Launch Day: I Was a Stranger to Beauty is Here!

Oh, happy day!

Thanks to ThinkPiece Publishing, my new Kindle Single* is here! It’s entitled I Was a Stranger to Beauty: A Story of Special Needs, Simplicity, My Brother Willie, My Friend Miguel and A New Way of Seeing the World. (I’m fortunate to have a fantastic publisher who shares my affinity for ridiculously lengthy subtitles.)

*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can read Kindle books with Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader. If you have Amazon Prime, you can also borrow the book through Amazon’s Lending Library.

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This book is the story of a family moving through a terribly difficult time, and (eventually) arriving at a place of acceptance and love.
In a way, it’s all of our stories.

It’s the time you got back up … even though you didn’t think you had the strength to stand.
It’s the time you trusted … even though you’d been hurt in the past.
It’s the time you opened your heart … even though you were tired and wanted to go home.

We’ve all been strangers to the beauty in our own lives.
The question is, will we stay that way, or will we learn to open our eyes?

Curious? Watch the video to learn more.


(A clarification: Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader is free. The new Kindle Single is $1.99. I might have used the word ‘free’ one too many times! Forgive me, it’s an exciting day.)

Thank you in advance for taking a moment to …

  • Read the excerpt below. If you like what you read …

  • Buy the book for just $1.99, and support a great cause too. As mentioned in the video, 5% of proceeds from the first month’s sales go to L’Arche Washington DC, an amazing caregiving organization that provides homes for life for adults with special needs. Also, please …

  • Share the news with those in your network. (Friends, family, nosy neighbor.)

The excerpt is below; thank you again for your support!

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At root, a pearl is a ‘disturbance’, a beauty caused by something that isn’t supposed to be there, about which something needs to be done. It is the interruption of equilibrium that creates beauty. Beauty is a response to provocation, to intrusion.”

~ Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch

I’ve always felt a special connection to pearls. They’re my birthstone, true, but it goes deeper than that. Here’s what I love: the idea that an object of immense value can arise from an annoyance. A grain of sand slips into an oyster’s shell, and the oyster’s defense mechanism swirls around it, gradually taking the shape of a pearl. The unsuspecting oyster is provoked by a minuscule intruder, and, over time, that intrusion becomes a thing of beauty. Likewise, my story starts with provocation and intrusion … but in my case, the irritant was much more significant than a grain of sand. It was my younger brother, Willie.

Willie is my only sibling, and he was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. Like most brothers and sisters, we have obvious similarities—a tendency toward obsessive-compulsiveness, a penchant for politeness, highly sensitive natures—as well as some differences. Willie is a gifted musician, someone who can hear a new song a few times and then walk over to a piano and play the melody. He has a photographic memory; he can watch a set of film credits once or twice and then type out the entire list of names on the computer. He’s got a great sense of humor, too, one grounded in purposeful mistakes. He loves to take quotidian phrases such as “A wish come true” and alter them on purpose. “I’ve been dreaming of a wish come … clear!” he’ll say, and burst out laughing. “What about a wish come … blue?” I’ll counter, and he’ll crack up again. When we were growing up, it was always easy for me to make him laugh.

Willie also has a gift for mischief. When he was two, he walked out of the house early one winter morning. My parents panicked at his disappearance, but they soon discovered why he’d vanished: to prance about in the freshly fallen snow. When they opened the front door, he was stomping cheerfully around the yard wearing nothing but a T-shirt and snow boots. When he got older, he’d run away on a regular basis; he was fast, and he had a knack for slipping out of sight. He’d be swimming in the duck pond at the park with policemen trying to coax him out before anyone knew that he was missing. My childhood is peppered with memories of riding in our Volvo with my mom both of us scanning the sidewalks for Willie. The car’s leather seats would stick to my legs as a combination of fear, excitement, and annoyance swirled through my veins. When we’d find Willie at last, his blue eyes would be half-sheepish and half-triumphant.

Buy the book and read on!

10 Reasons to Give Thanks, 10 Days Before Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year.

Mom, thanks for making me such a lovely princess costume for my very first ‘dress up’ Halloween!

We’re putting away the Halloween costumes (or, in my case, enjoying photos of past ensembles!) and making plans for the upcoming winter holidays. We’re hitting the road and opening our doors. And in the midst of it all, we’re giving thanks.

At the moment, I’m thankful to have 3 guest posts (From Helplessness to Courage: A Sister’s Story at Autism Speaks; Love Takes the Lead: A Story of Struggle at The Bold Life; Becoming Whole at My Autism My Voice) up this week.

And I’m thankful that, even though this week has been a difficult one for Willie, our parents, and me, it has been a time of grace as well.

& I am tremendously grateful for you.

Your readership. Your time. Your lovely, inspiring comments. The ways in which you share from the heart.

And sharing from the heart is what my favorite writers do best. In honor of the coming holiday, I want to share with you a (short, incomplete) list of writers who have inspired me this year.

You can peruse these posts over the next 2 weeks, since A Wish Come Clear will be taking a brief break for the holiday. (Posts resume on Monday, December 3, 2012.)

The writers listed below share stories of special needs with grace, power, and beauty, and I am so glad that they have the courage to do so.

I am thankful for (in no particular order) …

1. Martha Beck, author of Expecting Adam: A Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic (among others)

Recommended Read: Receive with an Open Heart: Giving and Accepting Gifts of Real Love

2.  Kerry Magro, fellow columnist at Autism After 16 and all-around amazing human being

Recommended Read: Goodbye, Hello

3. Priscilla Gilman, author of The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy

Recommended Read: Ernie and Bert’s Mother

4. Kelle Hampton, author of Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected.

Recommended Read: Tea with Milk and Honey

5. Rachel Simon, author of The Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding the Bus with my Sister (and others)

Recommended Read: Chapter One, The Story of Beautiful Girl

6. Amy Julia Becker, author of A Good & Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny

Recommended Read: Ann Coulter, The R-Word, and John Franklin Stephens’ Wise Response

7. Rob Gorski, who blogs at Lost and Tired

Recommended Read: Never Take for Granted

8. Gillian Marchenko, author of a forthcoming book about Motherhood, Down Syndrome, & Surprising Beauty

Recommended Read: Tutu Much

9. Lana Rush, who blogs at Along Came the Bird

Recommended Read: Oh Joy!

10. Ellen Stumbo, who blogs at These Broken Vases

Recommended Read: Defining Moment {A Guest Post}

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What are you thankful for this week? Join the conversation in the comments below!

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The Summer I Ran Away (and What Brought Me Home)

Hilton Head, 2012. Photo Credit: Donna Fischer

Once upon a time, I ran away from home. I ran in a very structured, organized, responsible sort of way, which is to say, I disguised the escape.

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When my husband and I visited family last month, we spent time with my parents, brother, grandparents, and an aunt and uncle too. I’m blessed with a wonderful extended family, and I feel particularly close to this aunt and uncle. Why? Because I lived with them for a summer seven years ago.

When people asked me why I was staying with my extended family that summer, I had a list of answers ready. I wanted an adventure, a change of pace. I wanted to spend time with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I was working to save money, and I’d found a job nearby.

Rarely did I mention the fact that, at the time, living with Willie had become nearly impossible. I don’t recall if I spent that summer away before or after he hurt me during an outburst, but I know that I didn’t feel safe with him at the time. Try as I might, I didn’t feel love for my brother. Fear consumed my heart.

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Part of me felt intensely guilty about the choice. I felt like a bad daughter and a bad sister, for not coming home after my sophomore year at Vassar ended. But another part of me was so relieved to be someplace else, which made sense; I’d been physically and emotionally hurt by Willie’s behavior.

Cousins, Summer 2005

It was a good summer. I struggled with the guilt, and it was lonely sometimes, but it was also a restorative season. I wrote and went for runs everyday. I discovered that I enjoyed living simply, as I’d brought only a small number of personal belongings with me. And I felt connected to my aunt, uncle, and cousins in a way I never had before. We’d laugh and talk and take pictures and savor Wegmans pastries.

But in hindsight, the best thing about that summer was that living with my extended family actually helped me to accept and embrace my immediate family. Somewhere down the line, living with my aunt, uncle, and cousins calmed my frightened heart.

My family members taught me what I needed to know, just by being themselves. At the time, I hadn’t heard of L’Arche*, and I found it difficult not to judge Willie for his struggles. At the time, I tended to take his difficult behavior personally. I was angry with him when he acted out.

But that summer, I learned that every family struggles. My cousins and their parents weren’t dealing with autism, aggression, or self-injurious behavior, but they had challenges of their own. (And joys. And then more challenges.) They, too, were living this crazy thing called life.

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When I ‘ran away’ in 2005, I also discovered that my parents’ home (tumultuous as it was) and my aunt and uncle’s home (which felt calm by comparison) had a key element in common. Quite simply, both homes were full of love. Real love.

My parents were doing their best to love both Willie and me. And in that season, loving their son meant keeping the faith. It meant letting him stay in their home even when it wasn’t easy to do so.

And in that season, loving me meant letting me go. With tears in their eyes, my parents let me make the choice I needed to make. They gave me no guilt trips; they didn’t imply that I was letting them down. Instead, they loved me enough to open their hands.

In turn, my extended family showed me mercy by offering a safe haven. They told me that I could live with them for as long as I needed to stay. And even as I judged myself for not being ‘strong enough’ to stay with my brother, they welcomed me and affirmed my gifts. (In fact, they still speak with awe about how I used to organize drawers and tidy rooms for fun.)

In all seriousness:  they were the hands that framed the risk of returning to my immediate family, and I can never thank them enough for that. That summer helped me gain perspective and begin to let go of being so afraid.

And against all odds, I returned home with love in my heart.

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Who has offered you a safe haven? Join the conversation in the comments section!

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*L’Arche is a faith-based, worldwide non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.

I Wanted To Blend In, But Special Needs Mean Standing Out

She leaned toward me as she said, “I’d always wanted to blend. You know? I never wanted to stand out. And when I had my son, I knew that I would have to lay that down, and it was hard.”

Photo Credit: Brian Taylor Photography

My new friend Kristy was sharing her experience as a mom to a child with special needs, speaking about her challenges in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way.

It takes courage to speak one’s truth to a (relative) stranger, and I admired her for it. I leaned in, listening. “I know just what you mean,” I said. “And it is hard to give that up.” Kristy knew that my younger brother Willie has autism, and that I’d lived in L’Arche (an intentional community wherein people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together) as well.

Knowing this, Kristy also knew that I’d been on the receiving end of odd looks and critical stares. She knew about wanting to run and hide when caregiving got to be too much. She knew about needing ‘different’ foods, noise levels, and the social awkwardness of adaptive equipment. She knew, because she’d lived it, too.

Even so, Kristy couldn’t have known what was in my mind at that moment. I was thinking of a calendar I’d kept in middle school, wherein I recorded what I wore to school each day. My rule was to avoid repetition of outfits for as long as possible. Sitting across the table from Kristy, I remembered filling in the details of my clothing choices every day. I’d used a red pen to log my attire. Red, the color of criticism.

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Memory fails to call up a catalyst for this compulsion. Did someone say something harsh to me? Did I overhear a heartless comment about another girl repeating her outfits? Or was it simply a result of the rampant insecurity that every middle school student faces?

I may never know how it started, but I know why I did it. It wasn’t to stand out or be original. On the contrary, I wanted to blend. I wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want to attract attention, and I believed repeating an outfit would do that. I wasn’t good at recalling what I’d worn week by week, so I devised a system that would remember for me.

I clung to my calendar because I didn’t want to face the truth: being Willie’s sister — being fully myself, for that matter — meant that I would never really ‘blend’.

When Kristy talked about laying down her desire to fit in, I saw myself tearing the pages of that calendar and throwing them away. I saw myself inviting friends for a sleepover, though we all acknowledged that Willie would probably have a meltdown. (He did.) I saw myself going out to supper with members of L’Arche, feeling proud to be with them. And in all of these memories, I saw the mercy in not getting what I wanted. 

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Sometimes, it’s okay to stand alone in the sunlight.

I look back on that compulsive pre-teen now, and I want to take her into my arms. I want to say: Honey, you don’t have to do this to yourself. You’re loved as you are, and no amount of outfit repetition can change that.

I know that being different feels like a curse, rather than a blessing. It’s hard to believe this now, but it is going to be all right.

I wish that she could hear me … and who knows? Maybe she did. Maybe an older, wiser self gave her the courage to throw those red-lettered pages away.

What I know for sure is that being Willie’s sister (and a friend to the people at L’Arche) has unraveled the old me. It’s helped me to embrace the beauty in neurodiversity, and the fact that real, loving relationships are worth so much more than ‘fitting in’ with any crowd.

There are times when I feel the old desire to be invisible sweep over me. But then I remember that being invisible doesn’t square with what my friends at L’Arche have taught me: to let your light shine.

And as someone who would rather have more books than more clothes, there’s no hiding the truth …

Nowadays, I repeat my ‘outfits’ all the time.

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Have you struggled with a desire to ‘blend in’? Join the conversation in the comments!

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