Recently in the car, I found myself talking my six-year-old daughter down from her high strung emotional ledge connected to some issues she was having with a friend on the playground. I told her “just be nice.” Deep, profound wisdom indeed. Why am I not writing parenting books? That is good stuff. And yet, it is hollow advice. Being a parent makes you think so much harder about things because you need to have solid reasoning behind your words. My daughter called me out on my advice. She told me that being nice “is not so easy to do.” Sure it is. Just be nice. Be kind. She looked at me and said, “I didn’t want to do that today.” I thought – What do you mean? You didn’t want to? You don’t have to want to. You just do it. And then, over those next few miles in the car and in the driveway of our home, thoughts were swirling. You have to want to be kind.
Being kind is not a default built within people. It is not inherently easy. I’ve found that kindness actually requires intentionality at the highest level. I’ve heard people say things like a smile goes a long way or you should never underestimate the power of a simple gesture. I fully agree. But, let’s be clear. Those things are not easy. They are not a basic, auto-generated response. They require effort. If you are having the best week of your life – the type where everything goes right and blessings are at every corner, then you will undoubtedly smile, sing, skip, and so on. You will ooze positivity. You will feel motivated to go to the nearby field, pick wild flowers, and tell the world that kindness matters. And, I am happy for you. We are all happy for you. The reality is that many, rather most of us, don’t wake up with all good things aligning themselves where stress, exhaustion, fear, or burdens don’t weigh us down in some capacity.
I am an optimistic person…a positive vibe sending kind of girl. I truly look for ways to do nice things for other people. It fills my well. I consider spreading joy and being kind as part of my DNA. I do, however, have a disclaimer. It may come as a shock to my inner circle. Here it is….the ultimate confession. I can be cranky. I can be moody. I can be anxious. I can be emotional. I can be sullen. I can be unkind. It all depends how much of a priority I make intentional kindness. I have to want to be kind. And, there are some days where, like my daughter, I just don’t want to.
In May of 2010, my husband and I found ourselves on the brink of what would be a barrage of kindness headed our way. Living in Nashville, TN, we owned a lovely town home, I was teaching English & Language Arts, and Rob was beginning his new leap into the career field of Graphic Design. We had recently moved to Nashville and were finding our groove with new friends, surroundings, and a sweet church family. We were both working side jobs as well trying to pay off debt and put some money in savings. And then, we came upon May 1st. What started as a day of heavy rain turned into 48 hours of torrential downpour which led to what is now recorded as Nashville’s 1,000 year flood. We found ourselves in a beyond overwhelming situation. Our town home was quickly overtaken by water and at one point could only be reached by boat. Our home was destroyed by floodwaters, deeming it unlivable due to the entire bottom floor being under water. In the 24 hours following the flood, kindness came alive for us. We had rarely before this event found ourselves on the receiving end of outreach. We tried to be the ones who helped others. In this moment, we had no say so on where we were to stand on the outreach spectrum. It was the most difficult time we’d experienced as a married couple. It was inexplicably difficult.
What we refer to now as the “Kindness Surge,” began on May 3rd. A phone call had been made on our behalf to parents of one of my students. Before we even knew the phone call had taken place, this family had prepared their vacant basement apartment for us to stay in indefinitely until we figured things out. Our friend who made the phone call had arranged for her husband to pick up Rob and travel to our town home by boat to survey the damage and salvage what could be saved. Our church family had been notified of our situation. Being that we lived 45 minutes from our church, we were in the unique position of being one of only two families in our church affected by this historic event. One of the pastors called and informed us that he and a couple of men were traveling down to our town home to help with the clean-up process and demolition. We were humbled. We were grateful. We were astonished when that group of 2 or 3 men turned out to be a caravan of 35 church members who were plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and so forth.
In a couple of hours, their hard worked saved us thousands of dollars that we would have had to hire out to someone based on all the wreckage. That same day, we met neighbors we had not yet met. We all came together…to love, to reflect, to encourage. We traveled to stay our first night in the provided basement apartment. We were shocked to walk in and find a basket full of gift cards, a stocked pantry and refrigerator, new towels and toiletries, and much more from parents and staff of my school. We cried. We smiled. We sat in awe. Kindness was alive. All of this was what the hands and feet of Jesus looks like. That event changed us, improved us in so many ways. And, it added fuel to my desire to spread kindness…to spread love…to be the light of Jesus wherever possible. The flood was indeed a catalyst for personal reflection, strength building, and positive change. It stirred up the desire to show kindness more often and more intentionally.
Long before the flood, long before I met my husband, Rob, I had the gift of growing up with a mother who embodied love, kindness, hope, and steadfastness. Life was not always an easy road for my mom, but she changed lives with her unwavering ability to show love, whether it be cooking a meal for someone, baking cookies for a neighbor, rocking babies in the church nursery, spending time on her knees for others hurting, or giving grace where others would not have extended it. For me, being kind, showing kindness, and reflecting kindness is a personal mission. I’ve seen what it looks like first hand and I have gaped at its wow factor. I have seen it soft, quiet, and without fanfare, yet beautiful in its unfolding.
I have, unfortunately, also been on the receiving end of hurtful words and snide approaches that I found difficult to overcome, both in my youth and adulthood. These moments in my life have in time developed into a focused desire to dissolve the wounds left from the absence of kindness and turn it around into something positive.
I am also moved at what intentional kindness can do. Do you know the sheer power of intentionally being kind to someone with whom you disagree or are frustrated with repeatedly? Albert Schweitzer stated in one of his writings, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
Choosing to be kind for the sole purpose of throwing around a little joy also has magnitude. The concept of throwing kindness like confetti is beautiful, life-giving, and breath in its purest form. But remember, you don’t wake up with that kindness confetti in your hand. You have to make a decision to hold it, navigate it, and toss it.
“Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
I implore you to think about your responses to people. Hold tight to the notion that words matter, tone affects, actions speak. Take in account the daily need we as flawed humans have for encouragement, affirmation, and a need to smile. Be kind. Not because it is easy, but because it is engulfed in hope and healing. Make the choice. It is my personal narrative that I would rather err on the side of kindness and showing love even if it is unmatched or unwanted. Better to be standing in a pile of confetti than on a barren street where there is no evidence of effort.
Proverbs 3:3-4 The Message (MSG) reads, “Don’t lose your grip on love and loyalty. Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart. Earn a reputation for living well in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people.”