Spend It Offering Light: Week 3 & Giveaway

What happens when the life you thought you had vanishes in an instant? That’s the question addressed by our two brave guests today, Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens and Leigh Linden (not her real name).

Our current series, “Spend It Offering Light” (#OfferLight) continues today with their stories and a giveaway too!

First time reading? Learn the story behind our series here. “Spend It Offering Light” features real people turning their fears into something that helps others, into light. Today, please welcome Leigh Linden and Tammy Strobel!

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The Rumors are True: On Moving 750+ Miles Away, Seeing Past the Surface of Special Needs, and Having a Hand to Hold

Yes, it’s really happening: my husband Jonathan and I are relocating from Washington DC to a small town in Alabama this week. Soon, we’ll be on the road, with everything in transit, everything in flux. For a couple who likes their daily routines, this is a destabilizing prospect.

It’s a bittersweet ending, but it’s also a beginning. A new adventure is held out to us, and we’re reaching to grasp it. Even as one life seems to slip away, another is on the horizon, fast drawing near. Even as I’m hugging old friends goodbye, an invisible hand seems to be pulling me forward.

And that image reminds me of what I witnessed at my last L’Arche DC celebration this past Tuesday. (L’Arche is a faith-based non-profit where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together in community.) Every Tuesday, L’Arche DC has a community night, where everyone gathers together to pray and celebrate people’s birthdays, anniversaries, and farewells.

On this night, Rob* was doing his usual routine of hopping from one seat to the next. Rob is a gregarious guy who uses sign language and vivid facial expressions to communicate. He often chair-hops during celebrations, availing himself of the opportunity to sit next to different people. When Rob had moved twice last Tuesday, he was seated next to Leo*.

At that point, I turned my attention away, so Jonathan had to nudge me to alert me to what happened next. Leo reached out his hand to Rob, in a protective sort of way, and held Rob’s hand in his own. For at least ten minutes, the pair sat peacefully together. As I watched them, Leo met my gaze; his smile had a proud lift to it, as if to say, ‘Look, I’ve got this situation under control. The chair-hopper has been stabilized.’ And I smiled back, treasuring the gentle way in which Leo was leading Rob to be still.

This hand-hold opened the gates of memory; five years of watching Leo reach out flashed before my eyes. I recalled how Leo had held Cassandra’s* hand on our trip to Hillwood, helping her keep her balance. I saw how tenderly he had patted Miguel’s* shoulder when he sat beside him at supper. (It’s rare for Leo to initiate or prolong a touch; when he does, it stands out to me.)

And I remembered how, weeks earlier, at Jonathan’s farewell celebration, Leo held my hand during a prayer, and continued holding it after the rest of the room had dropped hands. I was simultaneously shocked and honored by his gesture.

Not many would consider Leo an intuitive sort of person; he loves facts and history and sticking to his guns. And yet he has an uncanny way of knowing when to reach out, when it matters most.

For you to feel the sweet significance of those memories, though, I have to tell you the truth about how we began. And that brings me to a confession: when I first met Leo, I didn’t see past the surface.

I used to be a bit grossed out by the grime that could collect under his fingernails … until I started cleaning and clipping them myself.

I used to be (secretly) critical of how he’d miss a button on his shirt or forget to buckle his belt … until I started helping him get dressed in the morning.

I used to be put off by his (at-times-intense) need for attention … until I started learning about his life story, and all the times he’d had to fend for himself.

When Leo let me care for him, he changed my heart.

Never again would I look at him — and others like him — in the same way.

Where I’d once seen dirt, I now saw someone who engaged with the world around him.

Where I’d once seen disorder, I now saw someone who was humble enough to accept help.

Where I’d once seen frailty, I now saw someone who possessed great strength. 

Leo would be the first to say he’s not perfect; like the rest of us, he has challenges and weaknesses. Yet he once said that to be human is to be humble … and that, in order to be humble, it helps not to be afraid of your faults. I believe that this is what keeps him reaching out.

And as we prepare for this new stage of life, I’m trusting that Leo’s gift will keep on giving. He has taught me that, imperfect as we are, there is power in our touch, power in our desire to give and receive comfort … power enough to effect lasting change.

There’s great sadness in leaving L’Arche DC, yet in another way, there’s great joy. In leaving, I realize the deeper truth that I will never leave.

After all, how can you leave that which is always in your heart?


When has caring for another person changed your perspective? Tell me in the comments!

Also, due to the aforementioned move, new posts are expected to resume in two weeks.


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*Names have been changed.

Bittersweet Endings: Beginnings in Disguise?

Being filmed for a documentary is a peculiar exercise. I say this because, for the last six months, I’ve been working with filmmaker Edwin Mah on a documentary about finding meaning in your most challenging relationships, simple living, and loving someone with special needs. It’s wild to think that an actual filmmaker is making an actual film about the things I love and strive for, but so it is.

As such, Edwin has filmed several interviews with me, my yoga practice, my tiny studio apartment … and last week, he filmed me and my friend Leo* at McDonald’s, Leo’s favorite neighborhood haunt.

Outside the Lincoln Library, 2008

On this balmy afternoon, sunlight filters through the windows. The intensity of the light makes filming somewhat difficult for Edwin, but I love it even so.

Leo and I stand together as he orders his coffee, then walk slowly up the winding stairs to the table where Edwin’s setting up his camera. As we start to talk, I feel self-conscious, but within five minutes we’ve forgotten the camera and the silent filmmaker. Edwin’s unobtrusiveness allows us to simply enjoy each other’s company.

We talk about Leo’s week, my family, historical trivia … anything and everything. The conversation ebbs and flows. Five years ago, I thought that Leo and I had nothing in common. Now, we have a shared history, mutual interests, and adventures enough to carry us through coffee. I can’t help but marvel at our ‘impossible’ friendship, which finds us laughing at McDonald’s while being filmed for a documentary. Who would have thought?


At the start of our conversation, while I still have the consciousness that the camera is on us, I notice that the lenses of Leo’s glasses are smudged. As I have many times before, I follow my instinct and ask Leo if I can help by cleaning them. He agrees, and I gently lift the frames, take a napkin and some water and set to work.

Photo Credit: Tucker Walsh

As I am rubbing the lenses, I think, This is the best of what we do for one another: gently clearing away the grime and helping each other to see. Leo has helped me to see where I’d otherwise have been blind. Thanks to Leo, I slow down more often. Thanks to him, I have been invited to see the beauty in purple flowers, ABBA songs, Mini Coopers … many of his favorite things have become my favorites too, because he has taught me to delight in them.


In addition to our adventures in documentary film, Leo and I also finished reading a biography of Stephen A. Douglas this week. We purchased the book on our 2008 trip to Springfield, Illinois, and three years of weekly reading and 870+ pages later, we have finally turned the last page.

As I read out the last lines to Leo, I feel my throat tightening; we’ve been reading this book for so long that its ending doesn’t feel as triumphant as I’d expected. Instead, it’s bittersweet. Stephen A. Douglas has died, and the final lines are a eulogy. Leo asks a quick question about the burial, and then falls silent. I am quiet too.

Leo and I haven’t talked about the fact that my husband and I will be relocating to our house in small-town Alabama this summer, that we won’t live down the block from him anymore. I hope to continue our weekly reading time over Skype, but I know that it will not be the same. It will be the end of a chapter in our story. Yet even as I turn the page, I can’t help but trust in the Love which scripted the story in the first place.

It’s a humbling thing to realize: none of the best things in my life have been expected. Not my time at L’Arche, not my friendship with Leo, not my deepest friendships, not falling in love with my husband. None of my greatest joys has ever been planned … at least, not by me.

There’s a part of me that can’t imagine living far away from Leo and the others at L’Arche, yet there’s also a part of me that’s tremendously excited about the new adventure. And that’s fitting, because Leo has helped me to see that what appears to be a definite ending may, in fact, be a beginning in disguise.


Who has helped you to see clearly this week? Tell me in the comments!

I love to hear your insights.


For more information on my current projects

(which include copywriting projects and speaking engagements),

please visit my brand-new website, CarolineMcGraw.com!


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*Names have been changed.