During my first week at L’Arche, I heard someone say, “Today was a thorough day.” As it turns out, this is L’Arche-speak for God-awful stressful and 10+ hours and You don’t want to know.

This week was full of thorough days. I helped my friend William* get through a major surgery and transition back to L’Arche. He had surgery on Monday, and he came through it well. Along with the assistants, I spent hours each day in the hospital. By Thursday, he was ready to return home, and I blocked off the entire day to facilitate the process.

Photo Credit: Caroline McGraw

This was good and necessary work, but it was also a lot. I left my house at 8:15 am and didn’t return home until 8:15 pm. In between, I participated in transition planning, discharge meetings, PT sessions, transportation, medication ordering and shopping for baby monitors (so that William would be able to call for assistance at home).

As the afternoon progressed, I realized that I wouldn’t be home by 5pm, like I’d hoped. There were still so many things to do, and CVS did not have monitors in stock.

So, I drove to Rite Aid. As I approached the store, my mind was a blur of things to do. Suddenly, a young man called out to me, asking for my attention. He spoke politely, but I kept my distance. I felt a touch of fear and a surge of annoyance– what did he want? Couldn’t I just shop for my monitors and get home at a reasonable hour?

I was overwhelmed, so when the young man asked me if I’d consider helping him get home— if I’d give him $5 for bus and Metro fare— I did not feel compassion. I wanted to share kindness, but instead, I felt depleted. I felt like I had nothing more to give.

But then a small thing happened– a small but significant thing. I looked into the man’s eyes. I took pause. I saw him, and I believed him. He wasn’t a con-man. He was just a guy whose debit card wasn’t working, whose ride hadn’t shown up. He was a person trying to get home, just like me. And with that realization I bought the monitors and handed him $5 in cash-back. He offered to mail me a check and thanked me profusely, but really, I should have been thanking him.

His presence took me out of my own anxieties. His simple request made me think of mercy– the mercy we can offer one another and ourselves. He reminded me of the sufficiency of the present moment, and I smiled as we said goodbye.

But as I got back into the car, a wave of worry struck me. My close friend Allison (who was diagnosed with lymphoma just before the birth of her first child) was supposed to have received important test results that afternoon. I glanced at the clock, thinking, “She should have heard by now…God, if it’s bad news…”

Just like that, I was swimming in an ocean of fear.

But at that exact moment– just as I felt myself going under– my phone chimed. It was a text from Allison, and a joyful one at that. The tests showed no evidence of cancer. She was (is!) officially in remission.

Photo Credit: Allison McGinley

And I thought, She gets to live. My dear friend gets to stay alive. She gets to be with her husband and son. She’ll see her baby grow up.

Somehow, it was all connected:  the stranger I’d spoken with, the errand I was on, the news from my friend. And the connecting thread was mercy.

I sat in the parked car, weeping tears of relief and gratitude. An invisible burden– one I hadn’t realized I’d been bearing– rolled off my shoulders. The skies had been dark all day, but suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds and shone on my face. And yes, if it hadn’t actually happened, I would have called it unrealistic. Things like that happen in books and movies, not in real life.

As I traveled home that night, I thought:  yes, it was unrealistic. But then, grace always is.


How have you experienced mercy or grace this week? Tell me in the comments!

*Names have been changed.

Share This:


  1. Rache October 17, 2011 at 12:31 PM - Reply


  2. Garry Stafford October 17, 2011 at 3:13 PM - Reply

    Awesome. Thank you.

    • Caroline McGraw October 17, 2011 at 9:01 PM - Reply

      You are very welcome, Gary! Glad the small story packed a punch. 😉

  3. Greg Lease October 17, 2011 at 5:51 PM - Reply

    Wonderful story, Caroline. One of the things I appreciate so much about you is your authentic willingness to be just who you are, with all the ups and downs, in and outs and honest and insightful sharing of “thorough days.” You consistently touch my heart, and no doubt many others as well. This was a wonderful way to start my week!

    • Caroline McGraw October 17, 2011 at 9:02 PM - Reply

      Wow, thank you, Greg! It’s amazing how, through sharing these stories, I’ve become a bit more accepting of my ‘ups and downs’. Somehow, knowing that my difficulties & challenges may empower others at the end of the day (or the start of the week!) helps me to have perspective. Thank you again!

  4. Tara October 17, 2011 at 9:52 PM - Reply

    The human condition in three acts very real, humble acts. Real living is in being behind-the-scenes, taking time to really look into a stranger’s eyes, feeling for a friend. Thank you not only for sharing these stories, but for connecting them in such a lovely way.
    Lately the universe has been bringing me lessons involving mercy in the heart of the storm. It’s much more peaceful there… way less scary than trying to hang on at the edges.

    • Caroline McGraw October 17, 2011 at 11:25 PM - Reply

      Mercy in the heart of the storm…yes.
      Thank you for this, Tara ~ honored to keep sharing with you.

  5. donna October 18, 2011 at 1:28 AM - Reply

    I love the image of the sun breaking through in an act of mercy…grace shining on me!

  6. Allison October 20, 2011 at 6:43 AM - Reply

    Caroline, this is wonderful. I am honored by your words, your prayers, and your love. I am so blessed to have you in my life!

    You mentioned the sun coming out just as you received my text, and my dad said the exact same thing. I noticed it too when Mike and I walked out of the oncology building and into the sun-lit parking lot. We had driven to the appointment on a dark country road full of huge, old trees. We drove back home on the same road, and it wasn’t until then that I noticed how beautiful the road we were traveling was. The release of the burden I’d been carrying and the light streaming through the leaves made everything look completely different.

    I love you, and your beautiful writing , so very much.

    • Caroline McGraw October 20, 2011 at 12:23 PM - Reply

      Same here, my dear…so blessed to have you in my life.
      R.e. the light ~ that’s incredible, & yet somehow, I’m not surprised. 😉
      & this is beautiful: “The release of the burden I’d been carrying and the light streaming through the leaves made everything look completely different.”
      I love you too.

  7. Tiffany Lekas November 5, 2011 at 9:36 PM - Reply

    I was always read your posts at the perfect time. I think sometimes God uses you as a little angel to help me be grateful for my life. Thank you Cari.

    • Caroline McGraw November 5, 2011 at 9:38 PM - Reply

      I’m so glad the post spoke to you, Tiff! I’m honored. 🙂

Related Posts