What If Your Real Self is Really Mad? (Plus a Giveaway!)

You’ve heard the platitudes …

Honesty is the best policy.

Tell the truth and shame the devil.

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

They make it sound simple, don’t they? As if telling the truth was so straightforward. But for those of us who are accustomed to covering up, getting real is … complicated.

When you start speaking up after years of silence, you’ll discover the land mines in your psyche. You probably won’t even know they’re there until you step on one. The anger and sadness that you stuffed down years ago will rise to the surface. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll hate it.

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Holding on to Hope (When Everything Seems Bleak)

There are days when it’s easy to be an optimist.

These are the days in which your relationships are harmonious, when your work flows smoothly and according-to-plan. And all the while, you’re acutely, beautifully aware of the many blessings that surround you.

On days like this, I readily believe in grace. And, in the words of Byron Katie, “Grace means understanding that where you are is where you always wanted to be.”

And then there are … the other days.

A tough day of flea-fighting

The down days. The days that start with you over-sleeping, or maybe waking up bone-weary. The days when you come home to a house full of fleas or mourn someone you love.

On such occasions, I struggle to believe in grace.

I am an optimist: I believe that love wins, that “beauty will save the world,” that there is an indestructible spirit within us all. (At least, I believe this most of the time.)

But life, as you know, has a way of testing those beliefs.

***

This past week has been a time of medical procedures here at the McGraw house. A few days ago, I went in for my long-awaited scar revision, which went beautifully (thank you for your encouragement). And today, I took our kitten, Bootsie, to the vet to be spayed.

Since the procedure is operative, she could have no food after 9pm the night before. I also had to take away her water first thing in the morning. This was a real challenge for me.

Taking away my pet’s sustenance — even for a short time, even for a legitimate reason — was difficult. And, of course, it was made more so by the fact that she had no idea why I was taking her food and water away.

When I scooped her food back into its bag, when I poured her water into the sink instead of into her dish, she looked at me with confusion and bewilderment in her big eyes. It was easy to see what she was thinking.

If I had to translate her gaze into English, it would go like this: What are you doing?! This is NOT how things are supposed to go! This is not our routine! Why are you taking away instead of giving?

And it made me think:  How many times have I asked the same of God?

On my darkest days, I have asked: Why do you seem to take away instead of give?

***

Bootsie, asleep

In caring for our cat today, I experienced one of the more dreadful aspects of love: the fact that it can’t always answer when asked why.

Strange as it may sound, my heart ached at not being able to explain my actions to my cat. How can you explain to an animal that deprivation of basic necessities can fall within the realm of love? How, as a caregiver, do you explain necessary actions that appear heartless?

You can’t. You just have to be gentle with the one in your care. You just have to stroke your animal’s fur and carry them to the vet, or hold your beloved friend’s hands in yours as they undergoes an excruciating-but-essential procedure.

You have to summon courage and do the necessary thing, though it makes you want to weep.

***

I’ll pick up our cat from the vet in a few hours, though, and I can guess how it will be. Whenever I come back for her, she is always happy to see me.

And that’s the final secret, I believe. She can’t help loving me. I’m her provider, her caregiver. As long as I keep showing her the best possible care, she will trust and love me back … even on the bleak days, even though she doesn’t always understand my actions.

And today, I can’t help but think: there’s a great deal of hope in that.

***

Have you struggled with ‘dark days’ as a caregiver? Join the conversation in the comments below!

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As mentioned in last week’s post, my new book, I Was a Stranger to Beauty, will be published by ThinkPiece Publishing.

Mark your calendars: the title is slated to launch on Monday, January 14, 2013!

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A Small Story of Love (and a Big Announcement Too)

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays, and welcome back!

Since the last post here, I’ve traveled over 2,100 miles by car, traveling with a mission of seeing as many beloved people as possible. (It seems logging 2,000+ miles is becoming a Thanksgiving tradition around here … fellow far-flung travelers, you have my sympathies!)

What a ride it has been. There are so many stories I could share. But today, I’ll tell you a small story about the time my husband and I spent at L’Arche DC*, in the home where we used to live and work together.

***

L’Arche buddies, complete with bunny-ears

When we arrived at L’Arche after a 13 hour drive, I didn’t want to sleep; I wanted to wake people up and hold them in my arms. But I chose, instead, to enjoy the house itself.

Things had changed since my husband and I moved away. New paint colors appeared on the walls, new artwork adorned them, and new people lived within them. Yet even so, I had a visceral sense of home.

Now, that L’Arche house isn’t ‘perfect’. It has held some tensions and discord over the years. But it has also held love. And love lingers in a space; it’s what makes people feel peaceful the moment they walk in the door.

It made such an impression on me, the way the house seemed to have absorbed everything that had passed between its walls into a bedrock of peace. And I thought: If a house can do that, so can we.

***

That peaceful feeling remained as I read with Leo**, as I sat next to Miguel and scribbled in my journal as he scribbled in his magazines. And even though I knew that the house wasn’t ‘mine’ anymore, I still felt like I was a part of it, a thread in the tapestry.

And the pattern became even clearer on our last night there. After supper, I overheard Leo talking about me to one of the other guests. He indicated to me and said, “Hey, guess what? She writes books now.”

It’s hard to explain the feeling I had as I overheard those words. It was the sense that someone has hit the nail exactly on the head, that they have said of you the most wonderful thing that could have been said.

Leo implied that he approved of my choice to write, that he was proud of me for it. He seemed to say that what I do fits into the spirit of L’Arche — into that home, into those hearts.

***

On the day my first-grade teacher told us that we’d be writing our own books, I knew that writing was the life for me. What could be better than making a book? (That first book was entitled, “My Brother,” and it was a straightforward, terribly-illustrated account of life with Willie.)

Since then, I have always wanted to be a ‘real’ writer, and I am tremendously thankful for the ways in which that dream has come true. I’ve written and published two books in the last two years, and I’ve been working on my next project for some time. And on that note, I have exciting news to share.

To begin, I spent this past summer writing a proposal for my third book. And in the process of seeking representation for the project, I came into contact with an independent publisher who had a wonderful idea:

What if we were to publish a story as a Kindle Single, just in time for the holidays?

Now, this wasn’t part of my original plan of agent first, then publisher. But if I’ve learned anything at all from L’Arche, I’ve learned that the best things in life are not part of my original plans. So I said, Yes. Let’s do it.

With that, I am proud to announce the forthcoming release of I Was a Stranger to Beauty.

ThinkPiece Publishing plans to launch the digital book this winter; it will be available for Kindle, Nook, and iPad. I’ll be sure to share more details as they become available.

It’s funny; usually, when I have a launch coming up, I feel nervous and scared. But today, all I feel is peace.

Maybe it’s L’Arche, maybe it’s Leo, or maybe it’s simply the love that went into this work … the kind of love that surpasses fear. 

Whatever it is, I can’t wait to share this book with you.

***

Where have you felt an inexplicable sense of peace? Join the conversation in the comments below!

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*L’Arche is a faith-based non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.

**Names have been changed to protect privacy.