2015 Revelations Thus Far

DSC_0104 2I was sitting in a coffee shop (the one I frequented every Thursday last winter). I held a baby that was not mine; her eyes were wide and she was rocking her all-encompassing winter zip-up with hoody.

I just kept looking at her and I couldn’t figure out what to do first. I wanted to talk to her mother because I hadn’t seen her in months. It was one of those surprise encounters in public when you embrace too tightly and everyone rolls their eyes. You just have to swallow your pride in moments like that.

I wanted to talk to her mother, but I also wanted to take it all in: this six-month-old person who had changed in innumerable ways since I’d last seen her three-day-old self. It still shocks me how change slows to such tortoise-like steps as we get older.

So there were two things I wanted to do, and not really enough time to do either of them.

I left sadly because my grad class was calling and even the allure of beautiful babies doesn’t count as an excuse for skipping.

~     ~     ~

Now it’s last Tuesday and I’m back at the same coffee shop. Picture this: I’ve walked in, ready to order a delicious steamy beverage and perhaps read a good book (most likely catch up on the current state of demise my world finds itself in). I go to order. The barista — the same man who took my order all last year — smiles at me and asks,

“How’ve you been? How’s the baby?”

I look quizzically at first.

“I’m sorry, what?” I say.

And because he has a thick accent, he thinks I have not understood his actual words.

“How. Is. The. Baby?” he asks again.

Suddenly I realize the confusion and begin to stammer.

“Oh, no, no! She wasn’t mine — she was my friend’s! And, I mean, she’s doing very well!”

He smiles again and takes my money and I can’t understand why I feel so uncomfortable.

How could you think I had a baby?!

Oh, wait.

And I realize in that week following my 26th birthday, that it would not be at all outrageous for me to be a mother.

It would not shock the social structures.

Heck, if I were my own mother, I’d be healthily on the way to three children by now.

My friend, the baby’s mother, is indeed younger than I am.

Just another fact that took too long for me to reckon with.


A friend shared this poem the other day. I read it over and over. Not many poems command my attention like this one did. There is a lot to wrestle in it, a lot to parse out into “agree” and “disagree” (although aren’t there so many better ways to read poetry than that?).

I read this poem and I wanted to embody this being-ness. This okayness with the being I am. My finiteness. Just as God brings people into our lives to sharpen us (in sometimes painful ways), He also seems to bring poetry into mine. I do not think everyone needs to like poetry the way that I do, not at all. But I wonder what is that thing God uses to condense life down for them into the worthwhile.

Let the Joyful Speak
by John Holmes

If you were born calm, then keep on calmly,
Every room you come into, come in slowly with a smile,
Calmly. L i n g e r. Speak of the others who will be there
Next time, or in a little while…

…Be old if you are old, your age your own.
If you are tired in the world, or lost, or cold,
HOWL til you are found and warm and fed
Or dead. A man said,

Live life near the bone.

If you were born full of joy, if you love walking,
If you talk midnight down and bring in the dawn with music,
Branching day by day in the love of good companions,
Then go so.

If you breathe your own house, hear your books,
Wear time like the sun’s brown on the back of your own hand,
If you think alone like the wind across your age,
Or see your country from ten thousand feet up in summer air,
Then go so. Be your joy.

[Only a snippet and formatting is my own.]

~     ~     ~

2015 dawns cold and bright. A new semester, a new age, and all that comes with it. Sometimes I would rather up and run to Salzburg where I felt the freedom of graduation and untetheredness. It’s hard not to romanticize such a romantic time, such a beautiful place.

And then I remember that staying put can bring growth, too. That relationships are worth cultivating. That students are worth supporting. That change doesn’t always mean better. I remember that 26 isn’t too young to be married or have a baby and that I am, indeed, getting older, but that doesn’t mean I’m on the “wrong” trajectory, either.

Be your joy.

Wherever you are.


Dare to Surprise

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There was a boy in high school who stood out. For both good and bad, for his height, his clothes, his penetrating gaze when he talked to you, his arrogance. I noticed him early in September freshman year, and immediately I knew that I didn’t trust him. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him, but that I knew every time he would choose the wrong thing. That he didn’t know how not to let someone down in his laziness and youth.

For four years, our paths crossed occasionally, a mutual friend, a witty conversation, an awkward comment as we passed. I watched as he made reckless decisions, hurting young girls who saw only the handsome prince and not the boy. I had my hackles up because I knew exactly what he was like. No one had to tell me that I wasn’t the only he made feel like a million dollars, that I (along with everyone he talked to) was the only person in the room. No one had to tell me that his confidence in his charm was a very part of that charm. Even as I allowed myself to laugh because I like a quick tongue and an educated joke, I knew that I could never truly be myself.

That’s the thing about early assumptions: you almost always think they’re wrong. You second-guess yourself. You remind yourself that you are critical, that you expect too much of people, that you put people in a pretty little box with a label (“Fake,” “Selfish,” “Socially Awkward,” “Immature”) and set the box on the shelf in your closet, never bothering to open it and rethink that decision you made so many years ago.

And because you know your tendencies, you force yourself to rethink it. You figuratively slap your own arrogance in the face, and you dare them to surprise you.

Surprise me, I whisper, when I begin to trust.

[For once, don’t promise the big grand thing and forget in your rashness you ever said anything.]

Surprise me, I hope when I let someone begin to love me or someone else I care for.

[For once, choose the best for the one you claim to love most. For once, refuse your own selfishness.]

Surprise me, I dare, even as I watch again and again as they continue not to.

[For once, make your word count for something.]

What I’m really asking for is this:

Prove me wrong. Please. In this one instance, I want so badly to be wrong.

I guess what I’m realizing is that sometimes you’ll never be surprised. Sometimes, that immature fourteen-year-old-freshman-self wasn’t as dumb or judgmental as you claim, and really, here is a young man who’s grown up to be just a taller, more successful, equally-self-centered gentleman with a penchant for desiring goodness but without the will-power to get it.

The same laughing blue eyes, the same way of leaning towards you with an intensity that – for just a moment – feels like yes.

There are some people who live up to their reputations.

There are some people who, after years and years of chances, will never surprise you.

And you can love them from a distance, but that is all you can do.

I’m a What?!

The best compliment you could’ve given to my 16-year-old-self was by far:

“You’re normal!”

Maybe this goes for most teenagers, but I think the word “normal” holds even more power for those among us who were (whisper this) homeschooled. As one of those people, at the ripe old age of sixteen, I could spot them coming a mile away. There was something about the way homeschooled kids dressed that told you. Maybe it had a little bit to do with how they interacted with adults. That’s a pretty good give-away, too.

But I won’t go so far as to say that it is the actual homeschooling that makes people different – sure, it has its ability to shape us, as all experiences do – but I think its the kind of people who choose to homeschool that has even more to do with that difference.

What was I most afraid of growing up? Being different, sure. But even above that, I was afraid of being weak, afraid of seeming like I couldn’t handle life.

That was one of the biggies.

[Oh, also the part about being unlovable. Whew. That took a lot of my brain time in high school.]

So, in an effort to seem like I had it together, I assumed a posture of higher-than-thou. Everything was a competition. Everything mattered. And I wasn’t about to let my cards show. I held people at a good distance, because opening up and letting people know me looked a little too much like weakness, and I wanted to win!

You know that friend who will always be special because he or she spoke truth into something you didn’t even know needed it?

I have one of those friends. It was my sophomore year of college, and I was fairly happy. I liked my classes, I loved singing, and I had recently learned the art of witty banter with the opposite sex (witty banter, for me, can sometimes turn into slightly mean teasing – I was working on the logistics).

I don’t remember what started the conversation, but I do remember what he said to me in the car:

It’s not like you really let people get to know you.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I dropped him off and parked the car and thought about it all day until I couldn’t take it anymore and called him and made him meet me at the dining hall and sit across from me, look me in the eye, and say (and I quote):

Catherine, I don’t know how to say this, but sometimes you come across as a b****.

I blinked hard. He looked down at his very white hands and seemed sad.

But he was right. In all my years of trying to be strong, I had crafted for myself a woman who didn’t put up with bullshit (I usually try not to swear, but please, allow me this apt phrasing). I didn’t put up with it, and I didn’t care for people who did. I cloaked myself in smart words and flashing eyes, and, like he said, sometimes I came across as a b****.

Back in my dorm on the hill, I didn’t know how to change this fact. I hadn’t even known it until that evening, and I looked at the past few years and felt shame. Shame at my pride. Shame at my ignorance. Shame at how I had treated people.

I also felt gratitude. Even in the midst of this, this man had chosen me as a friend, and had looked me in the eye and told me the truth.

Now, perhaps, some would say that I have gone too far in the other direction. I’m pretty open about my struggles, about what I’m thinking and feeling (sorry, guys!). It can be overwhelming sometimes, I know, because since that night it is as though my emotions have (blossomed? exploded? what is the right word?!), and that can be a lot for those of us who tend to be more cerebral.

It can be tough, but I would choose this way of being over the former any day.

I praise God for friends who know when to speak and when not to speak. I praise God for speaking through them. And I can tell you that the pain you feel when you listen can’t compare with the joy of growth afterwards.