This is a tale of treachery, but it doesn’t start out that way.

‘Betrayed’ faces, 2011.

Instead, it starts with a group of direct-care assistants hanging out in the kitchen of the L’Arche home where we lived and worked in 2008. I’d just finished a strenuous workweek, and I was exhausted.

Why? I’d recently said yes to becoming a Home Life Coordinator. In addition to doing caregiving routines, I wrote schedules, mentored assistants, and oversaw home life. We had a number of crises that summer, so I served in the new position while training for it and simultaneously carrying out my former responsibilities. It was … not easy.

So why wasn’t I resting during my time away? Because I wanted to help a new assistant feel welcome … but really, I wanted to be in pajamas. In fact, I was about thirty seconds from heading upstairs to don my monkey slippers when another assistant — I’ll call her Lia — asked me if I could drive her to a party across town.

Every fiber of my being was telling me, No, honey, you cannot, not this time. You really need to rest. 

Every fiber, that is, except the ones that were saying, But Caroline! You’re the Home Life Coordinator! You have to show the new assistant how we care for each other in community! And the yes slipped out. I thought I was modeling ‘community,’ but I wasn’t. I was modeling betrayal.


Betraying your true self always takes a toll. You can get away with it for a while, but eventually, your self rebels. I know this because of what happened that afternoon. At that point in my life, I’d been taking care of everyone else’s needs and chronically neglecting my own.

Saying yes to Lia seemed like a small thing, but deep down, I knew better. It was the tipping point, the final straw. My body, mind and spirit were screaming at me, and I tried to ignore them. Again.

As I started the van, I had a caged, desperate feeling in my stomach, which grew worse when we hit traffic. I was so angry that I could barely speak. (And I didn’t want to explode at Lia; the situation wasn’t her fault.)

The round-trip drive took over an hour. It remains one of the worst hours I have ever spent. After I dropped Lia off, I started crying. Hysterically. I couldn’t stop the whole way home.


Serenity on the Gulf, 2013

If you’ve seen Brene Brown’s first TED talk, you know that she has this wonderful slide on which is written the word breakdown. But breakdown is crossed out, replaced by spiritual awakening.

That afternoon was a breakdown / spiritual awakening, because I realized: I don’t know how to draw lines. I don’t know how to say a true yes and no to others, or to myself. And that’s a problem. 

It’s a problem of faith, I think. In the short term, lying is easier. It takes faith to look ahead, to see where the covertly dishonest road leads.

It takes faith to be true to the yeses and nos of our hearts. It takes faith to believe that we are worthy of love and care. It takes faith to be honest about our actual capacity to give.

I’m still learning this kind of faith, but what I have figured out is that, if we want to be prepared for those ‘big’ Yeses and Nos, we have to start with small things.

We have to start with the things we hardly even recognize as choices. Going to bed when we’re tired. Getting off the phone when we’re no longer present to the conversation. Choosing the books we want to read, though they may not be the ones our well-meaning friends have lent us.

These things sound so small, so simple, so humble.

But then, when making amends, humble is a good place to start.


Do you struggle with your ‘yes and no’? Join the conversation in the comments!

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  1. Monica August 6, 2013 at 12:12 PM - Reply

    This was fantastic! So well said, and so true. I especially appreciate the turning of the mind that is caused by the “breakdown/spiritual awakening” idea. And I can completely relate to learning the supervisor role while in the position, while also doing your former duties, as well as the added guilt of wanting to model community, but in the end, betraying ourselves. Well done.
    Thanks Caroline!

    • Caroline McGraw August 6, 2013 at 3:26 PM - Reply

      Thank you Monica! I love the breakdown/spiritual awakening idea too. 😉 Appreciate the support!

  2. Kristy McKinney August 6, 2013 at 1:22 PM - Reply

    This so true!!!! Many times I have not been true to my real self and unfortunately I am not blessed with the ability to bite my tongue…I usually explode. What follows is the aftermath of guilt and repentance and not sleeping for a few nights. If I am only humbly honest in those moments this could be prevented.
    thanks caroline for the reminder

    • Caroline McGraw August 6, 2013 at 3:28 PM - Reply

      You’re most welcome, Kristy — it is such a challenge, to speak up for oneself AND do so with kindness — good to know I’m not alone in the struggle. Can’t wait to hear more of your story when next we meet!

  3. Rhea Matar August 6, 2013 at 4:20 PM - Reply

    Caroline! I’ve just started a live in assistant position at L’Arche Syracuse. I love reading your posts, keep them coming!

    • Caroline McGraw August 6, 2013 at 4:44 PM - Reply

      Congratulations Rhea! That’s wonderful news. So glad to hear that A Wish Come Clear has been a companion on your L’Arche journey!

  4. Mark August 6, 2013 at 4:25 PM - Reply

    Um… So I may have read this after being upset about how I’m the one who always drops whatever I’m doing to help someone else out, and then being hurt when that courtesy is not returned… So it may have been exactly what I needed to read when I needed to read it.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Caroline McGraw August 6, 2013 at 4:45 PM - Reply

      I love it! You’re most welcome, Mark. I’ve totally been there. Sending a hug your way.

  5. dorothy copps August 6, 2013 at 7:03 PM - Reply

    Thank you for writing a great story. We are having really good overlaps and transition times right now, and i use your experience as an example. Yup, we did orientation on the way back from a retreat. You handled everything sooooo beautifully always. Thanks for sharing. loveya, D

    • Caroline McGraw August 6, 2013 at 9:00 PM - Reply

      Dorothy, thank you so much! That means a lot to hear … I’m so happy that the transitions are going well (and honored to contribute to that process). Love and hugs!

  6. Gregory Lease August 6, 2013 at 11:17 PM - Reply

    Caroline, I think we all have to be reminded that trying to give another a drink from our empty cup really doesn’t do the job. One of my favorite quotes from Parker Palmer really speaks to this: One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess – the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us out here! Greg

    • Caroline McGraw August 7, 2013 at 1:27 PM - Reply

      Yes! Let Your Life Speak is an amazing book, and that’s the perfect passage for this post. Thank you so much for posting it here.

  7. Lisa August 10, 2013 at 8:12 PM - Reply

    Thank you so much and to all the comments! I have just taken a leave of absence from my community and prior to that stepped out of house coordinator because I was having trouble with boundaries and I’m taking care of myself now, letting the healing take place…thanks for the insights and the awareness of spiritual wakening.

    • Caroline McGraw August 11, 2013 at 3:19 AM - Reply

      So glad the post has been helpful for you, Lisa! Sounds like we’d have plenty to talk about if we met in person. 😉 I wish you all the best in this time of restoration and healing. Big hugs!

  8. […] A reader recently quoted Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, which reminded me of Palmer’s admonition: […]

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