To See Beauty First: A Video

Hello and Happy Monday!

Since I’m traveling this week, I’d like to share a video with you in lieu of the usual post. It’s a 10 minute talk I gave as part of the Faith Inclusion Network’s March 2013 “That All May Worship” conference. (I thank Karen Jackson for her wonderful work in organizing the event, and for sending me the recording as well.)

A Wish Come Clear readers who receive posts via email may recall the story I sent out about my experience speaking at the conference two months ago; it’s reprinted below.

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Please pardon the at-times-loud background noise in the recording (but if you’ve read the story, you’ll have a good idea why that’s happening). Enjoy!

This past weekend, I traveled to Norfolk, Virginia for the Faith Inclusion Network’s biannual, “That All May Worship” conference. I was honored to be a guest speaker at the opening banquet, and to lead a breakout session on L’Arche* as well.

At the Thursday night banquet, I was the first speaker to take the stage. The usual shivers ran through my stomach; the usual adrenaline pumped through my veins. But once I started speaking, everything else fell away, and I was able to lose myself in the stories.

That is, until I heard a masculine voice coming from the foyer. It was loud, yelling something I couldn’t distinguish. I thought it sounded angry, but I couldn’t be sure.

I kept on speaking without pause, but inside, I wondered, Who could it be? Are they supposed to be here? What’s going on? I couldn’t see the person, but for a moment, I was afraid. Visions of violence moved through my mind; was it some kind of radical protester, intent on harm? I didn’t dare turn my head to look.

***

But then, as the man and his companions moved toward the center of the room, I realized: here was a man with special needs, coming in late, just making some noise. No big deal. I felt my shoulders relax, and a smile spread across my face. Thank God! It wasn’t any of the terrible things I’d feared. It was going to be all right.

In fact, I actually felt more comfortable giving my talk after that young man came in. Why? He reminded me of my friends at L’Arche (some of whom are wont to purr and shout phrases in Spanish during Catholic Mass). With his arrival, I felt as though I was among family.

Oftentimes I think we get so afraid of what might happen that we are blind to what is happening. We get all worked up about something we perceive as terrible, when in reality, we’re just frightened by our own thoughts, our own imaginings.

***

I wish I’d had the chance to meet that man after I spoke; if I had, I would have thanked him. I wish I could have told him how he helped me, how glad I was that he had come to the event.

As Amy Julia Becker wrote in her recent post, Missing Out on Beautiful, “I feel as though I have been let in on a cosmic secret because when I look at Penny, I see her beauty before I see anything else.” (Amy Julia’s daughter, Penny, has Down syndrome.)

When I read those lines today, I couldn’t help but think of the stranger, the man from the conference last weekend. It’s clear to me now: he was beautiful because he reminded me of those I love.

And love is what gives us the ability to see beauty first.

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How do you ‘see beauty first’? Join the conversation in the comments!

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*L’Arche (French for ‘The Ark’) is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.

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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What To Do When ‘The Less-Thans’ Strike (Hint: Do Not ‘Try Harder’)

Feeling less-than? You get the thumbs-up from me.

“Sometimes, I feel like such a failure,” my friend confided. “My house doesn’t look as clean as my friends’ houses do. I have a job, and two children under the age of three. But I think I should be doing a better job keeping the house clean.”

I wanted to interject, but I had a feeling there was more to the story. She continued, “After feeling that way for so long, do you know what I found out?”

“What?” I asked, leaning forward.

“Almost all of my friends who have kids … ” She paused for dramatic effect. “… also have housekeepers! As in, cleaning services!”

“Seriously?” I said, laughing.

“Seriously,” she grinned. “All this time that I was judging myself for not cleaning more …”

“… When you were probably doing more than any of them,” I finished.

***

This conversation was an excellent recounting of what I like to call, “an attack of the less-thans.” Caregivers are particularly prone to these attacks. Though everyone’s “less-thans” will sound different, here are a few identifying characteristics:

  • Seeing something in yourself or your environment that you want to change (“My house is so dirty.”)
  • Comparing yourself to others, or to an invisible, internal, and elusive standard of success (“My friends’ houses are cleaner.”)
  • Getting a sinking feeling of failure in your stomach, and a simultaneous shot of self-recrimination, while holding that comparison in mind (“I’m such a slacker for not having a clean house, like my friends do.”)
  • Feeling helpless, like all your efforts are futile (“Why even bother picking up?”)

“The less-thans” seem obvious when someone else is going through them, but they’re much more difficult to identify from within. For example, when I used to get down on myself for not achieving my goals, my thinking seemed perfectly reasonable. However, when I’d see a friend go through the same process, I’d sense immediately that she was being way too hard on herself.

“The less thans” are insidious. They are pervasive. And they are lies.

***

However, ignoring “the less thans” doesn’t work. Neither does trying harder … in fact, “the less thans” would love for you to try harder to prove your worth. If you run yourself into the ground trying to be a flawless caregiver, you’re playing their game, and you won’t win. Instead, what’s needed is compassionate listening, either from your wiser self, or from a trusted friend.

For example, writer and special needs mom Amy Julia Becker told the story of a time when her daughter, Penny, felt ‘less than’ at school. As Amy Julia wrote in a recent post, ” I wanted to cry. For [Penny]. With her … My little girl had been carrying around this burden of knowing what she was supposed to be doing and yet feeling totally incapable of doing it, and I hadn’t known.”

We carry around secret feelings of failure when what we really need to do is share them aloud. We think, “I don’t want to burden anyone,” but speaking truth about our perceived failures makes our load lighter right away. When we give voice to these thoughts, we can figure out a constructive action to take (my friend, for example, is considering hiring a housekeeper!), and/or move toward greater acceptance of where we’re at.

Bootsie in her box

Today, when I felt a wave of “the less thans” hit, I stopped and took a break from my work. I considered the thoughts I’d been thinking, thoughts of judgment and scarcity. I listened to myself with the compassion of a friend, and said, “Hun, those thoughts are not serving you well. And also, they aren’t true. Let’s let them go, and find better things to think of.”

With that in mind, I walked over to Bootsie, who was sleeping nearby, in her little box-bed by the window. As I stroked her warm fur, I thought about how the kitten I dreamed of since childhood was finally here with me. I thought about how I was sitting in the writing room I’d always longed for, working for myself. I thought of my husband in the next room, of the love I hardly dared to dream I’d find.

I started to feel better. Better, and also a little silly. I’d been listening to these fatalistic thoughts, when all the time I was surrounded by evidence that dreams can – and do – come true.

The antidote for “the less thans” is gratitude. The cure is listening to a different story: the story of what you’re thankful for and how far you’ve come.

Because when you change your story, you change everything. 

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How do you cope with the less-thans? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

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