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.

***

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.

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:

Enjoy this post? Receive posts via email, along with your FREE copy of Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive).

*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.

What Do I Have to Offer? A Story of Wine, Wonder, & Worth

As she spoke, the rest of the women in the circle grew still.

We were gathered to celebrate a friend expecting her first child, and together we’d shared stories and blessings for her journey. We’d laughed, cried, and laughed some more, but now we were quiet.

Hello to a friend’s sweet baby. (2012)

We were listening to a young woman who shared that she and her husband wouldn’t be having children. Her story moved us all. But she didn’t just focus on herself; she encouraged the mother-to-be, offering help and support.

Afterward, I made sure to say hello to her and tell her how much I appreciated what she’d said. (Out of about twenty women, only a trio of us weren’t mothers, so I felt a sense of solidarity.)

“Oh,” she said, with a downward glance, “I wouldn’t have said so much if I hadn’t been drinking the wine.” Translation: I just bared my heart to this group, and now I’m feeling pretty darn insecure about it. It’s cover-up time.

“But what you said was real,” I told her. “It meant something to me and to everyone else, because it came from your heart.”

“Oh, well …” she trailed off. By then, other women had joined our conversation. They were nodding; they’d felt the power of her sharing.

She didn’t believe us. “Thanks, but … ” she said. Her ‘mask’ slipped again as she said, “Really, though. If I’m not a mother, what do I have to offer here?”

At that point, another women pulled me aside, and the conversation ended. It was probably for the best; if we hadn’t been interrupted, I might have said, “Are you kidding?!”

What I think the woman meant was, Since I’m not a mom, what do I have to offer this circle of mothers? And her tone of voice implied that the answer was, Nothing. Nothing at all. 

Despite the evidence, she didn’t believe that her contribution was valued. Her feelings of insufficiency ran deep. To understand them, I had to search my own heart.

***

At home together, 2013

Her words have haunted me, and I’m starting to understand why. It was easy for me to recognize that this lovely woman wasn’t seeing herself clearly. But then, how many times have I been discouraged, dismissing my contribution? How many times have I thought to myself …

If I’m not a full-time caregiver anymore, does my work still have meaning?

If I don’t get this job, win this person’s approval, or pass this test, am I a failure?

How many times have I conflated my value as a human being with what I accomplish?

Furthermore, how many times have I seen others make judgments about the value of individuals with autism and special needs? How many times have I come up against the implicit question: If this person doesn’t have so-called ‘normal’ abilities and aptitudes, what can they possibly contribute?

And I cannot begin to change the world until I do the work of eradicating these lies from my own heart.

***

I have just one request to make of you: go through your day believing that you are a beloved child. If you start slipping, ask yourself: Do I question the worth of a newborn baby (or even a puppy or kitten), just because that being doesn’t ‘contribute’ in a measurable way?

Sure, my husband and I joke about our kitten, Bootsie, not ‘pulling her weight’ in our household. But we laugh about it precisely because it’s so ridiculous. Bootsie contributes to our home and happiness every day, just by being herself.

What if we walked around with the same assurance? What if we trusted that, no matter what we did or didn’t accomplish today, we would still be worthy of love? How freeing would that be? And, paradoxically, how much more would we be empowered to … well … give?

This is what I wish I could have said to that wonderful woman I met at the party. But maybe I wasn’t meant to give her my words. Maybe I was meant to give her the look of honest, unfettered disbelief I felt on my face.

Maybe incredulity was the best answer after all.

***

Fed up with an ‘impossible’ sibling? Tired of a family situation that may never change?

Pick up I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing).

*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can use Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.

More New Posts from Yours Truly:

Upcoming speaking engagements – if you’re in the area(s), I’d love to see you there!

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