Posted in Honesty

Slow Down.

I haven’t blogged in a month. In fact, this will be my second blog post in as many months – breaking from the pattern of weekly or bi-weekly posts I found earlier in the fall. I realized this today and it made my sad, not only because of the pattern of writing that I lost but also because of the patterns of life that I lost along with it.

Fall is busy. There is no way around it. With the start of school and football season for Kelly and the start of the programming year for me, we are running 100% more often than not. It’s the most typical time for burn out and stress and fights about nothing, because we give so much of ourselves to other people and we don’t have much to give to each other. When we do get time together, it’s typically watching TV on the couch and falling asleep after about 20 minutes. Then it’s shuffle off to bed, set alarms, sleep and toss and turn, and do it all again. Our weekends are full of games and catching up and events and then the cycle starts over and over and over again. We love our life, but fall is still chaos.

Fall also feels like a time of mourning in a way – while I love my boots and sweaters and football, I would still take summer and sunshine any day. I miss warm days and sitting on the deck at night or out by the fire pit. Winter is my least favorite season for a lot of reasons, with the first 100 including snow in some way. I often tell my husband that if he didn’t love winter so much, and if (most) of our immediate and extended families weren’t in Michigan, we would not be living in Holland. But, we are here, and I somehow survive the December-February span each year until my beloved spring and summer return.

The one positive to this new winter season, snow and all, is that it forces me to slow down. If you know me well you will know that driving is one of my biggest anxiety triggers, and driving in the snow amplifies only makes it worse. I’m getting better at facing it, but the snow falls over the past week and our house sitting on a country road next to a corn field haven’t been very helpful – for example, getting stuck in the giant drift that was our cul-de-sac yesterday morning put me in a funk that I’m not sure I’m out of yet. I don’t trust winter and it seems like the snow and wind and cold pick a fight with me all season long. But, on days like today where I’m in a funk and don’t want to drive, even though the roads are decent and I easily could, I choose instead to stay home and work here.

My morning was spent partially on the couch with my eyes closed due to a headache, but partially relaxing: eating leftovers for lunch, looking through online deals and paying credit card bills, listening to new favorite music and catching up on TV shows, and now writing for the first time in a while. If the weather wasn’t cold and snowy, I would have pushed myself to be out and about this morning, and I think that I would be just as tired now as I was at this point yesterday. But I’m not – I’m relaxed and I’m happy and I’m productive, which is a rare combination these days.

So, on this cold December day with a winter storm approaching in the next hours, this is my question for you: how do you need to slow down in your life? We all need it, especially before the holidays, but there is a unique answer for each of us. For me, it’s letting my extroverted heart enjoy time spent alone to recharge, to let my brain slow down and my anxiety lessen, to take time for me and my home and my husband and my heart.

I don’t know what you need to do to slow down, but whatever it might be, I want to encourage you to do it. You don’t need to be crazy like the rest of West Michigan and push yourself to keep a normal pace in the midst of holiday blizzards and freezing temps. If you need a night at home, do it! If you need to say no to another school or church event, do it! If you need a movie night or a Netflix binge session, do it! Only you know what is best for yourself and the pace that you can keep. We can’t push pause on our entire lives, but I’ve found that by pushing pause for a few hours at a time and taking advantage of the small breaks that our schedules give us, the rest becomes a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling.

I’m enjoying my chance to slow down today so that I can keep going tomorrow and the days the come – will you enjoy your chance, too?

Posted in ADHD, Honesty, Self-Care

A Day in the Life

Lately, my anxiety has been really bad again. This past week was a long one. I’ve been thinking about the ways that my anxiety/panic attacks affect me when I’m having these types of week, and I’m starting to understand thinks a little bit more. I read somewhere this week that approximately 70% of your body’s systems are working in one way or another during an anxiety or panic attack, and when you face them regularly like I do – that pretty much just leaves you exhausted, all of the time. I know that anxiety is almost invisible and hard to understand – so, I think I’m going to try and explain pieces of it here. I’m sure it wont’ be perfect, and I’ll only write about what I experience – but, maybe it will help some of you understand what living with anxiety is like; and if you’re going through anything like this, please know you are not alone!

My worst days always start with the racing thoughts. Whether they are positive or negative, I can tell something is about to happen when my brain won’t shut off. I have ADHD, so the focus and keeping a train of thought going is always a struggle, but when anxiety jumps on board, it’s a different story. It’s not just thoughts that jump from one spot to another like my 11-yr-old nephew…it’s thoughts that whirl up and spiral out of control like a tornado. It’s more like thinking about one potential issue at work, or a weird noise outside my house at night…and then all of the sudden my programs are bound for failure and there is a group trying to break in and kill me. Yes, I’m being serious, and no, this isn’t an overdramatic blog post. It really jumps that far and that fast. When I was in middle school, I made the mistake of dragging my dad on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the Hudsonville Fair – and that is exactly what my brain feels like: spinning in more directions than one, bouncing from side to side, feeling out of control and ultimately sick by the end.

When my thoughts begin to race and spin fast enough, my heart rate tries to keep up. I think that my thoughts become so real to me, so much a part of my reality, that I scare myself into thinking it’s real. And when I’m scared of my own brain, the physical symptoms kick in. First it’s the heart rate, racing in my chest, and I can feel the heaviest beats in my fingers and in my head. Then, one of two things: either I’ll start sweating like crazy or I’ll start shaking like crazy. It depends on where I am and how the temperature is. It’s like my body takes whatever I was feeling (warm or cold) and forces it into overdrive, so that I feel the extreme of wherever I am. When this part starts, that’s when it is hard to breathe. Sometimes I can control it easily, and sometimes, it’s a good 5 or 10 minutes before I can catch my breath again. So I have a racing heart and sweaty or shaking hands and I can’t breathe, and more often than not, the nausea kicks in. Sometimes I get sick, sometimes I curl up in a ball, sometimes I take Tums and deal with it…but it’s never fun.

At this point, there are a few different things that can happen. This might be where my symptoms end, and if so, I’m in the clear for a few hours. If it’s not the end…again, there are a few different options. One could be that I burst into tears and need to cry for a while. That always makes me feel better, like the tears are all of the overwhelmed thoughts leaving my head and body. And, crying wears my body out, and usually I can sleep, which always helps. That’s one of the other options – sleeping. My husband always laughs at me, because my most favorite life activity is sleeping…but honestly, it’s the only fail proof thing that can always prevent my anxiety. You can’t worry about things unless you’re awake enough to know that you should worry about them. The last option is that my physical symptoms (racing heart, sweat or shivering, crying or sleeping) reside, but the racing thoughts stay…so, I just start the cycle all over again.

That’s a really “big picture” look at what a day with anxiety looks like; yes, these things do happen every single day, sometimes more than once. I have found many ways to cope, some better and more effective than others. I’ll be honest in that, not all of my coping methods are “healthy”, but sometimes you simply take what you can get. For example: I’ve now spent the past 3 hours or so in some weird state between the Michigan football game, Facebook stalking, and online shopping. Maybe not the best use of my time on a Saturday night, but I’m feeling much better now than I was when I had a panic attack earlier tonight. Sometimes running helps, or a hot shower with loud music, or eating ice cream, or watching a movie with my husband, or writing, or reading, or Pinterest or getting out of my house and seeing friends, or being by myself for a while….I think you get the point. There isn’t an easy fix or a fail safe method to feel better, and it’s a lot of trial and error in what works on what day.

I think that getting all of these things out “on paper” might be more helpful for me (and probably Kelly) than anyone else. If you learn anything from reading this, I hope it’s this: this is one way that anxiety shows itself in one person, and it’s messy and jumpy and complex. There are millions more people with millions more symptoms of anxiety, and I can’t and won’t try to speak for all of them. But, please realize that these are very real things that are very real parts of life for me and for others. If I’m talking with you and seem distracted on a bad day, please know it’s nothing personal, but I’m probably dealing with an anxiety attack and am trying to find a place to get sick or to cry. If I’m shaking more than normal and I just tell you I’m cold, I probably am freaking out and just don’t want you to worry about me.

I’m working on being more honest about my stress and anxiety levels, but I still try to hide it more often than I should. It’s not an easy thing to admit to. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to “pray more”, or if I spent more time with God it would help me to worry less, or even “not to worry” because the Bible says so…well, I think our student loans would be much smaller by now! Anxiety is so unknown, even to me. I don’t know how to explain it so I just don’t. It’s embarrassing to admit that I can’t handle sitting in my house alone, or that stress at work is easily overwhelming, or that driving home in the dark can send me off the deep end. I don’t like to talk about it.

But, maybe with this post, that will start to change. Again: this is just anxiety and panic attacks from MY perspective. You or someone you know may see things much differently. But, if this helps you understand what anxiety can look like for people who struggle with it, then writing it out was well worth it.

Thanks for reading!

Posted in Anxiety Disorder, Honesty

Friday Night Lights.

Both my television and my computer screen are filled with Friday Night Lights tonight – a college game is on ESPN and a Twitter feed exclusively of high school football scores. I truly love football, and nights like this (when it’s cold and rainy and too far of a drive to Kelly’s game) make me happy. But, if you would have told me three years ago that nights like this would be good for me – I would have laughed.

You see, I’m quite the extrovert – surprising, I know! For as long as I can remember, I’ve gotten my energy and my happiness from the people around me. I have tried to fill every spare moment that I have with people, cramming in coffee dates and movie nights and sleepovers into my schedule whenever possible. My favorite places were always those that were full of people – Camp Geneva, college dorms, basketball arenas and downtown Holland. I talk loud and fast and laugh too much and sing everything I can – these are activities all done best in the company of others. I always centered my life around people.

If you take a look at that last paragraph, you’ll notice it is largely in the past tense. While my favorite activities and the speed of my speech have not changed, some of the rest has. In the past, I was scared of doing things alone, without the people I had come to rely on. I didn’t know how to do things on my own – I mean, I was totally capable of doing them, but if forced to do it alone, I was miserable! If there were nights when I was at home or hanging out by myself, I would feel horrible – completely inadequate, like something was wrong with me. There was nothing wrong – and there is nothing wrong with spending time alone – but my life was so full of things and people, and my identity was so caught up in doing things and being with people,  that it felt wrong to me.

I like to (jokingly) blame my introverted husband, but over the past three years or so, I’ve noticed a shift in my personality, especially in regards to alone time. I think that I’ve spent more time alone in the past 6 months than I have in years, and most of it has been by choice and really good for me. When I realized that I was choosing to spend time alone, and was actually enjoying that time, I was a little bit frightened and a little bit scared. So much of my identity was wrapped up in people – so what did it mean if it wasn’t that way anymore? Was I changing who I fundamentally was? Was I not Kara anymore?

The conclusion that I came to was this: no, I wasn’t changing who I was, I was simply changing how I recharged my batteries. My anxiety disorder has become worse in the past three years, and crowds and driving (especially at night) are some of my biggest triggers for panic attacks. My schedule gets busy and crazy and it can be difficult to find time to relax and re-energize. Sometimes, I am so tired from fighting through the day that all I can do is flop on the couch and turn on the TV. Sometimes, I need to leave my office and sit at JPs with my headphones in and a cup of coffee and not talk for an hour or so. If I need time to think, walking around downtown or through a store, where there are lots of people but none that I have to interact with, is really good for my brain. Sometimes, on Friday nights, I need to stream my favorite sport all over my house so that I can clean and write and take a break after a busy and long day (in the middle of a busy weekend).

Sometimes, I just need to breathe and be by myself in order to feel like myself.

AND ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE TOTALLY OKAY! 

It’s okay to recharge by yourself. It’s okay to recharge with other people. It’s okay to do both things – as long as you are staying true to yourself while you do it. Just because you are an introvert or an extrovert doesn’t mean there is one certain way to do it. It’s more about knowing yourself and what you need and how you work best than about what you think you have to do or need to do. Yes, I still pull energy from people and I love being around my friends and family – but I can also love being by myself and that is okay. It’s still a little weird for me, and I’ll be honest, my anxiety can still get really bad when I’m alone, especially at nighttime – the dark and I have never been friends. But, I’m learning, and I’m so thankful that I’ve found a new way to recharge and feel like myself that I didn’t know was a thing outside of these past years.

So, on nights like today when the only Friday Nights Lights I’ll have  are my computer screen and my television (and maybe a vanilla candle, because hello fall!), I’m reminding myself that it’s okay to be an extrovert that likes to be alone sometimes. Maybe, if you are surround by actual Friday Night Lights at a football game or a restaurant or a bar, you’ll read this later and be reminded that (extrovert or introvert), we all need the balance of being with people and being with ourselves. Maybe you’ll be reminded that changing how you recharge your batteries has nothing to do with changing yourself, even if something new feels a little weird at first. Because, whatever your Friday Night Lights are tonight, I just hope that they make you feel a little more like yourself.

Posted in Honesty

Romans 8:28

Romans 8:28 is currently the background of the lock screen on my phone, to a cool edit that my friend made (thanks Kari!). If you live in Holland/West MI, you know that we’ve lost more people unexpectedly this summer than we thought possible, and the past months have been impossibly hard. Yet, when I pray and when I read my Bible and go about my day, the words of this verse keep popping into my head.

“He works all things for the good of those who love Him”.

HE works ALL THINGS for the GOOD of those who LOVE Him.

All things? Are we sure?  In a world where teenagers attend multiple funerals for friends and teachers in one summer, where the news is based on bombings and threats and accidents, when days are overwhelming and long and there is not enough energy to do anything….all of these things are working together for GOOD?

I’ve been struggling with this verse for as long as I can remember. The first time that I remember feeling a sense of not-good was when I attended the funeral visitation for a boy that I had gone on a youth retreat with, who died in a car accident at 16 years old. I felt it again at the news that one of my sister’s roommates had passed away during her junior year of college when I was a freshman….and again, and again, and again. I have lost track at somewhere around 12 funerals in the past year and a half, with all but two of the people being under the age of 50. With this much loss comes the overwhelming feeling that this cannot be how life was intended to be – this cannot in any way be good.

It’s a feeling that starts deep in my gut, pulsing and pushing and hurting. It spreads to every fiber and muscle, something that feels like a cross between being antsy and needing to be sick. I know that it will make itself to my head, hitting with a headache and tears and shortness of breath, almost to panic attack levels. It is the without-a-doubt knowledge that something is not right, and the world is not even close to how it is supposed to be.

Yet, through that horrible feeling, my mind and my heart know that God is working things together for good. I have these words bouncing off the walls of my brain, trying to comprehend how God is working all things for good and yet I am holding friends and students in my arms as they say goodbye to teachers and friends. It’s trying to put together the pieces when the first funeral that I officiated as a pastor is for a 9-month-old baby boy, and yet, God is still good.

The words of Hillary Scott’s song “Thy Will” sum it up well – “I know You’re good, but this don’t feel good right now.” I’m at a spot in my community and my work and my world and my life where most things do not feel good right now. Maybe it’s the recent tragedies that have hit, maybe it’s the exhaustion that comes with fall programming, maybe it’s everything rolling together in to one big ball. I don’t know. What I do know is I’ve got a knot sitting in the bottom of my stomach because I know that what I see in my world is not good. I know the world is not good and not right and there is nothing that I can do about it.

But that piece is where I’m learning the beauty of Romans 8:28. Because there are so many days in life where the darkness is overwhelming and where nothing is good, but yet in all of the crap that this world there are still glimmers of light that poke through. There is strength to be found in grief and love found in pain that does not appear any where else in our lives. There are these moments that are so unexpected and surreal and perfect in the midst of pain – final messages left days before accidents, songs that speak the exact words needed, pictures that will live on forever – that I have to believe that there is something good coming out of bad. I’ve seen it happen first hand. I don’t know how to explain it, but I do know where it comes from. Because only the Creator of the Universe and the God who is over all things could possibly make something good out of our bad.

As humans, we don’t often see how there can be beauty from the ashes of our lives. We get caught up in the tragedy and the pain and the loss and we get blinded by the darkness that surrounds us. We forget that even though we are small and scared, we are loved and cared for by a God that can make good out of any situation, even when we see no good in it. There is a lot of bad in our world, and I’m not saying that these situations are good – because they are anything but good. What I am saying though, is that there is a chance that good can come out of the worst places, and that this is only possible through God.

When life does not feel good and when we have knots in our stomachs and tears in our eyes, there is not much good to hold on to. But the greatest part of our reality as Christians is that we follow the God who can create good from our tragedy and our loss and our pain. If there is any chance my darkness can turn into light, I am going to run head first to the One who can make that happen, because I know I can’t do it on my own.

How beautiful is it that we serve a God that not only sees and understands our darkness, but cares enough about us that He turns our darkness into light. It doesn’t change the darkness, and it doesn’t take away the pain that we feel, but it gives us the light at the end of the tunnel to hold on to and to run to. And that is the good for those who love Him.

Posted in Honesty

And So I Kept Living.

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve had it before where a post rumbles around in my brain for a while, and words string themselves together in my head until they tumble out through my fingers on a keyboard and to this page. But this one is different. This post is a mix of feelings that shoot through my head, ping in my head, and send chills down my spine at random points of the day – and they’ve been doing this for years. 10, to be exact. So, as you can imagine (and if you know me at all), 10 years of thoughts are coming out here…so expect it to be a bit jumbled and messy and ADHD. It’s a bit of a different topic than I’ve covered recently and it’s going to be a lot at once. I’m sorry!

Each September is hard for me. Not only because it was the start of school for almost my entire life, or the start of programming season in my current job, or because of the change into colder weather and the busiest season of our lives….but because it comes with talk of suicide. Mainly, because World Suicide Prevention Week/Day comes at the beginning of September and always catches me off guard. We don’t talk about suicide in American culture, I think partially because we don’t want to and partially because we don’t know how to (and don’t want to admit it). But all of the sudden all of these blog posts and campaigns and fundraisers and slogans come out and it’s all I can think about.

One of my most favorite organizations is “To Write Love On Her Arms” (TWLOHA), whose mission says: “To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery” (https://twloha.com/home/) Each year, for World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10), TWLOHA comes out with a campaign and a slogan. Each year they are wonderful, of course, but this years means more to me than most of them have: AND SO I KEPT LIVING. 

I realize that not everyone reading this knows a lot about my story or what I’ve experienced in my life, so let me give you a brief rundown: I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, ADHD, and Anxiety-Induced Depression when I was 16 years old. These three diagnoses and how they work together (for better and mainly for worse) explain the roller coaster that was my life at that point. I’ve stabilized quite a bit since my teenage years with the help of friends, family, therapy and medication, but my life from ages 13-20 was a bit of a mess. I’ll say this the only way that I know how: if I had been fully in control of my life at that time, I wouldn’t be around to type these words. 

10+ years later, the most vivid thing that I remember from those years is that I was so tired. Not just the tired that I feel today when I work 50+ hours in a week, or when I have a bad night of sleep…it was a type of tired that was a part of my bones and that I felt in every breath that I took. Every step was heavy and every morning was a battle to get out of bed. The second battle came at school or at church or at home, smiling and saying that I was fine even though everything in me was screaming that I was anything but. The constant mental back-and-forth left me exhausted every single day. Some days were better than others, and on the days where I felt good, I would try my best not to sleep – because I didn’t know when I would be sad again, and I wanted to stay up and enjoy being happy.

As you can imagine, this is not a healthy way to live. I know that now. But the me who cried in the bathroom at school didn’t know that. The me that thought she was abnormal, that something in her brain was broken and that there was no way to fix it didn’t know that she would be okay. I didn’t know what to do and thought that hurting myself and giving up was the best option didn’t know that there were much better things to come. 

13 year old me starting thinking this way.

15 year old me thought the same way.

17 year old me thought the same way.

19 year old me thought the same way.

 

21 year old me finally started thinking differently.

I think that I felt this way for so long because I didn’t have people who talked about mental illness or about suicide in my life or my community. I’m not saying that I didn’t have great people to talk to – because I did – but I also felt like I shouldn’t say anything. Like I didn’t wan to be a burden. Like admitting what was in my head would get me put in a hospital and I would carry about the reputation of crazy for the rest of my life. I wanted to be the good kid, the one who made my parents proud and who was successful. I wanted to please the people around me who told me that my smile was the biggest and brightest that they had ever seen. I wanted to be so many things that the person who I presented to others was a pile of dreams and hopes – but in the inside, behind the smile, was a brain and a heart that wanted to be anywhere but there and anyone else than the person I was trying to be. It was truly exhausting to be continuously living a double life.

In high school and in college there were moments of change – where I realized that I didn’t have to keep living like I was. I owe a lot of these moments to my family and friends, who never left my side and who reminded me that I was going to be okay and that I could keep breathing. There were fantastic moments in personal quiet times and in church services where I heard God remind me that I wasn’t alone, and I can point to a handful of those moments that I believe truly saved my life. These people and those moments are the biggest and brightest reasons why I can say that I chose to keep living, and why the past four years have been some of the most healing and hard and beautiful years that I’ve had. My life is not perfect today, and there are plenty of days where anxiety and panic attacks still take over. But those days are fewer than they used to be, and even when they do come, they aren’t as overwhelming as they used to be. I know that they will be hard and that there will be lots of tears and sleeping – but I also know that I’ll wake up and that it gets better and that I will keep on living.

Today, I write these words knowing that my story is powerful but also imperfect. I used to think that I didn’t have a story to tell, that my life was too broken and bumpy to be of any good. I know now that those words are lies, and that my story has a purpose and that it’s mine for a reason. I was so scared to tell this story for so long – and I’ll admit that even now, as I have a self-imposed publishing deadline, my hands are a bit shaky. Saying all of this is really hard, you guys. A wise friend told me this afternoon that we are given our stories to share and to help others, and I hope that my story can be of help to someone.

But more than that, I hope that this story is a reminder to people who are struggling that things can get better when struggling with self-harm or depression or suicide. Those are ugly things and ugly words that don’t get talked about nearly enough in our world today. I hope that by reading this, someone realizes that their life can get better, and that there is a way out of dark places even when you are too tired to move. I hope that someone reading this sees a light to point towards a friend or a family member who is struggling, because this truly is a battle that no one can win on their own. Yes it’s so hard to talk about and yes it’s terrifying to admit, but I’ve found more support and love in my life from sharing than from keeping it in. I’ve had beautiful relationships with friends and YoungLife students because I shared and could help with things that they were walking through.

If I could go back in time and talk to 13 year old me on the first day I chose to eat lunch alone in the bathroom, or talk to the 15 year old me crying herself to sleep, or to the 17 and 19 year old me who couldn’t find a foothold to grab on to when graduation and college were overwhelming, or 21 year old me who didn’t think she could be a pastor because she wasn’t good enough, I would tell each of them the same thing:

I would tell them that it gets better. I would tell them that there is no such thing as too many tears, too many late nights talking with friends, or too many prayers. I would tell them that mental illness is a daily battle but it can be won when you have a home team. I would tell them that life does get better, and that life is such a special thing when you keep walking and keep living. Life is the most beautiful mess, and going backwards to go forwards is okay! 

I kept living, friends. And I truly hope that you do too. Life is meant to do together.

Posted in Honesty

So, I guess you’re really a pastor now, huh?

The past month has been a whirlwind, and that’s a bit of an understatement. I’ve done a handful of things in the past weeks that I never imagined that I would be doing. More often than not, these moments have been accompanied by the same sentiment – “So, I guess you’re really a pastor now, huh?”

In July, I went with our soon-to-be 8th grade students on an adventure trip to West Virginia. Among the wonderful and terrifying things that happened that week (see my previous post on caving) was a jam session in the bus on the way home to every pop song you can think of. Somewhere between Adele and twenty one pilots and Taylor Swift, one of the girls on our trip said to me, “Kara, I didn’t think that pastors knew this kind of music!” I laughed and explained to her that pastors didn’t live under rocks – and we are just as obsessed with Adele as the rest of the world. She then deemed me the “coolest pastor she had ever met”.

About a month ago, I co-officiated my first funeral, a simple service for a 9 month old baby who passed away after complications from a liver transplant. I stood up front and welcomed people to the service on behalf of the family and barely held it together through messages and prayers and graveside flowers. I drove home exhausted that afternoon and read a text message from my husband that simply read  “well, pastor, you did it.”

I spent the last Sunday in July helping welcome 8 children into our congregation via baptism, and it was the coolest moment that I have been a part of. I stood in front of people I know and some that I don’t and explained why we use water, what we promise when we celebrate baptism, and I watched the funniest little faces crinkle up when drops of cold water hit their heads. One of the parents of those children came up to me after the service and said “Pastor, thank you for being a part of our family today!”

The second week of August was spent in Guatemala, where I helped to build a church and to run a VBS in a village near to my heart. Even though I got sick at the end of the week and really missed being able to flush toilet paper – I sat in a dedication service the last night we were there and prayed with 5 little boys and girls who wanted to accept Jesus, through my broken Spanish and their giggles, I thought to myself that being a pastor and helping kids find Jesus has to be the greatest job in the world.

This past week, I met with two different families who were joining CMC and were going to be baptizing their babies, and as I heard their stories and laughed with them and looked over the Scripture verses that would serve as our promise to their children, I was humbled by how important those conversations are and how lucky I am that I get to do them as part of my job. As I left one families house, I got hugs and a chorus of “bye Pastor Kara!”, and I didn’t stop smiling the whole way home.

Yesterday was one of the busiest days that I’ve had in a long time. The first service of the morning came with my official installation into the Holland Classis and to my role at CMC, and as I read to my congregation and received my light-up pen, I felt a pride in my work that I haven’t really felt yet. After I left the stage, one of my co-workers said “hey, welcome home!”, and it was the first moment that it hit me that this call and this role is truly my first “home” as a pastor. The second service came with the baptisms of two sweet babies, the official “welcome home!” for my husband as he joined our church officially. After the service while I was saying goodbye to my family, my dad gave me a hug and said, “So, I guess you’re officially a pastor now, huh?”

The third service of the day came later that afternoon, where I got to pray and serve communion at the ordination of my best friend from WTS. Not only did seeing the “Rev.” in front of my name in the order of worship throw me off (this is my first ordination service since my own service in June), but welcoming a friend into the crazy life that is that of a female pastor serving students made me a little bit emotional. It made me thankful for the group of women that I have the privilege of pastor-ing with, because they understand the world of pastor-ing in a unique way with me.

So now, on a Monday afternoon, after answering phone calls and emails and delivering donated school supplies to our local school and eating lunch at my most favorite restaurant, I sit in my office and realize that it’s a compilation of all of these moments that have made me think of myself as Pastor. It wasn’t a switch that flipped at my ordination service or at any one of these moments, but a slow and steady process of the past four weeks (and really of the past three years). I never ever thought that I would be ordained – or officiate funerals – or serve communion to others – or be called “Pastor”.

But here I am.

It’s not even the name “Pastor” that’s hitting me. I’m not one for formality or title, so I hardly ever call myself “Pastor” or “Reverend”. I don’t wear a robe or a stole or a collar either, and I’m not ever intending to – but I think that’s a different blog post!

It’s more of the fact that I’m sitting here and I’m actually doing it. I’m doing things that I never imagined doing, and guys, I’m really good at it! I love my job and I love (most days) what I get to do, and even though it was something I never wanted, it’s just what I needed. I’ve finally found my peace with what I’m doing and where God has called me – and if you know the fight I went through with God before I went to seminary, you’ll know that’s a pretty big deal!

So…I guess I’m a pastor now, huh?!

 

Posted in Honesty

Darkness & Light.

This past week, I had one of the darkest experiences of my life, quite literally. I joined the 8th graders from CMC on their annual summer trip to West Virginia, and one afternoon of our trip was spent caving. Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’ve never been fond of darkness or small spaces – but I love to explore, and I had never been caving and wanted to try it! Our first cave was dry and cool, with pointy jagged rocks and clear pools of water. We played hide and seek among stalagmites and screamed in the dark and loved it.

But then we went to our second cave. It was much bigger, much more muddy, and much much darker. We stood in a room, lights off, and adjusted to the absolute darkness around us. We sang “It Is Well” in the acoustics and I cried because it was so beautiful. Even in the physical darkness of that place, there was light. We continued through the mud, falling and laughing our way though slips and falls and streams, until we reached a small opening. There, we sat on the tall banks of a stream in the dark, once again, preparing for what our guide called the “blind crawl”. There was an opening between two rock faces, just wide enough to army crawl through, and we were to do all twenty feet of it without our head lamps, once again in absolute darkness.

The group went through in pairs, and were instructed to remain as quiet as possible on the other side. I went through with two others, second to last, and was the first of our trio to begin crawling. Beside an embarrassing story of being one of the first people that our guide had ever seen go the wrong way first (ask me if you want to hear that one!), once I began to crawl, I was terrified. Not only did I have no idea where I was heading, but no idea where I was or what direction was where. I kept losing the wall that our guide told us to stay on and my back and helmet kept hitting on the wall above me. My breath was shallow and my head was pounding, and continued to do so long after I was told to sit up because I had made it. Ending up in a room with so much space, after crawling through the smallest space I had ever been in, was the strangest feeling I have ever experienced.

Now, there was a point later on in our caving adventure that freaked me out even more. I fell in a small opening we were climbing through and slipped just enough to be sent over the edge into a panic attack. That was not fun. But what I find interesting as I reflect on the whole thing is that the moment that I slipped was more scary than the darkness was to me. I actually preferred the darkness, because after sitting in it and waiting for our turn to crawl through it became comfortable. It felt safe because I knew what I felt – where my stomach, my back, my feet were – and as long as I felt that, I knew I was okay. My security fell through when my feet fell off the ground, because what I could see scared me more than what I didn’t know earlier.

The day after caving, we went white water rafting. We spend the day on a wide open river, and experienced both darkness (in the form of a driving thunderstorm that hid the neighboring mountains from view) and light (in the form of blue sky and sparking water). We did everything from floating along to swimming through rapids behind the raft, to diving head first into holes and navigating class five rapids – and it was so cool! It was the bright spot of my trip, and the memories made in that raft will last forever.

As I reflect on the differences between these two days, the “dark” and the “light” of my trip, I’m struck by how odd the difference is between them. Caving kept my feet on solid (yet muddy) ground, while rafting put me in the middle of a constantly moving and swirling river. Caving relied on my feet and my ability to navigate, and rafting left me at the hands of the commands of the guide sitting behind me. Caving was a group activity but left me space to be alone and do things my way, while rafting offered no alone time and full dependency on my team.

Reading those things, I should have loved caving and hated rafting. But it was the other way around. And I think it’s largely because, while rafting, I was constantly in the light. Even in the midst of a driving rainstorm, I could see my surroundings and I could see the sky, even if the only light was from lightning bolts. I could see the rapids that were coming and I could see how the water moved around me. While swimming and floating I could see the currents around me and see the strap of the raft I could grab if I was in trouble. The light was always evident, and after having my light taken away the day before, I drank every drop of it in.

Today over lunch, my husband was filling me in on some of the events in our world over the past week. About shootings in major cities, police officers being ambushed on two separate occasions, and trucks driving into crowds in France. We both sat silent because of the darkness that we felt surrounding us and the conversation. Yet, Facebook reminds me that three friends had babies in the last week and there have been weddings and engagements and summer fun – all light things.

Darkness and light, constantly fighting for our attention. Keeping our feet planted in places we may or may not want to be and swirling around us whether we want it or not. Darkness like a cave, overwhelming and complete, and light like a river, full and moving and sparkling. Our lives are made of these two things, in both obvious and not obvious ways. As we enter a new week, I promise you that there will be plenty of darkness. I also promise you that there will be plenty of light. I also challenge you to pull your feet out of the mud of the darkness, even though it might feel good and safe to have your feet on the ground – because even in it’s unpredictability, the light is always the best place to be.