“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.” – Rumi

I woke up this Saturday morning feeling entirely out of sorts. I’d had a nightmare, I felt exhausted, and all I could think of were the million-and-one things on my to-do list for the month ahead.

I didn’t think about the sunshine and beautiful weather, or the Skype date I had scheduled with my best friends. Despite the excitement of this season of my life (*hints at the big news*), I just felt…grumpy.

But I took myself for a walk anyway, because sometimes, you have to love yourself with a little tough love.

And I started to notice things. I started to see the flowers smiling up at me. I started to appreciate the sun on my face, the unique light of this day. I started to think to myself, “This grouchiness is a mask for fear. And if you let it take over and you miss this, you’ll never be here again.”

And I remembered, as if in a flash, the best moment of my week, the moment when fear was replaced with illumination. And as I walked, I began writing this post in my mind…

The artist at her table, photo credit: Allison McGinley

I am sitting at the L’Arche table at dinner on Thursday night, as usual. The lights are out and the candles are lit for prayer. I’m happy to see everyone, but I’m entirely depleted by my day. I went to a series of early-morning appointments, attended meetings, edited reports, purchased groceries…and somehow, I’m here, a shell of myself.

But the cook, leading prayer, asks us to share the best part of our day. When it is my turn, I share how I sipped strong coffee while waiting for those early-morning appointments. As I drank, I noticed how the sunlight slanted through the big hospital windows. I ran into my husband at the food store; a happy surprise. I have come to a table full of beloved faces. I am tired, I say, but I am blessed.

And I say these things, and I mean these things, but still, my body is weary and my heart is heavy.

Once we’ve gone around the table, we say a closing prayer. After that, each core member reaches for (or receives) a candle. This is a house tradition, a way of honoring the core members and delighting them, too. Each blows out a candle in their own way. Leo* puffs his out quickly, while Theresa takes her time to choose a wish. Miguel takes a tremendous breath and blows with all his strength. And Cassandra…

Cassandra pushes her candle toward me. We are seated next to one another, and she slides the candle in front of me. She’s never done this for me before.

“For me?” I ask, incredulous.

“Yes. For you,” she says, certain.

“Honey…thank you…I just…how did you know? Thank you.” I don’t have the words to say how I feel.

Though Cassandra has demonstrated a gift for knowing unspoken needs in the past, it astonishes me every time she does it. How does she know when I need her small surprises? How does she know that I need what she has to offer– her candle, her light?

I don’t know how she knows. But she does. And so I blow out the candle and make a wish.

“Shall I tell you what I wished for?” I ask her.

“No…” she trails off.

“Because then it won’t come true, right?”


I didn’t tell her then, but I will tell you now what I wished for. I wished to grow up to be a woman like her. I wished that I might offer my words, my light, with the same gentle wisdom that she does. I wished that I would become a woman as rich in love as Cassandra is.

Artwork by my beautiful friend, Cassandra.*

This Saturday, though I woke up ’empty and frightened’, I also managed to remember:  Cassandra offered me her light. In doing so, she gave me both a gift and a challenge. Her small offering continues to turn my fatigue and fear into brilliance. Likewise, when you are afraid, you must remember:  you have been given a light.

By that I mean:  your acts of compassion and courage mean more than you know. Like Cassandra’s offering— which came just when I felt the weight of darkness bearing down on me— what you have to give may be enough to see another through.

This writing is my way of ‘taking down a musical instrument’, my way of counteracting the ‘mean reds’ with proactive creation. Sharing this story with you is my way of bearing the light.

The Rumi poem ends like this: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

And with those words, I’d like to share some big news:  after a great deal of thought, discernment and prayer, I recently gave my notice at L’Arche. After nearly 5 years of serving in various roles (and over 2 years in my current role as Program Director), I will be transitioning out of my current role as of Nov. 8th…in order to pursue writing full time!

This signifies a lifelong dream coming true for me, and the time feels ripe for me to take the leap. While there is sadness surrounding the departure (and a lot of work to do before I go!), there’s also a great sense of excitement and anticipation. Though I will be transitioning out of my role at L’Arche, I know that the family I’ve found will stay with me. In that spirit, I look forward to being more present to the people (and less present to the paperwork).

I’ll keep you posted as to the new projects on my horizon; at present, I’m excited about pursuing freelance opportunities in copywriting, serving as a weekly columnist at Autism After 16, and launching my book this winter!

Lastly, thank you for the love and support you’ve shared with me here. Your comments and stories are a big part of what’s empowered me to go for my dream. For you, I give thanks with all my heart.


How are you ‘letting the beauty [you] love be what [you] do’ this week? Tell me in the comments!

*Names have been changed.

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  1. Rache October 10, 2011 at 1:53 AM - Reply

    that is my favorite rumi quote. and i thought this was very touching.

    • Rache October 10, 2011 at 1:54 AM - Reply

      <3 🙂

    • Caroline McGraw October 10, 2011 at 1:56 AM - Reply

      Thank you my dear. <3 right back! I appreciate all the hugs, baked goods & encouragements you've given me, especially in this season of change.

  2. Harriet Cabelly October 10, 2011 at 1:44 PM - Reply

    Wow, wonderful news! You will be a big success in anything you do, and certainly in your writing. Your deep compassion and ability to see beneath the surface the beauty that exists in all, is tremendous. And of course your writing goes without saying. Your ease and gentle style of words illuminates your well of beauty. We all benefit from it. You shine a light where others don’t often go.
    Thank you.

    • Caroline McGraw October 10, 2011 at 3:33 PM - Reply

      🙂 Thank you, Harriet! What a beautiful affirmation ~ I may need to place it somewhere where I’ll see it often!

  3. Brooke (Books Distilled) October 10, 2011 at 2:27 PM - Reply

    So beautiful! I am glad I have a painting by Cassandra on my wall. 🙂 This week I am going to focus on creating rather than worrying. Harder than it sounds, but here I go!

  4. Garry Stafford October 10, 2011 at 4:44 PM - Reply

    “This grouchiness is a mask for fear…” Yes. Grouchy today.

    It’s fear.

    Thanks for that insight. Time to push through and … do.

    I always enjoy your writing.

    Congrats on your transition!

    • Caroline McGraw October 10, 2011 at 7:05 PM - Reply

      🙂 Glad to be of service! Thank you Garry ~ here’s to what you do and who you are.

  5. Greg Lease October 10, 2011 at 7:08 PM - Reply

    It seems that when anyone makes the mistake of taking how I feel as reality, it blocks the light and puts us in the shadows, and fear lives in the shadows. If we can only remember that how I feel is only how I feel an look past our present emotional sensation to grasp what is real, in your case a day ahead full of possibilities for joy.

    I remember driving to work one day many years ago, in the midst of a tremendously traumatic period of my life, feeling depressed and hopeless to the point of despair. And I was full of fear. As I was crying out to God in my anguish, I had an experience of God responding to me with the words, “How you feel does not determine the truth.” In that moment I saw past the anguish, and was able to accept the emotions for what they were, simply a very human (physical) response to the situation I was experiencing, but not an accurate lens through which to see the situation. Like for you, it was “as if in a flash,” and the light began to break through the shadows, and the fear fled in the light of day.

    • Caroline McGraw October 10, 2011 at 9:28 PM - Reply

      Thank you for this, Greg; what a powerful experience. Your story reminds me of Rilke’s lines: “Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose Me.”

  6. Tara October 10, 2011 at 9:05 PM - Reply

    Congratulations on beginning an exciting new chapter of your life.

    When it comes to compassion and inspiration, you have the x-factor in spades. What a blessing it is that you are choosing to let anyone who wishes to share in your light.

    After months of toying with the idea of making the beauty of what I love what I do, I’ve decided to go for it. I’m excited. More than that, it just feels right.

    • Caroline McGraw October 10, 2011 at 9:31 PM - Reply

      🙂 Thank you for those beautiful words, Tara…I can tell that they are straight from the heart. And congratulations on your big decision!
      Readers, be sure check out some of Tara’s lovely work at: Design279.com. I’m definitely going to order some pieces this holiday season!

  7. Sarah Mags B October 10, 2011 at 10:48 PM - Reply

    As one of the bf’s on the other end of the Skype call, I appreciate the depth and consistency of remembering to be present in the moments that are and the ones in the past that help us to realize the current. Even when grouchy. I could think of a bajillion other things to do when waking up on the wrong side of bed. But you stay true and share with us. You are a star, girl 🙂

    • Caroline McGraw October 10, 2011 at 11:57 PM - Reply

      Thank you my dear…your friendship has helped me to stay true so many times. Traveling mercies today!

  8. Renee October 11, 2011 at 5:02 PM - Reply

    Many, many congratulations on beginning a new chapter in your life! I’ll be rooting for you!

    • Caroline McGraw October 11, 2011 at 7:00 PM - Reply

      Much appreciated, Renee! I’ll need all the cheerleaders I can get. 😉

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