Saturday, December 31, 2016

So I've Read a Lot of Books This Year.

My unofficial goal for 2016 was to read a book for each week in the year and to attempt reading as many new-to-me or diverse subject topics as possible. As I read, I would write a little brief summary of what I had read. My book list for 2016 is as follows:

1) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert--a story of a stupid woman who could never be satisfied. Had several lovers, spent all her husband's money, then committed suicide when she realized all the money was gone and her lovers had lost interest (375 pages).

2) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley--dystopian society in which people are genetically engineered and created for specific social classes and jobs. Promiscuity reigns and everyone belongs to everyone. A psychologist takes his current girl to New Mexico to a savage reservation and brings back an uncivilized man born in the wild. He questions the purpose of this society and eventually goes insane as he tries to purge himself of the corrupted civilization even as they try to surround him with media attention for the entertainment of the masses (259 pages).

3) Four Dead in Ohio by William A. Gordon--an account of the Kent State massacre and the subsequent pursuit for justice for the victims which ultimately fell short of achieving any justice (208 pages).

4) Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee--Scout realizes the South is racist, fights with Atticus, and then things go back to how they were. Stupid, unnecessary sequel (278 pages).

5) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery--a bizarre children's classic about a man who crashed in the desert and hallucinated an encounter with a little prince from another planet who spoke with wisdom of love and friendship and the important things in life (80 pages).

6)Prairyerth by William Least Heat-Moon--an amazing tribute to Chase County, Kansas, and life in a county full of small towns and open prairie skies (622 pages).

7) Me Before You by Jojo Moyes--a woman becomes caregiver for a quadriplegic man who decides to end his life. Before he dies, he teaches her how to live a bigger and better life than that for which she is settling (369 pages).

8) Native Son by Richard Wright--an impoverished black man in 1930 Chicago accidentally kills a white woman in a moment of terror. Once he kills, he feels that he finally has some power over his own life and tries to gain more power. His attempts spiral out of control and he is eventually caught and executed for his crimes, despite his defense that he had been living in a life of oppression and hatred and had just been trying to break out and gain control of his social circumstances (430 pages).

9) Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova--an inside look at an Irish Catholic family in Boston as their patriarch, Joe, is diagnosed with Huntington's Disease and 2 of the 4 children are found to be gene positive, destined to also have HD (335 pages).

10) Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery--a French culinary critic--known for his amazing gastronomy skills and his terrible people skills--recalls his life via flavors and experiences with food from his death bed (156 pages).

11) The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern--a magical circus pits two star-crossed lover magicians against each other in a vague dual. Could have been a really breathtaking story idea but was very poorly executed (387 pages).

12) Storm Kings: The Untold Story of America's First Tornado Chasers by Lee Sandlin--non-fiction account of the history of tornado identification and storm preparedness in America. Fascinating spread from Ben Franklin discovering electricity to storm wars of scientists arguing about tornado origins to the creation of storm predicting protocols (260 pages).

13) The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon--you have neighbors. There are things you should know about them. Church-wide book study for Easter (184 pages).

14) The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan--an extensive look at the causes and stories of the Dust Bowl throughout the Dirty Thirties (312 pages).

15) The Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson--a memoir account of a woman's transformation from party girl to Christ follower, realizing that God is not boring or anything less that living life out loud (77 pages).

16) East of Eden by John Steinbeck--a good man grows up with a rough and tumble brother. The good brother (Adam) marries a terrible woman, believing her to be perfect. She sleeps with him and his brother and gets pregnant with twins. Adam and his wife move to California where she gives birth  before shooting Adam to escape the life of domesticity. Adam is stunned but raises the twins (Cal and Aron) with the help of an Irish man named Samuel and a Chinese man named Lee. Meanwhile the wife takes on the name Kate and takes over a whorehouse after killing the head madame. The twins grow up, with Aron being holier than thou and Cal being very deeply aware of his depravity. After trying and failing to win his father's love, Cal tells Aron the truth about who their mother became. Aron feels unclean and enlists in WWI. Adam finds out and has a stroke. Cal struggles with sin and guilt but receives redemption after Aron dies in battle and Adam blesses Cal with the word "timshel" or "thou mayest" with his dying breath (601 pages).

17) Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez--a star-crossed love story between a Mexican girl and a black boy in 1937 east Texas and set against the New London School Explosion (399 pages).

18) Slade House by David Mitchell--a bizarre and delightful haunted house book about two immortal occultist twins who maintain their immortality by luring people into fantasy worlds every 9 years through a magical portal in a London alleyway and then stealing their souls. Eventually defeated by a fighter for good, but one twin may have survived by returning as an unborn baby bent on future revenge; the cycle continues (238 pages).

19) A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris--a story about three generations of Native American women, their struggles, and the love they have for their next generations paired with the conflicts they feel about the previous generation (372 pages).

20) Our Town* by Thornton Wilder--a three act play about life in a small New Hampshire town and the childhood, marriage, and death of Emily (and her husband, George) (129 pages).

21) Pawnee Bill: A Biography of Gordon Lilie by Glenn Shirley--an account of Pawnee Bill and his life as a hunter, trapper, teacher, cowboy, white Indian chief, boomer, conservationist, and Wild West shomwan (233 pages).

22)The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders by Dr. Mary Lynch Barbera--reading for work based on the question "what can I do to better work and interact with my clients who are on the spectrum?" (171 pages).

23) The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett--a story about the building of a cathedral and the surrounding battle betwen good and evil, state and church. Too long to summarize effectively; if you want to remember the full plot go read the Wiki summary (978 pages).

24) Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes by Wendelin van Draanen--in this installment, Sammy ends up with an abandoned baby and sets out to find its mom, only to find that the mother was being hunted by a gang. Sammy gets involved and saves the mom and reunites the family through her teen sleuthing. Read to someday finish all the Sammy Keyes books, a goal I've had since I was about 14 but forget about every few years (277 pages).

25)King John by Shakespeare--France and England are battling over who should lead England. At one point the battle meets at a village and the warring kings ask the villagers who they believe should be king and they basically reply "we don't care", which is basically the sentiment felt while reading this play. Part of a larger goal to read all of Shakespeare's works (26 pages).

26) Rebecca* by Daphne du Maurier--a young woman marries a wealthy Englishman and feels constantly overshadowed by her husband's late first wife, Rebecca, until the terrible details surroudning Rebecca's death are revealed (386 pages).

27) Bad Girls by Jan Stradling--short stories about 22 infamous women and their effect on history (279 pages).

28) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy--Russian realist novel comparing one relationship seeking thrills in an affair and one relationship of Christian domestic life. The first ends in pain and tragedy, the second endures through pain with joy and love. For a lengthier summary, go to Wiki (894 pages).

29) Little Town on the Prairie* by Laura Ingalls Wilder--the little house installment in which Laura becomes a teenager, enjoys town life, begins to court Almanzo, and studies to become a teacher. Read in attempt to re-read all Little House novels (307 pages).

30) The Elegance of the Hedgehog* by Muriel Barbery--a French concierge who wants to hide her intellect from the world, a precocious 12-year-old determined to commit suicide on her 13th birthday, and a Japanese diplomat all converge to discover beauty in the world and how love and wonder can change hearts (325 pages).

31) Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple--a quirky book about a dysfunctional family with a disappearing mother who, it is discovered in investigation, is merely trying to find a placed to thrive (326 pages).

32) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows--a young journalist post-WWII becomes connects with a small island of people who created a literary society to safely partake in community during the five year German occupation (274 pages).

33)A Wind in the Door* by Madeline L'Engle--I re-read this book because I love the concept of Naming someone, of knowing who they are to help them reach their full potential, but in re-reading this book I felt like such a hippie on a drug trip (240 pages).

34) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne (and some minor assistance by Rowling)--a script of a play about Harry and Ginny's son, Albus. It's a Wonderful Life meets Harry Potter. I think I'll keep my original canon of seven books, thank you very much (308 pages).

35) Dark Places by Gillian Flynn--with the financial aid of a society obsessed with solving crimes, a woman goes on a quest to uncover the truth of how her family was brutally murdered 25 years ago to potentially free her brother from prison, where he is serving time for the massacre (345 pages).

36) Lord of the Flies by William Golding--boys left to their own governance on an island face the conflict betwen governing powers and individual thirst for control (243 pages).

37) Blue Like Jazz* by Donald Miller--a beautiful and spiritually refreshing re-read to remind myself of how far I've come since 19 and of the idea of Jesus on a dirt road walking towards me (240 pages).

38) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane--a man in the Union army wonders if he can be brave enough to face battle. He runs away at his first battle but later returns to be a flag bearer in another battle with his regiment (109 pages).

39) Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson--a detailed account of the Lincoln assassination, the Seward assassination attempt, and the flight of John Wilkes Booth southward to escape his punishment for murder which ultimately ended in a showdown in a southern barn between Booth and Union troops in which Booth was shot (388 pages).

40) The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin--a widowed middle aged bookseller's life changes forever when he adopts an orphaned girl and begins to invest in his community (258 pages).

41) House Rules by Jodi Piccoult--an 18 year old with Asperger's is tried for murder; the result was learning that he was merely covering up for his brother who had accidentally caused the death of the victim (532 pages).

42) Landline by Rainbow Rowell--a woman discovers a magical phone that allows her to communicate with her husband in the past, which solves her marriage problems in the present as she remembers all she loves about him. So, so good and sweet and marriage positive (308 pages).

43) Eugene Onegin by Pushkin--a young man inherits his uncle's farm, rejects the affections of Tatyana, kills his best friend in a futile duel, and then regrets his actions when he is reunited with Tatyana and she rejects his advances in order to remain faithful to her husband (222 pages).

44) The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig--a story about a family of boys, the schoolteacher that brings their one room schoolhouse to life, and the housekeeper brought from the east to care for the family in the aftermath of the mother's death. This book had so much potential to be a really sweet and poignant look at prairie life but then the last chapter turned it into a weird conspiracy of sorts that left me as the reader unsatisfied with the story (345 pages).

45) Selections by Washington Irving--reviewing Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle in honor of the Halloween season (57 pages).

46) Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist--I love Shauna, and it's always a pleasure to read her words, but this book just didn't relate to my life right now. I believe someday I will pick up this book and find it to be the perfect fit but this season of life is already characterized by rest and connection, and for that I am truly blessed (234 pages).

47) House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski-- it's like Holden Caufield found a manuscript about a haunted house from hell and tried to tell us about it. Like, I don't even know what I read but I was so intrigued and completely engaged in the labyrinth (644 pages).

48) Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday and William Duffy--an autobiography about the career of Billie Holiday and the struggles she faced with racial tensions and drug addiction (224 pages).

49) Selections from Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle--short stories read included A Case of Identity (a stepfather who wants to keep his stepdaughter's income disguises himself as a suitor and breaks her heart to keep her away from marriage or dreams of leaving his household), The Boscombe Valley Mystery (an Australian man kills a fellow countryman to prevent his daughter from learning of his past as a robber; the dead man's son was suspected but the daughter of the murderer loved the son of the dead man and sought his freedom), The Five Orange Pips (Sherlock takes on the KKK as they travel to England to exact revenge on an ex-Klan member), The Man with the Twisted Lip (a man fakes his own kidnapping in order to keep hidden from his wife his profession of faking life as a beggar), Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (a jewel thief hides his gem inside a Christmas goose), Adventure of the Speckled Band (a cruel doctor obsessed with exotic animals attempts to kill both his stepdaughters by snake bite in order to keep their inheritance for himself), and Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb (a fantastical account of an engineer getting hired for a secret job where he almost loses his life due to mysterious happenings, only to be summarized in one page as: counterfeiters) (157 pages).

50) East to Dawn by Susan Butler--the extensive biography of the amazing Amelia Earhart (407 pages).

51) The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas--really good but confusing to summarize. It could boil down to a story of the conflict between government and Catholicism. It also tells the stories of four men devoted to the king and how they devoted their services to protecting individuals related to the well being of the French royalty or to foiling the plans of the Cardinal. It could also be summarized as a young Musketeer's conflict between innocent love for the queen's chambermaid and passionate love for the evil woman working under the cardinal's orders to wreak havoc on the political systems under the king. For fuller summary, go to Wiki (628 pages).

52) Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer--a riveting survivor's account of the perils and hardships of climbing Everest and what it was like to experience tragedy of half of his team dying or being seriously injured in an unexpected storm disaster (288 pages).

53. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe* by CS Lewis (208 pages).

54. Prince Caspian* by CS Lewis (195 pages).

55. Voyage of the Dawn Treader* by CS Lewis (223 pages).

56. Divergent by Veronica Roth--dystopian society in which people are sorted according to personality: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, or Erudite. Book follows Tris, a girl from Abnegation who chooses Dauntless but is secretly Divergent. She trains to become Dauntless but then faces obstacles when she learns that the Erudite are using Dauntless as mindless soldiers to attack Abnegation (487 pages).

57. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain--the story of Hadley Richardson, first wife of Ernest Hemingway. Fictionalized account of their courtship, marriage, and eventual divorce after his infidelity with a friend of hers (314 pages).


(17,886 pages read this year)
*denotes a re-read work

Top 10 Books I Enjoyed Most This Year (in no particular order):

1. Prairyerth by William Least Heat-Moon
2. Storm Kings: The Untold Story of America's First Tornado Chasers by Lee Sandlin
3. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
5. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
6. Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson
7. The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
8. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
9. East to Dawn by Susan Butler
10. The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas

Books I Didn't Enjoy At All
1. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
2, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
3. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
4. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Overall Best/Most Memorable Book of the Year:

Prairyerth by William Least Heat Moon. Libby gave me this book last Christmas since it is all about the Flint Hills of Kansas. It was a long read but I breezed through it. It told the stories of Chase County, Kansas, and sent my heart longing to explore more in my area while falling more deeply in love with Kansas and her culture.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Is There Really a Human Race?: Further Thoughts on the Search for Community

There's a children's book by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell that I found while I was working as a paraeducator called "Is There Really a Human Race?" Even though I am about 20 years older than its intended demographic, I would have to place this picture book in my list of "top five most meaningful books of all time". The premise centers on a little boy asking his mom "Is there really a human race?" and then asking such follow up questions as:

"Is there pushing and shoving to get to the lead? If the race is unfair will I succeed?
Do some of us win? Do some of us lose? Is winning or losing something I choose? 
Why am I racing? What am I winning? Does all of my running keep the world spinning?
And why do I do it, this zillion yard dash? If we don't help each other, we're all going to crash."

In 2016, I've had two big prayers that I've been praying. The first prayer was for us to find a house and neighborhood in which to thrive, and I am happy to say that in May we moved into a home and neighborhood with ultimate potential. The second prayer was that we might find community and build purposeful, deep-rooted friendships here in Emporia.

Lately I've been having a bit of a minor identity crisis of "I honestly do not know if I am an introvert or an extrovert". I like being alone and thinking beautiful thoughts of complexity and reading books so good they make me jump up and down with joy. But my spirit comes alive when I am surrounded by others who keep me accountable, engage in conversation about those beautiful thoughts of complexity intertwined in the details of daily life, and challenge me to live boldly.  

During the fourth week of June I was gone to camp, and I am still existing in somewhat of a post-camp fog. If you've ever had more than a surface level conversation with me, you know that I. Love. Camp. It might be my favorite thing (despite the sleep deprivation). When I'm at camp, I give 110% to everything I do. When I'm at camp, I'm surrounded by beloved friends and camp family, living in community (even though logic states that we should not be able to do what we do in coming together at camp). When I'm at camp, I'm living out the best version of me, largely in part because of the strong community in which we exist. And now that I have returned to reality, I find that I'm feeling as though I'm in a slump or a fog, desperately craving community and accountability and vulnerability and connection beyond small talk topics.

I only write on my blog when my heart is full of thoughts that cannot be processed unless I go through the act of thinking out how I would convey them to others. Even as I type this afternoon, staring at the previous paragraphs I've spewed in the past hour, I find that I don't know how to complete the thoughts ricocheting around in my brain. I know that community and accountability and vulnerability and connection come in time, but sometimes I get impatient and irritated that it's not socially acceptable to walk up to people and say "Please tell me the deepest thoughts or dreams in your heart right now, and please let me in turn tell you about camp and life and love and the things that matter the most."

The last page of "Is There Really a Human Race?" outlines some quotes that I have been mentally repeating lately as a life mantra. This is the type of life I want to live, and I know that I can never live out such a life if I'm living without the support of community and accountability and vulnerability and connection:

"Shouldn't it be looking back at the end that you judge your own race by the help that you lend?
So take what's inside you and make big, bold choices
And for those who can't speak for themselves, use BOLD voices.
And make friends and love well, bring art to this place,
And make the world better for the whole human race."

So for now, I'm trusting Jesus, praying that He will provide these deep desires of my heart and that my heart will remain at peace even as I wait. I'm also trusting that community will be found in time, because I truly believe: we are better together.




Thursday, January 7, 2016

Looking for My Own Oasis/Love Alone is Worth the Fight

I'm tired of resolutions, tired of the focus being on what I will or won't accomplish on my own accord in the new year. So for 2016, instead of resolutions I am focusing on two big prayers, putting the focus on trusting in God for the answers and not on my own understanding. 

I think in song lyrics, and my repeated mantras for this year come from the first and last lines of the first verse of the Switchfoot song "Love Alone is Worth the Fight":

I'm trying to find where my place is, I'm looking for my own oasis
So close I can taste this fear that love alone erases
So I'm back to the basics, I figure it's time to face this
Time to take my own advice....love alone is worth the fight.



Looking for My Own Oasis
Big prayer #1: That we might find a house and neighborhood in which to thrive.

Michael and I are really enjoying our jobs and life in Emporia. We are enjoying it so much that we have begun the process of house hunting, hoping to find a place in which to live and thrive and settle down within this community. We've viewed some houses so far and have a list of some of the things that we are searching for in a home. About a month ago we visited a house that I have since described to friends as "the Katie Barbie Dream Home". It was old-fashioned and quirky and beautiful and straight out of a novel--in addition to being possibly structurally unsafe/in danger of electrical problems from 80 year old wiring.  The search for home continues. I had never had an idea of a dream home, but now that I've seen a house that embodies the dream home I never knew I wanted, I realized that the things I am most looking forward to about living in a house are not tangible or cosmetic wishes. My greatest desires for that house are more along the lines of what I hope to do and accomplish in that house rather than in what the house looks like or where it might be located. 

When I lived in Lawrence on my own for those 6-7 months before getting married, I had an open door policy. Friends would come and go as they wished, family dinners were given connecting people on a spiritual level. Acquaintances became friends around my table, and even though I was living on my own, I was rarely alone during my evenings. My apartment was a safe landing for those in my life, and that sense of community was a beautiful and rare thing. One of my favorite authors, Shauna Neiquist, often writes about the importance of the table, the beauty of nourishing others through food and conversations that reach beyond the surface level. One of my favorite singers, Josh Garrels, has a song called "At the Table" that speaks of the redemption and beauty of coming to the table. I truly believe that a sense of deep-seeded community and connecting through food and drink and sharing life together, through the good times and the bitter times, is vital to growth and thriving and blooming where you are planted.

So my first big prayer for this year is not only that Michael and I will find a physical house in which to live, but also that the people who will view our home as a safe landing will be sent our way. I pray that we will not only live in a house but also in a neighborhood where we can know our neighbors, connect with them beyond occasional head nods, and that our hearts will be willing and searching for opportunities in which to bless others with our resources and the sense of coming home to the table.

Love Alone is Worth the Fight
Big prayer #2: That we might find community and build purposeful, deep-rooted friendships here in Emporia

I met my best friend/soul sister/partner in crime/twin, Alyssa (better known in my world as Ron) when we were sophomores in high school. She was new to my school and everyone thought we were sisters. I was determined to be friends with this girl and practically followed her around like a desperate puppy for a year, trying to break through her shyness and into friendship. She was really shy and didn't really respond to my many conversation attempts, so I gave up the friendship attempt, thinking she was a snob. Coincidentally, we accidentally going to junior prom together, and the rest is history. 

I met my best friend Gabby during our freshman year of college. I thought we would be quick friends, but then we were awkward around each other and never talked. We made polite conversation for a year before eating Chipotle and watching I Love Lucy one night and becoming fast friends. Even now as she is living in Madagascar with Peace Corps, she is still one of my 4 "people" in this life that I really could not live life without.

During senior year of college when I first met my best friend Gretchen, I immediately judged her as a silly freshman sorority girl and thought she would be the worst until I spent time with her in marching band and realized that in her, I had found a soul mate. When I first met my best friend Libby, I thought she was a weird and obnoxious sophomore with more energy than I could process. Through what can only be described as divine intervention, Libby is now 1 of my 4 "people" and one who knows my soul on the deepest level.

I expected to absolutely dislike my fellow intern, Hannah; we met for chai tea the day before we began internship and realized we both liked Harry Potter and cats. The rest was history, and to this day Hannah is still my favorite music therapy friend and the funniest person I know.

During college, there was this girl named Courtney that I absolutely could not stand during the first 3 years of my schooling. But then one night we were at an SAI campout and ended up in the same tent, and through that experience became excellent colleagues who helped each other survive senior year and internship (and still talk frequently in consultation or news of MT victories).

Through all my first four years of camp, there was this girl named Melissa who really irritated me. I don't know why she did, but she wasn't my favorite. Then one year at camp we ended up being the only two senior counselors and something clicked that connected our hearts in the bond of camp sisterhood. Ever since she has been a dear friend and soul sister in my life.

Jen was my high school's assistant band director, but after graduation, became an older sister figure in my life. During the 8 years that I've known her, she went from being a mentor to a friend to a sister and bridesmaid in my wedding. She has since married my high school band director, so now my two former teachers are also my friends and people of whom I am really fond.

I write all these tiny stories, not only as a tribute to these beautiful people who have surprisingly made their way into the inner circle of my life and have remained strong influences therein, but also to remind myself of the beauty and insanity that must take place before forming deep-rooted friendships. I've been in Emporia for almost 10 months now, and even though I have met really awesome people, I have yet to form friendships in a deep and meaningful plane of living life together in community and walking side by side. I realize that I already have more deep and meaningful friendships than any one person deserves, and for that I am so very grateful. But I believe that even though I have already met so many beautiful souls, there are always more amazing people to meet and to let into my heart. I truly believe that Michael and I are here in Emporia for a reason. I do not believe that we would be led to live in Emporia only to live life as hermits. I believe we are meant to make deep connections with others, to live life with those around us, to live in community and purposeful conversation and life around the table. And I cannot wait to see what awkward stories we will look back on as bizarre introductions to future friendships, much as I look back incredulously at the beginnings of the friendships I have with those who I love the most.

So I pray. I pray that doors will open for friendships, that conversations will be made with ease, that love will abound. Love alone is worth the awkwardness of getting to know others and being vulnerable. Love alone is worth taking chances and trusting God with these bigger prayers of mine for 2016. Love alone is worth the fight.       

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Reset.

This morning on the way to church, I was becoming painfully aware of the fact that I need a reset button for my soul.

It's not that I've been doing anything bad, like murdering my neighbors or embezzling money. But I've been growing distant in my relationship with God and with other believers, and I've allowed this distance to become a norm, an ok. Prayer has always been a struggle in my life, if I'm going to be perfectly honest. My brain gets off topic easily--for goodness sake, my blog is called "Random. Thoughts.", and that's not by accidental, whimsical choosing. There have been definite times in my life where I am more disciplined in prayer, but often my thoughts begin to stray, and lately when praying has become difficult I've been choosing to let it fall by the wayside rather than give the effort I know I need to give to actually communicate and live in service to the almighty creator of the universe (who for some reason still wants me, even when I'm being all stubborn and secretive in my lack of communication). On top of that, I've been realizing how cynical and stony my heart can be when I'm not praying or seeking community. I get online and see overzealous right-wing conservatives wrapping their hatred in the name of Jesus and it makes me cynical towards the conservative Christian mindset. I watch people get wrapped up in over-the-top, extremely-emotional responses to very corporate worship and I wonder if my responses to worship are just as shallow and mindless. I start to get annoyed with the Christian stereotypes, but in reality I shouldn't be looking at people who claim the name of Christian and getting bitter, I should be looking to Christ alone and using Him and His truth as the level aligning factor for truth and holiness within my own life.

I'm a passionate person. I don't do anything by halves, and I don't listen to common sense or reason when I'm being all fiery and stubborn. And like the amazing songwriter Rich Mullins (whom I've written about in past blog posts if you want to read about him), I know that God is real. I know that He is vital and working in very raw and intricate ways throughout my life story and throughout the story of all humanity. And even when I get cynical and stubborn, I will still choose to believe, even when my brain is straying in a million different directions and even when I'm gritting my teeth every time I see another post that says "If you love Jesus then you will sign this petition saying that Hillary is the antichrist SHARE IF YOU LOVE THE LORD OR YOU WILL BURN."*

I need a reset button. I need to purge from all the distractions into which I allow myself to fall. I need to stop accepting mediocre commitment and start living out in extravagant joy. I need grace. Oh, how I need grace.

There are two songs that keep coming to mind as I face yet another internal struggle of faith vs. apathy. The first is "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross", an old hymn by Fanny Crosby. Maybe it's because I'm a musician and maybe it's because I primarily process things visually, but when I think of this song, I also get a mental image of myself running like mad as the world caves in with chaos and pain around me. Even as the chaos and horror grows, the sound mutes, and all I can hear are the lyrics to the hymn. As I imagine this scene, I realize that this isn't a far cry from what my deepest heart of hearts is desiring. My life is really truly beautiful, and I am blessed to not have had many external storms of life to battle. But within my heart, storms rage. And when they rage the loudest, my heart is found singing: "Jesus, keep me near the cross/there a precious fountain/free to all a healing stream/flows from Calvary's mountain/In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever/Till my ransomed soul shall find/rest beyond the river." There's a really amazing cover of this song I found on YouTube while writing this blog at the bottom of the post, so check it out.

The second song that keeps entering my consciousness, begging to be heard is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". Above all else, this is my need. This is my heart's desire and prayer. I need Emmanuel, or "God with us". I am an imperfect human in an imperfect world, and oh, how I need Emmanuel. Oh, how I need Jesus. Even when life is going so beautifully, I can never do it alone. O come, o come, Emmanuel, into my life and heart and soul and strength.

So where does that leave me? I'm not really sure. I'm going to try to start by letting go of distractions and digging in deeply to the tiny communities I'm gradually starting to find in Emporia. I'm going to seek for ladies within my area with whom I can be vulnerable and accountable. Most of all, I'm going to try to practice the rare art of simply being still for a change.

Jesus, keep me near the cross. Show me how to rest in You.



Katie





*slight exaggeration. Whatevs.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Grace Upon Grace Upon Grace

Really, nothing huge has been happening in my life lately. Instead of a life update, this post is going to be a conglomeration of three different pictures of grace in my life at this current time. Even though it hasn't been a terribly adventurous few weeks, Jesus is speaking to my heart in so many tender and beautiful ways. With every moment and heartbeat and minor, tedious, every day experience, I am feeling so in-tune with the Creator of all life and the One who gives me breath. I will try to share and explain some of those moments of beauty the best way I know how: through rambling, random thoughts.





Point of Grace #1 (aka "Oh great, she's going to start a post about running that dang marathon. AGAIN."):

I swore Tulsa was going to be my last marathon, but in reality, it was a terrible race (except for that whole getting engaged at the end thing. That part was pretty rad.). And I know that if I had ended my marathon career with a gimpy race, I would always wonder why I didn't push myself harder on my last big run. But, despite my low/non-existent expectations of getting back into the saddle of the proverbial horse that is running, I am getting to redeem the suckiness that was the 26.4 miles before I saw Michael down on one knee at the finish line with the chance to run my dream race in the Chicago Marathon. And not only that, but I get to run my dream race with two of the dearest friends of my heart. If you already know our friendship stories, please skip to the paragraph past the parentheses, because the way that I found these friends is such a huge picture of grace and continues to bless me over and over again and therefore must be told for those who have not heard the stories.

(I met both Libby and Gretchen at the beginning of my senior year of college, when I thought that I was done making new beginnings in place of all the definitive endings that loomed ahead with the close of my college career. Gretchen came into my life via a Facebook message that summer before she began her freshman year of college, asking me what she needed to know to do both marching band and sorority rush. I had been super prejudiced against sorority girls, and it would have been easy to simply brush off her message and treat her according to how I assumed sorority girls would behave. But just one month before I encountered Gretchen, Jesus had known I needed to soften my stony heart and placed me in a room with a girl on my CRU summer project who was heavily involved in her sorority. Her name was Allison, and she probably has no idea the part that she plays in my friendship story, but being around her made me realize that not all sorority girls were terrible and that I could even be friends with people in a different social class than myself. So when I met Gretchen at band camp, I was willing to try to let go of prejudices and soon realized how awesome this baby freshman actually was. The rest is history, and our friendship is one of the greatest blessings in my life. Gretchen is my tiniest friend. She's also sassy and classy and so smart that it's scary. She always challenges me to find beauty in the every day, to think outside of the box, and to desire a deeper, more real relationship with faith. She also started the monster that is my obsession with cats and chai tea. A few weeks after I met Gretchen, I met Libby in a Bible study full of girls with incredibly opposite personalities. My first impression of her was that she was an awkward and weird sophomore with more energy than I could even process. We've talked about it several times since the beginning of that Bible study and we really don't know when we became friends. Maybe it was that time we carpooled to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, or that time when I helped her run a marathon, or that time when she helped me run a marathon. Either way, Libby knows my deepest heart, and I'm so grateful that she somehow made her way into the inner circle of my life. Libby is the friend to whom I absolutely bare my soul while also running a copious and rather insane amount of miles. She is the opposite of me in so many ways, but somehow our friendship is more magical because of that fact. She is loud and passionate and fearless and loves puns and cute animals. She challenges me to be passionate and fearless and to live in such a way that my life absolutely radiates with passion for Jesus and others.)

The really cool thing about this season of marathon training is that, even though I am in Emporia while Libby is in Lawrence and Gretchen is in North Carolina, I am far from alone on my runs. It is so unbelievably encouraging to know that, even as I am still trying to find my place in Emporia, I have a home of the heart in the shared experience of running the same miles and the same race with my two kindred spirit friends. Even better is the fact that both of these sweet friends are believers, and each of us has our own running-inspired verse from the Bible that we cling to in our times of weakness and exhaustion during our miles on the run. Mine is Hebrews 12:1-2: "Therefore, since we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us and run with endurance the race which is set before us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith". When I run, I hold this verse close to my heart, reminding myself that I run because God gave me heart and legs and lungs to run, and that by His grace I am able to live and move and breathe and run the good race. Running is not about me in any way, shape, or form, and that knowledge is ridiculously freeing. Meanwhile, Gretchen's running verse is 1 Corinthians 9:26: "I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air." When I run, I hold this verse close to my heart to remember that I am here for a purpose and that every step and breath I take is for the purpose of glorifying Jesus, who makes it possible that I can run and worship. And when I carry this verse, I pray for Gretchen as I run. Libby's verse is Song of Solomon 1:4: "Draw me after you; let us run." When I run, I hold this verse close to my heart and pray that this verse may become my one desire; that I might be drawn to the heart of God and that I may run the race of life and the race of Chicago with equal passion and direction. And when I carry this verse, I pray for Libby as I run.

There's an author named Shauna Niequist, and really all you need to know about her is that she is perfect. Her books are essentially compilations of her own random thoughts on God and grace, and her words always pierce my heart with conviction and beauty. Today I got her newest book, "Savor", in the mail. It's a 365-day compilation, and I opened the book to find that today's reading was entitled "Running". She opens with the line "Running taps into all my fears about myself" and continues with a memory of how hard running is but how she was able to run the Chicago Marathon because of the love and encouragement of her friend who was there with her during the race. And the fact that Gretchen and Libby and I are basically getting to live out this same scenario has me absolutely drowning in grace. The accompanying verse to her reading is my current challenge in running the race with those whom God has placed so beautifully in my life:

"Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds...encouraging one another."~Hebrews 10:24-25




Point of Grace #2: The Business of Family

Lately I have been reading between the books of Ruth and Romans. They seemingly don't have much to do with each other, except for the fact that they both include the gospel of God's love for humanity as seen throughout the scope of the Bible. Right before Michael and I got married, our Kansas-home church hired a new pastor. We have heard him preach in person a few times, and he has an amazing ability to see the gospel in absolutely every portion of scripture. I've since started listening to the church's weekly sermon podcast, and learning how to see God's hand entwined throughout all of history is helping me to see the beauty in the humdrum of every day so much more clearly. While reading Romans, I was struck with a portion of speech in which Paul is telling the church that Israel had rejected the gospel, and that the result was that Gentiles (or non-Jews) could then come to faith and be grafted into the tree which is representative of the family of believers. Although it was absolutely astonishing at that time for Jews to hear that even the unwashed masses could come to faith, this development was no surprise to God. What I realized in the very depths of my soul is that God is, and always has been, in the business of making family. Of creating substance and life from nothingness. Of binding up broken hearts and creating beautiful stories. Of writing stories of redemption and grace that are meant to be passed from generation to generation.

Ruth is one of those books of the Bible that all little girls are taught to love. I always loved getting to read Ruth. Her story has never been very mind-blowing to me but was rather a nice, sweet little story about a girl marrying a guy with a funny name. But this time it absolutely rocked my world to realize that Ruth was a Gentile. She accepted a life of faith before it was cool for Gentiles to accept faith. She left all that she knew to follow a God that she had learned about from her mother-in-law. Even when she lost her husband, she chose to follow the faith she had been shown by her mother-in-law to a new land of different customs and cultures. Once in Bethlehem, God provided in huge ways for Ruth, both through physical nourishment and through the provision of a husband. Her obedience led to the marriage of Boaz (a Jew) and herself (a Gentile). Generations before the arrival of Jesus, God included Gentiles into the Messianic line. Even then, it was known that Gentiles would find a place in the family of God.

Obviously it would be really ambitious and foolish to compare myself to Ruth, but this realization that God is in the business of making family has made me realize just what family means. For me, it means leaving Oklahoma behind to live in Kansas with my husband. It signifies the end of our conversations of my-family-and-your-family. It means putting Michael's needs before mine and taking the time to actually listen and be concerned about the things which are important to him. For the first time, I've been realizing that Michael and I are actually FAMILY now. We are a family of two, and it is beautiful and strange and awkward and incomprehensibly beyond anything I could ever deserve. And somehow now I can go and stand in the middle of the Kansas prairie and be filled with absolute wonder and awe at all of the beauty around me and revel at the beauty of the fact that within this strange state I have found a home. And somehow now I can come home to our tiny apartment at the end of the day and find that my heart has also found home with this silly and thoughtful boy whom God graciously gave me after a chance meeting at camp almost 3 years ago. There's a verse in Psalms that says "God sets the solitary in families". Despite all of my independence, despite my wandering heart I have been given family beyond just my parents and myself. And someday if we ever have kids, we will be able to and responsible for passing along the stories of goodness and grace that fill our own story and the stories of those we love best.


Point of Grace #3: Grace grace grace.

I missed the last two days of the school year due to sickness. Several weeks before that, I had already started to tune out of my job as a paraeducator. By week one of summer I had started confidently self-identifying once again as a music therapist instead of dancing around the awkward ho-hums that had been issuing from my voice whenever anyone would ask what I do for a career. I started making a list of all possible music therapy opportunities in Emporia and actually have a job pitch for a possible music therapy contract tomorrow morning (more details to come on that if things go well) and leads on further potential contracts in the community. In all reality, I am subconsciously denying the fact that I may very well still end up working as a para next school year.

Yet, I do not have any guarantee of a music therapy job. Heck, I don't have any guarantees in life. Life is too wild and tumultuous of a beast to ever give out free passes for certainties. And if my plans fall through, I will still have a hundred and one reasons to praise God and embrace the beauty that is life.

This past week has been an interesting one on my Facebook feed. Several people I know have been suffering from tragedies, from medical emergencies, from the deaths of loved ones. I do not feel right telling their stories here since they are not my stories to tell. All that I can say is that in all of these tragedies I have witnessed, I have also seen a breathtaking amount of grace given within the realm of pain. Children have had the chance to share recent good experiences and then be there to say goodbye to a father as he passed away. Communities have come together to love one another and to lighten the load of burdens. Terrible news has been given in the kindest, most graceful ways possible. Even when all seems wrong in the world, God is still on His throne. As if it weren't enough to just be given life, God also blesses His children with grace in the face of heartache, mercy in the face of shame, and hope in the face of aimlessness.

And I know, that even if all of my dreams and plans and personal schemes fall through, I will be caught by grace in whichever path I then travel. I cannot be defined as a music therapist. Yeah, it's something that I am good at. Yeah, it's something that I love doing. But in the grand scheme of things, I hope that someday when I die or when tragedy touches my life that I am known as more than just a music therapist. I want to strive to be someone of whom it can be said that light leaks from my pockets. To be someone who is passionate and radiant and able to change the world within my scope of influence. To be someone who lives seeking God and laughing with joy at the small beauties that He graces me with each and every day. I want to be generous with my time, money, and talents. I want to live in such a way that I know how much I am beloved by Yahweh even on days when I cuss or grumble or am not nice to others.

Basically, I want to live in a cloud of abundant grace. And in this season of life, this abundant grace is overflowing in my mind and consciousness and filling my soul with more goodness and joy than I can comprehend. I am so thankful for all that my soul is becoming aware of and so grateful that even my imperfect self can find life and love and hope and peace.




Friday, May 22, 2015

Just Katie Thoughts--5/16-5/22/2015

(Or, in which I battle bronchitis, ask you to give me $25, and flash back in time to share a tweet about a personalized license plate from Missouri.)

1. Last Friday, I came home from work and began losing my voice. By Saturday, I was walking around in a haze and croaking like a frog. By Sunday I couldn't speak at all and went from feeling super energized to feverish and weak in the span of seconds. I finally went to the doctor on Monday and discovered I had bronchitis. I ended up missing the last two days of school entirely because I was feverish with mild laryngitis and a brutal cough. Being sick is no fun. I am terrible at being sick. I think of all the other things I could be doing besides being sick and then attempt to do these things, only to surrender after about 5 minutes in order to go sleep for 3 hours from the exertion that I put forth. The good news is that this was the first time I have been go-to-the-doctor sick in 5 years, and a week later (and with some scary strong antibiotics in my system), I am on the mend.

2. United Parent Support for Down Syndrome Fundraising update: I have now raised $275 towards my charity for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon! Only $725 to go! (that number sounds absolutely terrifyingly daunting, but most of this whole marathon-for-charity experience has been such a leap of faith that I am holding onto hope and trusting that funds will be raised by my deadline of October!) My goal for the end of May is to have reached $300 before entering June. That's only $25 away! Now, I recognize that only about 3 people plus my parents read this blog, but if each of those 3 people who are reading my words donated $25 (or $10.....or $5....or the pennies you find in the lint of your couch....really I'm not picky.), that would put me $50 over my end-of-May goal and only $650 away from my final goal number of raising $1000 for UPS for DownS (which, as a refresher, is a charity that provides support for the families of individuals with Down syndrome and is using the proceeds from this year's race to promote literacy and learning in DownS patients). Might I ask you now, dear reader, to help a sister out?

CLICK HERE TO DONATE YOUR PENNIES TO A GOOD CAUSE


3. Last July, Alyssa, my Dad, and I went to the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah. This annual event became one of my favorite summer-in-Oklahoma things to do during my college years, and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Oklahoma's native son and his legacy of folk music. Anyways, at the festival last year there was a lady named Amy Speace and she performed a song that she had written in honor of the late great Pete Seger. The song is called "Hymn for the Crossing" and is absolutely perfect for me in describing why music therapy is an important part of the interdisciplinary team of a hospice. Ms. Speace released the song for download a couple of months ago, and this week I finally got around to digging out my guitar and transcribing the song for my future musical endeavors. And speaking of which....
"Don't need my name carved into stone, just sing me a hymn for the crossing"


4. It is time for me to once again pursue my dreams of practicing as a music therapist. I recognize that those 3 of you + my parents who regularly read my words are probably thinking "good gracious, when will this girl stop having an existential crisis and stop boring us with details about her non-existent career?" All I can say is, sorry; not sorry. I'm still 24 years young and still figuring this whole "life" thing out. Being a para at Logan Avenue was a great transition job for me into married life and living in a new community. I will always be grateful for my brief time there. Also as of now I'm still working at Logan Avenue as a para next year and until a door opens for music therapy. But something in my heart has changed and I know that it is time to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy*.

It's hard to explain all the things that have changed to bring me to where I am right now. I've been seeing so many of my classmates and music therapist peers taking big chances, starting new jobs, and really following their dreams to provide music therapy. They have inspired me to once again follow my passion and take the risk of trying out my potential. Throughout my clinical training, my supervisors always told me that I had great potential, creativity, ability to go far in the field of music therapy. The problem with potential, though, is that the words means nothing if you choose to just sit and stagnate. Also on top of this new desire to take chances and follow my passion, I had my 30-day supervision meeting a couple of weeks before school was out for my job as a para. Long story short, I asked my boss if I could possibly include brief music therapy opportunities in my schedule next year with the kids in the classroom I serve; I was told a very kind but very definite "no". I like my job as a para, I really truly do. But it doesn't set a fire in my soul like my music therapy career paths have. So why am I investing my time in a place that doesn't set my soul aflame? Also there's this app called TimeHop that shows you status updates and other things you've posted from recent years. Lately my TimeHop has been filled with tweets from one year ago, when I first started a music therapy position at AseraCare Hospice in Lawrence and when the world was absolutely bursting with possibility Some of the more convicting tweets I've been reading about my life as a music therapist are as follows:

To be honest, this tweet could have been sent on most of the days in which I went out on patient visits.

You bet your bottom dollar I miss my patients. Also, unrelated tweet beneath, but #Missouriproblems.


So what does this all mean? It means I'm tired of waiting for an opportunity of breakthrough to just fall into my lap. I'm tired of just settling for options that do not stir my very soul. And so I begin the process of deep, intense research into where the road might next take me. My plan at this moment is to begin brainstorming a list of every single possible place in Lyon County in which my services could be utilized. Then from there I will start creating job pitches and begging for interviews and making battle plans for either opportunities to start full-time positions or to go towards more of a contracting approach with several different agencies. Creating a music therapy job could happen overnight or it could take 3 years, but I am ready to actively pursue the career that I love and am ready to prepare for whatever may come next with a spitfire spirit and a manic, passionate attitude.

5. And last but not least (and hopefully on a much shorter note than the saga above), the weather is warm and I am absolutely dying to go on adventures. Yesterday I went to Chase county to visit their courthouse (which was pretty but also a slightly strange experience to be meandering through a government building during working hours even though an old sign on the door promised I was welcome) and also went for a stroll in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve while I was there (and didn't really get to stroll far before darn bronchitis side effects had me wheezing and choking).
Nalgene, tiny fire backpack, a map of the wonders of Kansas: all I need for summer adventures.

It was great to have tiny adventures, but Kansas is a big place and I have several lists of all the things I want to see here. So if you are an adventurous soul, or even if you aren't but are vaguely curious as to what could possibly be adventurous in Kansas, please. Call me up and join me on an adventure. We will get coffee and then go have an adventure. You might learn something along the way. I promise you won't be bored. And then before returning home, we will go for coffee again. Serious, open invitation here.



*if you got this reference, you win at life.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Just Katie Thoughts--5/4--5/15/2015

1. Last week at work was just really incredibly rough. But last weekend was delightful and filled with so much soul nourishment from time spent with loved ones. Friday after school I was surprised with a chance to Skype with my dear kindred spirit, Gabby! She's currently in Madagascar serving with the Peace Corps. She left last June and still has quite a stint to go, and since she is one of the people to whom I bare my soul/with whom I share my life, I jump at any chance I get to catch up with her in her electricity-and-wifi-limited locale. Catching up with her was so good for my soul, and I can't wait for her to return to Kansas for adventures (but am also so excited for her having adventures halfway around the globe!)! Also this time of the year makes me reminisce about the times when Gabby and I were active Jayhawk Hunters, and as I am also cleaning out my computer I am getting to relive old pictures and memories of all the Jayhawks on Parade that we tracked down :)


Gabby and Katie, Jayhawk Hunters, Inc.


2. Another great joy of the weekend was getting to spend Saturday morning with my beloved friend, Gretchen! We had chai on Mass Street and then went to the park where there was a weird dog festival thing going on. I haven't seen her since the wedding when I used to see her at least once a week, so it was good to simply rest and enjoy being with one of my dearest friends. Later that night, Libby met me in De Soto for a run. We had only planned to run a couple of miles, but we had so much to talk about that we ended up going for 7! Our trail was on one that Michael had told me about in a quiet wood in De Soto, and it was absolutely delightful to run and share life with my beloved so(u)l(e) sister :)

Run Kansas


Literally couldn't do life without this girl running by my side.

3. Speaking of running.....this week I reached $200 in my fundraiser for United Parent Support for Down Syndrome! I have been running a ton lately and have truly started reaching a place in which I am running not to train or to stay in shape but because I truly enjoy the beauty of running. I feel so blessed to be able to run, and not only to run, but to run for others. I am aiming to raise $1000 total for UPS for DownS before September as I prepare to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Only $800 to go! That number sounds terrifying, but so much of this race is already seasoned with grace and beauty, I can only trust that the funds will be raised and that this training season will be a time of refreshing and soul nourishment. I could go on about this race for hours, so if you have any questions about the beautiful ways in which God is using this race to nurture my soul, ask me and I would love to share more :) But in the meantime, if you would be interested in sponsoring my run and helping me get ever closer to that $1000 mark, you can click the link here: SPONSOR ME!


4. Ever since I moved to Emporia in March, I have been eagerly anticipating the chance to join the city's municipal band this summer. All week long I have been beyond jazzed about the open audition (which was Thursday evening), only to get there and discover that their horn section was already full before I even got there. I was put on the substitute list, but it just really sucks. I miss having music in my life and I was so desperately hoping that I could play in this band and somehow get more connected with this community in which I have found myself. I asked the conductor if I could even just come to rehearsals as a substitute just to stay active in playing horn and around other musicians, but he told me that I really can't be at a rehearsal unless I'm playing in the most upcoming concert as a sub. It was so beautiful to get to play in the rehearsal last night and just a little painful today to realize that I might not be getting to play again for some time.

5. And speaking of music....my heart misses music therapy. I don't know when I will get to actually practice as a MT-BC again, but I am planning to spend some of my time this summer compiling a list of absolutely all of my options for music therapy in this community. I still don't know on which population I would like to focus. I have been missing my hospice experiences as of late, but could also see myself working in a hundred different possible settings or scenarios. The good news is that I don't have to be in a hurry. I can spend the time to really do research and prepare job pitches and deliver them whenever the time comes. I feel a sense of urgency to return to what I do best, but I refuse to return in haste. Not sure where this will all lead, but I am trusting that there is a bigger picture I cannot yet see, and I am eager to see where my career path may flow.