pandemic puppies.

I sat down thinking I wanted to write about this last year. The pandemic year. But those thoughts and feelings and reflections are too raw to write about and share right now. They are still very  much alive in my body and haven’t quite moved from body to mind yet. So, I think I’ll let them stay just with me in my body for a little while longer. 

However, there is one thing about this past year that I thought would be fun to write about. And that is Miss Twyla Rose. 

As I am sure all of you know, in May of 2020 I welcomed my puppy, Twyla Rose. Of course she is named after Schitt’s Creek. 

When the world shut down in March, I started out strong. I was working from home, walking multiple times a day, doing puzzles like it was my actual job.. And then by mid-April things went south. I was incredibly lonely. Some days I could not get myself out of bed. I wasn’t eating much and going for long walks stopped feeling enjoyable. It was so rough. So, I did what anyone in my situation would have done – I began looking at PetFinder every single day in search of a dog. I thought I would get an adult dog (less training) and was hopeful I could find one that didn’t shed much. 

I talked to my therapist, Jenna (I make zero life decisions without her), and we decided a good first step would be talking to my landlords. It should be noted that my lease agreement included a no pet clause. I wrote to my landlords and explained my situation and they graciously agreed to a small dog as long as none of her “business” was tracked into the apartment building and no one complained about barking. Deal. 

Shortly after that Steve, one of the pastors I serve with, sent me photos of two puppies at the local humane society: Sissy and Pearl. They were 5 month old Fox Terrier / Chihuahua sisters and EXTREMELY cute. I filled out the application and scheduled a time to go meet the girls. 

I drove out to the humane society and played with both puppies for about 30 minutes. Sissy was feisty and the obvious leader of the two. Pearl followed Sissy’s lead and frequently stopped playing to curl up in my lap. I quickly fell in love with her. As I left they told me they had to review nearly 30 applications for the puppies and would get in touch with me at the beginning of the following week to let me know whether or not I was approved. 

I drove home and told everyone how much I adored this puppy. However, I knew that so many people had applied and the chances were slim that I would get her. I didn’t want to make this a spiritual thing but deep down I was hoping God would come through on this one. I needed a tangible reminder of God’s kindness to me and proof that God remembered me and to be completely honest, I wanted it to come in the form of this puppy. 

It did. I got a call on Tuesday morning from the humane society – I had been approved to bring home Pearl, who I obviously renamed. Twyla Rose was mine. 

Let me pause here for one moment to say: I have never in my life had a dog. I did not grow up with pets, except a turtle who lived for two weeks. I did not have the slightest clue about being a pet owner but in classic Katie fashion I thought, how hard can this be? Let me also say that instead of an adult dog that didn’t shed much, I was about to bring into my home a puppy who shed an incredible amount. 

I went to Walmart and bought all of the necessary puppy items and the next morning drove to the humane society to bring home my new roommate. I was shocked at how easy it was. I paid the fee, signed the papers, picked out a free backpack and was on my way with zero clue how to care for a puppy. But I was thrilled. 

I won’t bore you with details about how inconsistent I am at dog training or about the amount of stuffing from inside of dog toys I have cleaned up in my living room. Or how Twyla destroyed multiple crates. Or the time she chewed through the vacuum cord. It’s fine. But what I do want to say is this: all of the people that talk about how their pets are members of their families – I get it. 

Twyla has brought me unbelievable joy in the midst of an incredibly hard and lonely year. She forces me to get out of bed in the morning and take a walk every single day. She is a warm body next to me on the couch. She is silly and weird and playful. Her tail and her tongue are disproportionately long and her ears are so floppy. I was determined to not let her sleep in my bed but somehow that didn’t work. She plays with her food before she eats it and loves to sit in the window sill like a cat. Her favorite toy is a large squeaky pacifier. And yes we did get matching jammies for the Christmas card this year thank you for asking.

I said earlier I didn’t want to make this a spiritual thing. And yet I have to be honest. I have seen the kindness and love of God in Twyla. I needed a companion this year. I needed joy. I was desperate for anything that would help me feel like a human being again and that’s been Twyla. She has been the silliest and most playful reminder that God did not forget about me. When things are hard it is easy for me to decide God has forgotten about me and is not kind to me. When something lovely happens I am quick to say, “That’s just how life is! Sometimes things are great!” I am practicing changing that narrative. 

I’ll be honest, it takes some bravery. It is hard for me to let God be kind to me. It is hard for me to trust that God is loving and good to me. Sometimes it feels silly to say that Twyla is my reminder of the goodness of God, but she is. So here’s to the puppies that make us laugh when they run into window sills, who play fetch by themselves with a strawberry, and who lick every last drop of chai out of our mugs. Twyla Rose you’re simply the best. 

Processed with Focos

lent and collars.

It wasn’t until I was in college that Lent came onto my radar. When I was younger my Catholic classmates would come to school on Ash Wednesday with a smudgy cross on their forehead and I thought it was weird. I didn’t know too many Catholic folks so I never had many conversations surrounding that smudgy cross. All I thought we cared about was Easter. Who cares what happens before that, what matters is that when Jesus died, Jesus came back to life. 

But in college it was more, I don’t know, normal? Everyone around me would receive ashes at chapel on Wednesday morning. I did not that first year. Perhaps not even the second year. I avoided chapel because it still felt a bit strange to me. I still was not Catholic so why should I care at all about this? While I don’t recall receiving ashes those first two years, I do remember giving something up. Somewhat arbitrarily. I didn’t put much thought into it. If my memory is correct, I believe I gave up Facebook both years. This fast really worked for me. I was less distracted and my friends just kept me in the loop of what was happening in the Facebook world. But I spent exactly zero minutes considering how Facebook had become a substitute for genuine connection, how it was taking up time I could have spent doing other things, how it almost always led me to comparison, judgment, and gossip. 

My final two years of college I decided I wanted the ashes. I wanted that smudgy cross. Mostly because I thought it was the “right thing to do.” I felt like everyone was doing it and I didn’t want to be the potentially bad Christian who did not show off the forehead cross. I didn’t want people to think I didn’t care about Lent. And when I was off campus in the “secular world” I wanted people to think that I was so holy. The smudgy cross was my witness to the ends of the earth thank you very much. 

And then I went to seminary. I learned more about the beauty of the Church Calendar. About the rhythms of waiting, preparation, and celebration. I began to see value in self-reflection and confession. And so, I put more thought into my fasts. I received the ashes. I tried so hard to not say “Alleluia” for the 40 days of Lent. I fell in love with our quiet and somber chapel services and opened myself to what the Spirit might have to teach me. That first year of really trying to observe Lent was deeply meaningful to me. I gave up swearing and worked hard to pay attention to what I was feeling when those words wanted to come out of my mouth. Did those words represent anger? Were they an attempt to make people laugh and like me? Was I tired when I swore? I worked to add in more words of grace and kindness and intention. 

Since that first year of observing Lent I have often looked forward to it each year. I find that Easter is so much richer and more exciting after spending 40 days fasting and being present to and aware of my mortality, my dustiness, my sin. The grave cannot open up fast enough! 

This year I noticed something new in myself as Lent came closer. I thought of no less than 5 things I wanted to give up. And then there was the list of practices I wanted to add in. Give up: Instagram, sweets, dating apps, Taylor Swift, and excess spending. I would add in: wearing my clerical collar every day, listening to Lectio 365 in the morning, participate in and facilitate Memento Mori a Lent study, and more regular Bible reading. I was flooded with ideas and so many things that needed to change or be fixed in my life. And Lent was the “holy” way to do so. It was the sanctified self-help I was searching for and so damnit (swearing wasn’t on the list this year) I was going to do it all. Give up all the things that seemed wrong or distracting and add in so much Godliness. 

Except this is entirely not the point. 

The point of Lent is not to stew in how bad we are. It is not a sanctified season of self-help. It is not about cutting out every single thing that we think is unacceptable. The point is to notice where I am seeking comfort, what often distracts me from the things in my life I always wish I had more time for. Lent is a time to look inward yes, but so that we can better look out. Where can I work for justice, where can I serve, where I can learn and be more aware of the world around me and God’s presence in it. It is about joining Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and prayer. Being emptied so Christ can fill us.

So, I took a step back. What will help me be more present to the world around me and right in front of me. Where will I notice the absence of something. What could I give up that might make me uncomfortable. What could I add that might shift my mindset to my neighbors and the world around me. What do I want to empty out and make space for Christ to fill.

I made my choices. I won’t get into what I gave up – that still feels a tad personal to share on the internet, but if you want to talk about it, I would love to. I will say this: Taylor Swift stayed. 

But I do want to share about one practice I am picking up for Lent this year. And that is wearing my clerical collar every day. Six months and 1 day ago I was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the RCA. Being ordained has been a bit complex for me. The Church is hard for me right now and often I feel frustrated, disappointed, weary, and lonely when I look around me at the way Christians have spoken, acted, behaved in recent years – myself included. It’s hard to follow Jesus sometimes. 

So I decided to wear my collar every day. When I wake up every morning, instead of spending time thinking about what I will wear or what will look good, I put on the black shirt with (semi-uncomfortable) collar. And my hope for Lent is that each morning as I do this I remember a few things. I am clothing myself with kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and over all of those things, love. I put on Christ and I remember that “I am not my own but belong body and soul in life and in death to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” And I remember that I am an ordained minister and I have made promises to the Church to “care for the oppressed, to lead by example, to feed Christ’s lambs, comfort the afflicted, and preach and teach the good news.” This happens from the pulpit and also when I am in line ordering a chai. It happens when I facilitate a small group and when I am driving. It happens when I am with students playing games and when I am spending time with friends. And so for the next 40 days I will clothe myself with this visible and tangible reminder of who I am and who I belong to. 

I will remember my dustiness. My finitude. My mortality. My humanity.

This morning I had the privilege of imposing ashes on some members of our congregation. As I did I spoke this words to them and now offer them to you: 

In the name of Jesus Christ, I invite you to keep a holy Lent
by self-examination and renewed commitment
by prayer, by reading and meditating on scripture
and to make a new and right beginning in your walk of faith.

You are dust, and to dust you shall return. Amen. 

there is no debate.

When I was growing up I did not see many women in pastoral leadership. I grew up at the US Military Academy and my family attended one of the Protestant chapels. There were female chaplains that preached and led services but their presence caused some of my friends to stop attending because women weren’t meant to preach. I can remember asking about this and hearing that the reason it was okay for these women to preach was because they were chaplains and not pastors – there was a difference. 

After we moved to Michigan we attended a church with no women in leadership. No pastors who were women and no women who served as elders or deacons. Any women that were serving at this church were “directors” of (childrens) programs or served in administrative roles. 

When I was in college our chaplain was a woman. She was an ordained minister but she still fell into that chaplain category and so it didn’t really cause me to confront or think about women in pastoral ministry. 

In my time at YWAM it was made quite clear that while there were *some* things women could do, it was men who were meant to be pastors and lead the church (and the family and basically everything). It was also at YWAM that for the first time, I really felt tension there. I was starting to read spiritual and theological books written by women. And Pastor Mary – my college chaplain – was one of the best preachers I had heard. I thought back to one of the chaplains at West Point who truly saved my life. She had pastored me through one of the hardest times in my life. How could it be that these women were wrong, or disobedient, or “unbiblical”. They were obviously gifted. 

My first year of seminary I went to a monthly forum called “The Pulpit.” The Pulpit was a space designated for women in the seminary to talk about, reflect on, and celebrate being women in ministry. I went because I was trying to sort out my own sense of call. Was I allowed to be getting an MDiv? I was really enjoying my preaching class – was that ok? I was learning from and listening to some incredible women preach and teach and lead and it was beautiful and transformative. It seemed good and right for all of them but I had a hard time owning it for myself. 

Near the end of my first year of seminary there was an “incident” in my New Testament class. We were discussing egalitarianism vs. complementarianism. I had some classmates who were men make comments about women being silent, women needing to do the work of achieving equality in the church, etc. etc. and my professor essentially did nothing but nod along with these men. All the while, the women the room, myself included, became more and more angry. Here we were in a classroom, at an institution that claims to view us as equal participants and leaders of the church, having to somehow defend and fight for our place at the table. Long story short, the class period did not end well. There were raised voices, tears, and women walking out, all while men who claimed to support us sat silently.

Later that day we had a gathering of “The Pulpit” led by the Reverend Lindsay Small. Word had gotten around about what happened in the morning’s NT class and so Lindsay decided it was best to set aside the agenda for that day and check in and see how we women were feeling about the experience. But before we began she stood at the front of the room and said, “Here in this place we do not debate people. We can debate creation vs. evolution. We can debate infant vs. believer’s baptism. But we do not debate people.” Then she looked at us women right in the eyes and said “You are called. There is no debate.” And I began to weep. 

It was the first time someone affirmed my call as a woman. Sure people had said I had a call to ministry but it always felt limited to “woman friendly” roles. Here was a woman – an ordained minister herself – acknowledging my womanhood and silencing the debate. 

Since that day Lindsay has become my friend and a trusted mentor. I have looked to her as a role model for what it means to be a woman who leads well. And since that day I have kept her words close. On note cards in my wallet. On sticky notes on my computer. Hung in my office. Perhaps someday I will write about all the ways scripture affirms my call to preach and lead the church because let me be very clear: Lindsay is not the only one who affirms this calling. Jesus Christ, the one true head of the Church, affirms it as well. God has ordained women to leadership positions from the very start. So we can talk about that truth, but it is not ever to be debated. 

The last year and a half here in Iowa I have wrestled with my calling. What exactly is my work meant to be. It has been hard and I have had days where I have felt uncertain. But I have never once doubted if I was called, only had curiosity about to what I have been called. Because I am called and there is no debate.  

visible sign. invisible grace.

Last week I struggled to take my medicine. I simply did not want to. I wanted to believe I was above it. I didn’t need it anymore. I was strong enough and capable enough to manage without it. So, for a few days I did not take it. It didn’t go well. As I sat in anxiety, much higher than I knew was necessary, and as my body felt weird, I knew it didn’t have to be that way. It brought to mind this piece I wrote for my writing mentorship about my journey with medication. Friends, medicine is a good, good gift. 

[Note, names have been changed.]

—– 

I set the pill bottle on the shelf above my desk. Kelly from across the hall was in my room and said to me, “You know that’s just placebo, right? They just want you to think it’ll help your anxiety or whatever but really it’s all just in your head.” “Ok, thanks,” I responded. 

I was 18 years old, a freshman in college and had just received a diagnosis of Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was prescribed 30mg of Lexapro to take daily. After I picked up the pills from on campus health services, I came back to my room and set them on the shelf and that’s when I first heard the judgment and criticism about taking medicine for mental illness. 

Kelly may have been the first but she certainly was not the last. A couple of years later Susan, a leader of mine at YWAM, shared that not only should Christians not need medicine but they shouldn’t even have anxiety because, “Philippians 4:6 says do not be anxious about anything but pray about everything.” 

When I first moved into my own place a year and a half ago, it was hot. I live in Iowa and I don’t think most people truly know how hot and humid Iowa summers get. The humidity is truly remarkable. This comes from the corn. No really, it’s true. As corn matures it sweats. And when it sweats the moisture moves into the air creating humidity that rivals the deep south. But I digress. The point is, it was hot. And I was experiencing debilitating anxiety about the cost of utilities. So I lived in the dark. I could not turn lights on. I could not run the air conditioning. At one point, my house was 87 degrees. Trust me, if I could have prayed this away, I would have. 

Sprinkled throughout the years are jokes about being “sooo OCD!”  because someone likes a tidy house or carries hand sanitizer in their purse. I can tell you if it were as simple as keeping a tidy house or clean hands, I would welcome OCD with open arms. Let me be clear, I know that for some, their OCD is connected with order, cleanliness, germs etc. This is not to diminish those struggles but instead to highlight the flippancy with which the term “OCD” gets tossed around.

These jokes, stereotypes, and narratives have taken up residence in my mind. For many years, every morning when I took a pill out of the bottle, I heard these words in my head. These voices saying that I should just pray more, that these pills weren’t real and it was all in my head. I heard the voices saying I wasn’t a real Christian because for some reason, no matter how hard I tried, anxiety continued to live in my body. And intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors still showed up in my daily life.  

While I am largely at peace with my diagnosis and have learned many skills and strategies to cope with the impact of anxiety and OCD, taking my medicine is often still a challenge. I came to realize I needed to broaden my imagination for medication. 

I am an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). As part of the ordination process I took 12 classis exams. These are exams administered by a local governing body of the RCA. These exams cover church polity, RCA history, preaching, Bible, languages etc. One of my favorite exams was about the Sacraments – the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. In the RCA, and I’m sure in other denominations as well, we talk about the Sacraments as  “visible signs of an invisible grace.” 

The water is ordinary. It is not magical or mystical. And yet, we believe that something happens when a baby is baptized. We believe that grace is bestowed upon that little one through the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that the presence of Christ is among us, both in Baptism and at Christ’s Table in the ordinary elements of bread and wine. In some way when we gather around the table, Christ is there with us infusing us with life and making all things well. Visible signs. Invisible grace. 

So I wonder, can this be true of my medicine. I am not suggesting that taking medicine is a Sacrament. What I am imagining is that my little white pill might be a visible sign of an invisible grace. What if when my phone reminded me at 7:15am everyday that it was time to take my medicine, I welcomed it as a chance to commune with God. What if as I held the pill between my thumb and first finger I paused to remember the grace that comes along with it. 

When I first began taking medicine I worried that it would make me feel different or that somehow it would keep me from being my truest self. What I came to discover is that taking that little pill each day has actually brought me closer to my truest self. I experience more freedom. I can feel the fullness of life. I am not distracted or overwhelmed by things beyond my reach or control. 

This is grace. Grace is, as singer-songwriter Sara Groves says, an invitation to be beautiful. The grace held in Lexapro is my invitation to be beautiful and to add to the beauty of God’s world. It is the chance to know grace in an intimate way. It is a daily invitation to remember that through the waters of my baptism I belong, body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 

So, if I had the chance to go back and talk to Kelly, I might consider sharing with her that placebo or not, this pill reminds of the daily grace that God greets me with, new every morning. 

To Susan I might share that the practice of taking medicine and being in therapy for my illness has, at times, increased my faith and awareness of who God is. It has bolstered my compassion and curiosity and helped me understand grace in a more tangible way. 

And to myself, 10 years ago I say, take heart. Each time you take your medicine will help you come alive and be your reminder that God is gracious, abounding in steadfast love and kindness, big enough to hold the stars and small enough to meet you in 30mg of Lexapro.

hello there.

It started on a summer afternoon drive when I heard this lyric come through the car speakers, “let’s go find the stars, let’s remember who we are.” 

I began scanning through the Biblical narrative and I started to think of how the stars remind me who I am. The stars are God’s promise that creation will never be without light. I am never fully in darkness. God made a covenant with Abraham in the night and reminded him of the promise by showing him the stars. I am part of the family of God. Isaiah says that God calls out the stars each night and none of them are missing. God knows me and calls me. 

By the time I got where I was going, I had thought of a number of ways the stars remind me who I am. It was a fun little exercise. 

Fast forward a month to the start of my second year of seminary. Day one of Hebrew. Where I went to school, when you take Hebrew, you are given a Hebrew name. We use the term name loosely. It is sometimes a short phrase, or Hebrew word. Not necessarily an actual human name. My class’s names all came from the creation narrative in Genesis 1. It was my turn and I walked to the front of the class and my professor handed me my nametag. The name she gave me was “HaKokhavim.” “It means, the stars,” she said. 

Not to be dramatic, but my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions and think that God could have orchestrated something like this, but looking back I would definitely say God gave me the gift of HaKokhavim. 

My second year of seminary was a year that brought a lot of pain. I finally began to name out loud the pain and hurt and anger and fear I was holding after the abuse I experienced on staff with YWAM and that was no small thing. As I started the process of healing I began to learn so much about myself. And the stars. 

I remembered that even though my time at YWAM was very dark, it was not without small specks of light. I remembered that even when I am unsure of where I belong, my identity as a beloved child of God can never ever be undone or taken away. I remembered that even when I am unsure about God and if God is kind of truly loving, God does remember me, even if I can’t always believe it. 

And I learned that stars are collaborative. In the creation narrative God says the stars are for marking time, the signs and seasons. This is done by the movement of stars. By constellations. By the stars working together to guide and direct and mark time. Each star matters. And this is how human beings work best as well. Each person doing their part. No one person able to do it alone. 

The following summer, after that super hard year of seminary, I found myself at Hebrew Camp – a 10 day Hebrew intensive course. One evening we sat around eating dinner and shared what our Hebrew names meant to us. After we shared I asked my professor why she named me HaKokhavim. She said, “it’s one of my favorite Hebrew words, and I just love you!” 

Another gift of HaKokhavim. It came to me out of love and delight. After a year of some hard healing work and remembering a time in my life where I did not feel loved or cared for, hearing that HaKokhavim was given because someone loved me was huge.  

HaKokhavim anchored me that year and has continued to anchor me since. I have wrestled in the last few years with God’s kindness. Is God kind to me? Does God see me or remember me? As I look back to that summer car ride and think about the stars and then to my Hebrew class when I was given the name HaKokhavim, and when I continue to learn the gifts of darkness and night I see, God is kind. HaKokhavim was given to me not only out of my professor’s love for me, but out of God’s love for me. 

I used to love writing. But when I was on staff at YWAM, I stopped writing. I didn’t know how to articulate the deep pain I was experiencing. I didn’t want to share with others that YWAM was breaking my heart. I could think about the pain, but writing it in words, with ink on paper or put out on the internet made it somehow more real and I could not handle it. So I quit writing. 

One of my goals at the beginning of 2020 was to write more. Even if it was just in my journal. But I was tired of being afraid of writing. Well, I don’t have to tell you that 2020 got really weird really fast and writing just didn’t happen. I didn’t have much brain space for it. But then in the fall I saw an opportunity to do an 8 week writing mentorship program with Taylor Schumann – an author and activist I follow on social media. I figured, I’ve got nothing to lose so I applied. And I did it! 8 weeks of working on various writing assignments, reading helpful articles, listening to podcast episodes, receiving valuable feedback on my work, and really learning to see myself as a writer. 

Part of the mentorship included a 30 minute video chat with Taylor. On that call I shared that I was struggling to know what to do with my writing. I don’t have a desire to publish, I don’t have anything earth shattering to say so what’s the point?  Taylor shared with me that we write to honor the words and the story that God has given us. It is part of being faithful. 

At this point you should not be surprised to hear that I considered her words in light of the stars. My words might just be small in the grand scheme of things, but God has given me, and you, words and stories to tell. And when we all do our part in faithfully bearing witness to love and goodness and kindness of God, it matters. It shows the way for others to find themselves. 

So, it seemed only right to name this little corner of the internet HaKokhavim. Indeed it is the stars that remind me who I am. It is the gift of that name that reminds me I am loved and not forgotten. And I am just one small part of God’s vast, mysterious, and wonderful story.