Faith


My little Isla,
This is my first attempt at writing anything since you were born. It will be sketchy and clumsy. But that’s not because of you. You’ve been a welcome distraction from the fact that I was already seriously struggling to write. I think I posted six times last year total, and most of them were with a lot of stress and hesitation. But your dad kicked me out of the house this morning with my lap top and a free latte card, so here I am. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. On the contrary, your birth is probably the biggest event in my life. That and marrying your dad, but birth is far more dramatic than a wedding (assuming everyone crucial shows up).

There are several babies here and so I’m distracted and missing you already. Maybe especially because you were still sleeping when I left. There’s also a table of older men and that makes me weepy right off the bat. Old friendships. Vulnerability. Babies. Seriously beautiful stuff at the coffee shop this morning. Also some pretty impressive beards – so while I’m happy to be here, part of me wishes you and your dad were here to share it. 🙂

I haven’t told you this yet, but I spent many years being scared to death of motherhood. Personal issues, fears of screwing the whole thing up, awareness of my own selfishness all made me hesitant. (Not to mention actually giving birth!) And I’ve come to believe American culture contributes to those things by obsessing about the value of autonomy for adults and also of a perfect childhood for kids. But here’s the thing: I was so, so wrong. I love you and I don’t have to try. I want to take care of you and I don’t have to force myself. You are beautiful and interesting and I don’t have to talk myself into seeing it. I hope you experience it someday – knowing that love can be so powerful and one-sided is a great boon to my understanding of the love from God. And of the love he hopes to see in all his people for each other.

When I fell in love with your dad, it happened very quickly, and then more slowly, and over again. Choosing to love someone comes with starts and stops and decisions and fears, but not so with parenthood. There are no hesitations or issues of requiting. You are my family and I love you. Just like that. Blown out diapers don’t change that. Trouble sleeping, refusing to eat when you desperately need it, the stuff of babyhood – none of it closes my heart to you. If anything it opens it more and pulls at its strings as I wish I could fix it all. And I know that will continue as you grow and change. I am no longer afraid of anything compromising my desire to give of myself for your sake, and I will always be grateful for that discovery.

I love you, sweet Isla Jane. May you grow in the knowledge of that, and that it is only an inkling of the love that awaits you in your relationship with the Lord.

isla sleeping

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It is a temptation.  It is a submission.  For me, fear is even an addiction.  It is a place I know how to inhabit, where I believe I gain control of what happens to me.  If I fear it before it happens, I can see it coming and prevent it.  I’ve experienced it before with other failures of my mind.  Like judgment.  Like pride.

It once took me several months to decide to forgive someone that I love.  And another two years to really get it done.  Book after book, talk after talk, wall after wall, learning how to forgive a fully repentant person.

It wasn’t just about deciding to forgive, it was about breaking the cycle of unforgiveness.  A cycle in which my mind longed to recall the ways that I had been wronged, a cycle that made me feel less vulnerable by keeping me in the place of victim at all times.  Never would I be surprised again.  A cycle that poisoned my heart and mind and relationships.

Any time we want to eschew a habit, we have to say “no” to it once.  And then we have to say “no” again the next hour, the next day, and every day after.  For me, one of the most helpful things is to replace my previous thought pattern with a new mantra.  One that is easy to remember and available to repeat at the first sign of danger.  My mentor wrote one for me once and since then I have found my own.

My forgiveness mantra is pretty simple now that so much time has passed.  Every few months now I may find a flash of paranoia, and I can say in response – I have forgiven that person and I am loved by that person.

My fear mantra will probably change over time, too, but here’s what I’m starting with:

It is an act of obedience and worship to create.  I will seek and indulge creative promptings, and I will present my work to my loving Creator with open hands.

I may crochet it on a pillow.  Except that I am afraid of needles

You’ve seen them.  Instagram, hipstamatic, coolerthanyoutronic.  Photography apps that do the art for us.  We use them to broadcast the shiny parts of our best moments.  I can show you my dinner in a cool, cropped shot that is far too narrow to show just how dirty the kitchen behind it is.  My first inclination is to be annoyed by this trend.  Isn’t that what trends are for?  To annoy us until we buy in or move on?

This morning, though, I’m grateful for these cropped shots of life.  A childhood friend of mine is at the hospital with her eighteen month-old.  Two nights ago he tripped in the bathroom and ended up in the hospital with bleeding in his brain and emergency surgery.  They are spending their new year in worry, prayer, and cafeterias, surrounded by machinery that shouldn’t be attached to their child.

This morning this mother posted an instagram of a coffee mug. Not what I expected to see from her today; I’d gone to her page for an update on her boy, maybe another picture of his wound or hospital room.  But there was her coffee mug.  She put a caption that she’d brought it from home to fill up on the newly routine trips to the Ronald McDonald House, something normal to keep her grounded.

I was struck then with the up-side of this micro-view trend.  On the ever-shrinking, increasingly connected globe we inhabit, it can be hard to find focus.  Hard to sift through the headlines and friendlines, to distinguish between filler and pertinent information.  But an artfully cropped take on the situation gives new direction to this task we have of weaving order from chaos.   I’ll take whatever help I can get to highlight the small, important things, no matter how trendy.

The big picture is important, but in many ways it has little to do with us.  If we pay attention to what is before us, the tasks and blessings and talents of the day, we keep going.  We show ourselves worthy of the small jobs, whether it’s writing a chapter, or wiping a table, or holding our son’s hand in a prayer for intervention.   And we trust the outcome to someone greater.

I work at a grocery store.  The week before Thanksgiving is our “hell week”, so to speak.  Kicking off the retail season with the toughest work we’ll do all year.  Unpracticed customers are often cooking from scratch and entertaining family at the same time – enough to put anyone on edge.  Add to that the modern-day demand that your Thanksgiving meal be some forward-thinking, healthier, tastier, prettier, more impressive version than last year’s, and you can hardly blame folks for the panic they feel.

However, alongside the panic is perhaps the most communal holiday celebration of them all.  There is little political or religious offense available when you wish someone “Happy Thanksgiving!”  Smiles abound and reasons to be thankful even slip into short conversations about turkeys and vegan gluten-free stuffing.

From the chaos of carts and smiles and scowls yesterday, I went upstairs for a quick lunch and to make a last-minute plan for our own small Thanksgiving meal.  I flipped through month-old magazines, their covers torn off and sent back to the publisher for reimbursement, rejected and ready for recycling, but still full of fancy recipes, a few of which I may be able to pull off.  And there, of all places, on the third page of Real Simple, my friend, Mr. Chesterton, interrupted to have a word… and what a word it was.

“You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

G.K. Chesterton, from an early notebook (mid-1890s)

So much fussing over a table of food, but is that really the focus of the harvest season?  Or the first thanksgiving feast my nephew is re-enacting at preschool?  We recreate the details we’ve inferred, with some plain omissions and substitutions.  (Or maybe there were marshmallows on the sweet potatoes back on Plymouth, too, I don’t know.)  We hope that somehow a lot of food and taking a turn before the meal to impress each other with the very deep things we’re thankful for will… will what?  Set us up to indulge in laziness for an afternoon?  Make amends with family members in time to get a better Christmas gift out of them?

What’s the goal of the day?  Is it a time to revel in our resources?  Maybe.  Is it a time to celebrate the grace that brought us here?  Definitely.  Would we celebrate if we were alone?  I wonder.  To whom would we voice our thankfulness?  What is grace or gratitude without community?  Where can they live without relationships?

So often in the what and how of holidays, I skip right past the source of celebration – my community.  A God who loves and cares, people who are vulnerable and allow me to be so.

Say grace, says Chesterton.  Speak blessing and thankfulness before meals, before the play and the opera, before reading a note that may be full of spelling errors, or hearing a song that may very well be better than the last one I wrote.  Speak grace before dishing up a serving of lumpy gravy.  Speak favor and pardon to one another.  Speak grace to the turkey (or soy bean) who gave its life for your sustenance.

Thank you to our community, near and far, for the gifts you bring to our lives, for the examples of grace, for the beauty you bring us from chaos.  Favor and blessing on you on this day of feasting and on each day that follows.

Today we are in a bidding war over a house.  Really more of a kerfuffle than a war.  We have to make our “highest and best” bid by tomorrow.  The pessimism in me is protecting me from the hope that our less than full price bid will still pull through.  It’s not a fancy place, but we fancy it and would love to make it our own.

At the same time that we are messing with numbers and debating over what to spend in our future, my grandmother is back in my hometown in California battling the after-effects of chemo.  Annette is one of my favorite people.  Never harsh, always happy to have you, always seemingly content to be where ever she is at that moment.  She has lost two husbands in her life, one long before his time.  The men in her life have always been fascinated by her, doted on her, and she is gracious with her smiles in return.  She has had the same group of friends for fifty years – they call themselves “the bicycle club” though I think it’s true that they never once rode bicycles together as they’d planned.

Just twenty years ago she was teaching me to use a fork to stamp peanut butter cookies.  She saved her children’s toys for her grandchildren and we loved to play at her house, where the toys were wooden rather than plastic, and there was never any reason to watch TV.  It was where we gathered for holidays, where I powered through vegetables and tough meat for a dessert of “soup cake” (so-named for the time that it would not stand up and had to be eaten from bowls).

Several weeks ago she had a doctor’s appointment for stomach pain and now is faced with a choice between painful death or what she finds to be excruciating treatment.  As of now she is seriously considering the former option.  Today I look outside at the amazingly temperate weather, the blooms and green surrounding me, the hope we have as we plan the next stage of our adult lives in a new home, and am immediately brought back to the harsher realities.  Decay awaits.  Pain awaits.  The many joys of my grandma’s life have still led to this.

What has changed?  Just time?  Just the inevitable end of a downhill ride?  It feels that way today, but Grandma’s life has not been just a downhill ride.  Easier than some, perhaps, more difficult than others, surely.  A real life, full of trial and grace, just as her death will be.

Recently Jaron and I have been listening to David Suchet read Sally Lloyd-Jones and one section has been ringing out.  “God’s heart was filled with pain when He saw what happened to the world He loved.  Everywhere was disease and distruction, all the things God hates most… God couldn’t let his children live forever.  Not in such pain.  Not without Him… God loved his children too much to let the story end there, even though He knew He would suffer.  God had a plan – a magnificent dream.  One day he would get his children back.  One day he would make the world their perfect home again.  And one day He would wipe away every tear from their eyes.  You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children with a never stopping, never giving up, un-breaking, always and forever love.”

I can say to the decay, “restoration awaits”.  And to the pain, “healing awaits”.  And between my tears I can say to my grandmother, “unending love, unending pleasure, unending peace awaits”.

My name is Katherine.  But on occasion, my mother calls me “Karla” after my grandfather Karl, on her side.  I take after him in many ways (probably more than I know) including weird feet with toes that rival fingers in length.  (I’m sorry if that just made you gag a little bit.  I understand.)  We also share incredibly thick hair, double-jointed thumbs, and a propensity toward flights of fancy, slouching, and spending money now rather than later.  He loves travel (I do, too), collecting things (I do not), and he’s spent years of time and travel researching his family history.  I never understood his quest when I was younger.  Who really cares about some names and life spans?  Well, then I got sucked into Pheobe‘s “Who Do You Think You Are?” and caught the bug.  I signed up with ancestry.com just like the producers wanted, and proceeded to spend almost 72 hours straight doing research.  I found a ton of information, about 75% of which I think might be true.  In one weekend the internet answered a question my grandfather hadn’t been able to confirm for years, as to how exactly our line landed in North America.  I was hooked.

In the course of information I discovered Jaron’s mother’s family has a castle in England, lost an ancestor in Israel while fighting in the crusades, includes the amazing “Hereward the Banished”, and apparently originally descended from King Arther and Gwenivere.  Like I said, not all of it can be assumed accurate.  His father’s family came over from Poland just about 100 years ago.  And apparently the Kaminskis are the “Smiths” of Poland, so that’s all I could confirm.

My paternal grandmother’s family has a long history of involvement with the Free-Will Baptist movement in Canada and my maternal grandmother’s family has a slave-holder on one side and an African-American man of Creole descent on the other.  I didn’t get her amazing skin.

And Karl’s family has been here from England since the 17th century.  They hung out almost exclusively in Maine until he came to San Diego just in time to have my mom.

I look at my family tree now and I see an adventure map.  The chances of one generation surviving to the next are slim.  If Jaron’s family had waited thirty years to emigrate, all signs say they would have been swallowed by the Holocaust.  It’s an incredible gift to be here, to be one of the lives afforded.  And it is an illusion to believe that it’s any one person’s responsibility.  As if “Harry the Litvok” could have guessed that one day his descendant would be a musician on a continent he never knew.  That he would make his living teaching people to use machines that record images and sounds and schedules and thoughts.  And all the beautiful and terrible stories that would lead from his own life to Jaron’s.

As a 21st century American woman I daily feel the tension of the callings and opportunities available to me – work, play, entertainment, art.  The roles of wife, daughter, homemaker, sister, aunt, employee, and friend are enough to make my head spin, and on many days make the addition of motherhood sound the most harrowing undertaking I can imagine.  One for which I am certainly not equipped.  I am far too human, far too weak for a job that requires tireless patience, self-sacrifice, and a serious amount of physical pain.  But if I look back at the haphazard paths of our genealogies, or if I look forward at the young prince and princesses in my sister’s family, if I think about the glorious task of instructing them to be the kinds of rulers and caretakers that we are called to be, the whole picture changes.  Having and raising children becomes the most important application of wisdom and art I can imagine.  And the rewards, though they may be never be visible to me, will be more than apparent to the children generations from now.

As Jaron and I re-enter the world of real estate and banks and all the responsibilities that go with them, I want to be able to see more than the size of the kitchen or the amount of dollars and hours the house will require.  I want to be able to see my and my husband’s castle.  Cheesy as it sounds.  The place where we will hone our skills for serving and ruling, for investing and receiving, for learning more and more what it is to be faithful, and maybe, for nesting the next generation of Kamin/Howard/Hamm/Chase children.

I just finished doing our 2010 taxes and was quite pleasantly surprised at the outcome.  It seems that starting the year in one tax bracket and ending in a lower one is pretty good for your refund.

As I looked at the number at the top of the screen I went from relief, to excitement, to… wait for it… disappointment and frustration.  My first thought was to wonder if I could donate it back to the national deficit.  Then I thought of replenishing our own savings.  The more I got used to the idea of our tax refund, the more ideas I had for its use.  Important ideas.  Things that would make me really happy – a trip with old roommates, a deposit on a safer apartment with thicker walls, finally going home for Christmas this year.  The list goes on.  It’s amazing what I can decide I need to purchase when I have the option to do so.

Call me Patch Adams, but I think the cure for my insatiable desire for more is to stop imagining what a resource can do for me, and start imagining what it can do for someone else.  If our friend Isaac were to receive our tax refund, it could provide him with food, water, medical care, and education for well over five years.  Someone pretty credible once wrote to a group of people similar to myself, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.”  Wow.

It is so much more demanding to imagine the good I can do for someone else than to imagine the goods I can acquire for myself – likely because one involves research, imagination, and vulnerability, and the other simply a television remote.  But what an amazing picture – embracing love, dependence, and gratitude rather than striving.  Circles rather than triangles.

Lake Victoria in Uganda, where Isaac lives

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