kindness, I wanted to include several acts of monetary charity, like today’s act of handing out gas gift cards at the gas station. It’s random, unexpected, generous.

But is that all that kindness is? Monetary charity?

I’d expect that almost everyone would say “no.” And yet, I feel like my 25 days of kindness journey is supposed to be just about that.

It isn’t.

Kindness is about far more than giving away money. It’s giving away time. It’s recognizing that others’ needs are important. And it’s also recognizing that sometimes our needs are greater than that of others. It’s being loving toward our family as well as strangers. It’s about recognizing the need for kindness toward ourselves. It’s about having the right thoughts, the right intentions, the right words. It’s about being forgiving (gulp!).

I plan on giving to strangers. I plan on giving financially. I plan on loving others more. I plan on showing compassion to those who I want to believe don’t deserve it (oh man is this going to be hard). I plan on trying to be gentle in understanding. This month is about exploring what it means to be kind. As you extend your own acts of kindness into your life and your community, I ask that you too reflect on what it means to be kind. What acts ‘count’ in your life? And where can you find unexpected acts of kindness that bring a smile to someone’s face, acts that may seem insignificant but that, in their simpleness, can change someone’s life?

30 Acts of Kindness

I turned 30 this year.

Thirty.

Unlike many of my peers (and those who have come before me), I’ve always been kind of excited for my thirties. My mom always said I was three going on thirty, so maybe I internalized it as my true age. It wasn’t like my twenties had been all that kind to me either: my dad’s cancer, a house fire, and neuro Lyme are enough to make one long for better days. And that’s what the dawning of a new decade was for me.

I thought a lot about my thirtieth birthday through time. I wanted to do something big, something special to bring in the decade that seemed to announce to the world that, twelve years later, you are actually now an adult (for me, an adult with a house, two dogs, a husband, and two young kids). What I planned for a decade was a trip to London and Scotland. While I had been to London when I was fifteen on a school trip, I wanted time to soak in the English culture. And I wanted to spend my birthday at Wimbledon.  I also wanted to travel the Scottish Highlands, hoping that Diana Gabaldon had not led me astray in my love of the Scottish heritage. And then they announced London as the host city for the 2012 Olympics, an event that would fall shortly after my birthday. And then I got pregnant. I didn’t want to travel abroad with a four month old, and I didn’t really want to be caught in the chaos that would be preparation for the Olympics (though I would love to go to those one day as well).

As it turned out, Dan’s brother planned his wedding for the week before the big 3-0. And he was getting married two hours from where I grew up in Virginia (across the country from where we lived and where his brother had grown up). The beach, rolling hills of Virginia, and D.C. were going to have to be an adequate substitute for Scotland. But still, I had no idea what I wanted to do to mark the birthday that I felt was one of the biggest in my life thus far.

My mom turned sixty two days before me. Thirty had been rough for her (though who could blame her since she was nine months pregnant), and sixty seemed to be another birthday milestone that reminded all of us that this life is short. We were together in Virginia, and I felt like there was a missed opportunity for embracing what should have been a celebration of her life thus far and all of the life left in front of her. I wanted to mark my birthday in a meaningful way, doing something that reflected both the struggles and triumphs of my first thirty years. Thirty acts of kindness was created. Thirty acts for thirty years.

I can honestly say that it was the best birthday I’ve had. I asked friends to participate as well, doing an act of kindness for others in lieu of gifts. What was amazing to me was that in being selfless, I found that others were actually more invested in my birthday. Instead of just the Facebook Happy Birthdays, I had messages of dinners made, Starbucks bought, neighbors called. What a gift!

As it turned out, the day was over before thirty acts were complete. But the day wasn’t about hitting a number, achieving a goal. It was about happiness and love. And the twenty+ acts I did perform were meaningful. I took Subway sandwiches to a fire station, honoring the firemen who go out of their way to protect us; I handed out $10 bills to random people, which was actually one of the most difficult acts, not because I had a hard time letting go of $10 but because it’s kind of awkward and outside the bounds of societal norms to hand people money, telling them to have a good day; I picked up shopping carts at Target. We posted messages along a walking trail; I brought flowers to a cancer wing at the hospital and asked them to give them to someone having a particularly hard day; I visited the mother of my oldest friend from preschool who lost her husband when I was in college and who I hadn’t seen in over a decade. I spent time with my husband; I treated myself. Kindness.

I’ve reflected a lot on that day, about how much joy was created in my life as a result. Christmas, too, is a time for kindness, for joy. I have complained in the past about how much I give to others, how much time I invest in finding the right gift (I truly love getting people the perfect gift). And yet, I never feel that time reciprocated. I get cheese puffs (we don’t eat cheese puffs), cash, and from others, nothing. So I decided to pare down my Christmas list, buying only a few things for a few family members, and instead focusing on others, those for whom I expect nothing in return. This year Christmas will be about investing in others, giving – but in a way that gives more meaning to the Christmas season to me. And in a way that brings me joy. I hope you will join me on the journey.