I’m My Own Siamese Twin

Twins

You may see the title to this post and think “hmmmm…..what’s this? Strangely fascinating realityTV show?”

No. It’s an odd but potentially helpful analogy.

Just roll with it, people.

To help you understand the metaphor let’s look at the most famous conjoined twins: Chang and Eng Bunker, from Siam (modern Thailand). They were born in the 1800’s. The term Siamese twins came from these two. They were joined at the sternum. In modern times it would be easy for them to be surgically separated, but at the time there were no such medical advances. The King of Siam ordered to have the twins killed, but their mother refused.

When one twin would eat something sour, the other would taste it. When one was tickled, the other would feel it.

They were in a traveling circus for a season, but then moved to the U.S. and  developed their own entertainment enterprise. They married sisters, and between the two couples, they had 21 children. (Let’s not ponder too long about this…)The wives each had a home and the twins would spend half weeks in each.

Chang had a anger problem while Eng stayed relatively happy and healthy. Chang was an alcoholic but Eng was a teetotaler. This was a sad set of circumstances, because they shared the same liver. When Chang had a stroke on the right side of his body, Eng nursed him back to relative health. Chang finally developed Bronchitis. Eng was healthy up the day of Chang’s death. A doctor tried to separate the two before Eng died, but it sadly was too late. Chang had brought him down.

The reason I have been thinking about conjoined twins the last few days is that I went on a solitude retreat this week. Every book I chose to read, every bible verse, every assignment from my spiritual director for inner healing, all challenged me to overcome my nasty seasonal habit of being mean to myself. I had not planned for this theme to be so woven through the week, it just happened.

Apparently, God wants to teach me the art of being kind to myself.

As I was reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning, I came across this paragraph:

“That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ, all these are undoubtably great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.

But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself- that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness- that I myself am the enemy that must be loved- what then?”

This resonated deep within me. I am a kind person. Leaders have specifically told me that kindness and encouragement are two of my greatest gifts. I truly see the best in people.

I have given a lot of my life to help people see their giftedness, their beauty, their worth. It is a central theme in my volunteer work with youth and homeless, my music, my writing, and at the retreats and YWAM bases I have taught at.

What I realized this week is that the only person in my life that I don’t consistently see as valuable or beautiful, the only person that I am often unkind to

is me.

Whether it be my physical appearance or wrong decisions or romantic slights from men, I turn to being unkind to myself like an addiction at times.

I distinctly remember one of my best friends saying after a breakup in which I vocalized my lack of self worth “Kate, stop being so mean to my friend! If a guy in your life was treating you the same way you are treating yourself right now, I would want to punch him in the face.”

Wow. Point taken.

It seems that I have two sides to myself, my own Siamese twins that live inside of me. I have Chang, the one who lives in my psyche, who is unhealthy and sometimes mean and often feeds addictions. Then I have Eng, who lives in my soul, who is beautiful and confident and sees herself as valuable.

Chang is often so unkind to Eng that my soul starts to lose it’s radiance.

The truth is, if I were another person and I met Kate, I would like her. She would be one of my closest friends. I would think she was pretty and fun and creative. But something about being inside of my own body, being privy to my thoughts, something about that leads me to look at myself differently than I look at anyone else.

As I wrestled with these thoughts this week, I realized that shame is the root of this kind of thinking.

As Brene Brown says, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

There is something in human nature that says “I am not worthy of love, and here is why…”

If I don’t do the hard work of loving myself as much as I love other people, Chang is going to take Eng down, just like Chang took his twin brother to his death bed with him.

How can we escape this downward spiral of self deprecation?

First of all, it is so important to realize that God never called us to hate or even dislike ourselves, despite what some of our theology has suggested over the centuries. I’ve seen a bumper sticker that says:

Jesus first

Others second

Yourself last

I’m sorry to break it to you, Corporate Christian entities that be, but that bumper sticker is not necessarily biblical. Jesus says very explicitly to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength, “and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31.) Not more than yourself. As yourself. It is a balancing act.

The more you learn to love your neighbor, the more you will learn to love yourself. Conversely, the more you accept yourself, even in your weakness, the less judgemental you will be towards others.

Does this mean that we go out drinking and sleep around and buy stuff off of the home shopping network because we love ourself? No. That is not love. That is trying to anesthetize the pain that comes from not being loved, either by ourselves or by other people.

We can’t control if other people love us, but we can control how kind we are to ourselves. We can control how we bring healing to those unloved places.

I had a friend who wrote down all of the commandments that Jesus ever said. The command that he said the most is very surprising. Can you guess what it is?

“Be healed” which can be also be translated as “Be made whole.”

The concordance defines whole as without deviation, someone who is sound in body and mind. The dictionary defines it as an an unbroken or undamaged state.

Becoming unbroken and undamaged takes the hard work of repairing. It takes time. To love yourself, you need to work with God to be made whole.

Lastly, you need to try not to hate even the broken side of yourself while you are healing. Chang probably came into being to try to protect you, even in your childhood. You need to bring that part of your soul to Jesus. Let him tell you that you are beautiful and valuable, even in your weakest parts.

I am tired of this duality living in me. I want to love being alone because I like my own company. I want to truly see myself as God sees me and as my friends see me. A beautiful, loving, creative person who is a joy to be with. I want to be made whole.

So next time you see a torn look on my face, putting a finger in the air and saying “Chang, it’s time to meet your Maker!!” You will know that I’m not crazy. Instead, you will know that I am trying to transform from my inner Siamese twin into a whole person.

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Me and My (Betty White) Pheromones

betty white

“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!)

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.)

The Stories We Build For Ourselves

I recently heard a radio show that told the story of a man who came to the states as an immigrant when he was a child. A teacher saw how brilliant he was and brought him to a special school, which in turn got him a scholarship to Harvard.

 The main gist of the show was that this man didn’t tell the story from the perspective of “I’m a genius, I got what I deserved because of my hard work.” He chose another story, a story that involved extreme gratefulness for all of the people that had contributed to his happiness as a person.

His wife said that he is the most positive person she has ever met. That when he gets news, even hard news, she sees him choose how he will respond to it. That he will respond to it with the attitude of “my life is beautiful no matter what.” What a concept: that our attitudes don’t have to be something that are forced upon us but are something we choose.

Listen to this beautiful quote:

“These stories we tell about ourselves, they’re almost like our infrastructure. Like railroads or highways. We can build them almost any way we want to, but once they’re in place, this whole inner landscape grows up around them. So maybe the point here is that you should be careful about how you tell your story. Or at least conscious of it. Because once you’ve told it, once you’ve built the highway, it’s just very hard to move it. ”

I heard this and started thinking about my infrastructure, the one I have built for myself over the years. The story that I tell and the story that I live in.

I have had some disappointing things happen this week. I got my hopes up- and they came crashing down. I did things that I regretted and have been obsessing over them.  And the story, the infrastructure, that I have built around myself is crashing in on me, suffocating me.

Here are some of the stories I have told myself:

I am a victim.

Everyone who I love leaves me.

No one likes what they see when they really get to know me.

My mind is not healthy.

I am alone. I will always be alone.

Honestly, some of these infrastructures are not my fault. They were built up when I was a child. The truth is, humans helped build my story and hurt me deeply, building up my ideas of who I am and what the world looks like.

But now that I am an adult, I can give myself a new story, especially if I work hard every day to change the story I was given when I was young. I may have been a victim as a child, but now that I am an adult I am a volunteer. I am the only one who can tear down the old stories and can retell them and make them beautiful.

It takes a lot of work to do this. We need to bravely tear our way through these walls that are built up around us. We must tell ourselves “God never leaves you.” “You are beautiful” “I am thankful for my life.” Even when things are at their darkest, it is our choice.

Deuteronomy 30:19 says “Today 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.”

One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is what am I doing today, this very day, to choose life as the infrastructure I am building? Infrastructures are built one brick at a time, and every day we add onto it, for the good or for the bad.

What story will you choose to live in today?

A Question Of Beauty

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In my adolescent years, I looked like a boy. Seriously. As in people asked me what sex I was. Not to hurt me, they just really couldn’t tell.

One time I was entering the women’s bathroom and a woman said “You can’t go in there!” And I said, “Why not?” She replied, “Because it’s the woman’s room!” “I am a girl!” I answered. She looked shocked, I felt stupid, and it has been stuck in my psyche ever since.

After my boyish years, I grew to be pretty confident about my looks. I am not a stunning beauty, but I think most people would say that I am pretty. I know this isn’t the norm for most women, but I didn’t think about my looks that much, even in my teenage years. I had fleeting thoughts about my ample child bearing hips or the annoying white eyelashes that are bestowed on most redheads. So I just covered up my thighs with flowing skirts, my lashes with mascara, and went on with my life.

But the last few months, things have changed. I have been taking a medication for sleeping that is making me gain weight. I have gained about 15 pounds in the last 6 months, and most of it is in my stomach. My stomach! My flat stomach! Why have you left me, oh sweet belly of mine?

I can’t believe how much I have been thinking about this. It is on my mind often. I don’t like looking down to see my precious little muffin top protruding ever so slightly over my jeans. I have had a really hard time looking at pictures of myself, making sure to delete ones on Facebook where I look fat. I pull back the skin on my face to see what I would look like if I had my cheekbones back. “There are children dying of starvation and you are obsessing about fifteen pounds!” I say to myself. “Stop being so self absorbed!” And yet, for some reason, I can’t seem to shake these thoughts.

The problem is exacerbated even more because I was so skinny when I was sick with lyme disease a few years back. I was 35 pounds lighter, but I was sickly skinny. And yet, I felt powerful when I was skinny. People who didn’t know I was sick would say “You look better than I’ve ever seen you!” I wanted to say “dude, I am practically on my death bed!” But for some reason, skinny equaled beautiful in their eyes. And I liked that, even in my sick state.

Now that I’m healthy but heavier, am I still beautiful?

The truth is, I am beautiful, but I have forgotten that I’m beautiful.

I am not alone. We Americans spend a lot of money to feel attractive. The average American woman will spend $15,000 on make up in her life time. Americans spent $10.4 billion on plastic surgery in 2011. That is more that the gross domestic product of nations such as Chad and Suriname. The weight loss market is an even huger number. It is worth nearly $70 billion dollars. That is $200 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

Some of these investments make sense, when you think about how much beauty is put on a pedestal in our culture. Would any of us read People magazine if it was filled with stories about ugly people? No one would bother. If Ryan Gosling’s character in The Notebook was ugly and fat, we would not think that his gestures of love towards Ally were romantic. We would think that he was a stalker.

In Khaled Hosseini’s book And the Mountains Echoed there is a character named Thalia whose face has been hideously malled by a dog, so she always wears a veil on her face. Her best friend Marcos, who is appalled by her at first, gets to know her and sees how beautiful she is. She slowly feels more accepted by him, until finally, she takes the veil off her face permananently. Marcos grows up to become a plastic surgeon. He says

“I learned that the world doesn’t see the inside of you. That it doesn’t care a whit about the hopes and dreams and sorrows that lay masked beneath skin and bone. It was as simple and absurd and cruel as that. My patients knew this. They saw that much of what they would be or could be hinged on the symmetry of their bone structure, the space between their eyes, their chin length, the tip projection of their nose, whether they had an ideal nasofrontal angle or not. Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly. ”

He’s right. Beauty is something we have almost no control over, and yet it is something we judge other people with on a regular basis, something we judge ourselves with so harshly.

What do we do with this insatiable, sometimes ravenous desire to be beautiful?

In Psalm 45:11, it says “The King is enthralled by your beauty. Honor him, for he is your Lord.”

The dictionary defines enthrall as “To hold spellbound, captivate.” God is captivated, spellbound, with our beauty. And what are we to do with that? Tell him that he is wrong? Tell him that he did a bad job when he created us? No. We are to honor him.

When you honor someone, you stand in reverence of their perspective. You take that perspective as your own. Therefore, it honors him when we say “you think I’m beautiful? Then I will believe that I am beautiful, no matter what the world says.”

If I were to see the painting of an artist and say “That is the ugliest painting I have ever seen!” would that glorify the artist? Of course not! The painting is a reflection of the heart of the artist. When we see and say that the painting is beautitful, we honor the one who painted it. The same is true of us. When we see ourselves and others as beautiful, when we even use our words to reflect the truth that we are beautiful, we are glorifying God.

I will end with this last story. One day I was going through some difficult memories in my mind, trying to ask God where he was in those memories.  The memory came to me of kids in my fourth grade class making fun of me because I looked like a boy.  I said “God, what did you see when you saw me then?” I thought he would tell me that I looked like Angelina Jolie in his eyes or something. But no. He said “you were so so very beautiful to me, Kate. Exactly the way you looked right then. You were and are so beautiful.”  I had a hard time believing him.

But faith is all about believing things that can’t see, right? Maybe I can’t always see that I am beautiful, but I need to have faith that it is true.

Why? Because the King is enthralled by my beauty. If he says that I’m beautiful, it is the truth. I am beautiful.

Let’s have some discussions about this. What kind of insecurities have you gone through about your looks? Why do you think looks are so important to us as human beings? For those of you who have been told you are physically beautiful your whole life, how has that shaped the way you acted or seen yourself? Do you feel like you always hade to keep up the way you look or people will reject you?  For those of you who have felt ugly or fat, how do you think your life  would be different if you were “beautiful” or slimmer?

In Response to the Death of Rick Warren’s Son: My Battle With Depression

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I have thought about writing a post like this for a while. But I kept shying away from it. It seemed so risky.

Risky because I didn’t know how you would respond.

Risky because some of you might believe I don’t trust God.

Risky because people I know and love read my blog and might look at me differently.

Risky because I am a Christian minister of the Gospel. I am not supposed to feel this way.

But after the son of Rick Warren took his life this week, I feel like it is needed.

Henri Nouwen said “what is most personal is most universal.”I love that quote because it gives me courage to say what I have to say, knowing that many of you out there are in the same place. You need to know you are not alone.

So here it is: I have struggled on and off with clinical depression since I was fourteen years old. It is a disease I inherited from my father, who self medicated for many years. I feel so much compassion for my dad, because he never even knew that he needed help. He just thought that he was incredibly sad and that there was nothing he could do about it except self medicate. I am at least blessed enough to recognize that there is something physically wrong with my body, that I don’t have to live like this if I don’t want to, and that I can escape a life of addiction by getting the help I need.

If you knew me, you would be really surprised that I struggle with this. Most people have no idea. As my roommate said to me, it’s not that I hide it, it’s that I fight hard to see that it doesn’t take over my life or ruin my relationships. That’s why people don’t often know.

My first bout with the depression was in middle school. My family was in shambles. My friends at school had all abandoned me. In my mind, I had no reason left to live. I had suicidal thoughts and cried all the time.

Thankfully, about a year later some wonderful believing friends came in and became like family to me, introducing me to Jesus.

I thought that was the end of my depression. I was wrong.

In college, I went through the worst bout of depression I have ever suffered through after a bad break up. I would cry for hours at a time. I would even hit my head on the wall sometimes without wanting to. I didn’t know how to control these emotions. They seemed to overtake me.

Then, I had a life changing experience in Mexico, where God told me that as many times as the ocean waves kept crashing to the shore, that’s how many times he would heal me. I believed him. It changed my life.

That story became my testimony for ten years. I have told that story a hundred times. It always ended it with “I threw away my medication, and I have never been depressed again.”

But I was wrong. That wasn’t the end of my depression.

I felt small bouts of depression throughout those ten years, but I would push them away. These are just attacks of the enemy, I thought. If I just say the right words, (in the name of Jesus! Do not be anxious for anything!) everything will be ok. The leaders in my life supported this kind of thinking. Any time I ever mentioned medication, people looked at me like I was crazy. Of course you don’t need to do that, Kate! Jesus is your everything! Just step into the joy he has already given you! So I tried and tried to do that. It just didn’t always work.

Some time in the middle of those ten years I contracted Lyme disease. I was very sick for seven years, as a lot of you know. The worst symptom was extreme insomnia.  I would go four nights without sleeping day or night, sleep for three hours the next night, then go another four nights. It was like this for six years. It was horrible.

I thought this insomnia was just a symptom of the Lyme disease and that it would go away now that the Lyme disease is cured. But I found out from a psychiatrist recently that the insomnia that was initially from the Lyme disease  actually jacked up the chemicals in my brain until I was suffering from a more permanent disease called cyclothymia. This disease can make me depressed during the day and then revs my brain up so much that I can’t sleep.  Cyclothymia was not a disease that was in conjunction with my inherited depression. It was ON TOP of the other depression, two totally different diseases.

I finally realized that the problems were so bad that I needed to get medication. When I got on the right medication, I started sleeping through night for the first time in years.

Did I stop loving God when I started taking medication? No. Did I stop trusting that God could be my everything and my joy? No. I still love God, just like someone with cancer still loves God when they choose to use radiation.

I have read before that if David were alive today, he would probably have been diagnosed with bipolar. He was an extreme, brilliant man who went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. All symptoms of mental illness. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart. In the midst of David’s bouts of highs and lows he prayed this prayer:  “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5)

David talks to his soul as if it is another person, and I understand that, somehow. My soul feels separate from my true self. My soul is the part of me that gets so sad that I can barely handle it. My soul is the part that feels like I have no hope. But my soul is not all of me. I may never be able to make the sadness go away, but the sadness is not who I  am.

Maybe I can say, like David “Soul, I love you, but you are not the boss. My spirit is the boss. And my spirit says that we are going to get through this. My spirit says that it is not time to give up. My spirit says that we can keep praising God in the midst of our sorrow.”

Are those words a secret formula that will make a physical illness go away? No. They do however depict this truth: even in the midst of emotions that feel out of control and horrible we can still choose hope. We can try to find our spirit in the midst of our soul and ask that spirit to be strong. The sad part of us needs to be loved, but it does not need to be fed. We can visit the same places, but we don’t have to stay there as long.

(If you haven’t read my poem “You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are”  which is actually a response to my battle with depression, you should now, especially if you have similar struggles.)

I want you to look at me, now. I am a worship leader on staff at a church. I have a blog you read. I am an author. I make music and tour. I look totally strong and pretty dang successful. But I have all of this going on inside of me.

How many other people do you think are struggling with hidden depression and other mood disorders in your very own church? My psychiatrist has told me that half the population will have suffered through some kind of depression or other mood disorder in their life. That’s a lot of people hiding a lot of pain. We as the church need to make a safe place so that people feel like they can come forward and heal.

The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book says “When we are crushed by a crisis we could
not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that
either God is everything or else He is nothing. Choose.”

Tragedies make us choose. There is a door of opportunity that has opened before us because of the horrible death Rick Warren’s son.  We as a church can choose  to keep ignoring the problem of mental illness, or we can collectively turn around, our arms open wide, and welcome those that have felt ostracized for years.

Side note: If you didn’t read the last post, my book is here! I think you will love it! You can buy it by clicking the “My Book” tab at the top of this page.

You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are

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You are stronger than you think you are.

You, your hands dirtied with the soil where you till up the rocks of generations gone by. Your tears watering the ground, making the roots grow deep and wide while you are unaware. You labor, you dig, you claw this tiny piece of land where others buried their dreams and gave up trying. But not you. You keep going. You never give up. You see the tree in the seed, and you will fight until that tree is standing before you, it’s long willowing arms grasping your hope in its branches.

You are stronger than you think you are.

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

You are stronger than you think you are.

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

Look into my face and believe me now. You are stronger than you think you are. Stronger than you think you are.

Side note: I reached 100,000 hits this week and the book is going to the printers! Thank you so much for all your support and love. It is a bright spot in my world.

Do I Really Need A Minivan In The Game Of Life?

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I was playing cards with my little friend Isabella the other day. We were playing Old Maid.

You know the game: each person has a set of cards. You draw from the other player, and lay down the pairs that you find. Twos twos twos. There is a sense of anticipation every time a card is drawn from the other player’s hand. Who will pair up next?

Another pair, and another pair, and another pair. Each laid down, one right next to the other.

There was one card left in my hand at the end of the game. The Old Maid. The card had a picture an older woman surrounded by cats. Apparently cats are the only creatures that will live with single ladies that are mature in age.

Isabella pointed at me and said “Look Kate! You have the Old Maid! That means you are the loser.

I didn’t know what to do with this statement, or with this game. I don’t usually mind losing games to five year olds. But I was a little more sensitive about losing this time. “Am I the loser?” I thought.

I decided to lean more about the history of the game. Here’s what I found out: it is a very old victorian game. There are versions around the world, many with different names. In Brazil, it goes by the flattering name Stink. The English version is called Scabby Queen, a name brings up even worse images than the picture of the American cat lady. And my personal favorite, the French version that is known as Le Pouilleux, which means the louse. Just in case you don’t know what that is, it’s a parasitic insect. Another word for louse is cootie. Awesome.

In my research, I also found pictures of some vintage Old Maid games. My favorite was a 1940‘s deck that had wonderful cartoons of very attractive curvy women. One woman was riding on an airplane. Another was surfing. A third looked like a successful business lady.

The Old Maid? A little old single lady, sitting in a rocking chair knitting, which is quite appropriate, since that is where the word spinster comes from. One who spins. It seems that single people who are a little older have nothing better to do than sit in a rocking chair and knit some booties for their favorite nephew.

A few weeks after this incident, I was playing another game with my ten year old friend, Collin. The Game Of Life. This game has versions of it dating all the way back to 1860. It has a track in which players move in little plastic cars through various life scenarios. Consequently, in the late 80’s the game changed the car from a convertible to a Chrysler-esque minivan.

“Wait a second.” I said to Collin. “What if I want a four wheel drive Subaru instead of a minivan?” Collin retorted “you have to have a mini van in the game of life.”

Well, I realized, it makes sense that you need to have decent leg space in your car, since you have to put your growing family in it.

This family is acquired towards the beginning of the game, when you hit a stop sign in front of a three dimensional chapel. It is here that you must get married and put a new blue or pink peg beside you in your minivan.  I looked at Collin and said “Hey, what if I don’t want to get married? Or what if, by some crazy turn of circumstances, it just doesn’t happen for me?” Collin gave me a quizzical look and said, “You can’t do that Kate! You have to get married in the game of life.”

It’s true. I did. If I didn’t, I would be stuck at the beginning of the game. Forever. I gave in, but mostly because you get $5,000 worth of wedding gifts on the next space.

At the end of the game, the bank paid out money for various things. I wasn’t at all surprised that you received a decent amount for each child that you were able to raise in your minivan. It seems that in the game of life, he who dies with the most kids gets the most cash.

Really, Milton Bradley? Really?

These are some of the stereotypes that are placed in our minds at a very young age, and I admit I can relate to some of them. Like the Old Maid, I have seen my friends pair up two by two. I am not as old as she is, but I am in my thirties, which is pretty old to be single, especially in Christian circles. And yes, I do put my knitted creations on etsy.

But that’s where the similarities stop. I hate cats, I have many other things to do with my time than sit in a rocking chair, and I am really, honestly, not a loser.

Those are good signs that I am not really an Old Maid, right?

There are also things in The Game of Life that I can relate to. I often feel like society says to me “You’re not married? You don’t have children? How could you possibly ride around in your plastic car with one lonely plastic peg in it? Is there something wrong? Are you going to get stuck at the beginning of life and never move on to the rest of your game because of your singleness?”

At this point, I have no idea if I will ever get married. I have stopped trying to control it. I do know that I want to make a new game of life. One in which I can go anywhere I want to go, even if no one is with me in the plastic minivan.

Anyone else out there have childhood memories that made it feel like being married was the only thing that would bring happiness or value to your life?

Regarding My New Super Human Calves

I have never been a super athletic person.

I was the one in gym class who would cry during games of dodgeball. (I think I would still cry as an adult, too. It is a freaky game.)

I was the one who was picked last for all team sports.

I was the one who threw a bat backwards by mistake, hitting Pam Dispense in the head and sending her to the hospital.

Yeah. I was that kid.

The one thing I was good at was dancing. So the only time I wouldn’t dread PE was when we were square dancing or doing the popcorn dance.

As an adult, even though I love to hike and backpack and am a Zumba instructor, I have quietly avoided most other athletic endeavors. (Being a Zumba instructor makes sense though, since it is so closely related to the popcorn dance.)

But lately I’ve been riding my bike a lot.

This makes me pretty proud, especially because I have always been jealous of bikers. I see them on the side of the road with their tiny little spandex and their super human calves and I think “I wish I could be that cool.”

One day I remembered a friend telling me that I should always pay attention when I am jealous of someone. It usually means they are doing something that I am afraid of. Something I should be brave and do myself.

So I overcame my fear and started biking when I lived in San Francisco. I rode it everywhere. It was one of my favorite things about living in that city. Now that I’m back in Boulder my friend Estee has been taking me on mountain bike rides. I’ve been going almost every other day.

I am honestly still not that good. In fact, I think I closely resemble the girl in the above picture.

But I absolutely love it.

Lately though, I’ve been taking note of what is happening in my head as I’m riding. What I am often thinking about is how people will believe I’m more awesome now that I go on bike rides so often.

I am pondering who I can take with me so they will be impressed by my awesomeness.

When I come home and my roommates ask me what I did that day, I say “Oh, I was just on a bike ride. Again.

And I realize that I am trying to feel valued and seen because of what I do. Not because of who I am.

This is not a new thing. I have lived a lot of my life wanting people to notice things that I am good at, especially guys that I wanted to impress.

I worked at a camp in Colorado for years and years. I have never felt so in my element in all of my life as when I worked at that camp.  Other counselors called me “The Legend.” I loved reaching out to my campers and seeing their lives changed. I loved playing chubby bunnies with them, even if it did mean that they were on the verge of choking at any given moment. I loved singing them to sleep. I have been in touch with some of them for over a decade. I absolutely loved it.

I also loved Bryan, the guy in the blue teepee across the way. And Sam in the red tepee. And I also kind of liked Ben, who helped me start my fires in the morning. Even though my love for the kids was sincere, I was also very aware that being great with kids was something that these handsome counselors had on their what I want in a wife list.

I found out many years later that a lot of those guys secretly really liked helping me light my fires. Sadly, they never asked me out. Maybe I was too much of a legend and scared them off.

Soon after, I became a professional songwriter and worship leader and played in churches and bars and coffee shops and Rainbow Gatherings. I worked hard to write songs that would bring the hope of Jesus without sounding churchy and religious. I sang songs to broken people, comforting them. I wanted to change people’s lives by painting an accurate picture of God to people who had misunderstood him.

But I also wanted to look hot playing my guitar. It is embarrassing to admit that, but its’ true.

I have mentioned before that one of my biggest fears is that people will like me on stage or while I’m teaching or on this blog but will be disappointed in me in real life. And yet, my constant cognizance of other people’s opinions of me is feeding into that fear. It is feeding the lie that I will only be loved for what I do or how talented I am, not for who I am.

Yesterday, as I was riding my bike, I started thinking about flowers. About how there are so many flowers in the world that no one will ever see. God created them just because he loves to create. Not because he needs to impress anyone. Not because they need to be seen. Just because they are beautiful.

I thought “I am like those flowers. Even if no one notices that I am beautiful, God created me. Therefore, I am beautiful.”

I thought “Even if no one sees the new super human calves that I may have one day, I am still awesome.”

I thought “Right now, in this moment, I want to ride my bike just because I love it. Not for anyone else but me and my God.”

So I did.

It was a very good feeling.

Have you ever had experiences with only feeling loved if you do things right? Of living your life trying to please or impress people? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Just an extra note… I just wanted to let you know I am going to Minneapolis the last week in September for the Christian Community Development Association conference. I am looking for another house show and maybe another church to lead worship at. Maybe even a place to stay. If you live in Minneapolis and are interested will you write a note to me here or send me an email via katehurley.com? Also, Aaron Strumpel and I will be doing an Enter the Worship Circle concert on September 25 at Emmaus Road Church 6719 Cedar Lake Road, St. Louis Park, MN. 55426. 7pm.  I’d love to see you all there!

 

The Great Name Changer

I am may things other than a single woman. Lover of God, lover of people, musician by trade, traveler of the world, teacher, friend, avid reader, overcomer of a seven year chronic disease,  lover of nature, worshipper. But “single” is often what I label myself. I’m writing a book abut it, for heaven’s sake. Sometimes that translates in my mind as “rejected.”

I keep thinking about Jacob, whose name means “Supplanter.” In other words “One who wants to be what he is not.”

Not surprisingly, Jacob lived up to his name. He came out of the womb grasping his twin brother Esau’s heal. It seems that even in the first seconds of his life, Jacob wanted to be the firstborn.  In his mind, he was supposed to be firstborn. He worked the rest of his life to “trick” fate, from coercing his brother to trade his inheritance for red stew, to sticking some fur on his arm to get the birthright from his dad.

My trials look different than Jacob’s. Jacob rehearsed over and over in his head the fact that if he had been born seconds earlier, he would have all that he wanted. I go over and over in my head that if I had never been bit by that Lyme ridden tick, if the doctors hadn’t misdiagnosed my disease over and over again, I wouldn’t have wasted all those year of my life. If I wasn’t tortured by the insomnia I have as a result of the lyme disease infecting my brain, I would have all that I want.  If God just gave me a husband that adores me, I would have all that I want. If I had a family that loved the Lord, I would have all that I want. If my relationships didn’t fail and I was never rejected, I would have all that I want. I too have become “One who wants to be what she is not.”

No matter how hard I try, no matter if I say the right words or do the right things or take enough sleep meds or flirt enough or go on enough dates or even “let go” like all my married friends tell me to do, I can’t control God.

I mourn when I think about how I’ve done this. This is the God that I love. This is my Jesus, the one who has tenderly journeyed with me and been faithful to me every second of my life. The one who bled and died so He could be near me while I can’t sleep at night, while I ache for a husband.

And now, in my pain, I have reduced Him to a genie in a bottle who will grant me my wishes if I rub the right way.  Forgive me Lord, forgive me.

In Genesis 32, we see Jacob come to a place called Jabbok, which means “Empty and Alone.” Here, in this place of aching, of not understanding his circumstances, he wrestles with God.

I want to wrestle with God like Jacob did. To ask Him the hard questions that don’t make any sense. To come to Him as lovers might come together, quarreling so that ultimately they will understand each other more. Not for the sake of being right, but for the sake of intimacy. When I wrestle Him,  He will shatter the boxes I have forced him into like a contortionist street performer. He will transform the way that I see Him, and thus He will transform the way I see myself.

When Jacob and God had wrestled with each other all night, Jacob said “I won’t leave until you bless me.”God could have offered riches, fame, wives, many things. But instead, he offered Jacob a new name. Jacob took up the offer gladly. After being called “the one who wants to be someone else”  every day of his life, he didn’t want to live in that identity any more. He wanted a new identity. God changed Jacob’s name to “Israel.” Israel means “One who wrestles with God.”

He is no longer the Supplanter. He is the One Who Has Met With God.

Even if it is difficult, I want to meet with God like this.  I want my new name, my new identity. When I wrestle Him,He will tell me to ask the hard questions.  He might not give me the answers I want. He might not give me any answers.

But it is His choice. He is God.

In the end I know that I want a God that is free. Not a God that beckons when I pray as if the prayers are like spells I can cast on my life by saying the right words. Not a God that I give my offerings to and He answers my plea like the million trinket gods on streets corners around the world. But a God who is bigger than me, stronger than me, who comes down a ladder to wrestle so that we can be close.

And in my wrestling, I may walk away with a limp like Jacob did. But it is better than pushing Him away.

For in my wrestling I will know the God who opens His heart and all things tender and and all things passionate and all things beautiful flow from Him like water.   We will be touching, and sometimes it will hurt,  but I will be changed. I will not know the answers to all my questions, but I will have seen the face of God. And I will see love in His eyes.

Maybe like Jacob, even my name will be changed. I will no longer be called “single” or “rejected.” Because I will have seen His eyes and I will know the truth…

I will be named Beloved.

What names do you give yourself? Divorced, abandoned, sick, widowed, fatherless, failure?

Not any more. Wrestle with your God and know the truth.

Your name is Beloved.