When You Want to Apologize for Existing

“I say ‘I’m sorry’ a LOT, usually when it’s not necessary. I apologize for existing.”

“I’m so tired of fighting myself … For the last 17 years I spend my days in service to precious elders and give all that I can, yet inside me I feel like I am never, ever enough. The perfectionist in me doesn’t seem to be silenced.”

“I’m so very, very, very tired Caroline! …. I’m at war with myself and know deep down I don’t have to be.”*

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Completing the Party: Thoughts on Grace

This is the (edited) text of a talk I gave at Living Spirit Church on Sunday, April 28th. Enjoy! 

Once upon a time in 2008, I was on routine at L’Arche*, feeling downcast. Most of the assistants on our house team were leaving that summer. Yet even as I dreaded saying goodbye, I saw a silver lining: I’d build stronger relationships with those who remained.

You can’t always get what you want …


I wanted to mark this place and time when I decided against despair. So I asked Theresa** and Cassandra** if they’d like to do Sidewalk Chalk.

Neither was remotely interested. (It’s one of the beautiful things about L’Arche: if someone isn’t interested, they’ll likely tell you.) But they were happy to go outside.

So I brought out chalk and thought about what to draw. I am not a visual artist; I can barely draw a stick figure. But I love words, so I decided to write.

One of the assistants who was leaving had introduced me to the writings of Frederick Buechner, so I wrote these words of Buechner’s on the pavement:

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”

I added swirls and big letters. Strangers paused to read, smiling at me. When I was done, I stood, brushed my hands, and felt as though I’d crossed a threshold between my life as it was and my life as it would be.

I was going to have to say goodbye to people I thought I couldn’t live without, but I would carry on. I’d accepted my part in the great cosmic party.


But when I started writing this talk, I didn’t feel like celebrating. I’ve had some very exciting things happen with my writing and speaking in the last few months, but this past week I found out that I hadn’t been selected for a prestigious creative arts fellowship.

If I’d received the fellowship, I would have had a full year and $40,000 to devote to my next book. So I put a lot of love and effort into the application. But it wasn’t to be.

Even though I know that rejection is part of the writing game, it still hurt. I felt like more talented artists were on the dance floor, while I was a wallflower, unwelcome.

I’ve been there before, so I know how tempting it is to dive into more work and deny, deny, deny. It’s hard to have a hope, a dream, a sense that you have a shot, and then see it fade away.


… But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.
~The Rolling Stones

What I didn’t tell you before was that my best friend, a beautiful person and a talented writer, also applied for this fellowship. We cheered each other on, read each other’s drafts, offered suggestions, and promised that we’d both celebrate if one of us received the award.

As it turns out, she didn’t receive it either. We exchanged bummed-out texts, and she helped me by admitting that she, too, was sad. And she wrote, What nice wallow-y thing will you do for yourself?

It was the perfect message, because it put me on the spot. This is what real friends do:  teach us how to be kind to ourselves.

So I had some chocolate and watched the Gilmore Girls. I acknowledged the loss before pushing myself to achieve again. And I wrote this talk, as an act of affirmation.

I have a choice. I can beat myself up and engage in negative self-talk. Or I can choose to believe that I’m part of a party, an honored guest, just like you. I can choose to believe in a God of grace and second (and third and fourth) chances.


And after the Boston Marathon bombings last month, people started posting the lines that follow the ones I wrote on the sidewalk:

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.

There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

Today, I give thanks for people like you, those who help me to believe these words. Because I don’t think we can fully believe or understand them outside the context of relationship.

What’s going to help me get through the disappointment and rejections is the fact that I’m not alone in them. There’s a lot I don’t know, but I do know that real friendship is a gift.

Friends on the journey of LIFE.


Even if we lose, we don’t lose alone. And if we win, we win together. That’s the promise of true friendship, and it’s what God promises us from before we were born and long after we die.

To be with us always. To go as far as it takes, as long as it takes, to reach us.

To give us gifts beyond our wildest imaginings.

And to help our very hands open up to receive them at last.


What’s your experience of true friendship? Join the conversation in the comments!


More from Yours Truly:

Upcoming speaking engagements:

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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.

**Names have been changed.

Breaking News: Your Birthday is a Big Deal (As Are You).

In my book, a birthday is a Big Deal.

I realize that this may make me sound a bit naive or child-like. After all, isn’t making a fuss over birthdays something you’re supposed to, well, outgrow?

birthdayMany of us claim to have outgrown birthdays, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s more that we’ve metered our expectations. We’ve lived long enough to know that many celebrations don’t turn out as planned, that high expectations are a setup for disappointment. We’ve had friends and family members forget our special day, and, in turn, we’ve forgotten the special days of others. We’ve developed a kind of cynicism; really, isn’t one’s birthday is just another day?

But as children, we don’t think that way. As children, we believe in the magic of birthdays. We count down and wait and plan for our birthdays. We treasure the people who make our birthdays special: the mom who creates a treasure hunt trail of rhyming Post-It notes leading to presents, the dad who buys the kitten-centric card, the friends who share our cake.

To be clear, it’s not all about presents. Presents are great, but at the heart’s center of a birthday is the question: Am I something special? And that question can be answered affirmatively with or without presents.

And when we’re children, who we choose to celebrate our birthday with is a very big deal to us. It’s the earlier equivalent of who we invite to our weddings, who we ask to come over and meet our newborn baby.

birthdaySpeaking of which — I had the privilege of meeting my best friend (and Love’s Subversive Stance designer) Tam’s newborn son last week. If you need some perspective on your life, hold a day-old baby. Consider the fact that you were once that vulnerable, that beloved.

Consider the fact that, for all you’ve grown and changed, you still are. You may not have had the ideal family life or the perfect body, but you were — are— a treasure. And on your birthday, you get to rock that truth.

When done right, birthdays are about radical fun and radical acceptance. Birthdays say, Hey, you, you’re great just as you are. We’re glad you’re here. And that’s why birthdays are a big deal at A Wish Come Clear: because birthdays are what we’re all about. Birthdays are part of our mission, the part that says, Every person has treasure within, and it’s all worth digging for. 

In that spirit, I’d like to announce Pay What You Can Day here at A Wish Come Clear. It’s a way of saying thank you and sharing a little birthday cheer. For today, June 4th only, you’ll be able to name your own price on a (digital) copy of Love’s Subversive Stance. (Suggested price is $10, as usual.) You can get a copy for yourself, or for a friend, coworker, or family member — maybe one who has a birthday around the corner. Pay What You Can Day starts now, and ends at 10a EST on Tuesday, June 5th.

Love’s Subversive Stance: Ground Yourself & Grow In Relationship is a collection of stories centered on this question: how can we honor our passions and our caregiving relationships at the same time? In loving someone with intellectual challenges and disabilities, how can we become more fully ourselves?

This book is NOT a quick-fix. Instead, it’s about telling true stories…the sort of stories that will allow you to become rooted and grow. It’s about examining the seemingly insignificant details of your day, and seeing what they say about you and your relationships. This 90+ page book is for people who want to say YES to standing on the subversive soil of love for (and with) people with disabilities.

Note: Pay What You Can Day is Now Closed; you can purchase a print copy at Love’s Subversive Stance at Createspace.


“The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life. You might never have been, but
you are because the party wouldn’t have been
complete without you.”
~Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

Thank you for your readership.

Recommended Events:

  • I’ll be participating in a live conference call with the Archdiocese of Washington on Tuesday, June 5th, 2012, from 7-8pm! As part of the Archdiocese’s All Things Catechetical Monthly Call-In Program, the call is meant to support family members of individuals with autism and other developmental differences. If you’d like to attend this free event, simply call 1-866-866-2244, and enter access code 6006685#. Listen at home or at work; there will be an opportunity for Q & A at the close of the talk as well.

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