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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.

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.

Surviving Parenthood

Surviving parenthood is simple.
Why do people think it’s so difficult?

Take if from me, if you do this one thing, you will be the most prepared, peaceful, wise, Zen parent alive.   Here it is:

Redefine everything.

I’ll give you a quick 10 to get you started.

Redefine “clean.”

The Floor:  Is it navigable?  Yes = clean.  No?  Put all toys in a hamper and shove said hamper into the nearest room with a door that closes.  Bam, clean.

The Dishes: Can you see the dirty dishes over the horizon of the sink?  Are they “breaking The Plane?”   No = clean.  Yes?  Rearrange the dirty dishes so that they are no longer breaking the plane.  Bam, clean.

The Fridge:  Can you smell it?  No = clean.  Yes?  Does the smell offend you?   Throw away all Tupperwares and sippy cups.  Do not open them, as curiosity might actually kill the cat here.  Wipe down with Clorox wipes.  Bam, clean.

Your Laundry:  Is there a visible spill/stain?  No = clean.  Yes?  Can you scrape it off with your fingernail?  Can you dilute it with a wet washcloth?  Yes = clean.  No?  Can you smell it from 2 feet away (which is likely the closest you’ll come to another human)?  No = clean.  Yes?  Just wear the jeans again.  Just ooonnneee more time.

The Children’s Laundry:  Do they have pants?  Yes = clean.  No?  Do they really NEED pants today?  No = clean.  Yes?  Go swimming instead.  Bam, clean.

Your Car:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

2. Redefine “productive.”

Did you do any 3 of the following?

Shower, brush your teeth, change into different pajamas, leave the house, get the mail, make a phone call, reply to an email, feed yourself real actual food, consider exercising.

Yes = productive.  No?  Life is hard, try again tomorrow.*

 *In seriousness, parenting is inch by inch, moment by moment, Chinese takeout by Chinese takeout.  If you nourished the body, mind, and soul of a small, helpless person that has been entrusted to your care, if you taught them about love, and that the world is a safe place for them because YOU are a safe place for them, if you played and cooed and held and disciplined and kissed and nurtured a little heart – you did a great big thing.  You are shaping healthy humans.  You are pouring LOVE into the world, because you are pouring LOVE into another person.  And that is no small thing.  Some days it will cost all you have, and that’s okay.  Spend it.  Pay it.  And don’t think twice about the dishes.

 

3.  Redefine “dressed.”

Men, are you wearing pants?  If so, you are dressed!  Women,  are your breasts covered?  Yes = you are dressed!  No?  Are you breastfeeding?  Yes = dressed!  No?  Put something on, out of the hamper is fine.  Bam, dressed.

4.  Redefine “date.”

You didn’t know these were dates, but they are:

Grocery shopping, watching The Office on Netflix while eating dinner leftovers at 11:30 pm, taking the kids for a walk, holding hands while driving and listening to the Frozen soundtrack, sitting beside each other in church while the kids are in the nursery for a WHOLE GLORIOUS HOUR.

5.  Redefine “privacy.”

The last time I was in the bathroom for any reason and the door was closed was 2007.  Can your neighbors see you?   No = Congratulations, you’ve achieved “privacy.”  Yes? Ces’t la vie.

6.  Redefine “dignity.”

Imagine your child is throwing a holy terror fit because he is possessed by the kind of demon that only comes out by prayer and fasting.  Imagine he is screaming, kicking, gagging, sweating, and very, very red.  Now, imagine that you are in Barnes & Noble, a traditionally quiet establishment.  Imagine that you are dragging your demon out by his arm, at great risk to his tiny shoulder socket, as he flails/gags/kicks/screams behind you.  Imagine that you are visibly sweating through your clothing, and that your mommy muffin-top is poked out because you have another baby on your hip.  The small baby has his arm shoved down between your breasts, exposing your bra to the patrons of Barnes & Noble.  Don’t worry, EVERYONE IS LOOKING.  Imagine that as you drag your noisy, paralyzed demon, that you can hear the other patrons talking amongst themselves about you and your “parenting style,” and that their opinions are neither kind nor empathetic.   Now – are you embarrassed by this?  Yes?  Your pride will be the death of you.  No?  Congratulations, you have achieved Zen parenting.  Drag that demon out as calmly as Linus dragging his blue blanket.  Carry on, warrior.

7.  Redefine “dinner.”

You didn’t know the following things were dinner but they are:

A packet of peanut butter crackers and a glass of milk, cereal, assorted nuts, “pizza” (hotdog buns topped with pasta sauce and shredded cheddar cheese in the toaster oven), baby carrots and pickles, a milkshake from Sonic, a generous helping of Wheat Thins, Pop-tarts, granola bars and bananas.

8.  Redefine “sleep.”

Here is a simple equation to help you determine whether or not you are receiving enough sleep:

Begin with your number of children.
Add six.
Raise to the 4th power.
Divide by the number of pets in your home.
Multiply by zero.
Add 1.

Are you getting at least one (non-consecutive) hour of sleep?  Yes = rested.  No?  Feign serious injury, get admitted to the hospital, and sleep for several uninterrupted hours.  Pay your exorbitant medical bills and get back to your regularly scheduled programming.

9.  Redefine “worth.”

You probably thought that you were very enlightened and mature and deep, and didn’t measure your worth by your home, appearance, productivity, job, or general likeability and good-naturedness.  But you did.  Even the Buddha, the Dali Lama, Mother Teresa, and the Virgin Mary did.  When you have children you are forced to look that reality in the face, and are confronted with what you’re going to do about it.   Here is the answer:  You must RECKON WITH AND APPROPRIATE the reality that your worth is not in any of those things.  Your worth is in you because you are a person.  Because you have life and breath in you.  Because you were created in the image of God and are loved by Him (scandalous!).  There is no other measure – there could be no lesser measure, and there could be no greater one.

It’s strange that people without children so often feel that their lives are less complete because they haven’t experienced parenthood.  There are so many posts out there saying, “You matter too!”  And at the exact same time, on stage left, parents feel like their lives aren’t worth as much because all they do is raise children.  There are so many posts saying “You matter, too!”

This is evidence that finding your worth anywhere except for inside of your given-to-you-by-your-Creator-life, is hollow.  You can take a deep breath – there’s nothing to earn and nothing to prove.    You are lovely, valuable, enough.

10.  Redefine “love.”

I don’t know how it is true that you can love fully before kids, and then add more fullness when you have them.  I don’t understand the math of heaven, adding fullness to fullness and growing it.   I know that people that do not have children love fully and sacrificially and that their insides twist and flip inside out and they have WHOLE, COMPLETE, INFINITE LOVE.  I know that.  I also know that I have never loved anything on this planet like I love my children.   I can’t figure out how that works, but I believe that it’s true.  Dear mother, you will have to redefine love.  It might not be right away.  It might not be in the hospital.  You might not cry when you hold that new baby that looks like a stranger to you.  But sometime, maybe a week or two in, you will be rocking and soothing in the middle of the night and you will not want to stop.  You SHOULD want to stop, to go back to sleep, but you won’t.  You will want to sit and stare at her forever.  You will never want to blink again.  You will feel fierce and angry at anyone who would ever leave a baby – hurt a baby, neglect or abuse a baby.  Something in you will break like a dam and you will think, “OH.  THIS IS MOTHER-LOVE.”  And you will never, ever, ever, ever be the same again.  I cannot explain that.  I just know that it is.  The love will break you.  You will hurt more, worry more, cry more, despair more.  You will want more, yearn more, scratch and claw more, PRAY MORE.  You will consider the possibility of God more.  I do not know the mechanics of this.  How could love that is already maxed out, grow?  But whatever you think love is, hold on tight.  Because you’re about to be flooded and drowned and smashed and buried in love.   And it is good.

For more from Kate on parenthood, read:

Life, inch by inch
We Keep Our Children’s Secrets
Sunday Confessions
The posts in the “Surviving Parenthood” tag

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.

But God

God is surprising.

Which is strange, since He’s also the same yesterday, today, and forever.

I think the reason that God is so surprising to me is because a creature as flighty and unfaithful as myself cannot comprehend that kind of constancy.

At my very best – my most gracious, magnanimous, disciplined, and most faithful, I still find the persisting goodness of God INCOMPREHENSIBLE.  How could anything be so unyielding?  Everything bends under the right conditions: granite, titanium, diamonds.

But not God.

This is why, no matter how many times I hear it, the gospel still makes my heart beat fast.  My breath still catches in my chest.  I still cry all the time.

Because, really?  Still?

It’s too sweet.  Too much love, too much mercy – it’s too good to be true – except it’s not.

And peppered throughout scripture are two little words that that point to this astonishing constancy of God – to His, as Sally Loyd-Jones writes, never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.

These two words make me lean forward in my seat –into the story.  They make me whisper, “Oh! This is the good part.”


They are the surprise I know is coming.  Like the flips inside your belly when you free-fall on a roller coaster:  you know it, you’ve felt it, you see it coming.  But then IT IS, and it thrills you again, anew, every time.

“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.” Nehemiah 9:17

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:7-8]

 These words are carried through scripture, from start to finish, on the river of God’s mercy.  They speak to both his immovability and to his great compassion.  How improbable that those two qualities would coexist.  But they do.  But God.  He is immovably compassionate.

“But God” means who He is and how He is is completely independent of who we are or how we are.  Oh, you are a traitor?  Adulterer?  Murderer?  Zealot?  Racist?  Christian-killer?  BUT GOD.

God is the independent variable.  You can change, tweak, and alter everything else – but not God.  He is out of your league, literally.  You can do or be whatever, fill-in-the-blank, but God.

“But God” means He can give grace lavishly because He gives it on His own terms.  He loves us because He is loving, not because we are loveable.  He loves us in spite of ourselves.  I love the despite-ness of God.

Oh, we are rotten?  But God.
Oh, we were dead in our sins?  But God.
Oh, we are unfaithful?  But God.
Oh, we deserve death?  But God.

“But God’s” punctuate my own life, marks of His hand, evidence of his care.  My whole existence is a series of “This happened to me, but God.  This is what I feared, but God.  This is where I hurt, but God.  This is what I did, but God.”  I can’t imagine two more hope-filled words.  They are full of promise.  Because, no matter what horror or chaos or evil you are surviving, “BUT GOD.”

God is supreme and above and immovable.  He is gracious and merciful and lavishly loving.  Nothing is impossible for Him; nothing is too hard.  He makes streams in the desert; He makes ways where there are no ways.

 ”All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  [Ephesians 2:3-5]

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” [Genesis 50:20]

“Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.”  [Acts 10:28]

“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”  [Luke 18:15-16]

“My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” [Psalm 73:26]

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  [Matthew 19:26]

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  [Romans 6:23]

It should not surprise me, but it does.
Every time.
BUT GOD.

 

The Night I Bathed in the Toilet By Candlelight

Here’s a dirty little secret of mine: I  bleach the hair on my arms.

I have great hair,  but the downside to having thick, dark hair is that I have thick, dark hair.  On my arms.  On my legs.  On my eyebrows.

Yesterday I decided to try Nair for the first time ever.  Because, what’s the worst that could happen?

HA HA HA HA HA.  WELL.  Let me tell you about the worst that can happen.

I applied a thick layer of the cream to my arms and waited the prescribed one minute.

It is important to note that the instructions for Nair state, in capital letters, “DO NOT LEAVE ON FOR MORE THAN 10 MINUTES.”  It is also important to note that my oven was self-cleaning while this ill-fated attempt at hair removal was going on.

At the end of my one-minute, at which point the acid had nearly disintegrated all of my arm-hair and I was climbing into the shower, the greedy, power-hungry, menace of an oven sucked up all the power in the entire house and every single breaker blew.  Including the one for the water pump.

I flipped on the shower, the pipes hissed at me, then – silence.

Silence except for the voices in my head going, “No, no, no, no, no, NO, NO.”

I rushed to the sink.  Nothing.

I ran to the kitchen and yanked open the fridge.  Why is there no bottled water in my house?!

Then the lights went out.

Then I said a lot of cuss words in my head.

So, to recap:  I am standing in my kitchen, in a towel, in the dark, with acid slowly burning the hair off of my arms, and in 8 minutes, my skin – and the water is out.

Things I considered:
1. Rinsing it off with juice.
2. Running to the neighbors house in my towel.
3. Using the water in the toilets.
4. Wiping it off with a towel, letting the hospital treat the boils with skin grafts, and wearing long sleeves every day for the rest of my life.

I hope you’ll agree with me that using the water in the toilets is the lesser of the evils represented here, effectually proving that I’M NOT CRAZY.

And that is how it came to pass that I stood over a toilet, a lantern between my teeth, and frantically sponge-bathed Nair off of my arms with toilet water, in a surreal, embarrassing race against the clock.

Which brings me to the morals of this story – there are three.

1.  Any over-the-counter product whose main selling point is that it chemically burns things off of your body in 2 minutes, do not use that thing.

2. Amend your toilet cleanliness standards from “A Party Guest Should Be Able to Throw Up In It” to “Would Personally Be Willing To Rinse Nair Off Of Arms In It.”

And finally, most practically,

3. Cleaning your oven is overrated.

 

Update:  There are no boils on my arms, and the rash should disappear any day now.  Aaaaaannny day.

 

 

 

Letter to 22-Year-Old Me

It has been almost six years since a doctor told me that Madeline was blind.

I remember everything.  What I was wearing.  What he said, exactly.  The 6,704,870 thoughts I had on the drive home.  Some traumas turn into blurs; this one is emblazoned on my memory.

In my wildest hopes I would not have dared to image Madeline as she is today.

This is what I would tell six-years-ago-me, if I could.

Kate,

Everything is going to be okay.

Right now, in the future, Madeline is watching The Magic School Bus episode about outer space.  That’s right – she can watch TV.  She sits really close on her little red footstool, and she has two younger brothers, with perfect vision, who also sit close because that’s how their big sister taught them to do it.  (They also took their first steps with a white cane, which was adorable.)

Here is what I want you to know, young, scared Kate.

Madeline is going to have friends.  She is going to run - fast and hard and fearless.  She knows braille.  You know braille.  It is hard, and you’re going to cry and quit for a little while, but when Madeline is in kindergarten, you help her with her homework and you both read it pretty effortlessly and everything is okay.  (Incidentally, Madeline is going to surprise you all the time with the things she can see.  Even when she is six, she will still be surprising you – and every doctor and teacher she has.)

You’ve never cried in an IEP meeting, or after one.  Only before – because fear of a thing is almost always worse than reality.  Try not to worry.

Madeline is incredibly bright.  Her vocabulary is enormous – annoyingly so.  But she’s not just smart-bright; she’s a sparkle.  Everything in her whole life is over-the-top big.  She says things like:

“I know I have a lot of days left to live, but I know that no day could possibly be better than this day.”

“I will listen to you, I will listen to daddy, I will listen to anyone, even after I DIE I WILL LISTEN.”

“The only thing better than your painting is GOD.”

And “Pluto is the most important planet in my life.” 

She is some kind of special; people are drawn to her.

There are so many bright, happy things about your life, and I won’t spoil the surprises.  Here is the most important thing:

Darling, do not fear what you don’t really know.  Do not grieve for things you haven’t lost yet; you may not end up losing them at all.

Madeline’s middle name is Hope – you had no way of knowing how perfect a christening that was for her, but I am here to tell you she has lived up to it in every way.  She has been spreading hope, warm in the hearts everyone who has the privilege to watch her, for six years now.  For six years, just sparkling and hope-spreading: hope to families touched by ONH, hope to teachers, hope to doctors, hope to friends – hope to everyone.

Don’t worry.  Don’t be afraid.  It gets better.  You get better.  You are carried on rhythms of grace, on the backs of friends, and on prayers of the faithful the whole way – every step.  Every hard-fought step, every uncertain step, every hail-mary, God-save-us step, you are carried.

Life is brutal and it is beautiful; Glennon Melton calls it brutiful.  And, God, is it ever.

But you can do this.  You are doing it, and you are doing a good job.
Darling, do not fear what you don’t really know.
Breathe.
Hope.

love,
present Kate

P.S.  She does eventually learn to buckle her seat belt and put on her own socks, so don’t sell her; she pulls through.

 (All photos by Brooke Courtney Photography)

My Previous Works

Today I drug out the big box full of my and Madeline’s baby books.  It was all sugar and spice and everything nice until I came across a manila folder full of some elementary school work that my mom saved.  YOU GUYS.  I HAVE NOT LAUGHED THIS HARD IN WEEKS.  Maybe months.  Maybe ever.

As it turns out, I wrote quite a few books in my younger years.

First, this ode to my mother.

She’s okay,  I guess.

Then this one.

At the time I was using Kathryn as my pen name.  In my defense, this was before anyone introduced me to the concept of “plagiarism.”

I was also doing all of my own illustrations.

Just to be clear, not everything is a vegetable.  (MOM.)

I wrote some fiction, fairy tales in particular.  Probably because I could not resist trying my hand at the “castle-inside-the-first-letter” technique.

Also, it seems my mother used to scream at me when I barged in on her in the shower.   This is a universal and timeless part of parenting.

In my early works I experimented with some creative spelling.

And it is xspeshalee clear that my excellent self-esteem was already in tact.

My longest work to date is a short story titled, “A STORY OF AN UNICORN” [sic.]  It turns out my parents were ruthless editors who did not feel that young unicorn romance and baking witches into cakes were wise plot choices for me at this point in my writing career.

Neither was young unicorn polygamy.

They did, however, encourage me to keep writing books, to which I responded:

 

Maby I will, maby I will…

Gotta Go Through It


We’re going on a Lion Hunt! (We’re going on a lion hunt!)

We’re not scared!  (We’re not scared!)
Look what’s up ahead!  Tall grass! 
Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
Gotta go through it.
Swish, swish, swish.

“Going on a Lion Hunt” is still a favorite story of mine; it’s rhythmic and suspenseful and fun.  But now, as an adult, it is also my mantra: what I whisper to myself when I feel the tendrils of despair start to curl around my heart.

All of my favorite people have been through some stuff – terrible, awful, heartbreaking stuff.  I’m proved right every time I meet a new person whom I instantly like; the more I get to know them, the more I learn about the stuff they’ve been through:  chronic illnesses, serious depression, betrayals, affairs, ugly divorces, deaths of children, addiction, cancer.

I like them,  I’ve learned, because those terrible circumstances create something beautiful inside of us.  Something  precious is forged in our hearts as we walk through the difficult, painful places.  The gauntlet strips off pretension, pride, insincerity, piousness, and anything false.  Underneath we find gentleness, humility, wisdom, compassion, bravery, and indomitable strength.  Refined by fire, the Bible calls it, burning off the dross, leaving the gold.

There are no shortcuts to that beautiful, beautiful countenance.  You have to go through some stuff to get there.

Just like there is no shortcut to a baby; you have to go through labor, and morning sickness.

Just like there is no shortcut to a Thanksgiving table full of well-adjusted grown-up children; you have to go through the Terrible 2′s.

There is no shortcut to seasoned love; you have to go through the fights – all of them – no giving up.

There is no shortcut to forgiveness; you have to feel the pain to get to the other side.

There is no shortcut to health; you have to trudge through the pain, the meds, the therapy.

There is no shortcut to healing, to moving on, after a catastrophic loss; you just have to keep walking through.

When it comes to the tough stuff of life, the best way out is always through.

So if this season of life seems so hard you can’t breathe, know that while you might come out weary, broken, a little worse for the wear, you’ll shine.  Refined, like gold.  Take a deep, raggedy breath, say a prayer, and steel yourself.  

Because you can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
You gotta go through it.
 

  

 (source)

There Is Room

As much as I know friends and families that are aching for babies, I also have friends that aren’t quite sure.  That are, if not off-put, at least confused by the “waiting until your thirties to think about babies” trend that is rampant in my generation.  I don’t presume to know what’s “right” for every family, in every situation, but I do know something of having babies.  So this post is for all of the might-be, would-be moms and dads who are cautiously dipping their toes in the water, who are apprehensive and curious.  This is for those that are wondering.  

 

If you are wondering about having a baby,  

Hoping.
Debating.
Considering.
Trying.
Scared.
Uncertain.

Is there time?
Am I ready?
Are we ready?
Financially?
In our marriage?
Emotionally?
In my career?

“Is there room?”

Is there room in my lifestyle?
In my budget?
In my family?

I am a mother of 3 babies; 2 of them were unplanned.  I am here to tell you that the answer is “yes.”  There is room.

There is room in your home.  There is room for a tiny cradle, even if it sits squarely between your bed and your dresser – or in the middle of the living room.  Babies don’t need Pinterest nurseries, their own rooms, or even cribs. Babies need mommas’ arms, and there is room.

 There is room in your body.  Just when you think you can’t stretch any more, you can.  Your body was made to take care of that baby, and whether you are pregnant with one or with five, there is room.

There is room in your lap.  If you are worried about a big sister or a big brother, don’t.  One of the most precious gifts you could ever give your child is a sibling.  Moms’ laps have room for two – and three, and four, and five.  Buried in babies is the purest joy, the deepest satisfaction. There is room.  

There is room in your heart.  If you are afraid that you will never be able to love anything as much as you love your husband (boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad, or dog), you will.   If you are afraid that you could never love another baby as much as you love your first – you can – and you will.  If you think the love might break you, it will, and that’s good.  A mother’s heart has an inexhaustible capacity for love.  There is room.

This is what I am learning and re-learning from my third child:  there is room.  There is room in my body, room in my home, room in my lap, room in my heart.   Babies are gifts, and there is always room.