A mosquito lands on my leg, and I swat it away. I’m in our front yard, pulling weeds with my husband, Jonathan, and trying to understand my own confusion. It’s the perfect time of day to be outside, just before the sun sets in our small town in Alabama.

As I pull out the roots, I’m thinking about the conversation I just had with my mom and my brother Willie. I’m thinking about how, for all the knowledge we as humans have gained, there are still so many things we don’t know. For example, we don’t know precisely why one person has autism and another doesn’t.

If you’re a sibling of an individual with autism, you get that this isn’t an abstract inquiry. It’s a visceral, tugs-at-your-stomach kind of question — why not me? You’re not sure if knowing an answer would change anything; you just know that you’ve always carried that question with you.

And my confusion comes down to this: It’s a complicated thing, sometimes, to accept my brother exactly as he is and, simultaneously, to hope and work for better. For health and healing, and a more welcoming world.


As I keep pulling green shoots from the gravel, I think: It’s no wonder we haven’t ‘solved’ the bigger mysteries yet. After all, we don’t know the answer to so many smaller, everyday questions, either.

We don’t always know what one another needs; we don’t always know what we, ourselves, need. We get only occasional windows into one another’s minds and hearts … and, if we’re honest, we’d admit that we only occasionally clean our own windows well enough to let others see through.

In one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, A Severed Wasp, a character named Felix Bodeway says: “…The only way we can have contact with people is through the windows in our rooms. You get what I mean? And some people have more windows than others. And everybody’s windows get dirty.

So there have to be window cleaners. I’m one. At least maybe I will be one someday. That’s what I want to be.”


Thinking about figurative windows reminds me of literal ones. My husband has replaced two windows this week, seizing the opportunities afforded by two rainy days. Watching him work on this house of ours is an inspiration to me. When work on one task is derailed by weather or wait-time, he moves to another.

“It’s always the little things,” he says, appreciating each new detail and pointing out how it enhances the whole. He works with patience and precision, and every day, he makes progress.

We fix our house one day at a time. We learn and grow in small spurts. And it’s such a lengthy process, this seeking to love. There will always be more weeds to pull, more improvements we could make to our new (old) house. And there will always be further to go on this journey, more answers to seek out.

But I have to believe that the answers to the bigger questions will come through more clearly if we take the time to tend to the small shoots of love in our care.

If we take the time to call our siblings and parents and friends.

If we apologize when we’re wrong, and speak truth when it’s right.

If we give ourselves times of quiet, times to listen to the voice of love that whispers to us from within.

If we pull weeds, one by one, up from the ground.

If we are faithful to these small tasks, tending to them with love …

I can’t help but believe that we’ll help beautiful things to grow.


When has doing a ‘small thing’ made a big difference in your life?

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  1. mary Shapiro July 16, 2012 at 4:00 PM - Reply

    weeds…mosquitos…dishes…laundry…answering emails…taking the time to READ and REPLY to this 🙂 all “little things” that “take” time. And when I choose to be grateful for them it’s so much easier! (ok not the mosquitos, but yes I appreciate the lake and the trees and the birds that are a part of the big picture here at Stillwaters!)

    And I appreciate your honest sharings Caroline around your brother Willie…I’m dealing with my mom and her dementia at this time: “to accept (her) exactly as (s)he is and, simultaneously, to hope and work for better. For health and healing, and a more welcoming world.”

    Thank you!

    • Caroline McGraw July 16, 2012 at 7:00 PM - Reply

      Mary, thank YOU – what a lovely comment. I totally agree – it is a daily challenge to welcome in all the small things that take time. To make the best of them takes both courage and creativity, which you have in spades. 🙂

      PS – We received your beautiful thank-you note this weekend – such a happy day, and so glad we could share it with you.

  2. Tiffany Lekas July 16, 2012 at 7:18 PM - Reply

    One of your best posts yet. There was something so sweet, yet honest, yet sincere about it. It was down to earth but straight to the point. I like it. I do believe Alabama will be good for you 🙂

    • Caroline McGraw July 16, 2012 at 7:24 PM - Reply

      🙂 I sure hope so! Thank you so much, Tiff. I really appreciate that feedback, because in this particular post I was striving toward a more succinct, ‘straight-to-the-point’ style, as you say. Glad it resonated!

  3. Mary July 16, 2012 at 8:15 PM - Reply

    It certainly IS the little things. Sometime I want everything to be done all at once, but I think that would be overwhelming. Thank goodness we don’t have a fairy godmother who changes everything lickity split with a wave of her wand.

    Thinking about you, Caroline. Give that industrious hubby of yours a high five for me. You are both detail appreciators.

    • Caroline McGraw July 16, 2012 at 10:27 PM - Reply

      I love it! Thank you, Mary. I’ll be sure to pass along that high 5!

  4. Tam July 16, 2012 at 10:11 PM - Reply

    Finn discovered a new word today and I thought it would be fitting to share here: “Fabulous!” Fabulously insightful. As always, thank you for being bold enough to be vulnerable with us.

    • Caroline McGraw July 16, 2012 at 10:28 PM - Reply

      Oh, I can’t wait to hear him say it! Thank you for helping me to have brave days. <3

  5. Marlana July 17, 2012 at 1:59 AM - Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this.

  6. Sarah Bayot July 18, 2012 at 9:34 PM - Reply

    As Finn would say, “fabulous.” I whole heartedly agree with Tiff, there was something really sweet and poignant about this post. I can read the serenity and revelation between the lines. I miss you friend.

    • Caroline McGraw July 18, 2012 at 10:32 PM - Reply

      I miss you too! And thank you for the affirmation – in Finn terms, no less. 🙂

  7. Cindy July 19, 2012 at 4:25 AM - Reply

    It IS a lengthy process-I feel like it’s taken a lifetime to learn to love, partly because I burden myself with guilt for all the mistakes I’ve made along the way. Leaving guilt behind and focusing on the little things is the way to create love and the happiness we desire. A wise man once said, “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass”. The simple acts of love we do every day are what make the difference in the lives of those we love, much more so than the occasional big efforts. The effect of those daily efforts in our own lives is a gradual growth as we learn to love better, and to love ourselves better too!

    My Matthew turned 22 last Saturday and it’s a bittersweet time of transition for me. (He’s grown up! When did that happen?) Leaving the despair of my perceived past failures behind and focusing on what I CAN do instead of what is beyond my control is the only way I am going to be able to face the future. Thank you, Carolyn for your insights. It’s a joy to read and be inspired by what you have to share.

    • Caroline McGraw July 19, 2012 at 11:38 PM - Reply

      So true, Cindy, so true! Thank you for this sharing – I can tell it’s straight from the heart. And happy belated birthday to Matthew! I hope you and yours had a wonderful celebration for him. 🙂

  8. Melissa Javier-Barry July 20, 2012 at 6:03 PM - Reply

    We just got home from a long vacation filled with people and all I wanted to do was grocery shop alone, but my mother, who had missed us while away, said she’d go with me…didn’t ask….just said. This post makes me glad that I just turned to her and smiled and said, ok. I didn’t get the “time of quiet,” I craved, but it was a “small thing” that was a gift to her. Thanks for helping me reflect on that.

    • Caroline McGraw July 20, 2012 at 6:33 PM - Reply

      A beautiful gift, indeed, Melissa – sounds like you made the most of your time together with your mom. In return, I hope the coming days give you small gifts of solitude and quiet just for you. 🙂

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