gospel pieces

photo-1464454709131-ffd692591ee5It was your Eagle Scout ceremony. By most standards, you were too young to earn the Eagle ranking, yet you’d done all of the knot-tying and badge achieving and wilderness surviving and the day had come—the one you’d wanted since seeing our dad’s Eagle badge when you were a little boy.

You stood at the front of the white chapel with the Scoutmaster and our parents, reciting oaths and receiving awards.

I sat in the front row of the pews, watching anxiously. I could say I was nervous and excited for my little brother to gain such an honor, but I could also be honest—I was scared of a seizure. You’d had them once or twice, never in public and never with me. Of all the days, it couldn’t be this one. The Scoutmaster’s words were tangled between my worry and what-if’s, making sound but not sense. You looked at me, knowing. You smiled, reassuring. It was your turn to give an award.

Wait…what? This was your day. Certainly I’d misheard. I tried to recall the words, but they remained knotted in my attempts to hide the fear.

“When we asked him if he’d like to recognize a mentor who helped him achieve Eagle, he responded ‘yes’ without hesitation. In fact, I think this may be the first time in our troop a female has been chosen for this award. At this time, we’d like to recognize his sister.”

You chose me.

It was the summer after my college graduation. I was curled up on your bedroom floor, while you pulled out a piece of paper for a pro-con list. I had two job offers—one that everyone else cheered for and another that made my eyes sparkle.

“Kait, I think it’s clear which one you need to do,” you said. You were the only one who noticed the light in my face.

You saw me.

It was our last phone call. You asked me about my new job in Nashville, and I masked my excitement with a “fine.” We hadn’t really talked about Jesus that much outside of church, and I wasn’t sure how to explain my job with an online Bible-reading community to you. One day, I’d do my self-appointed sisterly duties of sharing my real story about God, but not today, I decided.

You asked more questions. Did I have any favorite ways to read Scripture? What were my favorite books? Did I really read it every day? You were trying to, you said.

What did I think about the church we grew up in?

Or those things the youth group leader taught us—were they true?

I hope you heard my happy tears.
Join a small group, I suggested. 

“That’s the reason I called!” you said. “It was the best part of my week!”

You were the gospel to me. The most precious piece of my story, pointing me to the pulse of its Author.

You still are the gospel to me.

on being brave


Two weeks after my brother’s death, I did a radio interview. About hospitality.

(In case you were wondering my specific shade of crazy.)

It was a mix of hilarious distraction, certified insanity, and unbridled adrenaline that screamed “the show must go on!”—a cocktail I hoped would bring me back to life.

On the air, I shared a story about what staying in a stranger’s house taught me about welcoming people in. On the inside, I was living in an unrecognizable frame, refusing to let even myself knock on the door. The show shouldn’t have gone on.

I wanted applause and confetti for doing the “hard thing”, for others to believe I was strong and resilient. I guzzled pride and hurt, one after the other, thinking one ought to bring me some kind of refund for my loss. It was far from the kind of brave I wanted to be.

The kind of brave I longed for was cute and whimsical—a damsel with a perfectly-portioned amount of distress and braids that effortlessly flowed down my back. I could let it go.

It was vulnerable and romantic—a woman who loses everything and finds herself in travel and pasta and boyfriends. I could eat, pray, and love.

It was smart and empowered—an inexperienced girl who defeats her doubts hiking miles and miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. I could be Wild.

It was composed and admirable—write-a-book-about-it, put-a-filter-on-it, people-will-cheer-for this kind of stuff.

I prescribed brave as my own numbing salve and protective shield, but blindly gulped down fear instead.

It was then I realized—these characters who’d taught me about being brave? I’d stayed with them. I’d committed to their stories at page 1 and didn’t leave after page 80. I didn’t stop the movie during the hard parts. I loved them—forgotten maps, bruised knees and all—but I hadn’t given myself the same chance. I’d been willing to sit in their sadness, but ran at the sight of my own.

Running away was comfortable. I craved plane tickets, hiking boots, and magic spells, thinking they would be my shortcut to bravery. But bravery is the daily doing of facing brokenness, and I wasn’t even close.

If that’s what brave looks like, brave for me, right now, isn’t moving or leaving or changing—it’s staying. Staying with myself, page by page, story by story, day by day.

It’s staying in a painful place, sitting with my grieving thoughts, allowing the tears to come when they want to. It’s promising to stay, even on page 80 and through the hard parts, to see them for what they are and hold them up to the light. It’s committing to loving the girl who may not be able to keep it together or let it go, who forgets how to pray and hides from love, who feels more trapped than wild.

Brave right now is learning to receive the grace I’ve been refusing.

And, as it turns out, being brave right now isn’t really the point.

Orlando: When Tragedy Is Greater Than 140 Characters

photo-1460132011327-1bcd44f7ae20It’s called rubbernecking, apparently.

Sitting in my stalled car in the middle lane of I-40 during Nashville rush hour, I couldn’t have cared less what the proper term was, but I certainly felt it.

The drivers behind me, with a gaze piercing my blinking hazard lights and a judgment ringing clear as they slowly moved past, turned their necks to gawk at my situation, one by one by one hundred.

Moments before, I’d been one of them, screaming traffic jam frustrations to the unforgiving radio “Rush Hour Report.” And then, without warning or engine light, I became the holdup.

I can only imagine what kind of things were whispered or yelled in the cars around me:

“I’m so glad that’s not us!”
“Seriously? Doesn’t she know how to fill a gas tank?”
“Ugh! I’m going to be late to dinner again.”
“This is why we don’t buy Jeeps.”
“She looks terrified. Someone should help her.”
“Nashville highways are the worst. I hate living here.”
“We’re going to miss The Bachelor!” (SO MUCH empathy here. Let’s be honest, I’m totally trying to bootleg the rose ceremony on my phone while waiting for the tow truck.)

Thankfully, those comments were sealed behind fastened seatbelts and sealed windows, and the only words I remember from that night were from those there to help me—my roommate, the policemen, the tow truck guy. Everything turned out okay in the end, but I’m afraid this outcome is becoming more and more rare.

Sure, we all mostly still travel along highways tightening our seatbelts behind closed windows, but do we use the same restraints when we click around online?

Social media is a vehicle that fills one of our deepest human longings—to be seen, heard, and connected. We hide behind the safety of instant affirmation and wild anonymity, pressing publish and arranging feeds to ensure our significance. We forget the pain of our followers in an attempt to numb our own wounds.

A few years ago, I was stuck in the middle of a different difficulty—the loss of my brother. It was sudden, shocking, and public, exposing wounds that needed to be seen, heard, and connected.

And so, a few weeks after the accident, I found that my own wounds had the same needs, and I turned, terrified, to the internet. The pile of posts was overwhelming—tributes and headlines, photos and stories, some informed, many not-so, some from friends, many from strangers.

Overall, like my highway rescue, the ones that rose to the top were helpful, but I’m not so sure its authors knew they were in a windows-down, seatbelt-less vehicle. Most of them probably didn’t know I would read it at all. Rubbernecking, apparently.

I don’t tell this story to bring mine back into the spotlight or compare it whatsoever, but I ache for the brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers of the Orlando shooting victims or any other tragic situation in the public eye who will make their return to the internet in their own time.

Let’s ask ourselves, what will they find?
Will it be kind? Will it be true? Will it be necessary?*
Will they feel seen, heard, and connected?
What will rise to the top?

Let’s expose our rubber necks for what they really are—broken hearts.
Friends, it’s okay to talk about your wounds, your fears, your confusion. Grieve in community.
Leave space for others to do so, too.

May social media be an extension of our empathy and a bridge to our unity.
May those affected only feel seen, heard, connected, and may help rise to the top.

Lord, have mercy. May Your grace go before and follow behind our faulty words. Let love be the loudest.

*paraphrased from Socrates


There was a time in my life when strep throat was the worst case scenario. I was a six year old girl who adored school and hated doctors, especially doctors who wanted to steal me away from darling Ramona Quimby, Age 8 to ram oversized q-tips down my throat.

My brother, the smart whipper-snapper he was, also dreaded strep throat. For him, it was the antibiotics. Can I pause for a moment to tell you that this boy also possessed a gift from the metabolic Gods in that he did not enjoy SWEETS? Ahem.

So, when presented with liquid torture also known as children’s antibiotics, lured with flavors of “pink bubblegum!” and “strawberry milkshake!,” the candied disguise he hated anyway, we cried in unison for sweet Ramona Quimby to rescue us.

One winter night, the situation was especially bleak. Four-year-old, strep-throat-diagnosed Kendall resisted the prescribed medicine like a champ, pulling out just the right amount of tears and kicks to send our family’s dinnertime peace into an immediate nosedive. A professional, I tell you.

“You’ll love the pink bubblegum!,” my parents pleaded.
“Your favorite—strawberry milkshake!,” they lied.

He needed backup. Enter six-year-old sister to the rescue. I jumped into the middle of the spat, motioning for Kendall to climb on my back. Piggybacked and void of socks, jackets or plans, I opened the door and whispered “We’re running away. I won’t let them get you.”

Now, when I wake up and see there’s no one to carry on my back, I worry I broke this promise. 

At worst, I wonder if my fear of losing my brother spoke it into existence.
At best, I hate I wasn’t there to wedge myself between him and the pain.

Yet, each time I rehearse these thoughts, I come face to face with someone who’s still here.
It’s her.

The six year old girl who adored school and hated doctors.
The one who thought strep throat was the worst.

The six year old girl who adored her brother and hated his pain.
The one who knew losing him would be the real worst.
Her name is sister.  

Sister hides in the wings. I’m not sure she knows the story has been rewritten; her role excluded. I’m too scared to break the news of her brother’s death, and consequently, her own.

She’s waiting with her knees bent, ready for someone to hop on her back. She doesn’t know any other stance.

I won’t get rid of her, but can’t distract her for much longer.

“Pink bubblegum!” “Strawberry milkshake!”, I attempt, to no effect.

She’s on to me. Her hands are empty, the weight on her back light. I want to give her Ramona. I want to give her someone, but I can’t give her a brother. Sister is uncharacteristically quiet, tiptoeing around, knowing the power she has to break my very days in half. She misses him.

It’s then I realize I’ve spent so much time protecting her, that I’ve forgotten to mention I really miss her, too. 


photo-1453372723567-aab945d195b8Last year, February was a deep sigh of relief.
Overnight, time leaped from the 28th to March 1st, which felt like an intentional kindness from the clock.

You see, each month since September 29, 2014, the 29th has marked another month of missing my brother. 

Seventeen times, I’ve filled the day with distractions, excuses and numbness, staring at the date on my phone and waiting up for the ease that 30 brings.

It’s a useless cycle, really. The numbers are simply a benchmark for the grief marathon I didn’t sign up for; a reminder that the finish line is not near, and maybe doesn’t even exist. But one day each month, my jello-ed legs suggest I may never stop running.

The first time I realized this, I was getting my hair cut. The stylist pumped a bottle of shampoo as I lowered my head into the sink of warm water. Mid-lather, she smacked her gum and searched for a conversation starter, while I prayed it wouldn’t be the question I’d managed to avoid until then.

“Do you have any siblings?” she asked. I stared back at her, wondering if her fingertips had accidentally slipped into my brain through my ears or if she genuinely was well-intentioned and oblivious. I mumbled the response I’d rehearsed and immediately began to cry.

The only thing worse than sobbing in a shampoo bowl was realizing that I am now the kind of person that sobs in a shampoo bowl.

It’s somewhere in this sudsy mess I start to see that I am ashamed of my grief.

I don’t want to be the one who walks out of movie theaters during the previews.
I don’t want to be the one with the most complicated prayer request at Bible study.
I don’t want to be the one who remains quiet at parties to avoid hard questions.

I don’t want to be the one to explain that the emptiness of my loss is the heaviest thing I have to carry.
I don’t want to be the one to tell you that grief says I am both too much and never enough for normalcy.

And honestly, I don’t want to be the one to admit I felt this way before my story even contained grief and I started counting 29’s.

From cropping the unflattering parts of my life out of Instagram pictures to creating a default response of “I’m fine” no matter what, it’s creeped in much more than I noticed.

It wasn’t until I physically couldn’t pretend to be polished that I realized how long I’d been playing the game. I’d spent my life leaping over my imperfections, only pausing when absolutely necessary—which now, is the 29th.

I thought that dusting myself off and standing back up as if nothing had ever happened was the “Christian” thing to do, but now I’m realizing Jesus never did that. When I read that Jesus walks through weeping instead of around it and turns mourning into gladness instead of sustaining a strong persona, I see that sorrow and joy are equally important and necessary. And in the midst of them, He never asks us to stop being human.

Just as nighttime is half of the story, it’s okay for darkness to be an acknowledged part of ours.

So although this February 29th seems like a cruel addition to the 2016 calendar, I’m choosing to stand knee-deep in its purpose, allowing myself to stop running from the darkness. Maybe you can do the same?

Let us give ourselves permission to see our stories less as something forced upon us and more as hope displayed through us. May we live true stories today and always.

Cheering you on always,


a good friend’s guide to grief


Hey friends, hey! So excited you’re here. A question I’ve been getting a lot recently is “How do I love my friend who is grieving?” and I LOVE THAT. Please keep seeking the answer to that question! My answer is usually “A.) You’re a great friend! and B.) Keep being that friend!” but I want to give it a little more thought here because the people in my corner mean the world to me—and have been the best examples of love!—, and I think simple misunderstanding is the only difference between someone feeling lonely or loved in their grief. While this is only based on my personal experience with losing my brother, I hope it helps you feel prepared when your friends lose someone they love. Here goes: 

If there’s one thing I learned in college, it’s how to kill a cockroach.

I had a different set of roommates each year at South Carolina, which meant every living situation brought its own opinions of how to deal with the crawly pests that appeared everywhere. The bugs must have assumed that since USC cheered for the cocks, they must also appreciate the roach variety. They were wrong.

My roommates’ reactions to the bugs could be separated into 2 distinct categories:

The screamers—It was only the most blissful fate that lead me to these sweet screechers who’d drop coffee mugs, slam doors closed and break ear drums at any sight of a creepy crawler.

The killers—The category of first responders of which I am a proud member. We see the bugs less as vicious threats and more as problems to be solved.

But recently, I’ve noticed we all split into the same categories when other hard, uninvited circumstances crawl in. When grief found its way through my floorboard cracks, I experienced the same two distinct gut reactions from others: screaming and running away, or staying and trying to fix it. Both responses have the same motivation: to relieve discomfort, either by removing yourself or its cause.

That’s the thing about grief—you cannot heal the wound or relieve the discomfort. 

If that’s true, we’re just left with the “removal” part of the friendship offering, usually presenting itself as a buddy with a quick exit and not enough to say, or a pal with a cure-all and painful advice to distribute. Both are hurtful and damaging to relationships, so we’re going to say goodbye to those, okay?

Here’s where I’m not going to give you a list of do’s and don’ts, because there aren’t any that are true in every situation. But what we can do is revisit our motivation.

What would happen if you knew you couldn’t kill the cockroaches?
What if you knew that they couldn’t kill you? 

Your life would probably be pretty weird at first, and you’d have to get used to the uninvited creepy crawlies, but after a while, it would feel pretty normal. You’d learn to live amongst them and they’d start to feel less creepy.

Remove the pressure to fix your friend.
Relax the fear of things never being the same.
Show up in the midst of the uncomfortable.
Don’t scream in horror, don’t suggest a remedy; Just be willing to sit.

My girl Shauna Niequist communicates this scenario beautifully in her book Cold Tangerines. Wanting to have a baby, she wrote in a blog post that if she found out she wasn’t pregnant one more time, she would break glass, just to feel it shatter.

The next week, she had lunch to celebrate a girlfriend’s good news—pregnancy.

Shauna hoped the friend hadn’t seen the blog post, filled with jealous and frustrated words about the very thing her friend had and she didn’t. Her friend showed up to lunch with safety goggles.

“When you feel like shattering something, I’ll be right there with you.  I’ll help you break it, and I’ll help you clean it up.” She said, “You’ve been celebrating with me, and I’ll be here to grieve with you. We can do this together.”

Do that. Be the friend who brings the safety goggles or doesn’t mind stepping around the cockroaches.

Don’t love your friend because they are grieving; love them because they are your friend. 

Celebrate and grieve, and do it all together. You’re a great friend. Keep being that friend.