About My Week


I had a difficult week – not bad – just difficult.

The primary struggle this week was friendships.

There were two or three different instances when I felt like a friend or friends were being competitive with me. It centered around the big life decisions I’ve been making, and really stirred up anxiety and sadness in me.

I hate comparison.

People are different. Circumstances are different. There is no possible way for one person to look at another person’s decisions and believe they should also do (or have already done) the same thing.

I completely close off when people start comparing themselves to me, and I wish I didn’t. I wish I had it in my to tell them things like, “Don’t play that game. Don’t get sucked in. Make the best decision for you. Don’t take the decision I made for myself and think it somehow provides commentary on the decisions you’ve made for you.”

One of the times I felt I was being watched and compared to others this week was at a get-together of some old friends. There were about 9 of us, I think, and I hadn’t seen or talked to any of them for months. Realistically, I’ve been intentional about moving on from 7 of them, so it was bound to be weird. I almost wish, however, that I didn’t have so much news to tell them. I wish I could have faded into a corner and let them catch up with one-another. I wish we’d gotten together a couple of months ago when I wasn’t getting ready to take the LSAT and sell my house.

I’m not selling my house to make money, although I am glad to discover that I probably will make money. I’m not taking the LSAT to feel smart or to impress. I didn’t quit teaching as a commentary that all teachers should get out. But it feels like that’s exactly what 6 or so of those old friends saw… the assessment, judgment, and occasionally envy or admiration was palpable last weekend.

It bothers me. It feels too much like a jockeying for position, like there’s some hierarchy and everyone is trying to figure out where I fit and where they fit in comparison to me. I don’t want to fit. Anywhere. I don’t want to fit at the top or at the bottom or in the middle of any hierarchy. It bothers me that a hierarchy exists.

My anthem for this season: “It is the most difficult thing in the world for a person to run her own pace when she knows someone is watching.”

I no longer even remember where that quote comes from, but I find great comfort in it. That quote brings me a peace, because it strips away the hierarchy and recognizes that every runner has a pace that fits her, that’s her own.

When I start to see my flaws or my strengths, this quote reminds me that racing isn’t about beating anyone else. It’s about taking the person I’ve been given – taking Katie… her muscles, her fat, her brain, her heart, her whatever – and running the best pace she can run. This quote reminds me that no matter how many people are watching and evaluating my race, the pace I set can never depend on their evaluation.

Have a good week, friends, and run your pace, regardless of the pace others around you are running.

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The Status that Can Never be Updated


Something Lori said to me about six weeks ago has stayed on my mind, because it so reflects the gospel. She was talking about her family, and she said that you can be completely, fiercely angry with family and they can be completely, fiercely angry with you, but your status doesn’t change: you’re still family. And the next time you talk, family doesn’t think less of you.

I’ve struggled for what seems like ages with the fact that my status with family changed to the degree that I was no longer welcome at the holidays. I’ve struggled with where the line is that just cannot be crossed without a status update: ___________ is no longer sisters with Katie James…

I almost have a numbness to people saying they don’t want me as around; it feels like it happens all the time. It’s really only a few times that it’s happened, but sometimes I think it’s my fault. I think about how I must’ve really done something terrible… I must be a terrible person for family not to want me.

It’s actually been the absurd responses of people who don’t know me very well that have most steadied my nerves about it. They say things like, “What did you do? Have you been selling drugs?” or “They must’ve found out about that time you shot a guy and had to get the hell out of Reno.” People saying that to me is so incredibly and unexpectedly helpful, because it reminds me that I’m not an uncommonly bad person. It helps me put it into perspective… I was disowned because I wrote a blog post… or because I wasn’t good at being a Maid of Honor… or because I…

Sticking with people is really difficult and painful. There’s no denying it. I get that it’s really stressful to work out conflict, and it’s much simpler to just find a person to replace me. There are endless masses who are looking for a new spouse/friend/sister/etc… at the very same moment someone has decided it’s time to move on from me.

But I wonder how it would change the world if each of us looked at our lives right now, listed the top ten most important people to us, and determined we would stick by them no matter what…

Mom, Dad, Jennifer, Dave, Lisa, Lori, Steve, Ashly, Matt, Lauren, and Danny.

Okay, so I picked 11 – that’s not the point.

What if we looked at our lives and committed unconditionally to however many people…?

I really struggle sometimes to believe that my status before God is consistent – that He adopted me once and for all – that He looks at me like I’m His daughter every single day and every single moment. I struggle to believe that He sees me as righteous, blameless, and pure. It’s honestly the greatest struggle of faith to trust that Jesus took care of it and I’m okay. There’s nothing more I can do to be cleaner and more perfect before God. My status before Him is secure.

I think it would be easier to believe if my status before my friends/sister/coworkers/etc… wasn’t so subject to change. I’m going to try to be better at letting those closest to me know that their status isn’t subject to change.

The Definition of Home


I started reading a book called Saturday Night Widows. It’s not a book I intended to read or had ever even heard of, but I happened upon it when a volunteer was using my office, so I had nowhere to go for awhile, and I really couldn’t work on anything because everything was in my office. Thus, I was skulking in Sally’s office, bothering her. The book was on her desk.

I picked it up and started perusing the blurbs, eventually realizing it was a book I needed to read. So I’ve been reading it.

“Holding on there through so many momentous changes, I often wondered about the definition of home. Is it the place where you live, or is it the place where the people you love reside? And if the people you love are gone, where is home then?”

Becky Aikman is the author and that quote is about losing her husband to Cancer.

I’ve been blessed to have been adopted by more than one family at the crucial moments when I needed help understanding what home truly is.

As a kid, my understanding of home was sort of impersonal. I came from a hoarder’s house, so items were to be protected, catalogued, and hidden away for the future behind stacks of newspapers and beneath protective layers of dust. Food came out of bags and boxes. There tended to be a lot of television, solitude, and homework at home, while the substance of life existed elsewhere. Work/school/athletics were the primary focus of the day, and home fell into that the same way rest stops contribute to road trips.

I’m not writing that to complain. It’s just… I needed someone to show me that home wasn’t like that for everyone.

In adopting me, the Johnsons showed me that home came be a place of connection and community. It’s possible to invite others in, even when it’s messy. They showed me that food can slow down the relentless forward motion of a day, and wine can completely pause the world on its axis. There is a discipleship I received Mr. Miyagi-style by eating weekly dinners in the Johnson house.

The Hilsts, in adopting me, showed me that holidays can be simultaneously prepared for, yet relaxing. They showed me how tradition can feed the heart, and how Black Friday may not actually be beneath me. In my childhood, my family had a strong aversion to events. We liked for things to be casual and informal, but I found a joy in the eventishness of Hilst holidays, and I never once felt formal. They also taught me how to watch television with others, rather than next to others.

Home is, and probably always will be, a struggle for me. I always worry about decisions I make regarding the other people who inhabit my house, because I never feel like I’m a strong enough force to build the sense of home I want in the face of opposition. I fear the various ways others have robbed me of my sense of home in the past – both family and roommates.

I own the mortgage on a 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom house, and as much as I’d like to see myself as that person who has people coming and going the way Martin Luther and Katerina Von Bora did, I find myself wanting to curl into myself a little bit. With my parents in North Carolina, the Johnsons in Phoenix, and the Hilsts in California, I feel a little lost. I feel like home is so incredibly fragile.

Sadly, I’m not writing this out of a mopey feeling at the loss of the Hilsts. I’m not wallowing or melancholy.

A year has passed, and with that year, I’m beginning to accept that home is no longer with the Hilts. It cuts me to write that because I really wanted to believe things would change only in superficial, unimportant ways when they moved. I believe that, of course, I was their home and they were mine. In the wisdom of Pink: “If someone said three years from now, you’d be long-gone, I’d stand up and punch them out, ‘cus they’re all wrong…” I write that sort of absurdly, because I can’t believe I’m like that – thinking in sappy song lyrics, but I do. I don’t think them begrudgingly at all; I don’t feel there’s a wrong in the quiet and distance the Hilsts are keeping. It just feels unaligned or off that I’m not close with the people who’ve been home to me.

As always, season turns to season, and I’m beginning to feel it might now be the worst thing in the world to be vulnerable with a few people with whom I’ve never been vulnerable before. It might not be the worst thing to tell geeky stories of ComiCon to people who’ve never heard them before, or to try to convince a whole new people to attend ComiCon with me. Maybe it’ll be okay to go through those beginning stages of friendship with new people, trying to explain why 200-mile relay races are awesome, books are wondrous, predestination is beautiful. It’s a stage of friendship I haven’t had to do since like 2005, but it is a fun stage of friendship when you embrace it.

 

I hate vulnerability, but it’s probably time to give it another chance. After all, it worked out pretty well for me last time; I found myself adopted into two great families.

 

Wanted: Roommate Who Throws a Great Duck Funeral and Loves Aaron Sorkin


Roommate Kendra is moving out… well, sort of. She’s beginning to get more serious about it, and I’m saving boxes for her. And, the thing is, I’ve never had a better roommate than she’s been.

When Kendra and I first met to talk about the prospect of her moving in, I felt really nervous. You see, I’ve had 3 previous roommates, and it’s never once gone smoothly. I almost always manage to anger roommates by not meeting their emotional/home needs, and I really don’t notice anything is wrong until they get pissed.

So when Kendra said that she really didn’t get mad about things, I didn’t quite believe her. But I totally should have, because I feel I haven’t met very many of Kendra’s emotional/home needs at all, and yet, we haven’t ever fought. Not once. It’s been a blessed few years of living, and I so appreciate the respite I’ve found in home being home, largely because Kendra just let me be and didn’t try to reshape me at all.

Therefore, in honor of the best roommate there is, I’d like to create a top five list of Kendra expreiences:

5. The running – we didn’t run together all that often, but I loved talking about running, which is way better than the actual doing it. Also, I’ve been blessed to run a couple of Ragnars with Kendra, and she’s proven an excellent van mate.

4. The prank war – It was pretty epic coming home to find my coffee maker, painting easel, and a few other important items up on the second-story shelf thing… despite the fact that we didn’t have a ladder at home. I also loved that it took hours for her to notice the dixie cup tower I’d built in front of her bed room door.

3. Watching TV, especially The Mentalist and The Bionic Woman.

2. Madelyn’s First ComiCon. Kendra put together the cutest session for Hero Bear, featuring cupcakes and a build-a-bear contest. I knew there was a geek in her, just screaming to get out.

  1. The duck memorial, complete with slideshow, poem, and sappy song.

There are certainly others. The wine drinking. The Bible studies. The worship nights. That time when all of those college boys came over and used our showers. Will coming over ever Sunday night for awhile. Getting a turtle and a dog. Hearing about Victims’ Services calls and the food kitchen.

As I begin looking for a replacement roommate, I’m saddened, because Kendra is irreplaceable, and I’m nervous again that whoever takes the upstairs room will hate me for my dirty dishes and emotional detachment. 😦

I’ll miss you, friend.

So, everyone, make sure you give me a call if you know a low-maintenance female looking for a place to live in NW Tucson.

The Question that Threw Me


I’ve decided to pursue volunteering with Victim’s Services. From what I can tell, this means that I would go to crime scenes and help victims meet their immediate needs, whatever those may be (a glass of water, a quiet place to sit, phone calls, etc…). Plus, I’d leave behind resources for them in the coming days – pamphlets with phone numbers and information to help them make the next steps.

I like thinking of it as going into the darkest dark of a person’s life, being a soft light next to them for an hour, maybe two, then leaving as quietly as I came, but also putting a flashlight and some batteries in their hands so that they can start finding their way out whenever they’re ready.

There’s a rigor to volunteering with Victim’s Services that’s to be expected, which is why I found myself downtown at 6:30 on a weeknight, in a building with metal detectors and a security guard.

I thought I was going to nail the interview. You see, the volunteer program at Casa de la Luz has a similar rigor to it, and I’ve been interviewing prospective volunteer for the past three weeks.

I answered their questions, but one of them really stuck with me.

Somehow, the question to get to me wasn’t the one about times I’d been victimized in the past. It wasn’t the one about what the most difficult scenario would be for me in volunteering. The question that’s haunting me is: “What did your friends and family say when you told them you wanted to do this?”

I feel a little like Creed in The Office when new HR person Holly asked him what he did at Dunder Mifflin, and he was all, “Who does she think she is, asking questions that are none of her business?”

I know it’s a fair question. And yet… the truth is that Victim’s Services was never much of a conversation with any of my friends or family.

I’m pretty sure I told my mom. I told Danny and Lauren; Danny said he thought I’d be good at it… and that’s about it. I mentioned it to a friend at church, but only because the training was going to prevent me from attending Bible Study for 6 weeks.

I mean, I went to Mongolia without anyone’s permission. I pierced my nose and got tattoos. I bought a house, quit my job, went to Peru, fell in love, adopted two ducks and a dog…Not only did I do those things without anyone’s permission, but I didn’t even really ask for feedback on most of it.

To some extent, I think I may now understand all of the conflicts I’ve had in my entire life.

I know, it’s been quite the week for me.

Steve and Lori, Ashly, the Johnsons… all of the people I’ve been closest with in my life have the unmistakable ability not to take it personally when I tell them they’ve given me great advice, but I’m going to do exactly what they said I shouldn’t do. They also don’t take it personally when I don’t explain why I didn’t take their advice. They also have a pretty wonderful way of never acting like it’s bad for me to take risks or do things differently than most people do them. When I think about it, how they relate to me might boil down to them having the ability to entrust me to God.

All of the people in my life with whom I’ve had major conflict have the unmistakable need for people, items, ideas, and everything in existence to fall in line; they take it as an insult that I don’t communicate my thoughts and reasons for doing the things I do. They have a sense of right and wrong that extends beyond what’s actually in the Bible, and it’s frustrating to them when I discard things on which they place moral significance.

When I think about what those close to me would have said if I’d asked them what they think about me volunteering with Victim’s Services, I think they’d all have probably asked me a lot of questions and said it might end up being really awesome, and if it wasn’t awesome, I’d figure that out, and stop doing it. Also, I think they’d say that I’ll probably learn a lot, and they can see why I want to do it.

Regardless, I may try a little harder to talk with people BEFORE I go running off to foreign countries, changing careers, etc… I may try to make friends and family a part of the decision-making process, rather than just updating them once the decision has been made. That would probably be a good change for me to make in my life.

Kindred Friends


I just had coffee with a free-lance editor, and it was amazing.

About three or four weeks ago, Jocelyn, a newish friend at church, told me she has a friend who edits and is involved in the publishing industry. She thought her friend and I should meet and talk about editing my manuscript and/or helping to connect me with small publishers/graphic designers who could do my cover art if I self-publish/publicists…

I said that would be great, but I wasn’t overwhelmingly excited. I basically looked at it as an opportunity that would likely be a non-event in the big scheme of things.

I’d begun to feel pretty relaxed about my manuscript. I was working on a re-write of it that I was adamant would be the last one. Whatever came of this re-write, I intended to move on and write something else. I intended to query a handful of agents, then just go ahead and self-publish the thing if no one wanted to walk through the process with me.

After several years of work on this manuscript, after querying agents, after researching the industry, after working on my platform… I just don’t get overly hopeful about any of it. I’m unimpressed with opportunities, because they nearly always seem to flop in the end.

Enter Jocelyn. She’s sort of a distant friend. She and I have talked/texted several times about getting together, but nothing has really come of it. I honestly half-expected her to forget about trying to connect me with her editor friend. However, she dutifully gave me Kelcey’s info and gave Kelcey my info.

At that juncture in time, I thought I’d wait a week or two until I was a little more settled at my new job before contacting Kelcey. However, Kelcey ended up contacting me, which was nice. I often feel like my efforts to build friendships go unreciprocated. Sometimes that’s fine. Sometimes, I can take an alarming amount of rejection without being phased. Right now, however, I just haven’t felt like working harder at things than anyone else is working. So, honestly, if Kelcey hadn’t taken the reins, this may have never happened. Thank God she did, because we decided to get coffee.

We planned it super far in advance, and I didn’t think much about it. It was just a slot on my calendar that was filled. Then, we finally met at Raging Sage, which is an excellent local coffee shop. Kelcey got there first and got us a table outside.

When I first saw her, I actually thought we wouldn’t be a great fit, because she’s thin and has super-short hair. I know that’s a stupid thing to think and is beyond logic, but it’s what I thought. My first impression of Kelcey could probably be summed up with the word β€œdainty.” I have never conceived of myself as dainty, so I had an instant belief that she and I couldn’t possibly have anything in common.

However, Kelcey began talking and my prejudice quickly changed. She has a strong interest in mental health. She feels like God has been dismantling her lately. She wrote a journal entry in her tween years about how she wanted to grow up to be an editor. She recently lost some close friends to a move to another city and some sort of emotional mess that she didn’t describe in detail. She mentioned going into an angry-at-You, God- phase, during which, she stopped attending church and had a bit of a break-down.

And I could relate to all of it. Also, I loved the sense of vulnerability Kelcey brought to the table on the very first time we met.

About thirty minutes in, I thought, “Okay, this might be okay.” I thought we might be able to get along working on my manuscript, which is saying a lot, because I feel incredibly possessive and protective of Madi and Wes. The thought of including a stranger in their growth and… for lack of a better word: sanctification, is horrifying. I don’t have any problem sharing Madi, Wes and their story with readers, but letting anyone have input in their lives is a whole other thing.

I think that may explain the snap judgment of believing that Kelcey’s thinness and hair signified a mismatch. I may have wanted her to be the wrong person, because I desperately fear entrusting my characters to her… or anyone.

Once I had given an explanation of my writing to Kelcey, she seemed really interested. She said great things about my ideas, and she was pretty up-front about saying she believes God has brought me into her life.

We decided that she should write up a contract for us and send it to me so that I could consider the partnership.

Then, we just continued talking… and she quoted The Office.

She talked about the time she spent working as a lumberjack in Oregon, and she didn’t seem quite so dainty anymore.

She mentioned her tattoo that’s written in Elvish and says that not all those who wander are lost… and is enormous.

Then she said she likes to Cosplay.

Then she talked about her blog.

Then she told me her husband loves comics.

That’s when I decided that she and I need to be besties, and we talked about possibly attending Phoenix ComiCon together.

She also mentioned feeling alienated lately and really wanting to find friends.

And that’s when it hit me: I miss Ashly so much.

I think maybe it’s the word “bestie” that got to me. It’s a word I started using to and about Ashly because of the show Big Bang Theory. There’s this hilarious character who sort of pushes the bestie label on someone who definitely isn’t a bestie. And it cracks me up. She has this HUGE portrait made of the two of them, then tries to hang it in a super public place. She says really inappropriate things about the “bestie” and it reaches a creep factor of 12. And it’s hilarious. She is the character on the show who I most relate to, which maybe sounds like I’m insulting myself, but, really, she’s a great character.

When I had the thought of, “Kelcey and I should be besties,” is just…

Lauren once said that Ashly and I speak our own language. She and I will get going about a book or a movie sometimes, and nothing anyone else says even seems valid. Ashly is the literary, nerdy wise sister I always craved. She’s humble and caring. She always tries to go beyond even what’s fair to make people feel loved and at peace. She’s attended ComiCon with me, read my manuscript, prayed, and she has been a kindred spirit.

And then, I unintentionally called Kelcey a kindred spirit when she and I were talking. Which sucks, because I don’t even know if she knows why that’s such an important term. Ashly knows. She could explain that it’s how Ann-with-an-e referred to her own bestie, Diana. It’s a term of endearment planted deeply in the love of story that Ashly and I share.

I know this sounds stupid, but Ashly reads Harry Potter the same way I read it. There is something magical about that common love for story and fantasy that extends far beyond J K Rowling’s books. Finding Ashly was finding a person who perceives the world as I perceive it.

Ashly and I have our differences, but even so, I always felt like she and I understood each other in an uncommon way. I felt like we appreciated each other in an uncommon way. And I’ve deeply felt the loss of her in my life for the past few months.

After getting coffee with Kelcey, she and I walked over to a comic shop together – a comic shop I’ve only ever been in alone or with Ashly.

I feel a defensiveness of Ashly against myself. I feel adamant that Ashly could never be replaced, and spending time with Kelcey seems a little like an attempt to fill the Ashly void in my life.

Of course, it isn’t like that. Ashly was blessed with a new friendship almost immediately after moving to CA, and I didn’t resent or lament that; I was so happy for her. Still, it’s an ache to have to move forward. The friendship isn’t over, but it’s changing, and I wish it could remain the same.

Still, it’s nice to know that there are people out there who perceive the world in the same way I perceive it. Kelcey may truly be a kindred spirit, and maybe there’s hope that the three of us can attend ComiCon together.

Jesus Was Troubled…


I find those three words to be some of the most comforting in all of Scripture.

That “troubled” feeling leaves a legacy throughout the Bible. David wrote in the Psalms of feeling troubled (especially Psalm 6). Great kings and even entire nations are described as troubled. Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2), Pharaoh (Genesis 41), and Herod (Matthew 2) were all troubled. Hannah was troubled (1Samuel 1). Jesus Himself was troubled several times (Matthew 26, Mark 14, John 11, 12, 13)… and it’s fascinating to me.

People so often panic when someone expresses a feeling akin to “troubled.” Christians, occasionally and in particular, go so far as to shame each other for feeling troubled because “His yoke is easy and his burden is light,” (Matthew 11) or because of the instruction: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God,” (Phillippians 4). Christians wield those verses to drive home a false doctrine that a true believer shouldn’t be troubled – that faith should erase the heart’s woes and a good believer ought to be happy. While the verses are true, they do not supersede the verses that depict Jesus feeling “troubled.” They are not more relevant or applicable than the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’s tears in response to the death of Lazarus, or His cries to His Father from the cross, and the uplifting words of God cannot be divorced from the painful passages.

I’m tempted to write this entire post as a defense of feeling troubled, because I feel defensive about it. However, I’m going to try to limit the defense to a quick anecdote…

I had a rough week last week. I interviewed for several positions I should have been offered, but wasn’t, and I’m confident it’s my fault. I’m a terrible interviewee. Admittedly, spending a week not getting a job isn’t all that bad, but what I had was a compounded feeling from weeks and weeks and interviews and interviews that also didn’t work out. I woke up that Saturday and my car wouldn’t start. Then my grandmother passed out and had to go to the E.R. (and I thought she might die). At some point during the week, I was involuntarily separated for an undefined amount of time from someone I love and adore.

In short, I felt troubled, and not without reason.

So… a well-intentioned friend texted me with irritation that I hadn’t called her back when she’d called. I sent her a quick response that said, “The ish just keeps hitting the fan. I’ll call you when I regain my footing.”

The response she sent said something like, “You can vent to me. You don’t have to seem happy all the time.”

When I didn’t write back, she called and left me a voicemail, to which I didn’t respond.

The thing about this isn’t that any of that is wrong. It’s more of something I feared about talking to her… something hiding beneath the surface of her claims that I didn’t have to act a certain way. This friend has a great heart, and she wants to be there for me, but she has a response to other’s troubles that communicates the opposite of what her words said: she frets. It stresses her out when I am, or anyone is, troubled. She often cries in sympathy, which can be admirable. The problem comes when we’ve finished talking and she asks if I feel better.

As much as this friend wants to believe she’s a great listener and someone to whom I could turn when I’m troubled, her ultimate goal in the conversation is to fix it, whereas my ultimate desire and goal is to sit in it indefinitely.

Jesus was troubled…

I want to meditate on that. I want to think about what that means – that the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator, Savior, etc… felt troubled by the things He experienced and saw in this world.

I want to sit in it, and my friend wants to drag me out of it… and in my troubled state, I don’t have the energy to try to persuade her to just sit down beside me in it and say nothing. I didn’t want to have to tell her everything I’m writing here: that Jesus Himself felt troubled, so I’m in good company.

In the chronology of Jesus’s life, the passage I’m really thinking of that says He was troubled comes in John 13, just before Jesus told His disciples that one of them was going to betray Him.

If we were created in the image of a God who feels troubled about betrayal, then it’s not an accident that I struggle to understand and cope with betrayal. There’s even hope in a troubled heart because it indicates that I was created for better and more than I experience here. There’s hope because, “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…” (Hebrews 4).

Admittedly, I pulled that passage out of context a bit, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the sometimes troubled feeling of my heart is one letter of Jesus’s personal signature over me. It’s the red paint of His name claiming that He painted me and I am like Him. That’s why it’s important that I accept feeling troubled – because, in fighting it, I may be fighting one of my Christ-like reflexes, the reflex that feels troubled when things are broken.