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Hope

I’ve found myself a little behind on my Advent reading, how about you?  I shared a couple years ago how observing Advent was new for me until about five years ago (To read more click here.)  But gracious, I have fallen head over heals into every way of observing this season of remembering the waiting, hoping, needing, and even sometimes doubting the arrival of Jesus.  A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

But hoping has changed for me in the past two years.  When you embrace a hope of clinging onto and believing with everything that you can, when you put your whole heart on the line with no other option of believing anything else and that hope is deferred.  All hope feels lost.  And empty.  And silly.  And a waste of time.

Yet Advent, is a season of hoping, believing, and knowing that Jesus will come gently and quietly into a lost and grieving world.  Amidst groans and cries for relief, his very presence whispers, “I hear you.  I see you.  I know.  I’m coming.”

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Yet in my own groans and cries, hope seemed too vulnerable to put on again.  I could never again face the hurt I felt of hoping and believing with my whole heart to see healing, to see a miracle, to spend more Christmases with my Dad, and my hope was unfulfilled.  It only brought to mind so many other things I had prayed, waited, and hoped for that also were unmet.  Unfulfilled hopes I still carry.

But I’ve learned to see hope differently.

Hope is far more a waiting for something in a hot, sticky mess than it is a peaceful, orderly affair. – Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts

Hope is not just knowing.  Hope is trusting enough to place your every bet on what may make absolutely no sense to believe.

And knowing if not, He is still good.

Hoping, vulnerably placing every single ounce of our weak and scared souls onto God fulfilling his promises is one of the absolute bravest things we can do.  And for me, one of the hardest things I’ve ever recovered from.


(Warning: I will probably get some facts wrong.  Friends who are knowledgable about space/science/etc. please correct me.)

On October 15, 1997 the Cassini satellite was launched on a twenty year journey.  Cassini ventured further into Saturn than any other previous explorations, observing its moons that may be suitable for life and its rings.

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Upon reaching its 20th year, NASA planned for Cassini not to return back to earth, as it had consistently sent all images and information back to NASA’s headquarters.  Rather, Cassini concluded its pioneering through its “Grand Finale” by going further and further toward the surface of Saturn until Cassini could no longer endure the conditions.

On April 26, 2017, Cassini began its Grand Finale, sending images of Saturn as it reached closer and closer to its surface until after 20 years of discovery, Cassini’s mission was completed.

This video explained it’s Grand Finale in a way I loved.  The narrator describes Cassini plunging 22 times around Saturn’s rings then making its final decent to the surface of Saturn, “fighting to keep its antennae pointed at Earth as it transmits its farewell.”  On September 15, 2017 Cassini sent its last images of Saturn to NASA, concluding its 20 year mission.


If I’m honest, I think learning how to hope again, has felt significantly more like fighting with all I have toward something that feels so unsafe I may be destroyed, than it has felt simple, safe, or peaceful in any way.

Lacking the energy and sometimes faith to hope, in many situations I haven’t.  And I’ve regretted walking away from loved ones who are hoping and holding onto believing in a miracle with all they have.  And I’ve called that silly deep in my bones because I didn’t have the faith to claim and believe in my own miracles.  I only had space to hold my unmet hopes.


But in the sweetest of ways, this Advent season has felt really different.  Really hopeful.

Of sharing in the waiting of centuries.  The waiting and hoping that looked much more like groaning, doubting, and grieving.  And amidst that waiting, believing and knowing that “Unto us, a child [will be] born.”

Hope is vulnerable.  It’s pressing deeper and deeper into our Father’s ability while simultaneously pulling us further and further from our own control, even our guarding our hearts.

But the beauty of our Father that Advent keeps bringing me back to is that He is a God who “fulfills His promises.” (Hebrews 10:23)

And as I read through the prophecies that point to the life of Jesus, God the Son, I am overwhelmed once again with how dependable and sure our hope is.  How God will always prove Himself true.

And I’m writing HOPE all over my Advent book as I read:

“He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.  In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
– Colossians 1:13-14, CSB

“What the law could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, GOD DID.”
– Romans 8:3, CSB

“Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death- that is, the devil- and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.”
-Hebrews 2:14-15, CSB

I’m learning to hope that my faithful Father will do what He says, even though He’s proven it time and time again, while the enemy loves to whisper the times my help felt unseen.  I’m working to allow myself to vulnerably lay all my heart deeply hopes for at His feet, and to know this is what He calls me to.  I’m learning to believe that I will receive, like a child who lays their head on their pillow, knowing Santa will bring them just what they asked for.

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Because our faith never calls us to be logical or to trust as much as we’ve seen trust fulfilled, but to have faith like a child.  A faith that cultivates hope.


fdb3Thanks for stopping by!  My name is Emily Katherine.  On this page you’ll find lessons I’ve learned through my own story, primarily in the sudden loss of my precious Dad on my 22nd birthday.  You’ll find book reviews and recommendations.  And in between you’ll find a few resources I use in teaching middle school through college students.

I would love to hear from you through your comments!  Click the follow button to stay in touch.

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Fall can be beautiful again.

While I will immediately claim many of my “basic white girl tendencies”, I have never been one to freak out about Fall, at least as much as many of my friends.  I remember my freshman year in college feeling like everyone around me was truly worshipping Fall, collecting leaves, putting pumpkin in every possible thing you could dream of, and wearing scarves while it would still reach 80 degrees each afternoon in Northwest Georgia.

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are so many things I love about Fall.  My favorite festival my sweet little town hosts takes place on a brisk weekend in October full of kettle corn, homemade fudge, beautiful pottery, jewelry, and precious familiar faces.  Each time I pull into the gravel parking lot and open my door to smell the kettle corn and hear the local music being played my heart jumps like I’m riding the ferry across the lake into Magic Kingdom.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Each Thanksgiving I wake up, make my first cup of coffee and sit to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and typically cry due to just how much I love that day.

But I would never be the one in line the moment Starbucks opens on September 1 to get my first pumpkin spice latte.

Yet, this year the magic of Fall hit me.

I am a summer girl.  I love the beach, sandals, pineapple La Croix, watermelon, and just how much simpler and lighter all of life feels.  I love that anytime spent outside is typically spent on the water and I love that vacation is so encouraged.

September to me is usually a reminder the school year has fully set in and honestly since I was 10 been the mark of volleyball season being in full swing.  Somehow though, on labor day I found myself at Target (praise hands!) purchasing a new mustard cardigan, grey nail polish, and pieces to make my Fall table arrangement (I have a new fascination with my table being decorated appropriately for each season).  I bought a small pumpkin from the dollar section, a mustard felt leaf from the home section, and searched all around for whatever Fall pieces I could find.  I even considered buying a PSL from the Starbucks at the front of the store when I left.  WHO AM I?

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I remember how much Fall really felt like a punch in the gut last year.  It already felt like death was at the forefront of my mind, having just lost my Dad less than 6 months before September.  Then, death was everywhere.  So colorfully proclaiming on each and every limb of every tree on the 3 mile empty road I take to my office every morning, shouting how deeply death takes effect.  How intricately.  How it changes everything.  I just couldn’t celebrate it.

So I came home following my Target trip and put out my Fall decorations, even lighting a cinnamon candle.  But it hit again.  The death amidst it all.  No matter how much I loved the decorations on my table, it didn’t cover up the mess in the living room.  The wedding shower invitations I haven’t RSVPd to, the crumbs on the kitchen counter, the leftovers that need to be thrown out, the laundry that needs to be done.  Then, brokenness continued to set in throughout the week in the lives of my people.  How deeply death takes effect.  How intricately.


So last night I found myself determined to not let myself sit down unless I deep cleaned the entire house.  I was going absolutely insane to see death and darkness and brokenness be anywhere else in my life.  I was tired of everything feeling out of control.  If you know me well, you know how deep my deep cleaning can go.  And it did.

I began wiping off counters and putting dishes in the dish washer and soon found myself organizing every piece of Tupperware we have and making sure it had an appropriate lid, folding every blanket we own, and eventually take each and every cushion of our outdoor furniture on our screened in porch and giving it a bath.

I mean a deep bath.  When I told one of my best friends about this, she laughed until she cried.  And now that I’m sharing this, I’m sure so many of you will have ways I could have done this so much better, but it was 11:00pm and I was determined to get it done.  I filled my bath tub with water and laundry detergent, took each cushion one at a time and submerged it into the soapy water.  I pressed and pressed for it to absorb every bit of soap it could.  I held it against the wall and let the shower rinse it, applying more pressure to let the soap out.  Then, I drained the cushion, which was very heavy at this point, as best as I could.

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Somewhere along the way in this process, I was absolutely soaked, along with my bathroom floor, and pressing that cushion against the wall to get all the soap out became deeply spiritual.  I found myself working some anger out in that process that came from deep deep inside that I couldn’t even name.  But I leaned into it.  Eventually I was soaked and sweating with a disgusting bath tub, but let me assure you these cushions are CLEAN.

Clean.  Free of the death it had previously been filled with.

Death I know your sting.  I know your intricacy and I know your defeat. 
And I needed to feel that defeat.  To feel all of the anger in my body well up inside of me and get these cushions as clean as they every could be.

I hate death.

And last Fall as each leaf screamed to me of death’s fury I just felt powerless to it.  I felt like it won.  Read more about last fall for me here.

But last night I needed to win.  And I am sitting in my pristine house today, knowing in about 2 hours it won’t be perfect and I’m okay with that.  But celebrating that Fall is beautiful, that I love a cinnamon dulce latte, and that

DEATH HAS LOST ITS STING.

That as each little leaf so beautifully puts its innermost glory on display then falls to its death, as each tree lays barren over the winter, draped and dusted in snow, creation knows it hasn’t lost.  It isn’t defeated.  It is not scared to hope that new growth and new life will come when the first bird of Spring sings its song.

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The undoing

Last week I went on a trip with college students to the great city of Chicago as a part of my job working in college ministry.  This trip includes countless secrets I cannot disclose, but one of my favorite parts each year is spending time on Navy Pier.  Yes, it is one of the most touristy things to do in all of Chicago, but I love it.  I love the peacefulness of the open water that provides a very welcomed break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Each year, I ride the ferris wheel, providing one of the best views of Chicago I’ve seen.  This was at least my third ride on this same ferris wheel spanning over the last five years, yet this one was quite different.  Before, I knew this ferris wheel to be a normal ferris wheel with open cars and two rows of seating facing each other.  The wheel would jolt each time it needed to stop to let someone out and it was easy to talk to people in the cars around you.

But this year was different.  To celebrate its 100 year anniversary of providing a great place to eat, play, and watch the ships on Lake Michigan go by, Navy Pier underwent revitalization.  A great focus of this revitalization was Navy Pier’s iconic ferris wheel, so much that it is now know as Navy Pier’s “Centennial Wheel”.  The Centennial Wheel is taller, faster, updated, and provides enclosed cars with air condition and eight seats inside.

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I boarded the car of the Centennial Wheel with seven friends, unaware of all of that information.  I was thankful for the air condition and break from the sun, but not until our second time around the wheel did I begin to think about how it was different.  Everything about the wheel, its location, the experience it provided, and even the time of day I was riding was so reminiscent of the times before, but it was different.  It was new and changed.

I appreciated these changes and how nice my experience was on the new and improved Centennial Wheel, but it hit me that I was experiencing the new and improved and applauding its changes, overlooking the messiness it took to get there.

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For the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel to become the Centennial Wheel, making so many changes and upgrades it merited a new name, it had to be stripped down to its barest beams.  I’m sure all who were involved in the process can attest to the great amount of work required and mess that ensued.  Demolition of such a large piece of equipment had to have been extensive and time intensive, not to mention the construction that followed.  But I didn’t see that process.  I just saw the new, shiny, beautiful, clean, air conditioned Centennial Wheel.


 

There’s been a theme in my life recently of “undoing”.  I’ve listened to Steffany Gretzinger’s album entitled “the undoing” countless times because it has been with me in my rawest and messiest of places I have had to walk into.  After facing the greatest tragedy of my life so far, I sat across from a trusted counselor who calmly whispered the scariest words to me I had ever heard, “Emily Katherine, I am inviting you to lose it.”

To lose it.

Those words, though spoken at such a low volume reverberated through my head to the point it felt like they were being shouted from one ear to the other.

And she was right.  To come to any place of healing or restoration from the hurt, grief, and confusion I was facing, it took a great deal of undoing.  A great deal of demolition to my barest beams.

It took demolishing habits of people pleasing, stripping tendencies of poor self care, allowing some of the most pivotal parts of my structure to come completely undone.

And I’ve felt completely undone for a long time.  Undone and empty.  But strangely enough, the undoing seemed to take much more work and initiative on my end than the rebuilding.

I worked hard to walk head long into the hardest and darkest places in my heart.  Goodness it hurt like hell.  And I am still on this journey.

But in the most broken places, when I felt like I was sitting in a valley of dry bones lost for any sign of life or love, Jesus met me.  He met me and held me and let me be where I was, angry, lost, bitter, confused, and empty.

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And somehow he took the empty and broken and began building.  He took the fragments I had left and began to piece me back to whole.  And not just whole, but an entirely new one.  So new and revitalized it almost feels like this change has merited taking on a new name.


This theme of undoing, though, has not solely been a theme in my own life and growth, but in the way God has called and allowed me to minister in this season.  Rather than teaching and training students, equipping them with tools and information, so often the role God has given me in students lives this year is to walk with them to the wrecking ball of their own selves.  To know the fear of turning on the machine, to be with them in the hesitation and doubt of wondering what will ensue when they truly demolish all of the control they have built up.  And to sit with them in the ruins, the questions, the hurt.

A line my counselor has often said is, “I just don’t want to rescue you from that.”  From the immense pain and hurt I was feeling.  She didn’t want to rescue me because she knew just how much I needed to face it.  To face it and feel it and hold its weight.

And as much as I hated those words in the moment, I have grown to see their value as I have sat with students who also underwent undoing.  Together, we sat in the mess they found themselves in, stripped down to their barest beams.  And at the end of themselves, they have found Jesus in their own valleys.


In my own season of darkness, I sat with a friend and mentor, truly asking what my job would be if I “couldn’t come back from this.”  This disbelief and hurt.  What would my job be if not ministry?

He shared that of all theologians he has read, the most influential ones are those that have walked through seasons of undoing.


So I enjoyed my ride on Centennial Wheel.  And I have so treasured days of feeling whole again.  But it still feels weird for me to interact with people that see and know my newly constructed self that the Lord fashioned so kindly, knowing they never saw the mess. The emptiness.  The work that it took to lose it, and the sweetness of my Father to piece me back together.

But I’ve learned to see that behind every good thing is a messy thing.  Every organized closet meant taking everything out and putting it all over the hallway floor.  Every beautiful tall building meant digging endlessly to provide a deep enough foundation.

I’ve learned every bit of creating and making, first calls for undoing.

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Father’s Day Stories

Father’s Day.

This day that serves to celebrate and honor the men that love and serve us so well, so faithfully without recognition.  This day that now serves as a painful reminder of missing all the sweet ways my Dad faithfully yet imperfectly served and loved me so well.

Stories.

Stories have often functioned as a healing balm for our gaping wounds over the past year as we have so missed our Dad, but so enjoy remembering how well he loved us and all that he continues to mean to us.

 Legacy.

Our family has discussed this word often.  My brother had friends and loved ones whose lives had been impacted by my Dad stand at his funeral, charging them that they were his legacy.

So here are a few stories to try to encapsulate the man we got to call Dad.  The man we celebrate today.  And the man whose legacy we are honored to bear.


M I C H A E L

One night when we were really little, Andrew and I fell asleep with our Mom for some reason.  Daddy found us there and rather than disturbing us went and slept in our bunk beds.  In the middle of the night there was a loud crash and Daddy came rushing into the room to check on everyone.  The sound came from his wooden shelves in his closet breaking, but he, still out of breath from his panic, said “I thought the boys’ bunk beds had fallen!”  “Honey, you were in the bunk beds.” My mom responded.

Emily Katherine had some stomach problems as a baby and had the hardest time sleeping.  I remember countless nights of Daddy pacing the living room walking her back and forth so patiently, whispering so softly.  There was not a light on in the room.  He just kept walking back and forth bouncing her softly.


A N D R E W

Every summer when we were young, my dad would shave our heads. We spent summers shut out of our aunt’s house and released into the woods, so the buzz cut made it easier to check us for ticks. Our ever utilitarian parents also used the summer to save money on haircuts. We would commemorate the start of each summer in the driveway, on top of a overturned five gallon bucket-made-seat where our dad would shave our heads and ring in summer with us.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I went to the Philippines to work on a farm for several months. My dad came down and moved me out of my dorm and we spent the several days getting the necessary supplies together. The night before I left, he showed me a weather report that showed my first glimpse of the triple digit heat I had signed up for. I began to grow my hair in the second semester of my freshman year, intending to use my time abroad to allow my hair to grow. My dad used the weather report as a bargaining tool and convinced me to let him shave my head. We went to the garage, flipped a bucket upside down, and removed my sought after hair. When my hair was on the floor and about my shoulders, my dad kissed the top of my head, thanked me for letting him shave my head, and told me he loved me.


 E M I L Y   K A T H E R I N E

I once was working on a music video project for school.  We were driving all over downtown filming in different spots.  We stopped in front of city hall and my car key wouldn’t come out of the ignition.  The longer I sat there trying to get it out the more my car kept overheating.  Not having the slightest understanding in the world of cars, I called my Dad crying, terrified it was going to catch on fire at any moment.  “I’ll be right here.”  He said on the other side of the phone.  In about five minutes, he pulled up next to me and walked up to the car.  I got out to let him assess the situation.  His tone with me got really gentle, but I could tell he was fighting not to laugh.  “Baby, I’m not trying to make you feel… Baby, you key won’t come out because your car is in reverse.”

When I was four years old, I was a bumble bee in my dance recital.  I was on stage at dress rehearsal dancing my heart out.  When the song ended, I stood there proudly expecting a grand applause from our teacher of how well we did.  Instead, all of the lights came on in the audience as our teachers whispered.  Mine walked right over to me with the microphone and said, “Where is her mother?!”  My mom had a work meeting that night, and I watched my Dad, still in his suit and tie from work, stand up to claim me.  They called him onto the stage to show him how a few of my velcro dots that held my tutu up were off and he listened so intently to make sure we could get it right for the recital.

 

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Making.

“You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust”

“Sovereign over us”

I’ve learned I have a hard time living in the present tense.

The fact that “He is making all things new” and they aren’t already made new, while we long for them.

The journey, the slowness, the pain of being made new, when my heart is desperate for the quick, the immediate, the already accomplished.

You are working.  You are sanctifying.  You are teaching.  And I’m begging to be done.

This week, I sat under the teaching of a RUF minister who shared, “If I were the writer of the grand narrative of Scripture, I would have brought in crucifixion, resurrection, and glorification, by like Genesis 4.” Yet, He didn’t.  He took thousands of years to take us on our journey home.


I’m currently riding on what feels like an endless journey home.  Our high school students from my Church attended a camp in Colorado and we took a bus.  Our plan both in coming and going from Rome, GA to Estes Park, Colorado was to stop half way in Kansas to stay the night.  Last night though, this didn’t quite go as planned.

We were sitting at dinner in a Mexican restaurant when a terrible storm came through.  Upon, finishing eating and paying for our meals, we boarded the bus to head to our hotel for the night.  Once we reached the hotel, we discovered the entire area had no power from the storm.  In the background we heard tornado sirens.

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Sitting on the bus, it was so dark we couldn’t even see the hotel next to us.  The students were exhausted, ready to shower, and ready to use the bathroom, having boarded the bus at six that morning.

The hotel had no power so we got back on the bus to keep traveling.  Soon, we reached a gas station.  We went to the bathroom and tried to call hotels to see if we could find somewhere for our students to stay.  As there is very little between Kansas City and Kentucky, there was little to nowhere to stay.  Eventually, we decided to pull over at a gas station and continue to sleep on the bus, allowing our bus driver the required amount of time to rest before continuing to drive another full day.  We rested and continued to drive.

Around 10:30 this morning we stopped for breakfast, all of us talking about how desperately we wanted to shower, to be in our beds, to be home.  To be made new by rest, family, hospitality, and cleanliness. But as we were stopped and sharing, we were still a six hour drive from home.


Making is messy.

It means unraveling, needing, missing, losing sight, and having to remind yourself there is home and hope to come.

And I’ve taken a break from writing, a chosen fast really, because of “making” that needed to take place in my life.  Hurts, cynicism, and bitterness that needed to be walked into.  Reconciliation that needed to be sought.

And right in the middle of it, I took a night to make biscuits.

One of my favorite quotes from my Grammy is “Making biscuits is not for someone who minds getting their hands dirty.”  and goodness is that so true.  I mixed the batter with my hands, folding in the right ingredients.  I spread flour all over my counter and dumped batter into lumps.  I folded the lumps of batter in the flour until they resembled a ball and placed them on a pan to be baked.  My hands, shirt, and honestly hair were covered in flour and dough, but those biscuits were delicious.

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As I was walking through the process thinking how messy it was, I started to wonder if I was doing it right, but remembered countless times watching my Grammy or my Dad make biscuits, knowing this messiness, as wrong as it felt was right.  It was what making biscuits took.


I don’t think I take enough time to recognize the weight of what it means that Jesus took on flesh to be in the “making” with us.  That He “didn’t consider equality something to be grasped”.

This week, that same pastor shared a story of a lady who was running in the Boston Marathon when the bombing took place.  She was running and when the bombs exploded, some scrap metal flew into her legs.  She immediately fell to the ground, hysterically crying.  Many tried to console or help her but she was inconsolably in pain, crying out for help that no one around her could provide.

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A man walked up who had served in Iraq who also had wounds from scrap metal.  He walked up, showed her his side, and said something to her and her screaming quieted.

Her pain didn’t go away.  But He got it.  He knew the pain too.


I think if I were God, I would do everything in the world to keep my kids out of the “making” process.  I would just want them to be born, made totally new.  Which was His plan.  But even as we ruined it, as we thought we could figure out how to care for ourselves better than Him, He didn’t abandon us.

He entered the making.  He was brought low, felt pain, grief, hunger, betrayal, temptation, and His journey home felt never ending.  When He was in the Garden crying, “Lord, take this cup from me.”  He knew his journey home still had many trials to come.  But He was wounded in the making to be with us in it.

And as He is making, refining, sanctifying, and reminding me of my emptiness, I’m reminding myself that He is wounded too.  That as I am crying out hysterically to be done, to be out of pain, that He continues to reveal His wounds.  His wounds that bring me grace I can never deserve.  And as the journey home continues to be endless, I press on knowing that the making He is doing in “preparing a place for me” is better than I could ever ask or imagine.

 

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Hey there.  Thanks so much for reading.  My name is Emily Katherine and I’d love to get to know you.  Feel free to comment below or click the FOLLOW button to stay in touch.

Home.

There’s something about the Holiday season that makes us treasure home a little more.  While the summer is filled with plans after plans to get as far away from home as possible or spend the most amount of time outside or at a friend’s house, the holidays bring us back.  We decorate, adorn, nestle in, and find a cozy spot on the couch next to the tree.  The holidays make us recognize what’s around us, sometimes reflecting on what’s changed in the year, sometimes being grateful for another year.  It makes us see home as a place and a part of us, rather than just part of the mundane of life.  It sheds a little light on why our ordinary is actually special.

This idea of home, especially around the holidays has changed for me a good deal in my lifetime.  I grew up in one house I can barely remember until I turned 4 then we moved into what I consider my “childhood home”.  It was an old house built in 1900 on a street in southern Virginia where trees that filled the median were each dedicated to local WWII heroes.  There was even a cannon at the end of that road, Mount Vernon Avenue.  Our house was brick, three bricks deep actually in each and every wall.  It had blue shutters and lots of little quirks because of its age that were just normal to me like having a small kitchen attached to the kitchen called a “butler’s kitchen” and an extra cellar attached to the unfinished basement (note: this was where we stored our gallons and gallons of water to prepare for Y2K, but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t even know what that was.)  The upstairs hallway of that house was so wide we called it “bowling ally” and we loved to run and slide down it in our socks.  Occasionally, though, nails would come up out of the boards in the floor, yet at only 6 or 7 years old this didn’t phase me.  It was normal for me to pick up the hammer we kept at the top of the stairs for this very reason and hammer that nail back down.

221 Mount Vernon Avenue in all of its quirkiness and grandeur was home.  It was where parents of friends dropped me off and I never had to give them directions.  All of our neighbors called it “the Dalton house” and it was.  It was the porch where I took pictures before my first dance recital dressed as a bumble bee, it was the back yard where I learned how to play basketball, it was the driveway where my brother infamously made it onto America’s Funniest Home Videos, it was the back deck where my birthday parties were held, it was the laundry room where I learned how to do laundry.  It was home.  But then it wasn’t.

Then there were moving trucks and boxes.  There was newness and change and so much to be done.  That was November and Christmas came quickly.  That Christmas just felt different and I knew all the ones to follow would be different.  I didn’t live at home anymore.  I didn’t really know what home was anymore.  We transitioned from that house full of history to a brand new one and as I think about that was pretty symbolic of the move my family was taking.  Both my mom and dad’s families had lived in that small town of Danville, Virginia for as long as anyone could remember.  My parents and their parents and theirs had a deep history in that town, a name for themselves, deep deep roots, and we were beginning totally new.  It was kind of earth shattering for my little 11 year old heart.  That Christmas was the hardest.

I went up to Virginia a week early to spend time with friends to muster up the closest feeling of home I could find, but it just felt like it was gone. I remember deeply resonating with Cindy-Lou-who on How the Grinch Stole Christmas singing, “Where are you Christmas?  Why can’t I find you?  Why have you turned away?  My world is changing.  I’m rearranging.  Does that mean Christmas changes too?”

Yes, Cindy-Lou-who.  It does.

It felt like Christmas lost its magic and in a way it had.  Because when you don’t have a sense of home, you don’t have a place to wake up excited for the magic of a special day.  We were barely even sure which room to have our tree in.  It didn’t feel right to not have my cousins who lived around the corner come over around lunch so we could all play with each other’s toys.  If anything, Christmas just made it all the more real that the home I had always known would be gone.


But somehow things changed as they have a way of doing.  And the new house in South Carolina became home.  I missed having the comfort of being known and having grown up with people my whole life, but I began to feel at home.  Somewhere between club volleyball tournaments, chorus performances at school, mission trips at church, and all the times in between, the friends I made here became home for me.  The small group of girls I met with each Sunday night from 7th-12th grade on a couch where someone was always drinking coffee. Home.  The school where I became friends on my first day with a girl who had cried and prayed for a best friend the night before.  Home.  The girls ministry associate at my church who I soon realized I had everything in common with and soon became my sister.  Home.

But as things have a way of doing, it was time for change.  So I found myself again moving south to a tiny little town called Rome, Georgia.  The largest college campus tucked far up in the hills of Georgia had captivated my heart.  There were building that looked like castles and I knew I would one day call it home.  But that scared me.  I knew what it was like for home to change.  But once I was there touring on campus, my fears of college went away and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.

I quickly made friends on campus and loved my school but  never imagined the way that little town could wrap its way around my heart.  Rome doesn’t have too much to it and it’s often hard to find a place if you haven’t been there forever, but I love it so very deeply to the point I have to stop myself from reading the Newspaper in line at the local coffee shop when its my turn to order.  In my first few years, I always imagined Rome to just be a transition.  I knew it would always be special to me, but I never knew what it would become.  Home.

I began working with girls at my Church and my advisor from Berry also went to my Church.  I remember the first time I went to an event with other girls at that church.  It felt like the first time I could stop being a student, stop trying to be cool, and just let my guard down.  Though it was my very first time in that beautiful loft apartment downtown that once belonged to Mary Magoni I knew the feeling that met me there- home. And it hasn’t left.

Last week I hosted a baby shower full of ladies from that very church.  I sat in my living room- the living room of a house I am able to rent because a couple from that church moved to Kenya to be missionaries that own that house and all of the ladies filled my home.  Ladies whose daughters I had known while I worked in youth and would often see as I would sit by myself in church, but ladies in the past few months who have come to feel like family to me.  The room was full of laughter and celebration that my friend Mary who first made me feel at home was about to welcome baby Claire into the world.  There was food and coffee and games but I was just overwhelmed with that feeling.  That familiarity.  That fullness.  That sense of home.

I’ve known since I was 11 that home isn’t a place.  I think I got it when I learned that the “Church” wasn’t a building.  And that feeling has met me in the oddest of places.

One in particular is in my favorite TV Show- Gilmore Girls.  I remember the first time I ever watched an episode of Gilmore Girls.  It was the episode when Lorelai is making Rory’s prom dress and the mannequin she is working on falls on top of her.  It was one of the first times I found myself instantly lost in a show.  I had seen 2 minutes of it, but I was instantly laughing out loud and deeply invested.  This love continued on a daily basis.  I would come home from school and work on homework while watching Full House, but at 5:00 I knew Gilmore Girls would come on.  I started receiving the DVD sets for each Christmas and would watch all the episodes in order as I was falling asleep every night.  I sometimes feel like I know Lorelai and Rory’s stories better than my own, as I would revisit them every day and spend any sick days or mental health days doing the same- watching Gilmore Girls.  I remember when I first came to interview for the WinShape College Program at Berry and I walked into the room where I would stay for the night with a girl that would later become my small group leader.  “You have Gilmore girls!” was maybe the fist thing I said.  And I knew I could be at home with them.

This year, 8 years after the show’s last season, Gilmore Girls came back together to make 4 episodes.  As the music played, the sights shown of Stars Hollow, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel’s banter became audible, and cups of coffee were poured I began to cry because something about those seven seasons in Stars Hollow and the bond between Lorelai and Rory were that very thing for me- home.  They had seen me through the transition from Virginia to South Carolina, from South Carolina to college, and through my life crumpling to pieces for the last year.  That’s what home is. It’s constant.  And in an ever changing world sometimes home takes on a very strange from- like a TV Show.

But this sense of home met me in an even stranger place.  In a hospital waiting room on what I think was a Monday night.  We were sitting in the Critical Cardiac Unit lobby and most of the other patient’s families had gone home or been transferred to the heart floor but we were still there and had been since the Wednesday before when my Dad had his heart attack.  He had been unconscious all week and we had stayed closely by his side, praying for his every breath, pulse, rhythm, blood pressure, and whatever I could muster up the strength to understand and pray for.  It was traumatic, exhausting, heart wrenching, and just made it feel like time had stopped.  We had tried to take him off sedation and wake him up the day before, but it didn’t work.  So on this day, we were doing brain scans to hear back essentially whether or not I had my Daddy anymore, if it was just a responding body on a ventilator with no brain activity or if it was a long road of recovery ahead if my Daddy’s brain was in tact.  They had done the tests and we were waiting for a neurologist to come and tell us the results.  This honestly should have been the hardest time of waiting in my whole life, but that feeling met me there again.

We sat in the lobby as the sun set outside the window, a window I hadn’t really noticed at all before that week.  Someone had brought us dinner and we ate well.  We had been so blessed that week.  I watched as friends who are really family from our church and various other friends sat around with us in various pockets.  I was with my friend Emily Wyatt and our friend Tonya Bryson.  Our youth pastor was there.  Andrew’s high school best friend was there.  Countless people.  People we didn’t have to be anything with but just loved us and the air was light.  It just felt warm.  My youth pastor took a video panning the rom because there was just something about it.  I kept saying it felt like Sunday lunch after church with all of your family because that was really what it was like.  It was a little piece of home.

If I have learned anything, it’s that home isn’t a place or a person and it’s not just one place or one person.  It’s not a place where everything is right or magical or easy.  It’s a feeling and a presence.  It’s a warmth amidst the hardest days and a safe place amidst the scariest.  A real home isn’t somewhere you post on Pinterest about how well it’s decorated.  A real home is somewhere you are always met with undeserved warmth and love of being seen and known.  A real home is a sense that you belong, you’re safe, and things will be just like this for a little while, amidst a world where our plans disappoint us and let us down.  And that home becomes real for us, when we first allow ourselves to need it.

and into the darkness, light

My pastor started his sermon this past Sunday reading a letter a friend of his wrote about having lost his Dad.  He described that he had again come to know “the stench of death”.

The phrase sent me reeling as it sent me back into a hospital room praying hopeless prayers in between my own sweet Daddy’s spaced out breaths.  I remember how I slept that night.  The last night I would sleep in the same room as his breathing body.  It was a deep and somehow somewhat healing sleep.  There was a safety in his presence that I miss.  I haven’t slept the same since.

I’ve come to know death and darkness this year.

Darkness is a weird thing.  It’s scary and what you can’t see is scary, but once you’re in it, you feel comfortable.  A type of comfortable where you just feel wholly welcomed.  It’s not enticing in the slightest bit, but it’s easy to take refuge in its covering.

In Biblical times, when someone died the family would all sit in a dark house in silence and light one candle.  Because that’s how it feels. Dark. Desolate. Empty. Silent.

Darkness doesn’t push you to see more, do more, be more, want more, or strive more. It just envelops you, yet never keeps you safe.

It’s a weird thing to me that we live in a world of both darkness and light.  Half the world is experiencing light while the other half darkness, but we’re so used to this that we have found the very transitions of the rising and setting sun to be the most beautiful parts of the day.

It’s a hard thing for me to celebrate light coming into the darkness of the world as Christmas is just a little over a week away.

I don’t get it.  I don’t get why this was Your plan.  I don’t understand the hurt and waiting and the hopeless and the dark.

Generations after generations walked through darkness since the Garden- exile, oppression, silence, darkness.  All of it.

And on the darkest of hopeless nights, following a painful birth in a nasty barn, you quietly whispered, “I am doing a new thing.”

You didn’t come and shine Your light so bright that all the darkness was diminished.  No, the darkness lingered still.  But you entered it.  You entered it, familiarized yourself with it, and felt it.

I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the hard parts.  The broken situations where You could have written the story differently but you didn’t.  But it’s in the darkness of history from the garden to the stable that you were bringing about Christ.

I don’t get why you didn’t come more dramatically.  Why you didn’t put a stark end to the broken and painful.  But you came as small as You could.

Generations of writers wrote of the depths of despair of life apart from You and the need for You and you only came as a tiny little baby and somehow called that hope?  God, we needed a hero.  We still do. 

I don’t think we can truly understand the joy, hope, and light of Christmas coming without knowing the darkness.

The most quoted passage in Isaiah that proclaims the birth of Christ to come begins in darkness,

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.  You have multiplied the nation;  you have increased its joy; they rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.  For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.  For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

And I think in the same way that the darkness of history was bringing about Christ so the darkness we know is doing the same.

You could have come and stopped it all.  But you didn’t.  You came and entered and knew the darkness, even in ways I never will.

You defeated it, yet left us in it and I don’t really understand why.  Especially this year.  This year when darkness feels more safe and familiar than the light.

Instead, you came and gave us hope.  Not a hope that meant we wouldn’t face darkness, but hope in its truest since.  “An ache for what is to come” as Anne Voskamp would put it.

You came and showed us that the dark and hopeless that we know and feels safe is not all there is.  The very darkness we often have chosen because it has felt more loyal is not the end of our story and it wasn’t the end of yours.

I still don’t completely know how to live in the both and of darkness and light.  How to live in a world classified by two very opposite things is just hard to reconcile.  But I’m aching and believing that is what You are doing.

You are bringing about light in the darkest and emptiest of nights.  And we will long and wait for a light that not only tells us there is more, but it brings it.