Mary Remembers: A Poem For Easter

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“She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she did not recognize him. ‘Dear woman, why are you crying?’ Jesus asked her. ‘Who are you looking for?’ She thought he was the gardener. ‘Sir’ she said “if you have taken him away, tell me where he is and I will go and get him.’ ‘Mary!’ Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out ‘Rabboni!’” John 20: 14-16

 

It was in the garden, near the tomb, where I was the first to see him risen.

But I did not recognize him

I had been weeping

The tears blurring my eyes, my memories, my hope

 

And so I did not recognize him.

I didn’t know who he was because

I was overcome with grief

My heart was somewhere else

Remembering the first time that I saw him.

 

It was in another garden. 

He looked like any other man

But there was something in the way he moved

A rhythm that you could feel when you were near him

A weaving together of things that did not make sense

He was so meek, so deeply gentle, and yet he his presence was fierce. 

You feared him, were overwhelmed by him, yet  you were drawn to him, like fire.

He was so beautiful that it hurt to look at him, like love.

 

He called out my name before I even told him what it was.

Mary 

And when the name came from his lips

It was as if I heard it for the first time

As if he was calling it out on the day I was born

 

Before my wounds

And my sadness

And my harlotry.

 

Before my name had been spoken on dozens of men’s lips

Who loved themselves in my presence

But never loved me.

 

He spoke my name for the first time

And the name fell from his lips

Like the waters covering the seas.

And I knew…

I knew that the name he really meant was 

Beautiful.

 

“Do you know me?” I asked

“Yes Mary, I have always known you,” he answered.

 

From then on, I didn’t leave his side

All I wanted to do was be near him

I had thought that I would always be alone

Because of you my scars

But he saw me  lovely

And he called me beloved

 

Slowly, in his presence,

I was remembering who I was

Who I was always meant to be.

 

When others looked to him as the future king

Who would rescue them from their slavery and make them powerful

I saw him and knew 

That he had already rescued me from my slavery.  

I didn’t need anything more than that. 

 

I wanted to give him something back. Something precious

Not just a physical outward thing

But  something that resided in my heart 

 

I wanted to show him that I believed

Not what the world said about me

But what he said about me

 

That’s why I chose the night Jesus ate at the Pharisees house

 

I burst through the door with no invitation, 

As I knew I would never be welcome

In a place such as this.

But I had to come

I had to see him.

 

Just as I  suspected, as soon as I came through the door, 

They called me harlot, sinner

 

But I didn’t even hear their words

Because my Jesus was there.

And all I could hear

Was his voice calling my name

Just as he did on the day that we met. 

 

I held the gift I had, the flask  of oil, before him

I said “I am broken, I have so little to give to you.” 

He said 

“Vessels must be broken to pour out an offering.” 

 

So in my brokenness made beautiful

I broke the alabaster jar

I poured out the oil, 

I kissed his feat

I covered him with tears. 

 

As I did this, the Pharisees whispered

“If he wass a prophet he would know that she is a whore.”

 

He stood up and looked at them. Steadily, but with indignation, he said 

“Her name is not whore.

Her name is not worthless or wretched or broken,

as so many people have called her.

 

Her name is Mary.”

 

He stood me up and looked me in the eyes.

He said “You have been forgiven much. 

That’s why you love so much.

Your sins have been forgiven.” 

 

I didn’t deserve this kind of love. 

But I knew that he didn’t care if I deserved it or not

He wanted to give it to me.

 

He said something to them about how

When the good news was told

My story would be told as well

As a remembrance.

 

What could he have meant?

 

On the day Jesus died, one of the disciples told me

That he had washed each of their feet the night before.

 

Imagine- the most powerful man on earth

Bending low

Making himself a servant

Showing that power is not found

In bloodied battles and kingdoms conquered.

It is found in a quiet strength

That pours out forgiveness when forgiveness is not deserved.

Demonstrating that love is a better way.

 

I couldn’t help but wonder

If he thought of me when he washed their feet.

If my gift had made an impression on him.

If this was somehow a remembrance of what I had done. 

 

I pondered all of these things as I stood here, 

In the garden near the tomb

 

But now my savior, my beloved, my hope

Had been nailed to a cross three days before.

 

All that I had left was the memory of this beautiful man

All that I could do was to mourn him well.

So I brought the oil again. 

Another flask, another offering.

 

And in my grief, I did not recognize the man in the garden, asking why I was weeping…

Until he said my name.

Mary.

And my eyes were opened.

 

This was Jesus

Risen from the dead.

 

He could have chosen anyone to reveal his resurrection to.

He could have chosen a man, for this was a man’s world

He could have chosen a king, for he could tell the world of Jesus’ power

He could have chosen a religious leader, for that is what everyone expected

 

But he chose me. 

The poor whore 

That he called beautiful

Who had been forgiven so much

So very much

That she had learned how to love.

 

He chose me to remind the world

That he reveals mysteries

And lavishes love

On the ones that have been called

Broken, sinner, worthless, alone.

And calls them by their real name.

 

The same is true for all of us.

The infinite became flesh

He died

He rose again

All so that we could remember who we are 

All so he can look past our sin

And call us Beautiful.

The Phantom Limb Effect

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Meet Ally. She was born with only one arm, She has been able to live a normal life for the most part,  but she has suffered with a condition called Phantom Limb Syndrome. 

With this condition, Ally’s brain often often tricks her into believing that her non existent arm is gesturing or grabbing something. She also feels pain in the arm that isn’t there. She will feel like she has a hang nail, like she is being burnt, or even like someone is stabbing her with a knife.

If Ally winces or cries out in pain, people will most likely doubt that she is sincere. They might think that she is only trying to get attention. How can your arm be in pain when it isn’t even there? 

But Ally’s pain is real. She hurts just as much as someone whose physical arm is being burnt or stabbed.

We could say that Ally is suffering from Disenfranchised Grief. To disenfranchise means to deprive someone of their rights. So disenfranchised grief is to deprive someone of their right to grieve.

Ally’s pain doesn’t seem real to people, so they don’t treat it like it is real. She knows that if she expresses her pain socially, people will not acknowledge that her pain is valid. Because she wants to be validated, she hides her pain. 

Instead of wincing, she smiles.

I introduced the concept of disenfranchised grief in my post Singles and the Church: Why it Sucks to be Unintentionally Overlooked. I asked in the post if anyone felt like they had to hide the pain they felt over being single or that their struggles were overlooked by their church family and the church culture at large in one way or another. One hundred and eighty comments later, I realized what a big problem this is. I have never gotten more comments on any of my posts. 

Over and over again in these comments, people talked about how they don’t feel like they are socially allowed to grieve over their singleness. Why? Because like Ally, the church and their community says “how can you grieve something that’s not even there?” There is much less weight put on that kind of loss than a more traditional loss, to the point of it being overlooked completely. As I said in that post:

“There are funny ways that church culture reflects most people’s unawareness of our disenfranchised loss—not in what they do give us, but in what they don’t give us. The sermons that aren’t given, the prayers that aren’t offered, the books that aren’t written. As if what we are going through is not that important.”

Unintentionally and silently, we are told that there is no reason to grieve.

When my dad died, I lost something tangible. People called me throughout the day. They held me when I cried and asked me to talk about what I was going through. They came to his memorial. It meant the world to me. I needed family around me during that grieving process.

In that case, it was like a physical arm that had been shot. People needed to come around me, take the bullet out, bind up the wounds, tell me it was going to be okay, and walk with me through the healing process. They rose to the occasion and helped me recover.

When it comes to being in my thirties and facing the prospect of not having a traditional family, though, it’s more like being shot in my phantom arm. If I were to wince in pain and cry out for help, most people would look at me and say “there’s nothing there. How could you be in pain?”

The truth is, I am in pain precisely because there is nothing there. The loss is over something that never existed, and that is what makes it so elusive. I have never lost a child but I have never had a child. I’ve never lost a husband but I’ve never had a lover. 

The truth is, the loss of something that did exist and the mourning over something that never existed are both very, very difficult.

Disenfranchised grief doesn’t just happen with singleness. I have a friend who had an ex spouse die and she felt like she wasn’t really allowed to grieve because she wasn’t married to him any more. 

Another friend didn’t feel like she was allowed to grieve the loss of her parents because she was adopted and should appreciate the fact that she had a family at all.

A third friend had a husband who was getting his PHD and had to work insane amounts of hours. They were on food stamps and she often felt like a stay at home mom since he was gone so much. She grieved for years, but whenever she expressed her pain to people they would look at her like she was crazy and say “at least you don’t have cancer.” 

And here, my friends, is where the damage is done. We are constantly monitoring our pain and the pain of the people around us. Whose life is better? Should I be this sad over something so small? Shouldn’t I be grieving more? Why is she sad when what I am going through is so much harder? 

When these kinds of rules are being followed, you can guarantee that hearts are being hidden. You can guarantee that someone is being deprived of their right to grieve. 

There is one therapy that has especially helped victims of phantom limb syndrome. It’s called mirror therapy. It is very simple….the patient puts the mirror near the intact limb. They move their good limb around. When they look in the mirror, it appears as if they still have both limbs. The therapy tricks their brain into believing that their body is normal, thus allowing it to heal. 

It seems like we need our own mirror therapy.

CS Lewis said “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too?’”

Maybe we could find someone that is in very different circumstances and look them in the face, like a mirror. Instead of saying “your pain isn’t as valid is mine,” we can say “What? You too?” You too are scared of feeling alone, whether you are married or single? You too are worried that you’re not valuable? You too have faced incredible trials and have come out the other side inextricably strong, absolutely beautiful?

Maybe then we can learn to grieve together, weep together, heal together. Because pain should never have to be hidden. And people should never have to walk alone.

Have you ever had to hide your own grief? What would have made you feel better in those situations? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Yellow Balloon

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A little black girl with butterfly barrettes

Ran up to me as I stepped off the bus.

She laughed

The kind of laugh that makes you

Look up for a moment 

And remember there is sky there.

 

With hope falling on every syllable, she said 

“this 

is

for

you.”

She reached her hand towards me

Holding the string of a

Yellow balloon.

 

I hesitated

And the moment was heavy 

With a hundred questions

I used to laugh like that 

But somewhere along the way I realized 

That beauty came with pain

 

And so I chose a life that was somewhere between 

Pain and beautiful

 

A life that was very comfortable 

But very alone

 

A life 

Without grief

But also without reverie. 

 

This gift that she offered me

This gift of the yellow balloon

It wasn’t in-between.

 

It was beautiful

 

I had forgotten what beautiful looked like

So I hesitated

 

And this little girl, didn’t she understand

How different the worlds we came from? 

Her life filled with 

Food stamps and trailer parks

Mine filled with 

Screens and fences

 

Her people trying to forgive 

Their hundreds of years in chains

My people trying to understand 

How we could ever do anything so cruel

 

Shouldn’t I be the one giving something to her? 

And so I hesitated

 

And that little girl, if she could see

What was inside of me

She wouldn’t want to give me that yellow balloon

 

Despite my neat house and my 

Church every Sunday

 

I am very scared

Like a little girl with butterfly barrettes. 

 

I live with thoughts dark and sad

And I wonder if anyone would love me 

If they really knew me. 

 

I didn’t deserve this gift.

 

And so I hesitated.

 

Finally, I bent down with tears in my eyes and said

 

“Honey, I don’t think I should take this ballon away from you. “

“But I want to give it to you” she said back.

 

She blinked

“I have an idea….Let’s hold on to it together, and then we can let it go!”  

 

I put my hand over hers.

 

“1….2…..3!”

 

We opened our hands

And our shackles fell

 

In that moment I felt it again:

 

Grief and reverie

 

But this time I wanted them both. 

I wanted all of it. 

 

Together we watched the balloon floating in the distance

Sunlight falling on us like baptism

Like reckless mercy

Like relentless love

 

I looked down at the girl, 

Our hands still intertwined

And I realized that

Despite all of our differences

In that moment we were just two wayward children 

That had seen a glimpse of home.

 

 

 

 

=

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Bloggers Get My Book For Free

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I’m sorry all you non blogging people. I wish I could give you my book too! But you know, a girl’s got to eat. 

If you are a blogger, however, I have free copies of the books to send out to five of you. The one catch is that I’d like you to write a review of it on your blog.

Deal? 

Please message me either here or iamkatehurley@gmail.com with a link to your blog and your address! Fun!

Six (Totally Lame) Reasons Why It’s Good to be Single on Valentine’s Day

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It’s Valentine’s Day. People are kissing in public way more often than normal. Co-workers are gushing about the surprise dates their spouses are taking them on. Facebook is laden with people professing their undying love for their new girlfriend, their husband of 20 years, or their favorite dog. (I keep wondering if these people think that they are off the  Valentin’es Day hook just because of a post that took them 35 seconds to write.) 

You are probably thinking something like “I would rather clean all the bathrooms in grand central station with my tongue than be single on Valentine’s Day.” 

But wait! Let’s be optimists and think of all the reasons it totally ROCKS to be single on Valentines Day.

Reason #1- We don’t have to celebrate what is a very, very confused holiday. 

Think about this for a moment. This is the day that people buy each other stuff, write each other more stuff, and make out a lot. Is this really the way we should celebrate a priest who was poor, illiterate, and celibate? (Ok, he probably wasn’t  illiterate, but his whole life is vague so why not throw that in there?)

Why do we celebrate this man, anyway? In ancient Roman times there was a celebration called Luercalea, which was a fertility festival. They did things like a matchmaking lottery which was basically speed dating only with togas. So Christians decided to celebrate a saint named Valentine on the same day to distract people from the debauchery. 

Valentine was a priest. There was an emperor named Claudias who prohibited the marriage of young people because he thought that men would make better soldiers when they were single. 

So Saint Valentine married couples in secret. He was caught and sentenced to prison. 

Some of the married couples that were indebted to him would come to him in jail and pass him Hershey’s Chocolates, FTD Flowers, and Hallmark Cards through the bars. (What do you mean you think I’ve been accepting bribes from large corporations? What would make you think that?!)

While he was in prison, he met the daughter of one of his jail guards who was blind. He healed her. The guard became a Christian because he was so amazed by the healing. Valentine fell in love with the girl, and passed a note on to her before he died that said “from your valentine.” 

 So here’s what we’ve got

Debaucherous fertility parties+speed dating+good looking bachelor soldiers who are unlucky in love+ St. Valentine whispering “mawwiage is what bwwwings us tog ever today” behind a bush+ chocolate contraband+ surprising twist where the celibate priest in jail falls in love with a blind lady+flying half naked babies shooting arrows at you

= SUPER WEIRD HOLIDAY!

 

The real hero in this story? Emperor Claudius. He knew how awesome single people were. 

 

Reason # 2- We save gobs of money

A non-single person on Valentine’s day buys

-1 billion cards

-35 million chocolates

-180 million flowers

-4 billion dollars in jewelry

= $133 (on average) per person. 

 

 A single person buys

- 2 bags of Potato Chips

-1 twinkie

- 1″Singles Awareness Day” pin

= $6.74 

 

Reason #3- We don’t have to buy someone stuff just because we are expected to by some huge crazy Valentine’s Day Money Making Machine and our significant others. 

Let’s look at the statistics…

87% of men only by things on Valentine’s day because they feel pressure to do so.

92% of women would be angry at their partner if they didn’t do anything for them on Valentine’s Day

68% of Valentine’s Day gifts are bought in the check out aisle of grocery stores.

12% of Valentine’s Day gifts are actually just marked down Christmas gifts and

42% of statistics are made up by people writing articles who have no idea what they are talking about. (Which is true in this case.) 

 Reason # 4- We don’t have to wear high heels.

(Enough Said.)

Reason #5- Couples aren’t the only ones with a patron saint.

 

 

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                                        St Benand

That’s right, folks. There is a patron saint of singles. His name was St. Benand. He was an obscure but kind monk from the 14th century. St. Benand had a hard time being a monk, and he felt that his mission was to create something that would comfort singles throughout the world. 

After working on recipes for 25 years, he finally came up with a miracle that has soothed lonely singles every Valentine’s day since then. He called it Ice Creameth of the Cookie Dougheth.  The monks passed his secret recipe down for generations, until some hippies in Pennsylvania discovered it, found out his last name was Jerry, mass marketed it, and called it St. Benand Jerry. (They had to take the saint off for trademark reasons.) 

St. Benand! We are so grateful to you!

Reason #6- Singles have a holiday after the holiday.

It’s called “Eat as freaking much chocolate as you want because it’s 75% off- day.”

And it is glorious.

 

 

Ok. These are lame. It doesn’t rock to be single on Valentine’s Day. It sucks. But at least we tried. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wheat and the Tares

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You don’t often think that a visit to Mcdonald’s will change your life. Your cholesterol levels? Often. Your stomach digestion experiences, a given. But your life? This is rare. 

I never used to go to Mcdonald’s, but every other Tuesday, right after work, I go to a contemplative spiritual formation group in Denver. I don’t have time to eat dinner until after the 9pm meeting, so I am usually starving afterwards. I inevitably end up at this Mcdonald’s and practice the brilliant trick my homeless friend taught me: order a double cheeseburger, hold the ketchup and mustard, add Big Mac sauce and lettuce, and voila! A semi Big Mac that is $1 instead of $4. I like to call it the swindle burger.

This particular Mcdonald’s is newly renovated, with a coffee bar and trendy lampshades. It reminds me a little bit of a mutt wearing a tutu. 

Despite this Mcdonald’s shiny facade, the people that frequent here are anything but fancy. There are many homeless people that eat their swindle burgers here just like me. Every time I have been at this particular Mcdonald’s I have gotten into a conversation with a homeless person while I’m eating.

But the conversation this week was more than just interesting. It made me examine my life.

It was with Feather, a high cheekboned Native American man with a beautiful smile, even if it was a smile that was lacking a few teeth.

We talked about his life and his experience being a native American. The conversation took a more emotional turn when he told me that he had 7 kids from 4 different women. 

“The youngest, he’s 16….how I love him. My sweet David. We just love each other so much. When we spend time together we laugh and laugh. But I’m an alcoholic, you see. I am so addicted. I’ve been on and off the streets for years because of it. And I hate it. I just hate it.

That’s why I’m going to rehab tonight. For my son. Because I love my son. Because I promised him I would.”

Now I have worked with a lot of homeless people and I love them. I really love them. But I know from past experience that a homeless person you are talking to will often say they are going to rehab or getting religion just because they don’t want you to see how broken they are. It makes sense that they have this defense mechanism in place because pretty much everyone judges them.

So I didn’t believe that he was going to rehab that night. But I still encouraged him.

“Feather, I would really admire you if you did that. You are a strong, strong person. Your son deserves to see you better, and you deserve to be better.” 

I was reminded of a story in the Bible. The parable of the Wheat and the Tares.

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from? ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’’No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’

If you asked most Christians about this parable, they would probably say that it is about the afterlife, God separating the good from the bad people. Maybe that’s true. I don’t know.  

But maybe there is another lesson in this parable. Maybe it is about each of us, our good sides and bad sides. Our very own wheat and tares. And maybe one day God will burn away all of the things that are not of him and keep all of the things that are beautiful in us. Maybe that’s even the way he chooses to see us now; beautiful.

I wrote a poem about this parable when I was working full time with homeless people in San Francisco. (The names have been changed to protect my friends.) 

The Wheat and the Tares

The beautiful and the ugly.

The holy and the evil. 

The eternal and the temporal. 

All of us

Every one of us

We are weak and strong at the same time.

Like Mayhem

The way she loves so deeply and the way she hates so deeply. Her fierce humor and fierce capacity to live. Anger and passion and goodness and pain mixed together in a complicated beautiful bundle. 

Like Big Jim

The way he smiles and laughs and brings child like faith and light to Paige street and to my heart 

But who covers his ears and yells because he is so, so scared.

Like Pretty John

Who is so gentle and so kind that when I got to know him I was shocked that he is one of the most violent gangs in Golden Gate Park. The way he makes me laugh until my belly hurts when we are playing cards. 

But he won’t love himself enough to stop drinking. He thinks he is so engrafted in his life on the streets that the name of his gang is tattooed across his forehead. 

Like Felix

The way he turned himself in to the police because he thought that it was the right thing to do. He inspires me.

But he alway feels like people hate him, like they are out to get him, like no one would ever love him. 

Like Tiny

Her sweet voice and her warmth and her smile that lights up everything around her.

But she feel like she needs a man to tell her she is beautiful. She doesn’t know she is beautiful without that. Yet he never tells her and she is always empty.

Like Tommy

Who tells me he’s my big brother and makes me laugh by saying “Elvis just walked into the room!” 

But he also says that the only mistake God ever made was making him.  

Like Mel

Who has so much wisdom in his small voice with his lisp that it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. 

But he knows that his dream of going back to Detroit and having a house and a wife and children….he knows it will probably never happen. He has so much love in his heart and no one to give it to.  

Like Tayo

Who is so tenderhearted that he cries every time I sing. His six foot frame immerses me in love every time he hugs me. But he has so much rage that he can’t stay out of jail. 

Like Me

The way I bring beauty and passion and new perspectives of God to everyone around me

But I have such deep sadness and I hold on to the past and I long for a different life and I feel like I am not lovable. Even when God has told me again and again that I am. 

The wheat and the tares. The beautiful and the ugly. The holy and the evil. 

The enemy comes and plants the tares among the wheat.

And for now, they grow together. 

But one day

One glorious day, 

Jesus will come. 

He will tie up the tares in bundles

And burn them

Until the smoke blows away

And all that is left

Is a beautiful, golden

Field of wheat. 

 

As I was talking to Feather and thinking about the wheat and the tares, I suddenly saw an ambulance in the window.

“There they are, Kate! They’re here to pick me up!” Feather said. “I’m scared. Do you think I can do this? Do you think I can start over again?”

He hadn’t been lying. He really was going to rehab. In that moment, I did not see an alcoholic. I did not see a homeless man. I saw a man who was so brave that he would face his biggest fear so that he could be a better father to his son.

I looked him in the eyes. “Yes Feather. Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that this night will change your life forever.” 

“Ok, I believe you! Pray for me!” he said as he walked out the door and into the ambulance. 

Feather, like all of us, are weak and strong at the same time.

But God is so good that he sees the strong in us every time. God is so good that he burns away the dross and looks in wonder at a beautiful, golden field of wheat. 

(The picture above is not actually Feather and Feather is not his real name.) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her Name Means Laughter

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Okay, so…

I know that in my post Signs Signs Everywhere the Signs, I talked about how it can be unwise to look for signs when it comes to marriage. 

Furthermore, I know that in my post called What Single People Wish Married People Knew, I talked about how frustrated I get when people tell me I just need to let go to find my partner.

So it is pretty ironic that today, I’m going to talk about how I got a sign that told me to let go. 

Rewind to about thirteen years ago. I was in India for two months.  I went to learn about starting an orphanage, which I was really interested in at the time. I spent a lot of time drawing pictures and singing and dancing with children who didn’t speak my language. But who needs language when you have love? 

On that trip I also got to preach to a jail in which everyone in the whole place, including the Muslim guards, became Christians. They started a bible study that to the best of my knoweldge is still going.

I also happened to go to India because I was running away from a relationship. I was so unsure if I wanted to marry this guy that I thought it would be a good idea to go halfway around the world to figure it out. Maybe the arranged marriages I found in India were a sign that I should stop dating so I wouldn’t have to decide on anything and just get a mail order husband from Brazil or something. Or maybe it would be easier than that and God would just give me a dream.

Lo and behold I did have a dream. It is amazing that I had a dream because it was amazing that I was sleeping. And it was amazing that I was sleeping because I had screaming cockroaches all around my bed. And yes, when I say screaming cockroaches I do mean cockroaches that scream. Screaming cockroaches are India’s national symbol. Maybe.

Anyway back to the dream. It’s been a long time since I had that dream, but I’m pretty sure that I was told to look up a verse in the bible. So I woke up and looked it up.

This is what it said: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.“(Galatians 4:22-23)

The story that this verse was referring to was that of Abraham in Genesis 17. God had told Abraham at a very late age that his descendants would outnumber the stars of the sky. But year after year after freaking year (can you tell I relate to this story?) the promised son did not come.

Finally, Abraham felt like he couldn’t wait any longer. He slept with his wife’s servant Hagar, and had a son named Ishmael. Abraham tried to force the promise to come before it was time, and the result was the son of a slave. God made it clear that Ishmael was not the son he had promised. Finally Isaac came, the promised son, the son of a free woman.

It is also important to note for the sake of the rest of this story that when Sarah, Abraham’s wife, finally became pregnant with Isaac, she laughed.

I knew when I read this verse what God was telling me. Kate, you long for family, and I promise you family. But I do not want you to try to control things to receive my promise. I want to give you the promise in my timing. You need to trust me.

So I got home, went out to dinner with my boyfriend the first night, and said something to this effect:

“So I had a dream and in that dream God told me I shouldn’t have an Ishmael which is the son of the flesh and maybe you are Ishmael which means you are the son of the flesh and also the son of a slave and I am being figurative here but maybe spiritually or actually in real life I am a son of a slave or we are both sons of slaves and even though you are flesh of my flesh maybe it would better if we were flesh of someone else’s fleshes or…screw it maybe we should break up.”

Needless to say he broke up with me not long after that.

Fast forward about eight years. I was again praying about whether I should marry my current boyfriend. I decided to go to a monastery to pray.

The first night, I met a woman named Amara who was a housekeeper at the monastery. I really love names and I thought her name was beautiful so I made a mental note to look up the meaning of her name.

The next day, it was cold and foggy so I couldn’t see the beautiful mountains and ocean from my little hermit hut in Big Sur, Caifornia.  I was sick. I thought it would be a waste of a day. Instead, I sat on my bed for at least twelve hours straight. God downloaded things to me the entire time.

I felt like he told me to read the story of Abraham, every verse of his story, and every verse referenced to go along with the story. I saw how Abraham longed for a child, for family, just like I did, and how God promised him over and over and over again about his family and his descendants. Promise, covenant, promise were written everywhere.

Sometime in the afternoon I closed my eyes for a while and had a waking dream. I went into this beautiful garden, something that looked like it was out of Alice in Wonderland, and God said “this is your family.” I walked over to three big flowers. A purple iris opened and there was a perfect, beautiful black baby girl sleeping.

I opened my eyes and decided to look up in a baby name book what Iris meant. It means Rainbow. The promise! What a beautiful confirmation of God’s faithfulness. I looked through the nicknames that came from Iris and saw the name Risa. I thought to myself “If I ever have a daughter, I will name her Risa to remember God’s promise.”

Just then, I remembered Amara and decided to look up her name. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that Amara means Promised by God. Just like for Abraham, I promise, I promise, I promise kept being repeated to me. I went away from that retreat feeling hopeful and loved. 

Fast forward another three years. More than ever I felt like Abraham. Year after year after freaking year and there I was, still alone. I had had a few possible relationships where I took things into my own hands, tried to force the promise, tried to coerce God into giving me something that I wanted, doubting God’s promises, doubting God’s goodness, I was (and still am) in a season of mourning and struggling to trust God.

This takes me to the last few weeks. I was in Mexico teaching at YWAM base. Somehow people started talking about names. I said “if I ever have a daughter, I will name her Risa.” A friend of mine said “Oh yes that is such a beautiful name. Laughter.” “What do you mean laughter?” “Risa means laughter in Spanish. Didn’t you know that?” I looked it up, and sure enough the Spanish word comes from the Latin word Risa and means laughter.

Do you know why this is amazing? Like really amazing? Like God actually looks on tiny me and cares about my dreams and cares about the details and cares about what my heart yearns for -amazing?

Because Sarah laughed when she was told she would finally have a baby at such an old age. Because she wanted to remember that laughter forever by using It as her baby’s namesake.

Isaac also means laughter.

I want to be careful, because I don’t want my belief in God’s existence or goodness to rest upon an event like my getting married or having a child. That is not fair to God, and it is not fair to anyone I might end up marrying. It is too much pressure. I don’t want to lose my faith over anything, including being alone. I mean, even Abraham was asked to sacrifice his promise after it was given to him, to show his allegiance to God over the promise.

But still, this whole story feels like such a gift. It honestly gives me hope that I really might have a family some day.

Even more importantly, at least for this season, I believe that this sign needs to be a reminder to me. That I have a choice in front of me to have the child of a slave, or the child of a free woman. I have situations in my life, especially when it comes to romance, where I can choose to control, to obsess, to lose hope, to doubt God. Or I can choose to trust, to live freely, to let go.

It seems that God is telling me to be free when it comes to my desire for a family. To know that he is good and he will work things out in his own time. 

I want to laugh just like Sarah laughed. It will be the laughter of letting go. It will be the laughter of joy despite my loneliness. It will be the laughter of a deep trust in the promise of God. The laughter of one who will not have a child of a slave, but the child of a free woman.

Today, we have a choice in front of us, just like Abraham had. The choice of slavery or the choice of freedom. The choice to bow down to our loneliness and our fear and our hopelessness or to dance, to sing, to laugh. 

Maybe we can collectively laugh as a way of saying “I choose freedom today.” And that laughter will ring out and break some of the shackles off of our weary souls. 

The Sexy Celibate’s Top Ten Goals for 2014

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The Sexy Celibate’s 10 Goals for 2014

#10) I want to stop worshipping other people’s golden calves. Or abs. Or house. Or family.  I can’t judge how happy someone is by their smiling Facebook pictures. Many people that I think have it easy worked very hard to get there. Many people I think are happy are suffering inwardly. I am judging their insides by what I see on their outsides and that is never a wise thing to do. The less I compare, the more compassion I will have. 

#9) I want to remember that happiness= reality minus expectations. Putting expectations on people often results in resentment. Putting expectations on circumstances often ends in heartbreak. 

#8) I want to stay far far away from schadenfreude. No, this is not a kind of wienerschnitzel. It is a German word for the practice of finding satisfaction in someone else’s failure. Conversely, I don’t want to be unsatisfied when someone else is celebrating, like with getting married or having children. I can have compassion on myself in my disappointments without letting jealousy run my life.

#7) Taking #8 even further, I don’t want to focus too much on what I don’t have, but on the beautiful things that are right in front of me. The bible says to not to cast your pearls before swine. (Matthew 7:6). Swine don’t understand the value of pearls; they think they are no different than pebbles. I don’t want to cast my pearls before swine, but what’s more, I don’t want to be the swine that doesn’t recognize the pearls. I want to see the beautiful things that are before me and not pass them by as if they are worth nothing. My life doesn’t often look like I expected or wanted it to, but I have so many tiny, precious things in my life that I need to notice and thank God for. 

#6) I want to say this prayer on a regular basis: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I say this prayer all the time. When I have a hard situation in front of me, I ask what can I control in this situation? and then what can’t I control in this situation? Then I try to let go of the things I can’t control into God’s big, big hands. As Cheryl Strayed says “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

#5) I want to believe that I can choose serenity today, right now, that my happiness is not attached to some far away future thing. For some reason I am constantly grasping at the hope that something I don’t have will finally make me happy. If I only had this job or that partner or these children or that ministry I would finally have all that I want. I wait for that mysterious moment, that beautiful crux of a moment that I believe will change everything, and it never comes, even if those life events do happen. I will wait for that moment the rest of my life if I am not careful. It will keep me in a place where I am always grasping and never cherishing. 

#4) I want to learn to love myself. To see myself as beautiful, even after I suffer rejection.To remember that I am the beloved. Jesus said to love my neighbor as myself, not more than myself. So learning to love myself is as important in Jesus’ eyes as loving my neighbor. Did you know that Jesus’ most repeated command was be healed which can also be translated be made whole? Loving myself  can become hard for me as a single, because I don’t often have someone telling me that I am beautiful. In fact, when I suffer romantic rejection it is really easy for me to believe that there is something wrong with me, that I am not beautiful. But I am, and I need to do the hard work of believing that I am. As Henri Nouwen says, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, as soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, ‘Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody. … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.’ Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved. Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” 

#3)Every time I have a  big decision to make, I want to ask myself What would I do if I weren’t afraid? and then do the next right thing.

#2) I want to lift my eyes up to the mountains (Psalm 121:1-2) and away from my navel. 

#1)Truly, truly, with everything in me, I want to look upon,fall in love with, remember, saturate myself with, listen to, be kissed by, walk near, and be minute by minute changed by the fathomless, mysterious, passionate, astonishing, never ending lover of my soul who calls me beloved, which is indeed the core truth of my existence. Every time I gaze upon his beautiful face, a little bit of his brilliant light will seep into me and drive a little bit of the darkness away. I will see myself beautiful. I will live moment by moment. I will celebrate my life and the life of others. I will choose serenity.

Hmmmm. I guess if I practice #1 all the other stuff will happen. Maybe I should just focus on that one. 

Christmas: Ruminating vs. Remembering

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I played music at two different Christmas parties this week.

The first one was called Blue Christmas. It was for people who really hate Christmas, and rightly so, as many people from this church suffer from great loneliness and even tragedy in their lives.

There were different stations for things such as thankfulness, mourning, and anger. 

The mourning station had beautiful blue bottles with water in them, which you would transfer to a large glass jug. The station was based on the wonderful verse Psalm 56:8, which says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded them in your book.” 

The jar represented the tears that God collects from us, but also represented that all of our tears are intermingled  together, that we are not alone in our sadness.

By far my favorite station was the anger station. At this station, you wrote something you were angry about on a glass ornament. Then you put on safety goggles and threw it as hard as you could at a wall. 

It felt really good. Like more good than it should have felt. So good in fact that my brother and I snuck in after the service and threw all the leftovers with a glee that was more appropriate for watching It’s A Wonderful Life than angrily hurling soon to be sharp objects against a concrete wall. 

A few days later I played at another concert, one that was completely opposite of the first one. I have done these concerts for years. I call them Christmas Fantasticals 

To start things out, I told the history of wassailing, which is where carols come from. 

Wassailing involved poor people in the middle ages going to their mean landlord’s houses and singing Christmas songs. Next, the poor people asked for beer, cheese, and you guessed it, figgy pudding. And no I am not making that up. Then, they would nonchalantly pass a leather bag to the rich people. If the landlords didn’t put money in it, the poor people would vandalize their house.

Ah, the spirit of Christmas. Isn’t it beautiful?

Then we had Story Time With Kate in which I dressed up in a robe and slippers, called the audience my children, and read my favorite story out of a Norman Rockwell book. 

We ended with toasting and singing lots of carols together.

I love these concerts more than most concerts I do all year. They make me happy. They are so ridiculously fun.

Which of these concerts do I relate to more? I ask myself. The Blue Christmas concert, where I face the  frustration and sadness of feeling alone at Christmas? The anger of losing my father and my job and some treasured relationships in the space of one year? Where I admit my deep longing for children that are laughing  and playing around a Christmas tree? (Getting a tree just for only myself feels weird.) Of hearing Rocking around the Christmas Tree 26.6 times? (The .6 comes from when I went to the karaoke guy and threatened to have him fired.) 

Or do I relate more to the happy Christmas Fantasticals concert? Do I focus on  the joy of being with friends that I have loved and have loved me for years? Of lights and wonder and A Charlie Brown Christmas and people generously giving to each other? A season where even atheists sing songs about the coming of the Lord?

I think it’s both at the same time. A juxtaposition of the joy and sadness. Feelings that are so mixed together that it is hard to tell where one emotion ends and the other begins.

And Jesus meets me in both places. 

Maybe it’s time for me to take a break from focusing on my feelings. I should stop ruminating and start remembering.

Here is what I need to remember: the mystery and wonder of the incarnation. 

We focus so much on Jesus dying, but the incarnation is equally astounding.  The birth, the death, the resurrection, are the love story that all other stories flow from. The most beautiful story ever told. 

The messiah that had been passionately longed for for generations had come. The rivers bent their knees. The angels bowed. The stars sang. The earth trembled. 

What was this that was happening? all of creation wondered with awe. Could God love mankind so much that he would limit himself to the body of a human? Could he love us in our suffering in such a way that he refused to be born into a kingdom, but in a shack, only worthy of animals to live in, pointing to how much he loved the poor, the brokenhearted? 

The unfathomable God who can’t be contained by the universe made himself so small that he lived in a tiny baby. Think about that. 

Most people could not even look at God and live before. Now he came down so we could hold in him our arms. Hold him close, so very close, to our hearts. 

That message is beautiful. It is mysterious. It is life changing. 

I wrote a song that my little three year old friend Kelty loves called Hush Child. He listens to it all the time. Every time I am over at his house his mom asks me to sing it. And every time I sing it, Kelty looks up at me and says “Auntie Kate, did you write that song for me?” And every time I say “Of course I wrote it for you Kelty. Of course I did.” 

I see the babe in the manger. I look up at God and I say “God, did you do that for me? Did you make yourself so small that you could love me and meet me in my joy, meet me in my pain?” And he says “Of course I did, Katie girl. Of course I did that for you.” 

When I remember that, whether I am happy or sad doesn’t seem to matter any more. What matters is that I am loved.

I am reminded of a song I wrote about this:

 

Sometimes in the chaos, I forget the real story

God became flesh, the infinite ultimate you found

In a tiny baby

All because of your love

All because of your love

 

You came down so humble so meek, that’s just how you are

The world didn’t know you, went on with their lives

On the day that you were born

All because of your love

All because of your love

 

Tell me the story again for the first time

The babe in a manger who’s really the savior of all mankind

Tell me the story again fort the first time

The passionate God who would live and would die

All because of your love

All because of your love for me

 

As you lay in that manger oh Lord did you think about me

I know that you gave up your glory became a man just

So that you could reach me

All because of your love

All because of your love

 

And the ones that came to worship were the poor the wretched and the lame

Funny how things never change, because we are the weak become strong

That worship you today

All because of your love

All because of your love

 

Tell me the story again for the first time

The babe in a manger who’s really the savior of all mankind

Tell me the story again fort the first time

The passionate God who would live and would die

All because of your love

All because of your love for me

 

(If you’d like to hear  this song, it’s on my Christmas EP which is called Now All Is Well. 

 

Having Compassion….Even When It’s Not On Myself.

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Yesterday, in Mexico where I am teaching at a YWAM base, I went to a rescue home for labor trafficked girls from 6-8 years old and sex trafficked girls from about 10-20 years old for about 8 hours. Me any my team were giving a well deserved break to the ladies that worked there. 

Putting these beautiful faces to an issue I have long cared about was both heartbreaking and hopeful, in that these girls still laugh and play and love despite the atrocities they have lived through.

After playing tag and cards and eating with them, they asked me if they could wash and cut my hair. 

As I stuck my head under a sink with freezing cold water and had four little hands gently massaging my scalp and pouring shampoo over my head, I almost started weeping. One of these girls had burns on her arm where cigarette butts had been put out.

These hands had every right to bring violence to anyone they touched. It would be completely justified, as touch has been such a horrible part of their history.

And yet, here they were….Bringing healing with their touch. Touching each others hands as they sat and talked, their arms around each others’ shoulders. Touching my heart by welcoming me with such open arms. And then gently touching the head of a stranger as if I was their good friend. 

The words from the prologue of my book came to me as I was with these girls, with new clarity:

You are stronger than you think you are. 

 You, your hands dirtied with the soil where you till up the rocks of generations gone by. Your tears watering the ground, making the roots grow deep and wide while you are unaware. You labor, you dig, you claw this tiny piece of land where others buried their dreams and gave up trying. 

But not you. You keep going.You never give up. You see the tree in the seed, and you will fight until that tree is standing before you, it’s long willowing arms grasping your hope in its branches. 

You are stronger than you think you are. 

You, covered in all your scars. Where your face was grazed with false imaginings that you were not beautiful enough. Where your hands were caught in fields of cotton when you didn’t believe you were free. Where you were marked across your chest the day you thought that they left because you weren’t worth it. Look closely, love. Look closely because those scars are gilded with gold. Those scars have become your crown. 

You are stronger than you think you are. 

 You, dancing there with your face against the wind. Not a pretty dance, but a wild dance. A hold on for dear life to the hope dance. An I will never stop believing in your goodness dance. A shake the sadness off your skin dance. You, with your feet pounding against the ground to the rhythm of your unsurrenduring spirit. With your knees soiled and bleeding from the prayers and the longings and the times you almost gave up. With your arms thrown up in surrender and beckoning and awe. “You are my love!” you yell, “And I will never stop believing!” There is burning against your back as you lift up your face, because your wings are returning, love. Your wings are returning.

Look at me and believe now. You are stronger than you think you are. Stronger than you think you are. 

As they washed my hair, these girls were draining the dirt off of my often apathetic heart. A heart that often only looks at pain when it is my own pain. That I often pay attention to only when it is my own small tragedy that I am praying about.

As has been pretty evident in my last few posts, I have been struggling a lot in these last few months. I have realized that I need to accept that I might not ever have children or a husband. It might not be true, but I feel like it is time to accept that it very well may be true.

But the hope of these girls, who still love those around them despite the incredible pain they have endured, is the fabric that heaven is made of. That hope softened my heart and helped me to see the power that God has to restore, to wash clean. I remembered for the first time in a while that I have a truly beautiful life, and I was thankful. 

I was completely struck by this quote from Cheryl Strayed because it is so appropriate for what I am going through right now.

“Suffering is a part of life…I know that. You know that. I don’t know why we forget it until something truly awful happens to us, but we do. We wonder why me? and How can this be? and What terrible God would do this? The very fact that this has been done to me is proof that there is no God! 

We act as if we don’t know that awful things happen to all sorts of people every second of every day and the only thing that’s changed about the world or the existence or non existence of God is that it happened to us…To use our individual good or bad luck as a litmus test to determine whether or not God exists constructs an illogical dichotomy that reduces our capacity for true compassion….it fails to acknowledge that the other half of rising- the very half that makes rising necessary- is having first been nailed to a cross.”

It is true: focusing completely on my pain deadens my capacity for compassion. To take on one another’s burdens like Jesus did will truly change our lives.

Today, on Thanksgiving, even though it is a lonely day without a family and is really difficult for me, I will look beyond my own pain and remember how truly blessed I am. 

 

God soften my heart. Allow me to touch people in beautiful ways like this. Allow me to pray for pain even when it is not my own. 

 

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