My friend Brooke recently wrote, “I want to listen to what I really want to be working on, what I really want to be writing, where I really want to be spending my energy … and then do that.” This resonated with me, because I’ve been having trouble listening lately. And when I am having difficulty listening, I am most in need of guidance.

Authentic listening is a lot more demanding than it sounds. It asks that you stop and be still. And in the terrifying silence that follows, it asks that you open your heart to what you hear.


For what do we listen? For what is true, and for the next right thing.

Cherry Blossom Festival, 2009

Cherry Blossom Festival, 2009

You and I want to know the whole plan before we take the first action. But it doesn’t work that way. You act, you move forward, and then more is revealed. And once in awhile, you get a grace-filled moment of clarity. Every now and then, you sense how a certain choice will illumine your way for years to come.

Such was the case for me in June 2009. Days before I left my home life coordinator role at L’Arche*, I attended a quarterly retreat with the community. Silence is maintained on retreat, giving everyone a chance to listen.

In the months prior, I’d made big decisions on the basis of such listening: I applied to graduate school, but when I was accepted with a full scholarship, I decided not to go. I chose to transition from my L’Arche role, even though I cherished time in community. And in the midst of all this, I fell in love with Jonathan, a fellow direct-care assistant at L’Arche.


That day on retreat in 2009, I took a solitary walk through the woods. The trail I took leads to a hilltop, from which point you look down on a lake in a valley. There’s just one main path down the hill, and in summer, you can see why – the grasses grow waist-high.

I remembered hiking to the same spot on a winter’s day, when the landscape was barren and desolate. That day, the path down to the lake had reminded me of a wedding aisle, and the thought was infinitely depressing. At the ripe old age of twenty-two, I despaired of knowing that kind of love.

What a change to be standing in the same place the day before my twenty-fourth birthday. The landscape was bursting with life, and so was I. The thought made me smile and cry at the same time. How my life — and heart — had changed.


I stood atop the hill for a long time before turning back. As I walked, I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. I was appreciating the beauty of the woods around me … when suddenly, I stopped. Because I knew.

A certitude had arisen:  If Jonathan asks me to marry him, I will say yes.

It took my breath away. As a younger woman, I’d asked my mother, “How do you know that someone’s the ‘right’ person for you?” No answer satisfied me.

Finally, I understood why: it’s not something you can explain with words. It’s the kind of knowing that you listen for, that you feel, along with the sound of the wind in the trees and the touch of light on your face.


Photo Credit: Kevin Fischer Photography

Photo Credit: Kevin J. Fischer Photography, 2012

I had no idea that Jonathan would ask me to marry him just days after that retreat. And now, four years later, his birthday approaches. Here I stand, ready to celebrate my husband, with more joy than I could have dreamed.

Whenever I am fearful about the future, I remember that day in the woods. I remember how all the steps of my life — even the ones I took without hope — led me to that moment of love and certainty. And I remember that a life I hadn’t dared to dream of is now a reality.

So if you’re feeling lost, keep listening. Keep doing the next right thing. Keep moving forward, however small the strides. After all …

The clarity you yearn for may be just a few steps ahead.

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  1. Renee February 4, 2013 at 4:39 PM - Reply

    Your words and insight, as always, touch me. First, Happy Birthday, to Jonathan. I hope the day is filled with much love and many blessings. You, Caroline, are, no doubt, one of the best gifts he could receive. 

    Second, please forgive me if I wander off topic from your post, but I really need to vent, I guess, and your post reminds me of things I need to address, as well as remind me to have faith that things will work out for the best if I keep at it.

    I am seeking clarity with regards to my next right move regarding my profession, but am having a very hard time tuning out the conventional words of “wisdom” that conspire to keep me in a job that does not feed or nourish the person I am slowly becoming. I have known for some time now that I am no longer suited for my current position, but I stay out of fear and the need to pay those ever present bills.

    Internally I have changed in so many profound ways over the last few years, and I yearn to find, or better yet, create work that speaks to who I am right now, and that could evolve with me as I continue to grow and change. More than once, recently, I have heard words to the effect of, “Just take the next right step, and keep at it,” so that is what I will try to do, and not beat myself up with the fear that I’ll take a wrong step, instead, because even that step could eventually work in my favor if I see the lesson in it.

    • Caroline McGraw February 4, 2013 at 9:20 PM - Reply

      Renee, thank you for the birthday wishes – I’ll be sure to pass them along!

      And I appreciate you sharing from right where you’re at regarding your work life. A great career reinvention resource you might check out is Everyday Bright (, by Jennifer Gresham. She is a personal friend and colleague, as genuine as they come, and your description just made me think of her immediately, because she’s been there.

      And I love your emphasis on seeing the value in every step, because it’s led you to be who you are. Hope that helps! I’ll be rooting for you. 🙂

  2. Kathryn February 4, 2013 at 4:44 PM - Reply

    Lovely Caroline. Such a good reminder. Thank you!

    • Caroline McGraw February 4, 2013 at 9:21 PM - Reply

      You are most welcome, Kathryn – glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for being here, and for all you do!

  3. Brooke (Books Distilled) February 4, 2013 at 8:55 PM - Reply

    Love this post! So glad my words had such an impact on you. 🙂 Trying to do what I said I was going to do, every day!

  4. gigi February 6, 2013 at 12:47 AM - Reply

    Thanks for the link. This is lovely.

    • Caroline McGraw February 6, 2013 at 3:47 AM - Reply

      You’re most welcome, Gigi! And I so enjoy your blog; I found it through Miss Minimalist. Your writings have inspired me to travel and live with love as well.

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