One Question To Ask When the Going Gets Tough

On my first day of kindergarten, my mom gave me some advice.

She told me what her mother told her on the first day of school: when you walk through the doors, don’t worry about making friends. Just focus on finding the girl who looks even more upset about all this than you do. Go over to her and say hello. Smile. Then, you’ll have a friend.

My five-year-old-self was incredulous. Could it be that simple? With a little prompting, I gave it a shot. I walked up to a weeping girl and said, “Hi, I’m Caroline. What’s your name?”

With that, I made my first school friend. It was a serendipitous choice, since she was (is) an excellent visual artist. Back then, I could barely cut in a straight line — OK, that’s still true! — so she’d help me with arts and crafts. She didn’t like to write, so I’d help her with compositions. We saw each other through.

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On Showing Up & Showing Love (Even if You’re ‘Too Busy’)

Last year, I accompanied my husband Jonathan to the dentist.

He needed a crown on a broken tooth, and – though he wouldn’t say it in so many words – he was a tad anxious about it.

I inferred anxiety based on comments like, “Caroline! What if, when I open my mouth, and they look in and say, ‘Oh, we were wrong. We actually need to take them all out. Sorry! No more teeth for you!’ What then?!”

I reassured him that this scenario was highly unlikely. Then, reading between the lines, I said, “Would you like me to go with you to the appointment?”

He shrugged. “That’d be okay,” he said, after a pause.

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Getting to Know You (& What You Didn’t Know About Me)

Dear readers,

I’d like to get to know you better. I’ve been posting here for nearly three years now (!), and I love writing to you. So I’d like to say thank you, and hear more about you. Would you leave a comment on this post, or send me an email? Just something simple. Your name, how you came to be here, why you read A Wish Come Clear.

If you want to go deeper: what’s going on in your life? What weighs on your heart? What do you dream about? What do you wish you could talk about, but feel too afraid to say aloud? 

I’m here. I’ll listen. And I’ll start by answering those questions myself.

In fact, answering these questions inspired me to start a 30-day Courage Challenge on our Facebook page. Every day, I’ll be facing down a specific fear and sharing the story with you. Of course, you’re welcome to join in — feel free to post stories and pictures of your own Courage Challenge moments!

Day 1 was yesterday, and I … drumroll … checked out the novels pictured from the library, though they’re not ‘dignified’ reading material, and I knew the friendly librarian would comment. It felt great!

I learned that once I am confident in my choices, it doesn’t matter if someone else comments on them. Rather than duck my head, I smiled. In fact, the librarian and I joked about the books. Revolutionary.

10 Things You May Not Know About Me

1. What weighs on my heart: the fact that I used to believe in a God of judgment. I was taught that some people were ‘in’ and some were ‘out,’ and I am so sorry for thinking that I had all the ‘right’ answers. Nowadays, I believe that, to paraphrase Martha Beck, one thing I know for sure is that I might be wrong. 

2. I am very good at forgetting that I’ve left the oven on. I also put (cooled) pans into the fridge rather than putting the food into another container. It’s just too much. I’d rather be reading.

My Mom believes it is important to not only put food into containers, but also to transfer food a second time if some is consumed and a smaller container is available. Remarkably, we love one another despite these differences.

3. My (INTP) husband once received this fortune: “Hugs are life’s rainbows.” I, an INFJ, received this: “Fortitude is the marshal of thought, the armor of the will, and the fort of reason.”

4. What I wish I could talk about, but feel too afraid to say aloud: I was raised in a cult called The Worldwide Church of God. I’m afraid to even call it a cult (though it was) because that word is so loaded, so misunderstood.

You see, I had a wonderful childhood. I have an amazing family. My experience was such that it took me years to consider that I was in a cult. (This post features an excellent definition of the term.)

Anyway. Growing up, I was taught to avoid things like Halloween costumes and Christmas trees. Christmas trees have ‘pagan’ origins, so we couldn’t have them. (The modern calendar has ‘pagan’ origins too, but we got to keep our calendars.) This year, I plan to dress up and deck the halls.

5. I went to summer camp in Scotland every year for 9 years. As such, I know the words to classics such as “Country Roads” and “Waltzing Matilda.” I remain loyal to Loch Lomond as the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I used to want to live in a cottage there. Wait … I still do.

6. What I dream about: I dream of seeing our community grow, of sharing stories with more people.

7. My favorite movies are Strictly Ballroom, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Proof, and Good Will Hunting. I’m not sure why 2 out of 4 are about math geniuses, since being a math genius is not something I can relate to at all

8. I went through a Laura Ingalls Wilder phase that my childhood friends won’t let me forget. They weave it in to every other conversation: “Remember your sunbonnet?” And all I can say is, “Yup.” It’s tough being a literary geek sometimes.

9. I used to figure skate competitively. Whenever I mention this, people always nod, as if to say, That explains a lot.

Even so, it took me years to figure out that I am competitive, because I also love the idea that when one succeeds, we all succeed. The best description of these dichotomies I’ve seen was on a t-shirt that read: I will kick your ass at yoga. Namaste.

10. I am afraid of becoming someone who posts endless pictures of their significant others, babies, or pets. I pretend like I’m above that, but it takes a lot of effort for me NOT to put up tons of photos of my handsome husband and adorable cat. And some days, I fail. Like today.

Anyway, I’d better go … I just remembered that I left the oven on.

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Your turn – what’s going on with you? Join the conversation in the comments!

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In My Arms: A Guest Post by Gillian Marchenko

Happy Holiday, friends! Today, we’re opening our doors to a guest.

It’s my pleasure to introduce Gillian Marchenko. (Her tagline: “The world is full of people who seem to have it all together … Gillian speaks for the rest of us.”) She’s an author and national speaker who lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters.

Gillian writes about “stumbling faith, Down syndrome, adoption, depression, motherhood, and lots of grace.” I shared a guest post on Gillian’s blog earlier this year (“The Most Beautiful and Terrible of Promises, Lessons Learned from my Brother with Autism”), and I’m happy to bring her writing to you today.

Gillian’s recently-published memoir, Sun Shine Down (T.S. Poetry Press, 2013) is a courageous, heartbreaking story about her journey to love and accept her daughter, Polly, who was born with Down syndrome. (You can read my Amazon review here.) Whenever I read Gillian’s words, I am able to see more clearly that love is the only thing that matters.

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In My Arms by Gillian Marchenko

“Mom!” Polly yells out in her sleep. Her body thrashes to and fro on our queen sized bed. Her legs kick the covers off. Sweat glistens her forehead.

The house is quiet. My husband and two older girls went out for the night. My youngest has been asleep for an hour in her room. I bedded Polly in next to me, thinking that my husband would move her when he got home, and that her slight of breath, up and down, methodical, musical, may inspire me as I grab a few last minutes in the day to write with our fuzzy white dog at my feet.

“Honey, what’s wrong. Tell Mama what’s wrong.”

She doesn’t respond but continues to fuss and squirm.

“Shh, there, there,” I attempt to settle her back into her dream cycle. This part isn’t new to me, a seasoned mother of four. There have been countless nights in the last twelve years where I’ve brushed wet hair off a forehead, hummed a melody, and lulled a child back to sleep.

But my coaxing doesn’t work.

“What’s wrong, Polly? Does something hurt?”

My daughter nods, and a shot of electricity zaps my extremities.

When Polly was born at 37 weeks, she wasn’t breathing. The doctors resuscitated her, and she spent the first three weeks of her life in an incubator fighting for her life.

By the time I felt the weight of her tiny, five-pound body in my arms, I had already been informed of her diagnosis of Down syndrome.

I wrote about that time in my recently published memoir Sun Shine Down. Polly too weak to leave her plastic dome and me, too weak to fathom the curve ball of Down syndrome.

Sometimes my arms ache to hold Polly the baby. What I wouldn’t give to scoop her up, to hell with my fear of the unknown, to hell with sickness, and to hell with stigmas hidden within, stigmas I didn’t know existed in me until I heard the words Down syndrome.

“Show me where it hurts.”

Polly gestures towards her head.

“Your head hurts?”

She nods yes again. I pull her up onto my chest. It is not an easy task because she is now seven years old.

But we don’t screw around with headaches in this family.

Three years ago, Polly had a catastrophic stroke which resulted in the diagnosis of Moyamoya, a disease that thins the arteries in the brain to the point of strokes and seizures. Unbeknownst to us, this disastrous disease had been causing mild strokes in her body throughout her short little life.

Polly underwent two brain surgeries that diminished the chances of recurrent strokes and seizures from 67% to 7%. She rocked the surgeries, actually running circles around me after the second one, just days after her neurosurgeon cut through skin, skull, and brain to create new blood flow for our girl.

“Here, honey, let me see.” I force Polly’s face towards mine and examine her for signs of stroke. No twitching, no loss of motor control. The fearful moment releases into the air around us. I hold her to my heart like I longed to do after her birth. She settles, and sinks into me. My body is quicksand. I engulf her.

We’ve danced around death too often.

Polly is here tonight, in my arms. I don’t take it for granted.

She’s here. I feel her weight. She is happy. She loves her life. Her life overflows with joy, so much so that she splashes her joy on those around her, and continually plugs up my heart, so that I can be filled too.

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What relationships teach you about acceptance? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

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