Do You Risk Reaching Out?

Have you ever received an invitation that made your heart say YES before your mind could even catch up? Ever had such a strong gut feeling that you needed to be at this exact place, doing this exact thing?

That’s how I felt when I was asked to give the keynote speech at this year’s Heart of L’Arche Fundraising Breakfast in Arlington, Virginia on April 25, 2018.

Titled, “Risk Reaching Out,” this talk was part of a program that helped raise over $135,000 to support the L’Arche Greater Washington DC community.

L’Arche is a worldwide nonprofit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities share life together.

(I served in various roles there for five years, and it’s where my husband Jonathan and I met. The people there are family, and they are with me wherever I go.)

Click here to watch the keynote talk on YouTube, or press play below. I also include the approximate text of the talk, so you can read along.

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The Dance of Disconnection (And Some New Moves)

You’ve probably had this happen to you.

Coffee & connections, 2012. Photo Credit: Sarah Bayot

You see a person you love after an extended time apart. It’s wonderful to reunite. You feel so fortunate to have this friendship; you’re sure you’ll keep in touch.

And then you go home, back to your everyday life, and you don’t call them for months.

This isn’t something you do on purpose. It’s just that one day you wake up and realize that you’re disconnected, despite your good intentions.

At this point, you have a few options. You can:

A) Shrug off the guilt, saying that you’ll call at an unspecified ‘later’ date. However, you know you won’t call. You feel too bad about not having called already. This a fear-based cop-out.

B) Pretend it doesn’t matter (‘They won’t really care one way or the other’). There’s just one problem: You do care, and most likely they do too. This is another fear-based cop-out.

C) Take a deep breath and pick up the phone (or write the email or set the date). This is the brave choice.

No judgment here; I’ve chosen all three. In fact, I typically move through A and B before C. I let guilt drive me, then I turn to denial, and then I muster up some bravery and do the right thing.

***

Such was the case when I called my dear friend Leo* to wish him a happy birthday. I’d had the joy of visiting with him in November, but I’d let the intervening time go by without picking up the phone. Though I knew that Leo wouldn’t give me a hard time, I felt bad for not calling sooner, and I had to psych myself up to do so.

But the minute I heard his voice on the line, it was so clear to me: we can’t let fear rule our friendships.

So if you’re doing that ridiculous ‘I can’t call/reach out now; it’s been too long’ dance that we all do, just know this: you only have to push past fear for the time it takes the phone to ring.

***

Performing in an Old McDonald skit

Keep your friends close, and your fellow Old McDonald skit participants closer … (2010)

Leo and I spoke about his birthday plans and recapped local news. (A car literally crashed into the McDonald’s where he has coffee every day. Fortunately, Leo wasn’t there, and the driver is recovering.) He told me he liked my birthday gift. I glowed; “like” is high praise from Leo.

Gradually, we came to that pause that signals the end of a conversation. The pause in which you feel the distance between you, but also how you’ve bridged that distance.

“Okay,” I said. The small word held so much. I didn’t have to say, “I miss you,” or, “You’re like family.” It was all right there.
“Okay,” he replied.
“If it’s all right, I’d like to call more,” I said.
“That’d be good,” he said. “See you … no, talk to you … soon.”

I felt such energy and gladness afterward; it felt so good to be done procrastinating that phone call. For the rest of the afternoon, I flew through my work with enthusiasm. And the word enthusiasm comes from the Greek en theos, meaning, God within.

God within when we have brave days, choosing connection … and God within even when we don’t have brave days. Even when we fail to show others how much we care. Even when we feel, so acutely, the distance between who we are and who we want to be. Even then.

Because wherever love is, there is God.  

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What relationship do you want to rekindle? Join the conversation in the comments!

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AWCC Around The Web:

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

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*Names have been changed.

Breaking Free From Failure In 4 Steps

Author’s Note:  I have a guest post up at Bloom, a website that focuses on “Parenting kids with disabilities”. It’s entitled, “An open letter to parents:  on what your children remember.” Visits and comments are welcomed!

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Since I last wrote about ‘Secrets of Success’, I thought today would be a good day to talk about the F-word:  Failure.

So let’s say you’ve decided to be vulnerable, to start paying attention to the important things, break free of your perceived constraints and celebrate what is. Fabulous. I’m right there with you. But what happens when things don’t go as planned? What happens when, say, your beloved manuscript that you’ve worked on for nearly four years gets rejected by a publisher who had (previously) expressed interest?

A hypothetical example, of course.

How do you cope with a dream (temporarily, but resoundingly) deferred? From the front lines, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Remember to give yourself time.

Set aside time to cry, rage, scream…whatever you need to express, get it out. Giving yourself time also means:   not making any big decisions. Cocooning. Telling friends that you are not up for a night on the town. Using as many Kleenex as you need.

This is an important place to be. A full acknowledgment of what you’ve lost is essential. However, it’s also important not to stay there. In moving forward

2. Remember who you are.

Do small things that connect you to yourself. Read your favorite books, watch your favorite movies, spend time with your favorite people. This may sound basic, but it’s tempting to move toward self-punishment when you feel as though you’ve failed. Self-care sends you the message that, though your project/proposal/interview may have tanked, YOU are not a failure.

Once you’ve done this, start to remember what you believe in, and why you took the risk of failing in the first place.

As my husband said, “Have you read your blog lately?” He was talking about my last post, and how we define success for ourselves, rather than letting others define it for us. I do believe this, despite the setback.

My husband also reminded me of why I wrote my book:  to tell the stories of the remarkable people at L’Arche, and how their lives have changed my life. (Also, because writing is what I love to do.) Do these reasons justify the risk? To my mind, absolutely.

Once you feel more in touch with who you are…

3. Remember what you know.

I once learned an important lesson from my former roommate, Julie. She was a biology major at Vassar, and during our senior year she spent a semester on a self-directed experiment whose primary hypothesis turned out to be…entirely inaccurate.

When I went to her presentation, the scientific terminology went over my head. But what stayed with me was the confident, calm way in which she said:  “A negative result is significant.”

As Julie learned, her experiment wasn’t a waste of time because the hypothesis proved incorrect. Likewise, in crafting my (failed) submission, I gained valuable skills. I taught myself how to write a formal book proposal, I took a calculated risk and I received some good feedback.

However, though a few of the editor’s criticisms were valid, some were off-base. Case in point:

“…you simply haven’t lived long enough [to write an effective ‘spiritual memoir’]. Also, you are writing about people and situations that most of us don’t want to really know about.”

What a one-two punch:  you’re too young to do justice to the story of your own life, and most of us don’t want to hear the stories of people with intellectual disabilities? (Would Anne Frank and Temple Grandin please stand up?!)

Once the hurt passed, I felt relieved. What do I know? That this editor is not a good match for me or my work.

4. Remember to reach out.

It has helped beyond words for me to visit Miguel* as he is in the hospital with a partial bowel obstruction. His condition is improving, but naturally, he wants to go home. And naturally, I want to be able to say, “Miguel! The book I wrote about you and your brother is going to be published!” Neither of us are getting what we want today. We both need to be patient. (And I need to put my loss in perspective. I don’t have a tube sucking gunk out of my bowels.)

Miguel is teaching me about bearing up gracefully. As I sit beside him, I am thinking of ways to make my manuscript better…because no way am I giving up. No way am I putting my dreams in a box.

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*Names have been changed.