Mary Prayers: Advent 2014 (And now Advent 2016 because somehow praying them again still feels relevant)

These are the prayers that I wrote and prayed daily during Advent 2014. I was being stretched and molded, or shattered, according to my theology professor. I was emotional and delicate and slowly being pieced back together with a broader understanding of this God that I love so much, as well as the immensity of the love that this God has for this world. The world felt shattered too, in a way that I was uncertain if it was planning on piecing itself back together anytime soon. Two years later and I am still returning to these prayers for Mary, the young woman who carried God, and birthed God into this world, who raised God in her home, knowing that his existence in the world was threatened by powers that sought to subdue him.

This time of prayer taught me in a very tangible way, the power of lament in birthing hope. By Christmas I understood, perhaps for the first time what it means that tears can be healing, or that it is healthy to cry. I understood that the full range of our emotions can be used for good. To be honest about your frustrations, your fear, your sin, is to make room in your life and heart for growth and change; hope in a God made flesh.

I realize that these prayers will not be everyone’s cup of tea (and that is okay), but they might be what someone else needs this season, and so I decided to share them (with someone besides my mom).

Week 1:

Come Lord Jesus come.

Lord today hearts around the nation are heavy. Lord today we pray for Mary. We pray for Mary, who became a fugitive, an illegal immigrant in Egypt, with her newborn son, because a King was actively seeking his death. We pray for Mary, who was just a child herself, when she found herself unwed and pregnant. We pray for Mary who had to watch as the government murdered her little brown baby. We pray for Mary who had to listen as the crowds shouted “his death was justified” “he was a criminal, a thug, who deserved death.” We pray for all of the female bodies that understand the struggle of Mary, pregnant teenager, on the margins, frightened for the safety of her child, mother of God. Lord we pray for the mother of Michael Brown, who upon hearing that her dead son’s trial would never happen, and being told to calm down, screamed out in anguish, “Do you know what those bullets did to my baby’s body?!” She cries out with the mother of God, “Can you imagine those wounds?”

Lord we pray that this advent season will be a time when the grieving community finds hope in the resurrection. The birth of Jesus reminds us of the hope that we will see our loved ones again. It reminds us that death does not have the final word. But Lord we pray that we remember that Jesus was a body and we pray that we will learn to seek Jesus, vulnerable and crying in a dirty smelly stable, and worship at his tiny little feet. We pray that we will see your Kingdom in the most surprising of places and your face in the oppressed, and that we will become a people who stop oppressing. Come Lord Jesus come, Hear our prayers.

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Week 2:

God do you look at our world and see hope? Where is it? Where is hope when black bodies are murdered and we call it justified? Where is hope, when we are half-heartedly apologetic and whole-heartedly invested in the legalities? Where is hope when dismiss the tears? You who took the dirt from the ground and breathed life into it, do you weep when we still treat humanity as dirt? God where are you? We are supposed to be waiting for your incarnation this advent season, waiting in anxious anticipation. Hopeful. But we are waiting in unrest. We are waiting in death. We are waiting in grief. We are more broken than we realized and we don’t know how to be your people. God we know that the plight of Mary, mother of God, is the plight of women of color in this country. To know that her baby is born vulnerable, exposed to political powers that seek to kill him. When Mary fled with her little brown baby to safety, did she know that one day he would be murdered as a criminal? Did she realize she would have to listen as the world shouted “he deserved it!?” God did she know that his bleeding body would become the sight of resurrection, of new life? Did she know that the death of her child would give birth to a church that was passionate about caring for those on the margins and setting the captives free? Did she know that his death would give life to a disruptive people who cry out “his death on the cross is the last on.” There shall be no more death.

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Week 3:

Loving God who became flesh, these days I am at a loss for words. I smile and nod, as people tell me that conversations about social justice don’t belong in the church. I force the appropriate behavior of my youth to the surface as old white men tell me that they have a “knee jerk reaction” to my comparing your birth to any other birth. They tell me you are divine and that to bring you down to humanity, to be so low and comparable to us is tainting the gospel. I ask politely, “I’m sorry? Isn’t the fact that God became human, the entirety of the gospel?” He looks back, stunned that I would counter his clean-cut argument. He stands tall, “I just think you should know that some people are going to react to what you have to say.”

God how did we become this world? How did we become a place where it is okay to see our likeness in the suffering of Christ, in the bearing of the cross, but not in the joyous birth, or the flight from powers that seek to kill? God this advent we seem to be waiting for Jesus to come to earth just so we can remove him from it again. 2000 years later and we still don’t want Jesus to belong here. We still want him to be separate from us, too divine to relate to. God help us. Help us welcome Jesus as advent draws to an end. Help us welcome him with the hope that this time, we might ask him to stay.

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Week 4:

Good and Gracious God, This is the week. This is the week of waiting. We are ready for the savior of the world, and yet we are all closing our doors to the one who bears your word inside of her. We still tell those searching for a place to belong, a place to sleep at night, that there is no room for them here. We tell them to find their own space. We wait anxiously unaware that as the week draws to a close the options are drawing fewer and Mary will end up in the slums, in the cave, thought of as little more than an animal. We send her to the margins. We will wait for a strong and mighty king, having no idea that you are changing the world through ten tiny fingers and toes. God we are still as blind as we were that night. God help us to have new eyes this year. Help us to see Jesus where he is, not where we want him to be. Help us to talk about our brokenness, because we are a broken church. We are a hurting people, and most days we don’t even realize it. We are waiting for the Christ-child, but we seem to always be waiting for something tidy and powerful, instead of bloody and dirty and vulnerable. We seek a silent night, and ignore the screams of a laboring mother. Bringing God into the world surely won’t come through silent piety, but we really want it to. God I ask that you just stop us. Stop us from seeking to make your incarnation something that is isn’t from the very beginning. God don’t let us simply make Jesus into the perfect role model for nice boys and girls, but rather let us really see the rebellious, rule-breaking, vulnerable, yet perfect body that he is. God let this year be different. We are waiting.

Being a Pastor is Changing my Life.

And then I woke up this morning, fixed a cup of coffee, got in my car to drive to my first service at 9:00am. And then for the next three and a half hours I was filled back up. And y’all this is new for me. I accepted my call to ministry because the church has always been where I landed. I have always seen the world through a theological lens, and ministry is the only thing I see myself doing. But I cannot remember a time in my life where going to church was my life-fuel. Continue reading

Being a Ghost

Yesterday this older gentleman that I work with approached me during the day to tell me that he had been trying to figure out a way to tell me something without being strange… so I was immediately anticipating something bizarre to take place. And something bizarre but fairly beautiful sprang forth.

This gentleman launched into a story about a woman that he was in love with in his twenties. As he described this woman there was such warmth in his eyes, and he told me they were engaged and he was so excited to spend the rest of his life with her. He then told me that 35 years ago, before they had the chance to marry, she was in a terrible car accident in New York and died in his arms.

We are sitting in a chapel and this man is sharing this really intimate part of his life with me, and he got kind of quiet, and then said, “The first day that you walked in I had to do a double take and it caught my breath a little. You look so much like her. And then I got to know you, your personality, your voice… you are just so similar. You would have loved her. Everyone did. She was from this big Italian family in New York, and was just a real joy, and I just wanted you to know.”

So I don’t really know why this interaction stuck out to me as important enough to write about but it did. Perhaps it was that no one has ever compared me to someone who is Italian or someone from the north, but I think it was more than that. It just made me feel very present in my own skin but also in my connectedness to others. I felt like I was ghost in someone else’s story of love. Because this man is very happy and he has a beautiful wife and children and a life that he loves, but for this brief point in his life, 35 years later, I was a walking reminder of a love lost. I guess this encounter just got me feeling really sappy. I wonder who my ghosts will be in 35 years? Who from this time in my life will become distant and fond memories? I might feel this way because I am about to close a chapter in my life. I am about to finish my seminary training and pack up all my stuff and move to a new town, where I do not know anyone, but everyone will know me, and it is all a bit overwhelming.

At the same time, it was really lovely to watch someone remember his past life fondly, see that memories keep the past alive, but also in the same day, see him hug his wife, and watch as his daughter video recorded his graduation. It was nice to see that our lives aren’t always linear; our pasts can come back a round for a quick brunch. I hope when I leave this place that I have come to know as home, as I embark on a new adventure, that in the coming years my past doesn’t disappear, but rather stops in occasionally just to say hello and have a nice over-easy egg.

Today has been one of those days…

A letter to those that have been hurt by WASPy Christians and the Church we claim as our own:

I am sorry.

I am sorry that you have been wounded by our pervasive violence to your minds, your bodies, your spirits, and your relationship with God.

I am sorry that we have looked at you and told you that you are not enough, that even though we deem your worth sacred, the time is not right for you to be treated like you are fully and beautifully human.

I am sorry for all the times we talked about your problems in ways that blamed you for them. The bad shit that happens to you is not your fault.

So I am sorry to those who have been told to pray more, to try harder, to do better, to dress more modestly, to keep your legs shut, to spend more time with God.

I am sorry that those of us charged with leading the church sit up in our ivory towers dissecting our sacred texts for ways that can discredit your lived experience.

I am sorry that we have told you to support your abusive partner in his or her time of spiritual struggle while you wear the black and blue bruises of a nightmare come to life.

I am sorry for all the times we chose money and power over justice and peace.

I am sorry that we don’t think that your homelessness is our problem.

I am sorry for each day that we hide in our sanctuaries preaching on metaphorical storms when we are the raging winds in your very present realities.

I am sorry that we haven’t replaced the blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus in all of our icons.

I am sorry that we tell a story about a warrior Jesus fighting, and conquering death and sin, glorifying the very violence that was exposed as evil in his tortured body on a cross.

The torture and violence that you endure is not glorious, nor is it natural to God’s plan for your life. We the church have been so wrong in so many ways for such a long time.

I hope that we are learning and growing. But I am sorry because I know the violence isn’t over, and I don’t know how to stop it and I don’t yet know how to stop participating it in. But I can promise to listen to you, you sweet child of God, that I will listen to you, and value your journey and celebrate the Image of God that is written on your body, and mind, and heart, and spirit, and sexuality, and race.

And hopefully I can do better.

The most important thing I learned this summer

Early on in my summer experience working at a children’s home, I sat in the corner of a room, listening to a woman tell a teenage girl who is struggling with her sexuality that she just needs to read the Bible, because God is clear in the Bible how He feels about homosexuality.

I listened as this girl refused, saying, “But I don’t want to know. What if I read the Bible and I know that I am doing wrong and then I can’t stop?” I could hear the fear in her voice. She was really asking, “Does God love me?”

And she was being told, “no.”

Sure, those weren’t the actual words exchanged, but when you dance around a young person’s deep deep hurt and distress, without ever answering her question directly, that is what she hears. That is what I heard and it wasn’t even my conversation. I heard, being gay is wrong and unnatural and you will see that if you read the Bible and spend time quietly with God. I heard, “Don’t ask so many questions, you are making me uncomfortable.”

And as a guest in this place I was restricted in my role. I wasn’t supposed to speak up. I was worried about keeping my job and I failed this girl in that moment. I did. I failed to be the Church, and I am still pissed at myself about it. It is inexcusable to allow any child, under any circumstance to believe that she might not be loved by God. Because we as the Church have a lot of unanswered questions, particularly surrounding human sexuality of all kinds, but one thing that I think we can all agree on (at least I would hope), is that we believe all the way into our deepest crevices that God is loving.

I am still deeply disturbed by this interaction, and my response to it, because I have a feeling this happens way too often. We don’t want to step on someone else’s toes, a volunteer, another pastor, someone with more authority than us, and hurting kids (or hurting people in general) are not advocated for, or they are told that they are broken. Because really I sat there fuming, wanting to shout, “You are asking beautiful questions, all the right ones, and you should keep asking. But you should also know that God loves you deeply, and you are not ‘doing wrong’ by being gay. You have desires and you have to learn to act responsibly on those desires, but we all know heterosexual people don’t always act responsibly on their desires, so forcing you to work out all of your issues surrounding your sexuality right now is just blatantly unfair.”

But I didn’t. I did not use my perfectly privileged and unobstructed voice to speak up. I failed that day.

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By the time I had reached the end of the summer though, I was leading my own Bible studies. Talking about creation, and what it means to be created in the Image of a good and loving God. I was meeting with the 9th and 10th grade girls, and doing this lesson that I was nervous they might hate, but told them they had to do anyway. I started by asking them what they knew about the very beginning of the Bible. We went through the creation story, determining that the very first thing we know about God is that God is creative, and the very first thing we know about ourselves as human beings is that God calls us good.

I then laid before them a collection of play dough colors and said, “I want you to make a person.” Take your time, be as detailed as possible, do your best work. They worked for a long time, really enjoying acting like little girls again. Once everyone was done I asked, “How is this play dough person different from you?” To which the girls replied, “We are made of different stuff, play dough verses blood and skin.” Next I asked “How is it like you?” We talked about the play dough people bearing some resemblance to us, in form. Then I asked, “If you could breath life into this person, what kind of person would you want them do be?”

A hero. A good and kind person. A musician. Happy.

We eventually ended up in a conversation about how we would give our best qualities to the play dough people that we made… And that maybe being made in the image of God is like that too. Image doesn’t have to be just our outward appearance.

Here is where the day got really good though. I next asked, “How would you feel if I tore the arm off of your person?” One of the girls immediately jumped in to defense, scooping her person up in her arms, and moving the body out of my reach. At the same time the head fell off of another girl’s and she panicked, but quickly picked it up and put it back on. I smiled at the moment and said, “See your reactions? That is how God reacts when we are being put down, torn down, hurt. God made you and called you good, and God is never the one to tear you apart. God is always the one that puts you back together. It may take some time and you may not look exactly the same, but God is working on restoring the parts of you that you think are broken.”

One of the girls, stops me here and says, “So Ms. Katherine, I am going to ask a question and I am serious, so don’t think I am joking, but I want to follow your logic here. You just told us that God makes us with intention and calls us good… So do you think that God made me gay?” This time, I didn’t shy away from the conversation. I had gotten to know these children, I had had the opportunity to put personalities, stories, lives, to these girl’s faces. I looked her dead in the eye, and much to her surprise replied, “Yes, and I believe that God called you good that day too.” All six of the girls jumped back squealing in delight. They had really never heard someone say that before.

I realized in that moment, this young girl thought she was going to trap me. She thought she was out smarting me. She was waiting on my theology to be inconsistent. She expected me to give her the same lines she has always heard. The last thing that she expected me to say was that, “yes, I think that God made you just the way you are and called you good, and wants to scoop you in Her arms any time someone reaches out to tear off bits of that created goodness. And if you do get torn down, God is in all of those agents in the world trying to build you back. God is in the song that makes your hurting heart dance, and the friend that gets every part of you. God is consistently good, and so are you.”

So yeah, I failed drastically, in my first pressing conversation about sexuality, but the look on these girls’ faces, it was everything.

Here is the most important thing I learned:

When a child is struggling deeply to understand God and herself, to figure out if she is loveable, the only right and responsible option is to let her know she is a beautiful and perfectly formed person who God loves more than anything else. That is all we get to say to children when it comes to God’s affection for them. Period.

Talking about Pornography in the Church

So I went to a talk today, the title on the flyer was Pornography in the Church. I was a little skeptical, because I knew the speakers were to be two white males, and the student initiating the conversation was a white male, and lack of diversity on a panel about a subject saturated in gender issues is always suspicious to me. But I went anyways, because I was curious. But as much as I wanted it to be a productive conversation a more apt title to the conversation would have been Males Addicted to Porn and How to Council Them. Here are the things that I heard:

-We all agree that porn is bad.

-Women’s growing interest in porn with the sexual revolution is destructive.

-As pastors we must sit with people in their pain and shame and help them to stop feeling shameful, while also helping them quit pornography.

Before I start I want to say that the professor that spoke, spoke graciously about the dangers of throwing sexuality out the window entirely when talking about pornography, but I just wanted him to go further. I wanted him to push into the Church’s problems with women more, but the time was limited and I can’t really fault him for that. I also appreciated that he recognized the need for a female voice on the panel. I am also grateful that the student who was bold enough to navigate this space did.

But here is the thing. I am, overall, underwhelmed by the conversation that was just had. There was talk about reconciliation and overcoming shame, but no talk of why that shame is there, and I wasn’t sure what we were reconciling to or for. There was a hint at the patriarchal institutions at play here, but only after a female asked how she as a female, could preach about porn from the pulpit, considering that the female body is the source of shame in porn. I was underwhelmed with the fact that we didn’t actually talk about pornography in the church, why it is prevalent in culture, and why it is we think this is an issue that belongs to the church.

So I want to start here: Today the assumption made before the discussion began was that porn is bad. We started the conversation with the toxicity of porn as are foundation. And I have a problem with this. I have a problem because we didn’t dig. We didn’t get to where we needed to be to make that statement. Because here, as a woman, is what I hear. It is bad to watch porn. Porn is bad. Porn is wrapped up in seduction. The seducers are female. You should be ashamed to be seduced by these female bodies. The overtly sexual female body is bad. Your body as a female is bad. Be ashamed of your body… The shame of pornography is wrapped up in the female body. And honestly, men don’t actually get that bad of a rap for watching porn in today’s society, but females, they take a hit. Females cannot and should not watch porn because an overtly sexual female is a bad thing. This is the shame of the patriarchal church.

The church, if we want to talk about pornography, needs a new narrative. We cannot start with the assumption that porn is bad. We need to work our way there by declaring a healthy vision of sexuality, one that is not wrapped up in Madonna/whore dichotomy. Someone mentioned today that women watching porn is a distortion of female sexuality, because women are different than men, and there is no empowerment in women watching porn because porn is overwhelmingly violent against women. And I am just not sure I can follow him here, because while I do agree that porn that romanticizes violence against women is unhealthy, the small portion of women that I know who are bold enough to actually talk about their experience or habits of watching porn, and these are heterosexual women, admit that they only watch girl on girl pornography. And they do so because in lesbian pornography the focus is always on the woman, the pleasure of a woman. There becomes an ability in this space to identify your female body with one that is sexual and beautiful and should be appreciated sexually.

So the problem is that both the church and the majority of the porn industry perpetuate narratives that tell the female body she is worthless, that she should be ashamed of her body, and men should be ashamed to look at her body. So if we want to talk about porn in church in a way that is productive we need to start valuing women within our walls. We need to offer a vision of humanity that was created by a God who intends wholeness and goodness for that humanity. We need to tell our parishioners that submission in the bible can be translated as a reciprocal act and that the word helpmate is attributed to God more than any other being in the Bible. Woman was not created to be only part human, “less man,” but to make life in relationship full. Woman is the completion of the narrative creation, not simply an addition because God messed up the first time. We need to tell the church that it is okay to desire one another. Desire is good and sexual desire is part of creative design. Sex drive is not something to be mastered, but ordered with respect and a desire to meet someone fully and intimately. We need to tell a narrative in which men are taught that vulnerability and intimacy are healthy traits, that these traits are not, as often perpetuated, simply female traits of weakness, but a part of the Imago Dei. We need to teach our congregations that sex is part of the fullness of humanity, not something to be ashamed of.

Only then can we talk about the destructive nature of porn. We cannot tell people to quit participating in this institution that degrades the bodies of women and destroys marriages, when our own institution does the same thing with purity idolization and slut shaming. We cannot tell people they are wrong to search for images of the erotic on the Internet when we don’t offer room for erotic desire and sexual appetite in our own tradition.

This, I believe, is the start of the conversation.

Prayer is a beautiful thing

Yesterday there were a lot of voices talking about Duke. There was a lot of hate, there was a lot of disappointment, there was hope and solidarity, and there was pain. And I am so grateful to be in the community that I am, where we as students who actually go to school here, in no way felt threatened by another faith community sharing their prayers with the campus. The strangest thing about yesterday was that it was actual news. I feel like in 2015 this shouldn’t even be a conversation.

But I guess it is…

Yesterday I had a voice express surprise that I would choose to stand by the Adhan being recited from Duke Chapel Tower. A voice expressed surprise that I would support Muslims calling us to prayer from the heart of campus.

Today, I wonder if that voice would also be surprised to learn that I cried as I watched the live feed scroll hateful and violent words against my Muslim brothers and sisters. I cried as I realized the depth of our brokenness, and ignorance of the damages of intolerance. I cried because I realized that I am called to this place we call the church, where people are quick to pray for freedom and our own broken brothers and sisters. We are quick to decide who is in and who is out of the ‘kingdom,’ and what it looks like to better that ‘kingdom,’ whatever that means, because if it looks like religious tyranny and oppression of college kids who are excited about their faith, I want no part of it. The prayers that are often absent from our collective voice are prayers for the ones we offend, prayers for our own mistakes that cause harm, prayers pleading for the courage to release some of our power so that we might better the lives of the one’s whose voices have been silenced. I cried because as beautiful as Jesus is, yesterday the church was so damn ugly.

I wonder if that voice would be surprised to know that I have a hand painted statue of a Muslim couple that lives on my dresser, right next to a porcelain Buddha, and a rosary. Written on the back of that statue, are the words, “We wish success for you always.” Would that voice be surprised to learn that the painted statue was a gift from a host family in Indonesia, people that I called mother, father, sister, and brother for two weeks while attending classes and listening to the call to prayer five times a day. This family welcomed me into their lives without condition. My little brother even offered me the chicken foot from his soup the first night I stayed with them (an offer I politely declined). This community allowed me to be a part of their prayer and worship; they also tried to make me catch my own fish to eat at a community dinner, and laughed at my squeamishness when I couldn’t catch a fish with my bare hands. I still remember my mother’s laugh and the way that she had to bribe my little sister with activities and stories in order to get her to eat anything that was not candy. I remember the day when all the children in the community came out just to meet the visitors in their midst. I remember feeling safe to pray my own prayers.

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So when I see hate spewed all over media and social media, there is a face to the persons that the hate is directed at. I don’t have the privilege of thinking abstractly about “all Muslims,” because I have the joy of calling these particular people family. When I see Christians, or maybe better put, Americans who also claim Christianity as part of their identity, generalizing about terrorists and violent people, I see them talking bad about my mother and my father and my sweet little brother and sister, and that is just not acceptable.

But to come back and talk about Duke, I feel like the bottom line is that these are kids that want to pray, and our fear as Christians, or again, Americans who also claim Christianity as only part of our identity, has reduced us to the violence that we, apparently shallowly, abhor when we sit in our pews on Sunday. When we bully with not only actual threats of violence, but with our money and power I can only image that we should expect to find Jesus turning tables and shouting “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”

My name is Nabayunga

I am the one who collects things, creating order out of chaos, organizing, healing. This is the name I was given now that I am part of the family at Kasana Cathedral Parish.

Father Cosomos, or DJ Lox as his high school peers used to affectionately refer to him as, gave me my name. Father is 29 years old, and one of my favorite people on earth I think. He named me after himself, because we are pretty much twins in every way, seeing as both of us like time management and puzzles and Jesus and stuff… That is really all it takes. So now i am a Muganda basically. I have mastered the language, as long as all you need to survive is 1 to 10 and parts of the face, and I learned to slash, or cut grass using a machete type tool… Pretty much all you need to thrive is a good golf swing, which luckily I have, due to a childhood of father daughter bonding time at the driving range.

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My classes are increasing in levels of fun as the days go on, and I have finally decided that it is okay to expose my shoulders to the sunshine, so my vitamin D intake it up. The level of friends I have is steady growing and the number of books I have read from start to finish is 12.

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I have been given mats, art, mangos, and even a live chicken.

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I have handwritten notes telling me that I am beautiful and thanking me for being a teacher and asking me if I am married and have a baby. I have sweet drawings of flowers and hearts, and I have planted trees in friend’s gardens, and every day I realized that is is really something to just let yourself be.

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Because, Pretty much, this experience is about learning how to just be. There is not a ton of planning, it is instead about being present and available and giving yourself to a new people and to a new family and really nothing more than that. I fully realized that just last week when a few of my students stopped me after class and the conversation went something like this…

student: “thank you for loving us.” Me: “thank you for loving me.” Student: “no really, you love us the most. We can tell.” — and that was from the middle school aged children who are supposed to be like the spawn of satan according to every culture pretty much everywhere. — and in one short interchange this girl managed to affirm that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, even when I feel like I have lost control or want to understand and articulate the ways in which I am an affective human being. What I heard, and what I needed to hear is that my one job, the most important thing I can to is make people understand that they are loved.

So my life is a series of knocks at the door and little hands grabbing mine. I think I am heading to breakfast and the next thing you know I am playing double dutch in the children’s garden. I plan on reading a book in front of the church and end up coloring outside of a classroom. I thinking I am going to teach Religious Education and end up being taught Luganda. I think I am going to take a nap and end up playing cards and talking about theology with a Catholic seminarian… Before I left for my field education placement last summer one of the graduating Duke Divinity students told a room full of first-years and to always say yes… His one piece of advice for having a good experience was to get in a habit of saying yes to invitations, even when you were tired, because that is when life happens… I took that advice and have been running with it for over a year now and it is really a precious gem of wisdom and I do wish I could thank him (and now you can thank me because I just gave you my life-gold for free).

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243.9 Kilometers

243.9 kilometers west of Luweero, in a small Ugandan town, I had the best Fourth of July of my life. Because you see, I met my “daughter” for the first time.

Five years ago, a eager pair of teenagers decided that it would be a good idea to adopt a child through Compassion International before they moved to college, where they would inevitable blow all of their money on Target trips and Blue Icee’s and tacos.

My roommate and I were excited to have something meaningful to put a little bit of money towards each month and we wanted to make a difference in the world and this was a way to give money to the Church universal, as we were both fervently in love with Jesus, but skeptical of Church. So we got on the computer and scrolled through children until we arrived at Vivian… And that was that… And every month for the past five years, we send the money and then move on with our lives. Vivian writes a few times a year to give updates on her life and school and I respond… well, to be honest, I have responded about four times… I keep the letters and I love reading them, and always have the best intention to sit down and write a nice note and draw beautiful pictures to send, and then I have homework, or commitments, or netflix, or a hangnail… You get where I am going with this. I have been a pretty shitty sponsor.

But I learned something this weekend, that I have learned a thousand times, and I will learn a million more. God is good, even when I am not. I have grown so much in the past five years. That good Christian girl who adopted a five year old in Uganda has hit a bunch of bumps on the way down from her high horse and somehow landed in seminary. But through all of my missteps and adventures and all of the Sundays spent doing something other than worship, the bill comes and the bill is paid and Vivian is provided with the care she needs. And somehow, even as a shitty sponsor, over the past five years I have become aware of my own actions. Sometimes I want a gyro three times in a week, and I catch myself saying, “no… Vivian.” This giving is the closet thing to a tithe that I have in my life, and I better understand after God opened a door for me to meet this little girl, that tithing is a way for God to work through God’s people to care for God’s people. Tithing is an outward recognition that God’s economy is one of abundance. Giving money to God is another way of saying that what I have was never mine to begin with, and that I am grateful for the gifts that I have received and that I trust in a God who loves.

And now I have seen with my own eyes, and hugged with my own arms, a child whom I have loved with my own heart for five years (regardless of my actions, which speak otherwise) and I am reminded of how little I have to do for God to move. I am reminded that I am not some big force in the world to be reckoned with, but instead a pretty zany and ungraceful girl who isn’t actually doing much and things are still getting done. And that is the way that God works. We give of our gifts and God uses them even when we don’t recognize the work being done.

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I know this seems mushy, but it was a really wonderful day. And when I went to sleep that night at an orphanage in a village in the bush I was overwhelmed. That is the only word for it. I was surrounded by snot nosed children (and not snot-nosed in a bad way, but babies with snot literally caked to their upper lip) caring for one another and singing What a Friend We Have in Jesus at the top of their lungs in a dimly lit dining hall, and I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of suffering in the world and my inability to do anything. And then, almost immediately, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I could love, and that I was never going to be God, but I could love, and keep loving, and trust that God is working despite my iniquity.

Twenty-Two Days

In case anyone was wondering, or in case you ever thought you found me mildly attractive, I haven’t used shampoo for three weeks and one day… Before you think, “gross, Katherine!” give me a chance to explain… Yes, I have still been showering, and yes I do have access to shampoo… Still though, hold the judgement for a moment please. It is really important to me that you understand that I do strange competitions with myself and my willpower often, it is part of my personality. Like every girl ever (that I can relate to) I see how long every winter I can go without shaving. Or I pride myself in how infrequently I wash my denim… Or on a note that make me seem less repulsive, planning my grocery list to be as cheap and far extending as possible is a point of pride for me. When you see me in the student lounge making instant grits with a slice of America cheese for five days in a row, you know that I am in a race with myself and I am probably skipping meals, not because I have an unhealthy view of my body, but because I want to see if I can get to Saturday without buying groceries. It is probably the same part of my brain that requires that I only use a basket in the grocery store, and that I must carry all the bags in one trip… So let us get back to my hair. I am in a country where I am one of two Caucasian people that I see on a daily basis, and everyone else thinks that my hair is a space alien anyway. Seriously though, children touch my arms and then my head and then look questioningly at me like, “what is all of this hair on your body Katherine? You are so strange looking Katherine.” They don’t say these things with their mouths, only their eyes. So the point is, that NOBODY CARES HOW MY HAIR LOOKS, BECAUSE IT IS FREAKING WEIRD TO THEM ANYWAY YOU LOOK AT IT. So obviously I have taken this opportunity to let the inner twelve year old in me run rampant in the sun and let her dirty hair run free. Twelve year old Katherine, hated washing her hair (and my family will claim she hated showers, but that is nonsense). She hated the sticky feeling after you get out of the shower and can’t get dry because of the humidity… Just to be clear, twenty-three year old Katherine does shower daily (mainly) and washes her hair. I LOVE clean hair. But I also love healthy hair, and I have read about these women who stop using shampoo, and their hair stops over producing oils and they have this newfound romantic relationship with their locks that are suddenly entirely different and awesome. So I decided to take advantage of the fact that no one would notice if I stopped shampooing, and bought some vinegar to do vinegar rinses every few days, because the internet told me to.

My experience is this…

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-Flies like vinegar hair.
-Days four five and all of Week two are the worst.
-My hair is pretty absent of frizz and I do seem to have Bouncier curls.
-I wear my hair up every single day, so it really doesn’t make a difference to my life if it is clean or dirty.
-I really miss conditioner.
-I do think my hair might be a bit stronger.
-I understand the hype. My hair does seem to be adjusting, like producing the right amount of oils of whatever… So women who actually have a reason to stop using shampoo besides, “this sounds like a fun activity” (which, truthfully, is 85% my reasoning), I salute you.

-Mainly though, I am completely over this experiment. Like when you look down in December and realize that there is no better feeling than new bed sheets and cleanly shaved legs and you break your streak of 45 days or whatever. Or when you start to feel weak and tired because grits have pretty much no nutritional value and you just want a vegetable. Today I woke up and remembered that I REALLY LOVE TO WASH ME HAIR. I love it so much that every single time I wash it, I don’t just lather, rinse, repeat… But rather, I lather, rinse, repeat, repeat… That’s right, two repeats. I love the lather part, it makes it feel like it is working and that I am washing the day away. When you rinse with vinegar, you just feel like you are dumping salad dressing to your head on top of the day, and then it just kind of stays with you, and then the bugs come to sit down and enjoy some leafy greens, because that is where vinegar belongs, and are shocked to only find my hair, which is in the shape of a birds nest on top of my head…

Remember when I told you not to judge me yet… You can judge me now.

I do apologize to any potential suitors who I have managed to chase away with this post… But let’s just be real for a minute. This is who I am am going to be for the rest of my life, so if you are uncomfortable with my can-do attitude towards completely pointless competitions with my own willpower, it is probably best that you move along now to someone much less awesome more well-rounded than me…

I regret nothing. Now I have this nice story about that one time that I didn’t wash my hair for twenty-two days in Africa, because trust me, I will find a way to insert it in to any conversation. “Oh you love the way these flowers smell? You know what didn’t smell like flowers? My vinegar head for twenty-two days in Uganda.” “You know what these fried pickles remind me of? The twenty-two days in Africa that I didn’t wash my hair.” “It’s your birthday you say? One time I didn’t wash my hair for twenty-two days.” –> any conversation y’all…

Also I am grateful for my family who will read this and still acknowledge relation to me, even though I know that my sister-in-law is shrinking inside at how entirely unsurprising and “me” this is, and yet it still manages to be appalling. And I want to give a big thank you to my best friends who told me they were sending a care package full of chocolate and shampoo and everything wonderful in the world when I told them that I hadn’t washed my hair in 9 days… I am sure that care package is somewhere on its way right now, and yes I did add the part about the chocolate and the everything wonderful… And yes I do know that care package has not even been assembled, but a girl can dream.

To everyone who loves me inspire of and maybe because of my quirks, I sincerely thank you… You are my favorite part of me, and if you take anything away from this post I hope that it is just that, and not that you need to re-evaluate how you chose your friends, or little sisters.