What Divorced People Wish Everybody Knew

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My dear friend Roger was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when he was 18 years old. He suffered through the ordeal three separate times. Through a crazy turn of events that included the second tumor disappearing after prayer, a new found faith, a televangelist praying for the intimate details of his unknown situation on national TV, a survived horrific car accident, and many more incredible details, he doesn’t have cancer any more. He does, however, have a huge scar on his neck.

Mr. Rogers (no relation to my friend Roger), the host of the children’s PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood carried a piece of paper with him everywhere he went that said Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.

If I didn’t know Roger’s life changing story, I might see that scar as ugly. I might assume that he got it because he was a violent person. Or I might overlook God’s hand in the story, thinking simply that he have done something brave on his own. All because I never asked his story.

From the minute Roger took several hours to tell me his story, that scar became one of the most beautiful parts of him to me, because it was such an indication of the mind blowing faithfulness of God in his life. It told his story. It is a mark of God’s unfathomable love, and it is also a mark of how strong Roger is having been through that trial and still trusting in the goodness of God.

I was reminded or Roger’s scar last night after talking to a friend who is going through a very difficult divorce. As he told me his story, I realized that he had a scar just as prominent as Roger’s that people saw when they looked at him. A scar named divorce. Without knowing his story, you might think it was ugly. You might think he had it because he is a bad person. But maybe, just like Roger, if you knew his story, you might see that scar differently.

If you have been divorced , you are unique in that your scars are displayed for the world to see, and they are difficult to cover up. Divorce is so personal and so public. Many of the rest of us have scars underneath our clothes, scars that other people can’t see. We can hide them well. But divorced people are forced to show their scars to the world.

I went through the vicious divorce of my parents when I was 11 years old. It did not feel right. It was devastating. Two people being torn apart from each other feels unnatural and horrible because it is unnatural and horrible. In the deepest love story, God marries his bride and the marriage is eternal. So it doesn’t feel right for earthly marriages to end.

In God’s original plan, people would never stop loving each other and would never be ripped from each other like that. For reasons we can’t understand, we do not always live in that original plan now.

It seems that the church often judges divorced people, doubting their faith and their integrity. But think about this for a moment….how much faith does it take to keep believing in a good God after going through something as horrible as divorce? How much integrity does it take to keep going to church when there is so much judgement attached to going? How much strength can a person possibly hold after so many tears, so many yearnings, so much desire for things to be different?

Now, I know this is a controversial topic, because the bible says very specifically that “God hates divorce.” (Malachi 2:16.)  I think this verse points to the compassion of God more than anything. Who loves divorce? Even when things are horrible, divorce is such an unnatural ending.Of course God hates it!  And I believe that it should be a last resort and not just the default thing to do when things get difficult.

But I am not here to argue scripture. I absolutely admit that there are many verses that point to divorce being something that God would never want. But we can’t use those verses to label people who are going through their own personal hell as sinners. We don’t know their story. It is not fair of us to label them that way, and it is not at all helpful. 

First, we as the church need to bring counsel and do everything we can to see reconciliation. But if reconciliation doesn’t happen, we need to have compassion. We need to recognize that these are people who have walked into their own personal cave and come out still believing in God’s goodness. They  have the wisdom that only comes with experience. They understand how to love better a second time. We as a church need to humble ourselves and learn from their experience.

The longer I walk this earth, the more I am convinced that when we walk through difficult things we have two choices, to become bitter or to become stronger. Deuteronomy 30:19 says “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” People who have chosen life, who have chosen to become stronger through their trials, especially one as difficult as a divorce, are worth listening to.

If you see a scar on someone called divorce, take the time to learn their story. Learn about the scar that they bare. Their scars are beautiful because they point to the strength of the person carrying them. A strength that all of us could learn from.

Me and My (Betty White) Pheromones

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“Kate, I have decided that you are the eighth wonder of the world,” said my brother as we ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches at my grandma’s house recently.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it is a complete mystery why you have had this litany of men who act interested in you and then drop you like you’re hot. Or like you’re not hot. Or errrr….You know what I mean. You are so awesome! Why is this happening?”

“That is the question I have asked myself for the last fifteen years, Will.”

“Well, I have a theory,” he said mysteriously.

“Really what’s your theory?”

“Your pheromones.”

“What about my pheromones?”

“Maybe they are not working right.”

“What?” I said, slightly offended.”My pheromones are great! Never been better! I have very sexy pheromones! In fact my pheromones very closely resemble Angelina Jolie, that’s how sexy they are!”

“Well,” replied Will carefully. “How do you know that? What if you don’t have Angelina Jolie Pheromones?  What if you have Betty White pheromones.”

“What?” I replied. “How can you say that to me? I love Betty White. Everyone loves Betty White. But no one wants to marry Betty White.”

“Exactly, Kate. Everybody loves you? Check. No one wants to marry you? Check. Betty White pheromones? You need to think about it.”

I looked at him, shocked. “Don’t let it get you down too much.” He said. “Maybe all your pheromones need are a little metaphorical plastic surgery.”

I went home, laid in bed, and pondered my brother’s observations. What if all these years, all this heart break, all these times hearing “Kate I think you’re amazing, but…” all this wondering if I’m not pretty enough, nice enough, good enough, special enough, what if all of the time, the only problem is that I don’t have the right secreted chemicals that trigger a social response in members of the same species?”

I sat up and started researching. One article I read said that when women are given men’s shirts to smell, over and over again they pick the shirts of the men they would have healthier children with, according to their DNA samples. That’s how powerful scent is. It also said that men are much more drawn to women when they are ovulating. They can tell by the pheromones that are emitted. (Remember that for your calendar for when you are planning that next date, ladies.)

Another article said that queen bees have such strong pheromones that it renders their faithful worker bees infertile so the queens can control them more. (Don’t remember that the next time you are planning your next date, ladies. That’s just mean.)

Queens also excrete especially strong pheromones when bees from the hive get lost. It attracts the lost bees so much that they find their way home.

Lesson learned: Pheromones are powerful, and mine were not displaying their feminine prowess like they should be.

After reading all this, I started getting angry with my little Betty White molecules. “Dang it pheromones!” I said, pointing to my stomach, (because maybe that’s where they live). “I need a little help here! Lead my species home!”

My roommate knocked on the door to ask if I was ok. I remembered the last time that this happened, which was when I was having a similar yelling match with my uterus. One of these days I will learn to whisper when these altercations occur, so my roommates don’t think that they live with the crazy cat lady that everyone talks about.

I woke up the next morning and decided that I needed a plan of action.

The first strategy was to take loads of Zinc. I read that Zinc is supposed to help your pheromones work better. I bought a bottle at Vitamin Cottage. I decided I would take three times the daily recommended dosage because of course, then I would get three times as many dates.

My second strategy was to buy some pheromone perfume. Yes that is a real thing. And no it is not just sweat in a bottle. It smells delectable! 

I asked my friend what she thought about the idea, and she said “Kate! You can’t walk around wearing someone else’s pheromones! Whose pheromones are they? What if Joe, the guy you meet because of your pheromone perfume, is a creepy 50 year old with gelled hair and a leather jacket with too many zippers? What if Joe was really meant for Betty, who donated her pheromones to your perfume?”

“Ummmm….Amy? Why did you choose the name Betty?”

“I don’t know it just came to me while I was sitting here next to you. Why?”

“No reason.”

After her caution, I decided to be safe and only try the plan out for a month and see what happened. The plan was simply a bunch of Zinc every night and a slathering of pheromone perfume every morning. Plus maybe smile a little more.

Here is what happened in no particular order:

1) Three old ladies asked me where I bought my perfume.

2) The checker at vitamin cottage started winking at me. I realized sadly that this was probably less about my pheromones, and more about my buying so much zinc.

3) A guy with exactly 9 zippers on his leather jacket asked me if I wanted to go to a wrestling match with him.

4) Four homeless men asked me to marry them.

5) I got stung by 3 bees.

Actually, none of that happened. Well, one homeless guy did ask me to marry him but that occurs pretty much every month.

What did happen is that I started thinking about patterns. Throughout my entire adult life, I have met some wonderful men, and although they often seem drawn to me at first, I almost always become the best friend,the sister. Hardly ever the one he falls in love with.

Does this occur because of something that I can’t really fix, like pheromones, or is there something I can work on? 

Here are a few thoughts: 

#1) My counselor says that because of some hard childhood trauma I am sometimes scared of intimacy. I am often attracted to unavailable men, men that I subconsciously know won’t or can’t love me back. Maybe instead of taking my zinc, I could work on looking for and being open to men who were emotionally available.

#2) Maybe I put off the “sister” vibe when I’m scared of rejection. Instead of just wearing that pheromone perfume maybe I should be keenly aware of my emotions and recognize when I am trying to hide myself by being a friend instead of being more honest about my feelings. Maybe I should even get out there and flirt a little bit, which I don’t often do because it scares me so much. I often hide behind the “good girl” energy, and I have to remember it’s not a sin to flirt with a man that might make a good match for me (as long as I know that our faiths and lifestyles are on the same page.)

#3) I heard of an experiment in which a pretty and shapely woman was put on a billboard in two different cities. One said I think I’m beautiful, what do you think? The other said I think I’m fat, what do you think? They polled people in each city. The results? Something like 70% of the city with the fat billboard thought she was fat, while 70% of the city with the beautiful billboard thought she was beautiful. I can not let my prolonged singlehood tell me who I am. I am beautiful and valuable. God whispers it to me every day, and I need to believe him. Instead of giving my pheromones a facelift, maybe I should give one to my self esteem. The more beautiful I believe I am, the more beautiful people will see me.

d) I have to trust that the God who speaks stars into space and paints the tiny lines on a leaf, that God is the one who loves me, who sees my dreams, who sees me beautiful. I can’t claim to understand something like the sovereignty of God but I can say that God is gracious and merciful. I can say that he makes all things beautiful in his time. I can say that when we see him face to face no one in the world will question whether or not he is good.

So I have a hunch, a really big hunch, that he is more powerful than my pheromones, even if they do resemble a certain Golden Girl. 

Questions for you…

Have you ever felt like something was “wrong” with you because of your dating life or lack thereof?

What strong patterns do you see in your dating life? What can’t you control in that situation? What can you control? 

Any other fun science about pheromones? (Keep it PG-13!)

In Response to Robin Williams Dying

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“You didn’t know him personally. Why are you sad?”

Those words have been going through my mind all week. I have been suppressing my emotions, because I’m not supposed to grieve over someone I don’t even know. Like countless others, Robin Williams played a part in the backdrop of my life. Dead Poet’s Society was my absolute favorite film when I was younger. It may be one of the reasons that I became a writer. (It is so sad now to think back on that movie and the centrality of a suicide in the plot line.) Good Will Hunting touched me on a very deep level since I have suffered through some of the same things as the main character in the film. I cried and cried right in the theatre when Robin Williams said to Matt Damon’s character “It’s not your fault…” And then there were so many other films of his that made me laugh…

But an actor of some of my favorite movies dying is not enough reason to actually grieve I thought.

Finally, I read some articles about Robin in Time magazine tonight, and I just started weeping as if he were my friend. And I let myself weep. I let myself grieve because, damn it, things are not supposed to end like this.

Have you ever wondered why death feels so wrong, so foreign, even though it surrounds us every day? It feels foreign because it is foreign. It is not what we were originally meant for. Even more so, suicide feels absolutely out of place, wrong.  Never, ever, was life supposed to be so hard that we wouldn’t want to live it any more. It feels foreign because it is foreign. We were meant for life. We were meant for love. We were never meant to die alone.

The question that is so morbidly ironic that I am asking is

How could a man who has arguably made more people laugh than any other person in our generation be so sad, so very very sad, that he couldn’t make it through another day?

The world is asking that question as well. All we can say is that Robin Williams was a man of paradox. He could play a magic genie and make you laugh until your belly ached, or he could play a professor inspiring a class to live life beautifully and make you weep. He was weak and strong, sad and hilarious, childlike and wise.

Maybe part of the problem is that the world only wanted one part of his paradox. The happy, hilarious, endearing Robin. People didn’t know what to do with depressed, quiet, hurting Robin. “You make everyone laugh! How could you be sad?” They might have said. “You have everything in the world! What you could possibly be sad about?” The answer for Robin and me and the thousands of other people who have suffered from clinical depression? I have no idea why I am so sad in this season. I just am deeply, deeply sad, and I don’t know how to fix it.

If Robin was anything like me, he hated the sad part of him. It was the part that drove all the people he loved away. If he was anything like me he believed that when you take away the lights and the creativity and the stage, all you have left is this person that is just as unsure of himself as anyone else is. No one is expecting that person. And so they reject you.

I think what we all need to do for each other and do for ourselves is to accept our paradoxes. To love and accept ourselves and others before we are ever perfect. Because we never will be perfect.

I might say to myself “all right Kate. I am looking at the first side of you, the side that everyone likes. You are creative and musical and loving and wise. I accept and love all of that. But here is the other side, the one you try to hide. This is the side that gets deeply sad at times and has a hard time trusting and is rarely at peace. This is the side that people don’t often like. The side that you think is the reason people reject you. Look at me, weak Kate. You are beautiful too. You are valuable too. I love you. God loves you. You are precious.”

In Esther de Wahl’s book Living with Contradiction: An Intro to Benedictine Spirituality she says “This polarity, this holding together of opposites, this living with contradictions, presents us not with a closed system, but with a series of open doors…We find that we have to make room for divergent forces within us, and that there is not necessarily any resolution of the tension between them. I find it immensely liberating and encouraging to be told that this is the way things are, and that they way things are is good.”

Let me be clear here and say that I don’t think we should live in sin. We should always be trying to move from “glory to glory.” (2 Cor. 3:18.) But while we are striving to be more and more like Christ, we should have compassion on the parts of us that we don’t like. We should also do the same for others.

Last year, for about two months, I went through a horrible depression, worse than anything I had ever experienced before. There were hard circumstances, but nothing that could explain how drastic my emotions were. It was obvious that it was less of a circumstantial thing and more of a brain chemistry thing. I had to keep telling myself over and over again “there is something wrong with your body. It won’t be like this forever.”

I was on staff at a church at the time. They were incredibly supportive through this depression, but I still felt the need to hide. I was afraid people would say “how could she be this sad if she is trusting in God? Does she even deserve her position of leadership?” For the most part, I put on a fake smile and led worship without anyone knowing. I wonder how many times Robin Williams did the same thing?

I can say firsthand that our Christian culture often puts a lot of pressure on people to be happy. Just pray more. Just trust more. They joy of The Lord is your strength. Have more faith and you will be healed.

It is this kind of rhetoric that makes people hide their pain. It is this kind of thinking that over time produces inauthentic communities. It is this kind of pressure that eventually could lead to things as drastic as Robin Williams’ death.

If we are not careful to accept the paradoxes of the people we love, we will produce an entire generation that hides behind our happy facebook status’, like this guy…

http://youtu.be/wiVFAefJqh0

To end this post, I’d like you to close your eyes for a while. Think about your own paradoxes. Think about the things in you that you dislike. The reasons you believe people have rejected you. Now let God come in and hold you. Let him tell you that you are accepted and loved and treasured, even in you weakest places.

We don’t want people in our churches despairing like Robin did. So let’s create a culture where we love ourselves and love each other, paradoxes and all.

Going to Oregon….

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Hey friends! I am very last minute going to Oregon to do some ministry to new age people at a yoga festival at the end of the month.  In order to pay for the trip I need to get some shows or speaking engagements. I would prefer either Ashland OR. or Eugene OR or other places nearby. I also might be able to head down to Redding, CA if I rent a car.  If anyone knows of anything in Portland I could potentially fly in there instead of Eugene.

I can guest lead worship, do a house concert (I love them!) and/or lead a day retreat and I can work with any budget at all. Let me know if you are interested or if anyone wants to donate frequent flyer miles that would also be great! 

 

Go to katehurley.com and hit the contact button to get a hold of me. 

 

Thanks!

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?