My Visit to St. Michaels University School

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It was a scorching hot day as I pulled up to the front of the gorgeous brick building and emerged from my car, weighed down by bulky bags of art supplies and all of the equipment necessary for my impending presentation on kindness.

Greeted by the warm and friendly staff, I was directed to the spacious auditorium where over 160 school-aged ELL students from St.Michaels University School’s ISPY program would soon fill the seats.

“I should mention,” one of the staff members announced apologetically, “they’ve mistakenly been told by their houseparents that they are set to go to the museum this afternoon. There’s been a schedule mix-up. I have to warn you, some of the kids are disappointed to be stuck on campus for a presentation.”

Uh oh. My heart sank a little.

This was not the most ideal situation in which to greet a rather large bunch of middle-schoolers, let alone speak to them about kindness.

I have to admit, I started getting nervous.

I took a deep breath, “Ok. No problem. We’ll make it work!”

Within minutes, kids began filing into the room. Some of them entered silently and sleepily. Others jostled one another, still riding high from the endorphins after a lively game of lunchtime basketball.

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I began my presentation, pleasantly surprised at how quickly they gave me the floor. Suddenly, due to a technical glitch, the video I wanted to play was inaudible and wouldn’t play properly (despite several soundchecks)…

#worstnightmare

“Uh oh, I’ve lost them!” I thought, maintaining the illusion of calm on the outside while ripples of panic lapped at my mind.

I explained that sometimes life hands us challenging situations to test out ability to overcome them. I thanked them for their patience, then completed my presentation (with the technical support of a few friendly teachers nearby).

The thing is, these kids, many of whom had been disappointed initially at the prospect of staying on campus extended me the most generous, warm reception at the end of the talk. They demonstrated their compassion and allowed me to feel comfortable within their presence, in spite of the glitches.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, these students, from China, Korea, Russia, Mexico, Japan, Iran, and Taiwan, cycled through break-out sessions where they learned about mindfulness (from the amazing Lisa Baylis from Awaken the Well-Being of Educators), calming strategies, yoga, and kindness.

In my session, we created Kindness Rocks (lesson linked) and practiced English language skills through writing encouraging notes for friends, teachers, and family members together.

About a week later, I received a letter from St.Michaels University School. When I opened it, my heart just about burst open. Within the envelope were a number of letters, cards, notes, and even a hand-drawn portrait expressing thanks.

What touched my heart the most was that some of the students articulated their initial disappointment about having to sit in lecture hall, then noted that they came away from the presentation with a changed perspective about kindness and happiness.

I love to see children realize that their kind acts enable people to feel valued and seen, that their generosity can contribute to a happier world, and that their influence within their learning community matters.

A big thank you St. Michaels University School and my friend Allison for having me in! It was truly an honour.

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The 25 Beliefs I Once Held to be True…but Don’t Anymore

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Like everyone else I know, I have a million-and-one things I should be doing instead of writing this post right now, but that tiny fleeting voice of inspiration came knocking and tugged on my shirtsleeve. So, while the kids were napping, I did what any self-respecting mom on a ‘nap-break’ with mountains of laundry, tons of research to do, gazillions of emails to respond to, and a disaster of a house to clean…I indulged the urge to sit down with a pen and paper. I gave inspiration an inch…then, as the saying goes…time literally evaporated.

My loved ones all know my passion for lists, but this one’s a little different than the usual to-do or goal-setting lists. The following is a compilation of some of the beliefs I once held to be true…the ones I now whole-heartedly reject.

Maybe you’ll agree with me, but more interestingly, perhaps you’ll disagree. Let me know!

Regardless, I felt compelled to examine, tease-out, and share some of the strongly held beliefs I once had to illustrate that it’s very possible to change one’s mind.

Here is goes…in no particular order:

  1. Mind-games and posturing are the only road to true love. Vulnerability is for suckers.
  2. Effective parenting results from manufacturing adversity so that one’s children will toughen-up for the real world. I once heard someone say that they seek to disappoint their children every single day for this reason!
  3. Perfection is the antidote to criticism-the notion that if one achieves perfection in terms of work performance, grades in school, physically, in our relationships (parents, children, friends, spouses) that we will receive immunity from the pain and hurt that our experiences have the capacity to unleash upon us (*And by-the-way, perfection is not only a total fallacy, but it’s a dangerous and seductive illusion founded in fear.)
  4. Grief is a finite process with an end date. (*Nope. It’s more like an ocean whose waves are sometimes gentle and lapping, and other times have the immense capacity to pull you right under.  Grief is unpredictable. The kindness and bravest thing we can do for others and ourselves is to hold space for grief and sit along those in grief as they navigate its choppy waters.)
  5. Achieving your goals = happiness
  6. Beauty is objective.
  7. Parenting is easy, if you’re doing it right. (Ha! Riggghht…)
  8. The only way to navigate this world and make it out alive is to construct and dawn a thick coat of armour so strong that neither joy nor pain shall penetrate one’s tender heart.
  9. Successful, obedient students exemplify successful teaching.
  10. Being courageous is not for me.
  11. I am alone in my experiences.
  12. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
  13. Being “good” is the only road to worthiness.
  14. Admitting to experiencing sadness, anger, loneliness, and jealousy means that there’s something wrong with you.
  15. The only way to be spiritual is to go to church.
  16. Creativity lies inherently within the individual. You either are or you aren’t. The genius resides within the artist.
  17. Everything in life is random.
  18. We must ask our passions to provide for us, financially.
  19. Forgiveness is impossible because it means condoning.
  20. Seeking and acquiring approval from others is the only way to win at life. *In the words of Seth Godin, seeking to please everyone makes you a “walking generality” instead of a “meaningful specific.”
  21. Everyone deserves a second chance. *No they don’t! Maya Angelou once said, “When somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time!”
  22. My worthiness of love and belonging is directly dependent on my ability to earn it. It’s about hustling. *Nope. Nope. Nope! You are born worthy of love and belonging. The minute you start believing that, the more you can get down to the important, purposeful work you were meant to do!
  23. People’s personalities are fixed.
  24. I cannot write the ending to my story.
  25. Achieving and striving toward audacious goals is for other people.

My Interview with Barry-Wehmiller: the $2B Company that Chose People over Layoffs During the 2008 Recession

My Interview with Barry-Wehmiller: the $2B Company that Chose People over Layoffs During the 2008 Recession

Check out my guest-post here.

What is the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge?

In our current world filled with uncertainty, ubiquitous inundation of technology, and political turmoil, many of us are feeling more and more disconnected from the very thing that has been scientifically proven to determine our overall sense of happiness: our connection to one another. Anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide rates continue to rise within populations across North America. In the name of efficiency and cost cutting, many businesses focus on numbers over people. Many schools focus on grades and achievement, instead of cultivating conscientious, passionate, innovative, and entrepreneurial students. On both macro and micro levels, it feels as though our country, many businesses, organizations, and schools are in crisis.

As bestselling author on workplace motivation and behavioural management Dan Pink asserts, “individuals spend over half of their waking hours at work.” Most people want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, that what they are doing is meaningful, and essentially, that they matter.

I believe we are all responsible for the cultures in which we work, learn, and live, and it falls on the shoulders of our leaders to show us the way.

The Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Challenge serves to promote and cultivate safe and supportive cultures in workplaces and educational organizations.  We encourage individuals from all walks of life (leaders, employees, parents, students) to intentionally commit to performing at least one altruistic act per day for 21 consecutive days, putting aside differences, busy schedules, expectations of recompense, and assumptions, to do so. What’s incredible is that it’s scientifically proven that people not only feel happier when they do kind acts, but their actions actually contribute to making those around them happier, too! The kicker? By committing to 21-days of intentional kindness, habits of perspective-taking, altruism, and gratitude are formed at the neurological level and eventually lead to significant positive, long-lasting ripple-effects in workplace and institutional cultures.

How can businesses incorporate the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge within their workplaces?

The 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Kindness Challenge starts with a conscious commitment from individual employees, employers, and/ or companies to come up with meaningful ways to add value to their corporate culture throughout a dedicated 21-day period. It can be as simple as buying a coffee for a co-worker, congratulating a team-member on a recent success, writing an appreciative email, or listening to a friend vent, without judgement.

Or, it can be as far-reaching as, CEO of $2+ billion-dollar global supplier and manufacturer Barry-Wehmiller, Bob Chapman’s legendary furlough program, through which he was able to avoid devastating layoffs in 2008 by implementing a mandatory unpaid 4-week vacation. As Chapman has said, “It’s better that we should all suffer a little, than any of us should have to suffer a lot.” The leader is responsible for setting the tone through the choices they make, not by simply plastering their walls with slogans that sound good or are ‘on trend.’ We must ask ourselves daily whether we are proud of our interactions. It comes down to choosing integrity over what feels easy.Taking care of our employees and coworkers reinforces that they matter. We should all be striving toward actively creating workplace, educational, and community cultures guided by principles of tolerance, respect, and generosity.

How did the idea for the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge come about?

I read Simon Sinek’s incredible book, Leaders Eat Last(which told the story of Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller) while on maternity leave with my second child. So many of the ideas he shared resonated deeply with me. In the book, he explains effects of stress and kindness on the brain.

Cortisol, Sinek explains, is the stress chemical dischargedby the brain into our body. It shuts down all of the non-essential functions in our bodies like digestion, growth, and our immune system so that we can instantly react to danger by running away, fighting, or freezing.Cortisol also directly stops the flow of oxytocin (the empathy hormone) in our bodies.The problem is, people are feeling stressed out more and more frequently and cortisol is staying in our bodies for way too long. It’s having harmful effects on our health, mental well-being, and most importantly, our ability to connect with people.

Oxytocin, the hormoneresponsible for the feelings of love, connection, and empathy is released when we receive or perform an altruistic act. It turns out, oxytocin is also released when someone simply witnesses a nice gesture. Incredibly, neuroscientists have discovered that genuine kindness is literally contagious and has the power to counteract the effects of stress. Consequently, simply engaging in kind acts can make those around us happier and less-stressed through association.

It was the first time I had truly come across the science of kindness as it relates to workplaces and educational cultures.It felt like a powerful realization for me. As a teacher and aspiring educational leader, I naturally began thinking about the way that these theories could be adapted for implementation within the classroom and our school communities.

Teachers and educational leaders need to work actively to create supportive environments that foster a sense of belonging, especially if we wish to create cultures of innovation within our schools and post-secondary institutions. After all, we are preparing our students for the very uncertain future. We need to teach them to innovate and adapt. We need to encourage students to try new things, share their ideas, take risks, and feel the sting of failure in a safe environment.

So, I asked myself: How can we encourage individuals to become responsible for the culture of empathy in their workplaces, educational organizations, and institutions, and to do so with the intent of creating lasting change?

That’s when I came up with the idea of a 21-day kindness challenge. Intentional kind acts would result in a more positive change in culture and extending it to a 21-day campaign, would ensure lasting change.

What differentiates the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge from the random and sporadic nature of other kindness initiatives is the 21-day commitment. If we’re to create positive shifts within our cultures long-term, we need to fundamentally change our habits.

Shawn Achor, Harvard-educated author of The Happiness Advantage, states that it takes approximately 21 days to develop a single new habit. In 2008, he led a study with a large group of tax managers at KMPG to test the habits directly related to fostering optimism and happiness through kindness and gratitude. “Our brains don’t like change,” he noted. Nevertheless, the more you practice kindness and gratitude, the stronger the neuro-pathways become, which helps to make these habits become more automatic. Think of it like exercising a muscle. The more you practice perspective taking, random acts of kindness, and act altruistically, the easier it becomes. After the 21-days (and 4 months later after a subsequent retest), the experimental group’s score was much higher than the control group’s when it came to overall “optimism and life satisfaction.” This proves that practicing habits of kindness and gratitude towards others can not only create lasting habits but can also dramatically affect your own happiness.

So, I got to work. After creating a short and impactful animated whiteboard video explaining the challenge, I began touring a number of school districts, speaking in classrooms, at whole-school group assemblies, and, basically, spreading the word. That was nine months ago! The results and interest in the challenge have been phenomenal.

Currently, I am working on a number of projects that reflect the values of the Small Act Big Impact Challenge. I am in the process of designing professional development to provide teachers and leaders with a roadmap for integrating the program within their classrooms and schools in a cohesive way. I also write a weekly blog about kindness, resilience, and vulnerability. Because I am a huge fan of podcasts, the Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Challenge will be launching our very own podcast this summer! Finally, I’m putting my money where my mouth is through two projects that are close to my heart. Next year, we will be holding the Second Annual Small Act Big Impact Charity Photoshoot for single-parents through our synergy with a local non-profit organization. Ten world-class photographers have committed to providing low-income single parents from my hometown with beautiful, quality photo keepsakes of their families, free of charge. I am also currently working on developing a photo-journalism project that will tell the stories of and directly benefit the homeless population in my city. In a nutshell, this project has been tremendously rewarding!

What is “Minute Monday?” What is your hope for these videos?

Our lives are so busy! Many of us barely have 5 minutes for ourselves to meditate, eat well, or exercise, let alone time to stay up to date on the latest inspiring ideas and thought leaders out there.

My YouTube Minute Monday Series is a bite-sized, one-minute glimpse into the big influencers who inspired the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge. Generally, the videos reinforce and provide examples of the possibility of intentional, daily kindness.

My hope is that individuals will resonate with what they see and become inspired to learn more about and incorporate some of the altruistic and innovative ideas within their own lives to make their workplaces, homes, and communities more positive, supportive places. I know from personal experience, sometimes, all it takes is a spark of inspiration to make big, lasting change.

The thing is, we can all contribute to kind and resilient cultures through our actions, whether we do so publically or through the small things we do daily. We all stand to benefit from a stronger sense of connection to one another. The 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge is intended for anyone who wants to make his/her life more fulfilling and to inspire others to live in much the same way.

Together, let’s make a big impact, one small act at a time.

 

On saying “NO”

No.

I have always hated saying it to people, especially those who might judge the essence of who I am inaccurately, as a result. Ultimately, it’s always run counter to my character to disappoint.

But this past weekend, I did just that.

I said “no” to someone.

I said “no” to giving more than I could provide.

I stood within the integrity of my initial offer of generosity and refused go beyond it.

I refused to compromise my boundaries or to take time away from my precious family in order please someone else.

And it felt good. Really, really good.

In our current culture that encourages us to say “yes” at all costs, it’s not an easy thing to do, to say “no.” There are books, movies, podcasts, and movements dedicated to inviting, embracing, and devoting ourselves to “yes.”

In fact, I would consider myself a recovering “yes-person,” a pleaser or Obliger. In her recent book, The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin describes an individual of the Obliger tendency as someone who “meets outer expectations, but struggles to meet expectations they put on themselves.” Many of my past decisions have been guided by the following tenant- above all, ensure that people like you.

Whenever I have had to disappoint people, fallen short on another’s expectations of me, or had to draw a line, the decision has weighed heavily on my heart, slipped its way into my dreams, and left me sleeplessly second-guessing my choices. For too long, my decisions could be summed up by someone else’s evaluation of them. In the past, I have often ignored the signposts of my intuition, feeling compelled to meet exterior demands on my time, performance, and ability because the alternative meant letting someone down.

Disappointing someone might result in judgement.

Judgement could give way to dislike.

Dislike could lead directly to un-lovabliity.

And In my mind, there was nothing worse.

But not this time. I made the decision to say “no” with absolute clarity and peace of mind.

As time marches on, I have questioned the need to derive my value from pleasing others. Lovability, I’ve learned, comes from an inner sense of worthiness and belonging, not from external reinforcement. The truth is, the more you attempt to meet external expectations, the further you drift from your own path of purpose. The more you stay true to your integrity, the more you uphold your self-trust, the more loveable, worthy, and valued you wind up feeling deep inside.

It’s one thing to know this, intellectually. It’s an entirely different experience to put this into practice with actual, unpredictable, reactionary, tangible humans.

It was Thursday morning and I had just finished contacting beneficiaries for an upcoming charity photoshoot event.

These days, photos play an integral role in creating, sharing, documenting, and preserving memories. The cost of family photo sessions can be astronomically expensive and that cost can be a barrier to entry for lower-income or single-family homes. In the spirit of the Small Act Big Impact initiative, I thought it would be fun to offer a handful of single-parent families (from the non-profit 1 Up Single Family Resource Centre) a mini-session photoshoot and a single edited digital family portrait as a keepsake.

No ulterior motive.

No business marketing scheme.

Zero personal gain beyond the joy of using my hobby to genuinely add value to people’s lives.

That morning, several of the individuals I would be photographing reached out to thank me or share their stories in anticipation of the shoot. One of the single-moms emailed me, stating, “This sweet surprise feels like one of those little nudges to let me know I’m doing the right thing and being rewarded in this recent decision of mine to leave an unhealthy relationship and change everything for me and my children.”

I was feeling excited and honoured to be providing a service that might bring happiness to people who could not otherwise afford it.

Ping! My thoughts were interrupted by the signal of another email entering my inbox. One of the recipients, whom I had not yet met, had presumed that because the photoshoot was free, there was a catch. Her assumption led her to believe that doing the shoot would result in some benefit to me personally or financially, so she took it upon herself to make several bold demands of my time.

Acknowledging her wishes, I kindly declined and stated that in order to fulfill her expectations, I would be compromising important time with my family; furthermore, I assured her that because of the nature of the project, any benefit to be would be of the heart, not financial.

She responded almost immediately, proceeding to compare my “services” to other for-profit company ventures and marketing campaigns. In closing, she snidely asserted that the free offer was hardly worth her time, and that unless I could deliver on her list of demands, she wouldn’t be attending the shoot. Looking back now, I think her goal had been to shame me into submission. This was not a negotiation she was willing to lose.

I was stunned. I reread the email, believing I’d missed something or that maybe she was joking. And as I did, I felt an angry red heat rising in my chest, travelling up my neck, and spreading across my cheeks. I felt sickened by the skepticism lacing each line of her message, distain and entitlement emanating from the text like destructive radioactive waves.

For a moment, I began questioning my own adequacy. Maybe, she was right! Maybe what I was offering wasn’t enough. She wanted filet mignon, five-courses, and white-glove service, but what I was offering was a warm, soul-infused, hearty bowl of soup.  Briefly, I felt the need to explain myself, to make her understand that there was no catch! I wanted her to see the purpose and intent behind the shoot. I wanted desperately in that moment for her to know, see, and understand me.

But then, I realized something…

Our world is in crisis right now and we have all become victims of uncertainty and scarcity.

We have collectively become conditioned not to trust people.

We have learned that in order to survive and protect ourselves, we must read between the lines for the ulterior motives, because everything that seems too good to be true always is.

We want to win, not lose. Therefore, we continually play anticipatory offense to win the game, at all costs.

We have been acclimatised to our dog-eat-dog world by becoming takers. We have been trained to believe that since everyone else is taking, we might as well, too. Our appetite has become insatiable because there is never enough. The scarcity story plays out in all aspects of our lives.

There are not enough jobs.

There is not enough time.

There is not enough money.

There is not enough sleep.

There is not enough stuff.

Not enough,

Not enough,

Not enough…

We feel we need to negotiate by asking for more than we deserve because that’s the only way to get what we need.

We actively eliminate humanity from our interactions to protect our tender hearts and, in doing so, we become ever more disconnected from the heartbeat of the world.

And so, I understood that this woman was simply a casualty of our current culture. Compassion and empathy edged out the anger.

As I crafted my response with a more open heart, I was reminded of Dr. Maya Angelou who once said: “You teach people how to treat you.”

My goal was not to please. My goal was not to win, either. My goal was to stand strong, with respectful integrity and say “no.”

So, I did.

 

 

A Visit with Santa and a Generous Invitation

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It was 9:16 am, Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album was playing in the background, and both of my children, smiling faces illuminated by the late November morning sun, were bundled and strapped in the back of our vehicle as we cruised down the highway on our way to beat the crowds and meet Santa. My husband was out of town, so I had devised an itinerary jam-packed with fun-filled kid-friendly activities to get us in the holiday spirit and fight off cabin fever. Baking, crafts, checking-out Christmas book titles from the library, visits with friends, kicking back with classic family movies, and photos with Santa…it was going to be fun.

This is likely the first and only year I have ever embraced the “magic of Christmas” and all of its commercial baggage so darn early. But, considering last year’s Christmastime debacle and dashed dreams as a result of my unexpected vertigo symptoms, one can’t really blame my earnest and eager efforts to squeeze every last ounce out of the impending holiday season!

That morning, I had prepared and mentally geared-up for the usual Outfit-Resistance Routine, only to be pleasantly surprised when my 3.5 year-old-daughter not only agreed to wear the reindeer sweater I had laid out for her, but excitedly reached for it and exclaimed how much she loved it! Nonchalantly, I had slowly backed away, dressed her brother in his companion reindeer sweater, and ushered them both into the vehicle, barely saying a word so as not to draw her attention to my complete shock in case she changed her ever-loving mind.

We finally pulled into the already bustling Mayfair Mall parking lot and quickly found a spot. It turns out “beat the lines” was everyone’s mantra that morning. The mall had barely opened its doors and already streams of coordinated children, dressed in green, red, metallics, and stark whites, poured into the building, eyes gleaming with excitement, little hands tugging and urging their parents along. You could see some children jockeying to be the first ones in the doors, some of them literally pushing past families to do so. My heart skipped a beat. Maybe this was a mistake. I paused, gazed at the scene, and deeply inhaled the fresh, crisp air. Then, I turned to haul the double-stroller out of my trunk, a must-have fall-back when you have two small children under three-and-a-half years of age.

We reached the entrance of the mall and bee-lined for Santa. I immediately became aware of two little girls, sisters around 10 years of age, flanking either side of my stroller. They were dressed in the most stunning coordinated red and green plaid dresses, golden ballet flats, and white knit capped-sleeve sweaters. I realized quickly that these girls meant business. Their straight brown hair swung from side to side as they pumped their elbows to propel themselves past the stroller as Santa’s workshop came into view. I resisted the childish urge to pick up my pace. However, I couldn’t counteract the sinking feeling that ensued as we rounded the corner and spotted the snaking line-up, 20 people deep. Santa wouldn’t arrive for another 20 minutes. Again, I thought of the memories, sighed, and resigned myself to whatever misery would meet us in that line-up. We joined in, coming in second behind the coordinated sisters.

I should mention, before I had children, I made grandiose declarations about the “kind of parent” I would be. Technology, unhealthy treats, unnecessary negotiations, and kid-centric food would NOT be employed in our house. As a new teacher, I would sometimes find myself lamenting a romanticised historical time when children demonstrated the fine art of waiting patiently with little more than a verbal reminder. Cue the enormous eye-roll. How ignorant was I to the perils and unrelenting marathon that is parenting!?

Fast-forward to the present, I am humbled by the experience of motherhood. It has been an incredibly beautiful, challenging journey. Parenting my children has been the most humanizing, reflective experience in my life. In many ways, entering the world of parenthood has forced me to evaluate the, sometimes, unrealistic expectations I have not only of myself, but of my children.

So, I forgive my imperfections.

I employ the use of occasional unhealthy treats.

Sometimes, I make empty threats.

I use my best negotiation tactics on an almost-daily basis.

Most days, our meals consist of a predictable rotation of kid-centric food.

And technology makes appearances at least once-a-day.

And, in that Santa line-up…I used every last trick in my arsenal.

I had to laugh at the irony, as my son was back-arching, I was plying both children with “special treats” usually only reserved for the potty, and my daughter was plugged into Charlie Brown Christmas (I know, I’m pretty sure it’s single-handedly responsible for teaching preschoolers the word “stupid”), I made eye-contact with a past parent and student I had taught.

Oh…terrific.

There’s something sort of acceptable about feeling like a gong-show parenting failure in public when you feel anonymous, but the overwhelm reaches a whole new level when you actually know those around you, professionally. I smiled apologetically. She and her daughter gave a big friendly wave in our direction.

Forty minutes later, my parent-teacher ego a little bruised, we eventually arrived. We were second in line and could finally spot the big man, himself, between the photo set’s enormous sparkling trees. My daughter was star-struck, a smile spread across her face as she and her brother peered through the branches.

In that moment, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around. The two sisters stood in front of us smiling and invited us to go in front of them. I’m not sure if it was guilt for having beat us in the race to greet Santa, outright pity, or the giving spirit, but I appreciated the genuinely thoughtful gesture, nonetheless. Instinctively, I started to refuse, but remembered how magnificent it feels when someone graciously accepts your kindness. Their generosity made a big impact on me. It allowed me to practice the art of receiving. It also reminded me to search for ways to make those around me feel supported by and connected to humanity, especially throughout the busyness and chaos of the holidays.

Genuinely, I thanked the girls and their parents, and watched as my children greeted Santa, my son tentatively and reluctantly, my daughter enthusiastically.

It had been worth it, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tantrums, Toddlers, Torrential Rain: How One Mom’s Decision Paid-it-Forward

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Just the other day, as the children in my household pressed pause on their play to catch up on some much-needed rest, I rested an elbow on the smooth surface of the kitchen table, my hand cupping the ceramic promise of wakefulness. I inhaled the delicious moment of silence for a few extra seconds before hinging open the silver lid to the computer that sat slightly askew before me.

 

As I opened my email, her message practically jumped off the screen at me.

 

“Thanks for your inspiration to step out of my comfort zone today!” she had written.

 

I was intrigued.

 

Tingling chills climb up my spine and spread across the surface of my skin whenever I hear about people helping people. When I hear that an individual has pushed themselves to take a risk in being kind to another person because of a story they’ve heard or an kind acts they’ve seen, it confirms my deeply held personal belief that kindness inspires kindness.

 

“I’m normally a very quiet, reserved person, and have a hard time initiating conversation. But today, I pushed myself.”

 

Happiness washed over me as I read on.

 

The message was from Denise, a teacher and mother, like me. We had both attended the same classes in university and graduated alongside one another. Although we had fallen out of touch, we would often see each other at the park, running errands, or chauffeuring our kids around town.

 

As a result of the Beacon Hill blog post I had published just days earlier, she had made it her mission that day to strike up a conversation when the opportunity arose.

 

That morning, as she spoke to strangers in line, smiled at passers-by on the sidewalk, and chatted with fellow parents at school drop-off, she felt rewarded in knowing that such a small effort positively impacts many people’s day.

 

But it was a decision she made later that morning, that would truly become a defining moment for her.

 

After drop-off, she hurriedly parked her vehicle near the entrance of a local grocery store. Glancing at the list of items she had written on a neatly folded piece of loose-leaf paper, she gathered her purse and keys, then fastened the buttons on her waterproof coat just as wet droplets began tapping at roof of her car. Within seconds the rain was pelting the windows; people scurried to their cars shielding their heads from the rain with anything they could find: flyers, clasped hands, and even boxes of cereal.

 

She took a deep breath, assembling her things under an arm as she pushed the door open, readying her legs to sprint to the entrance of the store.

 

Then, Denise stopped dead in her tracks, as her gaze fell on her.

 

The woman, whose face was plastered with soaked wisps of a messy bun, pleaded desperately in the assailing rainstorm as her one arm wrestled a coat onto the flailing limbs of a tantruming toddler. An unmistakable wail drew Denise’s eyes to the woman’s other arm, which held a new baby, red-faced, screeching furiously, and blinking as beads of water accumulated on her tiny body.

 

Denise immediately recognized the woman as one of the teachers she had taught with in the past.

 

Instantly, her mind went to the huge list of errands in her purse. She barely had time to get it all done as it was!

 

In that moment, a distant memory interrupted her thoughts. It was a dark, rainy night just a few years earlier. A new mother, Denise had found herself in the parking lot of a grocery store much like this one, a cart filled to the brim, her new baby crying, and her car keys were nowhere to be found. Frantic, she had searched for the keys, rain dripping from her forehead into her purse and onto her screaming baby, aware of her galloping heart as panic rose in her chest.  Right then, a stranger had stopped to help her find her keys. She remembered being filled with a such a deep sense of gratitude.

 

With a look of determination, Denise deposited her belongings on the seat, gently shut the door to her car, and headed straight in the direction of the woman and her children.

 

Pic credit: Fatherly.com

 

The Unexpected Detour That Landed Me Exactly Where I Was Supposed to Be

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Last week, I experienced an unbelievable moment that will stay in my heart forever.

Dampness permeated the air that morning.  As I hurried out the front door of my house and onto the driveway, I felt the impact of a big, fat raindrop on my forehead. The cold licked at the back of my throat and confirmed the conclusion of summer. I slammed the door to my car just as the clouds cracked open. A barrage of raindrops struck my windshield and roof.

I was all set to do a follow-up lesson for the 21-Day Challenge in my friend’s Grade One class downtown. The traffic from my house to the city centre can be unpredictable at best and excruciatingly slow at worst, so I planned ahead and left with plenty of time.

When I arrived downtown thirty minutes early, I was pleasantly surprised. I had brought a book to read and could have revisited the lesson to pass the time as I had done before previous school visits.

But, for some unexplained reason, I felt compelled that morning to do something different.

Instead of taking the more direct route to school, the one I had taken a million times over, something guided my car to the entrance of nearby Beacon Hill Park.

Crisp autumn leaves swirled, a dancing rainbow against the backdrop of the lifeless cracked pavement. Darkened bodies, shadows, emerged from the dew-covered foliage to my left and right as I continued along the route, to the heart of the park. One man, a statue, perched motionless on a bench gripped his shopping cart, which overflowed with accumulated treasures. My eyes settled on a woman shuffling along the adjacent grassy path, two enormous black garbage bags torn and cobbled together to serve as protection from the rain that had been pelting my car just minutes earlier.

Today, someone needs you.

Before I knew it, I found myself parking at a grocery store nearby. Arriving inside, I raced up and down the aisles, filling my arms with packages of English muffins, a jar of my favourite classic chunky peanut butter, some delicious raspberry jam, a bunch of perfectly-ripe bananas, and a bundle of plastic knives.

Heaving the substantial white bag onto the passenger seat, I hopped into the driver’s side and drove back to the entrance to begin my second tour through Beacon Hill.

The park was eerily deserted, now. Where people had stood just minutes earlier, there was nobody.

“Where could they have gone?” Perplexed, I drove further and further down the street, my eyes scanning for somebody. Anybody.

My face flushed and my stomach did a flip. Suddenly, I felt ridiculous. What was I doing? I didn’t have a plan. Who the heck did I think I was?

Ready to give up, I reached the edge of the park and heard it again:

Someone needs you.

Determined, I double-backed and set off for a yet another loop of the park.

That’s when I saw him.

A navy toque covered his curly sandy blond hair, as he rolled his soggy, limp sleeping bag with meticulous care. Two police officers, having just visited his encampment, were making their way up the crest of a small bluff to complete more wake-up calls.

Where does one move along to? Where does one find belonging here?

Once again, I parked the car and waited for the traffic to clear. I crossed the street. The white grocery bag swayed in my hand as I approached him, my heart pounding out of my chest.

Uncertainty barrelled into my thoughts. How would he react? No matter how disadvantaged we find ourselves, we all seek and deserve to conserve our dignity. My intent was pure, but I was fearful of offending him.

“How are you doing? Would you like something to eat?” I offered, tentatively.

“Please…yes. I am so hungry.” His eyes lingered on the contents in the bag and warmth spread across his face.

Relief washed over me, as I was struck with the realization that there something familiar about him.

I asked if he would be willing to share the food with others who might need it, too. Nodding his head, he stood up and motioned to a nearby escarpment behind us. “I have a few friends up there who would appreciate something to fill their bellies this morning.”

Handing him the bag with smile, I turned in the direction of my car. Just as my fingers gripped the coolness of the door’s handle, it hit me.

Indeed, we had met before.

Years ago, he and I had attended the same classes, in the same high-school.

Handfuls of Hope

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“Why would God make me this way?” he threw his hands up exasperated, standing in the middle of the grocery aisle as she stood beside him.

My 84-year-old friend, Kate, a devout Christian, had spotted Sam immediately upon entering the grocery store that day, hunched over as he squinted at the ingredients on a box of cereal.

A resident in her senior’s complex, he had been struggling with presenting his true identity to the world. Born a female, Sam had recently decided to bravely transition in the last act of his life, through hormone therapy, to the man with whom he had always identified.

Adversity was no stranger to Sam. He struggled daily with depression and anxiety. He could be seen frequently breaking down publically, shouting angrily at passers-by from the steps of his apartment. Other residents in Kate’s complex tended to avoid Sam, unable to grapple with the uncertainty and erratic nature of their interactions.

He was often solitary.

He walked alone.

Shopped alone.

Spent every holiday alone.

Kate was always good to him. She made sure to honour and call him by his chosen name. She always acknowledged him in passing.

This day was a little different.

“Oh, I just can’t today,” she thought initially when she saw him standing there. She was exhausted after a long week of medical appointments and the last thing she wanted to do was navigate unpredictable waters with her neighbour. She began to turn on her heel for the opposite direction, to avoid Sam before he could see her.

But, in that moment, something stopped her.

She knew he needed her today.

So, she angled her cart toward Sam, and made her way over to him, greeting him sincerely with a big smile and a friendly “hello.”

He looked up, surprised, then, upon recognizing Kate, his face broke into a wide grin.

As it turns out, it had been a particularly difficult day for Sam. He had been contemplating his identity, struggling with whom he thought he had to be for the world to accept him, questioning his worthiness and existence.

They stood together, for a long time. She listened. He talked. She validated him as he revealed his fears. He felt safe and heard. Sometimes, that is all we seek.

There were tears and even a hug.

Before he turned to go, Sam stopped her suddenly, grasping her hand, “You know, Kate, I was feeling miserable earlier, but after talking to you, I feel…hopeful.”

My 84-year old friend, leaned in a little closer, placing her freckled hand on his shoulder and whispered gently, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Giving Thanks for An Unexpected Encounter

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“What beautiful blue eyes!” her voice broke through my thoughts as I waited, admittedly impatient for the sign to invite us to cross the busy road. It was the Saturday of a hectic Thanksgiving weekend, we were set to catch the next ferry to our favourite gulf island, and I had just raced into a nearby pharmacy to buy some necessary supplies to ward off the beginnings of flu season, my blue-eyed-one-year-old strapped to my body.

I had noticed her.  A flat brown mop of hair, swaying slightly, speaking to everyone and no one, gaping darkness where teeth once stood, assaulting the big yellow button repeatedly as she urged the lights to change, so she too, could cross the street.

I had noticed her, but I hadn’t really seen her.

Until she spoke to me.

There exists a distance so expansive between truly seeing people, as they intend to be seen, and accepting the representatives they send forth into the world. First impressions seem easier to comprehend. We allow ambivalence to bubble up somewhere deep inside of us, born from the lack empathic connection. Ambivalence often leads to dehumanization. When we dehumanize people, scary things can happen: incidents of road rage, hateful anonymous comments on the internet, violence, and general indifference to human suffering. We tell ourselves the story that we are not responsible for others, that they have made choices to wind up where they are, that we are powerless to create positive change, and we shrug our collective shoulders, overwhelmed by our own lives, and let ourselves off the hook.

It’s easy to become protectionist, to turn away from that we don’t understand, to write people off based on our assumptions of who they are.

But, when we choose to be witness to the humanity in people, to see people’s truth, to will ourselves to see beyond the confines of their label, beautiful moments abound.

I could have ignored the homeless woman, who took a risk to tell ME how lovely my baby was. The woman who had nothing to give, but gifted me her kindness. On a weekend meant for giving thanks for the abundances we enjoy, I could have refused to speak to her out of fear.

But, I didn’t.

I chose to see her humanity. To hear the kindness in her words. To feel her need for genuine human connection.

I turned to her, looked into her eyes, acknowledged and thanked her authentically, as I would a friend. Her eyes widened, then her face broke out into a smile. I asked how her day was going and listened attentively as she told me.

As the sign turned, indicating that it was finally our turn cross the street, I wished her a heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving.

“Bless you,” she said and grinned before turning and walking away.

The funny thing is, I felt luckier for having met her.

As I walked toward my vehicle, I wrapped my arms around my baby boy, reminded of how incredibly blessed I am.