The Week I Had Cancer

“If everything looks normal, we’ll mail you a letter within a few days. Otherwise, we’ll give you a call.”

That’s what the nice young lady said to me who had just finished gently smashing my girls for a 3D mammogram. Nice to meet you, Miss Boob-Wrangler. Have a nice day. 

A few hours later I was chatting with my husband about his day at work, when my phone rang. I never answer calls when I don’t recognize the number. But the number was local, and all I could think of was “…otherwise, we’ll give you a call.”

Within a couple of seconds I was listening to a woman on the phone tell me how they needed me to come back in for another mammogram and an ultrasound on both sides.  The earliest appointment was a week from today, could I make that? No, she didn’t have any other information. A WEEK?? I had to wait a week to find out what this was all about? Seriously, lady? Then she said some stuff about co-pays and not wearing deodorant or lotion, and my eyes were already full of tears when I hung up. My husband was standing next to me. I cried as I relayed the very limited details. 

I have cancer. That’s all I could think of. My fingers got busy googling all the way down the rabbit hole of what it meant to get a callback after a mammogram and what percentages of callbacks were actually cancer, and what types of breast cancer were the “worst” to have for women in their early forties. Researching things and trying to have as much information as possible is how I deal. How I maintain some semblance of control. It’s just my MO.

As googling medical information often does, it made me more scared. The more advanced 3D mammogram decreases false positives, greatly reducing the need for callbacks. Great. But I did get a callback. Which to me, now sounded like big, bad news.

I spoke with a few friends. They gave me all the comforting words that friends should, about how lots of women have to go back for another scan, and most of the time it’s for a perfectly harmless reason. Most of the time.

But as far as I was concerned, this would be my last normal week ever. I would go back and have my second scans and they’d probably have to do a biopsy and within a day or two we’d be talking about treatments and a prognosis and all the things you never want to talk about.

As far as I was concerned, I had cancer. And everything was about to change.

So what exactly did all this this mean for me, during these 7 days of waiting to hear the doctors speak it all out loud? How would that make life different? Would it make anything different?

For me, I can assure you that it most definitely did make things different. I woke up every day and still did the things I had to do. I went to work. I did laundry. I cooked dinner. Normal, everyday stuff.

But this week—The Week I Had Cancer—I also thought about a teacher friend who had passed away just last year from breast cancer. She was around the same age I am now. I thought about how the effects of chemo or radiation would drastically change my plans for this year. Would I need just one of those or both? My husband and I discussed thoughts about treatment based on different diagnoses and whether there would be a scenario where I would not want treatment at all. We made inquiries to some lawyers about updating our wills. We made awkward comments like “Next week I’m going to ______, I mean, unless of course I have cancer, then I’ll…” Making awkward jokes between the two of us is how we both cope with bad things. That’s our MO as a couple.

But you know what else happened? We decided that we were finally going to take that trip to Italy that I’ve always wanted to go on. If I’m sick, then we’re going right away. If I’m not, then we’ll plan it for next summer. No more waiting, either way.

Every day I noticed my hair. And instead of complaining like I usually do about how crazy and unruly it can be, this week I actually appreciated it. I brushed it slowly and realized how shiny it is and how long it’s gotten. I thought about how funky I will probably look without it, but for now, I had it.

I kept eating healthy for the most part, because we’ve been doing so great at that lately, and because I just feel better overall when I do. But I also had delicious Friday night pizza and didn’t think twice about it.

I made homemade pasta for the first time ever. I lingered longer during snuggle time on the couch with my hubs. I skipped Spanish class one night to enjoy a dinner out with friends. I made an appointment at a local spa for a massage and some relaxing time in a sauna. I took my time reading books that I’ve been neglecting. I was more patient at work but didn’t stay late every night. I savored small things like my favorite-smelling body butter and my coziest blanket. I made plans to spend a couple hours with a friend that I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with. I identified some things that I’d been putting up with that I wont be allowing anymore. No time for that nonsense.

I thought quite a bit about how I literally might be dying. But at the same time, in every small way, I lived my one beautiful life. I squeezed as much life out of this week as I possibly could.

The next week finally came and I was back getting smashed and scanned. After nearly two hours, I finally got the results. Apparently the alarm had been raised due to dense tissue in specific spots on both sides. Not suspected to be cancer. Come back in six months for a recheck. Whew!

That was it. Just like that, I didn’t have cancer. In a way it felt surreal. It still does. I am so very grateful. Not only for the fact that now, I was not actually staring down a cancer diagnosis, but also grateful for this whole past week of waiting to find out, as painful as it had been. Because The Week I Had Cancer gave me a gift I didn’t expect. It gave me a fresh perspective about things. About life. And about how I don’t want to waste a second of it on things that don’t matter.

But I hope you don’t have to wait for a week where a diagnosis may be looming to figure this out. I hope you’ll read this and just start living like every single day matters, because guess what? It does.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do a little research for some travel plans.


PS: It’s not lost on me that you may be a person reading this who is already intimately acquainted with this understanding of how every moment matters so very much, because you did get that diagnosis or some other such curveball life tends to throw at us. My prayers are with you, and it’s my hope that in everything you’re going through, you’d continue to see all those tiny little moments of joy and peace.

The Good Towels

When you’re about to have an overnight guest at your house, that’s about the time you become acutely aware of what awful shape your towels are in.

I mean seriously… every single bath towel I own looks like it wrestled with a wolverine. There are so many snags, I’m sitting here wondering how these things are still even holding together at all.

Then I wonder what my momma would think.

But really, I already know. She always had a thing for “good towels.” I don’t know where she got that, growing up in the coal-mining hollers of Kentucky. Where did she even get this concept of “good towels?” I guess everyone browses Better Homes & Gardens now and then. But there were always some good towels in the top of the linen closet that we weren’t supposed to use. They were for Company, whoever that was.

Now all I can think about is how I’m a total failure. How my houseguest will be here in a few hours and I have no good towels to offer her, and my momma raised me better than that.

Then it hits me: On this day, six years ago, I didn’t know that I only had exactly one week left with my mom on this planet. I just didn’t know. If I did, I would have bought some good towels and showed her and said “LOOK MOM! I did what you taught me! I have good towels for when someone comes over! See!? Right here they are! I listened to you!”

But I didn’t. I didn’t buy any good towels to put aside for houseguests and I didn’t treat her as if it were our last week together. I just didn’t.

Grief has been heavy on me the past few weeks. I think about her a lot. Her funny sayings. Holidays with her bossing everyone around with that thick southern accent. But mostly all the ways that I could have done better. Things I could have done just to make her happier. Like buy some damn nice towels so I wouldn’t disgrace our family name.

I know towels aren’t significant. They really aren’t, not in the grand scheme of things. But neither is a lot of stuff we worry about. But my momma, she sure was significant. And the fact that I went about her last days on earth not realizing how true that was… well, that’s about a sad as those lousy towels I have in the other room now.

I think about those who are still with me. Those I see every day and the ones I don’t. Have I really noticed their significance? Have I treated them like special houseguests in my life, loving them in a way that feels like giving them “the good towels,” or just tossing them a ratty, snagged-up scrap here and there?

These heavy-grief times are some of the hardest for me, but they’re eye-opening, instructive. They remind me that every single day is an I-didn’t-know-I-only-had-that-much-time-left kind of day, and to work a little harder to remember that for the people in my life.

I’m still working out ways to do better with all of this in my day-to-day. And I know I won’t be perfect at it. But for now, I think I’ll pick out a few new towels to keep in the top of the closet, just in case.

To ALL Who Mother

I wrote this a couple of years back and thought I’d brush it off again for Mothers Day weekend. This weekend used to be a painful one for me, but it is now something to be celebrated. Not because I have a house full of children, but because I’ve allowed God to enlarge my definition of motherhood over the years. 

Mommas, I’m thinking of you today. Those of you who are battling potty-training, bad attitudes, and car seats. Those of you who are driving every-place-in-town for soccer, dance, baseball, etc… Those who are losing sleep over your teenager trying to carve out their own personality. 

••••••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of you mommas who gave birth to angels who were here for just moments, then gone from this world. You mothers who have never held your child, due to miscarriage or because of exercising your legal right to choose, only to realize the true gravity of your choice later. You are a mother. It’s absolutely okay to grieve, even if others think you should be “over it” by now. 

•••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of those of you who are not yet mothers but long to be. You who have spent years trying everything to become a mother…Thousands of dollars, tears, and heartaches only to stare at yet another pee-soaked plastic stick that brings nothing but disappointment. I’m thinking of you. 

••••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of you mommas who have devoted your whole lives to raising fine children, sent them out into the world as upright citizens, and now your empty nest has left you feeling empty and confused. I’m thinking of you who are estranged from your babies, no matter how old they are. Those of you who love your Prodigal and are waiting for his or her return. 

•••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of you mommas who no one else seems to recognize, because of your non-traditional mothering. The stepmothers who do all the work but get little reward. The grandmas and aunts and friends-of-the-family and foster moms who raise others’ children because somebody can’t or won’t do it themselves.

••••••••••••••••

I’m thinking of you adoptive moms who’ve spent months or years trying to build your family by way of a distant partnership with another momma you never knew. I see how it hurts when you have to put up with dumb questions from nosy strangers. I see how it stings when people ask ridiculous things like “…but don’t you want to still try for one of your OWN?” I’m so sorry that some people can’t see what incredible mothers you already are. You are so noble and I love you for it. 

••••••••••••••••••

The truth is, all of us mother someone. We help shape others’ lives, encourage them into the person they’ll become, bandage a few boo-boos and wipe a few tears along the way. So look around you today. Celebrate all mothers and those who mother, and think of who might be hurting more than smiling on this day. Look for the ways they mother and thank them for contributing to the future of our world. Hug them and let them know that if they’re hurting, you’re hurting alongside them. 

••••••••••••••••••••

Much love to you, mommas. Allow God to enlarge your definition of motherhood as he has mine. You’re my heroes. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

-Krysten

Go Ahead, Feel that Pain

Cramps are a killer. {My apologies, Dude-readers…stick with me} Ladies, you know exactly what I mean. They create levels of pain that fall on a spectrum, anywhere from simply annoying to a DEFCON 1, staying-home-from-work-in-tears kind of deal. There’s just nothing else to say about them… they’re pure pain.

And for this kind of pain, there are little miracles like Advil, Motrin, and Aleve. We know what causes the pain, we know it will be temporary, and we don’t have to live with it and let it ruin our lives.

It was a big day for me when I actually realized that pills like this, while they’re super helpful, don’t actually FIX our pain. The chemicals don’t travel to the site of our pain and do something to stop it. They can help with inflammation and such, but when it comes to the actual pain, it doesn’t go away. These pills work with our nervous system to basically block our brain’s ability to understand that we are in that pain. This works for a short period of time, to get us through a day or two, then the actual pain starts to go away and we need these “helpers” less and less.

But these little pills also cause problems of their own if we take them for too long or if we take them too often. See, they’re meant to be temporary, short-term. But if we go to them to stave off our pain for too long, they can actually cause damage to other organs, or they can continue to mask pain that actually could be trying to alert us to bigger problems we need to deal with.

That’s really the same with anything we go to in life that gives us temporary comfort. Some of us don’t take pain-relievers very often, but there are plenty of things we medicate with so we don’t have to notice pain as much.

Late-night ice cream? Sounds like what the doctor ordered. Too-many-shows-in-a-row on Netflix? That will eat up some hours so we don’t have to actually deal with stuff. Working long hours so we can finally feel like we accomplished something since we feel like we’re failing at the other millions of things in our lives? That’s a pill many of us pop far too often.

There are lots of things in life that we run to so that we can feel better short-term. And short-term, they aren’t all necessarily bad. But for the big pain in life, let’s not just block our brain and heart from feeling that. Let’s press into those painful things and see what’s really causing it so it can actually get fixed.

If you’re like me, perhaps you have a lot of painful/difficult things starting to pile up on you. Let’s go one at a time. After all, nobody gets a hip replacement, a heart transplant, and splints their broken fingers all in one day. I mean, *disclaimer,* I’m no doctor here, but I don’t think that’s usually how it works. We’ve got to triage our pain and address the most critical thing first, right?

What is that thing, that if we let ourselves feel it and deal with it first, will make the maximum positive impact in our lives? Maybe we make the commitment to have integrity in our speech at all times, which would improve our relationships as well as take care of our people-pleasing/over-committing pains. Or for some of us it might be focusing on our physical health by starting to exercise regularly, which not only improves our body but our quality of sleep and our mental attitude. Or perhaps it’s time to finally seek some professional health for those traumas visited upon you in childhood, that have insidiously been keeping you from living a full life for far too long.

My dear people, if you have the cramps, take the dang OTC stuff and get on with what you need to do. But feel the rest. Face those pains head-on and root them out. Don’t allow the temporary fixes and defense mechanisms to mask the pain so long that we can’t see the other, more serious problems. After all, if ignored long enough, these small pains will demand our attention later when they refuse to be masked and have created much bigger, harder-to manage pains.

Take the pain in prayer to the God who created you. Take the truth of it to a trusted friend to help you start the next steps. Take it to a professional who can help you sift through the ancient kinds of pain. Use this pain as a wake-up call now, and don’t be afraid to feel it.

Lovely people, I’m a firm believer that God uses many things in this world to help us through life. One of the big things he uses is other people. Whether that be in our own community of people or through the music, art, or writing of someone we’ve never met, we are all really here for one another. As someone who loves to read, I find a lot of helpful wisdom in good books. Others’ experiences can give us the ME TOO realization and help us to not feel alone. Off the top of my head, here are some books that have been instrumental to me in helping me process pain and see it as an opportunity. Many are written from a Christian faith-perspective but can be helpful to anyone.

One More Step by Rachel Wojo

CS Lewis’s The Problem of Pain

Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Beth Moore’s Breaking Free

Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On Warrior and Love Warrior

Love & Freedom to you,

Krysten 

 

 

What Makes Us Think We Can Do This? 

The brake lights appeared in my right peripheral view and in an instant the car was right in front of me.

No signal. No warning, just a 4-door Chevy driven by a person with little regard for my safety or anyone else’s. I slammed on my Honda’s brakes and shook my head, again. It had been the same with several other cars around me. I’d seen it happen over and over on the short stretch of the freeway between here and there. 

Right then I was acutely aware of all the other cars and drivers around me. That old rickety truck with a ridiculously high stack of pallets that were barely held on by one tattered rope. The lady next to me putting on makeup in her rear view mirror. The man in front of me who was concerned with whatever he was reaching for in the back seat. The handful of people I saw with my very own eyes, whizzing by at 60 miles per hour with one hand on the wheel and the other one texting furiously. 

Amidst all that and hundreds of brake lights going on and off, I thought to myself, what makes us think we can do this? 
Seriously. I mean… When Henry Ford unveiled his first model, did he ever dream that one day we’d be crammed onto four-lane roads by the thousands, barely paying attention to what we’re doing as we commandeer our own personal ton of metal just inches from one another? 

What makes us think we can hop in this hunk of metal made up of more little parts than I can count, jet onto the road next to all the other distracted crazies, and somehow make it home safe like nothing dangerous ever happened? 

I’ll tell you what. It’s faith

I have faith that all the moving parts under my hood, some held together by mere tiny springs (I don’t know what you’re called, but I’ve seen you, little whatsits!) will function for the most part as they were intended, working together in a very particular sequence of timing to make this car move. And I have faith in myself that I’ll remember where I’m going and the best way to get there. Or at the very least, I’ll have faith that my cell signal is working so Siri can guide me there. And craziest of all, I have faith in all of the other drivers on the road, that their whatsits will work correctly together too, and that they know and obey (most of) the laws of traffic and adhere to the majority of the unwritten rules of courtesy when driving amongst other folks. I have faith they will not slam into my car on purpose or completely ignore a red light or a stop sign. 

That takes quite a big measure of faith. 

And that same faith is exactly what makes us think we can do anything

We need faith to even think we can do anything. 

It takes faith to take that leap into a new career or a new city. It takes faith to look another person in the eye and say, Yes. It will be you and only you forever. Let’s make that work. It takes faith to stare at a plus sign on a white stick and think Yes, I can do this even though you’ve never done it before and the responsibility is enormous. And it takes faith to believe that you’ve been created for more than just paying bills and dying.

It takes faith to believe that you’ve been created by a God who, after creating the whole world, still decided that you were needed. The world was not complete without you. It takes faith to think that He has put gifts and talents inside each one of us, and given us circles of influence in a specific combination that no one else has. It takes faith to admit that and take even a tiny step to put those things into practice in our world today. 

Today I’m on my way to the She Speaks conference, where about 900 women will gather under one roof to worship God and say I have faith that You made me, God. And I know You’ve prepared good works in advance for me to do. And I think these talents and gifts You’ve given me have something to with those good works I’m supposed to do here. I’m Yours. Show me what’s next

Whether you suspect God wants to use your writing, your voice, your research abilities, your interpersonal skills, your organizational gifts, your parenting, your generosity, or you living room, the assignment is the same: Have faith that you are made in His image, and that means you are a creator. Believe that you have already been given what you need to accomplish the things He’s prepared for you to do. And then hold fast to that faith, and take a step toward getting that business done. 

My She Speaks sisters: I don’t know what that next step looks like exactly for you or even for me. But I know you have faith simply because you’re showing up and making yourself available to His service. It takes faith to hop on a plane or in a car and travel hundreds of miles to a new place, to hang with a crowd of people you have mostly never met. It’s takes faith to walk up to someone and say hello, to introduce yourself and believe you might just make a new friend. It takes faith to share your dreams with someone and describe the talents you suspect God has placed within you. And that is the kind of tiny little brave faith that can move mountains. That faith is what makes us think we can do this. As we should. I am so excited to meet you and give you lots of hugs!

-Krysten 

Why I Must Buy the Books

“Here it is,” she said. “This is the book I’ve been telling you about! It’s the most amazing book ever! It’s just incredible. I just know you will love it too. It will seriously change your life. I can’t wait for you to read it!!”

Now excited, I replied, “Well thank you for letting me borrow it! Can’t wait to read it! ” 

“Oh, just one thing,” she added, “Make sure you don’t bend the cover or any of the pages or write in it or anything. I NEVER fold the pages or write in my books,” she scoffed. “That’s just crazy.” 

*BLINK*BLINK*

You guys. I have this love/hate relationship with books. 

Well, that’s not exactly true. 

I have a love/hate relationship with buying books. 

Sort of.

You see, the minimalist/debt-free evangelist in me leans toward the end of the spectrum where my mind says things to me like:

-You don’t need to own something to enjoy it. You can just get books at the library.

-What about all that de-cluttering you’ve done over your lifetime? Remember how freeing that was? You don’t really want to fill your space up again with a bunch more stuff, even if that stuff is books, do you? 

If you love books so much, just buy them digitally. They’re a fraction of the price and you can carry a whole library anywhere on your phone! That’s better, isn’t it? 

Every time you spend $7.86 at Amazon on that new release, you could have donated that money to {insert worthy, well-researched organization here} Imagine how much money that would be over a lifetime? 

I know, I know. And all those things are logical and even accurate. 
But y’all… Guess what’s at the other end of that spectrum? 

My heart. And my heart loves books like it’s my flippin’ J. O. B. 

Real books. Real, printed words, on real, amazing-smelling paper. Real, creatively designed covers with carefully chosen images and fonts. Real, actual pages to dog-ear and flip. The very reason bookmarks exist. Exhilarating. 

But my absolute favorite part of the books? (Besides holding them and turning pages and smelling them? Okay. It’s possible I have issues.) 

My favorite part is the margins

The beautiful, blank margins. 

The margins are the place where the books come alive to me. Because that’s where I document the difference they make in my life. The connections they make with me. The ways those words on paper are making me think and question and wrestle with new insights. 

Those margins allow the book to come to life. To come into my life. 

As I add my words and thoughts, the book becomes part of my life. If I read a book that doesn’t make me highlight and scribble in the margins, it’s likely a book I won’t at all enjoy or even remember. 

The margins make that book a living, breathing, changing thing. A story to connect to and journey with. The margins make that book part of my very own journey.  

That book lent to me, so pristine and museum-quality? I should have handed it back to her right away, but I didn’t want to seem rude. So I took it straight home, sat it carefully on the top shelf of my bookcase, and ordered my own copy from Amazon. And she was right. It was an incredible book, and my copy was full of life in the margins. (Her copy was returned to her “unharmed,” of course)

Do you, like me, love the margins, the notes you scribble in them, the ways you connect with real, live books? Then we get each other. 

I’ve been reading (and scribbling/circling/highlighting in) some wonderful books this summer. I’ll be sharing some of them here soon, in hopes you’ll be inspired to go out and get  your own real, actual copies and make them come to life too. 

People of Faith, Come Out.

The question why? doesn’t even seem to cut it very much anymore in our world, does it? There is simply no logical answer for it during a week like we are experiencing now. There is evil in this world, so much hate, and in Orlando this weekend, those things combined in one person and compelled him to carry out a sinister act. A deadly one.

I’m horrified, as most everyone is and should be this week, as I think of the lives taken just a few nights ago while I was sleeping safe and sound in my bed. When I learned of it, my heart sank down into my stomach.

So here we are again, and forty-nine beautiful, holy, created-in-the-image-of-God lives, are just gone. More than that have suffered injuries. And even more than that have suffered emotional scars that could take a lifetime to heal.

As a person of faith, I pray for their families. I pray that some measure of comfort and peace will reach them. I also pray for the injured and the witnesses, that they would heal both physically and in time, emotionally.

I pray because I don’t think it’s a waste of time. Our prayers are what connect us to the source of all peace, the something-bigger-than-ourselves, the very love itself that keeps us woven together.

But as people of faith, I think there’s more we need to do right now. More than praying. More than even donating money or giving blood. Those things in themselves are good, and we should do them. But there’s more to be done.

Because a sanctuary was invaded this weekend. A sanctuary not unlike the one in Charleston that was invaded just a year ago. It might not be the place many of us initially think of when we hear the word sanctuary, but our LGBT brothers and sisters certainly understand it to be just that, as they were gathered in this place of joy together.

They were dancing and singing and laughing and being free together. Free from judgmental eyes and hateful comments. They were in a sanctuary, free from the fear of being treated as less-than.

And they should have been safe there. They should have been safe to be themselves and enjoy a night without worrying if they would ever get to enjoy another. They should be safe there. They should be safe anywhere.

But the fact is that they aren’t safe everywhere. In the freest country on earth, an LGBT person is never quite free from the worry that someone will treat them in a manner that is disrespectful or downright dangerous.

So, yes, I want to #PrayForOrlando together with other believers. I want Americans to band together and grieve this completely senseless loss of life that happened yet again on our soil.

But I also want us as people of faith to acknowledge that this was a crime that targeted our gay community specifically. And I want believers inside and outside of the Church to understand that if we don’t specifically acknowledge that, and we skip right past that fact and just start to clamor about political positions, we’ve done a great disservice to the LGBT community and we’ve actually added to their pain. 

To my LGBT loved ones, I want to say that I see you. I can’t imagine how scary this is for you, to wonder if this will happen closer to home next time, or if you or someone you know will be the next target. I understand that this is by far not the first time you have had to be fearful of someone using hate as an excuse to violate you. I am so sorry for that.

I am sorry for the way the Church on the whole has, at worst, treated you as less-than-human, or at best ignored you. I don’t want to do that. I know each one of us are made in the image of God and He loves us all completely and wholly without condition. Every single one of us. I don’t think you need me, some white, straight, middle-class elementary school teacher to validate you in that way. But maybe there are some of you who have just never been told that. So please hear it from me. You are made in God’s image, you are beautifully unique and special and nothing will ever change that. We are all worthy of love and dignity simply because of that. And anyone who treats you as if that’s not true is simply wrong. 

I am so sorry you have suffered at the hands of people who, supposedly in the name of God, have said you are not worthy of unconditional love and respect. And I’m especially sorry for any of the same people who have hurt you outright with words or deeds. Please hear this: That is not what God is about. Anyone who claims that hate can be justified by slapping the name of God on it simply does not understand the overall concept of God.

You are loved by God and by many, and nothing in the universe can ever change that. My heart breaks this week for your compounded grief, as people who are both dumbfounded by more loss of life, and as members of a community who have known far too much violence and hate in your quest for love and acceptance. 

rainbow hearts

I pray my words fall on the hearts of my LGBT friends gently. There is much more to say, but for now, I just want you to know you are loved and seen and heard. 

To my friends who claim the name of Christ: I see you too.

One important note: There are those who, supposedly in the name of God, have spent large amounts of energy trying to convince men and women in the gay community that they are unworthy of love, that they are despicable, or abhorrent. I am not addressing those folks here, because I don’t in any way think they are actual followers of Christ. Nothing even remotely similar to Him is in their speech or their actions, and I do not refer to them as Christians (meaning Christ-followers) because everything they do shows that they are the opposite. They are ideological extremists, exactly like the man who murdered dozens of people in Orlando this weekend.

I am speaking to my brothers and sisters in the faith who follow the person and example of Christ as imperfectly but faithfully as possible, who understand that every single person on the face of this planet was created by God in His image.

To you I want to say that this needs to be a major time of reflection for us. How have we, as individuals or as entire fellowships, participated in this violence? It’s true we’ve never pointed a gun at a homosexual person, but have we fired shots with our voices or our silence? The hurt is the same.

I know you and I truly believe that your heart hurts for this whole situation. I know so many of you are uncomfortable and sickened with the way that the Church has treated many groups, including our LGBT brothers and sisters.  I have spoken with you over coffee and during times of study and I know that some of you don’t understand why this debate is even still happening. You are tired of being lumped in with the “ignorant Christian bigots” because that is truly not what you are. I understand. May I urge you to speak your mind, and to be a bridge for the people you love at both ends of that spectrum? Voice your beliefs and your love and your questions. I predict you will be loved all the more for it.

And I know that there are some of you who love Jesus and truly believe that an LGBT person has personally chosen their lifestyle, and you have a hard time understanding how that fits with what you have been taught over many years. I have grace for you as well, and I understand that you are on a journey of learning and you truly want to be faithful in that quest. May I urge you to tend to this in your own personal prayer life and study of God’s word on these issues (yes, deep study–that means whatever it takes, all the way back to the original languages for every single word if you have to) and to truly develop your own understanding rather than simply accepting what has been repeated to us over and over.

And please, if you have big opinions about the LGBT community but find yourself realizing that you don’t actually spend time with anyone who is gay, let’s just start there. Because I promise you that when you love those who don’t necessarily share your same background or beliefs, you will look at everything in a new light. Because it won’t be about an “issue” or a “culture war.” It will be about you and the right-in-front-of-you folks whom you love. And that changes everything. It no longer allows us to throw around cheap cliches and Christian-y catchphrases, but it forces us to ask what those words might mean to our loved one. That is the journey we must take.

And at every point in that journey, please remember that at no time did Jesus ever hurt people (and especially not entire groups of people) with his words or by ignoring their plight entirely. He was moved, deep down in his gut, with compassion for the masses. He always treated every single person with the love and dignity they were worthy of simply because they were created by God.

He was always on the lookout for those who were hurting, who needed love, and who needed to be reminded of their worth. He gave us the very best example of what it looks like to love in words and deeds. So let’s make that example our focus, and all else secondary to that. Let’s be about the business of standing side-by-side with those who are hurting. Let’s be that Samaritan, who defied all commonly held cultural parameters and looked past it all, seeing nothing other than a fellow human being lying bruised and battered in a ditch and said How could anyone pass this person by without reaching out? And if we become battered and bruised at the same time, so be it.

So yes, more love and less hate. Nothing can undo the hateful actions that happened this weekend in Orlando. Nothing, ever. But we can continue to assault evil with love every time we pray, open our mouths to speak, or encounter another human being. Every single day.

Whatever our personal beliefs are at this moment, there is absolutely no debate to be had over whether or not the people in that nightclub were loved by God and worthy of dignity and respect as human beings. That’s not even a thing. Not even.

But let’s ask ourselves: Will we, as people of faith, mourn alongside anyone who mourns, even if we think them to be different than we are? Will we love God’s people more than our perceptions? Will we come out and speak, take a posture of wanting to learn, and say that maybe this is awkward, unsteady territory but we are willing to go there because we want to love extravagantly like Jesus did?

//

As I’ve written and rewritten this over the past few days, it has dawned on me painfully that I should have said these things long ago. I should’ve said essentially these same things also to my friends of color and of other faiths, who have frequently been targets of violence and hate and continue to be. Sometimes it just feels as if the hatred and violence is compounded all the more by the thousands of competing voices yelling in the aftermath. As if anyone needs another opinion. But I will use my words more often on behalf of peace and on behalf of those I love. -Krysten

It’s Okay to Feel Beautiful

Dear Lady friends,

Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel beautiful? A day when you just don’t fight with the mirror. You’re content, joyful, and you feel whole. You feel all glowy from the inside out. Nothing can steal your joy. There’s just something about the day and about yourself that feels…. well, beautiful. Do you ever have days like that?

Did you just say NO? I can’t really say I’m all that surprised.

And if you thought YES, my bet is that you’d give up your daily coffee before you’d admit that to anyone. I mean, that’s obnoxious, right? Wouldn’t that sound ridiculous to go around and say, I feel so beautiful today!

Weird, right?

What if each of us just climbed up on the roof and shouted I FEEL BEAUTIFUL TODAY!!!

Is it okay for us to feel beautiful? To say it like that? To feel completely unashamed just for one dang day?

Because pretty much everything in the universe tells us that’s NOT okay. Every magazine, every commercial, every billboard, every catcall, every snide comment from a family member, every diet plan, every clothing ad, every single thing tells me that I’m not enough. We even say it to one another in so many ways, don’t we, ladies?

It always seems we always need something more before we can be beautiful. We need smoother skin, a smaller waist, longer hair, whattheheckever. We always need SOMETHING else to make us beautiful.

We’re apparently not allowed to feel beautiful just the way we are, just because we are.

Apparently that’s not okay.

But I think we’ve been lied to. I think we’ve got it wrong.

It's okay to feel beautiful

 

Ladies, we ARE already beautiful. We are created in the image of God, who is Himself Good. He is Love. He is Light.

And if we’re made in His image, we are also those things. Those things reside in us and we have the capacity to bring good, to bring love and light wherever we go.

Is that not beautiful?

And more than that, each one of us brings our own individual beauty with us wherever we go. We bring our big, beaming smiles. Our eyes hold wisdom and wonder and that little sparkle of mystery. The little crow’s feet developing around our eyes give a peek into days we stood in the sun, soaking up life. In-the-moment, right-now life. That line between our eyebrows tells of some nights we stayed up worrying and praying about our wayward child. Those little wrinkles that are starting to triple on our foreheads tell of the surprises that have been shared with us, and the amazement of learning something new.

We carry all the colors of the Earth in our skin: caramel, coffee bean, light sand, peachy pink. We bring every glorious texture– smooth, straight, curly, zig-zaggy, wavy– in our hair. The curve of our bodies tells of our unique design, and the way we’ve run those miles and the times we’ve enjoyed dessert. The way life has been brought through us into this world straight from Heaven.

Our lips are pursed in truth-telling, instruction and character-building for our babies, and encouragement for every single person we mother with our love.

Our hands turn the pages of books, create delicious meals that nourish, reach out offering help and kindness, and create art that’s never before been seen in the world, including our little ones.

Tell me something that is more beautiful than all of that.

Women, we are the crown of creation. God created everything, including man. And it wasn’t good for him to be alone, so we were made. And whoa.

Then God was finished. Everything was perfectly in place with us reflecting all his qualities that couldn’t be reflected fully in man.

Through us He brought the life and the beauty that man couldn’t bring.

We. Are. Beautiful. It’s okay to feel it.

It’s okay to look at yourself in the mirror and speak to yourself the same way you would speak to a loved one, instead of firing off arrows of shame and condemnation. It’s okay to be pleased with what you see there, because our Creator most certainly is.

In this world, knowing our worth and feeling our beauty are priceless, extraordinarily brave things. Freeing things.

When we are unashamed, when we feel beautiful, we are being brave. And we are opening up space for others to do the same. Now that’s a thing of beauty, to be sure.

Ladies, let’s feel our beauty today. Look closely at yourself. Do you see it? On the outside, yes, but also what exudes from the inside.

You don’t have to wait to feel beautiful. You don’t have to wait until you cover your gray or lose 20 pounds or get that next miracle face cream.

You are beautiful right now, just the way you are.

Be who you are. Created, loved, unashamed. Feel your right-now beauty.

I promise you, it’s okay.

Lady Friends, would you be so brave as to share how you’re feeling your right-now beauty today? How you’re opening up space for others to feel beautiful? Would you share one thing you love and appreciate about your own beauty, so we can all share in your beautiful brave moment? 

 

Welcome! {Just this one thing}

What do I want in this life?

That’s a question I ask myself often. Sometimes to actually figure it out, and sometimes to just to weigh everything against my purpose to see if I am on the right track.

I’ve thought for years about a mission statement. A personal one for my life. I’ve even started to write one out a few different times, but it always seemed a bit too contrived, like I was trying to say all the right things to myself. To give myself a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy to nod my head at.

It never really worked.

Then during this past year, everything has been turned upside down a bit in my world. It’s made me look at everything and everyone a bit differently. Life has forced me to look at everything through a new lens of self-preservation, which has been both good for me and painful all at the same time.

But I realized these feelings of self-preservation have really been self-care, which I’ve neglected for entirely too long, and that’s not a good thing. So where am I to begin?

My faith in Jesus is the center of my life, so I want to follow what He says. He boiled everything we need to know down to a couple of things to focus on, which we refer to as the greatest commandment.  I am learning that to carry out the greatest commandment, to love God and to love others as I love myself, I have to actually love myself.

I’ve been thinking about what that means. What does it actually look like to love God, love myself, and love others as myself?

I could almost feel the light bulb warm up and begin to buzz.

It looks like freedom.

Evaluating every area of my life: physical, spiritual, emotional, relational…the way I want those parts of my life to play out are rooted in freedom.

Freedom is the yardstick with which I want to measure my life. The degree to which I experience joy is determined by the level of freedom I have in each of the areas of my life. The degree to which I have a right view of God, myself, and others is in direct correlation with the amount of freedom I have in my world. Experiencing too little freedom or distorting what freedom means in my life causes heartache in my relationships, in my work, my communion with God, and the way I view myself.

For me, everything comes back to freedom.

What do I want in life? I want to be more free.

I’ve been a writer all my life in some capacity. No one is paying me to write books or articles. I write because I must. It’s how I think and process. It’s how I share my thoughts in hopes that they help someone else feeling the same way. I’ve written for six years at praythenlearn.com and by sharing there I’ve already become just a little bit more free.

But it’s time to center everything, even my writing, around my goal of being more free. It’s a reality that in this life, we can never be completely free. As long as we live in these bodies we will be subject to pain, injury, illness, and death. While we walk this earth, we will live among evil, lies, and deception. There is no freedom from all those things right now. When we leave this world and go on to our eternal life, we can be completely free, as we were meant to be.

That is why to be more free is my goal. To be more free in each area of life. To be more free than I was a year ago or even yesterday. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, so I want to be about the business of having more freedom in my daily life.

Jesus said:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.-John 10:10

This is what I want out of life. To have it to the full. Free, abundant life.

Will you join me on this journey toward more freedom in our everyday lives? To live as Jesus wanted us to live? As free individuals, making the most of every area of our lives and every moment while we are here on earth? To know what it means to love our God, ourselves, and others in freedom?

Welcome to ToBeMoreFree.com. I hope to see you again soon.

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Forgive and Get

So there was this dude from back in the day. He’d gotten himself into some pretty serious debt (the equivalent of millions of dollars) by borrowing from the king of his land, and on budget-balancing day, the king decided he wanted everything settled up. As you’d guess, the guy didn’t have the funds to pay it back. So, as was the custom of the day, the king ordered that everything this man had be sold so the man could make good on his promise of repaying the debt. This included the man and his whole family being sold into servitude to settle the account.

The man in debt, clearly distraught over this, fell to his knees and begged the king:

“Please master, Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.”

The king, even though he had every right to demand repayment, was filled with compassion toward this man, and made a decision. He decided to let the man go free, not just to have more time to pay back the debt, but to be completely free. He released him and canceled his debt completely. The man’s debt had been erased. He owed nothing. He was free.

So, of course, this man lived a long and happy life, forever grateful for this freedom, and extended the same grace to others that had been extended to him, right?

Um, not so much.

That dude went right on out, came across a guy who owed him some money (the equivalent of a few thousand bucks) and grabbed him by the throat, demanding he pay back the money this instant. This man also couldn’t pay back the debt, so the dude had him thrown in debtor’s prison.

Some folks heard about this, and knowing he’d JUST been forgiven all his debts, went and told the king about it. The king was irritated to say the least. He summoned the forgiven man and asked him WHAT IS UP WITH THAT??!! He said “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”

You might recognize this as a parable that Jesus told, as recorded in Matthew 18. (Retold here in the Krysten paraphrase.) 

This parable was told in response to Peter asking Jesus “How many times should I forgive someone who has sinned against me? Up to seven times?”

Oh, Peter, you’re so adorable. You thought seven times was a lot. I’m with you. 

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

Jesus said the Kingdom of God plays out like this parable. God is the king. We are the ones in debt to Him because of our state of sin. He has fully and completely forgiven us, no matter how much of a mess our credit history is. So when we go out into our world, He expects us to transfer that mercy to others. He expects us to remember our great debt that we couldn’t repay, and to offer the same forgiveness to others.

But there’s one thing this parable doesn’t tell us. It’s the part we figure out for ourselves when we put in to practice what Jesus said to do. It’s the hidden gem that we get from obedience to this practice of forgiving. When we free someone from their debt, we become free as well. In fact, the freeing is more for us than for them!  Unshackling someone from us by forgiving their betrayal, their insensitivity, their part in our abuse, their coldness, their poor parenting, their lack of love and understanding… Whatever the case may be. Releasing them in your heart and mind releases us as well. We get to live more freely and move forward with what God has in store for us.

Forgiving is no easy task. It’s not a one-time deal. It’s a choice we make over and over to extend freedom as it has been extended to us. It’s a process of renewing our minds to allow God’s truth about us and our situation to permeate every place in our lives, so we can really live. It doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean acting like nothing every happened (in fact, the very act of forgiving someone means that there has to be an offense that needs forgiven in the first place.) It doesn’t even mean reconciliation with the person in every case. But it does mean freedom.

This week has been a tough one. I’ve been working through this process of forgiveness toward someone that, quite frankly, doesn’t really “deserve” my forgiveness. This person did something terrible to me, on purpose. They treated me in the worst way a person possibly could. And they’ve never once said they were sorry. They haven’t even acknowledged their wrongdoing. They’re just going about their everyday life as if nothing ever happened. And chances are, I will never hear an apology from this person as long as I live, even though I certainly am owed one, and much more.

My life has been changed by the way this person has done me wrong. It’s been devastating. Life-altering. It’s cost me hours and hours of distress and thousands of dollars in counseling. It’s created anxieties in me that I’ve never had before. It’s made me act like a person I’m not, on more than a few occasions.

And I am tired of living that way. Having a bitter undercurrent just below the surface of your life is no way to live. And honestly, nothing this person could ever do or say would really take away the hurt that has been imposed on me. It’s forever affected my world. 

So rather than waiting forever to get the apology I’m owed that will never come, (and wouldn’t really help much if it did) I’m working on being obedient to this command of my King. For my own sake. For freedom. 

  
I begin by recalling a debt that I owed, that I couldn’t repay. I remember how I have been forgiven of that massive debt. How I could never make it right even if I tried. And I decide to forgive my debtor as I have been forgiven. 

This doesn’t come easily. But with God’s help, I start by transforming the way I think of this person. In a very practical and tangible way, I write down everything I think about the person (everything—no holding back. God knows anyway.) And then I search the scriptures and  write down the truth about this person, as God sees them. As he sees all of us. 
Then, I say the things out loud. This is the hardest part.  My own thoughts first…filled with hurt, bitterness, pain:

______ is an awful person. _____ doesn’t deserve forgiveness for this. How could someone do that to me?  To anyone!?

Then the truth of God’s word, canceling out my unforgiving thoughts: 

______ is made in God’s image just like I am. _____ has fallen short of the glory of God just like we all have. _____ has sinned against me, but while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us all. (Genesis 1:27, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:6,8) 

I don’t have to like this right now. I don’t even have to believe 100% that these things are true about this person. Yet. But I will. Because God’s words ARE truth, and truth will win every time. I will continue reviewing these thoughts vs. God’s truth (and the many other pairs such as this that I’ve written down about this person I’m forgiving) and trust that I’ll be transformed by the renewing of my mind. 

I’ll make the decision to release them from this debt they owe me, because I want more freedom. And forgiveness is the way to go about getting it.