The Holidays 2014

This time of year messes with my brain.

Although I’ve had a superb go of the holidays for the last five years or so, I can’t express what it did to me to find that family didn’t want me.

I’m thinking about this because at the Thanksgiving dinner table, I did one of those ungrateful, “Well, I’d totally work on Thanksgiving if I could.”

I didn’t say that as a reflection of the people who so graciously invite me year after year to their table. I said it because I hate Thanksgiving.

I think Thanksgiving may have been my favorite of the holidays when I was younger, because I’m rather fond of food, but nowadays, it’s the first bit of the whole terrible holiday season, so I think it’s the one where, no matter how well Ashly, Matt, and Sarah take care of me, I’m still not sure everything is okay. After an entire year of not thinking about what family is “supposed” to be and not being asked about family, people at work, at church, at yoga, everywhere are suddenly small-talking about what I’ll be doing. For the rest of the year, Thursdays are fine. But this one Thursday usually starts to piss me off long before it comes around, because it causes too many conversations and is the catalyst for too many wonderings about what the hell I did that was so wrong.

…what I should do if this is the year when she invites me back.

…how I have to be prepared to forgive no matter how deeply and carelessly I was wounded.

…how I’ve been forgiven far greater transgressions those committed against me.

…how I can’t go back now, because that would dishonor the family that chooses me year after year after year, regardless of who and what I am.

…how hard it would be to communicate forgiveness while sticking by the people who stuck by me.

I’m not in any way exaggerating the thoughts that occupy my mind during the holidays.

In addition to those what-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do worries, I usually spend a fair amount of time remembering.

When the family rift went down, it was partly because of a blog post I wrote, and more significantly because of decades of siblings not caring about each other. It was an inability to forgive, and it was a lack of empathy.

But remembering those things is a waste if I don’t learn from those lapses of relationship – if I use them to screw her because she screwed me.

I start by remembering the email that summed it up in the inexplicable, “You just don’t live up to our standards.”

If I were dealing drugs, that would make sense to me. If my family were rich and fancy, that would make sense to me. If I were a terrorist or they were shockingly attractive.

But, it doesn’t make sense to me. Because they’re ordinary people and I almost never give in to my puppy-kicking and public nudity urges. In fact, I’ve never even given a drunken toast at a wedding.

I’m not saying that I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread; I’m selfish, and I honestly don’t have a clue why Lori is such a good friend to me, because I’m definitely not as great a friend to her as she is to me. I’m needy and struggling most of the time, even though I doubt that’s how she or any of my other friends sees me.

Still, I really don’t get how there could be anyone out there who might say, “Katie doesn’t live up to my standards.”

What the hell kind of standards does a person have to have to find me so lacking?

Suffice it to say that I spend a significant chunk of the holiday season trying to make sense of my perceived deficiencies.

Additionally, most years, there’s some new piece of information that’s been revealed and provides my next element to worry over. Last year, it was an odd visit. I later learned that this visit left her feeling encouraged – like we might be able to work things out. For me, all I felt was a person who found me lacking significantly enough to dispose of me, saying, “Do you think you’ll ever get married?

Which sounds an awful lot like, “Do you think you’ll ever get married?”

Had someone close to me said it, things would have been fine. To be fair, part of the problem is that someone close to me would have known me well-enough not to have had to ask. Also, I would have trusted someone close to me to ask the question for the right reasons. I wouldn’t have feared that the question was born of competitive drive, with the intent of measuring me – as if that visit were a tryout for admittance back into the family… which I still think it kind of was.

This year, the revelation is that the disowning isn’t something she even recalls doing.

I think I was told about this with the thought that the disowning obviously wasn’t a big deal to her. She isn’t angry still, because she doesn’t even remember it, and therefore, there is hope that we might work it out.

Mulling over that new revelation this year has brought me to the excruciating place where something that hurt me deeply didn’t even merit memory for her. It was the squishing of an ant… it matters quite a lot to the ant, but very little to the ant squisher.

I remember that first year of not knowing where I’d go for the holidays. I remember how each individual holiday was knots and gnarls in my stomach, because I’d never had to wonder before whether people wanted me around or not. I’d never had to discover who my truest companions are and trust that I wasn’t imposing on them, because they said my presence wasn’t an imposition (although it’s hard to believe anyone could want me around if the people who are obligated to want me around asked me not to come around).


My birthday.

The things in between – decorating the house… Disney Lane Christmas lights… Christmas music… gift buying… movie watching, Polar Express, It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown… Walking Winterhaven, which is the only time a person can justifiably wear mittens in the desert… the Tucson things that matter during the Christmas season.

Christmas Eve.


New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Day.

It’s hurtful that she made a choice with such lifelong ramifications, without even considering how it would impact my life. It impacted her very little, but it changed the last six weeks or so of every year for me.

I’ve found a lot of joy in the holidays this year.

I’ve remembered what it is to laugh – really laugh – the way kids do sometimes.

I’ve cooked and decorated. My house looks pretty amazing (if I do say so myself).

I finally bought myself that bike – the impractical one with a cup holder and a basket – the one with the brakes you have to pedal backwards if you want to slow down. The bike with only one gear – slow and easy. I felt the wind in my hair the way a it does when kids get their first bikes as I rode it home from Walmart (because nothing fits in the bug).

So I’m not writing this as a screw you to her. I know she’s going to hate that I wrote this. It doesn’t make any sense to me that she still reads what I write, but she does, and I know it’s going to become another bullet point on the list of why I don’t live up to the standards. It’s another blog post that’s worthy of the disowning – more evidence that I too often refuse to toe the line, following the tail she lays out for the people in her life. I admit I’m a bush-whacker at heart.

But there are others who claim and own me regardless of what I write – or possibly even occasionally because of what I write. They love me without judging my hatred of the well-paved road. They’ve read their Frost and allow that the road less traveled might be a worthy one… because the broadest, straightest roads often take us in exactly the wrong direction. There are people who don’t ignore my apologies or even require the. They often forgive me when I haven’t asked for forgiveness.

They are the people I want to become.

She isn’t the primary, secondary, or even tertiary audience for whom I write, or for whom I live, so, in all honesty, I write this mostly for myself – as a release. Because I will never live up to those standards, nor do I desire to live up to them. I need to put that in writing and out of my head. Because even though I’ve known since the moment I read her email, my heart has still been tirelessly trying to work it out – trying to find that nail in the coffin of who I am that if I just change it a little, she’ll love me, forgive me… for whatever it is that’s so wrong about me.

I write it for my holiday benefactors, as an apology that five amazing years is a greater gift than anyone has ever given me, and yet, my heart is still broken. Though you’ve aided in the mending, time is all that can be expected to heal such wounds. I’m sorry for how my hatred of Thanksgiving must seem like ungratefulness, and that all I offer you is often too-gooey pecan pie. I struggle more than I admit to believe that the walks, board and card games, childlike laughter, and good glasses of wine are more than illusion. I struggle to believe that your kindness towards me is more than illusion. That you are more than illusion.

I also write for Lori and Steve, who are the first to arrive and the last to leave, because real friends are like that. 🙂 I met you, Lori, more than half my life ago, and you, Steve, soon after. You’ve attended more of my birthday parties than anyone has. You’ve moved me from a house, to an apartment, to another apartment, to another house, to another apartment, and, finally, into another house. For every event I’ve hosted, you’ve arrived first and departed last, as I hope might be true of your presence in my day-to-day life.

The holidays piss me off, but I promise I’m growing and changing, and that in five more years, the standards will be a vanished vapor.

Happy holidays!


That Pesky (and Always Excruciating) Vulnerability

I used to think I had a vulnerability problem with letting people know and claim me. Maybe I did or maybe I didn’t, but I’ve found myself fearing vulnerability a little bit differently lately.

I haven’t yet gotten over some of the roommate conflicts that have occurred in the past. It’s not that I’m mad, or even was mad when it was all going down – I sort felt outside of the conflict because I wasn’t mad or disappointed. I was just living my life. But I really struggled with the thought that a person I care for can have expectations that I don’t meet, and I may not even realize I’m not meeting those expectations until after I’ve already hurt or disappointed or angered the other person.

I, personally, don’t mind getting hurt. I used to be afraid of it, but I’ve done it enough times now that I am confident in my own resilience. I’m confident that getting hurt won’t keep me from knowing and loving God. It won’t keep me from letting folks know me for real or from trying to achieve the unachievable. It’s different when other people’s hearts start getting involved, though.

That’s one of the vulnerabilities in dating with which I’m currently struggling.

What if he falls in love and I don’t?

What if we both fall in love, but I need tons of alone time to write and think and walk? What if his expectation is that we talk and spend more time together than I expect or want to give?

What if he buys me a fancy necklace and I break up with him a month later?

What if he wants me to change and I don’t believe I should?

My cousin once said that he admires my individuality/do-my-own-thing-ness and roommate Kendra recently said the same thing. I want and choose to be the type of person who makes the best decision rather than the most common one or the one other people think I should make. I’m rarely concerned about how people in general view my actions, so long as they reflect what I believe I ought to do. There are folks who I go to for advice and I listen to them… I sometimes even trust their ideas over my own when I believe they know better than I do what the best choice is. I don’t worry about what I did yesterday or how yesterday might lead to ______ today. I don’t believe in being pot-committed (poker). I, like Emerson, believe in saying and doing what today thinks in harsh boldness, then saying and doing what tomorrow thinks in equally harsh boldness, though it contradict everything I said and did today.

That’s what makes me nervous about relationships right now.

In some ways, I’m really predictable. I show up on time unless I believe everyone else will be late… and I instead show up when I think others will show up. I study and think – about God, books, and anything that strikes my fancy.

However, my unpredictability has the potential to hurt others. I sometimes need other people a lot. This week alone, I’m scheduled to spend time with probably something like 50 different people, but other weeks, I hardly talk to anyone. And I’m fine with that. It works for me. It keeps me from having to be an introvert or an extrovert, because I don’t like being either on a consistent basis.

But that could drive another person crazy.

And it could hurt him.

Several friends have suggested that I sabotage relationships out of a need to maintain control over my life. Which I believe is partially true. However, I think it’s equally true that I am afraid to link my life to another person’s life because I might wake up one morning and discover that he’s been disappointed in me for months and I’ve inadvertently hurt his feelings ten times recently. That’s what it’s been like for me to live with other people. Amy, Alix, Shasta… I don’t know how they’d describe what happened, but I know that it felt like I was being accused of betraying them, when I hadn’t even known there was a trust that could be betrayed.

I don’t expect much of people. I usually think people do their best and I trust their patterns and rarely try to change things about them. That comes from arguments when I was a kid in which my father would claim that we were trying to change him and he’d refuse to be changed. That caused me to believe that people don’t owe anything to each other… even in marriage. My father didn’t have to change even though his children or wife needed him to change. He might have it completely within his power to meet a need, but I knew he only did it when it suited him.

I don’t want to be that. I want to change for certain people. I want to meet their needs. I want to trust them to do the same for me. And I think I’m learning to do that, but I look at relationships and it terrifies me that a man I’m with might change for me and meet my needs, only to discover that I’m unwilling or unable to do the same for him.

It’s a reverse vulnerability because I’m afraid of the other person getting hurt. These are just thoughts, and I know it’s impossible to know until I try, so I believe it’s right to try. I haven’t committed to trying for very many people in the past, but today, I vow to give it a try, even though I can’t manage the emotions on either side. Even though I may get my heart broken or break his heart. I say, here’s to trying. 🙂

The WHY Dilemma

I’ve been writing again, which is great, but I’ve rejoined my manuscript only to find that the same problems it had when I left off are still problems. The primary one I’m focused on right now is character motivation.

In my story, an incredibly clever, fun, beautiful girl from a good family REALLY likes someone it doesn’t make sense for her to like, and I’m not sure how to solve this problem.

My first instinct was to reveal something in the past that made her like him… even though it seems like he’s an idiot who she could never have true affections for, maybe there’s something more to him than we’ve seen. This is my favorite solution to the problem because it overcomes a few additional problems with their friendship, including the fact that they don’t have much positive chemistry (they’re awkward together) and they don’t have anything in common. Also, she’s not driven completely by emotions, and this solution offers the opportunity to involve her mind in the attraction.

My lazy instinct is to say that she can’t control who she likes. It doesn’t matter how smart she is or how wrong the match is, we sometimes love people we oughtn’t to love and there’s no reason or logic to it. She loves him because she does.

The problem with ALL solutions is that they either elevate his character or degrade hers. Every time I try to write a moment where she sees something deeper and valuable in him, it makes him seem lovable; it makes him into a secretly good guy… and he isn’t. He’s a mess in the he-needs-therapy sort of way. He’s a depressed partier who can’t seem to get a break in life and just makes his own situation worse by his foolishness and uncontrollable emotions. So I can’t make him it seem like he’s redeemable. It ruins the story if he’s redeemable. And she loses some of her credibility and lovability if she loves someone who is unredeemable.

Now… when I take this into real life, it’s completely plausible to me that she would be an amazing girl in love with an idiot. The question is how to make it plausible in the story.

So I thought I’d start by polling you good people…

Why do amazing people fall in love with wretched ones? Is it the way they look? Is it a desire to redeem them? Is it impossible to answer this question? Have you ever loved an unredeemable person? Why did you love him or her?

Highlight of My Week!

One of the students in my sixth period class bursts into the room and says, “Ms. James! I have to write something on your board!”

He sets a bouquet of yellow flowers on one of the desks in the back row, and proceeds to hurriedly erase everything on the board, replacing it with


Prom with Christian?



The bell rings, and he sits quietly in his desk.

Courtney is texting as she walks to her desk and sees the flowers just as she puts her phone away. She looks a little perplexed, but smiles and stares at the flowers.

She sits down, sets her backpack down, and holds the flowers without looking up.

We’re all waiting, but she keeps not looking up.

I finish taking attendance, and she finally looks up.

“Awwww…” she says.

Christian is waiting.

“Oh, right… I’m supposed to check yes or no.”

She walks up to the board and very matter-of-factly checks yes, then goes back to her seat. She doesn’t even look at Christian, which is weird for all of us, but especially for him, so he gets up and walks over to her desk.

She looks up at him expectantly confused.

“You weren’t even going to hug me!” he accuses.

They hug.



Reblog: Hate is cheap and easy just like your mom

Here’s a post that I couldn’t not reblog. It’s by a blogger I don’t know and have never read, but you should check out nevercontrary. which is a lovely little piece of the interwebs 🙂


it comes in many disguises

are you sure you can see them all?

It can be hidden in your heart

flashing on your tv

written into a joke

it can be the simple act of remaining silent




what hate are you ignoring?

Does it leave you feeling sick?


your problems have you in your own hole

and you can’t see out

is it dark in there?

What do you do when it rains down there in that hole?

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would simply reach down and


you out?

Why is no one willing to help?

Where has compassion gone?

Oh I’m sorry I forgot compassion is too


My First ‘F’

Friend Ashly wrote a brilliant comment on a post awhile back, and it got me thinking about the danger of assessing friendships and relationships. Here’s the piece of what she wrote that most stuck with me:

When I got married, I determined to never assess Matt based on his role as my husband, but to view him as another human being and my best friend.

Of the people I enjoy and value most in my life – Shasta, the Johnsons, Lauren, the Malangones, and others I’m surely leaving out – I think the common denominator in our relationships is that assessment is absent (or very rare).

With Shasta, for example, I talk about books, God, work, movies, boys, writing, blogging and everything under the sun, and I never feel judged or assessed.

She knows the sins I consider to be my worst.

And yet, she loves me, which is this perfect picture of the gospel because I don’t know why she loves me… I just know that she does.

By the time you read this I will have already done it, but right now, I’m preparing to give my testimony at church. Pastor Pete gave me two scriptures that he thought fit with my story and the flow and purpose of the night, and I’m going to read them, then talk about what they mean to me. Here’s the last paragraph of what I’m preparing to say:

When I read those passages in Ephesians and Romans, I really struggle to believe that sacrificial love like Jesus on the cross could ever be free. I hear that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” and I don’t even know what that means. It’s beyond my ability to grasp, because I know that getting my name in the paper and winning MVP trophies could never earn that. And finally, I know that I’ll never experience anything quite so divine and perfect than that love.

That divine and perfect love is something I taste every day in relationships that don’t include assessment.

I think that’s what struck me so much about Ashly’s comment…

loving another without assessment is the gospel.

It’s practical theology at its best.

And the biggest choices I’ve been making recently (which church to call home, who my true friends are, what family is…) have centered around this one question: can I stand not to be assessed?

Here’s one more piece of the testimony I’m giving tomorrow:

I don’t really know what my parents got out of the glory days of softball, but I do know this: I loved softball because it was the only means I had of getting my parents’ attention and love. My sister is smarter, prettier, and bolder than I ever could be. Therefore, I clung to softball with every once of identity I had. Every time my name was in the paper and with every MVP award I won, I felt just a little bit closer to being loved.

With God, the crazy thing is that I have been weighed, measured and found wanting… and He loves me anyways. I don’t know why He loves me; I just know that He does.

So maybe it isn’t so much a matter of assessment being absent, but the truth that we’ve all been found wanting, and those we love are always imperfect people, whose assessments are the same as our own… ‘F’

but that ‘F’ doesn’t impede Shasta’s love for me.

Nor does it impede mine for her.

Nor Jesus’ for both of us.