Better Together

1186784_10152163258173685_948272930_nI felt utterly ridiculous when I found myself captivated by a young man on American Idol several years ago.  It wasn’t so much his talent as it was the way he talked about his friends with so much love, enthusiasm and gratitude.  He credited them with nurturing his creativity and inspiring him as an artist.  The young man was Blake Lewis, the beatboxer, and his friends included stand-up comedians and an aspiring actress, creative souls all.

I watched as they joyously posted videos of Blake’s journey; the drives from Bothell, Washington to Hollywood, videoed and set to music.  The playful rambles around Hollywood.  All of it.  They were riding Blake’s 15-minutes of fame, together and all out.  I was charmed by way they celebrated their successes together.  It seemed obvious to me that they were better together and it was a beautiful example of community within pop-culture.

Again, it wasn’t the music that inspired me.  It was the friendships, the community of artistic souls working together and making each other better.

Their example propelled me into a new phase of life.  I went online, originally to follow their journey, and found myself encountering artists of every ilk: writers, musicians and comedians; and I was hugely inspired as an artist.  I began to write better than I had before.  I became inspired by the community I developed online.  We made each other better.

My life was changed by the example of Blake Lewis and friends.  I have no idea where they are now.  My interest waned and disappeared as I joyfully began my own journey into artistry and community.

That was six years ago or so and I have since surrounded myself with people who encourage and inspire me and are likewise encouraged and inspired by me.  It’s a beautiful thing.

It’s important that we surround ourselves with people who make us better.  If you don’t have that in your life, I encourage you to seek it.  Find people who are passionate about the things you care about, people who encourage and inspire you.  It will change your life for the better.

Football, Fairytales and Everlasting Love

Some people get addicted to the hormonal high that comes with new attraction; the nervousness and excitement.  I asked someone recently what it was like moving from one relationship to the next and he replied that it was exciting.  I nodded and bit my lip.  Exciting.  Well, that wasn’t going to last.  And sure enough, in no time at all he had added someone newer on top of the someone new.  He had lots of justifications for it but I truly believe it was boredom more than anything and a desire for sex without strings.  And it appears to me that he’s still “hunting”.

He’s not the only one.  I see people doing it a lot.  Women do it as frequently as men.  They get addicted to the fairytale feeling that comes before he burps and farts and collapses on the couch to watch football for several hours during which he only yells and grunts.

The excitement and illusion of fairytale perfection aren’t permanent.  As grown men and women one would think we’d get that but so many of us do not, so we serially jump into new relationships trying to capture the first blush of romance over and over again all the while bemoaning the lack of worthy men and women.  The loneliness of not having found “the one”.

I’m pragmatic by nature.  I always have been.  I never thought of myself as a princess and I never dreamed of a Prince Charming.  Maybe it was the example of my parents.  They had a true love.  It was gritty and real and romantic and committed.  When my mom became ill, my dad cared for her.  People asked him why he didn’t put her in a home and he would always respond with a blank look, as if he suddenly didn’t understand English.  He loved her.

But most people don’t seem to understand the nature of lasting love.  That it sticks through boredom and drama.  That it lasts during sickness and health, times of prosperity and want.  Ah, I seem to be reciting traditional wedding vows.  I didn’t do so intentionally.  I’m discovering what I want to say as I say it.

The thing is, if you want lasting love you have to be willing to let go of the flutter of excitement and the fairytale.  You can build passion and it’s better than excitement any day of the week, in my opinion.  You can build fantastic sex.  It usually gets better over time, not boring, not worse.  Better.  You learn to connect and trust and that’s a very deep and cool thing.  So much better than simple lust.

If you don’t want a relationship, be up front about it.  There are plenty of men and women that want friends with benefits and random sexual encounters.  Stick with those folks, don’t mess with the people who are looking for a true and lasting connection.

And remember that women will almost always equate touch with love.  In the beginning they may say they’re okay with sex – no strings attached – but they’re thinking you’ll change.  That you will come to want only them.  We’re funny that way, we women.  We believe we can change men with sex.  wry smile  The truth is – and we all know it – it just doesn’t happen often enough to mention.

What makes a lasting relationship?  Commitment.  That’s it folks.  That’s the foundation.  You have to want it and you stick with it.  You don’t go looking for a distraction.  You look at the person you love, take a deep breath, and remember all the things you loved in the beginning.  You remind yourself of why you said forever.

Imagine how different our lives would be if we did that.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have an amazing couple of months with someone.  I don’t want to experience the pain of an ended relationship.  I want the kind of love that sticks through the hard stuff and grows.

That’s it.  Remember when I “talk” I’m not preaching.  I’m speaking to myself as much as I’m speaking to you.

Beyond Fear

I was raised to be tough and courageous.  I don’t recommend parenting in the style of my father but in some ways it was effective.  For example, my first time driving at the age of 15 was on a five hour trip, South to North across the state of Oregon.  No around the block for this kid.  My dad gave me the assignment and off we went.  I white knuckled it, more afraid of my dad than I was of traffic.  I didn’t even consider failure.  I had to do it and I knew I would.
When we were cliff diving and bridge diving in the heat of a Southern Oregon summer, I balked at jumping off the highest bridge into the lake below.  Immediately, my dad started a count down and I knew that when he reached zero I would have jump or he would push me.  It never occurred to me to resist.  I was going in.  I sucked up my fear and did it.
As a parent, I didn’t want to treat my children that way.  I wanted them to learn to honor their feelings and not let anyone pressure them into doing anything.   Still, I can see why my father raised me the way he did.  He knew life would present many challenges and he wanted me to meet them with courage.  He wanted me to face those challenges undaunted.
It took me a long time to understand this.  He never explained but I was an observant student of life and I paid close to attention.  Once I got past my anger and resentment , I could see goodness in his intention.
It’s only recently that I’ve come to realize just how courageous I am.  It’s not that I’m unafraid, not at all.  It’s that I have acquired the ability to move beyond my fear and I can see how that has given me an advantage in life.  I’ve done some pretty cool things from cyclone disaster relief on the island of Guadalcanal to building homes in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
I hope life affords you the opportunity to acquire courage in gentler ways and while you’re still young.  If it hasn’t yet, go out and be courageous.  You can do it!  Apply for the job of your dreams, travel, ask her out…  whatever it is that you’re afraid of, just step past it.  No matter the outcome, you’ll be glad you did.

Legacy of Love

What do you do when your body betrays you and you can no longer command your limbs or your eyes or your tongue?  What do you do when your walk becomes a stumble and then you fall and there’s no way up except on another person’s arm?

I remember the first time I saw my mom fall.  She had stumbled before and I’d noticed that it was happening more frequently but one day she fell and couldn’t get up again.  Her tears frightened me and I ran to help her up but all I could do was get her to the edge of the room where she could lean up on the wall.

I remember asking her what I should do.  I was panicking.  She told me it was okay.  She would wait for my dad to come home from work.  Until then, she would crawl where she needed to go.  My voice rose and broke as I repeated, “Crawl?”  She smiled through her tears and nodded.  Then she told me that she was grateful that she could.

I learned about Multiple Sclerosis that day.  I learned about the diagnosis and why she’d been sick for so long.

Eventually, she was unable to voluntarily move at all.  She wore diapers and received nourishment through a gastronomy tube.  And she never lost her smile or her gratitude.

This morning, the last day of 2013, I’m thinking of the legacy of love and gratitude that she left me.  The legacy of faith and grace.  She wasn’t blessed with health and it’s hard for me to think about the struggles.  About the way she suffered silently, but think about it I must because it’s in the light of that suffering that she shined so beautifully right up until the day she died, body bent and broken and ruined.

I want to create that kind of legacy for my children and the people I love.  I want to create that kind of legacy, period.  In the end it’s all that survives, the love and kindness that we show.  Or the opposite.  That survives too.

Each and every day we are living our legacy.  We are teaching our children how to be.  We are touching the world.

In 2014 I want to grow ever more in the direction of love and kindness.  I want to be like my mom and create a legacy of love.

The Forever Dream


She dreams of standing in a field of dry knee high grass in a bright sundress, barefoot and brown and beautiful. Closing her eyes she smiles into the breeze and feels the soft brush of wishes against her shoulders and cheeks. Small dandelion dreams born on the wind, brush past her eyelids and catch for a moment on her bottom lip.


As the wind picks up and lifts the hem of her dress, she turns in slow circles, arms outstretched, bright sun raining down on the crown of her head, turning it bright and golden.


When she opens her eyes she sees a bright reflection in the near distance. Like a human divining rod, she smells water and heads in that direction, brushing open hands against heads of wheat grass that tickle her palms.


The river rises up to meet her and changes its course to lie down at her feet. Boarded by rocks, a crystal clear, still pool invites her to shed her clothes. She lifts her arms as the breeze plays against her knees and slides gently up her thighs while the flowered sun dress spills into the grass and takes root.


She bends to pluck a flower from the field of her recent sundress and steps into the water which is cold. She shivers as a chill travels ankle to chest, and she crosses her arms beneath her breasts, but heat follows the chill and leaves her burning.


Sinking into the water, she smiles back at her reflection and softly sighs as hands run up her inner thighs. She is liquid and light and solid and melting; born of earth and water.


Whose hands play against her skin? Whose lips are those? Who is it who pushes her back on the bank of grass, hips in water, sand against the small of her back?


She knows the feel of him but not his form. His voice is familiar but unknown, Rest your feet here against my shoulders, just like that.


Grabbing her hips, he pulls her down to meet him. His lips are a breath away from hers. Her knees are pressed back and open.

Please… she says, I want…


A pause


You want what? He asks.


She wants to say his name, but it’s forbidden. She wants to ask for things that are not hers.


Teasing, he circles his hips, brushes his lips against hers, You can’t ask?


She shakes her head no even as she says, please just…


She gasps when he moves inside her.


The earth softens and welcomes her as she sinks down, down, down.  Warm sunshine against her face, warm earth against her back, warm body pressing in.  She sinks down again.


She cries out, sinking her fingers into the earth as he fills her with the bright promise of new life and gently pulls away. Her eyes flutter shut as warm earth closes around her and the last thing she feels is a kiss.


Her soul is quiet as she lies fertilized and planted, ready to be born again; a child of earth and water.


Stand by me

A long time ago I had a pastor friend that stood by me during one of the hardest phases of my life. My father had died unexpectedly, my six-year old daughter had been raped and I’d voluntarily given up the job of my dreams overseas to return to the relative safety of the USA and extended family who I felt needed me.

I was exhausted, traumatized, worried and wounded by life circumstances and by a church that in effect abandoned my family in a time of need. But this one pastor, this dear friend, stood by me and let my pain and hurt wash over him without judgment and without internalizing any of it.

While I recognized his love and patience as being extraordinary, I was too wounded to reciprocate. I took him for granted, willingly accepted his practical help and moral support and limped along occasionally raging, often crying. I know I wasn’t much fun to be around.

His loving presence and acceptance of me without needing to correct me and without judgment seeped into my heart and began to change me. I felt the power of his love and commitment and I was softened and warmed by it, and my life was changed.

It’s that memory that keeps me faithful and whispers patience to me when I want to give up.

It takes discernment to know when to stay and when it’s time to pull the plug. There’s no one pat answer. I’m simply relating my personal experience to say, don’t give up too easily. Maybe, just maybe, your patience and love will make all the difference.

The Living Years

Warm water, the sky an endless expanse of blue, palm trees swaying in the island breeze, and I have no clue what’s happening half a world away, back in the USA, as I blissfully float in the swimming pool.  To be fair, nobody knows that my father’s heart is on the verge of failure.  That he has less than a day left to live.

I get the call the next day – or my husband does – while I am back out at the hotel pool, enjoying a few days respite from our work with Habitat for Humanity in Papua New Guinea.  My husband appears at the side of the pool.  I flip in the water, push off from the opposite side, and swim over to see him, pushing water from my eyes as I surface.  He bends down and pauses a beat.  I don’t expect to hear anything awful so his words catch me off guard and I don’t believe them.  My father can’t be dead but somehow, impossibly he is.

It’s been 17 years and I haven’t stopped missing him.  I feel compelled to write of him at some point each year, to remind myself that time is short and tomorrow is a mystery.  That I love you and I’m sorry are urgent words that should not be put off for another day.

My parents are both gone now.  I visit the cemetery often and talk to them.  I tell my dad things I wish I’d said in the living years. I’m not sure that it would have gone well had I found the courage;  I just wish I hadn’t let fear of his reaction stop me from saying what was in my heart while he was still alive to hear me.

I’m grateful that I recently took the time to call my dad’s baby brother because he died unexpectedly yesterday, apparently in the middle of getting dressed that morning.  My aunt found his body later that evening when he was long past saving.  My uncle, like my father, was a relatively young man and it seems far too early but I find solace in knowing that the last thing I ever said to him was, “I love you, Uncle Don.”

I didn’t say those words lightly or easily.  My dad’s side of the family isn’t big on affirmation, hugs and I love yous.  I’m glad I’ve learned to have the courage to speak from my heart even when it isn’t easy.

Is there someone in your life that needs to hear from you?  Please, stop whatever you’re doing and just do it.  Right now.  Tomorrow may be too late.


I recently discovered the MTV show Catfish: The TV show.  Apparently, a Catfish is someone who poses as someone else online or lies about who they are in one way or another in order to lure people into relationships.  I actually ran into a psychopathic Catfish back in 2007.  He was trolling for attention, sex, fantasy, money… The truth is, I can’t begin to understand his psychology.  I only know that I will be happy if I never encounter another person as devious and sick as he.

The episodes of Catfish that I’ve seen haven’t featured anything as sick as what I encountered personally.  Generally, the Catfish seem to fall into a couple general categories:  1) The unhappy man or woman in a committed relationship, looking for fantasy and escape, and 2) Men and women who wish they were more successful, better looking or more exciting.

While I cannot imagine pretending to be someone other than I am, I can understand the desire to escape or present a “better” version of myself.  For instance, I used to post pictures taken at specific angles, designed to make me look thinner.  I got to be fit and it was fun and so much easier than actually working.

I also found myself living somewhat of a fantasy in that I was phenomenally social online and a virtual hermit offline.  I express myself best in writing so being on a social network provided me the opportunity to put my best foot forward: Kate 2.0, that was me.

Eventually, even the small alterations I made became a burden.  I wanted to be accepted in my imperfections.  Connection isn’t  real until it sees and loves fully.  I didn’t want to be a fantasy.  I just wanted to be me, full of imperfections but doing my best to be a kind and compassionate human.

One of the dangers of our cultural obsession with online media is that it tempts us to post only the best pictures of ourselves and it’s easy to white wash our lives, causing us to form incomplete connections.

I used to believe that online friendships were purer and more honest than offline friendships because they level the playing field.  It doesn’t much matter how we look or what we do for a living or where we live.  The thing is, those details do come into play and they’re very much a part of who we are.  When we alter them even slightly we’re presenting ourselves falsely in varying degrees.

I started out online only showing my feet and knees.  It was my thing.  Eventually, I began to show me but always in the best possible light and like I said, it truly bothered me.  It was a long process for me but eventually I came clean and said, “This is me and I’m nowhere close to being your fantasy.”

That gave me the courage to finally go out and meet people I’d known online for years.  I was afraid but I knew they weren’t expecting Kate 2.0.  Without exception, we clicked as well face-to-face as we had online, if not better.  It was a hugely freeing experience for me.

Back to Catfish.  Some of the most compelling stories I’ve seen have been stories of goodhearted, well intentioned people who were afraid they’d never be accepted because of how they looked.  In most instances, appearances didn’t really matter once they were revealed because people had formed heart connections.  The real issue seems to be dishonesty.  Nobody likes being lied to.  It erodes trust.  Better unattractive or dirt poor than dishonest.

Like I said before, I haven’t seen any episodes of the show where there were huge deceits like the one I dealt with in 2007.  Malicious, sick pretenses.  I’ve mostly seen average people who wish they were other than they are, looking for connection.

I wish more of us would get offline and back into life with all it’s challenges and imperfections.  I wish more of us would work to make honest connections and in the process accept ourselves more fully for the beautifully flawed people we are.

Finally, I think the escape element of online life is incredibly damaging and keeps us in unhappy relationships.  Instead of talking to our significant other we escape to a place of fantasy online where everything is shiny and easy.  I love that Nev and Max on Catfish always insist that people deal with their offline relationships before they seek to meet anyone from their online world.  They encourage honesty and courage.

May we all seek to be honest and courageous.

Have you ever met a Catfish?  In what ways do you “manage” your online image?  I’m curious to hear your stories.

Babies not Biological Material

Fetus.  I hate that word and all it has come to mean.  A fetus isn’t a person.  It’s biological material that can be sucked out and thrown away.  Disposed of in any number of ways.

Sometimes I go to the Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon and look at the display of unborn babies suspended in formaldehyde or some other preservative.  In jars like pickles.  Little tiny people.  It’s meant to teach and I know it does but it makes me feel physically sick to see them there.  It feels to me about like I imagine it might feel to walk into a home and find Uncle Albert’s head mounted above the mantle like a deer or elk.  Those are tiny people in those jars.  How can anyone not see it?  I understand that it’s much more comfortable to think of those developing babies as mere biological matter.  It makes it acceptable to erase a “mistake” and continue on as if nothing more has happened than the removal of a mole.

And those of us who have miscarried, who didn’t want to get pregnant but somehow did and considered it a miracle and a gift rather than an inconvenience…

I have nothing more to say right now.  I can’t type through my tears.  What’s wrong with us?  How can we do the things we do and feel perfectly justified doing them?  It’s monstrous.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

A blur of lights and green, happy voices, a single wheel of a wheelchair, red-socked feet.  The camera tilts upright and finds it’s focus, pulling me like the Ghost of Christmas past back to another time when my parents were alive and the children were so small.

My mom in her wheel chair is singing and clapping.  Her voice is tuneless and her hands miss more than they connect but her smile is joyful, beautiful.   Our oldest son appears in frame, grabs his grandma’s hands and helps her clap in rhythm.  Spasms pull against his child’s strength but together they match the Christmas music in the background.  Our oldest daughter squeaks, “Good job, Grandma!  Good job!”

My brother is being a good sport in a pillow stuffed red sweater and Santa beard.  It’s clear he doesn’t know what to do.  The camera bounces as I pull my eye away from the view finder and tell him to find presents.  “Be Santa,” I say.  “Find something for Dad first.”

In response, our dad’s big booming baritone rises over the song that’s playing on the radio as he sings All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth! The words are all wrong, expect for the chorus, but his enthusiasm is sweet.  I remember how I smiled to hear him.  I turn the camera to capture him but only get to his chest before the camera tilts and flashes back to my brother, pulling from under the tree a present.

The video is about 15 minutes long and not once do I capture my father’s face.  I watch and smile through tears.  The only evidence that I was there is my voice and feet.  The only evidence of my father is his voice and flashes of his plaid shirt and brown pants;  hands carefully folding back paper from presents.

The kids run in and out of view, sometimes pulling faces and holding their arms out TA-DAH! as they jump into frame and out again, hamming it up for the camera.

I’ll never forget those Christmases past, those bright shining moments when we were happy and life seemed forever long.  It’s hard for me to believe that both of my parents are gone.  It was my father’s last Christmas.  He died two weeks prior to Christmas the coming year.

One day my children will sit as I am, remembering Christmases past and I’ll be nothing more than a memory.  I want more than anything to leave them with happy memories, which means that I have to live well now.  I have been given no promise of tomorrow.

My friends, I encourage you to do your best to put aside petty worries and concerns, family squabbles, stress.   I well know there are bigger, insurmountable obstacles in families.  I have my own.  But I lay those aside and focus on what’s possible.  I practice love and kindness, court patience.  I try not to sweat the small stuff.

“…once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love it, so it was!”

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens