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The Keurig

Originally published April 2010.

Last December I was flipping through a catalogue and said off-handedly to Dan,

“What do you think about asking for a Keurig for Christmas?”

His reaction was visceral.

“What?!?!?!  Are you serious?!!?!?  Owning a Keurig is as stupid as buying bottled water.”

I stared at him blankly.
I like bottled water.

He  continued in disgust.

“Ugh! Kate! It is nothing but an evil marketing scheme to get you to pay $15 for a bunch of little plastic cups!  It is completely unnecessary; a Keurig is what you buy someone who already has everything.”

News to me.  I thought that was a fountain pen, or cufflinks.  Dan did not stop with big business, he was going to take down America, too.

“That is the problem with Americans these days, we want to spend our money on indulgences like Keurigs.  If someone buys me a Keurig, I’m returning it, buying a $15 coffee pot and spending the rest on that ice cream you always ask for!”

Chunky Monkey. Dan had not had this kind of reaction to anything since he found out that Panera’s PB&J costs four bucks.

(I should pause here to say: I’ve previously confessed to being the world’s worst gift giver.  I was, at that time, seriously considering getting a Keurig for Dan.  At this point I shrewdly discerned that I should move on to Christmas present plan B.)

On Christmas morning, as we were all sitting in our pajamas amidst piles of tissue paper, I reached out for my last present, a big box that read, “To: Kate.  Love, Sandra (my mother-in-law).”

I tore open the wrapping to reveal a little, red Keurig coffee brewer.  I gasped, clutched it to my breast, and shouted at Dan with a mixture of passion and desperation,

“You can’t take him from me, I love him too much!”

As if I were on a soap opera and Dan were my disapproving father threatening to separate me from my lover.

“Is there any coffee to go in it?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Well good for you!  You got a new toy.”

“Yes, and you’re not allowed to play with it.”

Dan rolled his eyes.

When we got home, I set it on the counter next to our old coffee pot. They looked stately sitting there together, like they were very important machines.  I arranged all my K-cups in their display and stepped back to admire my work.  It was beautiful – a little coffee shrine.

Every time Dan walked by the Keurig he scoffed:

“It doesn’t even keep your coffee warm for you.”
“It doesn’t even make the house smell like coffee.”
“What do you see in that thing anyway?”

“If you must know, I like pushing the little button.  It’s fun.”

“You know the regular coffee pot has a button too.”

“Shut up.”

Not two weeks after the Keurig’s inaugural brew, I was sitting in the living room enjoying a hot cup of joe when I heard a popping, sizzling noise in the kitchen.  I walked in to find Dan staring in horror at the old coffee pot, which was sitting in a large puddle of water on the counter, smoking.  The kitchen was covered in soggy coffee grounds (though to be fair, the grounds could have been courtesy of Dan’s very diligent scooping skills).  We opened the top, slowly.  We gently lifted the basket, and just as we peeked inside, a piece fell off.

It was like it just quit.  Coffee Pot saw Keurig, looked him in the eye and said,

“I can’t…go…on.  They drink…too…much….  Can’t…produce…  Tell the mugs…goodbye…”

and with his last dying breath, he passed the baton.

Dan looked at me.  We observed a moment of silence.  Then he said,

“Can I use your Keurig?”

Thank God for little indulgences.

(Source: Print designed by and available for purchase from fieldtrip on Etsy)
 

 

When Celebrities Die

I cannot yet tear myself away from the Robin Williams clips, movies, and interviews this week.

When celebrities die we collectively gasp, then mourn.  For a few days we honor their lives by sharing our favorite bits of their work, the ways our lives were shaped by their willingness to live in the public eye.

Death is always mourned by the people who knew the life, and the more intimately we knew the life, the more deeply we mourn it.  Death is the epicenter of a great earthquake, and the mourning goes out in ripples, through the layers of knowing.

The thing about artists is, by definition, they give of themselves intimately in order to do their jobs.  Actors and musicians and writers – they weep, sweat, and bleed their work.

Ernest Hemingway said, ”There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

When actors step into character, they rely on deeply personal things, hidden in the recesses of their minds, the depths of their souls, to authentically portray that sadness you’re seeing on the screen.  They could not do their jobs well if they did not bleed into their art; it would be flat.  Artists voluntarily prick at their own nerves.

This means that when we watch breakthrough performances, we are seeing real tension, real conflict of conscience, real love, real anger, real everything.  Whatever emotion you saw that took your breath – that CONNECTED with you – it was real.

The words in books and poems are real.  The heartbeat in music is real.  Artists live open wide to the world; that’s what makes them artists.  Celebrity, then, adds yet another layer of vulnerability.  Not only do artists draw on intimate personal experiences to bleed into their work – they live in a spotlight.  It’s The Truman Show for real.  We see them grocery shopping and at the beach and at basketball games and breastfeeding their babies.  They live wide open voluntarily for their art, and then again whether they want to or not because of the paparazzi and TMZ and your and my obsession with pop culture.

We KNOW them.  And largely, they allow us to know them.  They give themselves to us.

That’s why celebrity deaths affect us in a way that is often confusing.   It doesn’t seem proportional, at first.  We think, “I didn’t know this person.  They were just an actor, far away, on a screen.  Why do I feel like I am moving through molasses?”

(That’s how I felt when I heard about Robin Williams.  Grief slowed everything down, like it does.  The face Robin Williams made when he threw back his head and laughed was taking up all of my thoughts, so they came slower, like adding an extra space between all the letters on a page.   My mind was filled with Robin, and everything went into slow-motion.)

For a second I thought, “I didn’t know him,” but then I thought – “That’s silly.  Of course I did.”

I saw real joy, real struggle, and real depression, because Robin Williams was an artist.  Something inside of him bled into Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting.  His one little spark of madness, as he called it, poured ALL UP OVER Happy Days and Mrs. Doubtfire, and Aladdin.  Did you know that Aladdin was reportedly disqualified for “Best Adapted Screenplay” because Robin improvised so much of the Genie’s character that they couldn’t even call it a “script?”  He bled his stream-of-consciousness thoughts all over that piece of work and we saw it.  We got to know that bit of him.

We didn’t know all of him, of course.

I love how the French language distinguishes the word “to know.”  There is “savoir,” which is the information-kind of know.  I  know how to ride a bike.  I know how to do algebra.  But they never use “savoir” to describe a person, because people are not facts to be known.  People cannot be read like books.  The French use “connaître,” a to-be-familiar-with kind of know.  I know of this person.  I am ever-growing-in-knowing this person.  But I don’t information-know them.  People are deep and nuanced and ever-changing, every-minute, affected from without and within, like rivers.  We can never know them, we can only keep getting to know them.

We didn’t “savoir” Robin Williams.  We didn’t know everything he struggled with, or loved, or believed, or experienced.  But we “connaître-ed” him.  With every single public appearance, he kept on bleeding self and art for us, and we had the honor to keep getting to know him.

Our collective mourning of celebrities doesn’t mean we disproportionately disvalue the lives of the other people dying around the globe.  We don’t devalue children, or the persecuted, or the cancer warriors, or the noble, heroic, self-sacrificing soldiers.  Those of them we know we mourn hard and long and deep, and those we do not know, we mourn as appropriately as we can – because they matter, and their lives matter.

But the reason we’re all mourning Robin this week is because we KNEW him.

He wept and laughed and bled into his art, and then fame shone a bright light on him so we could all see.

It was an honor to know Robin Williams, and I am so, so grateful that he allowed me to know him, by giving of himself so tirelessly.  He brought incredible joy to my childhood, and I miss him.

 

Look Up (Why I Hated Women’s Ministry)

I was in high school when I started hating women’s ministry.   Not hating – I should say “getting annoyed by.”

I never cared for girls nights, and teas sounded downright dreadful, like being made to sit at the grown-up table after you were finished eating to “listen to us talk.”

In college I started ministering to women, but I still didn’t like women’s ministry.  When I confessed that I didn’t like it, as I sometimes did, I was met with confused or offended looks.  Wait, you’re an RA for 70 girls at Liberty University and you don’t like women’s ministry?  Well, yeah.  I like hanging out and praying/teaching/learning.  I like organizing events, and writing curriculum, and discipling girls who really end up discipling me because that’s how it works – but I don’t like…teas.  Or doilies.  Or the book of Ruth, if we’re being honest.

I didn’t have words to express the rub.  Any time I attended a women’s event, it wasn’t BAD, it just wasn’t…something.  Ten years later, I found some words.

This isn’t a commentary on all women’s ministries, or even the ones I was a part of growing up.   It’s very likely that the problem was me.  But I know that I know that I know I’m not alone here.   So if you like Jesus but don’t like church, or you like ministering to women, but you don’t like women’s ministry, maybe I can help put some words to the rub, maybe wipe the fog off of the glass so we can see what’s really bugging us.

Here are the things that bored and irritated me about women’s ministry:

    • The book of Ruth (she was loyal and diligent and she got her prince!)
    • Proverbs 31 (She got up early!  Taking care of a family and a home is hard and noble!  And look, she handled finances and worked outside of the home, too!  Equality!)
    • Deborah (See?  God uses women, too!)
    • Teas (Jesus loves you!  Pink!  Doilies!  Warm fuzzies!)
    • Self-esteem seminars (You are beautiful just the way you are!  God loves you and that is all that matters!)

Here are the things I love about women’s ministry:

    • The book of Ruth (An allegory of Jesus Christ, who redeems us and comes for us who are abandoned and hopeless.)
    • Proverbs 31 (“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”)
    • Deborah  (God calls us to radical courage, radical trust, radical purpose and obedience.  The battle, victory, and glory are His.)
    • Teas (And by teas I mean barbeques.  This is a personal preference influenced by my distaste for cucumber sandwiches.  If you want to pamper me, do it with burgers.  Or smoothies.  I could get on board with a smoothie-tea.)
    • Missions seminars  (There is a great love burning inside of us.  There is a great task at hand.  Let’s get to work.)

When I take a step back and look, the problem is clear:

I don’t like women’s ministries that are about Christian womanhood.
I like women’s ministries that are about The Gospel.

And not The Gospel*

*for women.

Just The Gospel.

I was tired of looking at myself through a Jesus lens.  I just wanted to look at Jesus.

My freshman year of college (in a discussion with my Dad re: my new Bible Study book) I said, “I don’t mind Esther, but… can we read ROMANS?”  I felt the tension way back then, I just couldn’t articulate it.  I didn’t have those words then, but I have them now.

I am tired of hearing about Christian womanhood.  I want to hear about God.

There are of course issues that are women’s issues.  Womanhood is a sisterhood, and I don’t need my femininity to be ignored; I need it to be seen and addressed and esteemed.  But women’s issues are so, so secondary to gospel issues, because womanhood is so, so secondary to PERSONHOOD.  To child-of-God-hood.

To harp on my “women’s issues” at the cost of ever having time to harp on the glory of God and the gospel of Jesus is to miss the whole darn thing.

So, if you think you don’t like women’s ministry, or church or whatever, maybe you’re just tired of looking at yourself.

If you’re OVER hearing how to be a better person and you wonder what’s wrong with you because hearing that “you are a child of God” doesn’t really move or impress you very much – you’re not alone.  I was there too.   I suspect that we are all just starving for The Main Thing.

If that’s you, be encouraged.  You’re not missing it, you’re getting it.   Just look up.   Find a community that looks, and talks, and points UP.

I love this, from Norman Douty (as quoted in The Complete Green Letters by Miles J. Stanford – a book that changed my life, given to me by a women’s ministry leader that helped me look up)

“If I am to be like Him, then God in his grace must do it, and the sooner I come to recognize it the sooner I will be delivered from another form of bondage. Throw down every endeavor and say, I cannot do it, the more I try the farther I get from his likeness. What shall I do? Ah, the Holy Spirit says, you cannot do it; just withdraw; come out of it. You have been in the arena, you have been endeavoring, you are a failure, come out and sit down, and as you sit there behold Him, look at Him. Don’t try to be like Him, just look at Him. Just be occupied with Him. Forget about trying to be like Him. Instead of letting that fill our mind and heart, let Him fill it. Just behold Him, look upon Him through the Word. Come to the Word for one purpose and that is to meet the Lord. Not to get your mind crammed full of things about the sacred Word, but come to it to meet the Lord. Make it to be a medium, not to Biblical scholarship, but of fellowship with Christ.”

I still struggle.  It’s so easy to forget.  This is a reminder to myself and to my own bored, distracted, divided heart.  Look up.  Stop looking at yourself and your life and your habits through Jesus-lens – and just look at glorious, radical King Jesus.

Sam

My Sam turns 3 today.  I still love him this much.  Happy Birthday, Sam-man.

Originally published December 2012

Sam

I’ve never written out a love letter to Sam, not in the way I’ve done for Madeline in the past.

The reason is, I was afraid that it would seem like he is my favorite.  I was afraid that if I was honest about how much I love him, it would make everyone question the love I have for my husband, for Madeline, for Jesus.

The thing is, when I think about how much I love Sam, the only words I can access are “favorite,” and “best.” If there were better words, words that could somehow simultaneously express how much I love Jesus and Dan and Madeline, I would use those words.  But I can’t think of any.

And today I decided that it would be an absolute shame, a failure in parenting, if I never articulated how much I love my son just because it would sound too outlandish.  The love I have for him IS outlandish, and he should know that.  When I die, whenever that may be, I want him to have a written record, along with a giant box full of pictures, to remind him of just how madly and crazily in love with him I was.

So this is my love letter to my second child, my first son, Sam.

 

 

 

Sam, you are my best.

I tell you a hundred times every day, “You are it for me.  You have ruined me.  I am done.”

Sam, you changed everything.

You changed how I feel about having boys.  I wasn’t sure about boys.  I’d heard rumors about how much they love their mothers, how they are easier.  But I also know boys.  I know wild, rough and tumble, off-the-wall, uncontainable, uncontrollable boys that make babysitters call parents who are out on dates and say, “YOU HAVE TO COME GET THIS BOY.”   And, to be honest, I was nervous about changing diapers and circumcision and everything happening down there.

But you changed everything.  You ruined me.  Now I want only boys, boys forever.  But that’s not even true – I want only Sams, Sams forever.  I’ve wanted to freeze you at every stage of life, so that I could keep infant Sam, 4-month-Sam, 7-month, 10-month, and 14-month Sams.  You have always been perfect, and I cannot let you go.

You are the dangerous kind of baby, the kind of baby that makes me think that I could have a dozen more babies without batting an eyelash.  But it’s a gamble, because the next one might not be so easy.  Exhibit A: Your Sister.  She is also my favorite person and makes me crazy with love, but she is the most spirited creature I’ve ever been in contact with.  Wild mustangs are a distant second.  Gamble is not the right word, because if we have another Madeline, we win – but in the event that your little brother also inherits that spirited gene, I’m going to need more coffee.

The precious thing is, she loves you will all of that spirit.  She cheers for you, loudly, every day.  “SAM LEARNED HOW TO SAY BYEEEEE!!!!! YAAAAAYYYYY SAMMMM!!!!”  She laughs at you and disobeys me constantly to do dangerous and unmannerly things that make you laugh.  She, too, is addicted to your giggle.  She, too, would do anything for it.  Anything for you.  She kisses you every night and tells you that she loves you.  Last night you leaned out of my arms into a very impressive back-bend and giggled as she kissed you all over your face and head.  You laughed and laughed together; she told how how cute you were, and you leaned further and further back for more kisses.

You changed how I feel about staying at home.  I want to be around you all the time; I have to tear myself away from you.  You are my best buddy.  Not my “buddy” as a term of endearment, but my buddy as in the person I want to be around the most.  We understand each other.  There is a knowing between us – a secret language.  We laugh together, like friends. I think that you have an old soul, and that our souls have been friends who love each other for a long time.

You are so affectionate it slays me.  You toddle up to me and lay your head on my knee, wrap your arms around my thigh, and pat me – a little Sam-hug.  You do this a couple times an hour, like you notice me sitting there and want to remind me every 20 minutes that you love me and that you’re my best.  You climb up into my lap a lot, because you’d prefer to be there than anywhere else.  I know that this will change, I’ve heard it does, as you become more adventurous, and that’s why I want to freeze you.  Because I might actually die inside the day you stop climbing into my lap for no reason.

I cannot keep my hands off of you.  I can’t stop combing your hair, squishing your arms, grabbing your fingers.  I can’t stop stroking your cheek and your back.  I can’t stop munching your toes and nibbling your ear lobes.  I can’t stop tickling you or hugging you or kissing you.  You are the softest, sweetest, most beautiful boy that has ever been. I cannot have you falling in love with another woman.  I absolutely cannot have it.  I am going to have to pray really hard about this for a lot of years in order to make peace with it.  But not yet.  I can’t even pray about it yet.  Maybe next year, but probably not then either.

I have dozens and dozens of pictures of the two of us with our faces smashed up against each other.  None of them are particularly flattering, because I take them with my phone, but it’s the closest thing I have to freezing you.  I’m very serious about this freezing thing.

 

 

 

I can’t remember ever having loved ANYTHING this much, ever.  I know I must have, because I love Jesus more than anything, and I love your Daddy so much it’s made me do more than a few crazy things in my life, and your sister – your sister made me a mommy and I have letter after letter about how desperately I love her.  But when I’m around you, I can’t love anything more than I love you.  You are a heart-stealer.

You are my buddy.  My darling.  My best.

You are it for me.  My favorite person.

I am so, so, so, so, so thankful that I had a boy.
I am so, so, so, so, so thankful that I had a Sam.

I love you with my whole heart, forever.  I will never stop loving you.
Mom

_______________________

The Survivor Series giveaway is still live!  Share a #survivorseries post for a chance to win $150+ in coffee, music, books, and other survival essentials.  Click here for details.

You guys, I wrote some books!  They’re really good and if you buy them and read them I will bake you cookies.*  You can get it on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and in your favorite book store!  

 

*and eat them myself because you live too far away.

RELEASE DAY!

It’s the official release day for “Enough” and “10 Things for Teen Girls.”

Here is what’s going on:

1.  I was leaving for release day work/celebration when Madeline’s school called to tell me she was sick.  I picked her up.

2. I swung by Barnes & Noble to see the book and post a release day status.  The internet was down.

3. I switched locations, tried to post again, Facebook went down.

4. I find myself swindled by a not-so-sick daughter, sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor of the children’s section of my second Barnes & Noble of the day, half-working, half-reading Tinkerbell and Princess Sofia books.  THE GLAMOUR.  This is me and my book in the 100 Acre Woods:

5. We were going to grill out tonight with our neighbors, but it is pouring rain.

6. I plan to spend my evening with my family, eating at home and snuggling the delicious, addictive, angel-cheeks of my babies.  Then, post-bedtime, I plan on sitting under a knit blanket, watching Netflix, and eating Werther’s hard candies into the night.  Because I am 85.

Billy Collins wrote this perfect poem that I wanted to show you.  This is what I’m whispering to my books today.  (But not literally, because that would be weird.)

Envoy

Go, little book,
out of this house and into the world,

carriage made of paper rolling toward town
bearing a single passenger
beyond the reach of this jitter pen,
far from the desk and the nosy gooseneck lamp.

It is time to decamp,
put on a jacket and venture outside,
time to be regarded by other eyes,
bound to be held in foreign hands.

So, off you go, infants of the brain,
with a wave and some bits of fatherly advice:

stay out a late as you like,
don’t bother to call or write
and talk to as many strangers as you can.

by Billy Collins, from Ballistics, 2008

Talk to as many strangers as you can.

Thanks for reading, friends.  So thankful for each of you. Every single last one.  I mean that.  All of you.

Love,
Kate

The Survivor Series giveaway is still live!  Share a #survivorseries post for a chance to win $150+ in coffee, music, books, and other survival essentials.  Click here for details.

You guys, I wrote some books!  They’re really good and if you buy them and read them I will bake you cookies.*  You can get it on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores August 1.  

 

*and eat them myself because you live too far away.

#SurvivorSeries Giveaway!

***This contest is closed – congratulations to Claire on winning the survival kit!  Claire, check your inbox for a message from me.  Thanks to everyone for reading and sharing.  Have a great weekend!  Love,  Kate***

 

Survivor Series is going out with a bang.  This week I put together a survival kit filled with some of my very favorite things – the tiny anchors that bring joy to the details of my day – no matter how CRAY everything is around me.

I am giving away $150 in coffee, music, books, and little indulgences.

Here’s the breakdown of my survival essentials:

-A $25 Starbucks card, because coffee.
-A $25 iTunes card, because music.
-2 copies of Erin Davis’s “Connected,” the subtitle of which is “Curing the pandemic of everyone feeling alone together.” Because RIGHT?  Community.  We carry each other.
-2 of my favorite polish colors this year, because nothing says “I AM PUT TOGETHER” quite like freshly painted nails (except for maybe the days when your underwear matches your outfit, and I’m not going there).
-2 boxes of pop-up cards featuring inspirational quotes.  Give them away or tape ‘em to your walls, whatever.  Smile.  Hope.
-A Knock Knock “I’m Doing My Best” journal, because we are.  Plus, lists!
-My favorite ever, ever lip balm (Revlon Colorburst) in 2 shades.
-3 rolls of washi tape, which is the answer to all your problems.
-A pack of Sharpie pens, which are the only writing instruments worth their salt.  They will make your handwriting pretty, which is important when you are making survivor lists in you new journal with your freshly painted nails.  It’s an experience, people.
-A copy of Lisa Congdon’s “Whatever You Are Be A Good One.”  Because Lisa is one of my favorite illustrators, and the quotes that she chooses to illustrate are perfect in every way.  I keep my copy propped on a little easel on my book shelf, and display a new page every few days.

It’s a good one, friends.

Here is how to enter:

Share your favorite Survivor Series post (on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest) using the hashtag #survivorseries and leave a comment here saying that you did so.  For an additional entry, share this giveaway and leave an additional comment.

I will contact the winner via the email address you provide with your comment.  You have one week to enter!

You can browse all of the #survivorseries posts here.

Or for quick reference, here’s a list: Survivor Playlist, Send Your Roots Down (Surviving “The News”), The News (She Will Never See Like We Can See), We Carry Each Other, Surviving a Break Up, First Lesson, Hope (On Grown-Up Optimism), Surviving a Move, I Have a Fever, and the only Prescription is More Laughter, Surviving Jealousy, You Can Do Hard Things, When Motherhood Hurts, Surviving Parenthood, Gotta Go Through It, Passion is Overrated (On Surviving v. Thriving), To The Survivors, I See You.

Happy surviving and happy sharing!
Kate

Reason # 8396 you should read my book:  “A person who won’t read has no advantage over a person who can’t read.”  Mark Twain said that, and he was smart.  So read my book.  You can get it on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores August 1.  

Survivor Playlist

Contents:

  • 50 songs fit for survivors – spanning generations, moods, and genres.

Uses:

  • 3-minute dance party.
  • Lie motionless on the floor  with the feels.
  • Scream “How you like me now?!” with  The Heavy.
  • Turn it up so that the only thing you can feel is bass.
  • Listen to “It is well with my soul” on repeat until you believe it.
  • Get your Beyoncé on.

 

Enjoy!

***fist pumps around the room to Gloria Gaynor***

Kate

 

You can listen from here, or follow this link to open the playlist in Spotify.

 

 

The Survivor Series giveaway is still live!  Share a #survivorseries post for a chance to win $150+ in coffee, music, books, and other survival essentials.  Click here for details.

You guys, I wrote some books!  They’re really good and if you buy them and read them I will bake you cookies.*  You can get it on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores August 1.  

 

*and eat them myself because you live too far away.

Send Your Roots Down (Surviving The News)

(Image by Michael Halbert)

A person surviving The News is like a growing tree.   You can’t rush the process.  If a tree grows too fast, it will snap – unable to sustain the weight of it all.  A tree can’t grow up without first growing down.  The same is true of you, survivor.  You can’t rush through to the “look how seasoned and wise I am” part; you’re going to have to send down some roots.  If you rush it, you’ll snap.  The News is too heavy.  The weight of the truth – of your new reality – is going to take some time to be able to bear – you’ve got to grow into it, to grow up under it.

That you cannot rush the process is terrible news, because it means you have to sit with the hurt.  You cannot skip this step.  You can delay it – that’s called denial – but you can’t skip it.  If you delay it for a decade, it will find you on the eve of the eleventh year, and it will hurt just as badly as it did on day 1.

But it’s also great news, because the pressure’s off.  You need to grieve, so grieve.  Smash glass vases.  Cry all night.  Throw pillows and remote controls around the living room.  Scream at the sky.  Eat burgers and fries every night for a week.  Or don’t eat anything at all.  You are not unhinged.

You will go through the 5 stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Give each one the time it needs.  Send your roots down.

Eventually, you will have enough roots, and it will be time to push up.  Eventually you will be able to say, “This is how I am stronger.  This is what I learned.  This is how I was carried.  This is how my deep compassion and empathy and mission were birthed: through those labor pains.  Eventually you will be able to grow up through it and see the redemptive purpose – the sustaining hand.  But you can’t rush it.  If you rush it, you’ll snap.

If you are surviving The News, just wake up and show up.  Take your time.  Send your roots down.  Carve out space for yourself.  Just do the next right thing, and remember that sometimes the next right thing is lunch.

 

The Survivor Series giveaway is still live!  Share a #survivorseries post for a chance to win $150+ in coffee, music, books, and other survival essentials.  Click here for details.

You guys, I wrote some books!  They’re really good and if you buy them and read them I will bake you cookies.*  You can get it on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores August 1.  

 

*and eat them myself because you live too far away.

The News (“She Will Never See Like We Can See.”)

This is the last week of #SurvivorSeries.  This week I’m sharing a Survivor playlist (**fist pump**), hosting a giveaway (holla), and we’re talking about surviving “The News.”

There is news, and then there’s The News.

The News is cancer.  Autism.  The affair.  Fired.  The News is cops at your door saying, “There’s been an accident.”   The News comes in all shapes and sizes and it is always catastrophic.  An earthquake in your soul, cracking and upheaving the foundations of your life.  The things you thought would never change – change.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a short post (because when you get The News, you can’t be bothered with things like WORDS or ADVICE) about how to start surviving The News.  Not how to get through or find hope.  Just how to live.

Today, I’m re-sharing a post about a time that I received some News.  It is one of the first posts that ever appeared on this blog – I copy/pasted it from a Word document I’d been using as a journal.  I deleted all the cuss words.  (If you’re getting News right now, email me.  I’ll send you the cussy paragraphs.)

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A journal (literally) of the hours, days, and weeks following Madeline’s diagnosis.  That you may share in our (eventual) joy and amazement.

April 17, 2008
“I’m going to be honest with you Mrs. Conner; I’m not sure how well she can see at all.”

Deep breath.

“She has decreased vision; probably congenital.  It’s possibly an optic nerve problem.”

The weight of a continent is on my chest.

“She has a searching nystagmus – the reason her eyes roll is that she’s looking for anything she can see.  I wish I had better news for you.  She needs to go to Emory for further tests.  I’ll make you an appointment for next week, but you need to know that I don’t think time will matter much here.  I’m sorry.”

I must look like a frightened animal.

Wait, what?  You’re telling me there’s something wrong?  Like, really wrong?

Oh, baby.  My baby.
Have you been living in darkness this whole time?
Have you ever seen my face?

The world is spinning and I am sick.

I can’t get out of this office fast enough. Something inside of me has snapped and I am consumed; all I want in the whole world is to get home and hold her.   I don’t want doctors, I don’t want information.  I don’t want encouragement, I don’t want prayers, I don’t want lunch.  I need to get home NOW.  I need to get home and hold her all day long.  I’ll feed her and rock her and sing to her and let her fall asleep on my chest.  I’ll kiss the top of her peach-fuzzy head and tell her everything will be okay.  We’ll take care of those eyes.  Those big, beautiful blue eyes.

Later that evening
There are five days before our appointment at Emory. 120 long hours.  That’s a lot of time to think.  Is it something I did while I was pregnant?  Something I ate, maybe?  Did I not take enough vitamins?

No – I’m assured by a still small voice, “‘Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’  ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned’, said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” John 9:3.

What if it can’t be fixed?  They can fix anything these days, right?  I’m not afraid of surgery or medical bills.  I’m afraid she’s going to have to live with whatever this is for the rest of her life.  In my heart, I think I already know.  I’m really not even worried – I’m just sad for her.  Yes, fear has given way to sadness, and it is unbearable.  It’s not fair.  What did she ever do?  She’s just tiny and small and soft.

God is good all the time.  My life has changed – God has not.  He’s good – and I know that.

Think clearly, Kate.  Worst case scenario: she’s blind.  Helen Keller was blind, Fanny Crosby was blind, Ginny Owens is blind.  Blind women can live full, meaningful lives.  I wonder how hard it is to learn Braille.  Oh, God, don’t let other kids make fun of her.  Please, please don’t let them make fun of her; she’s too sweet.  I will level some idiot fourth grader to the GROUND if he teases my Madeline for this. Oh, Lord, don’t allow her to feel un-beautiful for even a minute.

And here springs my very first positive thought:  This is why God made me to love words, why I learn languages well.  This is why music is so close to my heart.  Why He made me a teacher – so that I can communicate with my daughter in ways that have nothing to do with vision.

After all, this is not a surprise to God.  To us, certainly, but not to God.  Madeline was born this year, this time, to these doctors, and to these parents.  Me and Dan.  I was created to raise her.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16

I’m thinking of Hannah Hurnard’s words.  “…In the life of a child of God there are no second causes, even the most unjust and cruel things, as well as all seemingly pointless and undeserved sufferings, have been permitted by God as a glorious opportunity for us to react to them in such a way that our Lord and Savior is able to produce in us, little by little, his own lovely character.”

It will be glory if, somehow, we live more like Jesus because of this.

April 22, 2008
Optic Nerve Hypoplasia.
“See, she doesn’t blink or squint like most children do when I shine this light in her eyes.  Her optic nerves are 5 percent of normal size.  Think of a garden hose, the smaller the hose, the less water that can pass through it.  Optic Nerves connect her eyes to her brain in the same way; so with underdeveloped nerves there is no way for information to pass from her eye to her brain. Her eyes are healthy; it’s the nerves that caused the vision impairment.”

Let’s cut the doctor speak.  I can read between the lines.  You can say ‘blind,’ I won’t freak out.  My little girl is blind.

“She will never be able to see like you and I can see, but it’s possible that her vision may improve marginally by the time she’s one year old.”

Marginally.  She may be able to tell the difference between day and night?  That’s a pathetic attempt at good news.  Suddenly there is poison in my heart. Bitter, angry poison. God, it’s not fair.  She never did anything wrong.  Why would you make her live with this disability for the rest of her life?  It’s too terrible.  To never see sunrises or sunsets.  She won’t see the ocean. Mountains. Wildflowers.  Waterfalls.  Lightning.  Color.

“There is no known cause for this condition.  It just…happens. And unfortunately, there’s no known cure or treatment either.  Here.”

He hands me a card for CVI – The Center for the Visually Impaired – and for Blind Services in Atlanta.  It didn’t register, I just stared at the card; it felt alien in my hand.  I’m thinking, “I won’t need this card, I don’t need this.”

As we leave the hospital, we start making phone calls.  To all the people who wanted us to let them know right away; they had been praying for us.  How do I even start these conversations?  There’s no good way to do it, no matter how you phrase it, it still punches all the breath out of you.

“Hi Dad, it’s me.  We’re driving home from the doctor now and … she’s blind.”  The words fall like an anchor, an anvil.  I make my way through the long list of phone calls, listening to people on the other end of the line grope for words.   It’s not their fault; there’s nothing to say.

No tears yet, just numbness.  I suppose we’ll just go home, eat supper, and keep living.

One week later
Dan is having a really hard time.  A friend of mine, who works with children with disabilities, says that dads often take it the hardest, because dads are fixers:  heroes and protectors of their baby girls.  I’m sure she must be right, because here is my Dan, a first-time dad smitten with tiny Madeline – and there’s not enough money, enough love, enough medicine in the world to fix it.

We are grieving a loss, and I’m learning that all of the stages of grief apply: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  I don’t really know where I am; I am floating, but Dan is very, very angry.  We were playing around with a conversation book tonight – asking each other funny questions for the sake of lighthearted conversation that had nothing to do with disability income or MRIs.  One of the questions asked “If you had to wear a button on your shirt that summed up your outlook on life in five words or less, what would your button say?”  Dan’s response, without skipping a beat, was “God made my daughter blind.”

Dads definitely take it the hardest.

April 30, 2008
I feel like my life has started over from the beginning and I’m having to re-do all the difficult ‘firsts.’  The first time she cried in her crib AFTER we knew: I couldn’t bear to let her put herself back to sleep.  I rushed in, touched her, and whispered, “I’m here, I’m here. You can’t see me, but Mommy’s right here.”

The first time I left her with my mother-in-law so I could run errands: I gave Sandra a 30-minute crash course, left pages of instructions, and shed tears on the way to the store.  And the first Sunday we walked into church: Everyone knew, and they looked at us.  All the same look: heads cocked a little to the side, sad eyes, grim smiles.  The sanctuary was thick with pity and I tried to make eye contact with as few people as possible.   Only a few decided to say something to us.  Most of them, in hindsight, were well meaning and kind, but they just didn’t understand – and it was awful.

“At least it’s only her eyes.”  Excuse me?

“Well, you know, everything works together for good.”  Your daughter didn’t have to be blind for the good.

“I know how you feel, my nephew is legally blind and he had to have all these surgeries…”  Let me stop you right there.  Your nephew?   He had surgery options? You have no idea how we feel.

And so, I am indebted to a few tender people, full of compassion and wisdom that said helpful things during these first weeks.

My Aunt Jan said, tearfully, “Kate, I’m so sorry.”  And my mother, in response to my statement “I just want to hold her” said, “I just want to hold you.

(The “Prayer Jar” we received as a gift the week we got home from the hospital. A blessing.  How frightened and exhausted do I look?)

May 1, 2008
The next step is an MRI to make sure that the rest of her brain is developing normally.  Apparently a large percentage of babies who have optic nerve problems also have a bunch of related conditions.  Their hypothalamus and pituitary gland are affected.  They have to take hormone treatments for growth hormones, stress hormones, and thyroid regulation.  Sometimes adjacent parts of the brain are missing as well, causing learning disabilities and developmental problems.

Yesterday I spent the whole afternoon on the phone.  A call to the children’s hospital to schedule an MRI.  A call to Emory’s children’s center to schedule the endocrinologist.  A call to social security to apply for disability benefits.  It’s amazing how many questions a man named Douglas can ask about our income, assets, accounts, and medical history.  (In the end, we were denied.)  A call to Georgia Pines, an association that works with disabled children.  Another call to Babies Can’t Wait – a local resource for parents with disabled children. Physical therapy.  Occupational therapy.

I am now officially a project manager.  My PR major is coming in handy after all.  Yes, I was created to raise her.

To be continued…

(9 months later, first steps.)

If you want to fast-forward to the end of the story, here is the most recent post I’ve written about Madeline’s vision:  ”Letter to 22-Year-Old Me”

You can find the things I’ve written about vision loss by clicking the Vision Loss tag here.

The Survivor Series giveaway is still live!  Share a #survivorseries post for a chance to win $150+ in coffee, music, books, and other survival essentials.  Click here for details.

You guys, I wrote some books!  They’re really good and if you buy them and read them I will bake you cookies.*  You can get it on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores August 1.  

 

*and eat them myself because you live too far away.

We Carry Each Other

Originally published October 2013.

This week I gave away my kids’ baby clothes.  12 storage tubs, 180 gallons, 6 years, and approximately 1 million memories worth of baby clothes.

I used to dream about MAKING BANK at a yard sale.  My little first-born, type-A heart wanted to WIN at yard-saling.  I wanted to plan and organize to infinity and beyond: outfits washed and pressed and hanging by size.  Or folded neatly into Zip-Lock bags, labeled and organized by season.  The cutest clothes, the best prices, the best signage.  Lord knows that between Madeline’s wardrobe and our Thomas the Train collection we could fund our retirement.

But then I remembered what it felt like to be twenty-two with a surprise baby and no money and a tiny apartment states away from every single person I knew except for my husband.

What it felt like was numb everywhere, all the time, with a heaping side of Crippling Fear and a tall glass of If I Stop Moving I Will Die.  I remembered the faces of the people who gave me storage tubs and trash bags full of little girl clothes, and of how many seasons I didn’t have to buy winter coats.  I remembered how it felt to be carried along.

It felt like a sisterhood, like hope.

Suddenly making bank at a yard sale didn’t sound so rewarding.

Last month I began to pray for a family.  I asked God to send me a family to bless, to whom I could say, “Here.  You don’t have to buy winter coats this year – or next year – or the year after that.”

Through my friends and some of you lovely readers I found a 16-year-old expecting a baby girl this December.  I found an adoptive mother of 2 baby girls, one of whom is in chemotherapy.  I found a Ukrainian couple, too far from family, expecting a little boy in November.   I found a single mom, a brand new mom in grad school, and a mother of 5 under 7.

I folded and packed 12 storage tubs, 180 gallons, 6 years, and 1 million memories worth of baby clothes, and I shipped off every last onesie – every last dress and little pair of moccasins.

 

I believe that it is more  blessed to give than to receive.
I also believe that giving hurts sometimes, and I think it’s glorious how often blessing and hurt coexist.  That the things that hurt you can crazy-BLESS you.  I do not understand the math of heaven.

Giving away my babies’ clothes didn’t sting, like I was losing something I needed, but it ached, like I was losing something I loved.

The evening after I shipped the first box, I was sitting on the couch feeling achy and nostalgic when I got a message from a blog reader titled “ONH.”

Mercy.  These are my favorite emails, even though they are always fraught with fear and sadness.  This reader told me about her baby, eight months old, who doesn’t see like other babies see.  She asked me about crawling and about introducing solid foods and about how we made it – how we are making it.

I wrote answers that seemed to come from a lifetime ago – things I would have forgotten had I not taken the time and discipline to remember.

I wrote about physical therapy and introducing textures and early intervention.  I remembered how it felt to be twenty-two and to learn that my surprise baby had a surprise diagnosis - how it felt to go from knowing precious little about mothering to knowing Absolutely Nothing.

I remembered the faces of the people that told me they were sorry.  The people that told me I was brave, and that everything was going to be okay.  I remember the people who introduced me to their surprise babies with surprise diagnoses, and the people who carried us.

Friends, we carry each other.  People carried me.  People carry me still.  I carry people, too, which makes my heart feel fuller than about anything else I do on the earth.  (Except for maybe kissing my kids’ dimples and stroking their cornsilky blonde hair.)   I could have consigned all those Ralph Lauren rompers for money, but I would have been poorer for it.

What I’m saying is this: if you have tubs of clothes sitting in your attic or your basement or in the tops of all your closets waiting for an eventual yard sale, maybe start praying for a family to carry.  Then just ask – the need is everywhere and it is great.

If you have a story, tell it.
If you have wisdom, share it.
If you have experience, lend it.
We carry each other along.

#SurvivorSeries

 

The Survivor Series giveaway is still live!  Share a #survivorseries post for a chance to win $150+ in coffee, music, books, and other survival essentials.  Click here for details.

You guys, I wrote some books!  They’re really good and if you buy them and read them I will bake you cookies.*  You can get it on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores August 1.  

 

*and eat them myself because you live too far away.