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?

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Her Name Means Laughter

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Okay, so…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac also means laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Christmas Was Hard This Year…

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There is one Christmas gift that stands out to me more than any of the others I received as a child. It was a beautiful German wedding doll. I remember so clearly looking through the Sears Christmas catalogue and circling that doll with a red marker. Soon after, there was a rectangular shaped Christmas box wrapped under the tree.Through the next few weeks, I would look at the box, trying to decide if it was the right shape and size for my doll. I would hold it in my arms like a baby anticipating what might be inside.

Christmas Eve came, and as was our tradition, we went to the Christmas Eve service and opened presents afterwards. My anticipation had grown and grown over the weeks. For some reason, I felt so much joy when I opened that gift and saw that it was the little doll. It is my most vivid Christmas memory.

Expectation is one of the things that makes Christmas so special. Christmas is not some measly holiday like the fourth of July where you a buy a bunch of sparklers the day before. You take weeks to plan the menu, buy the presents, sing the Christmas carols, put the tree up. You can understand why children get excited. There is an expectation of something magical happening at the end of these weeks. Their wrapped presents bring even more expectation. There are gifts that are right under their noses, but they don’t know what they are. They have to wait in order to find out.

My desire for family, for children, can be seen in that little wedding doll, with her sweet little velvet dress and crowned veil. There has been a present, my most treasured present, under the Christmas tree for a very long time. A present called family.

The expectation over this present grew and grew, especially in my 20s.  But somewhere, after many years, the expectation hit a crescendo and I all but stopped hoping. That present could be empty for all I knew. That present could have the little wedding doll in it, but she might be a disappointment. Or maybe she would bring me great joy. I didn’t know, because all of these years, I was never allowed to open that present.

For some reason, thinking about that doll struck something very deep on me on Christmas this year. I cried when I held my friend’s little boy for a little bit during the Chriistmas Eve service, when he put his little head in the crevice of my neck, in that exact spot where you feel so in love with the child in your arms that your heart is about to explode.

I cried when I drove past my dad’s old house, past the lake where he used to take us iceskating, past the forest where he used to take me to cut down Christmas trees. He died only six weeks ago, and it wass so strange and heartbreaking for me to realize that he really is gone.

I cried when I took a walk through the beautiful snow covered streets of Evergreen where I grew up, missing the puppet shows with my nephews and niece that I used to have who have since moved to North Carolina. Missing the years that I spent with ex-boyfriends with big family gatherings and games and laughter. Missing the husband and children that have not yet been, that may never be. Longing for that like a little girl waking up Christmas morning and seeing that the little rectangular box is gone for some reason that she doesn’t understand.

I couldn’t cry in the house, because my sweet mother sacrificed a lot in this hard financial season to make me and my little brother a wonderful gluten and sugar free Christmas dinner. She tried so hard to make it special for us, and I didn’t want her to have any idea that I was sad. At least I had her to hold on to. Many people don’t even have one person to try to bring joy to their loved ones like the points of hope that look like Christmas lights speckled across the night sky. At least I had that.

I walked back to my house, wiped the tears from my eyes, went upstairs to the very place that I opened that little doll all those Christmases ago, and pulled out my journal. I did what I do every year; made a list of all the gifts that God had given me that year.

There were so many. New friends that had brought me so much joy. Being able to be with family when my father died. Celebrating the life of a dear friend who nearly died but was miraculously spared. This blog, my book, and all the people who have sacrificed to make my dreams happen. Many many gifts. I tried to remember all the gifts that I have been able to open this year, and stop focusing on the one that has been sitting there for so long, the one that I still haven’t been able to open.

Christmas is difficult because it is such a mirror. A mirror of your family, of your life, of all the wishes that you have that are not fulfilled.

All I can say when I write about a Christmas this difficult is that it helped me a lot to be grateful for the gifts in front of me.There will be more Christmases with more gifts to open, and we will all anticipate that coming. There is no anticipation if there is no waiting. There is no fulfillment of joy if there is no waiting. The waiting, the anticipation, is what brings the fulfillment of hope. In the meantime, all we can do is be grateful for the gifts that are in front of us now.

Anyone else have a hard Christmas? It’s okay. Tell us about it. We all need a little family this time of year.

What Married People Wish Single People Knew Part I

One of my post popular posts has been “What Single People Wish Married People Knew,” which you can read here.

I am now going to write a series called “What Married People Wish Single People Knew.”

Let me start this post by saying that I  do struggle with people telling me how hard marriage is, which is the default response when people find out that I am in my thirties and not married. They often feel like it is their duty to warn me of the impending doom that will be mine if I choose matrimony as my life sentence. I usually get very defensive when this happens thinking, “My life can be hard, too! I would give up a lot to have someone choose me. To have children.”

But lately, after seeing more and more friends divorce, I have been thinking it might be wiser for me to listen than to get angry. I should discipline the bratty children named Ego and Arrogance inside my head. I should take to heart the advice of my married friends and learn something that will help me love better whether I get married or not.

Thus, I have decided to interview several couples and several divorced people for my book and I have asked them to share their advice for us single people. My next few posts will talk about some of the best advice I was given.

“Oh no!” you yell. “I trusted you, Kate. How could you make me sit through married-people advice?”

Calm yourself. Paying attention here could save us many years of heartache, and it could greatly benefit the relationships we have now, too.

Take a deep breath. Let’s walk through this together. We will be all right. And it will be worth it.

I want to start this series with an overview entitled I Do Not Get It. 

My brother Will and sister-in-law Marie had twins two years ago. The twins were 8lb 10 oz and 7lb 7oz. That’s sixteen pounds of baby. Inside another human being.

Toward the end of her pregnancy, Marie grew wary of people saying, You look like you are about to burst! or You’re as big as a house! Her belly might not have been as big as a house, but it certainly was as big as a suburban condo. A very attractive, feisty, hippie, suburban condo, might I add.

Along with their twins, Jeremiah and Arowyn, Will and Marie have a beautiful five-year-old with cerebral palsy named John Mark. He is one of the loves of my life. Because John Mark can’t walk, they had three non-walking children for over a year. When Will takes the kids out, he straps one twin into a carrier on his front, he straps one onto his back, and then he sets John Mark in a stroller. Watching Will cart around three babies is as fascinating to watch as it is to watch a woman in Africa putting forty-eight pounds of water on her head.

The twins are now two years old. Last year at Christmastime, I visited this wonderful family. Will and I put on a puppet show on Christmas morning complete with a song called “No Tacos For Christmas” with latino accents. The three kids sat on chairs in front of our home-made puppet theatre and belly laughed for a full hour.

It is during moments like these that I ache for children.

A day or so after the puppet show, we went to the dentist’s office. Marie asked me to watch the twins for about half an hour  while she got her teeth cleaned. I had worked at a daycare for five years, so I didn’t think that watching them would be very difficult.

I was wrong.

Jeremiah crawls crazy fast. I think he could beat most Olympians. His speed made my time at the dentist’s office difficult to say the least. When I held Arowyn, Jeremiah crawled down the hallway at record speeds, straight toward the not-child-proofed dentist’s drills.

When I set Arowyn down to grab her brother, she went speeding down the hallway toward that fun buzzing noise, which was actually someone getting a root canal. Surely a root canal is not a procedure during which a dentist would want an adorable toddler under his feet.

I spent that half hour running down the hallway, picking one baby up and plopping it down in the waiting room, and then running down the hallway again, picking the other baby up and plopping that one down in the waiting room. This went on for what seemed like forever.

Within minutes, I was frazzled. I was perplexed as to how Will and Marie could do this for fourteen hours a day.

Will and Marie barely ever complain about their kids. When asked, they don’t go a on a tyrannical rampage explaining how having twins is harder than surviving the Bubonic plague. (I have heard other people make this analogy about their twins.) In fact, Will and Marie often refer to their children as the most important blessing of their lives. There is power in speaking blessing, even when a child can’t understand those words.

Will and Marie are also super-humanly patient when their children are screaming louder than a bad emo band for nine hours straight.

I often say with a certain air of arrogance that I understand that having a family is difficult. After I spend time with Will and Marie and their kids I realize one important thing:

I. Do. Not. Get. It.

I don’t understand what it is like to live day to day with someone, weaknesses  and all. I don’t understand what it is like to have children vying for my attention every hour of the day, like Will and Marie. I can’t understand it because I haven’t experienced it.

That is one of the reasons I wanted to write this series: so I can get it just a little more.

Okay friends, before I even start, fire away at some of your best married people advice.

PS-I just wanted to add here that you can now get on my newsletter list by clicking on the link at the top right of this page.  You will not get very many of newsletters, maybe one every two months,  and you will get two chapters of my new book before it comes out. Fun!

On The Passing Of My Father

Whenever anyone asks me about my favorite gift that I have ever been given, I always say that it was a piano that my dad gave me when I was about thirteen, just a few years after the difficult divorce of my parents. Dad told me that his roommate had bought a new piano and that I should try it out. I was playing for about ten minutes, when dad said “actually Kate, the piano is for you.” I was very surprised. That gift meant so much to me.

Two weeks ago my dad passed away.

That sentence is loaded with so much emotion that I can barely even write it down. Winsome emotions attached to memories I have as a little girl, sitting in his lap and feeling the rough stubble on his chin against my face. Aching attached to the fact that he was so sad the last few years of his life that it was very difficult to connect with him. Anger that I was not able to say goodbye.

I have often wished that I could have a father that hugged me often and used his words to express that he loved me on a more regular basis. Physical affection and words of encouragement are the ways that I best understand love. Those were not often his ways of expressing love. But I am learning now that his lack of outward affection didn’t mean he didn’t love me. He loved me very deeply. He just expressed it in ways that I didn’t always see or understand.

My dad sold the house he lived in and moved into an apartment just weeks before he died. He didn’t want my brothers and I to have to deal with the mortgage. It seems that he sensed he didn’t have much longer to live.

At first I was angry that dad didn’t invite us into those last few months of his life. I always thought that I would have the deathbed talk that you see in the movies where everything is made right. Where you knew your dad loved you. Where you knew you were a good daughter.

But something I realized after he died was that my dad was loving us even in his last days the way that he knew how to love. He didn’t want to burden us. He didn’t want us to be in pain by seeing him in pain. He wasn’t leaving us out because he didn’t love us. He was leaving us out because he did love us.

I know now why that piano always meant so much to me. It was a picture of the way that my dad loved. He knew that I loved to play and that I didn’t have a piano. So he found one for me. He saw the need and he filled it. That was his way of loving. Now, I can sit down at that piano and accept that gift with deep gratitude. I can accept that this was my dad’s way of loving me.

One of the greatest skills we can learn in life is to try to understand the love languages of the people in our lives. To learn to accept their love as love, even when it doesn’t feel like love to us. To truly believe that it is love despite our missed signals and misconceptions. Really, all of us are trying so hard to love one another but just aren’t always sure how to do it. Wouldn’t it be wise for us to simply realize that the people that are closest to us are trying really really hard to love? Just like we are trying so hard?

There are many ways to wrap a gift. My dad may have wrapped his messily with a brown paper bag and masking tape. I may put flowers and bows on mine. The truth is, one is not better than the other because of the wrapping.

When you open them up they both contain the same thing:

Love.

Do any of you have instances where you realized that someone was loving you even though you didn’t perceive it as love? Any favorite memories of loved ones that you have lost?

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!

 

Marriage Counseling With God

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I was talking to my friend Tom the other day. He is married to one of my best friends, Kate. He was forty years old when he got married. He is pretty shy and has not dated a lot. He had gotten to the point where he thought marriage was not in the cards for him. He decided to start going to a coffee shop just to have more community. Kate worked there and to his surprise, she slipped him her number one day.

At their wedding, he tearfully told us that he had never expected God to give him someone so beautiful, someone who would open his eyes to life in ways he had never imagined. It was very special. They are one of the happiest couples I know.

Last weekend we were talking about my book, and the conversation turned, as it often does, to hearing the phrase if you just let go, your spouse will come (as I discussed in the post What Single People Wish Married People Knew) and how that kind of formulaic thinking can be frustrating at times, especially in your thirties.

Tom said, “you know, I did go through a process of letting go during the season just before I met Kate. It would look like that formula worked for me. But I wasn’t letting go of the desire to get married. I was letting go of my anger at God because I wasn’t married. That is one of the best things I could have done, because it made me a more whole person. That wall being torn down in my life helped draw Kate to me.”

This really struck me, and I’ve been thinking about it all week. I have to admit, I have had to work through a lot of feelings of anger towards God over the singleness issue. More than any other issue in my life by far. I have even had a few yelling matches with him.

To look that anger in the face and deal with it seems more fruitful than saying I let go of my desire to be married. I personally have never felt called to life long celibacy, and to tell God that I am fine with it doesn’t seem to be the best answer to my frustration.

Rather than letting go of being married, I believe it would be better to focus on working through this anger that I have struggled with towards God.

I don’t want to go through this process because it is a formula that will get me a man. I want to go through it because I love God and don’t want walls up between us. God is the most important person in my life. He has walked with me during every trial and joy I have ever gone through. He has been more faithful than any lover could be. He has loved me through all circumstances, even when I have not been faithful. As II Timothy 2:13 says, if we are faithless, he remains faithful.

Sometimes I forget this fierce, relentless love. I know that God is good, but in my limited perception it is sometimes hard to believe in his goodness. I say that I trust him, but do I really?  Do I secretly tell him that I will trust him once I have a family, because it is then that I will know he loves me?

That is not trust at all. Trusting is believing in his goodness even when our lives don’t turn out the way we thought they would.

It might be wise for me to do a little marriage counseling with God. I may even have to forgive him. Forgiving God seems like a weird concept, because he is God. By his very nature, he hasn’t done anything wrong. But we have to admit that in our limited perception of him we haven’t always been able to understand his goodness.  To understand why life is not what we thought it would be. We need to “forgive” him for that.

Working through this anger could tear down walls that will draw people to us, just like in Tom’s situation. I’m not saying that this is a formula for finding your spouse. It just doesn’t work that way. But I do believe that healthy people are often attracted to healthy people, while broken people are often attracted to broken people. We all have some level of brokenness, but we can work hard to be as healthy as possible.

If you have done the hard work of being emotionally  healthy, especially in your relationship with God,  you will most likely attract other people that have also done that work. They will see the strong, trusting, peaceful person that is a result of that work, and they will want to walk alongside someone that beautiful.

What has your process of trust looked like? Have you ever been angry at God? How has the emotional work you have done changed the way that people are drawn to you?

The Case For Thankfulness

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“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, thank you, that would suffice. ” ~Meister Eckhart

This morning, I went to ride my bike along Coal Creek trail, which is about thirty feet from my house. The weather was perfect. The sun was lighting up the lush scenery like an ethereal baptism. I could hear the rush of the creek beside me and it sounded like hope.

And there were gnats. Lots of lots of gnats. Like millions of them. I would be enjoying the ride until I would hit pockets of the tiny little nuisances. They would smack me in the face like a sultry woman in a bad soap opera.

I kept thinking “Dang it! This ride would be perfect if it weren’t for the gnats.” It is all I could think about the whole ride, even debating in my head why a good God would create annoying bugs that sometimes ruin my outdoor experiences.

I stopped at my J tree by the water, which is, as expected, a tree that looks like a J.

Still frustrated with those gnats, I leaned against my tree and breathed in deep.

It’s a funny thing, air. It always surrounds us, but we seldom ever remember that it’s there. We take it for granted. Literally, we think that it has been granted to us, rather than gifted to us. Every once in a while, though, we stop, open up out lungs, and feel the oxygen rushing through our body, giving us life. We momentarily remember this gift that has been given to us every second since we were born.

I started thinking what a blessing it was to have this breathtaking landscape so close to my home, waiting for me to explore it. Then I started to remember how good it felt to breathe after a bike ride. I was reminded of a time, years ago, when I was floating in water and noticed my heart beating. I felt like God said to me “Kate, I didn’t just start your heart when you were born and then forget about it. Every time that it beats, I am consciously making it beat. That is how intimately involved I am with your life.”

That started me thinking about my body, a body that was in constant pain and exhaustion only a few years ago. A body that was much to sick to ride a bike.

There are two things that I have prayed for more than anything else in my life. The first prayer was (and still is) for a happy family. The second was for my body to be healthy again when I was sick.

Most of the latter prayers were desperate and hopeless. I didn’t know if they would ever be answered.

And here I was sitting on my J tree, breathing deep. Incredibly healthy, no constant pain in my joints, no exhaustion, sleeping through the night every night for the last week. Riding a bike.

I breathed in deep the air of God’s goodness.

One of the two most important prayers of my life  has been answered in abundance. But with the challenges and the business of the days since my healing, I have forgotten. Often, I have let my unanswered prayers overshadow my answered prayers. Sitting by the water, breathing in the crisp air, I stopped to remember the ones that God has answered.  And I was thankful.

On my ride back, I started smiling. Probably the most I’ve smiled in a long time..

I ignored what happened next, reminding myself to floss when I got home.

In the worship song Come Fall On Us, written by some friends of mine, it says A thankful heart prepares the way for you my God.

I have thought of that line several times when I’ve worshipped, because it’s so true. I know that God will come whether we are thankful or not. But it’s really hard to see God when we are focused on what we don’t have. It’s hard to see beauty when all we are thinking about is gnats.

On my bedside, I have a vase that is full of stones. On every stone, I have affixed a picture. For every season of my life, I have one stone with a picture that represents that season, and another that represents what God taught me in that season.

During my depression in college (a picture of girl crying) I learned that God would heal and restore me as many times as the waves crashed to the shore, the promise he made to me during that time (a picture of a lighthouse.)

During the season of my sickness (a picture of a tick) I understood more what it meant to be loved and to depend on those that I love (a picture of a girl holding a heart balloon.)

After writing a letter extending forgiveness to someone who greatly hurt me (a picture of a letter in a mailbox) I learned that God’s forgiveness of me and my forgiveness of others puts me in a place where I can’t be bound up by anything, a place where I am truly free (a picture of a girl with long red hair dancing with abandon.)

These stones are my ebenezer. This was the name of the altar the Israelites built after they won back Ark of the Covenant, the very presence of God, from the Phillisitnes, who had stolen it many years earlier. The Ark was their most precious possession. To win it back meant everything to them.

Literally translated, ebenezer means stone of help.

God is always present with us, but sometimes it feels like he has been stolen. For seasons at a time, because of the limited perception of our trials, it can be very difficult to enter into that holy place. But we can’t simply wait for the victory in order to be thankful. Often, being thankful is what brings the victory. 

Samuel set a stone up in that place and said “It is here that the Lord has helped us.” (I Samuel 7:12.) He set this stone up as a time to pause and say, “God, thank you for what you’ve done.”

God has walked this journey with me every step of the way. There are stones that mark the trials of my life, but there are also stones that match those trials with wisdom gained, with life lived, with trust for the one who never stops walking with me. He has always been faithful. And he’s not going to stop now.

As Jean Baptiste of Massieu said, “Gratitude is a memory of the heart.”

I remember today God, I remember.

(Excuse me while I go floss. )

The God Who Knows

One of the stories that has ministered the most to me in this season of being single is the story of Hannah in I Samuel 1.

Hannah couldn’t have any children. Her husband would come to her and say “Hannah why are you weeping? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you then ten sons?”

Though she knew that her husband loved her, she still mourned over what she did not have. She longed for a child.

Hannah’s name means “Beautiful” or “Passionate.” We see that her name was very befitting to her. She went to the temple and she made a vow to the Lord. She said “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery, and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”

In the course of time, God answered Hannah’s prayer. She conceived and bore a son and named him Samuel. Samuel means “God heard me.”

When her son was born, she worshiped God with this beautiful prayer:”My heart rejoices in the Lord… I delight in your deliverance. The Lord is a God who knows….He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.”

In the next few years Hannah conceived three sons and two daughters, but she kept her promise to God with her first son. Samuel grew up in the temple. As Ray Hughes says “Samuel had come from a place of worship, and now Hannah wanted him to live in a place of worship. ”

Samuel became the bridge of the old era to a new era, because he was considered the last judge of Israel and the first prophet of Israel.  The political atmosphere of Israel completely changed with Samuel. It went from a place where judgement ruled to a place where listening and responding to God ruled. Just as God did not judge Hannah but listened to her, Samuel was able to access a God who did not only judge, but listened.

A nation was changed forever. And it all came from a hurting woman who didn’t hide her disappointment with God, but poured it out to him.

About eight years ago, I bought a dining room table from a thrift store for my birthday. The table was very dusty, but when I rubbed off some of the dust, I saw how beautiful it was. In my mind’s eye, as clear as day,   I saw myself sitting with a family around that table. I saw us talking about our day. I saw friends that had come over and were having deep conversations over dinner. I saw children running around, playing hide and go seek, laughing.

I bought that table as a gift of hope to myself. I had great expectations that those those things would happen around that very table.

Recently, I had to sell that table.  That was more than a table to me. It was attached to my dreams. Nearly a decade after buying the table, those dreams did not come to pass. They were sold at a garage sale for a couple hundred bucks.

I believe that when that table was sold, God did for me what he did for Hannah. He did not mock my sadness over a piece of furniture. He knew it was not a little thing to me. He knew that I was disappointed, and He let me mourn.

God did not say to Hannah “You are so ungrateful! You have a husband that loves you. Isn’t that enough?” (As her husband points out.) Or “Be still my child. Know that I am God. I and only I am to fill this empty place in you.”

No, God did not answer her in that way. He heard her prayer. He heard the cry of her heart and He knew.

When God talks to me he calls me Katie Girl. Writing that name makes me teary, because it brings to mind an entire lifetime of journeys that I have walked with the Lord. I know my Father’s heart when I hear that name. I remember how much He loves me when I hear that name.

Recently, I was journaling out what I was hearing from God, like a letter from him. It is  something I often do when I need to hear his tender voice. I had just experienced a difficult rejection from someone that I care deeply about, and I was weeping much like Hannah wept. I asked Him the question I have asked more than any other in my life. “Lord, why has no one chosen me? Why do my relationships end in a broken heart instead of covenant? Why is that no one has fallen in love with me in such a long time? It aches so much. It doesn’t seem right.”

This is what he said: “Katie girl, you have been faithful to believe in my goodness even after many years of praying for a family. You are so strong and so patient. I am not letting go of you, love. You will not be left unrewarded for your faithfulness to me. I keep all of my promises”

He did not say “Now Kate, you aren’t trusting me in this place.” He did not say “Look at all that you do have, Kate. Be grateful for heaven’s sake.”  Yes, I do need to trust. Yes I do need to be thankful. Yes, I do need to let go of that dining room table for a season. But in that moment, God knew that I needed to mourn.

He did not tell me that I was weak. He told me that I was strong. So strong that I refused to let go of him, just like Hannah. That is what I needed to hear in that moment.

As my song “The Only One I Love” says

She is strong even in her weakness
In her weakness she’s lovely
She is strong in her darkest hour
When she runs when she runs to me
I weep when she reaches from me
I weep ’cause she loves me blind
I weep when she remembers
She’s the love, the love of my life

God does not mock my pain. He bends down to hold me when I cry. I would venture to say that he cries with me. Not only because he aches with me, but because he is so proud of the way I have trusted Him through this, the longest, hardest trial of my life. Because, like the song says, I have loved him blind.

He also loves me blind. He loves me even in my weakness. He sees past my  questioning and my frustration and he sees me faithful. He is the God that steers his eyes to see the bride beneath the harlot’s skin, the virtue underneath the sin.

Just like Hannah sang when she worshiped Him, He is the God who knows.