Back to the Land of Hippies

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Most of my friends know that I am a closet hippie. I have small gauge wooden earrings that I wear almost every day. I have long sun dresses that are all I wear in the summertime. I have the most beautiful watercolor tattoo ever that hasn’t yet escaped the recesses of my imagination for some odd reason. And I have come this close to getting dreads about a 36 times.

Maybe I need to come out of the closet completely and just embrace my hippie-ness. I think it’s really who I am. I have to ask myself why I am scared to completely be that person….but I should save that for another post.

This alter ego has been enhanced by my many years doing ministry at a large hippie gathering called the Rainbow Gathering. I have been going to the Gathering on and off for many years, and it is one of my favorite places in the world. It is a gathering of about 20,000 people in a different national forest every year that started in the early 70s, supposedly by a group of Jesus freaks.

But the gathering is not a Christian gathering…there are people from every faith you can imagine. The whole point of the gathering is to create a place of complete acceptance for everyone. There is no money exchanged, everything is bartered or gifted.

On the forth of July, all 20,000 people attempt to be silent until noon, praying for peace. Then there is an om around the peace pole after which everyone parties like crazy. There is a lot of nudity and drugs and such, but there is an even more abundant amount of love and a sincere search for meaning and spirituality.

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                            Beautiful Fire Dancing

 

I have worked for years with a Christian kitchen called Bread of Life. We were one of the biggest kitchens at the gathering and fed thousands of people. The four older hippie couples that started our kitchen became like parents to me. Slowly, believing young people joined the kitchen and became my brothers and sisters. Six married couples came out of our kitchen in just about 10 years. (I guess it’s hard to find a marriable Christian hippie in normal life, so the gathering is the best place to find one!)

Many of those couples moved to Asheville, NC together because they were so like minded and it felt silly to be spread all over the country when they loved each other so much.

Bread of Life made free food for our Rainbow friends, we had wonderful times of worship, and we also had a prayer tent where we would ask God for words and pictures for people.

Here are a few highlights from the last few years.

1) The first time I led worship for all the Christian kitchens in the main meadow. A naked guy came and spit on the cross right in the middle of worship. Instead of freaking out, everyone started saying “bless you brother” and sharing testimonies of how God changed their hearts from hating religion to loving the real Jesus. Within a few songs, naked guy was amidst all of us, singing right along. I have heard he became a Christ follower afterwards, but I’m not sure if that is true.

2) The time this woman named Mama Love asked if their group could sing the first song during our corporate worship time in main meadow. I said of course! Then my papa Jody informed me that they were the leaders of a sex cult. Whoops! I didn’t know what to do and so we prayed and all of us felt like we were to let them sing. My friend said to me “only at a Rainbow Gathering would we be praying about whether a sex cult should open a worship service!” After they opened the service, they were so blessed that we allowed them to be a part of it that it opened a door for my papa Chuck to talk to them about why their beliefs weren’t biblical. They were convicted and ended up leaving the cult after being in it since the 70’s! (Incidentally, my song Wait On the Lord which was on Enter the Worship Circle was inspired by the song that they sang at the beginning of the worship service…)

3) Another worship circle at main meadow in which Grandpa Woodstock, a very strung out rail thin loveable old man who has been coming to the gathering for decades, put a pedestal in the middle of the circle, stood on it, and held up a peace sign. Thankfully, he was not naked that day, as he usually was. He was wearing a Santa Claus coat with a painting of him naked on the back of it. I wasn’t sure what to do, but we just happened to be singing “Pour out your love oh Lord, on your people….let it rain!” and I started singing “Pour out your love oh Lord, on Grandpa Woodstock….let it rain!” Everyone sang along at the top of their lungs. He was blissed out and practically crying and told me later that was the most loved he had felt in a long time.

4) Countless times in the prayer tent in which the words we got for people were so specific that they would say “how could you POSSIBLY know that?!” Many of them crying and crying.

5)By far the most beautiful memory, my dear precious brother Will, who was a Shauman at the time, having a radical encounter with God, getting baptized in a homemade stick-and-tarp baptismal, and having his life transformed. He has been a strong believer ever since then.

6) The next most beautiful memory ever, which was when Will and his bride Marie got MARRIED at a gathering two years after Will became a Christ follower. Our kitchen gave them a wedding. They spent like $40 on a unity candle and fabric for what they wore and we did absolutely everything else; bagpipes, hand drums, irish flutes, flower arches, flower crowns, cakes, middle eastern food, songs written for the wedding,sage crosses that hung from Marie’s wrist, hoopas- all of this was our gift to them and it was the most beautiful wedding I have ever been a part of. Never mind that I had to walk my dad past naked mud wrestling in the woods and there was some random hippie going right up to them to take pictures. It was still ridiculously beautiful.

7) Having “Christmas in July” in which my papa Jody put on a Santa outfit and yelled “Merry Christmas” everywhere he went. People streamed in…we made a nice dinner, everyone sang Christmas carols, and they listened intently as a message about the incarnation and Gospel was given in non Christiany language . We lit candles and sang silent night, then we passed out Josh Garrels CDs wrapped in ribbon that Josh had sent me on a whim to be used at the gathering that year. (Thank you Josh!) Several people said it was better than their real Christmas. When asked why, they would say “I was alone on my real Christmas.”

This takes me to this year’s gathering. Bread of Life stopped going to the gathering a few years for a number of reasons, and I stopped going as well. You might have seen my post last year in which I mourned it being over. Well, this year I was singing with some friends outside on Easter morning, and I realized that I just had to go back. And I am so glad I did.

Why did I go back? Not just because I wanted to do “ministry” or have some fun times singing or get myself a hippie husband. I wanted to go back because I am a part of the Rainbow Family. Something morphed over the years, and instead of Rainbows being the target of my “ministry,” some kind of project that I had to conquer, they became my brothers and sisters. I went from being an outsider who was trying to “save” people with a very judgemental attitude, to realizing that I was a part of this beautiful family. I have a deep understanding of a Creator who deeply loves them, who gave his life for them, something I want to help them understand more than anything in the world. But I have the attitude of doing that as an insider, rather than as a missionary. They are no longer projects to me, they are my people.

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I was the second act of the year at the outdoor “G-Funk” theatre. I led everyone in my song Hush Child, which I wrote while working with the Rainbow Family to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

One of the most beautiful encounters I had this year was working with my friend who is kind of an incognito hippie missionary that ministers at lots of festivals.  He speaks in the most beautiful, non Christiany language to pray with people and show them how loved they are by the Creator. Let’s call him Jordan. We had a blanket set up at trade circle with a sign that said “Spiritual Readings.” A guy named Raven came along and asked what we wanted in exchange for a reading. We told him it was free, and we asked him to open himself to God as we prayed for him. After a time of silence, I gave him the verse “Can a mother forget her baby and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,” which is found in Isaiah 49:15.

I said “I think that you have some major issues with your mom. That she has really hurt you and that the Creator wants to heal that hurt.” He started weeping almost uncontrollably. “My mom is crazy,she’s bipolar.” He said “She tried to kill me when I was younger.” We talked him through God healing that place in him. Then he showed us his hands. In the lines of his hands were crosses, which is very uncommon. God had written the name Raven on his own hands, and then he had put crosses on Raven’s hands. He recognized that.

Jordan then asked Raven if it would be ok for me to stand in the place of his mother. Through tears he said yes. I took his hands, looked him in the eyes and said “will you forgive me for not treating you like a son? For trying to kill you? For not believing in you? ” I was crying, he was crying. “Yes, I forgive you.” “Can you believe that underneath it all, I really do love you? That my illness is stopping you from hearing that, but I really do love you?” “Yes.” Then I gave him a mother’s blessing.

He had said earlier in the conversation”No amount of acid can erase this pain.” So Jordan said to him “Acid can’t erase the pain, but I know someone who can…Jeshua. Religion might have messed it up for you, but underneath he is the answer.”

It was so beautiful.

Raven is not a drug using “sinner” that needs to be judged. Nor is he some kind of salvation project. Nor is he the giver of a story that would inspire people to give me money on my next ministry trip. He is a broken  man who has been deeply wounded. He is a beautiful man who needs to know about a Creator Father who loves him. He is someone that can learn from me, someone that I can learn from.

He is my brother. 

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Every year, I love these people deeper and deeper. I want to learn from them. But I also want to share the joy of the love that I have found: the love of a Father who deeply loves the poorest, the dirtiest, the drunkest, the most strung out. By loving them, I learn how deep my Father’s love is for them, and also for me.

I want to share with them the hope found in the the deepest love story, the love story from which all the other love stories flow. The story a God that would give up everything just so he could bend down and be close to us, dirty and dreadlocked and profane and scared as we are.

Lord, help me know how to display this story every day. By loving unconditionally, with everything in me, just like you do.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter and Spring at the Same Time

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When I was a camp counselor, I taught a devotion in which I had the campers look into the night sky. I asked them to search for their very own constellation and draw it on a card. Many of them looked for their initials. Others looked for stars that shaped their favorite animal. Still others looked for hearts to remind them of how much God loved them.

“Did you know, ” I would say to them, “When God created the universe so long ago, he spoke those stars into space and he thought to himself Some day, this is going to be Annie’s constellation. And that’s why I love these particular stars so much. Because in thousands of years, these stars will remind her of how much I love her.”

I loved that devotion because I believed that it was true. That God really did think of us when he painted the stars. That he could not be contained by eternity, and yet he drew the tiny lines on a leaf. In the very same way, he could be so big and yet be deeply concerned about our tiny little lives.

Back then, my eyes were full of the wonder of my Savior’s love for me. I was always looking for it, remembering it. I would do things like write letters from God where he spoke to me directly. I would have many “special places” with God where I would go and pray, like the woods behind my dorms or the railroad tracks by the river, or the cherry tree that I would climb in and sing.

On Valentine’s day, I would visit spots where I used to have quiet times. I would sing songs from that season and build up rocks as a remembrance of what God had done for me. I even wrote God is my beloved under the altar at my college chapel on one of these remembrance walks. I found it was still there years later when I was visiting my old campus. 

My belief in God’s goodness was palatable back then. My sense of wonder was a constant companion. 

This sense of awe struck me again a few years ago on my birthday. I have an annual tradition of going on a favorite hike and journaling all the things I am thankful for from that year. As I was on my walk, I turned a corner and my jaw dropped open when I saw thousands of wild yellow orchids, covering a huge meadow that was totally barren two days earlier when I was hiking the same trail. 

I felt like God said “Here you are beautiful girl. You love flowers and so I am giving you thousands of them for your birthday.” It was so special.

It has been several years since that experience, and I had another birthday on Tuesday.

I woke up thinking about the experience with the orchids. Instead of thinking that was so kind of God or I wonder what surprise he has for me today, I thought I can’t believe how naive I was back then. 

I caught myself thinking this, and it stunned and saddened me. I stopped to examine my heart for a little while.

Why had I become so cynical the last few years? When did I stop believing that God gives me thousands of flowers on my birthday? That he remembered my name when he created the stars? 

What had happened to my sense of wonder? 

I realized that I have silently doubted the goodness and even existence of God in this last season of my life, slowly, thought by thought. Like water eroding a rock very gently day by day until there was a new pathway where the water went in a completely different direction. I had given in to my doubts minute by minute, and I was now winding down a river much darker than the clear, more innocent water that I used to know.

I have thoughts like, “I am struggling with a bout of depression again. Is God really there?” And it was like a little bit of water corroding the rock beneath it.  “There is sex trafficking in the world. It is a issue that I have been fighting for. Could God really be good when this is happening?” A little bit of water eroding the rock. “God has not given me a child yet. Why would he do that to me if he really loved me?” A little bit more water changing the pathway before it. Until my whole journey had changed.

I thought about all of this on the morning of my birthday. I realized that I have all but lost my sense of wonder when it comes to looking at the Father’s love. And I wanted it back.

Later that day, I went on my annual birthday hike, journal in hand. My roommate had told me about a new hiking trail, so I set out to find it.

It was stunning. Once I turned the corner from the busy highway I walked down, it was a different world. If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought that I was backpacking in the middle of a pristine mountain range instead of being a few miles away from Boulder. Huge rivers twisted their way through lush green fields, overlooked by my precious rocky mountains and flatiron rocks. There was a carpet of tiny white flowers everywhere. 

But the biggest surprise, my birthday surprise, came when I looked into the sky. There was some sort of white fuzzy plant that was germinating and tiny clumps of it blew through the air, everywhere, all around me.

It looked exactly like snow.

When I looked up, it appeared as if I was standing in the middle of winter with big snowflakes falling in my hair. If I looked down, it was a beautiful spring day. 

It was as if I was in two seasons at once: winter and spring.

I realized that God was giving me a new gift this year: the ability to live in two seasons at the same time. One that was sometimes cold and often difficult, the other beautiful and full of wonder. Neither one more important than the other.

When I was in my springtime years ago, I used to look away from dark issues. Personal issues like my struggle with loneliness and barrenness. World issues like war and sex trafficking. I didn’t want it to mar my vision of a loving God. 

This last season had been winter. It had been hard, and it wasn’t always healthy. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t progressing. In my winter season, I have looked suffering square in the face, and it has been hard. 

Often, I have walked these cold paths alone, brushing past God when he tries to walk with me because I feel angry or ambivalent towards him. Sometimes I didn’t believe that God could exist in winters like these.  

But now, I believe I am approaching a new route, where the two parts of my journey intersect into one road.  Where it is winter and spring at the same time. A place where God can take my hand because I have opened it to him, walking with me through the pain and the questioning. Not so he can answer my questions, because some of those questions will never be answered. No, I want to walk with him simply so we can be with each other.

Together we can embrace the mystery of a world that is suffering and a God who loves unfathomably at the very same time. Where we can walk together as I face my own darkness and pain. Where we advocate together issues that are scary and horrible, things that break God’s heart every day. 

Maybe I can say “there is suffering in the world, including my own suffering” with the beautiful, powerful, unconditionally loving God walking with me. A paradox that I may not understand until I reach heaven. We will walk through fields that are full of flowers and skies that are full of snow, and all of it will be beautiful. 

And in this season, maybe God will teach me that if I’m not too scared to look past the snow into the scary, stormy skies, I will see my constellation, the constellation he made for me when he painted the stars. 

Stars that cast light I would never see if not for the darkness that surrounds them. 

 

Ghost Ship

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I wrote this after talking to a dear friend of mine with three kids who has been married for a long time. It has been a hard road for her. She started crying and said “Kate, you don’t know how much I envy your life.” At first I bristled. I envy other people’s lives so much, how could anyone envy mine? But it got me thinking. I do have a beautiful life, and I do have things in my life I could never have without a family, no matter how much I don’t want to admit it. I have been more positive about my life ever since then, and am trying to walk on a journey towards “home.” Hope you enjoy it.

For many years, I spent my life on the shore, watching, waiting.

Like a million stories told through a hundred generations, I was searching the horizon, looking for someone to come home to me. A companion to walk with. A witness to my life.

I imagined that we would meet on the shore in a glorious homecoming. He would run towards me and spin me around, making me dizzy with his love. That would be the moment that all the minutes before had led up to, the moment that all the minutes after would never forget.

We would walk hand in hand down the road marked out for us. And when we reached our destination, we would build up our love story around us like a warm shelter.

But years passed. No matter how hard I looked, no matter how fervently I prayed, I did not see that ship coming in. I clenched my cold hands and continued watching on the waterfront, dreaming of the beautiful phantom life that was not mine.

I stood shivering on the shore for a long time. I began to realize that the ship, the parallel existence that I had hoped to start living long ago, was a ghost ship. It was perfect, but only because it was elusive. It was beautiful, but only because it was not really there.

I am cold now. I am ready to go somewhere that will hide me from the storm. And so I have a choice-to stay here and watch or to step away from the waiting. Perhaps for a little while, perhaps for the rest of my life. I have a choice turn my head from the sea and take a slow walk towards a home that I can build for myself right now, today. A decision that will be a beginning and an ending all at once.

The road will be unspeakably beautiful and deeply painful, just like the journey I would have walked in my parallel life. It will be full of love and full of loneliness, just as it would have been on the sister ship that I never got to ride.

In the end, the path I walk on might not lead me to a home with the arms of a husband or the laughter of children, a reality that may always be difficult for me.

But I can still put flowers in a vase so I can remember small, beautiful things. I can still bake bread and hear laughter around the table. I can still build a fire and press my face against the window pane, welcoming the lonely traveler home.

I can wait for that ghost ship forever, or I can go home and build something beautiful. It may never be easy. The longing may never go away.  But perhaps God will teach me how to long and let go at the very same time.

In the end, I don’t want to live in a parallel life that will disappear if I try to touch it. I want to walk out the tangible story that God has set before me today.

Even if  I never find the love story that I anticipated, I might find a love story that I didn’t expect. A different kind of love story.

A story that leads me home.

What dreams have you had that never came true?

How did you respond to those unmet desire?

Do you think you can long and let go at the same time?

Happy Wish We Were Mother’s Day

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Today I went to the gym (aka going on the elliptical and watching netflix on my phone for 45 minutes, then going in the hot tub and amazing massaging waterfalls and water slide for an hour and a half.) 

The lady at the front desk said “are you a mother?” “No,” I said. “Why do you ask?” Mother’s get in free today! “Oh,” I said. I felt a pang of sadness.

She looked at me again. “Do you have pets?” I was didn’t understand why she was asking me this. “No.”

“Hmmm, ” she said. “Oh, wait a second!” I replied. ” I forgot that I live on a farm! I literally have hundreds of pets!” “Well, it looks like you’re a mother, then.” She stamped my hand and let me into the ghetto spa for free.

This little gesture meant a lot. Because in a small way she was honoring me on a day in which non-mothers do not often get honored.

First and foremost, every mother’s day, I try to not feel sorry for myself and remember my own mom. My amazing, kind, quirky mom.

Who used to feed us liver powder and v8 juice and yeast in kool aid when we were growing up because her love language is to keep us healthy.

Who has had 200 books from the library out at a time, for a six months at a time, until they made a rule up that you can’t do that, probably solely because of her.

Who looks 55 even though she is almost 70.

Who has worn spandex every day since 1982.(Because spandex are not a right. They are a privilege. My mother has had that privilege and has looked really good using it.)

That is my epic mother. And she more than deserves to be honored today. As does every mother in the world.

Every getting -three-hours-of-sleep-to-take-care-of-a newborn,changing-620 -diapers-per year, listening-to-a-million-questions, figure-out-three-freaking-meals-a-day-to-make, trying-not-to-yell-at-your-teenager, figuring-out-how-to-teach-a-human-soul-how-to-live-on-the-place-we-call-earth, incredible, selfless mother deserves to be honored today.

But once the honoring of my own mother and all the other beautiful mothers is over, my eyes inevitably look back on myself and I start getting sad.

I have always loved kids. I worked at day cares all through high school, college and after college. I work at an after school program now and live with 3 young children, all of whom I adore.

I worked at a camp for something like 5 summers, and have spoken at that camp for another 12 or so. At that camp they called me the legend. Because I was really, honestly, an awesome counselor. Every Friday we would have princess night where we would put on trash bags and talk in English accents during dinner, then we would let loose during dessert and give each other chocolate pudding facials followed by the best food fight ever. I would come up with really fun hands on devotions. I would spend one on one time with the girls, talking about their lives and praying with them. I would sing to them every night before they fell asleep. I had some of the girls for all five years, watching them grow up. We would write to each other all year, and I would sometimes visit them outside of camp.

I don’t know if I ever felt more in my element at any job. Ever. Not singing. Not writing. Not speaking. It felt like loving those campers was what I was made to do. Even now, I have dreams about camp on a regular basis. My counselor says it was because my psyche considers it home.

I would make a good mom. A really, really good mom.

But for some reason, motherhood has not been in the cards for me.

The older I get, the more I have to accept the fact that I might never become a mother. I might have to look for other ways to love children, like working with inner city kids or at an orphanage. That might be the path I have to take, one that I have seriously considered taking lately.

I have so much in my life. I have a wonderful career. I have good friends. I live with people that are very dear to me. I have lots of time to do things like get a $4.00 spa. If there were no such thing as a husband and children, I would probably be really content. But there are such things, and I have always wanted both of them. Not having them is perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever been through.

Sometimes I think about how much I would give to have someone call me “mom.” To call someone “my baby.” I would give up almost anything for this.

And so I grieve today, and maybe that is all right. Maybe it is not selfish. Maybe it is human. Maybe it is my right.

Years ago on mothers day at my church, a friend of mine stood up who has struggled with infertility her whole life. She said “mothers, you are amazing and wonderful and needed. Today, I want to honor you, but I also want to honor other women. I want to honor all the women that have had miscarriages. All the women who have been infertile. All the single women who haven’t even had a chance to get pregnant. All the women who have had stillborns.”

She had everyone in the room who fit that description stand up. I was amazed how many women stood up.

(She didn’t say this and I know this will be a controversial thing to say, but I want to include women who have had abortions. I am not saying what they did is right, by any means. But there are probably more women than you think there are in your circles and in your workplace and in your church who have had abortions and hide it because there is so much shame. They are possibly grieving today more than anyone else. We must remember them too.)

So all of you that fit into that category- this is what I say to you today. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are not forgotten. You may never bear children, but that doesn’t mean you are any less of a woman. And you are mothers in your own way-to the children in your life, to your friends, to the people you mentor.

I honor you. And so does God.

I’d love to hear from you….is mother’s day hard for you? Why are why not? What has infertility/ the death of a child/ unmarried with no children / abortion been like for you? How can the church love you better in this?

Going to California and Africa

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Hey friends! Just wanted to give you a heads up….

I am headed to the Longbeach/ LA area and San Francisco area in June. Then to South Africa and other parts of Africa in August. If you or anyone you know would like me to speak/ lead worship/ lead a retreat for singles or women or worship teams/ give a concert I would love that! I see that I have some followers in South Africa so I’d love to meet you! 

You can email me at iamkatehurley@gmail.com.

The Phantom Limb Effect

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Sorry if you have already read this…I somehow took it off my site and a few people have asked me to repost it.

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? 

 

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 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.

 

 

 

 

=

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.)