It’s confession time.

Confession #1: I’ve spent the last twenty minutes checking Facebook, in a last-ditch attempt to procrastinate writing this post.

Confession #2: This our ninety-sixth (96th!) post here. You’d think I’d be over feeling insecure about sharing my life stories in this way, but no. Vulnerability packs a punch. Every. Single. Time.

Confession #3: For the last four weeks, I have not felt like myself. I had what I thought was the flu last month, but I’ve not been able to bounce back from it. And then the telltale spots appeared.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, behold the twenty-six year old self-employed healthy eater, yogi, and sleep devotee, diagnosed with varicella zoster virus (just a fancy way of saying shingles) for the third time.

I get embarrassed about this, because, like a true American, a part of me considers illness to be some kind of personal failure. It’s like getting an F in an imaginary health class. (I much prefer A’s.)

It’s all in the (re)frame.

But worse than the sense of personal failure is the sense of disorientation, the feeling of not knowing why this has happened again. It’s the feeling embodied in the look several doctors have given me, an admixture of pity and distress. It’s the look that says without words, “Poor thing. What’s wrong with her?”

And so, when I finally figured out why I was sleeping 11 hours a night and couldn’t get enough rest … I did not take it well. There was no zen calm, no acceptance. Instead, there were tears. There was deep frustration, made worse by various complications that (initially) prevented me from getting the care I needed. So I curled up and waited for the oblivion of sleep.

When I woke — about 12 hours later — I was still exhausted. There was a dull pounding in my head, and an ache in my spine. But as I came to consciousness, a small butterfly of a thought alighted on my mind.

For some reason, I started thinking about my brother Willie, and how, on top of everything else, he’s dealing with recurrent cold sores (which result from a variation of the same virus I have in my system). It was such a small thing, the flutter of questions that followed, but it was enough.

Here’s what flew into my thoughts: What if dealing with this illness for the third time isn’t pointless? What if, instead, this experience will be of service when it comes to helping my brother to be well?

All of the sudden, everything was reframed. Perhaps me being sick wasn’t a personal failure or a cosmic punishment. Perhaps it could be, in some small way, of service someone I loved. With that, the butterfly swooshed its wings and flew away. Yet the beauty of that insight stayed with me, and I headed off to a clinic with newfound purpose.

And it occurred to me: Just about any difficulty we face has the power to set someone else free. If we go through our challenges with as much grace as we know how, if we allow them to deepen and change us — they can have power beyond what we can imagine.

True, reframing is simply the act of changing our perspective by altering the stories we tell ourselves. Yet I can tell you that once I did this, I saw every circumstance with new eyes. Yes, I had to wait for the bus, but it was such a beautiful day outside. Yes, I had to travel a ways to get to the clinic, but Sarah, the nurse who met with me, was like an angel sent from heaven.

I’d brought my past medical records with me, prepared to go to the mattresses to get treatment. Instead, Sarah was sympathetic, thorough, and entirely supportive. Her voice and manner were kind and reassuring; she was nothing like my former doctor, who had seemed almost disgusted when I showed up at his office with shingles the first two times. Her compassionate caregiving helped to heal both my body and my spirit.

It was the best gift I could have received: prompt, caring treatment. And I didn’t take it for granted for a moment. I felt as though when I’d prayed that most plaintive, child-like prayer (“I just want my Mom!“), God had heard, and sent me to someone who gave me the kind of care that my mom would have offered, had she been with me.

And as my consult drew to a close, I couldn’t help but wonder what Sarah had been through in her life that had taught her such empathy. What had she been through that allowed her to care for me this way? What struggle had she allowed to shape her life and her caregiving?

It might sound overly simplistic to say that my experience of reframing (which led me to the clinic, and Sarah) saved my day … but then, isn’t it always the simple things that save us? A moment of connection when we need it most. A shirt that’s a grown-up security blanket in disguise. A choice to forgive instead of hate. A sip of wine, a morsel of bread.

So whatever it is you have to offer the world because of what you’ve been through, I just want you to know: it isn’t too small, it isn’t too insignificant, and, most of all, it isn’t too late.

Because someone, somewhere, needs exactly what you have to give. 


What’s your ‘reframing’ challenge this week? Tell me in the comments!

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  1. Lynn Richards April 16, 2012 at 8:31 PM - Reply

    First of all, thank you for your email and your very kind words.
    Secondly, your post touched me deeply today, as I am finding myself in the midst of a raging Ulcerative Colitis flare up just one month after being told there “are no evidences of ulcerative colitis” after my 7th colonoscopy. I so understand your feeling of failure when illness pops up. I have had a TON of stress this year, as my mother passed away, but that was in January and the illness decided to show up after the glowing report in February. What to do? Reframe, again. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Caroline McGraw April 16, 2012 at 8:47 PM - Reply

      Oh, Lynn – I am so thankful for your words, even as I’m sorry to hear of your struggles. I’m glad the post spoke to you from right where you are. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Greg Lease April 16, 2012 at 11:48 PM - Reply


    Once again you have spoken right into my experience. How we all would rejoice to have pristine health and none of the lingering challenges of recurring conditions. Sitting here today with nagging pain from having done simple things in the yard yesterday, and recurring depression that saps my motivation and has pretty much eliminated any emotional range, it is good to remember that “all things work for good” when we allow them to do so. It certainly works to deepen the ability to empathize with others who are struggling with whatever their particular burden happens to be. It’s so counter-intuitive to be grateful for that which we’d much rather avoid, but gratitude is the door to experiencing the transformation of that which is unpleasant into the anticipation of greater service in the future. Thank you for sharing so transparently.


    • Caroline McGraw April 17, 2012 at 12:44 AM - Reply

      You are most welcome, Greg; I love how you put it — “It’s so counter-intuitive to be grateful for that which we’d much rather avoid, but gratitude is the door to experiencing transformation.” I think I’ll post that somewhere where I can see it often!

  3. Rache April 17, 2012 at 12:52 AM - Reply

    <3 I hope you feel better. This is beautiful. I hope Sarah knows how much what she does means!

    • Caroline McGraw April 17, 2012 at 5:45 PM - Reply

      Amen to that! Thank you, my dear friend. Feeling better by the day! <3

  4. Donna April 17, 2012 at 1:02 AM - Reply

    Thank you, Caroline! Re-framing (perceived) failure into power to set someone else free! What an uplifting post from a truly inspired soul. Hugs and love!

    • Caroline McGraw April 17, 2012 at 5:45 PM - Reply

      I love you too, Mom! Thank you for being such a strong, amazing presence in my life. You’ve taught me so much about the art of the re-frame! 😉

  5. Tiffany April 17, 2012 at 1:09 AM - Reply

    Great post. It reminded me of the theme that God uses lemons to make lemonade.

    • Caroline McGraw April 17, 2012 at 5:46 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Tiff! Indeed it does … amazing, the transformation that can occur if we’re open to it.

  6. Mary April 17, 2012 at 3:44 AM - Reply


    Your posts always touch my heart. And we have something in common – recurring shingles! Just took my last pill for the most current outbreak today. Sigh.

    I’ve been “gathering the graces” of a slower schedule – time to savor simple blessings too often un-noticed and asking questions often avoided.

    All of life shapes us – and when we murmur “yes” to Life (however tentatively or reluctantly) – it’s Spring again!

    To Life! And Love!


    (And, yeah – say hi to Loreli and Rory for me, too. I used to watch them with my daughter, back when she was a teen and I was – to her – the most un-cool Mom EVER. She’s 24 now. And we’re pals. 😉 )

  7. Metod April 17, 2012 at 10:49 AM - Reply

    Caroline, would it help you knowing that I too am failing miserably in the imaginary health class this year? It’s been my worst winter ever what comes to being under attack of any possible virus that exists and which my youngest son happily brings home from the daycare. It’s been a loosing battle. I’m hoping that my friends aren’t thinking that I’m trying to avoid them, not being much around.

    In this post, something you wrote really stayed with me.
    “Just about any difficulty we face has the power to set someone else free.”
    Wow, that’s so beautiful and true…I’ve never thought of dealing with challenges this way. Something to remember. You know…from the first time I came across your blog, I knew at once that it will the continuous insight and blessing for us readers. And in short time you’ll mark the 100th post. Amazing!
    In the time for celebration, those shingles better be gone…and never come back!! 🙂

    PS. Last thought Caroline…your picture with the butterfly is beautiful!
    They’re hard to follow…what a great capture!

  8. Tara April 18, 2012 at 11:07 AM - Reply

    ((Caroline)) I’m so sorry to hear you are dealing with shingles a third time. I’ve been there, done that and I remember it as being a very challenging time. How wonderful that you have been blessed with an understanding and supportive caregiver — one who can soothe your physical ill as well as any lingering “soul fever.”

    I read something last night that you might appreciate: “Health sells in this culture… Healthy hair, healthy teeth, healthy coats for our pets, and why do you think? Healthy revenues. Illness is invisible, we never see it reflected back at us so it seems abnormal, or like a punishment. It’s not… all illness is ordinary – unfortunate, in some instances, and hard, but ordinary. A hundred years ago, people knew that. They were regularly acquainted with suffering. Now, it’s different… Most people can, if only clumsily evade suffering. But suffering, along with joy, makes us human. If your mind remains open… (illness) can bring you your own humanity.”
    (Katherine Russell Rich, The Red Devil)

    Take good care of you.

    • Caroline McGraw April 18, 2012 at 12:14 PM - Reply

      Oh, Tara, what a beautiful gift to read these insightful words. Thank you, thank you. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

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