A Birthday Wish

I looked at the faces surrounding me. They sang “Happy Birthday,” and I laughed when they added theatrics and operatic ornaments. “Make a wish!” they said.

I held my own hair back and thought: What should I wish for?

~     ~     ~

Last year, when I turned 23, I begged my mother not to do anything. “Just dinner with the family,” I said. “We can go to my favorite restaurant, but I don’t want a party.”

I think she was a little relieved, because she stresses out whenever we have a party.

So we went to my favorite place – a dark, cozy, old restaurant that serves lamb and red wine – and I thought that was exactly what I wanted. Here were my parents, my siblings, and delicious food.

But when I got home, when I sat in my room reading, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted. I’d chosen smallness, because there wasn’t enough of me to celebrate how I wanted to celebrate. I needed quiet, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I was grateful for my yummy rack of lamb, but there was something missing.

~     ~     ~

[“You have to do something, Cath. Have a party. Invite everyone. Do what you want. We’ll help you, both of us, and we will have a blast.”]

~     ~     ~

So this year, that’s what I did. I had a party. I surrounded myself with people I adore. There were moments when someone new would walk in the door, and I felt almost like crying. Wait, you are in my life! You are amazing! I can’t believe how good God has been. 

[When he gave me the little package of paperbacks – all copies of “Decision Making by the Book” – I threw my arms around him shamelessly. It’s good when friends read your blog and buy you books to give to your friends. “Hopefully you won’t find the new cover quite as ugly as the old one!” he said, laughing. I gave every last copy away that night, and the six more coming in a few weeks will be dispersed just as quickly.]

One of my friends said to another: “This party’s interesting: it’s classy, I mean, there’s brie, but then there’s dancing.”

That’s pretty much perfect.


(This picture is all of us laughing when B cried excitedly: “And an unlit candle to grow on!” “Isn’t it an extra LIT candle to grow on?” I said. I guess every family’s different… :))

That’s the difference, I think, between my 23-year-old self and my new 24-year-old self: I’m tired of not celebrating. I’m tired of not letting people know how much I love them. So what if it surprises them? So what if it might seem like too much? Love is too much, really, when you think about it. It’s crazy how big love can be. This year is going to be about freedom, and that freedom is showing people who I really am, what I really think, and how I really feel.

Even if it’s sometimes too much to handle.

So that’s my goal (or my wish, I guess you could say): love bigger and show it better.

Thanks for a great birthday.


Artsy-blur affect. Blowing out 24 candles: the best way to use that college-educated diaphragm.

P.S. I’m a little less broke than I was last year!!! Hurrah for moving up in the world!!!


I am alone in the kitchen. All the dishes are done, the brown and white eggs are drying on the counter, the sky is gray/blue and the leaves are red, and I am listening to hymns. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

We got back from church and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Must be productive.

Must work.

Must make something.

But instead, I’ve decided to rest. Rest and think and pray.

Productivity can wait for another day.

This afternoon was made for quiet.


A Fall Walk

I went for a walk this afternoon because the sun was too beautiful for me to stay inside. I went down to one of the reservations on the way to the beach. It’s short – only about a mile – and it winds through fields, through the marsh, and then loops around Easter Island.



My parents were out teaching people how to extract honey, my sister was at a friend’s house, one of my brothers was watching football, and my youngest brother was wishing we were apple picking. I snuck out of the house (“I’m just going for a walk,”), and I went alone, even though I knew my youngest brother would’ve come with me. But after a morning at the Farmer’s Market and an hour doing dishes, I knew I needed to be alone.


I didn’t discover anything deep on my walk. I didn’t have any epiphanies. But I did discover a fort someone had left behind. A boy I dated in college told me about a kind of art people create and leave in the woods or a public place, just leave it there for people to stumble upon. That’s what this fort reminded me of – an earth-toned masterpiece.



I liked the memory of people in the woods.


A Mini-Trip

I’m writing from a brown leather couch in the middle of America.

[Thanks to Southwest Airlines and my incredibly delayed flight back in February, I booked my current trip for a grand total of $99. Who says travel has to cost an arm and a leg? If you’re willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of future reward, it is totally doable.]

Haven’t taken a single picture yet, and that’s likely to remain unchanged…unless my friend takes a couple. I didn’t bring a camera (shame on me), but I did bring a stack of good books (Tim Keller’s Reason for God, Anne Sexton’s poetry [yes, still plugging away/reveling], and a novel called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake). I read on the plane ride, but there is too much to do here to really sit down and devote myself to a book.


Here’s a late-addition from my walk around the museum.

So how am I writing right now, you ask? Because my friends are still sleeping. I woke up early to cars and trucks out the window, the sound of sidewalk sweeping, the smell of already-hot-sun-on-brick. It’s 86 degrees here in Chicago, and, while I am proud of my friends for their economy-savvy, I now realize the beauty of air conditioning. It’s good training, though, for when I get my own place; judging from my past budgeting choices, things like air conditioning won’t make the cut.

Little apartments are perhaps the best thing ever. I walked in and immediately felt at home. Wood floors, large kitchen, open windows lining the street. Books and books everywhere because M. was an English major, and we English majors feel the need to remind everyone by the stacks that line our walls. It’s fun to see how people grow up – I’ve know L. since 8th grade when we sang in choir together. Now, I get to see her new life, her adventure into adulthood. The brief trips she’s taken to come back home cannot show you a person’s new life, really.

[They love coffee here, so when I woke up I made a pot of dark roast, and breakfast consisted of a nice mug of that along with a Trader Joe’s wheat-free muffin (good? yes. thick? yes. tough? a little.).]

Today consists of a trip to the Bean. Don’t even know what this is, but everyone back home was like “See the bean,” and even here, my friends, the anti-tourists, claim that yes, it should be seen. Then a delicious solo-trip to the art museum while L. works at the theater for the afternoon. I can’t tell you how excited I am for that. This whole three-day excursion is smelling remarkably like Austria, and I can thank my experience there for allowing me to navigate this new city with less angst than I’ve ever traveled before.


And proof of the trip to the Bean.


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always perseveres.  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I am a wonderful record-keeper.

It’s one of those traits that comes in handy, like being organized or detail-oriented. Records of all types: an extremely-un-kept-up list of books I’ve read and my ratings of them; a mental image of what I was wearing when (yes, I don’t know how this happens or why), and a sharp and vivid memory of most of the bad things that people have done to me. I remember everything. I remember almost every slight I’ve ever received.

That sounds like a good thing, maybe. You go, girl! Don’t let anyone walk all over you.

But I am not proud of it. My ability to list all the sideways looks, all the hinted-at slights, all the times someone canceled plans on me, is NOT a good thing. The people I love most are the ones who hurt from this “list” more than anyone – who’s around as much as my family? As much as my closest friends? And with so much time, we’re bound to hurt each other.

I’ve been noticing more, though, that I need to call it quits with this scale, with the constant weighing of mean tones, hurtful words, and apparent or definite thoughtlessness.

Because, I think, it’s a certain kind of person who keeps these records. And it’s not the kind of person I’m aspiring to be.

The kind of person who keeps these records is the one who hasn’t grasped the largeness of Christ’s sacrifice. It’s the kind of person who still clings to inadequacies, to the insecurities that hinder her from living more fully. Because she can’t see herself with the lens of forgiveness, she can’t extend that forgiveness to those around her. Instead of finding her freedom in Christ, she grasps at it by making others pay up. If she doesn’t stand up for herself, who will?

~   ~   ~

I go to work at 9:00 in the morning. I open the door and peer into the house, wondering who’s around. Usually all three kids are up, watching tv, waiting for me to come.

But this morning, I’m nervous. Yesterday was less than perfect. The little girl is five, and we usually have so much fun together, telling stories, singing, dancing, laughing.

Yesterday was different. She was in a crabby mood and I didn’t make it any better. I didn’t hold my temper, and I scolded her too harshly. Whining and whining and I left wondering how we would finish out the week.

So this morning, I peek my head around the corner. I see her lying on the brown couch, her eyes fixed on the tv.

“Good morning!” I say, trying to hide the tentativeness I feel.

What if she’s still angry? What if I hurt her feelings too much?

She turns her head to look at me. Her blue eyes are blank. But only for a moment, because then they light up, bright and excited.

“Catherine!” she says. “Good morning!”

And she jumps up off the couch and proceeds to tell me a half-true story about the neighbor kids and movie night and a crazy man.

That’s the kind of record I want to keep: a short one.

Back from the Beach

Back home from a glorious week at the ocean. We tried to calculate how many summers we’ve trekked just far enough from home to call it vacation, but not so far that we can’t scoot back for work: we’re thinking around seven, but the number changes depending on who you talk to. Gram doesn’t even weigh in anymore.

I’d planned on reading a lot (I brought my biography of Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massey, but that tome belongs nowhere near a beach). I’d planned on writing (there seem to be poems swimming in my head, they won’t stop persisting). I thought I’d have long stretching hours of alone time, thinking time, with a little chatting here and there.

But siblings and cousins, a Gram, an aunt and uncle, make thinking time a little harder to come by. Instead of reading in solitude, I played endless games of Cranium, a new game called Hit or Miss, and Cribbage was always going on, the players switching in and out. We walked on the beach every morning and evening, sat in the sun, actually swam in the frigid New England ocean and loved it.

That’s my biggest problem with the things I love most – reading, writing – they are such isolating events, sometimes. The reason I love them is because of the people. The words that can translate one human experience to another. And because this is largely why I find myself longing to read a good book, it is also largely why I often don’t have the attention span to wait it out.


There are so many beautiful things to be seen, so many interesting people to talk to, so many memories with family.


And to return to the writing afterwards, with fresh eyes and a more intricate history.


Nothing gets me thinking like the ocean.


Hot Mikado

The show is over.

It was so much fun. After four weeks of being exhausted, being scared I would never learn the part in time, and wondering why the heck did I say yes to this?, it’s all done.

When my friend called me up one night, asking if I’d be willing to step midway into the Hot Mikado, I hesitated. I haven’t really sung in a year. I’ve never had a lead role in a musical before (Beauty and the Beast “silly girls” and Magic Flute “second ladies” up the yin yang but no leads in sight), and, most of all, I was afraid I couldn’t do it.

That’s when I knew I had to do it.

I had to prove to myself that I could do it. I could learn the gospel solo. I could remember all the little lines that sneak up on you in the middle of songs and dialogue. I could learn fairly complicated dances (complicated for this free-style-lovin-dancer) and DANCE WHILE SINGING HARMONIES.

It was a quest. I worked hard, I was given a lot of grace from the director and cast, and I prayed that God would help me. Because a lot more than the show was riding on this.

[The doctors have decided to wait and see. See what my body does. My body has been given so much power over my life. Maybe that’s the way it should be?!]

Did I mention I was the sassy sister? The gospel-singing, sassy sister who stands up to the ugly old lady? Yeah, that’s right. Bring it.

After three shows, many rehearsals, and a lot of personally-inflicted stress, I stood on stage with the lights in my face, and I was overwhelmingly grateful.

He did it again. Thank you.

Wedding Bliss

Saturday I did something for the first time:

I went to my first high-school-friend-wedding.

We all knew it was going to happen since forever ago – they’d been together since junior year (we don’t count the tiny spurt sophomore year…), and the date had been set for almost THREE YEARS.

And yet we couldn’t believe it was here.

We, the other five of us girls and the new significant others, sat in two pews. There was no designated “bride-side” or “groom-side” because they’d pretty much grown up together in church and high school, so it would’ve been weird to split us down the middle.

Some of us teared up at the ceremony. Seriously, she was beautiful. I love it when dark-haired women wear white. It’s stunning. They were both just so happy, and we were all sitting there like, wait, this is really happening?! Someone leaned over and whispered, “They’re actually adults! They’re married!”

S. looked at me and said, “What does that make us?”
And I said, “Not adults and not married.”

Kind of true, I guess.

~   ~   ~

At the reception – during the cocktail hour and decently long photo time – I got so antsy. I couldn’t sit still in the hideously upholstered chair at the country club, so I got up and stood around while my friends talked genteely. I probably looked like a freak. They told me as much. So finally I told them I needed to go for a walk.

I wandered outside for awhile. The grass was bright green and the sun was hot. It was a good day for a wedding.

I think sometimes I get overwhelmed by so many people. I needed some space. To think through what just happened. That it is FOR LIFE. A small moment alone in the sweet-smelling air to gather myself for the long night of celebrating ahead.

We danced like crazy, the bunch of us that, until that night, had all been kept in little “this-is-who-you-were-in-high-school” boxes – now set free to be who we’d become in the last five years.

They’d never seen me dance.

And now the first of us are married, blissful on a little island.

That’s the way to celebrate.

[Notes from The Student, Part 3]

[train thoughts]

That idea of “do not throw your pearls before swine” keeps running through my head. Maybe it also means that we should be careful who we tell our deepest thoughts to. Maybe we should guard ourselves – not open ourselves up too much to people we call friends, but who time and time again prove less than trustworthy.

K. says we’re dreamers. We think and dream and hope big. And that’s not necessarily bad, but that it could (and probably is) a large part of why we are so often unsatisfied. See the less-than-perfect sides of even our biggest blessings. Maybe dreamers are more likely to be unsatisfied than concrete people.

G. is funny, clever, gets things and people quickly. But there’s not a lot of grace in her. What’s the point of knowledge – even a shade of wisdom – if you don’t have grace? I see too much of myself – of how I could be.

[we don’t have to be all things for all people. we are finite. there is actually a lot of peace in that.]

[that was the only thing about last night; i looked around while i was dancing and just saw so much desperation. it was gross and sad at the same time.]

“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” -Psalm 119:45

So seeking after the Lord’s precepts – His laws, His will – is what brings freedom. Structure brings freedom. So counter-intuitive to how I think.

[overheard on the subway: “i went to zara and spent $700 on, like, nothing.”]

Gave a guy 50 cents. Said he needed $2 to get home, but I didn’t have $2 (literally, I did not have it). Can I have just $2? No, I don’t have $2. Can I have all your change? No, you can have 50 cents. Did I just help his drug addiction? Maybe. I don’t know. Where in the Bible does it say, “make sure they use your money wisely”?

[i keep thinking about M. maybe because i realized i’m older than he’ll ever be – i’ve already been given more time. i’m not sure. maybe i should email his mom, tell her we still think about him. tell her a story where he’s the young hero, showing me how to laugh, how to flirt, how to smile into twinkly, mischievous eyes.]

Marriage is such an excluding relationship. When others get married, you are eternally on the outside. Weird.

Don’t reduce your life to only one passion.

[in thinking about “Legends of the Fall” and how grotesque all the characters are; they could have lived beautiful lives, but instead they chose selfishness and reduced themselves to one passion, flattening themselves.]

A lot for a day, and yet only a piece of it.

Kinship with Strangers

I am already past the halfway-point of my TEFL course, and I can’t believe it.

Mostly because that means the time of decisions is feeling terribly close.

I was hashing it out with someone (my mother? myself? i can’t remember), and I realized that I don’t like this making of decisions. It’s not that I’m indecisive – that is far from any trait I possess – it’s that I hate the idea of being boxed in a year down the road by a choice I make now.

What if something better comes along?
Or if not better, at least different?

What if I choose something and its permanence becomes a chain on my ankle?

I read this article today on Image.org, and despite the differences in our circumstances, the woman sounds scarily like myself at times. She’s scared of making decisions, too, and actually has put off long-term decisions for 22 years.

It seems even people nearly twice my age have the same thoughts.