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Clicky Clicky: Unequivocal Kate

Strike a Pose!

A friend recently commented on how great-looking the people we went to high school with still are, as evidenced by their facebook photos, and she noted that our parents just looked old in their 40's. That made me smile.

There's a big difference between how we viewed our parents back then and how we view one another now. Our parents didn't have access to social networking sites like facebook, nor could they crop their photographs just so or miraculously rub out a wrinkle or two or twenty. Remember the days of snap and shoot and you got what you got when it came to taking pictures? Sure you do. It wasn't that long ago.

Film and developing cost too much back then for anyone but a professional photographer to take 20 pictures, aiming for the perfect shot. With the advent of digital photography, we can click away until we have exactly the shot we want. Heck, they even make duel-view cameras now where you can take a photo of yourself and see what it will look like before you snap the picture. (See the Samsung DualView Digital camera above).

So, we have social network sites and the carefully chosen photos that present us in the best possible light at the most flattering angle with the bits we're not proud of cropped out. Of course we look fantastic!

I remember when celebrity magazines like People first started posting unedited pictures of celebrities next to the photos that appeared in magazines and people were appalled. Suddenly, it seemed like we were all being fed lies. The celebrities weren't that gorgeous that perpetually young and firm and stunning. They were just regular people with good bone structure.

I'm one of those people with good bones, I think. In the right light at the right angle, snap a photo and I'll look great. Catch me on any given day and not so much; I'll be looking like the older, over-weight version of the me you've seen on facebook, maybe even her mother! I'm laughing but it's true, damn it all to hell!

My oldest son forwarded a text of a picture a friend shot of me the other day and to say that I cringed when I saw it would be a gross understatement. Later in the day I told him that I felt like a poser because of the pictures I post of myself on facebook. He was genuinely surprised and protested, "You're not a poser! Those are legitimate, recent pictures of you." He truly didn't understand my feeling of chagrin. In his world, in his generation, it's de rigeur to post the kind of photos that leave many people of my generation feeling like posers.

He laughed and mimicked the angles preferred by girls, the camera out and up, shooting down or better yet, directly overhead. I barked out a laugh. Guilty times a million I am! Try to take a picture of me when I'm standing up and you're sitting down and I might just grab you by the throat. Don't do it. :)

Anyway, I'm trying to process what it all means about us as a society. Facebook is far more than a social networking site, a convenient means by which to stay in touch, it's also a place where we can present the best of ourselves and engage a little fantasy. I can hear the voices raised in protest, "I don't do that, Kate!" Protest all you want, I won't believe you. You see, I've seen the photos you post and I've also seen you at the supermarket, just like you've seen me. Gotcha!

I'm not sure that there's anything wrong with it. We've simply joined the leagues in a lesser way of celebrities that populate our television screens. We're putting our best face forward, letting people peek in at us like paparazzi, only they're expressly forbidden to post unapproved pictures of us on their pages or, God forbid, tag us!

I think we're all guilty to varying degrees and in different ways because we all have our different vanities and insecurities. Some folks avoid posting recent pictures at all and try to pass-off 20-year old photos as recent shots, which is something I saw quite a lot of on myspace. Most of us just smiled and let it pass. Sure you were wearing high waisted, pleated jeans just two years ago, beating teens on the fashion beat, and you had that great big 1980's hair in 2008. Riiight.

When I first started blogging I used a recent picture that had been touched-up by a photographer I knew. It was this great picture of me looking Bohemian and lovely. I loved being her even though I knew she wasn't really me, no more so than the magazine covers we see accurately portray celebrities. Later, I started showing untouched pictures. I remember the first time. It was painful because it meant letting go of the dream of that beautifully air-brushed me. It sounds silly and even feels silly NOW, but it's true.

I still control the pictures I show, just as most of you do, albeit I favor pictures of my feet and knees. :) What I'm learning is that it doesn't really matter. We post the pictures for ourselves, not for others. In some ways, I think it keeps us young inside, reminds us of who we are because the mirror doesn't always reflect that. My mirror shows someone who's older than I am, while those carefully chosen pictures serve as a reminder of who I am on the inside. The spirit of me is young and lovely.

So, do we look better than our parents did? I don't think so. We just have a means by which to project the inner-us in ways that they couldn't. I have seen pictures of my great-grandparents sternly glaring into the camera and felt chilled. Were they that cold and hard? Were they that unhappy? It's not likely. Technology simply required that they be still and smiles are fleeting, changing things. It's much easier to hold a stern face. I wonder how they would have felt had they been able to hold a camera out front and high up and smile a wicked or mischievous smile. Well, the idea makes *me* smile. I'd love to have seen my Grandma Grace strike a pose!

©Just Kate, May 2010

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Burning Bridges

I've heard it said that once spoken certain words cannot be unsaid that it's impossible to get past the pain of them. Once upon a time, I even believed it. I don't believe it anymore. Life has taught me that people feel things in a moment that don't represent how they feel in general. Which one of us hasn't thought something perfectly awful about someone we love? Which of us hasn't had a moment or two of gross unfairness or wrong-headedness?

So, what leads to the idea that we cannot recover from rashly or harshly spoken words? I think it's pride, plain and simple. Surely, we're not so fragile that we can be irreparably undone in a moment. Words hurt, it's true. I even wrote a blog about it, called Sticks and Stones and Broken Bones. Hurtful words spoken over a lifetime or the course of a childhood can cripple the hearer, but that is not the same as words spoken between adults, words that should not have been said. Perhaps we can't snatch them back again, but we can ask for or extend forgiveness.

Another thing I don't believe in is the concept of burning bridges. Once again, why can't we get past "bad moments," even horrifying moments? Should we subject ourselves to evil people, of course not, but we can get past doors slammed shut. We can tie a rope to a burned bridge and leap across.

When I was growing up I spent a lot of time at the rivers and lakes that surrounded our home. One of my favorite spots had a massive tree with a rope tied in it. We would inch our way across a perfectly extended branch, grab hold of the rope, and swing right across the water, then free-fall into it. What's to stop us from doing the same thing when confronted by a burned bridge? :) Pride? That's probably the biggest factor. But if we're willing to ask for or extend forgiveness, we can swing across and free-fall back into a broken friendship or family relationship. That being said, the fact that we can doesn't necessarily mean that we should.

I'm glad that I've come to a place where I recognize the truth that it's possible to heal from having spoken or heard hurtful words that it's possible to swing across a burned bridge. Perhaps we won't find a foothold on the other side, but that shouldn't prevent us from trying if it's what we feel. We're not responsible for how other people react, we're only responsible for our own actions, for being true to ourselves.

©Just Kate, May 2010

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Unapologetically American

Sent home from high school for wearing red, white, and blue on Cinco de Mayo?! What? It's true. Five boys from Morgan Hill High School in California were told that they could wear clothing depicting the American flag on any other day but Cinco de Mayo, because it's disrespectful and insensitive to Mexican-Americans.

Administrators instructed them to turn their American-flag t-shirts inside out and remove other red, white, and blue accessories or face suspension. The boys opted to leave school for the day instead.

I read the report and watched the news clip repeatedly, trying to wrap my mind around the incident. Is it not possible to be a proud citizen of the United States of America and still be respectful of the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo?

Are Mexican schoolchildren chastised for wearing green, white, and red or clothing depicting their national flag on the Fourth of July? The very idea sounds ridiculous.

Where else but in the United States of America would the expression of national pride be seen as an insult to other nationalities? Never mind that one of the reprimanded boys is an American of Hispanic descent. Was he disrespecting his own heritage by wearing red, white, and blue on a Mexican holiday? The idea is ludicrous.

It has become unpopular for citizens of the U.S.A. to express pride in their country. It's okay for Mexicans, Canadians, Pakistanis, Iraqis and citizens of every other country but not citizens of the U.S.A. I wouldn't be surprised if it became politically correct for the American flag to be made smaller and flown lower than other flags on U.S. Government property. You know, as a sign of respect for legal and illegal immigrants in our country.

I fear for our country. I grew up in the Reagan era where communism was the biggest threat to our nation. But, today, it seems that the biggest threat to our nation comes from within. As we sit down to tea with terrorist and invite them to discuss their feelings, as we apologize for our standing as a super-power, and punish our children for expressing national pride, it seems obvious to me that the biggest threat to America is America herself.

Somewhere along the way, America lost her *"swagger" and I don't see that as a good thing, but then I never saw the U.S.A. as being a world-bully. I have always seen our nation as one that defends those who cannot defend themselves that gives wherever there is a need. Is the United States a perfect nation? Of course not, but it's a nation with a great-big, beautiful heart.

On a personal note, one of our children was abducted while we were living overseas and working for a non-profit organization. It might not have happened had we been given proper protection. Every other expatriate that we knew there lived behind high chain link fences, fronted with metal panels, and topped by razor wire, but because we were American citizens that level of protection would be seen as arrogance, as us setting ourselves above the nationals. Never mind that Australians, New Zealanders, Germans, Canadians, etc. all lived that way for their own safety. It was okay for them but not for U.S. citizens. And so the organization we worked for knowingly and willingly left us vulnerable.

Was our "humility" respected? It was not. Our child was taken from us in the middle of the night while we slept. We were easy targets with our great big American hearts. The local police later told us that in their country people who leave themselves vulnerable to attack are seen as stupid and therefore fair game. I'll never forget the police officers unapologetic shrug.

Eventually, the non-profit organization we worked for reluctantly put proper security measures in place.

It was the first time I'd seen Americans making themselves vulnerable as a means of apologizing for, what, our wealth and super-power status? Is that it? But what about the fact that we were there, living in a dark and dangerous place because we wanted to help?!

I see sharp parallels here. I see our nation adopting the same attitude as the non-profit we worked for and likewise making her citizens vulnerable. In fact, so many Americans have already embraced the idea like lambs led to slaughter, just as we embraced the idea back in a country far, far away, and nearly lost a child.

I'm writing about it from this angle because it's personal to me, because I see this newly "humble" America making herself increasingly vulnerable as she seeks to honor others above herself. It sounds very noble, doesn't it? Well, I don't see a whole lot of appreciation coming from outside our borders. I don't see a positive trend in world opinion. I see other nations showing their teeth while America willingly muzzles herself.

We shouldn't apologize for national pride on Cinco de Mayo or any other day nor should we teach our children to do so. My child was hurt in part because the organization we worked for felt a need to apologize for its national affiliation.

©Just Kate, May 2010

Urban Dictionary: *Swagger is the confidence exuded as a reflection of ones dress, game, attitude, and how one handles a situation.

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Squeeze This Book!

Memories are diaphanous things. It doesn't matter how close or distant the event. The moment we've lived through a thing we begin to piece it back together again and the process is imprecise at best. It's nothing like matching puzzle pieces. It's more like trying to reconstruct a fire-ravaged building from smoke and burning ash.

Yet we have our history books and the journals we keep. We have newspaper articles and clips from magazines. We have the Bible, New American Standard, New International Version, King James. There are biographies, auto-biographies, semi-autobiographical stories, and real-life events that have been fictionalized or perhaps only names were changed to protect the innocent. In reality, I'm not sure that any of it can be quantified as objective truth in the end. Perception colors every experience.

I think of those who perceive the bible as being the literal, infallible word of God. I don’t see it that way at all. I think that if you squeezed the pages, wrung them out like a damp dishcloth, the truth would come dripping out of the bible despite the loss of form. In that way it is God-breathed to me.

My first rough draft of my first novel is nearly finished and I've been struggling with it. The story is fiction and there are places where I am well aware of that when I'm writing or reading back. Other times, the story feels so true that I can barely breath as I'm writing and I can't read it back without crying. Sometimes it hits me like a fist in the gut, it feels that real, that immediate.

I stopped writing for a long while as I tried to tease out the fantasy from reality, but I eventually gave up. If you squeeze my book, the truth will come out. It's not in the details, it's in the heart of it. And that makes it a painful thing because it captures a piece of me that I'm not sure I trust you to hold.

But then again, you can no more hold a piece of me than you can grasp a wisp of smoke or handful of sand. And so what if you misinterpret my heart or intent. So what if you get it all wrong. While I'm writing it, the story is mine. Once it's finished it belongs to whoever reads it. You can do with it what you will, feel it in whatever way you do, and it's all good. If it moves you, read on. If it doesn't, lay it down. I grinned when I wrote that. Writing it felt better than good.

I recently read a book by Dean Koontz – that’s right, shut up! – and I realized that Koontz isn’t a horror-author or a fantasy-author, albeit that’s the genre he writes in, he’s simply a writer, a gifted story-teller. As fantastical as that particular story was, a story about dogs with the intelligence of humans, it was woven through with Koontz’s truth and that’s what captured me and made it feel plausible and real.

Memories are diaphanous things. I started there and I’ll end there. Even when I’m writing something true about me, about my life – a memory - the truth is far less in the details than it is in the heart. I think that recent realization is freeing me to be a better writer.

Maybe one day I’ll be the kind of writer, like Koontz, that can write about something as ridiculous as a dog with a brain to rival that of Einstein and people will be captured by the greater truth hidden in my fiction, the truth being that dogs are beautiful in the simplicity of their love and devotion. Once-upon-a-time a dog helped me survive my childhood. She was my friend, confidant, and guardian angel. Truths like that weave over, around, and through our stories and seep through the substance of our memories.

©Just Kate, May 2010

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***For my friend, Jay, and anyone else who wonders at my intentionally unconventional use of the word "diaphanous" in describing memory. This photo works well as an illustration. I hope other people can see it. If not, tell me!

Christianese

This is the first time in my life that I've really stood outside of the church and found myself looking in. What I see is what appears to be a fairly exclusionary club where the members have their own coded language and peculiar way of doing things (yes, I said "peculiar" and not "particular"). It's certainly not inviting.

To be around church people one must be conversant in "Christianese." Christianese is a language, yes, but it's also a way of being. I wonder how many people would continue to speak Christianese if they realized how off-putting it is to non-believers and the unchurched or people like me who have stepped outside the church. Assuming, of course, that Christians don't wish to be exclusionary.

I ran into an old friend, a former friend, really. No, that's not right either, it was someone I knew in the context of church. She told me about a hard thing that was happening in her life and I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. I felt such compassion for her. When I told her how sorry I was, she said that she wasn't sorry, that she was unworthy of God's goodness and would willingly suffer whatever came her way, that she wouldn't stop praising the Lord! Her smile was so brittle I wouldn't have been surprised to see her face break into a million tiny pieces.

There was a pause. She said, "He bled for me, Katy. He bled for me." (a Christianese reference to Jesus on the cross)

My eyebrows went up.

I said, "Well, I can certainly see that you're doing your best to be strong." She responded, "It's God in me. Praise God that he's working in me. Everything is owed to Jesus. I'm just going to keep praising Him, Katy. Don't admire me, admire Jesus!"

I blinked.

I mean, I wasn't admiring her at all. I was simply stating what I perceived to be true that she was trying to be strong.

There was nothing in that exchange that felt authentic to me. Instead of seeing active faith, I saw desperate adherence to Christianese. It felt for all the world like she was striving to be admirable, like she was putting her faith on display for me. All I can say is that I perceived nothing of God in it. She struck me as being desperately and willfully lonely.

Before I could walk away she said, "Are you spending time in the word, Katy? How's your walk?" I felt my mouth gape open then shut again. How many times have I heard those words coming from Christian church leaders? How many times have I uttered them myself in my past church life? What do they even MEAN?! I was struck by how condescending those questions sounded, how insincere, how very distant and off-putting.

Not too long ago, I tried to explain my new faith to someone I once considered a dear friend. I barely got out two sentences before he leaped to his feet and left abruptly.

I watched him go and felt sad for a moment. He was someone whose kindness I'd once felt drawn to but it suddenly seemed terribly inauthentic, which is funny because authenticity is something I've heard him speak about numerous times. Well, I guess in a way he was being authentic. He was authenticity disinterested in knowing me outside of the church it seems.

I asked myself WWJD (for those of you who aren't conversant in Christianese, that's an acronym for "What would Jesus do?") and the answer that came to me was simply NOT THAT. He would not have jumped up and nearly upset the table with the quickness of his leaving. He would not have shut the metaphorical door, leaving a "members only" sign wagging on the doorknob in front of me.

More and more lately I am meeting people like me who have stepped away from the church, people who are deeply spiritual but don't feel comfortable in the church (again, for those not conversant in Christianese, "the church" is synonymous with Christians who define themselves as "God's people" and not a reference to a building). Instead, they feel like they want no part in an exclusionary club where everyone begins to look and speak the same. They want no part of the judgment. They don't want to be asked rote questions like, "Are you spending time in the word?" (Ah, "word" means "bible" and the bible is a book that is the literal, infallible word of God, in Christianese.)

I once wrote a blog called The Empty Church and that's really what I see when I close my eyes and envision the church. I envision a place full of lonely echoes, a people who have become inbred and weak.

I think it's time to lay down the Christianese, to shake it off and take a walk out in the wide world, learn to speak the language of the unchurched. Follow the advice of Saint Francis of Assisi who said, "Preach Christ at all times, if necessary use words." I'm absolutely certain that he was not admonishing us to speak in Christianese. He was admonishing us to love authentically.

©Just Kate, April 2010

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The Teeter Totter

I used to watch him with this Australian girl who was obviously head-over-heels for him. I didn't get it. They seemed totally mismatched. I didn't know either of them very well nor did I want to. They were people who shared my space and I noticed them but that's as far as it went.

We were living in an old, cold monastery in Canberra, Australia but we were both American. We had that in common, me and that guy. That and the fact that we were both in bible school. Anyway, someone had the bright idea of throwing us together on a music and drama team that would travel through the outback, performing for children.

I watched him then. He was quiet but funny. He could fix anything. He always told the truth no matter how uncomfortable it was for other people to hear. He always wore plaid shirts and a leather motorcycle jacket. He was tall and lean. We wore the same size jeans.

One day he was sitting with his back against the wall, playing his guitar and singing. I came into the room and heard the song, Wild Thing by The Troggs. It was forbidden music in bible school, the devil's stuff. I loved it. He looked up and I grinned at him. They would have labeled us rebellious by virtue of our U.S. citizenship, but we earned that label, too, I'll own that. Anyway, back to my story, before I could look away, he stopped singing and said, "Wild Thing, I think I love you."

And that was it. I was shot through by the truth of him. That's the best way I can describe it. He was so true, so honest. And I needed honesty more than anything. There it was, right in front of me, honesty clad in jeans, a plaid shirt, and leather jacket, honesty with a guitar in hand.

After that, we were friends. We would sneak out after midnight and run to the park where we would swing and talk under the Southern Cross. We would walk under Eucalyptus trees, listening to the nighttime quiet of the Cockatoos. On weekends, we rode bicycles to the fish and chips shack and ate our paper-parceled lunch, sitting in the grass.

I've said that our marriage was a happy accident, that I hadn't intended it. I don't know if that's true. I loved him. He wasn't at all what I expected. Nobody who knew us believed in us - separately, sure, but not together, no way no how.

Our school leaders wanted him to be with the Australian girl, the one who cooked for him and laughed at everything he said, the one who never challenged him.

Someone said we would be like two people on a teeter-totter. I'd be up in the air, swinging my legs, and he'd be solidly planted on the ground. They were right about that but wrong about what it would mean for us. I've always needed someone to keep me tethered to the earth. I've always needed someone to take hold of me and not let go. I needed him and I'm so glad he's been on the other side of that teeter-totter for 22 years now.

I don't know what happened to the Australian girl. No matter what they said, she wouldn't have been good for him. As much as I needed him to keep me grounded, he needed me to bounce the teeter-totter, to tease him with the sky.

I once said that I didn't have a love story. God, when I'm wrong I'm wrong. Our story is nothing but a love story after all.

I'm so glad we didn't listen to everyone who said we'd never make it. We barely knew each other when we were married, yet somehow we beat the odds together. It hasn't been easy. There were years when we were held together by nothing more than sheer tenacity and hope.

Our kids, like most kids, think of us as nothing more than mom and dad. It's as if we were born married. I doubt they've ever thought of us as individuals with stories of our own, and that makes me smile because I remember when we were brand new and there were no children; our story was still unwritten.

When I look at him, I still see that jean-clad boy on the other side of the teeter-totter and I know he still sees a blond girl backlit by the Australian sky.

©Just Kate, April 2010

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The Little Things

Looking back on my childhood I can't remember any details about our trips to Disneyland and other "big" events. I mostly remember them from pictures I've seen in old photo albums. What I do remember is riding my horse through the forest and fields, sitting in the hayloft reading with my kitty in my lap. I remember the time before my mom got really sick when she took me to a nearby river and we sat on the rocks and talked.

I remember laying in the grass under sprinklers at Grandma Grace's house, and speeding along dirt tracks on my motorcycle.

Today, as we were stacking heavy pallets, building fences, burning a massive burn pile, felling a 40 foot tree, cleaning out the barn, playing with our dogs and ponies, I realized I was as happy as I've ever been. The days that we spend outside working together are some of my best and most dear memories.

We ate lunch in the shade of the barn, on Adirondack chairs. Our youngest pony picked up a bottle of green tea and lifted it into the air like she was drinking and it was so cute. I wish I'd had my camera. The cats were twining between our legs while the dogs panted at our feet, and we talked and laughed and life was as good as it gets. :)

It's not the first time I've realized that life is made up of small moments, the day-to-day stuff that we all too often forget to savor in the moment. I remember when my grandpa died. He was 91 years old and his mind had gone back to the past, to camping trips when his children were little, then farther back to his boyhood, working in the forest with his father and brother. I loved hearing those stories. He smiled and laughed as his eyes were clouded by pain and the effects of morphine. He squeezed my hand in his, blue veined with skin paper-thin, and he called me by my mother's name and told me how proud he was of me - of her.

One day, when I look back on these days of my "prime," I know that I'll remember the small moments of our day-to-day lives and I don't want to let them pass without realizing in the moment how blessed I am.

I hope that you realize the beauty in your small moments, too, that you don't spend your days looking to the future - to this big trip or that big moment. I hope you value the here and now.

At this very moment, I'm cozy in our family room with my hubby and kids who are watching a movie that doesn't hold my interest but I love simply being with them, the sound of their laughter and exclamations as they follow the story. And I'm thankful that they're here with me. Life is good.

©Just Kate, April 2010

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What about you? I'd love to hear some of your favorite small moments, the things that make you happiest, small and big.

Get Over It!

People are always bickering about something: religion, politics, the correct way to discipline children, igo igo igo.* Why is that? I think it's because we take ourselves too damn seriously. Someone says something that doesn't sit right with us and we immediately take umbrage. We become like growling dogs with our hackles up.

Just this week I've witnessed good friends engaged in verbal brawls over the silliest things like "inappropriate" Obama jokes and whether or not Rush Limbaugh is an idiot. Why must we take our opinions so seriously? Why must everything be so sacred?

Personally, I have no desire to be "appropriate" and I'm really not that worried about what you think of me. Oh, I used to worry. In fact, I spent most of my life trying to do the right thing and not offend anybody. It was exhausting and it never really worked anyway. Someone is always bound to disagree about what's right and be offended about this or that thing.

I'm finally coming to a place where I can respond with a shrug when people get all riled up about things that make no sense to me. Here's a great example. You know those i-heart and i-hug applications on facebook? Well, I was sending them out to friends, male and female. My motives weren't that complicated. It simply seemed like a nice way to say "hi." But, you know what? Some people didn't like it.

Why? Because it's too flirtatious, a cause of jealousy, you see? I had a hard time wrapping my mind around that. They're just friendly facebook apps. But some people take EVERYTHING seriously. Ah, another i-heart from Katy? She obviously wants my man. She's hitting on him, the shameless hussy. Never mind that I was sending the same i-hearts to hubbies and wives. And, no, I wasn't hinting at a threesome. Get over it, people. Seriously.

I KNOW! Maybe we should legalize marijuana. More than that, we should make it mandatory. You know how the government is talking about regulating the amount of salt in packaged foods, because they're looking out for our physical well being? Well, maybe they should mandate that we all take a little toke and relax. Just imagine the health benefits, lowered blood pressure, less stress, a more harmonious environment.

Oh, don't get your panties in a twist, that's exactly what I'm talking about! If you're passionately against drug use, take a deep breath then do it again. Have a sense of humor. Don't take yourself and your opinions and views so damn seriously. PLEASE. I'm not *really* advocating for mandatory pot smoking, anyway.

And do I REALLY have to re-post a message about Jesus (I'm back to facebook here) to prove whether or not I believe in him or love him. REALLY? I mean, if that's what you think and you feel compelled to re-post, go for it, but don't ask me to do it. I'm perfectly happy to see you do your thing, now give me the space to do mine please. It's really easy.

Of course, I'm a pot calling the kettle black. I'm a hypocrite. When people stereotype the mentally ill and folks who are developmentally disabled, my hackles rise a bit. Then, I remind myself to let it go. I can seek to educate but there's no need to get pissed.

So, that's it. I think we all need to chill a bit.

©Just Kate, April 2010

*("igo igo igo" is Tok Pisin (the language of Papua New Guinea) for "etc.")

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Everybody Hurts

My mom’s body was bent, curled, and utterly ruined when she died. She had been sick for a very long time. Still, when she died it hurt so much I thought I might break from the pain of it.

People tried to tell me that my grief and sadness were unwarranted, that I should have been rejoicing because her suffering had ended. Well-meaning people reminded me that young people die in perfect health, in accidents. They compared the loss of my mom to those losses, as if her leaving mattered less.

Here's what I think: our losses are deeply personal. We should not compare our grief to that of another. We should not compare our hardships. Did the pain of others diminish the loss of my mother? Should I have grieved less because she suffered from a horrible disease that eventually consumed her? Of course not. We cannot quantify grief. It is what it is.

I cried when my beloved German shepherd, Kina, died. I still tear up when I think of her. She was loyal, equally capable of puppy wiggles and guard dog possessiveness. I grieved the loss of her. Is the loss of a beloved pet a big thing in the face of starving children? No, but I felt it nonetheless.

I'm grateful that my tears aren't reserved for big things. I'm grateful for the tears that fall over what some would quantify as little things. I am grateful for the passion that I feel about life. I don't regret it. Life is too short to live it with our hearts always in check.

There will always be people who are better off and worse. Always there will be catastrophic losses, small grief's, huge joys, and simple blessings. One loss does not magnify or diminish another.

Every living thing dies. Does that mean that we should not mourn? Of course not. We feel it. We keep it in perspective. We remember that loss has come and will come again.

Pain reminds us to appreciate joy when it comes. Death reminds us to love the living harder, fiercer, and better.

We spend too much time apologizing for our pain. We spend too much time trying to compose ourselves. Life is short. I want to feel it, every moment of it. I don't want to get lost inside of pain, but I want to walk through it when it comes. I don't want to duck under it or dart past it.

When you're in pain, I promise that I will not say chin up or it's for the best or life goes on or God's still in heaven. I'll simply let you know that I feel for you and with you. If you need a hug, I'll give it.


©Just Kate, Rewritten April 15, 2010.
(Originally published in 2008 as "Everybody Dies")

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Kumbaya and Coca Cola

I was born to go barefoot, wear old jeans, and beaded earrings. I love Kumbaya. I'd really like, in all sincerity, to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I'd like to hold it in my arms and keep it company. ♫♪ Coca Cola! ♫♪

Wait.

Damn insidious consumerism. I'm trying to get my hippie on and suddenly there it is, the urge to pop a coke top and take a nice refreshing sip.

Give me a moment to shake that off.

Back on topic: I realize that it's terribly uncool to love those things in this era of high heels, skinny jeans, and bling. I don't like hip-hop or techno-pop. I try to be cynical and angry but I can't control my smile.

Don't get me wrong, I have no desire to ride shimmering, white unicorns over perfect, pastel rainbows, not at all. It's just that I love the earth. I love people. I like to sit down criss-cross applesauce and dream in the sun.

I even believe in free love. No, I'm not talking about the kind that takes place with strangers in never-been-washed sleeping bags while tripping on ACID or smoking pot. I'm talking about the kind of love that reaches across the things that divide us, like religion and politics, that cost nothing to give, that simply IS regardless of whether or not we agree.

And I wish my favorite sappy songs hadn't been turned into commercials.

It's okay for me to be uncool. I'm middle aged and couldn't be cool if I tried. My use of the word "cool" is most definitely uncool. I realize that.

I have a friend who's 80-something-years-old and he wears jeans and skate shoes and greets people with a grin and "hey man." He's not cool either but he's somehow perfect.

I was born in the wrong era or maybe I'm meant to be that distant echo of the past in this present one.

I not really sure if I'm cut out to be a journalist, which is occasionally my job. I don't want to create controversy or fan flames or scintillate or titillate. I like to help people tell their stories. I like to debate and provoke thought. I love to immerse myself in different points of view, to try to stand in other people's shoes.

I have no desire to convert anyone to anything. I'm definitely not cut out to be a salesman.

I'm a square peg in round-hole world, but, finally, at long last, I'm okay with that. For the longest time ever I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn't getting with the program. I can't tell you how many times I've been labeled "rebellious." But, am I really rebellious? If it's rebellious to question and examine then I'll happily own that label. I don't want to baa my through the years, believing whatever I'm told "just because."

For the record, I'm not someone who flies in the face of convention simply for the joy of it. I'm simply full of wonder at this world I live in. I want to understand it and the people who inhabit it with me.

So there you go. Now you know the truth of me. I'm a closet hippie who wants to teach the world to sing, Kumbaya!

©Just Kate, April 2010

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Pictures of you, Pictures of me

I recently came across a manila envelope full of old photographs that a family member sent me shortly after my father died. At the time, I took a cursory look and closed the envelope to examine later when it hurt less.

I'm not sure how to explain my grief at the loss of my father when our relationship was so conflicted. All I know for sure is that he was the center of my life for as long as I'd been alive and then suddenly he was gone and I came undone.

Until the day he died, my life was focused on trying to win his approval, be a good daughter. I worked in his insurance agency for a long time. My husband and I managed my parent's property for them, doing home repairs, keeping up their five acres. When he had a minor heart attack, mom moved in with us and we fed her, changed her, and kept her for quite some time. It was something we did frequently anyway (My mom had multiple sclerosis and was completely dependent). He would show up at 5:00am, wheel mom into the house and bellow, "Are you STILL sleeping, kid?" in a tone of disapproval and incredulity, and then he'd be off again, without explanation, and mom was ours until he came back again, sometimes hours later and other times not for days.

My husband and I were happy to help because we loved and respected my dad. But he was so cuttingly critical, so impossible to please, that I found myself finally pulling away. I remember the day we told him we were moving to Papua New Guinea and he said, "You'll never do it. You're too weak." I was struck to the core by the obvious fact that my father couldn't or wouldn't see the truth of me, that I was anything but weak.

We went and it floored him. I saw it on his face when we said goodbye at the airport. My mom was crying and I hugged her hard, thinking it was quite possible we would lose her while we were gone. It never occurred to me that we might lose my father, but it wasn't mom who died while we were gone, it was him.

Anyway, I recently found those photos and I opened them again. There were pictures of me when I was very little, pictures of me with my dad. In one, I was standing on his hands and he was lying on the floor, bench-pressing me. In another, he was carrying me across a creek, walking on a fallen log. I was in a yellow sundress. He looked rugged, young, and strong. There were pictures of me and dad side-by-side in the sand, on a boat, on a motorcycle. I didn't remember any of that.

I now know there was a time when he loved me. The pictures tell that story. I think that maybe he always did. Something happened when mom got sick. He turned against me, could not tolerate me. There's really no point in my guessing why.

Recently, my oldest daughter was talking about childhood memories, and I was struck by her perception of things. My first reaction was one of hurt. She's hard on me. Then I remembered something I said to my dad shortly before we left for PNG. He snapped, "Why do you always act like you're being attacked?" I answered honestly, "Because I've learned to expect it, Dad. You attack me so frequently, without provocation, that I brace myself for it." I remember seeing a flash of recognition in his eyes. He dropped it immediately because it was true and any conversation would require that he own it, which was something he either could not or would not do.

So, when my daughter looked at me with accusation in her eyes, I let it pierce right through me, allowed myself to feel the painful truth that I was often unfair to her. There were times when I showed shades of my father in parenting her. I was demanding, critical, and unfair. It sucks. I'd like to say that she's wrong. To paint her in shades of disturbed, as my dad did to me, like my brother still does. But I can't do it. I own what I own and the truth is that I was not fair to her. We adopted her when she was four and she came with a plethora of behavior problems, disorders, blah blah blah... But the fact that she was an extraordinarily difficult child does not excuse my unfairness to her.

And yet I loved her. I love her still. We are complex creatures and all too often don't understand ourselves.

She may never forgive me for my shortcomings and failings as a parent, but I know that she loves me. Perhaps it's because she also remembers the good times, how desperately hard I fought to get her the help she needed, how tirelessly I advocated for her. I won't dismiss the wrong I did by saying something stupid like I'm only human or nobody's perfect. That's so weak. We should take responsibility for our actions. My dad taught me that when he utterly failed to take responsibility for his. Had he acknowledged what he'd done, apologized. It would have meant a lot. So, I struggle to do better than that. I am my father's daughter, yes, but I am more than that.

What's the point of all this? I suppose my point is that we hurt the people we love. We all do. And while it IS a part of being human, we should not shrug it off. I believe in kindness, I do. I believe in forgiveness too.

Some day I will die and my children will have their pictures and memories of me. I don't expect them to put me on a pedestal. I don't belong there. I just hope that they'll be able to look back and see that I loved them, that they were everything to me. I hope they remember the good and the bad and the times I said, I was sorry. I hope they take the best of me, learn from the worst of me, and that they don't waste one moment of their lives worrying that my parental failings were somehow their fault, because they were not, no more so than my father's failings were my responsibility. In the end, we do the best that we can and hopefully move forward and continue to love however imperfectly.


©Just Kate, April 2010

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His Eye is on the Sparrow

I woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside my window, so I stretched and smiled and went to open the blinds, thinking the forecasters had been wrong. By some miracle, instead of rain, wind, and incessant gray, I would find sunshine on the other side of the window pane. No such luck.

Instead, I found a crow hanging nearly upside down from the roof of the sparrow family's bird house on my porch, while mom and dad sparrow hopped from branch to branch in the nearby tree, angrily, frantically calling for the crow to leave their unhatched eggs alone, alone!

Out in the pouring rain, those tiny little sparrows sat, while the crow, safe under our porch roof, took it's time, peeking it's head into the too small hole, reaching, reaching, for precious, tiny eggs. I watched as one of the sparrows took flight and bombed the crow, who lost his footing and squawked angrily. I watched those little birds fight with all their might and I willed them to win.

Rationality told me that interference didn't make sense. Wild things live and die according to chance and the laws of nature, just as we do, albeit we pretend control. But, really, could I save the sparrow eggs? Maybe not forever. Maybe they'd never hatch, but damn it, I could give them a chance. I ran outside, barefoot, and clapped my hands, "get out of here!" The crow looked at me with disdain, not leaving his perch, but only tilting his head at me.

I clapped my hands and went right up to him, "Shoo! Get out of here." He finally gave up his perch. Before I could step back, mom and dad sparrow were swooping at my head with far more courage than they showed to their foe, the crow. I ducked and ran back inside the house, getting soaking wet in the process of zig-zagging away from the sparrows.

Some people see sparrows as pests. I don't. They mate for life. Did you know that? And their social behavior is very like that of humans. I feel an affinity for them. They're so tiny in this great big world, so fiercely protective of their children.

The first time I rescued a sparrow, I was a little girl staying with my Grandma Grace. We found the mother dead and the nest on the ground, with one baby bird still alive in it. We put it in a box in the garage and created a nest. Grandma gave me a hot water bottle to put under the tiny bird. We fed it with everything from mashed bugs to bits of bread. We didn't know what to feed a sparrow. Grandma let me sleep by it.

It was dead in the morning. We put it in a box lined with fabric from a dress grandma was sewing, and we buried it. My tough, no-nonsense grandma didn't chastise me for caring so much about a baby bird. I could tell she understood.

Part of me wasn't just fighting for that baby bird, I was fighting for me. For every hurt thing that didn't really have a chance.

It was the same today, when I ran out to chase the damn crow away. He has his eye on that nest of sparrows and he won't give it up. Crows are smart and determined and love a challenge. He'll likely get an egg or two but I've watched every year as nest after nest of fledglings take flight from that particular bird house. I've also scooped up more than a few and set them safely atop a branch before a predator could grab them.

Some never make it. Every year, when I clean out the bird house, I find a smashed egg or two, tiny little partly formed baby sparrows, fetal-like hatchlings with nearly translucent skin showing between bits of downy fluff. I cry over all of them. I'm in good company. In the bible, Matthew tells us that even God watches over the sparrows.

I sat for awhile and watched the birdhouse after I came in. I towel-dried my hair and shivered, wrapped myself in a blanket, and sat watching the rain and the little birds. A pair of Mallards landed in our little pond. I've never seen a Mallard smile but this pair seemed happy. Then, I realized that in spite of the pouring rain and the gray sky, birds were singing everywhere. They feel Spring in the air. They're joyful in the midst of the rain and cold. Even the sparrow parents seemed content again.

And so it goes.


©Just Kate, April 2010

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Losing My Religion and Getting right with God

Some would say I've gone astray. You see, I don't attend church anymore. Unless you think of laying in the grass, listening to birds chirp, basking in the sun, or walking barefoot in the garden while being extraordinarily aware of God, church experiences. If you do, then I can honestly say that I love my church and I'll never leave it. :)

Why have I stopped attending scheduled church services in scheduled meeting places? There are too many reasons for me to address in one blog. One of the biggest reasons is that the church works so hard to teach and enforce the rules to the masses that it's often blind to the needs of individuals. When I went to church I was always worried about doing the right thing and following God's will. I thought I needed to do this or that hard thing to be right with Him. There's a perverse sort of pride that comes with giving up what one loves or wants for the sake of "following God's will."

Here's a novel idea: what if God simply loves us without the requirement of religion? What if there is no getting right with God there's just "with God?"

So much of what we're taught ABOUT God simply binds us up. It doesn't free us. I think of King David and what a joyful sinner he was and what an incessant WHINER, too. Yet he was a man after God's own heart. I think about that a lot. The Pharisees were busy rocking the rules and looking good, but God was enamored of this adulterer and murderer who was so incredibly blessed yet whined like a baby about every little thing, then jumped and sang and shouted. :)

David was AUTHENTIC. He was real. He represents each of us in our humanity, I think. Yet, instead of emulating him in his authenticity, we somehow end up wanting to emulate the Pharisees! THAT is what I see happening in churches and in religion as a whole.

I'm not suggesting that one should go out and murder and commit adultery. I'm simply suggesting that God may be far less concerned with rules and religion than he is with, say, seeing his people love one another.

I haven't gone astray and I'm not lost. I simply let go of religion and found my way back to God.

©Just Kate, March 2010

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Sticks and Stones and Broken Bones...

She walked down the hallway in her bare feet. The house was dark and quiet. She slipped into the bathroom quietly, pushed a towel up against the crack at the bottom of the door before switching on the light.

The bathroom mirror was big. Too big. She typically made a point of wearing her hair like a shroud 'round her face so she wouldn't see her reflection and other people wouldn't see her, but this time she took a deep breath and shook her hair back.

She was surprised by the girl she saw looking back from the mirror. Her eyes were so sad and guarded. You wouldn't think a 12-year-old would know to identify them as such but she was a girl who paid attention to people and saw too much. She wondered what she would one day be, if she would be ugly or by some miracle maybe a little bit pretty. Maybe she would be grossly fat. Her dad had reminded her at dinner when she'd eaten corn with her mashed potatoes that pigs eat corn. Of course, he was eating it, too, but there was a message there and she didn't miss it. She would be fat, ugly. It was her destiny.

It wasn't long before she was a teenager. She wore her hair long to cover her face, kept her head down, hid her mouth with her hand when she laughed. When some boy said she was pretty, she thought he was making fun of her. When another boy said it she lost all respect for him. If he was THAT stupid, he wasn't worth knowing. How pathetic.

Eventually, she got it. She realized that some people couldn't see the truth, that for some reason they were immune to it. She knew what she was and that was worthless. Her father saw it. Her brother confirmed it. But some people seemed to miss it altogether. She never learned to trust them. She trusted anger. Anger always told the truth, didn't it?

She became adept at pretending but the more she had to pretend the less real she felt until she became utterly invisible. You could do whatever you wanted to her and she wouldn't even feel it.

She eventually ran away from home, tried to run away from herself, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn't leave herself behind. One day someone observed to her that she was made for suffering, that she had a penchant for it like he'd never seen before. Although they weren't spoken in anger, she recognized his words as truth, and thus began the slow unraveling of the lie.

Years went by and she became more and more real. She never really went back home. She tried. But home was a place where she ceased to exist, it was inhabited by that girl she'd been, and she felt like she might lose herself to that girl again if she stayed too long near home.

That girl was me. It's still hard to look at her because she breaks my heart. Why do parents sometimes hate their children? Why do people hate one another? Where do those angry words come from? We can build and deconstruct people with our words. That old kids poem, the one about sticks and stones breaking bones while names will never hurt us? It's a lie. We shouldn't tell our children such things. Words are powerful.

I grew to love words, to live inside of them. Words capture truth and lies, reveal beauty and ugliness, create peace and cause wars. I know how to wound with words and I know how to heal. I pray that God will remind me, always, not to intentionally inflict pain.

Mother Theresa said, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." Those are powerful words and true. When I get angry I say those words quietly to myself to remind me of our shared humanity.

If I could heal the world, I would.


©Just Kate, March 2010

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God in the Grass

Dew soaked grass against bare feet, soaks the hem of her jeans as she tip toes across the yard on an early Spring morning. The birds trilling in the trees seem so incredibly happy, so full of joy they have no choice but to sing.

From the grass to the barn road, ouch, ouch, ouch, she gingerly steps across the rocks. It’s not wise to go out to the barn in bare feet, but sometimes there’s no other way. The earth calls to be stepped on, to be touched. It’s as if God is in the very soil, saying walk with me.

The ponies neigh happy greetings. She has no illusions. It’s food they want, not company. The smallest one nips at her as she passes by and gets a swat on the nose, followed by an affectionate rubbing of her forehead. Pony girls have a tendency toward naughtiness, but they’re cute as hell.

She tosses hay into each stall, then slips on her Fat Baby cowboy boots, the pair she leaves in the barn because she knows she’ll be coming out barefoot as long as the weather holds. Slipping into the first stall with a curry comb, she creates an explosion of white fur. Fur in her mouth and nose. She and the pony sneeze at the same time and she laughs. The pony laughs too. She can’t see it but she feels it, like God in the grass and earth.

Barn swallows are brave little souls. They swoop down and fill their beaks with so much fluffy white fur it’s a wonder they can fly, but they do. The nests in the rafters are lined in downy white. God smiles at the same time she does, watching their happy industriousness.

Not so long ago, she would have ran back to the barn in church clothes, tossed hay at the ponies and hopped in the car, racing not to be late. Hello, hello, hello, good morning, across the parking lot she would go, hoping not to be waylaid before arriving at the church bookstore where a line already awaits her, but nobody really waits. They talk at once, asking questions she can’t possibly answer as she counts the money, marks her sheet, holds up a hand palm out, politely asking for a moment to put everything together.

By the time the service starts and she closes up shop, she’s harried and frazzled and has to stand in the back, so as not to disrupt worship. Her feet hurt, so she surreptitiously kicks off her shoes and slides them under the usher’s bench, until an usher passes by with an arched eyebrow and stern look. Right. Shoes back on. Apparently, God is not in the church floor the way he’s in the grass and earth.

The music is lovely. All around her, lifted arms reach for God. It’s meant to be an immersion, a surrender, an act of worship but it looks for all the world like they’re reaching for a God they cannot grasp. Perhaps it’s only ritual. How many minds are back at home, mowing the grass, playing tennis, drinking a beer and watching the game they know they’re missing.

Everywhere she looks, hands are dropping to adjust ties and tug at the hems of skirts. Everyone’s dressed carefully, hoping God will notice. Oh, who are we kidding. It’s not for God, not really. It’s preening, something birds are way better at and more sincere. A preening bird makes God smile in a way high heels never will.

End of service, praise God, brother, sister, kiss kiss, how are you. There’s no time to answer because he’s walked past fast, followed by him and her and her. Coffee time! Can’t miss coffee time and fellowship. Hurry up!

There’s a certain lingo in the church. God is in control. Are you spending time in the word? How’s your walk? Give it to God, brother, sister, other brother. Can I pray for you? Long words, fancy words, well practiced, sometimes sincere, mostly rote.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time. But more and more Sundays she wakes up and can’t find the impetus to get dressed and out the door, to rush the kids and the family, who don’t have time for breakfast, to smack, quick, quick, dog food in bowls and hay to horses, and zoom to church. How many people get speeding tickets, racing to bible study or church? She’s seen more than a few, including the pastor’s wife who blustered and blushed and insisted the speed limit sign wasn’t clearly visible. Never mind that she traveled that same road two thousand billion, jillion times before.

A day off. A day of rest. A day with God. And here he is. The wet hems of her jeans are covered in sawdust and she can’t get the pony fur out of her mouth. She laughs as the dog licks her hand and gets a tongue full of fur for his efforts. They cough together, fingers to tongue, paw to face. Note to self: don’t brush the ponies in the barn during the yearly Spring blow out. She opens stall doors and watches as the pony girls leap and buck and tumble, one over the other, pure joy, making God smile some more. She brings new hay, the other stuff will go to compost ‘cause there’s way too much white fur in it.

On a bale of hay, face tipped to the sun, barn cats twining round her legs, dog panting at her side, she pulls off her Fat Baby boots and listens to the earth praise God in a beautiful, natural chorus that cannot be scheduled or contained. It just… is. Happy trees reach toward heaven. Birds fly, swoop, twitter, cheep, even the dog smiles, feeling God in his very bones.

This is her church, her worship, her congregation. The breeze is God’s touch. The earth his heartbeat. She’ll never call a church building or ritual gathering church again, and it is good.

©Just Kate, March 2010

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True Love Always

I slam on my brakes when I see you clear as day in the midst of a crowd on a bright, sun-drenched morning.

The car behind me honks long and loud as I sit, stunned and wondering where you’ve come from.

Front tire over yellow curb, I leave my car running in park and run to catch up, calling your name. Around a corner, I almost lose sight of you as I move through a sea of people in slow motion frenzy, trying to reach you.

At the bus stop, you pause and look at your watch then sit down on a bench I can’t see, although I know its location on this familiar street by heart.

Gasping for breath, I find myself behind you, hand outstretched, almost touching your hair. What stops me? It’s the sound of your voice, talking into a cell phone. The shape of your hand and wrist. The tiny birthmark that isn’t there.

Then you turn and smile and I see your profile and it really isn’t you at all but someone else with just your shade and texture of hair. Someone tall and straight with the same loose-limbed walk, wearing jeans that might have been yours and a t-shirt soft and worn in exactly the same shade of faded blue in which I buried you.

And I wanted it to be you more than anything. I want to go open the ground and check to see if you’re really there where you can’t be because you’re so alive inside of me that it’s impossible to believe you’ve gone.

I close my eyes and open them again, hoping to see that it’s you in front of me, but it’s not.

Back down the crowded sidewalk, I work my way back to my car, pull the ticket from the windshield, and drop it on the dashboard without reading it.

On autopilot, I drive familiar roads unseen and end up at the cemetery, not knowing how I got there.

There’s a patch of brown earth in the middle of green. The sight of the soil hurts me. I can barely breathe. You can’t possibly be down there when I’m up here. And I just want to find my way back to you.

I remember your bare feet, the frayed end of your jeans, the letter I slipped into your pocket that said I love you forever and ever. The one you never read because your eyes were dead.

And I can’t tell you everything I didn’t say before. I want to follow you, to be with you, to never ever leave you, but I can’t, not yet. You’d kill me for even thinking of it.

But I don’t know how to be in the world without you and it hurts.

Long moments pass on the dirt by the grass and the sun shifts in the sky and I grow quiet inside thinking of you. You once carved our initials in a picnic table top: you plus me equals true love always, and I laughed and teased you because it was so cliché. But now I want to do it too. With my finger in the dirt that covers you, I draw a heart and put us inside it.

I know it won’t last. The rain will wash it away or someone will scuff it with their foot but that’s okay.

Maybe I’ll grow old while you dance on the other side of forever but I’ll never stop loving you and I will miss you always and forever, even as I let you go.

©Unequivocal Kate, 2010

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The Greatest of These is Love

Susan peeks out the window of the church office, pulling the venetian blinds back just enough to view the broken down station wagon piled high with blankets and listing to the right on tired tires. Children tumble out onto the tarmac, a man unfolds from the front seat, scruffy beard, dirty plaid shirt, the woman impossibly huge in pregnancy. Susan, the perennially tidy church secretary, crinkles her nose at the imagined stink as she picks up the phone and dials then whispers, “Pastor, there are people here. They’re filthy and it looks like they’ve been living in a station wagon. I’m sure they want a handout of some kind…”

The pastor’s voice is quiet, “I’m five minutes away. Please, just wait.”

He arrives in a well maintained, 1985 Honda Accord. It takes him a moment to straighten from the car. He’s nearly 80 years-old and his hair is snow white but his blue eyes are bright. He sees Susan peeking through the blinds and waves as he moves to greet the rag tag family parked across the lot.

The Pastor listens while the man talks. He learns of a lost job. The old station wagon is running on fumes, they need a place to rest… The man can’t even meet his eyes as he states his case. Pastor sees the crumbled cigarette packages, a beer bottle stuffed between the front seats. The man’s breath reeks. The children are big eyed and silent, their noses runny. He nods his head, steps back, and opens his arms wide, inviting them to come inside the church.

In the church kitchen he cooks for them, and invites them to use the facilities to clean-up. The secretary is frantic as she whispers, “You don’t know anything about them, Pastor. You can’t keep bringing homeless people, vagrants, into the church building! We just remodeled. The last man you brought in stole from us. Do you want that to happen again? You have a responsibility to your congregation!”

The Pastor smiles as he flips grilled cheese sandwiches in a pan, “I hope the last man was blessed by what he found here. Everything we have belongs to God, Susan. He took nothing from us. “

“But your responsibility to the congregation…” Her voice is full of frustration and indignation. Her arms firmly planted on her hips.

Sliding the sandwiches onto a serving plate, he turns to her and his voice is firm, “My responsibility is to our God who calls us to love.”

Later, when the church board reprimands the Pastor for putting church property at risk, for inviting vagrants in, he will remind them once again that the building and everything inside of it belong only to God, and that the mission of the church is not the protection of church property but the loving of people.

None of them will ever know the impact the Pastor’s kindness had on that family, but that father and mother will raise children who love God and they will do much good. Years later, when they tell their story in the homeless shelter run by their church, the father and mother will speak of the Pastor who loved them not with empty words but with hot showers and grilled cheese sandwiches when they were destitute and desperate. And they will ask those they serve to pass-on whatever kindness they have received and to do so in the name of God.

©Just Kate, 2010

Matthew 25:38-40 (New International Version)

38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'



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Always ~

Yesterday, under a leaden sky in the pouring rain, I watched a solitary man fill a grave. And the grass was green where my father and mother lay, grandma and grandpa not far away.

I came to say goodbye. I've stood there so many times before. I wish to never stand there again but I will and some day I will lay there.

Just last week I came on a sunny day and pressed my hands to the gravestones, feeling the moss and rough stone, and I whispered I love you to my mother and my father.

It's not that I think it matters to them. They are no longer of this world. I do it because I need to remember to touch the people I love, to tell them that I love them.

Today, I woke up and ran to hug my husband. I love how warm he is, the scent of his skin, the way he hugs me hard and lifts me right off my feet. I told him that I love him and he said, "I know you do."

"But I have to tell you," I said. He nodded his head.

"Do you love me?" I asked him.

He hugged me again and said, "You're silly. Always. You know I do."

He's right. I do know. I still love the sound of it though. And warm skin is so much better than cold stone.

©Just Kate, 2010

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    About Me

    I love laughter, wickedness, fearlessness, irreverence, and kindness. I love road trips where I can prop my bare feet up on the dashboard. I love the feel of sunshine warm against my bare skin, the smell of the mountains and the roar of the ocean. I love to read. I love to challenge conventional thinking. I'm a huge fan of spirituality but have little tolerance for religion. I love to talk faith and philosophy. I love children. I get bored far too easily. I love debate and people who don't try too hard. I love it when people aren't afraid to disagree with me and know why they believe what they believe.

    Music

    Things that sound like music to me: rain on a tin roof, the trill of birds first thing in the morning, the coo and gurgle of happy babies, the beat of African drums, the roar of the ocean as the tide ebbs and flows, the sound of a rushing river, unrestrained laughter, the wind moving through leaves, the tick-tock of my grandma's old clock, the crash of thunder, a quiet whisper in my ear, the contented purr of a cat, the musical ting ting of wind chimes, children laughing, the sizzle sizzle sound of something yummy cooking, and the rustle of dry leaves under my feet.

    I also enjoy many musicians and bands including: Ray LaMontagne, Jason Mraz, The Black Eyed Peas, John Mayer, James Carrington, CCR, REM. My favorite genre is acoustic folk/rock.

    Favorite Quotes

    "We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." —Aristotle

    "The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering." - Ben Okri

    "What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do."—John Ruskin