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Beware Cheap Grace

The thing about debtors is, they owe you.

Debtors aren’t debtors because of misunderstandings.  (Or oversights, inconsideration, or failed communications.)   Debtors are the people to whom you could say, “You abused me.  You took advantage of me.  You injured me.  You were wrong.  You owe me.”

Debtors didn’t offend us;  debtors owe us.

If, when you consider where you should extend forgiveness, you think first of workplace foibles – of excusing tardiness, dismissing gossip, and generally tolerating annoyingness – then your struggle isn’t unforgiveness.  Your struggle is being too easily offended.

If it’s lack of common courtesy (or sense) that burns you up, you don’t need to forgive as much as you need to get over it.

I am wary of extending cheap grace and calling it forgiveness.  I’m afraid that, when challenged by the doctrine of forgiveness, we choose to forgive foolishness, because it’s too hard to forgive debts.

Cheap grace is:

“She took my baby name even though she knew I wanted to use it, but I forgive her.”

“He clocks out early every day and I have to clean up alone, but I forgive him.”

“She didn’t text me back, but I forgive her.”

Of course these offenses should be resolved, lest bitterness take root and brotherly love erode over time.  But if these are the sorts of things you pride yourself in forgiving?  Well, that forgiveness didn’t cost you much.  Your personal preference if anything.  It’s cheap grace.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could politely tolerate annoyances or learn to let go of frustrations.  Frustrations don’t require the shedding of blood to be set right.  Nobody ever had to die to make up for being kind of a jerk.

But the debt we owed to the God who requires justice?  That debt had to be paid in blood.  For generations God’s people slayed a million lambs on a million alters, sin offerings, blood in their place.  They did it right up until Jesus put an end to it.  He was the spotless animal, the sacrifice – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  When Jesus died in your place, He didn’t do it because he was frustrated with you.  He did it because you owed a debt you could not pay and live.

He demonstrated radical, scandalous, unthinkable, could-only-be-divine grace.  And it cost Him.

The gospel is not a story of cheap grace.

So as I live out the gospel, I dare not cheapen it.

“But where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.”  The bigger the offense, the bigger the forgiveness.  That’s how it works in God’s economy.

To forgive our debtors will cost us.  If it doesn’t cost us, they weren’t debtors.  Real grace is anything but cheap.


I had this post half-written, waiting in my drafts, when I saw this article from the New York Times called “Portraits of Reconciliation.”  I saw the first image and my heart broke and leapt at the same time.  I knew, “It’s time.

The piece is a collection of portraits of victims of the Rwandan genocide with their perpetrators.  The perpetrators that killed their husbands and fathers and children.  The perpetrators that burned their houses down.  The perpetrators THEY FORGAVE.

This is not cheap grace.  This is huge, agonizing, torturous loss, and huge, lavish, unimaginable mercy.  It was difficult for me to read, because my insides ache to think what this kind of forgiveness costs.  But it challenged me.  It forced me to consider my own ugliness – that I am first a sinner, and only then sinned against.  It reminded me that people can do hard things – and God can do impossible things.  It reminded me not to settle for cheap grace.  I hope it reminds you, too.

Dominique Ndahimana
Perpetrator (left)

Cansilde Munganyinka

NDAHIMANA: “The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”

MUNGANYINKA: “After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.”

You can read the whole New York Times Article, and see more photos, here.  I recommend it.


Wherein Henry Ford is a Smart Guy

Intentions are good.  More than good, they’re great.  They indicate consideration and thoughtfulness and all the good your heart longs to do, and would, if you had unlimited time…and money…and energy.

But intentions always beg the question – “Now what?”

This morning I was all caffeinated and feeling sunshine-y and optimistic and generous.  I thought about all the people I could pop in and say hello to (via text or email or something, because, 2014).  I thought about encouraging my friends, making lemonade for the roofing crew, buying extra classroom supplies for Madeline’s teachers, baking with the kids for our neighbors.  I was driving along, feeling very pleased with myself for being so virtuous and kind, when Bob Goff popped into my head.

“Love does, Kate.”

Sure, love thinks, love plans, love intends – but then love does.

There are too many days that I allow myself to feel like a good person because I know what a good person would do.  I think, “You know, it would be really nice to invite that refugee family over to dinner.  That would be a loving thing to do.”  And I pat myself on the back for it!  Is that not the most insane thing you’ve ever heard?   I think, “A good person would do this.”  And then I don’t do it.  And I STILL FEEL PLEASED WITH MYSELF.

But I don’t think I’m alone.  I think intentions are deceitful and our hearts are prideful – and I think that’s a recipe for apathy and selfish inaction.

So as I drove home this morning, I resolved to DO something.  To do at least one loving thing.   Because I want to be a loving person, and love does.

Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”  And when I die, whenever that may be, I want to leave a legacy of love.  The fragrance of Christ, following me wherever I go.

“In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life.”  2 Corinthians 2:14-16, The Message


My Evening With The Yeasty Boys

You know how some peoples parents turn their old rooms into a gym?

When we moved to Raleigh in January, and I stepped into my old room for the first time, I thought for a moment that my Dad was running an undercover drug operation.

There was a huge structure in the middle of the floor, so large only a 2-foot perimeter around the edge of the room was navigable. The giant box, constructed of 2x4s, was wrapped in several layers of industrial plastic wrap and surrounded by sundry tools all over the floor.  You know, hammers, staple guns, nail guns, the like.

It looked like a scene out of Dexter, STRAIGHT UP.

“Let’s be reasonable,” I told myself.  Maybe it’s something less severe.  Like maybe he’s a real life Walter White and this is just the secret place he makes his drugs.

I slowly backed out of the room, down the stairs, and into the kitchen, where we had the following exchange:

Me: “Um, Dad.”

Dad:  ”Did you see your room?”

Me:  ”Yes.  What….is it?”

Dad:  ”It’s a humidor.”

Me: ” Ooohhhhhhh.  Wait, what?”

Apparently a friend of Dad’s had some cigar-store inventory he needed to store, so Dad kindly offered my childhood bedroom.  Some homemade shelves, plastic wrap, and 3 large humidifiers later – voilà!  Humidor.

Me:  ”Pretty resourceful.”

Dad:  ”Yeah, but he found a warehouse and the Yeasty Boys are coming to take it down next week.”


Dad:  ”No, the Yeasty Boys.”

My dad is part of a collective of men called The Yeasty Boys.   They come over every Thursday night to smoke cigars and drink beer and espresso.   The whole neighboohod smells like cigar smoke on Thursday nights, and it’s easy to trace the sweet, smoky smell to Dad’s man-cave:  15 cars in the driveway, windows open, kerosene heater glowing, men laughing.  It’s a pretty sweet brotherhood they have going on.

And that’s what it is:  a brotherhood.  It’s an eclectic one, without any real unifying characteristic among its members.  They’re all of different ages, religions, political affinities, ethnicities.  The thing they have in common is that they like cigars and each other.  The Yeasty Boys helped us move into our townhouse, they take hunting trips, vacations to Florida, day trips to seafood festivals on the coast.  They brew their own beer.  They do BBQs and low country boils and state fairs.  They show up for one another.

After living in Raleigh for a few months, and watching this fraternity in action, I told Dad, “I wish I could be a fly on the wall down there.  I love the Yeasty Boys.  Everyone should have a group of friends like that.”

Well, ask and ye shall receive, y’all.

Last Thursday night Dad texted me and said, “Why don’t you come on down for a drink?”

I felt like a fawn tip-toeing down the basement stairs.  Nothing can make a girl feel dainty like walking into a den of giant leather chairs and giant men smoking giant cigars.  Wear skinny jeans and a chiffon shirt for bonus points.  It could make the coarsest women feel like a fairy.

And here is what I learned from my evening with the Yeasty Boys.

I watch really girly television.

Yeasty Boy:  Do you watch Game of Thrones?

Me: No.

YB:  The Walking Dead?

Me: No.

YB:  Justified?

Me:  Nope.

YB:  Dexter?

Me:  No.

YB:  Sons of Anarchy?

Me:  Um, I watch Scandal.  And New Girl.

So, here’s to friendship.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go catch up on Parenthood on Hulu.


Mind Bank

When my mom left the beach yesterday, she said, “I wanted more.”

It rained from Saturday to Wednesday, which was okay,  since we are pretty good at hanging around and just being with one another, but it was okay in a “choose to be happy because the alternative sucks worse” kind of way.  And we both knew it.

We took this picture, in our own words, to prove we were there.

When my mom and brother pulled out of the driveway, it was like the clouds hitched a ride in their back seat.  They drove west, and immediately, gloriously, from the east came the sun – right on their heels.  In just a few hours the island warmed up by 20 degrees.  Sorry, guys.

And today.  Today was everything we could have dreamed.  It was the More.

Today there were sand castles; both bucket and dribble style.  We dug giant holes, so deep that I looked down the beach once and panicked – where’s Madeline?!?  Then she popped up like a prairie dog and we laughed.   We saw bottlenose seal blah blah blah’s playing in the surf – diving slowly, lolling over the breakers – only waist-deep in the water.  We made sand cakes, decorated with shells and reed-candles, OBVIOUSLY.  We drew in the sand.  We inspected dead crabs.

At one point, Henry was sleeping in a mass of patterned blankets, the kids were playing afar off in the giant hole, and I was able to lay so still that the little conch snail we found eased his way out of his shell right in front of me.  Straight-up magical.

We snacked on granola bars and healthy amounts of sand.  Sam terrorized sea gulls.

And I have not one single picture of this perfect day.

My phone did a weird thing, as ancient-artifact phones tend to do, and right before we stepped outside it was like, “Oh wait, did you need me to work today?  MY BAD.”

And listen.  Before you think that this is going to be a holier-than-thou “I was liberated from technology and lived in the moment!” post – it’s not.

I did not feel even a little bit enlightened.  I wish I’d had my phone.  If I could change that part, I would.  My heart does an achy thing when I think about all the sandy, happy freeze-frames I don’t have.

I had to add this day to my mind bank.

I have a treasure box in my mind full of perfect moments uncaptured by film.  They’ll only last as long as my mind does; when I’m gone, I’ll take them with me.

-In my mind bank is a day in the Tuileries Garden in Paris with my little cousins, pushing sailboats around that iconic fountain with a stick.  I’d used up all 13 rolls of 35mm film, and since digital cameras only existed in a think tank somewhere and not in the possession of 13-year-old girls, I was out of luck.

-There is also an endangered red hawk, perched feet from me on a fence post, as we were driving home from horseback riding.

-There is the night I felt mother-love for the first time.  It wasn’t in the hospital, for me.  It was at home a week later, at 2:30 am.  I didn’t want to put Madeline down, and I didn’t understand why.  I should have wanted to sleep, but I didn’t; I wanted to be awake with her.  I can still see everything about that moment.

And now there is a perfect beach day with my three children.  It was everything a beach day should be, and it’s our secret.  It is safe in my treasure box with the other moments I’ve preserved on mind-film.


Do you have a mind bank?  What is a moment that’s inside?  Do you wish you’d had a camera, or are you glad it will only ever be your secret? 


Lupita Nyong’o on Beauty

This may be the most wonderful, significant thing I’ve heard about beauty this year.  I cannot add a word to it, just my tears this morning.

YouTube Preview Image

“My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.”

“I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful.”

“And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.”

“And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you.”

“And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

Thank God for Lupita, and her beauty, and her talent, and her bravery, and her compassion, and her strength, and her struggle, and her words.

Relax Your Butt

Sam fell asleep in the car this afternoon, and I opted to try to transfer him to his bed instead of following my traditional course of action, which is to listen to music and text and generally avoid responsibilities in my car until he wakes up.

Bringing a sleeping child inside is a risk – the parental version of Russian Roulette.  There are so many factors working against you:

-Seat belt maneuvering
-Car door noises
-The darn birds

Each obstacle that doesn’t yield a screaming baby is a Russian-Roulette-caliber sigh of relief; it is hope and life and an hour of nap time to accomplish things.

I lifted Sam onto my shoulder without incident; he was exhausted, and all 30 lbs of his two year old self pressed heavy into my chest.  I laid his blanket over his back to shield him from the elements – one of my hands tenderly, protectively on the back of his head, and the other bearing his weight under his thighs.

Halfway between the car and the house, I felt Sam stir.  I felt him flexing and releasing his legs, his butt, over and over, fighting for sleep.

Now here is the delicate balance, the dangerous dance:  You must get to the bed ASAP, but without increasing your heart rate enough for the child to sense it.  You have to move quickly, fluidly, and silently with a little bit of a waddle, so that your bent knees absorb all the bumps and jostles.

When Sam started to squirm, I picked up the pace and whispered, “Shh, shh, shh, don’t wiggle.”

He kept on flexing and squirming, trying to carve out a warm, safe space in the crook of my arm.  ”Shh, shh, shh.  Relax your little butt.  I’ve got you.”

Then I said, ” Trust my arms.  Trust my strength.  Trust my love.”

And I felt a familiar surge in my chest.  The God-speaking-surge.

How many times has He whispered those words to me TODAY?

“Kate, stop wiggling.  Relax your little butt.  (How glorious that in relation to all the cosmos in the hollow of His hand my butt is very, very small.)  Trust my arms.  Trust my strength.  Trust my love.”

I am a strategist and an energy-preserver and I work really well within structure and flounder outside of it – and that makes me a wiggler.  That makes me want to know what’s going on and why – not so that I can control it (I tell myself), but so that I can prepare for it.  I’m very flexible as long as I know exactly what is going on.  (So, about as flexible as an anvil.)  I say, “Jesus, your will be done.  But give me a heads up as to exactly what your will is, so that I can adjust my attitude and my expectations and generally get on board.”  I get agitated when God does not consult me about His plans, or at least update me.  A little common courtesy is all I ask.

But that’s not how faith works.  For who has known the mind of the Lord?  And who has been his counselor?  Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.  How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out.  (Romans 11:34 & 33)  Faith is not for the faint of heart.  And God tells me, every day, some days more patiently than others, every time I stop for long enough to listen:

 Stop wiggling.  Relax your butt.  Trust my arms.  Trust my strength.  Trust my love.  I can carry you.


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.




Storms and Kisses


This morning “pre-storm” was in the air.

The hours and minutes before a storm are like negative space.  Like all the molecules in the air arrange themselves into little concave vessels, ready to be filled with with water and wind and electricity.

This morning the sky was dark and green.  The birds were conspicuously absent.  The wind came out to play.

I stood out in it – feeling the wind, the electricity, and the eager, open-armed molecules on my skin and it occurred to me:

The moments before a storm are both empty and full; they are tentative, and charged with invisible energy, like the moments before a kiss.

Happy Friday, friends.


The Good Stuff Sticks

In case you missed it, I wrote a post over at the walk in love. blog earlier this week.   It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and something for which I’m desperately grateful:  the good stuff sticks.

“The chancellor of the university I attended used to say, “You have more bad days than good ones.”

I love that.

Because, if not bad days, then at least blah days, right?   Or side-tracked days, or I Yelled At My Kids Again days.

But remarkably, even with all the blah, frustrating, and downright awful days, people keep on doing extraordinary things.  Dreams stay alive.  Hard work – creative work – keeps happening.  Marriages hold fast.

People keep climbing Everest and keep having babies EVEN AFTER THEY KNOW HOW HARD IT IS.  Like, they know about running out of oxygen, and excruciating cramps, and pushing bodies past their physical limits,  and wondering why they thought this was such a good idea in the first place – and I’ve heard Everest is tough too.

Last month I took my daughter to Snow Mountain for her birthday.  It was 58° outside.  Y’all, don’t hate, that fake snow was magical.  There was tubing and sledding and snowman-building.  There were Christmas tree s, lights, snowballs, train rides, and hot chocolate.  It was straight out of a freaking postcard …until…”

You can read the rest of the story here!



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.


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.

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)