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.

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“Please Don’t Go Crazy If I Tell You The Truth.”

Have you ever heard the Snow Patrol song How to Be Dead?

Snow Patrol, 2004

It’s about an intense conversation (read: a fight) between two people, one of whom is on drugs. They’re trying to work things out, but control issues and lies are getting in the way.

The song’s opening line is, “Please don’t go crazy if I tell you the truth.” This line haunts me, and I suspect it haunts all of us people-pleasers. And you know why, right? Because it’s the plea of our hearts. It’s what we would say if only we had the courage.

Please don’t freak out if I say how I truly feel. Please don’t fly into a rage if I disagree with you. Please don’t go crazy if I tell you the truth.

This request is so important. Even if it’s not honored, it’s valuable to ask for what we need. And what we really need is people who won’t shame us into silence.

***

We need people to whom we can say …

I love you, and I can’t make it to the party tonight. After the full day we’ve had, I am so exhausted that I can barely see straight. I understand that you’re disappointed, that you wish things were different. But the truth is that, in this moment, I have nothing left to give.

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“When it comes to God and faith and religion, I have some hunches…but I only know two things to be true- 1. I am God’s beloved child. 2. So is everyone else.”
– Glennon Melton

I love you, and I can’t pretend to believe in the same God anymore. I can’t nod or say I agree as you expound on the ways in which your group is the only one with the keys to heaven. The last time I heard the phrase ‘eternal damnation’ spoken from the pulpit of a church, I regret to say that I didn’t leave right then. But today, I would.

You see, I used to believe in a God like that. I used to think that some people were ‘chosen’ and some people weren’t. I used to believe in a lake of fire. And all I can say is: that’s no way to live, because it’s not about love. Not at all.

Right here, right now, I can’t pretend to believe in a God that wouldn’t choose me in all my doubt, choose you in all your certainty, choose my friend who died of a heroin overdose eight years ago in all her confusion.

I can’t pretend to believe in a loving God who wouldn’t choose EVERY one of us.

***

I love you, and I believe in supporting the commitments and marriages of my gay brothers and sisters. I believe that wherever charity and love are found, there is God. And I believe in erring on the side of mercy in all things that I don’t fully understand. Which, from what I can see, is just about everything.

I also know that I need to take my own words to heart. I know that I am a hypocrite, that I have missed mercy and chosen judgment more times than I can count. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

And I’ve never seen my hypocrisy as clearly as when I listened to you speak against gay marriage. Because as I listened, I realized: I have unfairly judged people who hold this exact set of beliefs. I have secretly stereotyped them as harsh, bigoted, and unloving.

But the thing is, I know you. Though I disagree with what you’re saying, I know that you are kind and strong and compassionate.

And I’m not sure who told you to be afraid, but baby, I have a feeling it wasn’t God. I have a feeling that those who told you to fear the ‘gay agenda’ have some suspect agendas of their own.

So let’s talk about a Love agenda instead. Let’s kneel together and wash the feet of the people we fear.

***

Today’s the day.

I love you, and one of my core beliefs is that, in any situation, I might be wrong. So it’s okay if you think I’m off base here. Maybe you’re right! And I can live with that. I used to think that I couldn’t, but honey, both of us are stronger than we thought.

I love you, my friend, and I get that it’s scary for you when I write posts like this. But you can relax, because it’s not about you. It’s about me, finding my voice after years of silence.

***

“Both my shoulders are heavy from the weight of us both,” the Snow Patrol singer says. I know how that feels. I know the weight of burdens that were never mine.

You know what all that is, don’t you? It’s an instruction manual for how to be dead. It’s how you kill your true self: you bury it under the weight of what other people think you should be.

I am so scared to publish this piece. I’m really good at playing dead, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for choosing life. But I want to try. I do. So I am sending these words out in faith.

Please don’t go crazy if I tell you [my] truth.

Instead, tell me your truth. I’m listening.

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Florence-area readers: I’ll be speaking at a local event tomorrow! Entitled, “Caring for the Caregiver,” and hosted by Alabama Respite and Shoals Area Sharing the Care, the FREE event will take place at Crosspoint Church Wednesday, October 30, 2013, from 9a-12p. See you there!

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Fellow Perfectionists, Come See Me

Recently, I received a message from the moderator of a Facebook group of which I am a member. It read: “Caroline McGraw, please inbox me…I need to ask you something.”

There was a plummeting, zooming feeling in my stomach. I clicked away, thinking: This isn’t the first time I’ve felt that the ax is about to fall.

***

All at once, I was back in first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Sanosi, had just returned our assignments. I was a good student, accustomed to seeing “Excellent!” atop my worksheets. But this particular paper had See Me written in red ink. Dear God in heaven. What had I done?

Scary, right?!

See Me meant lining up beside Mrs. Sanosi’s desk and waiting my turn to talk to her privately … in front of everyone. For a shy, introverted girl like me, this was not a good system. In fact, it was a fate worse than death.

I’d never had a See Me before, and I thought it meant that one had Royally. Screwed. Up. My neurotic six-year-old self could not handle it, nor could she hide that she could not handle it. (I have never been good at hiding my emotions. I have what a former boyfriend of Liz Gilbert’s refers to in Eat, Pray, Love as, “ … the opposite of poker face … miniature golf face.”)

When it was my turn, Mrs. Sanosi took one look at me and said, “Caroline, dear, what’s wrong?”

I handed her the paper and waited for the death blow. It’s possible that I was crying at that point; I’m not sure. But what happened next is very clear in my memory: Mrs. Sanosi said that she’d written See Me on my paper because I’d done a really great job, and she wanted to tell me so in person.

A tidal wave of relief swept through me. “Really?” I squeaked. She gave me a hug.

Oh, and that Facebook message I mentioned earlier? Turns out, the moderator wanted to affirm my work and invite me to speak at an event. All that fear. All that worry. All for nothing.

***

Running into the waves, Lido de Jesolo

Have you ever had this happen to you? Have you ever walked around waiting for the ax to fall, only to find that it was never really there?

If so, then you know the feeling that rushes over you when you realize your mistake: it’s the purest kind of relief. It tastes like liberation, like running headlong into the ocean with your friends at your side.

And with that relief comes the realization that even if what you dread DOES happen – even if you DO get called out or criticized – it’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t define you. You’re not your perfect grades or sublime Facebook record.

You’re more than that. Much, much more. So you get to take a pass on being terrified of imperfection. You get to forgo freaking out when you make a mistake. You get to be free.

***

Sometimes I wonder what it might be like to meet Love (or God, if you prefer) face-to-face. In my imagination, She hands me a paper magically detailing my entire life story. But there’s no grade on it; instead, two old, familiar words top the page: See Me.

Though I receive this paper with trembling hands, I’m not afraid anymore. Because in Love’s presence, See Me doesn’t look like a condemnation. Instead – how could I not have seen this before? – it’s an invitation.

See Me, and see that I’m so glad to see you. Always have been, always will be.

See Me, and see that where you feared judgment, you’ve found only mercy.

See Me, and see yourself as I see you

Perfectly.

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Do you struggle with perfectionism? Join the conversation in the comments!

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