Worked Up

I love reading letters to younger selves. If I were to write a letter to my younger self I would choose this month to do it. It would short and to the point:

Dear Kara,

Don’t get so worked up. You are loved by the Creator of the universe.

Let that be enough.


Your 44 year old self



Back in my twenties, before we had children, my main goal was to make sure people liked me. I didn’t know that back then so it wasn’t like I woke up in the morning saying, “How can I make sure everyone I encounter likes me?”

But it was it pretty close to that.


My in laws were… demanding. They had a lot of traditions already in place. The expectation that we would participate in every. single. event. was something Lee and I never discussed before we were married. I think because of my people pleasing ways and Lee’s bend in the same direction we just assumed we could make it work.

We never asked each other what we thought was important about the holidays.

Even when we added children the assumption that we would be at every gathering, on time no less, didn’t change. There were gifts to be bought and food to be made. Meanwhile we were struggling to make ends meet in just our ordinary lives. The added stress to our minimal extra cash was a lot. Nobody forced us to participate. We were invited, not threatened. Still, the unspoken, yet obvious, theme of ‘If you come you are part of the family. If you do not…”

Inevitably, what ended up happening was this: I got very worked up.


I didn’t share with Lee, except through explosive and tearful outbursts, that the lead-up to the holidays weren’t fun. The time we spent with family was fine, minus the fact that I was exhausted from stress and too much preparation. 

One year something terrible/wonderful happened. Our oldest girls were around 8 and 6 and they got strep throat the day before Thanksgiving. When the nurse came back in with the positive test results the relief that flooded my heart was extremely telling.

The kids were bitterly disappointed but Lee and I were thrilled.

For years we’d been cramming three Thanksgiving meals in. We’d never had the big meal in our own home.

We called Cracker Barrell and ordered four meals. I made pumpkin pies. We lit candles at our own table. We sat around and watched movies. The antibiotics kicked in by Thanksgiving evening and the kids started to feel better.

It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories, because it finally felt like ours and not theirs.


I want to be careful to say that I do not blame anyone but Lee and I for our feelings. Again, no one was forcing us. The issue was that both of us were first-born hard-core people pleasers, plain and simple. We could have talked this through before we were married, or at least before we had kids. We were not the victims of family functions.

There’s just so much you don’t know at the beginning of a new thing.

We don’t regret any of those years that we ran around like mad trying to get everywhere on time. I don’t regret our kids being overly tired at the end of all. I don’t even regret the money we spent. I do regret the zen desk garden we purchased for Lee’s dad.

The thing is this: Lee’s dad was killed in a car wreck almost ten years ago and he is estranged family is estranged now. We haven’t seen any of them in years.

We didn’t see any of that coming. Those years that I was crying and sick to my stomach because of all my uncomfortable feelings were the only ones our family would have with Lee’s family.

That definitely gives me perspective.

Now, I’m not saying that you should run yourself into the ground during the holidays because someone could die. Death is a reality in this world for all of us. I think it’s silly to let that truth guide decisions that we make.

I am saying that boundaries are essential and healthy. We had choices that we didn’t know about.

We could have:

  • participated but come at a time that was convenient for us
  • participated but not in the gift exchange
  • shown up after a meal
  • skipped some gatherings
  • said, ‘We’ll let you know what our plans are.”
  • Invited them to ours house, even though it was small
  • divided up the gift buying/wrapping/baking between the two of us


We didn’t have the tools to do that at the time, though. I don’t hold that against our younger selves. However, we have learned from our mistakes and simply refuse to get worked up over the holidays.  Because when you’re worked up and upset you miss the gift that is Advent.

You miss the chance to do things slowly.

You miss the message that Christ came to bring us home.

Frantic is not part of the nativity story. Feeling like a failure is not in the Great Rescue Plan. Silent night, holy night doesn’t have the same ring when you’ve ground your teeth every night for a month.

Worked up is more like the work of the enemy. 

I believe that’s what that nasty devil loves: strife at the holidays. People worked up and arguing does not leave much room for thinking on the beauty of Christ coming into the darkness to bring us light. 

So, brave ones, let’s not get worked up. Let’s not get churned up. Let’s not Pinterest ourselves into forgetting about the gift of these holy days.

Let’s not give gatherings and events more power than Jesus has in our lives.

Instead let’s do simple and slow. Let’s look at the calendar and choose what we love, what we need. Leave the shoulds and the have-to’s off.


Be brave, misfits, and set up some picket fences on your calendars.



As always, please  share if you liked what you read here.


A Crown of Wisdom

I’ve been 44 for a month exactly. Even numbers make me happy and 44 feels just right. Strangely I feel younger at 44 than I did the year I turned 40. That year, year 40, was kind of a doozy. That was the year I decided to quit coloring my hair.

My reasons for not dying anymore were not noble. I have been going gray since I was 30 and my silver strands had gotten particularly stubborn. The color wasn’t really holding anymore, and I had to leave it sitting for a long time. I think the dye had started to irritate my scalp because psoriasis became a problem for me. After adding up how much I spent each year on hair dye alone, examining the raw patches on my scalp, and scouring the web for women who went gray early I decided to let my locks go.

At first it was exciting. I felt like I was stepping away from a standard the world had set for women. I let it grow out until there were a few inches of gray hair showing and then cut it in a pixie cut.

Most people were kind and said nothing, but a few very young or very rude people said things that momentarily hurt my feelings or made me question whether or not I should stop coloring it.

Overall, though, people were neutral. A lot of my women friends said that they were inspired to do the same. A couple of people told me that while they admired me they weren’t ready. I totally get that. It took a lot of thinking and wondering before I decided to go for it. I don’t consider myself a particularly vain person but it was a big change for me.

When I stopped coloring my hair I realized that I was tied to the notion that youth is more attractive.

I didn’t get terribly existential over it all. I would be lying, though, if I said it didn’t force me to think about the aging process.

It didn’t help me that my husband had lost an extreme amount of weight just before I jumped off the color train. I felt like a chubby gray-haired lady, for sure. One thing I noticed was that when we went out to eat servers began asking if we wanted separate checks. That seriously pissed me off. Lee is three and half years older than me (and that half is important!). I think that we both look young for our age but when my hair was gray I felt like people’s assumptions changed.

That got me thinking about what I, and our culture, assume about people with gray hair – or no hair, or wrinkles, or walkers for that matter. There is no denying that Hollywood doesn’t have much of a place for women with gray hair. We often talk about who ‘ages well’. It seems to me that men are deemed attractive as they get older while their female counterparts become irrelevant.

I guess that’s what I worried about; becoming irrelevant or invisible. I wondered what assumptions people would make about me, about my age because of my hair color. I definitely didn’t want anyone thinking I was older than I was.

I took about a million selfies over the years took to grow out my gray.


The day I cut out the remaining color was exciting and disappointing. I’m not great at commitments so I was proud of myself for sticking with the grow out process. I was excited to see what I looked like with my silver no longer hidden. I will admit that I was also a little overwhelmed because to me I did look older.

We took a family trip to the beach not long after the cut, something I highly recommend. The ocean always makes me feel younger. For the last three years I’ve been growing it out long. I decided if my hair was going to be silver then I wanted to look like a mermaid.

These days I don’t think much about my hair color.

I find this to be a relief. I don’t worry that I need to color it soon, or that people will see my gray strip.

Still, sometimes when I see a picture of myself I’m a little shocked.

I’m thinking that happens to all of us, regardless of hair color. I cannot be the only person who feels the same as I did when I was 25. It still feels like a joke to tell people that I’m 44.

Overall, though, I’m happy I’m not coloring my hair anymore. I know my scalp is healthier and my bank account is fuller.


I enjoy hearing women tell me that they love my hair, or that they’re inspired to quit dyeing their own. I also love spotting a fellow silver sister (or brother) out and about. It’s definitely been a journey.

I’ve also definitely gotten better at selfies.

Kind of.


If you’re contemplating walking away from color know that you can! If you’re still coloring your mop then enjoy it! Go for bold colors or highlights or whatever you want. Just be you.

Be brave, misfits, and be you, whatever color your hair is.






Books that Changed My View of Education



Books have always been a huge part of my life. Not too long ago I wrote post about books that had a lasting impact on my life, which got me thinking about books that have affected change on the way I homeschool. Sometimes I read a book and immediately know that its story has impacted my core values. Other times it takes a while for the value of the narrative to sink in.

I’ve shared a lot about how my educational philosophy has changed over the last 15 years. Looking back, I can see some books that convinced me that a lot of what I learned in college was wrong.


The Trumpet of the Swan

by E.B. White

When my two oldest were little we read a lot. I think we were doing a unit study and discovered this darling book by E.B. White. I had somehow escaped childhood without reading it, so it was new to me as well. When you’re discovering new things right along with you children, learning is always a little more fun.

Louis is a trumpeter swan who cannot trumpet, and has no way of telling the swan he loves of his feelings. This story is a journey through Louis’s self-discovery. It’s a book about finding your way and about belonging.

Here’s what I loved: the story is great, but the discussions that my kids and had while reading it showed me what deep thinkers they were. Louis became like a friend that we discussed even when we weren’t reading. We started to make up stories of our own. We researched trumpeter swans, their habitat, and dreamed of seeing some in real life. The Trumpet of the Swan taught me how a book can spark an interest and open the door to  history, science, geography, math, art, and much more.


The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson Burnett


There were quite a few books between The Trumpet of the Swan and The Secret Garden – too many to name here. Around that time I had fallen into the trap of trying to replicate school at home. I had three children who were miserable doing worksheets and timed quizzes but I didn’t know any other way.  I thought crying meant that things were going the way they should. Again, I can’t remember why we started reading it, but we became entranced in the world that Frances Hodgson Burnett created.

Mary Lennox is an orphan sent to live with a mysterious uncle in a mansion in Yorkshire. The story revolves around Mary’s discovery of a secret garden, and eventually two friends, Colin and Dickon. We delved into each of the characters, and even though Spencer was only around 4, we knew he would be just like Dickon -and he is. We talked at length about why Mary was the way that she was, and reveled in her journey. The adults in the story confounded us and I vowed to never be like them.

The book unleashed the idea that had been prowling in my head, the idea that children needed to be outside as much as possible in order to learn. The idea that children are natural learners who, when given the space and time, will learn more than I could ever teach them. This is the book I credit with helping me to stop fighting with my kids about worksheets and allowing them to explore their interests. The children in this story were each different, had their own life experiences, but each benefited from the same thing: being on their own in the garden.

I actually think I loved this book more than my children did.


The Sign of the Beaver

by Elizabeth George Spears

We re-visit this one every few years. In fact we’ll be reading it this winter. This book, by Elizabeth George Spears, is about a 13 year old boy, Matt, who’s father leaves him to guard their cabin while he brings his mother and siblings. So, it’s a survival story – and a story of self-discovery.

See the theme yet?

Matt quickly learns that he is out of his element and is befriended by a Native American. Now, I’m going to tell you there are some issues with this book. It’s not perfect. I’m not sure how accurately the Native Americans are portrayed, and some of the dialogue is not as smooth as it could be. What I latched onto was how capable the children in this book were. I know that it’s a work of fiction but it got me thinking about all the things kids are capable of. We keep them from doing anything not deemed ‘safe’, and I’m not sure that’s doing them any good.

After we read this book I made the conscious decision to let them do things that scared me. I did not want to force them to live under a roof my fears, so if they were game so was I. The girls climbed trees higher than I was comfortable with, and one of them was badly hurt. Spencer was ten when we let him buy his first knife. He cut himself right away. I found him bleeding in the laundry room. He was ashamed of his mistake and sure that I would take away his new tool. I laughed and told him no one would ever eat if we took knives away from people who cut themselves. Everything has a risk. We learn from our mistakes. We keep moving forward.

This book also encouraged the kids and I to delve into true Native American history, something we really enjoy learning about. We asked questions about how realistic this story is. It sparked some great discussions and again let us down the road happy road of unschooling.


Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series

by Charlotte Mason

My husband’s family was fairly anti-homescooling. A few would corner the children to quiz them, while one or two were bold enough to actually give me literature on why homeschooling was wrong for the world. That’s how a pamphlet called The Homeschool Conspiracy fell into my hands. This in-law didn’t read the book, though, so they didn’t know that it written to encourage people to homeschool. Hehe.

Anyway, a more benign in-law was cleaning out the church library when she came across these Charlotte Mason books. The series was complete minus one volume and she gave the set to me. I started reading and found myself thinking, “This is me! This is my homeschool philosophy!”

I felt myself relaxing as I read Charlotte Mason’s encouraging words.

Mason encourages gentle rhythms, lots of time in nature, short lessons, and lots of time discussing. Jamie Martin at Simple Homeschool wrote a great post on the characteristics of a CM education here. Find Charlotte Mason help here, and Ambleside’s free CM curriculum here.

Here at the Shepherd Abode we are not always Charlotte Mason. However, whenever I read her books or philosophy I always find myself going back.  The CM philosophy helps me to relax and enjoy education – and my children.

How Children Learn

by John Holt

So, to be truthful, until recently I had only read John Holt quotes. Last year I picked up a copy of How Children Learn. I didn’t read it cover to cover. I picked through different sections and found myself intrigued. The John Holt GWS website has some great information. The short of it is this: I believe that children absolutely learn best when self directed.

My only regret is that I didn’t find this out sooner.

The system that we are taught in, especially in the U.S., says that we have to meet benchmarks at very specific ages. To make sure that happens we force knowledge onto children. The strange thing is, children are natural learners; there is no need to force them. My youngest has never done a  ‘formal’ math curriculum but is at grade level for his age. We use Right Start Math – mainly the games. We talk about math always. He learned to count to 100 on his own. He learned to count by 5 and 10 on his own – because he was interested. 

In college everything I learned about education contradicted what I learned in child development classes.

I just didn’t see it until I tried to force my kids to learn.

On a side note, I’m not judging if you’re not here with me, if unschooling and Charlotte Mason freak you out. I do want to share the things that have helped home education work for my family, though, and encourage anyone  who keeps thinking, “This can’t be the only way.”  I do not believe that crying is part of learning.



I’m so thankful that these books found their way into my lap. I think my kids are even more thankful. Just talking about these books has calmed the anxiety that can rise up in my heart over multiplication and prepositional phrases. 


Are there any books that have re-shaped your educational philosophy? I’d love to know what encourages and inspires you.


Be brave, misfits.









Autumnal Thoughts

I’m one of those people who love autumn. I love the cool mornings and evenings, perfect for fire making and cozy sweaters. I love the warm days that invite us to drag books outside and spend time at the park. The musty smell of leaves, the wide array of colors, and squirrels rushing to store their cache of nuts…I adore all of it.


“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall…”  ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald 

I enjoy the dark mornings. Don’t hate me. I enjoy the early evenings. I know, it’s ridiculous. I love cold, rainy days where the leaves whip furiously around the sidewalks. I’m not right. I’ll admit it.



I think what I truly love about the fall, though, is the contrast. The beautiful blue sky with sun shining brilliantly juxtaposed against chilly wind. Or the other side; the gray, stormy clouds that come with this month blended with the collage of colors the leaves provide is a world on the verge of change.

Possibility is seen here, and I love that.


Autumn offers a world full of possibility.


I know that some people look around at the leaves who are giving their last shout in brilliant colors before they dull and fall to the ground. Some people feel that this time of year speaks of a decaying world, of death.

To me, though, this season speaks of things to come. It speaks of resurrection.

 This time of year  reminds me that everything changes. I know that we still have winter to get through (I like that, too!) but autumn reminds me that I’m not in charge. This season speaks the truth that there is a master plan and that even death has a purpose.

There would be no spring without a fall. If the leaves never fell from the trees, if they stayed always green, I would miss out on the wonder of the world coming to life again.


As a Christian, I have hope in death because I know that it is not the end. I know that however my life ends on this earth that what happens next will be more glorious than the most beautiful spring I’ve ever seen.

That knowledge gives me hope.

I don’t long for that next journey, mind you. I love it here. This world’s magnificence takes my breath and draws my wonder. I could never even imagine the artistry found in nature – the insects, the trees, the wildlife, the mountains, the rivers and creek beds – it’s all so much. Don’t even get me started on my people and my deep, deep feelings for them.

There are times, though, when fear of the unknown can overtake me. I can become melancholy and cold with worry; worry about my future, my husband’s future, my children’s future, my parents’ future, the world. I can give into the fear that it’s all going to end in some horrific, catastrophic event.

Or I can rest in the knowledge that I’m not in charge. That whatever happens in this world something marvelous is coming next.

This translates to everyday life worries, as well as apocalyptic thoughts. Being in a season of change, from weather to employment, to how you think about the world, can be scary. I think it’s most frightening when you think about all the possibilities. I say it all the time, but living in an imagined (possibly icky) future is not living.

Life is better lived in the now.


During this season take the time to savor the subtle changes in the leaves. Enjoy crunching leaves beneath your feet, as cliche as that may seem. Notice the way the night sky looks different, the clouds that give glimpses of what eternity could look like. Take the time to take in the beauty of the trees with no leaves to obscure the intricate details of their limbs. 

Take heart, and know that it will all come back around again because God never changes. 


Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17



Be brave, misfits, and be where you are.



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A Word on Hospitality

I love having people in our home.

My friend Bethany thinks I’m making that up, but I’m not. I enjoy cooking for and with other people. The hubbub of a houseful makes me giddy. Friends (or almost friends) stopping by unexpectedly gets me really jazzed up.

This has not always been the case for me, though.

I’ve definitely had to learn hospitality skills. There were times in my recent past when I made the children hide when someone came to the door. Now, though, I’m likely to invite the stranger knocking at my door in for lemonade or coffee in spite of any chaos around me. 

Photo Credit: chris law photography Flickr via Compfight cc

During my early years as a mother we were living in a new, bigger city and I didn’t know anyone. Thankfully I made a few friends fairly quickly and because we had similar parenting styles and kids around the same age we spent a lot of time together. We cooked together, folded laundry while we visited and generally just enjoyed not being alone with our children all the time.

We had intentional community.

I also had a friend who was well past toddler parenting and made the best pasta carbonara I have ever had. She was my soft place to land on days when I didn’t think I could do it anymore. She enjoyed my little people and seemed perpetually relaxed – something I needed a lot of.


So, here’s a few things I’ve learned about hospitality:



People really aren’t coming to see your house…  

I know people say that all the time, but really, humans want to visit with humans. It’s that simple. If you’re going to friends’ houses and judging their decorating or housekeeping skills you need to check yourself. Learning how other people live, seeing their decorations and dishes, gives you insight into how you live your life. People come to visit your home in order to be more human. That’s it. It’s that simple.



There are seasons of hospitality…

I made the assumption that there was something wrong with me when I couldn’t have people over when I had a six week old. I had friends who could, so why couldn’t I? The fact is I just don’t recover well, not from childbirth, a cold, or exhaustion. I need to rest and be gentle with myself. Once I’m back, though, I’m back. Then I can be hospitable. Until I’m there I rely on the kindness of my friends and family to supply a cozy, judgement-free place where I can recharge.

Now that my kids are all older having people over isn’t hard, either. My people aren’t sick every other week, there’s typically only one towel (the hand towel!!) on the bathroom floor, and I’m not nearly as exhausted as I was in those early years of parenting.

 If you’re in a season of small children don’t be hard on yourself for not feeling hospitable. It will come. Find a friend who could care less if you haven’t showered in days and is happy to wade through toys and piles of laundry to sit at the table with you.  If, like me, you’re in a season where having people over is easier be the soft place. Invite the younger mamas into your home, remind them that all is not lost.  


Perfection is an illusion…

Seriously, even when things look perfect they’re not. There’s dust or cracks or something out of place and that is fine. If you only allow people in your home when you’ve dusted, vacuumed, mopped, and have a clean hand towel hanging in the bathroom (who does that????) then they will believe that is what is expected of them. Help lower the standards for house keeping! Let people see your dirty dishes in the sink, your laundry on the living room couch, and your kitchen table that doubles as an ironing board. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to hospitality.

Now, when you have a party or a special even go ahead and clean away, make that house sparkle! But in the meantime treat friends as family and let them come regardless of the state of your home. Shame has no place in hospitality.


Hospitality can feel a bit like baring your soul…

Here in the United States we’ve gotten pretty weird about having people in our homes. Magazines and television shows give the illusion that homes are in order all of the time. When you live in your home, though, order is relative to the day and time. If you’re homeschooling, have small children, have more than one parent working outside of the home, carting your kids to various activities through the week, or are a person your home is going to look very different from day to day.

The first time I have someone over I feel a lot of things. Sometimes I’m embarrassed, especially if I have to rewash all the silverware because one of my people put it away with scrambled eggs stuck to everything. Mostly I feel exposed, and proud. It may sound weird but I like my house more when there are people in it. Inviting a friend into your home requires trust. I have to trust that my friend will accept me as a really am, not just as I present myself to the world.

That trust has never been misplaced.


I hope you’re feeling encouraged to have people over. I am so grateful to each of my friends who has taught me to have people into my home by inviting me and my family in. Some of my most profound conversations have taken place while sipping tea and talking over children running about. I have learned more about Jesus’ teachings when I’ve put a call out to a friend and she’s said, “Why don’t you just come over?” 


Be brave, misfits, and invite people in.


My door is always open.


But my toilet is not always clean. 


Come on over anyway.





Why I Have Hope, Part 2

In Part 1 I told you about a time when violence took me by surprise.

Community can take me surprise, too, which is why I have hope.


My family didn’t look like any other family that I knew. It was the only way we ever looked, though, so to me it was normal. To you, your family is normal. That’s the awesome thing about families: even the weird stuff is normal in your own family.

Sometimes being different did feel isolating, but it wasn’t often. Honestly, it was only as a young adult that I was able to reflect on how difficult life must have been for my brother, Todd. When you’re a kid you just take what you get.

The beautiful thing is there were always people for us. Mom didn’t have a ton of people inviting her for coffee and playdates but she had enough. Enough to let us know we belonged, enough to drown out the mean voices.  It was those people who helped the good outweigh the bad.


Once Erik came along it was really interesting how people either took him or not. Those that liked him really liked him, and those that didn’t never did. Of course he was kind of like a cat and kept showing up at the houses where he seemed particularly unwelcome.

That guy.

I think he may still be a little like that.

My parents always stressed the importance of focusing on the good things. The good things that happened, the good about ALL the people in our lives – even the ones that give us trouble. Mom and Dad taught me that everyone has value.

Essentially, Mom and Dad taught me to believe in the good of community.

Yes, we had bad experiences just like everyone. We also encountered some really stellar people, like a guy we’ll call Stephen McStephenson. I was in fifth or sixth grade, so around 11 or 12 years old. Stephen was newish to our school and the news on him was that he was a type of animal; a zebra.

I had no idea what that meant, I just heard it whispered amongst kids at school.

One day he ticked me off, as boys that age tended to do, and I used that name on him. I still had no clue what it meant, but I shouted it and the room hushed. Immediately I knew I had done something forbidden. I don’t even recall Stephen’s reaction.

Someone clued me in on what that name meant. I felt sick the rest of the day. I felt ashamed and disgusted by myself. I walked home alone slowly, unable to look anyone in the eye. I sat at my kitchen table with my snack. After five minutes of not being able to eat I  knew I needed to take a walk.

I went to Stephen’s house and apologized. I apologized to his mother and to him. I cried, probably the ugly cry. Then the three of us sat at their table and talked.

That boy and I were not best friends after that, but there was definitely an understanding.

I didn’t know it then, but I had a few choices with my shame. “According to Dr Hartling, in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame.” (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 46)

According to Brown, sharing our story, our shame, releases it’s hold on us. That’s exactly what I experienced when I went to the person I had hurt and confessed my shame. Puff. It was gone, never to have hold over me again.

There’d be plenty of other times, though, when I didn’t do the best thing with shame when it came knocking. 

I have to think that’s what people who are racist (or any kind of -ist) do. They have shame but turn it the wrong way. Individual life experiences coupled with They hole up with people who think the exact same way and insulate themselves against any type of growth.

Aren’t we all guilty of that, to a degree? I’d gravitate toward hanging out with people who think the way I do. It’s just more comfortable.

The gift of my childhood was that I was able to see the very best of people – and the very worst.

And that’s where my hope for us all comes in.

Due to the uniqueness of my family I was exposed to the truth of humanity: we are not all good and we are not all bad. The hurtful things that we can do to one another will never surprise me. However, the amazing kindness that comes from us is what leaves me the most changed. 

After watching events unfold in Charlottesville it was hard to not give into the feeling that neo-Nazi’s were everywhere waiting to take to every street. That’s the problem with the media. The news is only able to focus on a handful of events at a time.

The media will not focus on the stuff that unites.

The news has no way of portraying all the things – good and bad – happening all at once around our towns, countries, and the world. They’re focused  on the most buzz-worthy stories, the stuff that will pull us in and keep us coming back for more, or never leaving. We can watch news 24 hours a day if we choose.

Or we can be smarter than they think we are.

We can leave our homes and get out into our communities. We can find organizations to get involved with that will educate us on race issues, immigration, and anything else that you might be interested in. Don’t get your info from social media feeds and websites. Get out there and be a part of it.

I’m preaching to myself here.

What would it look like to give each other room to share our stories? Even the ugly ones. Especially the ugly ones. Though, Brown cautions against sharing our shame with people who aren’t safe. Only special people get to hear that stuff. 

I guess what I’m talking about is having relationships with people who think in ways that are uncomfortable for us. Learn how to have conversations with people you don’t agree with  and love them anyway. We don’t always have to choose the easiest ones. Read more of what Brene Brown has to say here. I really know we can do this together – as long as we don’t pretend it’s not happening.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. ~ Romans 5:5


I have hope because I have community. I have hope because I can share that community with others. Hope will not put us to shame. Keep track of the hope-giving moments in our world and hold on to those. That’s how we’ll learn how to move through the life-sucking moments. 


Be brave, misfits, and have hope.

Oh, September

How’s September been for you?

Do your wheels feel squeaky? Or maybe your wheels feel like they just can’t quite get on the track. Worse, perhaps your wheels feel that they are going way to fast down a hill a hill towards a cliff.

That’s how September can feel for me some days.

August feels slow and lazy, the way I remember it did when I was a kid. August is like a bunch of Saturdays strung together. In August I took  to putting in my headphones and listening to my favorite Avett Brothers songs while swinging in the backyard. Auto insurance, wrong decisions, and homeschooling fall away the closer I get to the clouds.

August is blissful, even with it’s oppressive heat.

Sleeping late, savoring the last days that the pool is open, evenings at the park – all of it.


Looking back on September, now, though, it feels like a bunch of Mondays strung together.

September was a bunch of start and stops with a new schedule. There was a lot of unfinished checklists as we figured out what was actually humanly possible in a day versus what my recovering perfectionist mind told me we ‘should’ be doing. Parts of September involved me sitting in a stupor as I let my brain and body catch up.

September is when all the things I want to do collide with reality. September is the month that forces me to slow down. 

I spent too much time debating which planners might be the most useful. I don’t even want to talk about the printing mishap; the one in which I hit print without registering that there were 84 pages in the printable planner sample I found. WHO DOES THAT?

I read and re-read about unschooling. I bring home way too many books from the library. I attempt to be organized and on top of meals – yet resort to weekly spaghetti and taco nights.

We’re in what’s supposed to be the last hot spell of the season. It’s been near 90 every day. The leaves piled up in corners of the yard are brown and  ugly  yet the grass is green and needs to be mowed every week. It’s just as well, I suppose, because Spencer doesn’t want to put his flip-flops away.

Actually, he lost his flip-flops.

This is the time of year that requires work to find our groove. I struggle to do the same things every day. I feel jealous of homeschoolers on Instagram who have Waldorf/Montessori children playing with wooden toys while classical music plays in the background. Here at the Shepherd Abode we’re just trying to find spoons to eat breakfast with.

Spoons are a hot commodity around here.

Some days I love it all and some days…I just don’t.

Such is life.

Now we’re at the end. That’s it. We’re turning the corner into fall. Here in central Kentucky we’ll be getting actual autumnal weather soon.

Why is that I always get it at the end?

This little heat wave we’ve been having is a perfect metaphor for my life. September felt like that heat was building up to something, I just didn’t know what. Last night I took a walk at 7:30 and it was cool and see-through dark. I felt like I could fill my lungs again for the first time in weeks.

The pressure-cooker feeling was gone and in its place was a brand new season.

That’s where I am, too, as are all of my people. My young adults are adulting away. My 13-year-old is on the verge of all the changes. My almost eight year old helps me see that everything is awesome. My hubby is settling into his new life. My parents make senior-citizening look easy, even with knee replacements and other difficulties. I’m doing okay, too, figuring this 40-something gig out.

I laugh a lot, but I cry when I need to.

September seems to be when my part of the world breathes a sigh of relief.

How can I not join in?

Whether you’re homeschooling, life schooling, or just trying to make it to work every day with both pairs of shoes on – we’ve got this. We’re all in it together. Let’s sigh together as we turn the calendar page. 


Be brave, misfits, and use pencil in your planners.




I’m mailing out the Brave Newsletter this evening – make sure you’re signed up so you can get the good stuff, too.




Five Hours

If you prefer to listen to this post just press play below.

I noticed one of my friends on my way in to the drop-in center this morning. She was talking with a man so I knew not to wave. It was early to see anyone out and I found myself thinking of all the scenarios that found her out on the sidewalks at that time of day.

Did she get kicked out of somewhere semi-safe?

Did she need something to eat?

Had she been out all night?

She made it down to us just before lunch was served. Leftover drunk hung around her head making it too heavy to hold up. We each asked what we could do, what we could give, that would make it more bearable. Silent tears cause her mascara run.  Another friend stood to tenderly wipe the black marks away.

The bloody scratches on the woman’s arms confirmed what I’d always assumed: she was a fighter.


“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” ~ Goethe


Every day that I spend in the drop-in center is an education, a reminder of how little I actually know of the world.

The table we all sit at is old and covered with a brightly colored vinyl tablecloth. The bowls holding chips and packaged sweets serve as a small comfort to women who are struggling with homelessness, addiction, and sexual exploitation.

We color together, sometimes play with play dough, and share a meal. We break bread at that table, us women. We share holy communion with one another, amongst crude language and a sadness that I do not know.

They swap tales of slum lords, pimps, and past times shared with one another. I’m informed that if you don’t have tits and ass you won’t get anything down there. Nothing to rent, nowhere to stay.

There is laughter and teasing. One friend shares a couple of jokes she knows as she cleans her feet with peroxide. She can’t see to put on her bandaids so I ask about the glasses on her head. She tells me, “Those don’t work. They just hold my hair back.” This strikes me so funny I roar with laughter and everyone else joins in. It’s all so absurd and normal.

Over the course of my five hours I am changed.

I have had to tell a woman that no, I cannot get her a pair of underwear because our clothing closet is closed on Saturdays. She takes it like a champ and says she’ll go to the store and work it out. I’m still ruminating on why I have 12 pair of underwear at my disposal and she has none.

I see a gunshot wound. I hear stories of destroyed childhoods that make me want to claw my eyes out. I learn some new slang words that I will not be trying out any time soon. I learn that joy is always attainable, if only for some moments. I learn that the truth doesn’t always come out in words. I learn that my unwillingness to call out wrongness has a cost.

Five hours. All that and more in just five hours.


After the place has cleared out and it’s just us volunteers I confess my occasional irritation with our friends. I don’t understand why they don’t all jump in the life raft we offer in the form of rehab, shelters, and job training. We talk some more over happenings of the day and then head our separate ways.

I drive to Kroger and purchase some pre-made sushi and on an impulse buy a peach pie. Once home my family asks about my day but I can’t talk about it right away. It’s too much to verbalize. I still have some processing to do and I’m tired.

I find myself in the kitchen mindlessly eating a pretty hefty portion of that impulsive peach pie. It seems that even I, good Christian woman that I am, can fall prey to mind-numbing addiction just from hearing their stories. What must it be like to live them?


The thing about my five hours is this: I know it will end.

No matter how heavy or chaotic or wonderful our time together is at the center I know where I’ll be sleeping. I know that I’ll have dinner. I know that the men in my life aren’t going to hit me. I will not be sexually exploited where I’m going. I am valued for more than my genitalia.

My friends live in crisis every second of every day.

“Stress will kill you,” one of them said to me in between phone calls searching for an apartment. “I have got to get off the streets.”

I nod my head like I know what she’s talking about.

But I don’t.

I mean, I know the feeling but not the reality.

We in the church don’t like to talk about class privilege, but that’s the thing separating our realities.

That’s a post for another day, though.


Today I’m content with my five hours.

This evening I sit and look at the sky as I always do. My five hours today has my friends on my heart as I gaze heavenward. I wonder where they are and if they’re safe. My prayer is that they don’t die; that they know they are loved.

I also give thanks for all the things that they teach me, for how patient they are with me. They treat me not as I am but as I ought to be, as I could be, and that leaves me changed. My friends see me as Jesus does, not as I am or the things that I do. How can I not learn from that?

Tonight I think of their names and faces and smile that I get to know them. I can’t remember the funniest joke I heard today, the one with the super naughty word. I look forward to getting to ask about it next time I’m down there.

I can’t wait for my next five hours.

Be brave, misfits. May you be blessed to know others who see you as you could be.







Why I Have Hope, Part 1

It was a big deal when my brother started to come to school with me. We could walk together, to and from, and I felt like such the big sister. I was very proud of my position.


I don’t remember the first time it happened, someone pointing out that my brother did not have the same color skin as me. I do remember the day I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore, though.

This kid, I still remember his name, called my little brother a ‘gook’. I had learned from a family member the nastiness of that word and it brought up all kinds of pent up, never-used feelings. I wasn’t having it.

I had my little brother’s hand in mine as I tried to punch this kid. The boy and his friends laughed at my inexperience with violence. The rage launched me forward onto him while the kid’s big brother watched, his companions cheering us on. I feel like he was shocked. He didn’t know I was that mad. I remember him saying, “Kara, Kara. Stop.”

But I couldn’t stop – the thing propelling me forward was bigger than me.

I was incensed on behalf of my very small brother. My brother  with his beautiful dark eyes and dark hair and coffee colored skin. I loved our differences. I was proud that my brother was Korean, that he was different. He was so beautiful to me.

I don’t remember a lot except that I was screaming hysterically as I ran home. I raced to my garage, where I grabbed a hammer. I wanted to inflict the worst kind of pain on those boys.

It didn’t matter that they had not made Todd bleed. His wounds were invisible but deep. You could see the wariness in his eyes. After all, some of our own family members had no problem making fun of his race.

Why should he be surprised by the kids at school using mean words on him?

Why should he be surprised at the teachers who pretended not to overhear?

Why should he be surprised at the adults who asked idiotic questions of him?

Back to that day, the day when violence came into my heart. I chased that boy for two blocks, anger growing with every pump of my legs. The boy was faster than me and reached his house before I could reach him. His mother was sitting on the front porch.

He ran up the two concrete stairs and stood behind his mother. I stood gasping for air, grasping a hammer tightly in one hand, sweat rolling down my forehead. It was the voice of his mother that calmed the fire in my heart.

Thinking back on it, I believe it was her understanding that acted like cool waters.

I thought, “She gets it.” 

His mother didn’t look like the other mothers at my elementary school. Her clothes were different, her accent not the same. Maybe she understood being on the outside. Maybe she recognized the flames engulfing my heart.

She listened to my tearful story, words coming between hiccups, snot and tears running down my face. She nodded her head and took her son’s hand and told him to apologize. 

I went home exhausted, defeated, and scared.

For the first time I saw that the thing my little brother was up against was an indomitable foe.

I was also frightened by the monster inside myself.

Racism is raised generation by generation on hate. Racism is fed small children to keep it growing into a proper big monster. How would I ever beat that?



For me, the day I chased that boy home with a hammer in my hand, I realized something new: knowing the person at school wasn’t the same as knowing the person.

When I saw that boy’s mama was waiting on the front porch I had clarity about his life. For one, he had a mother. I don’t think I’d ever considered that.

For another, he had a mother who was different. Lastly, I could see that his life was not the same as mine. There was something about the way his yard looked that suggested that what happened in my home was not the same as what happened in his home.

Suddenly his chipped front tooth didn’t add to his malice; it was just a chipped tooth.

I think he learned something new that day, too. I think he learned that someone can be pushed too far, that they can lose the ability to choose reason. Sadly, I think he learned to like that feeling, at least while he was at school.

That was not the last run in this boy and I would have. He and I would have words again on a school bus in high school. He didn’t grow out of bullying even in high school. One afternoon, I would sit back and watch as someone pummeled him, after months and months of taking mean words, and think, “Yeah, I remember that feeling.”

By the way, it isn’t a good feeling that you’re left with after you do violence. It’s a lonely feeling.

Doing violence leaves you feeling separate from everyone.

I need you to know that I wasn’t always the champion of the underdog. There were times that I did the bullying, a fact that still fills me with regret.

It seems that learning to do the right thing is an ongoing process. The pendulum is always swinging between reaction and inaction.

It’s the middle where it’s good. That’s where we can make some progress.




We need to accept that there are race issues in the U.S. My experience in America, as a person with pale skin, versus the experience of someone with darker skin, or a different accent, differ greatly. 

We appear polarized as a country, and I know there’s truth to that.

I’m not buying it completely, though. No photograph or video can ever fully encapsulate the complexities of our lives.

Those of us in the middle are a little confused. But here in the middle we can see both sides a little more clearly than if we were swung over to the far left or the far right.

Still, I want to make sure that I’m not falling into the white moderate default of inaction. Neither do I want to run home for my hammer, a reaction that is not helpful.


“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice…” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


So what do we do? 

We know that hammers don’t work. We also know that apathy will not move us forward.

As always, I believe the answer is community. I believe it’s about inviting people into our lives and into our homes and having (potentially uncomfortable) conversations. Be willing to know people in your home and in theirs.

And this is why I have hope: it’s never too late to move forward.

 I’d like to point out that racism does not always wear a white robe and march with tiki torches. Racism uses words like ‘they’ rather than ‘us’. Racism, like all -isms excludes rather than includes.

Most often racism is silent, pretending not to see inequalities or hateful behavior.


Be brave, misfits, not silent. It’s okay to shake up the order of things.

Just leave your hammer at home.


Also, for further reading on the issues of racism:

Is there a Neo-Nazi storm brewing in Trump country?

A Reformed White Nationalist Speaks Out on Charlottesville

The White Flight of Derek Black


I’m Racist (and So Are You)







Now it is Sunday

Now it is Sunday.

The day given over to rest in the presence of God.

We’ve been doing Sundays the new way for so long that it doesn’t seem like the new way any more. Still, some mornings I find myself thinking back on the old way, the way Sunday used to go for us. Those memories are taking on the lovely haze of the good ole days.

That’s not true every day, though.

There are times that I look back on the old way of our Sundays when a feeling of despair clouded our mornings.  There are times when reading  a favorite author’s call to ‘be the church’ that I feel the sting of failure.  There are times when I look back on our days in ministry and feel a weight tied to my heart.

I can run a roll-call of people we considered friends and attach a hurtful action to each of them. Worse are the times that I recount the failures of church leaders that we shared in ministry with. The feeling of abandonment and betrayal is as fresh as when it first happened, even though more than ten years has gone by in some cases.

I’ve been reading 7 Principles for a Successful Marriage, a great read, by the way. One of the points that Gottman makes is that individuals can re-write their relationship by focusing on bad memories. Meaning that when your relationship with your spouse is healthy you will look back on hard times not with bitterness and resentment but with understanding. Basically, you will remember more good than bad.

I think my marriage to the church became an unhappy one.

It began in a romantic way, as love often does. I could see none of the warts. When the wounds came I was unprepared. I had no idea that there was an ugly side to church. My husband became a church employee soon after we became church members so we didn’t have a lot of time to assimilate before pain was inflicted.

His salary was low but we didn’t care because we were fulfilling our purpose. After a year he was told he wouldn’t be getting a raise because I could work, but because I chose to stay home with our children his salary did not increase. That happened more than once, in more than one church. That is an ugly side of church. 

I could fill a book with the ugly side of church. Maybe two.

I do not want those memories in my heart any longer. Sometimes I think that telling everyone how much it hurt will get rid of the shame that is there, too. I don’t know.




There was much good, also. I cannot forget that. So much. Enough to fill four books.

The generosity of those we shared life with was amazing.

Early in our ministry (and marriage) when money was tight $500 appeared in our mailbox. That money was a miracle.  We were a able to do a car repair AND buy Christmas gifts.

In another city in another church a grill showed up on our front porch one Sunday a few years later.  At another a  new friend bought all four of our children brand new winter coats. I could go on and on.

Stepping away from church is giving me time to heal my relationship with it, to put back some good memories. It’s doing the same for my kids. I think it’s doing the same for Lee, but he still misses it so much.

Church hurt is not comfortable for me to talk about. I don’t want anyone to feel responsible but not all of my hurt was internally generated. I think we can do better.

I didn’t realize how much I needed time away from the place we fell in love with Jesus at. Stepping back has allowed me to see it all, though. The good, the bad, and the ugly. My part, their part, and our part.

Yesterday was Saturday, a day that I often feel is capable of anything.



Now it is Sunday.

The day I used to give away grudgingly, reluctantly, and with a little bit of resentment.

The day starts quiet. I read some. Lee sleeps some or finds a church to worship at alone. I find my way to my book of prayers, to my bible, to my worship play list on Spotify. There is no hurry up and get there, no have-to’s or shoulds forcing us to swallow faster than we’d like. No expectations hanging over our heads.

Sunday belongs to us, which means we are free to give it to God, because every good and perfect is from above, anyway.

Am I giving what has already been given or am I choosing to share? 

I am sometimes tempted to think that the new way is too slow, is not filled with enough stuff. I can begin filling in shoulds and have-to’s but that is not the rhythm God has for us. Sunday is for resting in His presence and reveling in His companionship. 

Taking my morning walk I watch people as they go to their cars, dress shoes clip-clopping on the sidewalk. They don’t look at me and I wonder if they’re judging me for not going to church.

I think I used to do that.

Internally I would shake my head and wonder at how others got along without the church.

When we first left the ministry I worried that Sunday would feel like Saturday in our new life. That it would lose its specialness. 

There were some Sundays that did feel that way. Some Sunday mornings found me binge watching Gilmore Girls and feeding everyone peanut butter an jellies. I am learning  even that can be an offering. 

I  choose to make Sunday important. A special lunch, private prayer, and just generally being more aware of God’s active role in my life, and in the life of my family, are a few things that set Sunday apart from the other days of the week. It’s all up to me. Nothing is mandatory. Unless I begin forcing things. 

Wherever you choose to spend your sabbath the only thing that’s important is that you’re choosing to share it; that you’re not putting shoulds and have-to’s on the sacrament of worship, and that you recognize it for the gift it is.

When the hurt got too big my instinct was to pull away from church. It’s counterintuitive but it’s my church community that has been the catalyst for healing for me. 

I find solace in house church these days, but I still love churches in buildings, too. Church is where I learned hymns and the story of Passover – how can I not love that place? Sitting in a small group, outside in lawn chairs, singing songs to my Creator has helped to close up some old wounds.

Jesus came for relationship, so of course it is relationship that rescues us from hurt.

What I’m trying to say with all of these words is this: Sundays don’t have to hurt. If they do talk to your pastor, talk to friends, figure it out but don’t keep letting the hurt stack up. You can talk to me, too.

Happy Sunday, friends.