Category Archives: writing

9000 miles from home

January of 2015 stole my words and broke my heart. For three months, our little family drew in tight together and stripped life down to the essentials: be together, be kind, be safe. No more, no less.

I am not free yet.

In late April, Curt and I found ourselves hours away from a trip across the ocean that had been planned for 2 years… South Africa. It was a massively orchestrated ordeal involving 8 plane tickets, 5 caregivers, color-coded schedules, power of attorneys, and 2 weeks of vacation. My suitcase was still empty with 6 hours until boarding. Campbell said, “Go. You can stay here and hurt or you can go and hurt. Go.” I packed half-heartedly for a trip I did not want to take.

My anxiety began leaking out of my eyes at midnight about 18 hours later. We were 30-thousand feet high somewhere over Africa. ‘We are too far away,’ I thought. ‘It would take days to get back to my Littles. IT IS TOO FAR. It’s not familiar and it’s not safe. I’m not funny and I’m not sure. I don’t have anything left. I can’t small-talk my way through a week of riding through unfamiliar territory with strangers. Give me my kids, my farm, my space. Let me be in the weeds, but at home. This… this is a mistake.’

But the plane continued south over the equator and I wrestled with God above the clouds.

After 2 days of traveling and changing gates and navigating grumpy airline employees, we found ourselves standing at a check-in desk 9,000 miles from home. “Be out front tomorrow at 6am,” Angel said. “Your guide will be waiting for you.”

South Africa, day 1

The sun was inches from the horizon as I climbed into the back of a truck with 8 other guests. Our guide began to ramble down the road, and I saw the land shake off its sleep. Shadows became green leaves and brown bark. I saw a zebra and her calf scoot across the main road. I sat for 30 minutes and watched a cheetah look for a place to sleep.

As we drove, the gray sky swept into pink and orange and red. ‘This looks like Texas,’ I thought. ‘Sharp aloe and rocks, cracked earth and endless sky… this looks like home.’ I saw the woman in front of me lean over to her neighbor. “This looks like home,” she said, “This reminds me of Texas.”

Something inside me broke. It was Africa, but I was not in strange country. “See?” God whispered. “This is familiar ground.”

The truck rounded another corner and we found ourselves staring at giraffes. “A bunch of giraffes is called a journey,” our guide yelled back to us. “A leap of leopards, a pride of lions, a crash of rhinos, a journey of giraffes.”

“Or a trip if there’s just a couple… like now, right?” I heard myself throw out there. Our guide caught my eye in the side mirror and started to laugh. “Oh, but see?” God whispered. “There is still some mischief left in you.”

Our group would prove to be instant family. We represented every generation from retirees to middle-school… and we were very much able to laugh. We would voluntarily eat meals together, yell at each other to duck down for photos, carry each other’s beach gear, and beg to have schedules changed so excursions could be taken together. Our guide would prove to be an expert in land-management and conservation, and I found myself dusting off my outdoor education muscles again after 10 years of time-out. “Oh, but see?” God whispered. “These people are safe.”

And that was Africa.

Familiar and brand new and chaotic and easy. Why would God bring me to the other side of the world at the most difficult time in our family’s life? To show me how far He would go to bring me back home. To let me laugh again. To give me space. To have me see impossible animals in unbelievable proximity. To stand in awe. To prove, in ways I could completely understand, that He never changes.

We are never prepared for what we expect.

-James Michner

[I feel like I’m teaching myself to tell stories again.

It’s going to take a bit to find my rhythm again.]

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This is Christmas.

A father packs a suitcase.

He tells me this story:

The kids aren’t coming home for Christmas this year.

He’s not mad. 

Disappointed, maybe,

but not mad.

He misses his kids,

this much is obvious.

We used to talk a lot. Actually, we used to be inseparable, you know? They hung on every word I said. Ran home every chance they could. Asked my advice, ate at the family table, counted on me. But times change and, well, you know how it goes. Kids want to explore, right? They challenge the truth they grew up with. They started believing I didn’t understand them anymore, said times were different now, said they wanted their freedom. We talked less and less in those later years until, finally, they stopped coming home at all.

I see them, hear them wandering around life… struggling through. I hate that we aren’t together anymore.

“But you still love them,” I say.

Oh, I do! Absolutely. I still love them. I could never not love them. I hate being away from them. I hate not talking. I hate not being involved in their lives, comforting them when they hurt and celebrating when they’re thrilled. I miss the early days of watching them discover life. I absolutely love them, without a doubt.

And so, in order to show them that I love them… that nothing can change that I love them, that my heart’s desire is to know them and be known by them, that I want a relationship at all costs…

this year I’m going to THEM for Christmas.

He is smiling now.

The biggest smile

you can imagine.

I’m going to surprise them. If they won’t come to me, then I will go to them. I will get low. I will serve.I will be last. I’ll go where they are. I’ll find them where they are. If they can’t or won’t come home, I’ll go to them. It’s a long trip, and I think it may be uncomfortable. But, I’m going.

Because I love them.

I think He’s amazing.

And, maybe a little stubborn.

But certainly determined…

as one is when in unconditional love.

candlelight

Do you see what I see?

This is Christmas… 

the celebration of God coming to us to make peace. The thrill of hope: knowing we are not lost but, in fact, found. That we are missed and loved and sought. That we walked away and He came after us.

With an infant’s cry on a not-so silent night, Jesus started a war for peace- a war against sin. It is the middle of a story that started in a garden and ends on a cross… with an epilogue we truly cannot grasp.

We are no longer lost,

for He has come down to us.

We have a savior; 

we have a savior.

[music]

Merry Christmas, friends. 

• inspired by a stunning monologue

at the 2014 BHBC candlelight service


Can you hear me now?

Long before I had my own children to school me in life, I had the McKenzie family. You’ve met them before. They were my family in California when mine was so far away. They were instrumental in the early years of my relationship with Curt. A crazy cross between mentors, friends, coworkers, and parents… our relationship was sealed through surgery recoveries, fourth of July parades,  and rec center volleyball.

Jonathan, or J-Bud, is the third of their four children, and he was quite famous for rising early and making too much noise when his older brother in the top bunk wanted to sleep.

After several failed attempts to guide the child into better practices, the McKenzies laid down the law with their 4 year-old.

“Jay, they said one night at bedtime. “Jay, you cannot get up so early in the morning. It wakes up your brother and it wakes everyone else up. From now on, you stay in your bed until we come and get you. You can read books, but you may not get out of your bed. You can play legos, on your bed. You can color, on your bed. IF YOU GET OUT OF BED, you will get a spanking. Do you understand?”

Jonathan considered this for a long moment.

“Yes, but HOW MANY spankings?” he wanted to know.

I think of their kids when I ask Abby to dance for me and she says, “No. I’m not that kind of kid.”

I think of their family when Gideon asks to marry me and I remember that I promised Kylie first.

I think of them when my children scribble on paper (or walls *sigh*) and remember that a small, brown child first told me 15 years ago the scribbles were the marks ice skaters left in the ice.

I think of them especially in this season of my life, as my kids’ ages overlap with my strongest memories of their clan at the same age…

and I give thanks that all of our children were not the same ages at the same time. Surely, California would have exploded at some point.

I give thanks that I got to live and breathe and shop and serve with parents who lost their temper and asked for forgiveness. Who took the weird vitamin supplements before they were cool. Who let their kids run barefoot and climb high.

They were preparing me for the future in small and magnificent ways. 

fall

Once again, I am in awe of a God so in charge, so everywhere that He can see my future as He guides my present and reminds me of my past. He know what I will need, what I need, and what I needed… and He provided.

As the leaves fall away and the air starts to chill, I can hear Him whispering, “I see you, Katie. I know you. Trust me. I know.”

Oh, that I would have ears to hear.


don’t ask, don’t tell

I have spent most of my life afraid of one specific thing.

Well, to be honest, I have spent my life afraid of LOTS of things. I was a nervous child. I am a nervous adult. This will come a surprise to most of you who have met me or seen me parent… my children climbing on tractors and riding bikes without helmets, me majoring in ropes courses and singing in front of large crowds. Calm and collected in the spotlight, but a wreck in the wings.

The anxiety is more of an internal monologue that ranges from self-esteem to haunted houses to small talk. There are a few regular heavy-hitters:

wrongful imprisonment in a foreign country

getting lost in a jungle with large snakes

having all four tires explode while I am driving

I’m not here to debate the validity of any of these. Believe me, I’ve been through it all before. My brain is stronger than my will, and the Anxious creeps regularly.

There was great relief when I finally confessed this tendency of mine to exaggerate and perseverate on imaginary issues to Curt.

“Like what,” he asked?

Like, for instance, when you’re late coming home I assume you’re in a ditch.

“I’ll text you before I leave.”

(awesome)

Like, I’m going to be singing in church and I’ll forget all the words.

“We’ll make you a cheat sheet to put on the floor.”

(perfect)

Someone is going to take my kids.

“They will bring them back as soon as Gideon gets hungry.”

(true)

But then, there is the real one… the one I always have in the back of my mind. Being the daughter of a mechanic and married to an engineer should have cured me of all traffic and car related fears, but still, every time,

I am still afraid all the wheels are going to explode off my car.  I’m afraid something will go ridiculously wrong, all the tires will roll off, and we will explode into a fireball down the highway.

And I told him- Curt- I told him. I felt like an idiot, but we were doing the whole full-disclosure thing and it was going really well and I figured I might as well go all the way. Heal me, husband. Show me logic.

“Oh, Kate,” he said. “You don’t need to be afraid of that.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s dumb. But I always, just for a second, panic and try to figure out what I would do if that happened.”

“Right, but I mean you actually don’t need to be afraid of that.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Well, if all your wheels came off at one time, the car would just stop. Bam. Right there. Game over. Having all four wheels come off would actually be perfectly fine. What’s more likely and far more dangerous is for someone to forget to tighten a lug nut and have one or even two wheels fly off. THAT happens all the time and causes all kinds of ridiculous wrecks.”

[blink•blink]

And this is why I am not a full-time Champion of Logic.

It’s also why Curt is #2 in my phone.

Sometimes logic is not the first thing you need, people. 


filling in the cracks

aj It is time…

Last year, part of a major self-care overhaul in my life included buying tickets to a women’s writing conference in South Carolina. I leave again early Thursday morning… on a plane… just me and my books for 4 days.

Molly and Miriam are helping me split the hotel costs. Both are old souls to me, but we’ve never lived together for more than 12 hours. Curt thought it might be a good idea to let them in on a few particulars:

  1. There will be no sleep for Katie before 1am. She may get IN bed at 9:30pm, but that means Scandal is on, baseball is on, or she is reading. Or all three. Very possibly all three.
  2. Speaking of the tv- if you turn it on, Katie will adjust the volume so that it’s on an odd number.
  3. Katie wakes up slower than any other person on earth. It’s not personal. There will be no complete sentences within the first hour.
  4. Katie wakes up super slow but can be ready in about 4 minutes. Hold the elevator. She will not be late.
  5. There shall be no whistling at any time.
  6. Coke and Chinese food are the go-to saves for a rough day or incredibly awkward moment.
  7. Katie can read minds, body language, and between the lines. It’s super annoying.
  8. Large crowds can cause unexpected bailing. Do not be alarmed if your roommate disappears for a bit. She’s in a hallway somewhere or taking a nap.
  9. If you have candy, she will eat all your red and orange pieces.
  10. Katie is not fan of ironing, but it’s her spiritual gift. If you need to be fancy and you show up with a Coke in-hand, she’ll work her magic for you.

Fall has been a wild ride for this family. I feel like we haven’t really stopped to breathe since August. I’m so excited for a little time away to clear my head, do a little focused writing, and sit with friends. I need to eat food I have not made myself and be out of arm’s reach of small sticky fingers. I would like to use a bathroom that locks and take a shower without stepping on foam alphabet letters.

I need to fill in a few minor cracks in the self-care department, amen? I can’t wait to hear stories that challenge me to be a better storyteller, meet other women building tiny kingdoms, and laugh late into the night over chips and salsa.

What are you doing to fill in the cracks?


sun-seekers

sunflower

There was not much room.

There never is, when 3 adults are squished across the bench seat of an S-10 pick-up truck, but he and a friend needed a ride to the airport and I volunteered.

He had spent the last month of his summer at the camp where I worked, serving junior high kids by picking up their trash, painting fences in the California heat, and fixing broken things. Not glorious by anyone’s standards, but he volunteered.

Did you have a good month? I asked.

I did, he answered indifferently. It was something to do.

But not magical, your saying?

No. Not magical.

What will you do when you get home?

Take out the trash, paint my mom’s fence, fix broken things. You know, whatever needs done.

Ah. So, this was a lot like regular life for you?

I guess.

No literal Come To Jesus Moment in your small group or quiet times?

Not really.

No new, life-long friends?

Nah. 

No camp romance?

Hell no.

I grinned. He was not like 99% of the students that spent their summer with us. Not inside, not outside. But, he was honest. 

I did like the plants, though. 

What do you mean?

I like how here in California the plants look for the sun. That doesn’t happen where I’m from.

I don’t follow.

Well, we’d be up early, you know? Before everyone else. And we’d empty the trash cans and throw the bags on the truck before breakfast, usually still in the dark. I was always picking wrappers out of the hillside by the kitchen where people would throw their candy wrappers down or miss the can… and they’d land in the weeds and flowers that climb the back hill. In the dark, the flowers were closed. Still. Waiting. Resting. Staying out of trouble.

By the time breakfast started, the sun would peek out over the valley, and the flowers would start to slowly open and look up, You live here. Ever noticed that?

I can’t say that I have. I’m at work by then, inside.

Yeah. I hear you. It’s super weird. The flowers- they were, like, waiting to come alive. Saving energy until the sun came out each day. And then, when it did, they all opened up and faced straight up- soaking up as much as they could. I dunno. It was cool. They seek the sun.

It was the most I’d ever heard him speak, and, admittedly, more insight than I had bargained for from such a tough kid. 

So, what do you think about those sun-seekers?

I think they’re on to something. It’s hard to grow in the dark, you know? Don’t waste your energy. Wait for the sun. I guess I never thought about it before. 

He shrugged, and I exited for the airport.

I wonder where he is now. I wonder if he ever found the Light. I wonder if he could ever possibly realize how often I’ve thought about that 5-minute conversation in the past 12 years.

Maybe we didn’t change his life.

Maybe he changed mine.

It’s hard to grow in the dark.

Wait for the sun.

When it appears- and, it always appears,- soak in as much as possible.

When it’s dark, rest.

Rest and wait.

God bless the 1% that blur the lines between lost and found, little red trucks that haul the Gospel around, and errands that deliver you into the sun.


running away

shoes

Every other day since May of this year, I have laced up some shoes and pounded 2 miles out of my dirt road.

I have 2 pair of running tights… and they are that: tight. It’s not pretty.

After a couple months, I bought some real running shoes… lighter and simpler than the cute ones I’ve always worn with jeans. I bought socks that don’t have stripes and don’t come up to my knees.

Before you get all Yay Yahoo It’ll change your Life Anyone Can Do It One Step In Front of the Other It’s Where I Do My Best Thinking on me, let me say this:

I hate it.

I sure do hate running.

I do not feel awesome when I am running.

I cannot talk when I’m running, much less solve the world’s problems.

I don’t finish on a high with rosy cheeks and happy muscles.

My body has not changed and is not super thrilled with me.

I am not a runner’s runner.

So, why do it?

Because for 20 years, I have assumed that I could not. True: I ran track my freshman year in high school… sprints and certainly nothing over 400m in practice. True: I was a Kinesiology (that’s P.E., in layman’s terms) major in college and suffered through every agility and physical requirement that came my way. I survived both simply because I did not like my alternative options.

For 20 years, running has been the thing I cannot do, that I could not be great at, that I wouldn’t learn.

When given the choice, I choose less. Less complicated, less hard, less risk.

When a friend asked me to join them on a 5k in May, I laughed and agreed- signing up before I could come up with an excuse to bail. I signed up Curt, too, just for good measure. And ever since that weekend, I have kept going.

It’s not awesome. I have no illusions or desires of personal bests and sleek silhouettes. I just wanted to change my mind, and 30 minutes every other day was the simplest way to do it. No equipment. No membership. No kids. No cds. No diet. Just… run.

I wanted to quiet the voice. That voice that whispers, “Yeah, well… you can’t do that. AND, you don’t have to. Running means racing and winning… you can’t do that. Running means walking out of your house in awkward clothing… you can’t do that. Running means having familiar cars pass you… you can’t do that. Running is physically uncomfortable and public and hard.”

Actually, I can do that. 

I can’t do it well, which always stopped me before, but I CAN DO IT.

I am learning, slowly, that God is not as impressed with results as He is with effort. I have taught this to students, prayed this with my children, and written this to lost hearts… but I have never personally accepted it.

He is not as impressed with your results, Katie, as He is with your effort.

Just try. 

Don’t talk yourself out of it. Don’t wait for perfection. Don’s assume everyone else out there is loving their race.

Just try. Stop when you have to, stretch at the end, and check it off the list.

It counts.