The Kindness Epiphany
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Does your “inner meanie” get the best of you? That used to be normal for today’s guest. Nicole Phillips describes the ordinary interaction that forever changed her perspective.
The Kindness Epiphany
Bob: Nicole Philips remembers being in a place—maybe you’ve been here too—where she was just ready to give up.
Nicole: I was worn out—I was sick of laundry; I was sick of warming up chicken tenders—all of it seemed like it just didn’t matter in that this was as good as it was going to get. Instead of being in a place of gratitude—“I’ve got three healthy kids. This is as good as it’s going to get; awesome!”—I saw it from the other side of that coin, that I was the one that was being asked to give more than I had to give.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 22nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What do you do when all of your thoughts are just negative?—when life just isn’t pleasant? How do you deal with that? Nicole Philips has some thoughts for us about that today. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Here’s my premise—
Dave: Oh, here we go—
Bob: —test me and see if you think—
Dave: —Bob Lepine’s premise.
Bob: —this is right. Here’s the premise: “A marriage will not thrive—maybe will not survive—unless there’s kindness present in the marriage.” Do you think that’s right?
Bob: I mean, I’m just imagining two unkind people—
Ann: —and it’s a miserable existence. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes, there’s got to be a little dash of it somewhere for a marriage to survive. I think, sometimes, unkindness is the thing that is undoing a lot of relationships.
Dave: Yes, I’m sitting here thinking, “I am married to the most kindest kindness person ever.”
Dave: She wasn’t always that way; [Laughter] trust me.
Bob: Did you whip her into shape?
Ann: Why did you have to say that part? [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, people know our story. But I’m not kidding; I’ve often thank God—not often—every single day for this incredible woman.
Ann: We could just end the broadcast now; this is amazing.
Dave: Let’s close in prayer.
Ann: This is amazing.
Bob: We could except you want to introduce everybody—
Ann: —my sister.
Bob: —to your newest best friend; right?
Bob: Tell everybody who this is.
Ann: First of all, I want you to know what it was like when our guest walked into the room. [Laughter] Nicole Phillips walked into the room with this huge smile. She’s beautiful, and she had gifts. She said, “I’m so happy to be here. This is hallowed ground.”
Dave: It was like Christmas.
Ann: It was; it felt like that.
Dave: And she’s got red on, so it’s sort of like Santa Claus came in.
Ann: Nicole has written a book called The Negativity Remedy. She’s a mom; she’s a wife. She’s married to a basketball coach.
Tell us more—and tell us about your column that you write in the newspaper—Nicole, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Nicole: I am a newspaper columnist. The column, “Kindness Is Contagious,” runs in newspapers in North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota.
Ann: I would like to read that.
Nicole: Yes; so watch out world, because Ann’s going to make it go everywhere. Then you will not be able to open the paper and not see it. [Laughter]
I have podcast called The Kindness Podcast; that we’re on season four right now.
Bob: Kindness is your thing/it’s your brand; right?
Nicole: Kindness is my thing. It should be everyone’s thing; but it’s my thing, yes.
Bob: It has not always been your thing.
Nicole: Oh no, I was the queen of negativity for a very, very long time. I’m not even saying that humbly. If my husband were here, he would be like, “Yes, amen; yes, she was.”
Bob: Like, were you a negative teenager? It seems impossible to me, seeing you now, that you were ever a negative person; you know?
Nicole: Well, ten years ago, I was on the edge of what anyone would call an alcoholic. I was a drinker, and a smoker, and an overeater. I was angry at my husband all the time. Now, he is a college basketball coach—that is his job—which requires him to travel. I knew that. Logically, I knew that he needed to be gone; but when I was home with three small kids, and he was out eating steak dinners with the team, that didn’t sit well with me.
Ann: Thank you; this is why we were negative in our earlier—
Ann: —Dave was traveling with the Lions. He’s like, “The guy”; and I’m home with three kids.
Nicole: Yes; so my husband, being a basketball coach, you would think also that he would be like a good shooter. I have a laundry hamper; my husband would take off his sock, and he would shoot, and he would miss. I thought, “How did you ever play basketball? Like you miss 90 percent of the shots you take with those socks and underwear.” [Laughter]
Instead of getting up and putting them in the laundry hamper, he would just let them sit. Of course that is enough to make me irate.
Ann: Nicole’s written a book called The Negativity Remedy: Unlocking More Joy, Less Stress, and Better Relationships Through Kindness. Somewhere, along the line, things changed for you.
Nicole: Absolutely; again, ten years ago, this is where I am in this really place of depression/negativity. I’m on antidepressants at that point, and it still didn’t help.
Dave: Stop, stop, stop right there; so it was that bad. You were on antidepressants.
Dave: You’re medicating because you’re that negative.
Nicole: I was medicating and then self-medicating, so both.
My kids, at the time, were six, five, and about one at this time. I took the three of them out for a day out, because I had to get out of the house with them. I was gone; it’s the middle of winter. I was living in Fargo, North Dakota; so I took them out. We went to our local mall, a little play land called Dino-Land.
Bob: Dino-Land—yes, I remember you talking about this.
Nicole: Dino-Land. There was this young woman there who was watching a little boy. The woman, who was watching the other little boy, and I started to talk. As we were talking, I realized this wasn’t just the world’s best babysitter; this was indeed “the mom.”
Once we started talking—and I got to learn more about her and how difficult her walk was, being a young mom—something in me changed. I think what changed was the fact that, before we left that day, she said, “I can tell your kids really love you.” It was like an epiphany in that moment, because I so needed to hear that.
I was worn out—I was sick of laundry. I was sick of warming up chicken tenders—I mean, all of it seemed like it just didn’t matter and that it would never end. That this was as good as it was going to get. Instead of being in a place of gratitude that—“This is great. This is—I’ve got three healthy kids. This is as good as it’s going to get; awesome!”—I saw it from the other side of that coin—that I was the one that was being asked to give more than I had to give.
She said, “I can tell your kids really love you” and it just got me in that moment.
At that point, I just felt like God was saying to me, “Give her some money.” She never asked for it; she never told me she needed it. She never insinuated—nothing—but I felt this really distinct voice telling me to give her money. I hadn’t heard that voice very often, if ever. I wasn’t really sure what that was. I was beginning a journey with God at that time, so I didn’t quite understand; but I reached into my purse. I pulled out a couple of 20s and I handed them to her. We just had a really beautiful exchange.
Bob: You said you were just at the beginning of a spiritual journey at that point. Take us into that. You didn’t grow up with a spiritual foundation?
Nicole: I did. I grew up Catholic and did spend time every Sunday in the church and things like that. I grew up believing that God was a macro-god—that He would take care of all the big things in the world; that was His job.
My job was to take care of the things in my life—in my world—and that God would never be interested in the details like the fact that I was taking antidepressants or sad about my life—which I should have been grateful about.
Bob: —or drinking too much.
Nicole: —or drinking too much. God wouldn’t care about that; God’s caring about the big things.
I was invited—and this is now in 2011—I was invited to a Bible study by a friend of mine, who was living in Fargo, North Dakota, who was from Brazil. You’ve got to have a big personality, if you’re from Brazil, and you’re living in this frozen land.
Ann: If anyone could be depressed at this point, it would be your friend from Brazil.
Nicole: Good point!
Ann: It’s not easy to go into that climate and be happy when you’ve lived in Brazil.
Nicole: Good point, and she had this great joy welling up inside of her. She was such, such fun to be with. She said, “Would you join this Bible study?” I said, “Oh, I am not a Bible study girl. She asked again a couple of weeks later. I finally realized, “I’m not doing anything during the day right now. I have the time, and she’s so fun to be with, and I would love to get out of the house.” So I said, “Yes.”
I show up at this Bible study. It should have been called an intervention, [Laughter] because it was my friend from Brazil and her neighbor. That was it—
Dave: That was it?
Nicole: —two people, yes. [Laughter] We watch this video by Lysa TerKeurst. In the video, Lysa says two things: she said, “Number one, you are a child of God. You aren’t just a product of the people who gave birth to you and some of their, maybe, failings and troubles in life. You are a child of God.” To me, that really helped to erase a lot of the guilt and the shame that I was feeling.
Then the other thing she said was, “God has big plans for your life.” That to me, that was important. I was Miss Wisconsin in 1997. It might as well have been 1927; right?—[Laughter]—doesn’t matter. But the thing was: I felt, in the back of my mind, like I had missed my big opportunity to change the world. In this Bible study, hearing, “God has big plans for your life,” really changed the way that I looked at what was left of my life.
Bob: Something that was asleep inside of you woke up that day.
Nicole: It did.
Nicole: It did, Bob. That was absolutely right. I’m a practical person, so I said to my friend from Brazil and her neighbor—our whole Bible study—[Laughter]—“That’s great information, but what do I do with that?” My friend from Brazil said, “Why don’t you just start by praying every day—every morning/every night—‘God, make me a vessel for You,’ ‘God make me a vessel for You,’ ‘God, make me a vessel for You.’”
I did, and I had no idea what I was praying. I don’t even know like, “What’s a vessel?” I had to go look it up, eventually; but I was praying it. God was listening; because shortly thereafter, I met the young mom who really encouraged me with her words. Shortly thereafter, I started writing this weekly newspaper column, “Kindness Is Contagious.”
Dave: What happened? I mean, you’re sitting there at Dino-Land; and she says—you watch her—and you told us the story. What is it that really changed you?—because that was a dramatic epiphany and a life-changing moment at Dino-Land—
Dave: —of all places. But it really did mark you. What—as you think back on it—what was it that changed you?
Nicole: It was packing up my kids and walking out of the mall with this totally different feeling than I had walked into the mall with. Every cell of my being was awake. I thought, “If everyone knew what this felt like, everyone would try it; and kindness would be contagious.” I just wanted somehow to stand there and scream, like, “Everybody, go be kind! It feels awesome!” [Laughter]
The only way I knew how to do that was being able to share it through this newspaper column. It was interesting; because the thing about the weekly newspaper column is they want you to write it like—guess how often.
Bob: Weekly. [Laughter]
Nicole: Yes, so I misunderstood the weekly thing. I thought it was just when you feel like it maybe. I had asked people in the community: “Send me your stories of kindness. Tell me the things you’ve done and how it made you feel”; because I wanted to know if somebody else got the same feeling I did.
Bob: Now what—did you just go to the editor of the paper and say, “I want to write a column”? How does this work?
Nicole: No, the editor of the newspaper came to me. Remember, I was praying, “God make me a vessel,” and no idea what I’m praying.
Nicole: Well, wouldn’t you know that I got a call from the editor of the newspaper. He said, “Nicole, I know that you used to be on TV; so would you write a section for our paper about politics?” [Laughter] Let’s just stop and giggle about that; like, “No.”
Dave: He really asked for politics.
Dave: Oh, boy.
Nicole: Yes, because I was a television journalist; right?—so yes.
Ann: But you’re laughing, because that’s not your thing.
Nicole: It’s not my—I hate politics more than I hate numbers, so yes. [Laughter] I said, “No.”
He said, “Okay, what about cooking?” I started to giggle and I said, “I have made lasagna twice—and both times forgot to put in the lasagna noodles.” [Laughter]
He said, “How about parenting?” I said, “Yes, I will write about parenting as soon as I have launched these three small children out of my house”; right? [Laughter]
Ann: —like, “I’m still on trial here; let’s not get there.”
Nicole: Yes, that’s exactly right; no kidding. The publisher of the newspaper threw up his hands; he said, “When you figure out what you want to write about, you call me.”
God had just set me up for slam dunk; right?—
Nicole: —because I had this great feeling after meeting this young mom, and I just knew what I wanted to share with the world.
I had no idea that this was going to be my purpose, this was going to be my calling, and I was about to step into it. But I just did the next right thing; I took the next step. I called the publisher; and I said, “I want to write about kindness,” and “I want people to send me their stories and tell me how it made them feel, or times when they received an act of kindness that showed up at just the right moment. I want to share those.”
Back to the whole—they want you to write a weekly column weekly—the problem is people didn’t send me stories right away, so I had to—
Ann: So you have to start doing random acts of kindness maybe—
Ann: —to be able to write about it.
Nicole: Yes, I had to go out and start doing random acts of kindness. Then on the flip of that, Ann, I had to notice when people were being kind to me. Even things that maybe they would have done before, that I just assumed, “Well, that’s their job.”
Ann: Now, you have your antennae up; and you’re looking for things. That’s different.
Dave: I’m still stuck back at Dino-Land. [Laughter]
Nicole: Okay, we’ll go back to Dino-Land.
Dave: Because here’s what I want to know—because it’s beautiful; it really is—I’ve thought, “I know a lot of people, even myself, who have done something kind and feel the—what you felt—walking out of the mall or whatever.” Like you said—you’re tingling—it’s like, ‘Oh, that was awesome!’” I’ve watched her do it a million times, but often, don’t sustain that.
It’s like somebody going to church and having a spiritual moment. It’s like, “My whole life is going to be different.” Then a year later, or six months, they’re like, “What happened to that?”—it just faded away.
Yours stuck. It’s like that moment wasn’t just a moment. It tapped you into some truth, obviously, that we’re talking about. What made it stick? What made it like, “I’m going to continue to be kind. I’m going to get stories of kindness”? What was it?—because there’s a lot of us that do a kind thing, here and there; but it isn’t like—
Bob: —our new mission in life.
Dave: Yes; it isn’t like, “I’ve found a secret.” And you have found a secret.
Nicole: Yes; now that I’m a head, my antennae was up: I had to find those stories, whether I felt like it or not, for the next column. Within a year of my antennae being up: a year of being really intentional about kindness, and noticing it—as the giver, the receiver, or the witness—I had totally quit drinking; I had quit smoking; I lost 30 pounds. I re-fell in love with my husband—who it turns out is a really great guy—whether he makes the laundry basket or not with his socks. My whole home changed.
I think it’s almost like someone, who is dieting—when you lose two pounds, you’re like, “Yes, I can do this.” Then you lose five pounds; and you’re like, “Hey, we’re onto something”; and it feels good, and you’re encouraged. I was continually encouraged by the kindness I was seeing around me and, then, the letters that people started to send in. It really meant a lot to me. I noticed, in my own life, all of these changes that were really for the good.
Ann: Did you continue to grow in your walk with God?—like that Bible study was instrumental to you.
Nicole: It was. Knowing I was a child of God, knowing that God had a plan and a purpose for my life—allowed me to focus in. I could hold that every time I wasn’t sure or I felt untethered. I could hold onto that truth, “God has a plan for your life.” Knowing that, and just grasping onto that, allowed me to go through the ups and downs of being a parent and being a wife without totally losing it and feeling the need to self-medicate.
Dave: Here’s the question, “Is”—because I’m thinking listeners are listening right now and are like, “This is the kindest woman in the world. She’s probably never not kind,”—[Laughter]—“So are you ever not kind anymore? Does the inner meanie come out?”
Nicole: Oh, the inner meanie!—I have a whole chapter in the book on the inner meanie.
Dave: I know.
Ann: We want to talk about that, but yes—
Nicole: Yes; so “Am I ever not kind?” I so wish my family were here because they would be on the floor, laughing right now; yes. I never call myself a kindness expert. I call myself a kindness advocate because a kindness expert means that you’ve figured out the formula—you’ve cracked the code—and you can get it right every time. I don’t get it right every time. My inner meanie comes out and wants to be judgmental. My inner meanie comes out and wants to be offended, but I talk back to that—I’ve learned that I can talk back to that.
My husband always jokes that, you know, he’s on version Nicole 8.0. [Laughter] Maybe it’s like you, Ann, when you said—like Dave mentioned that—maybe you haven’t always been kind in your life, but are incredibly kind now; right?
Nicole: You can grow into that, you can change. To me, that’s encouraging and hopeful, but that doesn’t mean I always get it right.
Nicole: One of my favorite times I remember I did not get it right was—I was living in Ohio—this if five years ago. My son—who is a teenager—had a friend over. He—my son—was supposed to clean up the entry way of our house—there was lots of shoes, and lots of backpacks, and lots of jackets. I said, “Before you have this friend over, I need this cleaned.” My son said, “Yes, absolutely Mom. No problem.”
I leave. I come back, and my son is there with his friend. I walk in the door, and I trip over the shoes and the backpacks. I yell, “CHARLIE!”—just instantaneous—like, “I will now scream at you without even thinking it.” Charlie and his friend come around the corner and he’s like, “Yes, Mom.” I just let it go. I said, “I told you, ‘You were supposed to clean this up!—duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh!’”
Charlie’s friend, who was standing next to him, looks at Charlie and says, “Well, I guess kindness isn’t always contagious.” [Laughter] I had no choice in that moment but to laugh. Oh, I laughed because he was so right—busted! Yes. So, once in a while, I absolutely have to go back and say, “I’m sorry. My words—” or “My actions—” or even, “My thoughts on that situation—they were not kind.”
Dave: Answer this for our listeners who are sitting there thinking, “I want to be kind, but I can’t. I try, I keep failing.” Can you give them a tip or two or a step to take, to say, “Okay, if you really want to start to become a kind person, start here.”
Nicole: A-number one: “Think about what you’re thinking about. Get into your brain.” God tells us to renew our minds. To me, I never understood what that quite meant. “How do I do that? I’m trying. Does that mean I just have to sit in the Bible all that time? What does that all mean?”
What I feel is that what it means is to think about what you’re thinking about. If it’s a thought that aligns with where you want to be, keep thinking about it. “Whatever is true, and noble, and right, think about that.” If it’s a thought that isn’t serving you, then don’t park your brain there. Replace it with a Scripture—replace it with God’s Word. Replace it with something that means something to you—an alternative thought that will help you to move away from those negative thoughts. That will change your world.
Bob: That’s great and practical, and exactly right because—
Ann: We’ll have to talk more about that, because there’s a lot to that. That’s really good.
Bob: —the renewing of the mind is what the Bible tells us we’re supposed to do. Of course, kindness is a fruit of—
All: —the Spirit. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right. If we’re walking with Christ, and kindness is not what’s coming out, there’s a short circuit there. You’re book, The Negativity Remedy, helps us with strategies on this: Unlocking More Joy, Less Stress, and Better Relationships Through Kindness. We’re making this book available to FamilyLife Today listeners this week if you can help support the ongoing work of this ministry.
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You can find out more about Blended and Blessed when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link there that gives you all the details of the event. You can get a group together and watch it at your local church, or watch it just by yourself at home. Again, all the information is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’re in a blended family, you know someone who is, or if you just care about blended families, plan to join us for Blended and Blessed on April 24th.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue talking about the power of kindness to defeat negativity in our lives. Nicole Phillips will be back with us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some help from Bruce Goff this week, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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