Winter and Spring at the Same Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What had happened to my sense of wonder? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looked exactly like snow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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. 

Embracing the Mystery

Two notes before I start:

My book Getting Naked Later: A Guide For the Fully Clothed is on sale for only $10 for a limited time! You should buy it.

Also, I am going on a tour through Switzerland, France, and Italy. If anyone has contacts for these places where people might want me to speak, play music, lead worship, or just let me stay with them, will you let me know? You can contact me here.

On to the post…

I had a friend tell me something really beautiful the other day. He is going through a faith crisis and is having to rethink everything he has ever believed.

He said to me, “Kate, I think that I am a lot like Peter. Peter had all these grandiose ideas about who Jesus was. That he was going to give him riches and fame and save his people from physical slavery. When Jesus died, all of those ideas of Jesus died with him. Peter was so confused. He didn’t know what to believe any more.

I don’t know what to believe any more, either. But maybe this is a process in which Jesus can show me who he really is. Maybe it will help me realize that he is different and bigger than I ever expected him to be. ”

I have been thinking about this for days. I, too, have been going through a faith crisis. My dad dying seven months ago really shook me up.

For the first few months, I didn’t mourn as much as I thought I should. I felt bad about my lack of emotion. But the other day, while holding his death certificate in my hands. I cried and cried. I will never see him again.

Where is my dad, really? I have ask myself. Is he really still alive somewhere? It’s hard to even touch the idea of him being in hell. I just can’t believe that. And asking myself that makes me question everything I believe. I have wondered if God is actually good. I have wondered if God exists at all.

Added to my mourning for my dad is the heart wrenching process of not being married, of not bearing children. I have questioned words that I was sure I heard from the Lord. I have been trying and trying to believe that if I never had a family, if those words never came true, that God would still be good.

Added to that is the pain in the world that is just beyond my comprehension. I wonder about God’s existence almost every time I hear of something horrible happening. That never used to happen to me. It has only happened in this season, and I don’t like it at all.

This is a wilderness time My ideas of Jesus are dying. It is a time when I realize that God does not just grant me everything I wish for if I pray hard enough or live an upright life. He is not a genie in a bottle that will give me what I want if I rub him the right way. There is no intimacy in that way of thinking. There is no mystery in that way of thinking.

I could easily believe that this faith crisis means that I am in a bad place. A place in which I am faithless and not following the Lord. I may kick and scream, asking that I can go back to that simple place where I was before.

But when I think about it, I realize that it is really a better place that I am in. A deeper place. And that comforts me. I am not losing my faith. I am walking into a place of mystery.

I have come to believe that there are levels to faith. Here is a simplifying of those levels.

Certainty- This is similar to the time when Jesus walked the earth. The disciples saw what Jesus was doing and put that through the filter of their own lives. Here is how Jesus will help me get what I want, they said.  They had formulas. They boxed Jesus in . Everything was black and white to them.

Wilderness- This is what Peter must have felt when Jesus died. Everything he believed about Jesus was crucified. Peter denied Jesus because he was so confused about who he was. He questioned everything he believed. He saw all his dreams dying on that tree. And he was afraid.

Mystery- This is what Peter must have experienced when Jesus rose from the dead. He realized that Jesus was doing more than rescuing his people from physical slavery. He was rescuing them from emotional and spiritual slavery. He was setting them free in ways he had never imagined. The resurrection was a total mystery to him. He embraced the fact that he cannot, will never, understand the great mystery of who God is. His fathomless beauty. His frustrating hiddenness. His eternal, all encompassing, baffling love. The way he embraces us even in our deep deep doubting.

This changed Peter’s life. He no longer wanted to be famous or obtain riches. He wanted to spread the goodness of the Lord all over the world. He died hanging on a tree like Jesus did. He had embraced the doubt which led to the mystery. He probably kept doubting. But he also kept believing.

God has so many facets to him. He is like the biggest diamond you have ever seen. If I were to look at one tiny portion of that diamond for the rest of my life, I would still not have touched even that tiny part of him. He is beyond all comprehension. Eternity can’t hold him.

And yet, he is also like a tiny leaf that I hold in my hand. He makes himself small so that he can be with me.

That is the place that I want to be. In between the tension of mystery and intimacy. A place where I can’t see anything in front of me in this dark dark place, but believing that there is one who will catch me in that darkness if I fall.

A place where I don’t box him in, but I do let him in.

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.

Tales of a Blubbering Nun

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I am writing this from my little hermit room in a monastery in Sedalia, Colorado. I have learned to love monasteries over the years, and I visit them on a semi-regular basis. They have become a part of the rhythm of my life. I come to these restful places when I need solace and regeneration, when I need to set the compass of my soul towards North again.

And so, you might imagine me, bible in my lap, pen in my hand, face towards the sky, an ethereal glow of the Master’s serenity on my face, like the pictures of Mary on those Catholic candles they sell at the dollar store.

But if that is the picture you see of me, you’re dead wrong.

Instead, I am a weeping, blubbering mess of a woman who has mascara trails on her face and has had a hard time eating for the last five days. The other seekers in this building have had their silent retreats interrupted by this blubbering, but I just can’t help it.

I don’t really know what the heck is going on.

Maybe it’s that my lease is running out and I am moving. I counted the other day- I have moved something like 20 times since I was 18, and that doesn’t even count things like working at camps and coming home for the summer. I have had at least 60 roommates over the years. That is just not the way it is supposed to be.

Maybe it’s that I’m contemplating starting a new wonderful but taxing full time career working with inner city kids, and the weight of such a big decision is scaring me to death.

Maybe it is that my dad died only three months ago, after which I promptly put together his entire memorial service, wrote a nice post about him, and put the tragedy on the back burner for a better time and place. The time and place seems to be now and here. In contemplating his death, I am also thinking about the fact that part of the reason I long for a husband so much is because I long to have a male figure that loves me, that is a good father figure to my children. It aches so deeply to think that I might never have that.

Maybe it’s that I have been fixated on mistakes I made missing out on good men- wondering if there has been some horrible trajectory of hopelessness that has come from those small decisions that have put me in this place, a life that does not include a family.

Maybe it’s that I am done with my book and have realized that I just spilled my guts out to a bunch of strangers, and that the process of spilling those guts was much more painful than I’ve admitted to myself.

Maybe it’s that I found a box of journals the other day, and some of them were written when Ice Ice Baby was considered to be a really cool song. Those journals were written such a very long time ago, and many of my memories feel too far away to touch any more. I don’t want them to be so far away.

And lastly, it is quite possible that I am blubbering because I have been thinking about the wonderful nuns and priests that live in this place, celibate and saintly, and have said to myself “dear Lord, I never asked to be a freaking modern NUN!”

Thankfully, I have been reading the words of Thomas Keating on my retreat, a very famous and wise monk. He points out that when Jesus said “I have come to seek and save the lost,”  lost actually means totally gone, hopeless, not worth giving another thought to, wiped out. I have always been taught that the lost were a group of people, which he might be referring to as well. But it brought new meaning to me today to imagine Jesus coming to seek, to intentionally look for, to save, the deepest, darkest, most hopeless, most wiped out parts of me. To bring redemption to those parts. That the more broken and frustrated and hopeless I am, that’s how much more grace and mercy and love he pours out into those places.

I also read today about Jesus eating with and defending and loving prostitutes and poor people and tax collectors and lepers and children. As I read, the scenes backed away, and I suddenly realized that the room that they were communing together in was my heart. That prostitute that has lost her identity and doesn’t believe she’s beautiful any more. That poor person who begs for scraps of mercy. That tax collector that tries to control his way into getting people to love him. That leper who longs so much to be touched. Those children who just want a daddy to hold them. All of those characters are living inside of me. And they are all so, so scared.

And then I imagined Jesus coming to all those parts of me, saying “I accept all of you. Even though the world has forgotten you, I have not forgotten. Do you have any idea how much I love you? If you were to believe that, to truly believe it, you wouldn’t be so scared. But even now, in all of your fear and all of your faithlessness, there is more than enough love to cover you. Come, sit down. Come eat with me. Feel the warmth of my complete acceptance. I will seek and save that which is lost in you.”

I also read these words from Theresa of Avilla today, “. . .we can never have too much confidence in God, who is so powerful, and so merciful. If I had on my conscience every conceivable crime, I would lose nothing of my confidence, but my heart breaking with love, I would throw myself into the arms of God, and I am certain that I would be well received.”

Oh God, my prayer for today is simply to be certain that I am well received into your strong, strong arms. That you will never let go. That there is nothing so dire that it can’t be redeemed by you. If you could help me believe that now, Lord, that would be enough for today.

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.

90’s Dating Gone Bad #3: Families Should Be Intimately Involved With Who You Marry

Today I am going to continue my series on 90’s dating gone bad. (Read this article as an introduction.)

We come to our next rule, that families should be intimately involved in picking our spouses. I include this rule because it was one of the main points in “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” Out of all the rules that we made as a Christian culture from the book, I really think we could learn from this one.

I wish that  family was as important to our culture as it is to most of the cultures around the world.  It breaks my heart that it is not. The importance of materialism and comfort over family is probably the saddest byproduct of our countries’ independence. But the reality is, in our culture there are very few families that are healthy enough to pick our spouses, or to even help us pick our spouses. Fifty percent of them seemed to do a pretty bad job picking their own.

If you have a wonderful believing family that you are close to who you can dialogue with about your dating life, then go for it. If they treat you like an adult but also want to lovingly help you make such a big decision, that’s invaluable. But not all of our families are like that.

If my parents picked a spouse for me, today, it would most likely be a modified kind of a business proposition (like in the Bible) where they found someone who would take care of me and my kids.  I’d probably get an accountant with a nice mustache and some good hair on his chest. (For some reason I have vague memories of my mom telling me she liked those things. Weird.)

There is nothing wrong with an accountant with a nice mustache, but I am glad that I have the opportunity to pick a life partner that I deeply love .

I like that I can look for  someone that I can dream together with about the kingdom and bringing it here to earth.  That I can look for someone that believes like I do: that  loving people is one of the most important vocations we can possibly have, even if it doesn’t pay well. A man who who simply brings home a decent paycheck and doesn’t think about the world around us is not enough for me, even though it would probably be enough for my parents.
I like that I can choose the man I will spend the rest of my life with. I feel like that is my right as a human being.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be the selfish, non family oriented American that I just described. I have a new, wonderful family around me, a family called the body of Christ. Most of the intimate friends I have chosen in this season of my life are the kinds of friends that never tell me what to do, that trust me to make my own decisions, but who process with me about all things that are important in my life and give wise advice.

I want to process with my family. I want to tell my family how I feel, and genuinely listen to what they have to say about the relationship that I am in. I trust them. They are not controlling, they love me.(If your family does not make you feel safe and try to control your dating life or you I would suggest running away fast.)

If I had eight of my most trusted friends  telling me that they are concerned that the person I’m dating could be a bad fit for me, I would be wise to listen. They can see better than me, since at this stage my brain greatly resembles a bowl of hormonal soup. A bowl of hormonal soup does not often think clearly.

I do make the final decision. They get a vote, I get the biggest vote. But I want the people I trust  to be involved in the process.

Another thing I would like to challenge the church on is creating better singles groups so that our “family” can help us in the dating process. Most single groups now involve a bunch of awkward people standing around a punch bowl asking each other if they like star wars. I hate small talk, and so singles groups are the scariest places on earth to me (along with eharmony first dates.)

I went to Bethel church in Redding last year and attended their single life workshop. I was so impressed with the way they went about bringing single people together. We all met in a large group, but had small groups that we sat with every week and had intimate conversations with. The groups were (heaven forbid!) both female and male! And we (heaven’s to Betsy!) talked about very intimate topics in our group like sex, communicating, even struggling with pornography. Somehow the evangelical police did not arrest us, even while talking about those topics with people of the opposite sex.

We also talked about sexual abuse- something I was surprised and incredibly saddened to discover was something many men had suffered. It was the first time many of them felt like they could talk about it, partially because there were women in the group who had gone through the same thing. They felt safe for the first time.I learned so much about men in those groups-  the way they think and date and struggle and how to pray for them. All invaluable information.

We were encouraged to date each other without crazy amounts of pressure. In fact, Bethel has their own dating website for passionate Christians, which includes links to wise teachings on dating. (ondaysix.com) Our leaders trusted us to be thinking adults who can date well. It felt good to be trusted as a single person.

My Christian culture has often made me feel like I haven’t gone through the “right of passage” of marriage, and so I am not as mature as married people. Why try to teach me on communication,  being a parent, or sex when I don’t need to know any of that? (Except how not to have sex, of course.) The leaders of this group made me feel like this information was important for me to learn, even as a single person.  They made me feel like a valuable, thinking adult. I would love to see people taking the initiative to have these kinds of healthy single groups popping up in churches everywhere.

So let’s take this 90’s dating gone bad rule and make it balanced and redeemed. Let’s love each other enough to teach about singleness. . To dialogue about our dating lives in non manipulating, empowering ways. Marriage is a big decision, and it is good to have family around us to walk with when we make big decisions.

Today, I Am Lonely.

“The only cure for grief is a pill called grief. And you have to take your medicine to get better. “-David James Duncan

I just got back from a tour to Oregon and Washington. I led a women’s retreat, taught at churches, and played some house shows. I slept on seven beds in ten days. Hence the blog silence. (For more about what I do for a living, go to my website katehurley.com)

Tours are usually wonderful. I get to travel, do what I love to do, see people’s lives change, visit people that are dear to me. I forget for a while that I don’t have a regular family and I get lost at the wonder of the strange, all over the world family that I do have.

But today I am home.

And today, I am lonely.

Maybe it is that damn website that I went on this morning. When suggesting a password question, it said things like “The place you and your spouse met” or “The name of the maid of honor in your wedding” or “You first child’s birthday.”  I inevitably had to choose “The name of your first cat.” Even if Samone was the best cat in the world, she’s still a friggin’ cat.

Maybe it is that I am working alone for the next few months, trying to figure out what the heck I am doing with my music and ministry next, which is a regular pattern. I love my job at times, but I don’t like how unstable I feel on a regular basis.  I work alone for a few weeks booking music and teaching opportunities, and then I travel alone. The theme here is alone. No team, no partner. I really don’t like working that way. I have had many wonderful journeys because of my job, but they are almost always journeys I walk by myself.

Maybe it is that I have no idea what to put on my phone’s screen saver.  I guess a mountain or something.

Maybe it is that I visited my dear friend Aimee in Oregon. She and I and my other dear friend Kate went through many years of the ups and downs of singleness together. We laughed and wept together. A year and a half  ago, while I was living with Aimee and Kate, they both got engaged the same week. Do you know what was happening in my love life at the time? My boyfriend of two and a half years and I were breaking up.

I was truly, honestly, 100% happy for them. But I was also about 64% sad for myself.

It’s a year and half later. They are both married to absolutely wonderful men.  And they are deliriously happy in their marriages. In my heart of hearts* I am so glad that they share this with me and don’t hide it. I am so glad I don’t hear for the umpteenth time that marriage is so so difficult and that I should appreciate my singleness and that marriage is, as one friend told me “like death.” In fact, on this trip, Aimee said to me that marriage was the best thing she has ever done.

I am 100% happy for her. But I am 76% sad for myself. (My  rule is that the empathy quotient on my singleness frustration is allowed to go up 8% a year.)

Maybe it’s that I walked by a little girl and her mother in the park yesterday, laughing and playing. I ached to have a child, like the prophet Jeremiah said, as if there was a “fire down in my bones.” This happens often when I hear children laugh nowadays.

Maybe it’s that all four roommates in my new house have been on a date since we moved in a month ago. I have not had a date in 1.5 years.

I am 39% happy for them and 82% sad for myself. (I know. Not my normal compassion quotient, but I’m having a bad day, people.)

In an article called “My Secret Grief: Over 35, Single, and Childless” by Melanie Notkin, the author says  “This type of grief, grief that is not accepted or that is silent, is referred to as disenfranchised grief. It’s the grief you don’t feel allowed to mourn, because your loss isn’t clear or understood. You didn’t lose a sibling or a spouse or a parent. But losses that others don’t recognize can be as powerful as the kind that is socially acceptable.”

This sadness, this disenfranchised grief, is what I feel on a semi regular basis. I have not lost a child, but I have never had a child. I have not lost a marriage, but I have never had a lover.

It’s a strange kind of grief, because people don’t often understand it as a loss. It is not socially accepted as a loss. There is not a lot of empathy for it.

It is a loss that is subtle yet constant, like when you suddenly notice birds singing even though they were singing all along.  That’s the kind of loss I am feeling today. Suddenly, I hear my heart aching. A heart that has been quietly seeping out sadness for a long time.

Here’s the part where I say that despite my pain, I am thankful for my singleness.

Here’s the part where I say that married people are lonely too.

Here’s the part where I say that there is a God shaped vacuum in me that only He can fill. (oh wait. That’s not in the Bible. Dang.)

Sorry friends, I’m not going there today.

Today, I am going to have compassion on myself and know that I am experiencing a true, deep loss. Even if it is a “disenfranchised loss” it is a grief that is real and painful.  I don’t have to explain it away or justify it.

Today, I am going to let myself cry.

Today, I am probably going to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s. (They should make a flavor called I’m Lonely And I Need Ice Cream. Who knows how many millions of dollars those guys have made during our bouts of sadness.)

Tomorrow, it will be wise for me to wake up, take a shower, have coffee with some friends, eat a salad, and remember that my life is still beautiful. If I don’t choose to have a balance, I will get really depressed.

I don’t want to be stuck in this grief on a constant basis. I need to allow myself to have moments of sadness and moments of gratitude. Moments of longing for a family and moments of building a different kind of family. A ying and a yang. (Because ying ying is not a healthy way to live. It is the name of a panda bear.)

But today, I am going to let myself grieve.

Today, I am lonely. And that is okay.

*Side note: where the heck is your heart of hearts? Is that a medical term? Because it sounds sketchy to me.

SPEAKING OF ME PLAYING AND TEACHING: I am teaching and leading worship at a wonderful women’s event called Uniquely Made  April 20 and 21 in Denver. If you are in the area, we are really needing more people to sign up to make it happen.  I’d love for you to come so I can meet you!