The Resolution I’m Glad I Didn’t Keep

Not all New Year’s resolutions are meant to be kept. Some years you make a really good one, and you keep it, and all turns out right in the end. I hope that is how 2016 will be for you!

But sometimes, we start down a path we were never meant to be on.

Sermon: God’s Way or No Way | We Your People, Ours the Journey

That’s why it’s important to watch for the signs that you’re not heading the direction you’re meant to. Then, give up that resolution and start another. There are no rules about what day you will resolve to be awesome. In fact, you have 361 more days to dedicate to being your best self.  IMG_3304In late 2014, I had some tough lessons. My bleeding heart is a trusting little pumper, and when faced with unpredictable and upsetting events, I have practically no defenses around it. Where others would stand fierce with resolve and anger, I tend to react with self-doubt and sadness. And it feels awful.

My warrior friends circled me with the protection I wasn’t able to muster myself. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be like my lawyer friend, who calmly took in all the facts and reacted with clear counsel. I wanted to be like my bad-ass friends, who’s fuck that attitude was a Teflon shield held above me. I wanted to be all logic and toughness. No more Mrs. Nice. It just wasn’t working for me. The pain was too icky.

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So, along came 2015. And this was going to be the year. I was done with trust. Defenses were up. New people were to be regarded with an abundance of caution. Old alliances were under the microscope. I was hyper-vigilant and in full retreat. No way was I going to be blindsided again. I was going to be ready! I actually resolved to be less trusting and for God’s sake stop being so nice all the time. My cynical, logical, what-have-I-been-telling-you-all-along husband rejoiced.

And it felt good, at first. And then it felt awful. Even worse than the awful I was trying to protect myself from. It’s really hard work trying to be someone you’re not, too. It’s exhausting.

IMG_2606Also, I could not stop thinking about a woman profiled on Humans of New York in Sept. 2014. Cathy is the director of the Confident Children out of Conflict (CCC) Center in Juba, “a place where displaced children in South Sudan are given shelter, an education, affection, and a second chance.” This is the quote that would not leave my mind:

Often their trauma is so bad, that when the children first arrive, they can be very hateful toward me. But I feel blessed by the hate. Because I know it’s part of the healing process. And if they need someone to hate so that they can heal, I’m glad it can be me.”

Photo by Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York.

 

In the first few months of my ‘resolution,’ I thought she was on my mind as a warning: don’t be like her. She is going to drown in her own kindness.  But the more I began to question my new resolve to be less trusting and kind, the more her message turned into something I was supposed to learn from, not run from.

Life has been pretty picnic-like so far for me. And maybe that’s why I’m so tenderhearted…because I haven’t had to fight and claw against adversity. I had always thought that was a weakness of mine. But for the first time, I was starting to see that maybe I was supposed to be this way. Things were supposed to turn out for me so that I would have the openness to help other people.

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“If they need someone to hate so that they can heal, I’m glad it can be me.” That is bad-ass and Teflon tough.

So, I switched up my resolution. Spending so much energy trying to be something I’m not, in the hopes of not getting hurt, was depleting me. Just like Stella and her groove, I needed to get my nice back. I started consciously thinking of trust and kindness as strengths, not weaknesses. And, I started to feel a whole lot better.

You can protect yourself and be kind at the same time. Just remember that everyone is fighting their own battles. Maybe you could be the one that reaches out in love and puts a hole in their armor. And if that doesn’t work, walk away. And bring your bad-ass friends with you. You’re gonna need them.

IMG_4540This year, I hope you walk towards the person you were always meant to be. We all have a place, and we’re all needed. The bleeding hearts need the cynics to pull us up from the depths we plunge into. You tough ones need us Pollyannas to remind you that it’s okay to trust sometimes. 

If your resolution isn’t leading you towards what resonates in your core, give it up! I know I’m glad I did.

PeRsPeCtIvE

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It took me quite some time after graduate school to find my first paid position as a speech pathologist. What didn’t take long was figuring out why my employer, an inner-city rehabilitation center, had used the word “unique” in their help-wanted ad. The majority of patients there were under 50, and missing at least one limb (due to complications from untreated diabetes). An overpowering stench permeated the building. But what really stood out was the volatility that hovered over every interaction. Outbursts were common, and the whole atmosphere was loud and unsettled. Early on, I was charged by a screaming, arm-flailing man because I had turned down his television set (never did that again!).

One day I sat across from a middle-aged, toothless man. We were working on his expressive language skills, including speech intelligibility, after a mugging had left him brain damaged. Just before our session, I had learned he would be heading to his mother’s house the next day.

“Are you excited about getting out of here?” I asked him. After all, I cried in my car every morning before walking into work, and assumed that actually having to stay there would be a horrible experience. But his answer surprised me.

“Oh, I hate to leave,” he told me. “The bed is so soft and clean. And the food is so good. I’ll be back on the streets soon, and I’ll be hungry again now.”

After we finished, I wished him well and then escaped into the dark back staircase, one of my regular hiding spots. I stood on my tip-toes so I could see out the cinder-block sized window, and I cried. But this time it was not because I was scared and overwhelmed, but because I hadn’t seen any goodness in this place before that. I had assumed this was the bottom – the worst case scenario. And that man’s words showed me how naive I was, and how much worse things could be.

IMG_1130Years later, I was teaching an introductory speech and language course at The University of Connecticut. I was my first college teaching experience, and I was very anxious for everything to go smoothly. When I walked into the building on the first day, I noticed a large group of students standing outside the classroom I’d been assigned to. I immediately panicked. It was an 8:00 a.m. class, and I didn’t have a key. I had no plan B! Then, I noticed a second door to the room, further down the hallway. I walked over to it, opened it, and went inside. The students followed behind me and the class proceeded. On the way home I laughed at how thin the line can be between student and teacher: the teacher is sometimes just the person who tries the second door!

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It seems that where we are on life’s journey often determines our perspective. Don’t we all, at some point, feel like we’re at the bottom of the heap? During those times, all we can do is look up, and see others who have achieved what we had hoped to by now. But don’t forget, there are people behind you, wishing they were as far along as you are. Reach back with encouragement, and look forward in hope. Take some time to adjust your perspective: maybe where you are right now is where you are supposed to be.

So, appreciate what you have. But, don’t forget to look for that second door. It’s probably sitting there, unlocked, waiting for you.

The Power of “I’m Sorry”


My children are 8 and 10, and sibling squabbles are commonplace around here. Arguments are usually based on the territorial instincts of the North American pre-teen (get out of my room, don’t touch my stuff)  and on their desire to assert their position as Alpha Child (I call the: TV, computer, last brownie…).

That’s why it is such a delight for me to hear the words “I’m sorry” coming from my kids’ mouths, especially with no intervention or threats from me.

I almost fell off my mom perch when I heard my son tell my daughter, “I’m sorry you lost your necklace, I know it was special to you.”   I was equally pleased to hear her tell him, “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I was frustrated.”

The latter example comes directly from my repeated efforts to model for them how to admit when you are wrong, and the power of an apology.  Sometimes I return to things days later, for example, “a few nights ago I overreacted when I told you…[insert ridiculous and unenforceable parenting threat], and I’m sorry about that.  I think it would be more reasonable if [realistic consequence] was your punishment instead.”

The point is, I want them to know that if something is gnawing at you, and you feel bad about it, it is never too late to try to make it right.  It can mean a lot to the person you are apologizing to, and can be incredibly freeing for the person making the apology.

A few months ago I spoke about navigating relationships with friends who have special needs children (Unique Voices), and I talked about being sorry for all the times I’ve gotten it wrong.  I got to follow up with my friend Brad Mook, who is the parent of a child with special needs.  I asked him specifically, “what should I do when I know I’ve put my foot in my mouth?  How can I make it right when I know my words or actions have hurt someone?”

His advice was simple: “Sorry goes a long way.”  Then he shared the story of a nurse who once looked at his daughter Ellie (who was born with a rare chromosomal abnormality) and said, “She’s not that odd.”  It was hurtful to the core.  Being the awesome people that they are, the Mook family has turned her comment into an inside joke, with mom Colleen sometimes joking with Ellie, “you’re not that odd…”  (See Colleen’s Open Letter to Ellie).

Brad’s point was, if that nurse had returned later in the day and said, “I’m so sorry for making that insensitive remark.  I don’t know what I was thinking!”, she would have a whole different place in their memory.  She would be the nurse who mis-spoke, but then learned from her mistake.

In fact, that’s just what happened with another friend of Brad’s, who offhandedly used the term “retarded” in a Facebook post.  After he expressed how hurtful that word can be, the person apologized profusely, learned, grew, and they both moved on.  This illustrates another important point:  it’s sometimes just as important to accept sincere apologies as it is to give them.

Saying I’m sorry can be an important first step in  starting a dialogue of healing and growth.  Here is an amazing example of the power those words can hold:

This photo captured the moment a man participating in a Gay Pride parade hugged a member of a Christian group that had come to the parade carrying signs that apologized for the way the church has treated homosexuals:

Now that’s an apology!!  As for me, I’ve never held up a sign in public, but I have apologized on email, in person, on the phone, and via snail mail.  I’ve apologized immediately, and years after the fact.  No matter how I do it, it always makes me feel better.  I don’t expect to be forgiven instantly, or even at all.  But I do expect myself to do better, and saying I’m Sorry is my promise that I’m working on it.