When Hope Seems Lost, Remember This

When my brother Willie was diagnosed with autism, he was three years old and I was five. Neither of us had been to church yet, so I didn’t have much of a God concept. But somehow, I’d already arrived at a very clear idea of heaven.

I used to lie awake at night and think about it, so eager for it to be real.

I believed that heaven would be just this: a place where I could talk freely with my brother. It would be a place without the limits of autism on his part or lack of knowledge on mine, a place where I could ask him a question and receive a complete answer.

Willie and Caroline, when hope seems lost, heaven

Willie and me, around the time of his diagnosis

When Hope Seems Lost

I remember wanting to ask Willie about the smallest details of our life as kids. I wanted to know if Cheerios were really his favorite cereal or if he ate them simply because that’s what mom bought. I wanted a window into his mind and heart.

As a child, I believed that paradise was about breaking down barriers between beloved people.

At thirty, I stand by that belief. In fact, it’s the driving force behind this site. A Wish Come Clear exists so that we might share our truest stories and connect without barriers.

Yet in a time of fear and violence, that can seem like such an impossible dream.

After all, what can any of us say in the wake of the Paris attacks, the San Bernardino shooting, the unreported violence that happens around the world every day?

On one hand, there’s nothing we can say. There are no words for the grief, the anger, the terrible losses. And yet even so, there is a need to say something.

There is a need for words of comfort and hope. When we are lost and frightened, stories remind us of what’s real. When we shiver at the cold terror of religious extremism, stories offer us warmth.

So today, I offer you mine. It’s the story of little girl who believed that you could find heaven simply by opening your heart and letting love break down barriers.

Being the Good Girl

As time passed, though, that five-year-old clarity was buried under a lot of religious rules. Soon, I was working hard to be a good girl, conforming to the authoritarian world of The Worldwide Church of God (WCG).

The WCG taught that people needed to jump through some complicated hoops to get to God, so I worked hard at that. Yet even as I did my best to obey, a secret part of me couldn’t fully embrace the type of salvation it preached.

After all, if God’s approval and one’s eternal destiny was based on intellectual assent and adherence to a set of highly detailed religious practices, then what hope was there for my brother, whose mind didn’t work that way?

What hope was there for my dad, who attended services sporadically and wasn’t really interested in religion (though he’s one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet)?

What hope was there for my grandparents, for my friends at school, for everyone who wasn’t part of the ‘one true church’? Would God really want them to burn in the lake of fire?

I hoped not, but even so, the questions kept me awake at night.

The Path of Kindness

Privately, I concluded that there must be a simpler way, a path to God accessible to every single person. There must be a universal spiritual language, spoken by people with vastly different abilities and upbringings.

Fortunately, there is. As Mark Twain observed, β€œKindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
kindness, when hope seems lost
In high school, I heard a friend quote the Dalai Lama: “My religion is kindness.” Seen through my so-called Christian lenses, however, the Lama’s wise statement looked like a cop-out.

I remember thinking, Kindness?! You have to choose your allegiances! It’s Jesus or nothing!

Back then, I had a black belt in black-and-white thinking.

So while I can’t understand the degree of craziness that opens fire on fellow human beings, I know how seductive it is to believe that only you and your group are ‘right’. It’s all part of the fundamentalist Matrix.

How brutal and beautiful it is to swallow the red pill, to let love teach you to see differently.

The Risk of Love

Fair warning: There’s a good reason that people choose rules over love. Compared to how tough real love can be, rules are easy. Rules are a low-stakes poker game; love is the World Series.

As my friend Camille so aptly noted, “I would prefer to be as low-risk as possible, but that ain’t the way of love.”

So that’s what I wish for you this holiday season:

To take the risk of real love.

To choose the religion of kindness.

To do your part in breaking down barriers between beloved people.

Because we are all beloved, friends. That’s the secret hidden in plain sight. That’s the truth we lose sight of and forget, time and time again.

But oh, what a sweet relief it is to remember.

***

When hope seems lost, how do you choose kindness? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

***

Thank you so much for being a part of A Wish Come Clear in 2015. Here’s a quick year in review:

  • We shared our stories with a wider audience, as I began blogging for The Huffington Post and several other major sites.
  • We had an AWCC original post, “You Don’t Owe Anyone An Interaction” go crazy-viral at The Huffington Post in August. The English version received 43k+ Facebook likes, and it was translated into Spanish, French, and Italian.
  • My husband Jonathan and I built a new site for our joint offerings at TheMcGraws.net and one for me at CarolineMcGraw.com.
  • We welcomed 534+ subscribers for a current total of 1610 – wow! Per Project TFT, our goal is to wave in an additional 1390 readers (for a total of 3000) by June. It’s audacious, yes, but so are we.

That said, I owe a debt of gratitude to writers who encourage and inspire me, and I want to highlight them so that you can fall in love with their work as well.

  • Rachel Macy Stafford at Hands Free Mama is a steadfast friend and mentor; her writing reminds me of what really matters and her support has meant the world. She’s going through a health crisis right now, so send love her way.
  • Whenever I need a boost, I check Facebook for a new essay from Liz Gilbert, Anne Lamott, or Glennon Melton of Momastery.
  • Brooke Adams Law is a close friend and beautiful writer. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few friendships in your life that give you a sense of overwhelming gratitude whenever you think of them. Brooke is one of those people for me.
  • I love reading Nicole Antoinette‘s Notes of Grit and Grace emails, both because she is bold and wise and because our brains work in similar ways. (It’s always comforting to find someone who writes like you think, isn’t it?)
  • Jill Winski’s posts are deeply thoughtful and helpful; she’s a Martha Beck certified coach and a kindred spirit. I did a coaching call with her this month and loved it! Favorite post this year: Radical self-care: when your normal has changed.
  • Anna Kunnecke of Declare Dominion is a Martha Beck certified coach (yes, Martha Beck is my spirit animal), and she writes about the fierceness you need to live a beautiful life. Anna may be psychic, because I always feel as though she’s read my journal before writing her posts. Favorite post this year: That psycho b*tch in you? You need her.
  • Addie Zierman is a stunning writer who comes up with the most beautiful sentences. My favorite post this year was On Learning to Love My Cynic Voice. Addie’s new book Night Driving releases in March, and I cannot wait to read it!
  • Two writers I’ve just discovered: John Shore and Kelsey Munger. Loved Kelsey’s I Love You More Than My Ideologies and John’s A word for anyone leaving fundamentalism.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful December. I’ll be going quiet on the blog until the new year, planning something special for our official 5-year blog anniversary in January. I can’t wait to celebrate with you. Until then, happy holidays from our family to yours!

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11 thoughts on “When Hope Seems Lost, Remember This

  1. Caroline, what a beautiful post. Even though our backgrounds are different, my struggles have been similar to yours and I can so relate to the grip that black-and-white thinking can have on us (and we’re certainly seeing its horribly damaging effects in our world). I love your invitation to shift into kindness — on many days, when I’m being mean to myself, I realize kindness is what I’m forgetting (how easy it is to forget!).

    And thank you SO much for the mention in your year-end list — I am truly appreciative. And right back at ya, by the way! Your writing here is such an amazing contribution. Wishing you a beautiful holiday season. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you so much, Jill! And you make two important points: that kindness is so easy to forget, and that it begins within ourselves as we let go of the harsh internal dialogue. Your writing and coaching has taught me a great deal in this area! Honored to have connected with you this year and look forward to what 2016 has in store for us both. πŸ™‚

  2. David Eliason says:

    Loved your comment, “Compared with how tough real love can be, rules are easy.” That’s a very clear picture of why people can get so caught up in fundamentalism of all kinds – its easier, you don’t really have to think. It’s much harder to embrace a loving response or a loving God than to just “follow the rules!”

    • You said it well, David – it is so convenient to go on rule-based autopilot rather than do the moment-by-moment work of love. Fortunately, the latter is much more interesting and life-giving, even though it’s tough. πŸ˜‰ Thank you for being here!

  3. Dorothy copps says:

    appreciate your vulnerability and your tips on living a life dedicated to Jesus’ kindness rather than spouting rules.
    btw you were quite thoughtful radical 5 yr old huh? loveya

    • You know me, Dorothy – I’m a rebel from way back. πŸ˜‰ Seriously though, thank you for reading and for living a life characterized by that beautiful, unmistakable love. You and Tom give me hope just by being yourselves. (big hugs)

  4. How wise you were at, Caroline. There’s so much ugliness in the world these days. It’s hard to not to become disheartened. To practice, I keep reminding myself to see beyond the labels the world keeps cramming down our throts: Christian/Muslim, Republican/Democrat, Pro-guns/Anti…and to treat everyone the way I want to be treated. The Gold Rule, baby…

    • Such a good point, Marcy – seeing beyond the labels is a constant practice, especially since they come at us from so many sources (from the media to other people to our own minds). It helps me to know that others are writing and creating beautiful things even in the midst of the ugliness, so thank you for being here and for doing what you do!

  5. Melissa Javier-Barry says:

    Just explored both of your websites–loved seeing all the ways what you offer as individuals and as a team have grown. You are both using your talents for good–thank you.

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