Author Archives: Kelly J. McCleary
All of his stuff is gone. Three weeks after the judge signed the divorce decree, the closet and garage are pretty empty. It’s all so different. And while the emptiness of these spaces is what strikes me when I enter them, the emptiness is also liberating in its own way. Fewer things also means fewer encumbrances in my life. Empty space represents a clean canvas. I can move forward and fill the space of my own making. Empty doesn’t have to be only sad–it’s also symbolic. I already see the space with hope for how I will fill it. I’ve already done things I wouldn’t have before, and even more are planned. I’m seeing friends I haven’t seen in too long. I’m traveling to new places. I’ve started to write my next book, a project of passion and connection to others. I’m becoming closer to God, as I learn to turn control over to Him. I’m starting to push my boundaries out. Just like beginning a new exercise program causes new pain, starting this new life isn’t easy. But the discomfort of stretching new muscles also feels good. I know it’s healthy, and I know it won’t last. I know I’m on my way to a stronger, healthier me.
“The empty vessel makes the loudest sound.” –William Shakespeare
I put pen to paper this week for the first time on my new book. It was excruciating. I’ve had the idea and even the title for a couple of years now, but until recently, chaos in my personal life prevented me from starting. As I turn the corner on my next chapter in life, I’ve decided writing actual new chapters is a fitting way to start.
Staring at a blank page and forcing myself to just start writing has always been the most challenging part for me. I actually love editing. I edited each of the first two books at least a hundred times, reading each chapter, each paragraph, refining them over a hundred times. That may sound tedious, but compared to the act of getting each of those paragraphs down on paper for the first time, it’s a breeze. You see, I hate everything I write at first, and for good reason: it’s bad. Sometimes a blog will come out inspired, flowing from the first word and needing very few tweaks before publishing. Those are the times it’s most clear to me that I’m not really the one writing and the hand of the true Author is most visible.
So I’ll be praying constantly through this process for Help, because this time it’s more important than the first two. This time I’m telling the stories of victims of HLH, the rare blood disease Megan had. It will be very different and more difficult than the first two, in that I’m writing about subjects I don’t know and can’t objectively research. I’ll be attempting to bring people to life who I’ve never met, some of whom, tragically, I won’t have the opportunity to interview. But luckily I’m not the one who will be writing the book. Saying that I am would be like saying that the hammer builds the house and not the Carpenter. I’ve seen His hand in the process already. I targeted finding 15-20 stories, but nearly panicked when over 30 responses came in within the first few days of my call out. What I didn’t count on was that not everyone would follow up, and as of right now, I have a perfect sixteen. I knew I wanted a range of ages, genders and outcomes, and, naturally, the sixteen are. I estimated that each chapter needs between 2,000-2,500 words, and, of course, the first draft of the first story has 2,300. It’s intimidating to take on a project like this, but I can already tell that I have nothing to fear–I’m not in it alone.
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” –Matthew 1:23
Fifteen years ago I had a serious health scare and surgery. While I was in the hospital recovering, an older lady from our church came to visit me. I knew who Glenda and Frank were, though I’d never talked to them before; our paths hadn’t crossed. She stayed maybe fifteen minutes, leaving behind a get well card and a small ceramic frog. The card explained his significance:
My initial diagnosis got me mentally writing letters to my young children to pass along the life lessons that it was suddenly looking like I wouldn’t be there to tell them, so the frog’s message was powerful. When I unexpectedly got the all-clear, my perspective was already forever altered, with the frog playing his part in my mental transformation.
In the years since, I’ve purchased in bulk every small frog I’ve seen and passed them out to friends going through a difficult time. I’ve given away stuffed frogs, ceramic frogs, and frogs made of glass. I no longer remember who I’ve given them to or under what circumstances. But just because I may have forgotten, I’ve learned that at least some of the recipients haven’t. A friend I haven’t seen in a decade recently messaged me that hers still sits on her desk, smiling her through her day. Another friend fighting cancer takes hers everywhere she goes, including to treatments at the Mayo Clinic, his smiling face poking out of her purse. A couple of bucks a pop, when given with love, can go a long way.
I think almost everyone needs the frog’s message at some point. We seem wired to try to take control of everything, even when (or maybe, because) so much is out of our control. I recently heard a quote that if we want God to open a door, we need to let go of the doorknob. I’ve spent most of my life clutching the doorknob so tightly that my knuckles are white. That’s why this little guy, worn and dusty, still sits on my bathroom counter where I can see him every day and remember Who has always been in control.
“Trust in God with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do and He will show you which path to take.” –Proverbs 3:5-6
Our newest member of the family, Emmy, is a rescue from a hoarding situation and 100% mutt. Even the vet couldn’t guess what she is (“she’s an Emmy” I declared). The girls call her a build-a-dog, because her back half doesn’t really match her front. As is often the case with rescues, she’s already found her purpose in our family.
Emmy is a full adult, approximately five years old, and set in her ways. She doesn’t have any manners, clearly never having had to live with rules before. But she’s very laid back and a relentless, full body hugger (yours and hers). Her strongest personality characteristic, however, is her unfailingly cheerful disposition. That dog smiles a lot. She runs and plays with abandon with our other, much younger mutt. Her favorite activity is simply sitting in the grass sunning herself. Much of the time, when I go to the door to call her in, she just looks at me with an expression of complete peace, like she can’t believe her good fortune at landing in our doggie spa. I usually just leave her laying there, content and happy, until she’s ready to come inside for another full body hug that she knows you need right now.
Which brings me back to her purpose—Emmy really knows joy. She’s a role model every day that there is much to be thankful for in the small pleasures of life: feeling the grass beneath your feet, spending quality time with your best friend, bringing joy and hugs to others when they need it. Emmy is a bit quirky and set in her ways, but she is also relentlessly cheerful and untroubled by life’s cares. That makes her my teacher and role model. Thank you, Emmy, for showing me how to live.
“Dog is God spelled backwards.” –Duane Chapman
A year ago this month, a friend gave me a gift, a pretty little jar of wonderful-smelling hand cream as a thank you for a small kindness I’d done for her. I nursed that jar for a year, only finally running out of it this month. I nursed it, though I used it nearly every day, because it was a powerful symbol. In what was quickly becoming the most difficult year of my life, it became a daily reminder that someone thought I was special, that I was loved.
Every morning this past year, as I woke up to face whatever crazy was ahead of me, I could dab a little heaven on my hands and think of my friend’s smiling face, reminding me daily of the tremendous good in the world. For a brief moment, all was well. It was like putting on a bit of invisible armor against what was coming that day. It meant more than I’m sure my friend ever imagined it would, as neither of us knew what was coming.
That love armor lasted exactly as long as it needed to–I’m turning the corner this month on a new beginning. I’m well on my way to being stronger than before. The Gift was a powerful reminder of the transformative power of love and kindness, and how each of us has the power every single day to make a difference in someone’s life with the smallest of gestures. I think I will pay The Gift forward next week: a precious friend is going through a hard time right now. I believe she needs some wonderful-smelling hand cream.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” –Aesop
A friend told me that the worst part of having your heart broken is that it’s invisible to everyone else. She was right. But I’ve learned that calling it a broken heart is something of a misnomer. What starts as a jagged rip eventually becomes what any other injury becomes: scarred tissue, stitching itself back together over time.
Injuries take time and attention and rest to heal. A broken heart is no different. I’ve been incredibly blessed as I’ve gone through my healing process from a 38-year relationship. That’s a lifetime. But I have wonderful family and friends who’ve kept me from being alone. I have financial independence. And, most importantly of all, I have a deep faith that God still has a purpose for my life.
My job now is to find that purpose, to find my path from here. I may be scarred, but I will be ok. I am whole.
“Mistakes make you wiser, heartbreak makes you stronger, and wrong turns often take you to the right place. It all serves a purpose.” –Unknown