Posted by: Kara Luker | December 15, 2022

Divided body

There has always been a divide between me and my body as if we were two separate entities forced to do life together. Almost like an awkward pairing for a three-legged race, stumbling along and falling down repeatedly while watching others soar past us with rhythm and grace. I attribute this to the fact that my body did not line up with what I thought it should be. Nope, not in form or function. How was I expected to partner with such a thing?

From my earliest childhood when I would gladly risk a spanking from my health-minded parents for the chance to get sugar in my bloodstream to my teenage years when the cravings turned to far worse substances and the risks increased exponentially, it seemed like my body was exacting demands that I felt powerless to deny. It was like a traitor, selling out my best for a hit of happiness or comfort.

Then there was the issue of fatigue that began in those teenage years, which was understandable in the restless swirl of substance and emotion when I was trying to figure out which way was up but didn’t seem to improve when I got nourishment, rest and tried my best to meet my body’s finicky list of conditions. It’s no wonder methamphetamine was my drug of choice, wanting to experience the feeling of a “normal” body that delivered the energy it should.

And then, of course, there was the look of my body which never seemed to satisfy my expectations. The shape was all wrong or the size or the proportions, causing me to ignore the needs my body expressed through hunger or to beat it down with strenuous exercise. Never mind the knife I took to it at one point, carving out lines in my arms that can still be seen. My body and I were pretty much enemies at this point so I didn’t feel too bad about it. After all, I wouldn’t have to treat it so poorly if it did a better job of meeting my needs.

That just leaves the promiscuity, which seemed insignificant when there was such a disconnect between my heart and this ugly shell I inhabited. It felt no more meaningful than sharing a pair of old socks with a stranger. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. What’s it to me?

Except it turns out that my body is a freaking rockstar. By some miracle, it is still standing despite the hell I put it through. It survived an onslaught of nicotine, alcohol, drugs and even a heroin overdose. It made it through neglect and outright abuse. It birthed two sweet sons who changed my life and carried me through the loss of one of them. It wakes up every single morning to facilitate this beautiful life I never thought I’d have. How could I ever have considered it an enemy?

Yes, we are still working out the kinks of our relationship, especially when it is tired and I start to panic, but I am feeling so much gratitude for this vessel of life God has generously given me. No longer is my focus on making it look a certain way or even act a certain way. I just want to learn to treat it kindly; to listen to its needs and respond with gentleness and wisdom; to be a friend. I have a feeling that as I continue on this path, my body and I are going to learn to run together with rhythm and grace. And we are going to have the time of our lives. I look forward to telling you all about it.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Cor 6:19-20

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Have you ever experienced a disconnect with your body? What was the cause… and were you able to reconcile it?

Posted by: Kara Luker | December 1, 2022

God of redemption

If you had told me when I was younger that my life would be so good that I would cry thankful tears of joy on a random Tuesday, I would have called you deluded. Not only was my life a disaster, the problems seemed to go far beyond my choices and behavior. I thought it was my very self that was broken beyond repair and for my life to have any good in it, I had to be removed from the equation. But if I died, it would no longer be my life. It was a catch 22. 

At a certain point, I came to realize that I truly wanted to have a good life, one that looked so different from the one I possessed, but also came to the horrifying conclusion that I was completely unable to affect that change. It was this desperate tension, the tug of war between desire and need, that finally caused me to wave the white flag and give my life, the whole tangled mess of it, to Jesus.

He entered into my trainwreck of a life as if it was a garden that he was delighted to visit, and began to gently teach me and show me a very undeserved love. I thought that now that I was “saved,” I should get it right. But nope, he didn’t say, “You need to get it right.” Or anything like that. He said, “Let me love you and show you my ways.” It was not easy. I felt so unworthy of love and too fearful to trust. But the desire kept tugging and wouldn’t let me off the hook. There was no going back. 

So I followed him little by little, day by day, year by year, having so little understanding of the transformative power of this beautiful God I was trying to pursue as best as a broken-down person could. Never did he start saying, “Now you need to get it right.” Instead he said, “I got it right so you don’t have to. Just let me love you and show you my ways.” Somehow, along the way, he sorted out the impossible. He set me on a firm foundation. He made my life so incredibly beautiful that I have found myself in tears several times this week in humble gratitude for his relentlessly patient and bountiful love and his ways which are at once so tender and powerful. 

I am not saying I don’t have problems anymore. Or that I don’t struggle. Or that I don’t come up short. I do. But I now see that Jesus resolved the catch 22 by dying on the cross and taking the old sin-riddled, failure-bound me with him. And then resurrected me as a brand new creation. At that moment, though I couldn’t yet grasp it, his perfect righteousness was imparted to me. It’s on this journey of understanding what this means that I have been transformed. While sometimes I wonder if my heart is big enough to contain more kindness, I know I’ve only just begun to see the height and depth and width of this love. 

I have a cousin who once was so hopeless, he also nearly self-destructed and even tried to take his own life. Last Sunday, this same cousin preached the most beautiful sermon at the church he now works at. His amazing wife sat in the front row while his two kids played in Sunday school. His relationship with his family has been restored, as has his joy and purpose. He helps people every day with the patient, compassionate love God showed him. His laughter is one of my favorite things on earth. He is living in the impossible, undeniable radiance of our redemptive God.

I am sharing this because I think there are people out there right now who are without hope, maybe to the point of despair, that their life could ever change or could ever matter. Take heart. It can’t help but change in light of this love. And you do matter, so much, right now, regardless of how you see yourself or how impossibly tangled your life looks. Wave your white flag when you are ready. And one day you too will be crying tears of gratitude as you survey your beautiful life; one that seemed like it could never, ever be within your reach and yet here it is in your very hands.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Romans 8:31-34

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:18

Posted by: Kara Luker | November 28, 2022

Our relationship-loving Dad

A day before school let out for Thanksgiving break, Chase got really sick with a high fever, an aching body, a nasty cough and endless congestion. I felt very fortunate to be able to rearrange my plans and take care of him. Even his eyes hurt and propping him up in front of the TV wasn’t an option, so I pulled him onto my lap, held him close and prayed quietly over him. 

In between the silent spaces of rest and the tear-filled ones when he was expressing his suffering, he apologized – repeatedly – for being sick. He felt guilty, he said, that he was taking up so much of my time and energy. “I love taking care of you, buddy,” I told him. “It’s what moms do!”  “But I don’t really do anything for you and I feel like I should,” he responded during one of these conversations. He laid out all the ways I care for him and how short he falls in repaying that care in any meaningful way.

The whole thing felt sweet and earnest, yet odd at the same time; like he misunderstood our roles. I explained that it’s not a kid’s job to take care of their parents, but the other way around. “Yeah, but I want to help take care of you,” he said. “I appreciate that! But the thing I want most from you is relationship because just being with you delights me every single day and it makes my heart full when you receive my love and friendship.” When he pressed about what he could do for me, I told him “I feel loved when you willingly do what I ask because it shows that you trust me. That means so much more than some important-looking gesture!” “Huh,” he responded, clearly never having thought of helping around the house as an act of love. “And,” I continued, “I looove when you treat other people well.”

When walking away from that last conversation, my feet stopped moving as my brain was struck with the reality that Chase’s sentiment parallels my own. Having come to understand so much more profoundly how much God loves me and what he sacrificed to demonstrate that love, I have been wanting to repay him with something equally big and sacrificial; a life that reads like a grand gesture of kindness. While that desire probably touches God’s heart, just like Chase’s touched mine, I think that maybe that’s not what he’s asking for.

I think more than anything I can “do” for him, my heavenly Dad mostly wants relationship with me. He wants me to be able to receive his love and care, knowing it is a joy for him; something given freely, not something I owe him for. He wants to hear about the big and little things in my day; to laugh with me over the silly things and to hold me close when my heart breaks. He also wants to share his heart with me and impart wisdom and perspective, giving me a glimpse of what lies beyond my childlike and often self-focused vantage point. If I grasp nothing else in this life, I think this alone would make him pretty darn happy.

But what if I want to do something for him? I think that’s also a lot like what I told Chase; that rather than grand gestures, which are often self-serving anyway, God is blessed beyond measure when I willingly do what he asks because it means that I’ve heard him and trust him. And I think he’s also super blessed and proud when I treat others well because it demonstrates an understanding of how well I’ve been treated. 

This is a huge relief for me. Because, despite my best intentions, I’m not remotely capable of living the life I’d like to live in response to his kindness. I’m tired just thinking about it. But I do think that as I press into him each day, sharing my heart and hearing his, I have a very good chance of living a life that brings him a whole lot of joy, just like my kid brings me.

Posted by: Kara Luker | November 18, 2022

God is not withholding good

Have you ever had a thought or feeling running unnoticed in the background of your life, not demanding much attention, and then all of a sudden, something external presses on it and suddenly it is right up in your face?

Well, that happened to me recently and revolves around decisions made several years ago. The backstory starts with John and I being fortunate enough to have our sweet baby Chase after getting married. Between my age, which was on the older side for bearing babies, and my control issues, I felt a need to know pretty quickly whether we were going to try for another one. John was willing (for my sake), but felt the financial weight of providing for another kid. I was willing but was concerned about my ability to manage two very small human beings with my limited energy, and also didn’t want to be so consumed by my own family that I couldn’t help others. 

Seemingly, things were leaning in the “against” direction, but there was still a lingering desire; a sense that our family wasn’t quite complete. So I wrestled down the competing voices in my mind and took the whole thing to God in prayer. While there was no audible voice from heaven, I felt a peace descend about letting go of another possible pregnancy. Joy followed. It felt so right. Of course we would adopt at some point; that was always the plan. Besides, we already had a very full, recently-blended household with a baby, two teens, a dog and a tortoise… certainly enough to keep our hands and hearts full! So before Chase was a year old, surgery was scheduled to prevent further pregnancies and that was that.

Back in the day

Until a couple years passed. Chase was in a more manageable place, Cole had left for the Navy, Madison was hardly ever home and we didn’t have pets anymore. I suddenly found myself ready – really ready – for another baby. Except we had already closed that door and John quickly shot down my suggestion to reverse the surgery. Go figure. So we started moving forward with the fostering process, which turned out to be a six month journey that stopped short of us being approved. We were given a yellow light and by the time we got the green light, neither of us felt a peace about moving forward. In the end we hosted a few sets of kids temporarily through a great organization called Safe Families, which scratched the itch to help other families and proved to be a helpful reality check, but left me without a sense of resolve for my deeper wants and expectations.

As the years have gone by with Chase getting older – and us too, expanding our family doesn’t seem as realistic or appealing. So I’ve been left with a slight sadness that Chase is basically an only child, a conversation that feels unfinished, and a mild regret that we didn’t just have one more back when we had the chance. But it’s all been under the surface with very little conscious thought. That is until our friends stepped into the temporary care of a little girl who might, contrary to the way the program normally works, become a long term part of their family. It’s not that I want to be the caregiver for this child, as sweet and magical as our interactions with her have been. It is that this external circumstance pressed on this unresolved thing inside, squeezing it right up in my face, making me acknowledge the nagging sense that either I missed the boat or God failed to show up in some way. Which was uncomfortable, but a gift to be sure.

I took it to prayer, wielding two of my best weapons – surrender and praise – which lined me up beautifully to grasp the truth I needed to hear; one that hit my heart like a game-changing revelation: God is not withholding any good thing from me. I repeated it a few times, chewing it over and getting excited, “God is not withholding any good thing from me.” He could have spoken loud and clear if his best for us was having another baby. He could have cleared the path for us to foster and/or adopt or given us a peace when we got the go-ahead. Even if we got everything wrong – misunderstood him in prayer, forced a decision before it was time to make, made an entirely wrong decision or one based in fear, or didn’t pursue something we should have – he can still make right what we didn’t. Because he is the God of second chances. And third. And fourth. And fiftieth. 

While that doesn’t mean I can prance back to my baby-bearing years and make a different decision, it does mean that I can let go of my doubts and regrets. Because it was – and is – his intention to meet my needs and fulfill my desires… abundantly, richly, fully. While I might be fixated on a certain way (or time) that needs to happen, he grasps with a perfect wisdom that is often far beyond my understanding the way and timing that would best accomplish that, not only for my good but for those around me too. So if I can let go of the attachment to my ideas, no matter how good they are, and spend my time embracing where he has me and delighting in who he is, I am positioned in a place of trust to receive the beautiful things he would love to give, knowing that he is also protecting me from anything less. This frees me up to live wholeheartedly here and now, with a heart that is deeply satisfied and a life that glorifies him. I can’t think of a better way to live.

This all feels very personal, but I’m sharing it in the hope that it will encourage those who need it. Maybe you have been waiting for a desire to be fulfilled and have felt like you missed the boat or God failed you in some way. Maybe it seems like there is now no way for you to see its fulfillment. Or maybe you see people around you experiencing what you desperately want, pressing hard on your unmet desire and waving it in your face. But I am certain that if you will take it to God, asking him to help you to surrender your sorrow, regret, disappointment, fear, doubt or whatever nagging torment you are carrying – as well as the way or timing you have determined the desire needs to be fulfilled, he will tenderly hold your heart and meet its deepest needs in the best way possible, satisfying your heart abundantly, richly, fully. Because he is not withholding any good thing from you. He will never withhold any good thing from you. Blessings to you, friend.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:3-4

Posted by: Kara Luker | November 8, 2022

Us with God

It has been nearly five months since I wrote a post about my dog, Sunny, which is frankly shocking and makes me think you must be longing for another. So here it is my friends, just for you.

Earlier in her puppyhood, Sunny was fond of us, her doting family, but she was equally fond of running through the open front door and dashing down the middle of the street like a sprung prisoner seeking freedom or maybe more like an illegal firework mistakenly shot off sideways. Neighbors from all directions would hightail it from their yards to try to grab her collar as I sprinted from behind calling her name and frantically hoping she didn’t run out onto the main street or get hit by a car as she zig zagged to avoid capture.

We weren’t only concerned about her safety on the street, but also doubted her trustworthiness off leash in other places. We were very aware that an opportunity for some quick fun created instant amnesia of her training – and of our existence altogether – and “Come!” was internally translated as “Be free, young pup! Run like the wind!” It seemed likely that she would chase that shiny opportunity down the sand or trail into the horizon, never to be seen again… except maybe by a new family who would find and keep her; one she would like just as well because why not?

Despite her focus on the titillating things in the great beyond, we continued to feed her and train her and nurture her. We took her on walks and outings to fun places and to the vet when her ear was infected yet again. We scratched her favorite spots and played with her, throwing balls and toys and the frisbees she never tires of. We called her name over and over until she knew who she was. And she learned our names too – Dad, Mom and Chase (and her grandma “Bestemor” too). Somehow, in the midst of this relationship of provision and love in which she was almost entirely a recipient, an awareness happened that affected her behavior. She came to recognize something that was always true… that her identity is entwined with ours; that she is not just “Sunny, the lone dog” but something more akin to “Sunny with us.” 

I won’t pretend that I trust her off leash where cars are involved and there is still a possibility that she will dash through the open front door if she’s feeling feisty to do zoomies around our front yard and pee on my parents’ grass (sorry guys!). But I now have zero doubt that after she expends a minute or two of her notoriously spazzy energy, she will come right back to our front door and gladly, willingly enter our home where she knows she belongs.

This change seems especially evident in her behavior off leash at places like dog beach where she still enjoys a good romp with other playful pups but her primary concern has become where we are. She does not lose track of us. Ever. She checks in regularly and has no trouble leaving the excitement behind if we are getting too far ahead. Sometimes I even have to give her some hearty encouragement to leave my side and enjoy the surroundings. Who would have thought? 

I can’t help but think how much this is like our relationship with God. So many of us start out thinking we are independent creatures. We have little or no awareness of our place in God’s family, the provision happening for us every day or the ways we are risking our wellbeing as we live with a focus on the titillating (and terrifying) things in the great beyond. But that’s okay. Because God is in it for the long haul. He will continue to love us and train us and nurture us and comfort us and protect us. He will play with us and laugh at our puppy-like antics, knowing that we are growing into a realization of our belonging to this God who entered into our little existence with such devotion that He called himself “God with us.” It’s no wonder that after a time, we will no longer consider ourselves as orphans or lone rangers, but something more akin to “Us with God.” 

That doesn’t mean we are perfectly trained people without a penchant for distraction, but it does mean that we become increasingly aware that our happiness and wellbeing are intrinsically tied to this God who loves us. With that knowledge comes freedom, security and purpose. And, dare I say, a whole lot more opportunities for non-life-threatening/hair-on-fire/sideways-shooting-rocket kind of fun. 

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”). Matthew 1:22-23

Posted by: Kara Luker | November 3, 2022

Never stopping never giving up love

I’ve been doing a bible study at my church on the covenant and it has been one of those transformational kinds of things. Not like “Oh that’s interesting!”, only to forget about it a day later. But where I am understanding how irrevocable the forgiveness is that Jesus purchased for me and how freely I can now come before God on Jesus’ merit alone, not mine. I’m also grasping that he didn’t suffer so he could have perfect, well-behaved Christians , but so he could have unencumbered relationship with us flawed “kids” he loves so darn much.

Hopefully someday I can better articulate the fullness of what I’ve learned, but for the moment what I want to share is that I have felt loved. Not with a sweet little pat-on-the-head kind of love. But with a wild, true, immutable love… a “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”* It has been lifting the weight of performance I didn’t even know I was carrying. I couldn’t be more grateful to be entering more completely into God’s abundant heart for me (and all His kids).

The most interesting thing is happening as a result. I want to share that love in tangible, sometimes inconvenient ways. Not out of duty or obligation or because it makes me feel like a good person. But because it is the only possible response to being loved like this. Having always struggled with selfishness and the proclivity to put my own needs first, this is fairly new ground for me. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I was totally evil before and have now turned into Mother Theresa – or even my own very selfless mother. But I have found myself not only willing, but eager, to see beyond my own wants and needs. Not for my own benefit, but for the benefit of others. Because Jesus loves me. And because he loves them. And that is simply the best news ever.

There are some other things I’m tempted to share alongside this, but I think I’m going to save those for another post. What I want to leave with you is this… If you’ve been burdened with selfishness like me or a lack of grace for those around you or you just feel like you have nothing to give, may I suggest that maybe it’s not about trying to give more or become this person you think you should be, but about asking God to show you His love for you and letting that become a fountain that bubbles up from within and flows out onto those around you?

Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, “Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.” John 7:38

*One of my favorite quotes from The Jesus Storybook Bible

Posted by: Kara Luker | October 28, 2022

Freedom from self-hatred

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

If you’ve read even a handful of posts from my blog, you probably know that I struggled intensely with self-hatred for many years and nearly self-destructed in the process. I honestly don’t know how I’m even still alive.

Well, that’s not true. It was God’s grace. He reached into my desperate mess and spoke truth through people I trusted; people who had the peace I wanted. The terrifying freefall ended and, bit by bit, I realized that I had solid ground beneath my feet, a life that was being built up rather than torn down and a beautiful relationship with the God who saved me.

What really makes me marvel is the way He is continuing to bring more joy and freedom with each passing day. Not only has self-hatred lost its hold, but I am coming to truly embrace who I am. As I told an old friend in an email this morning, “As it turns out, I’m pretty good at being me. It requires far less effort than being someone I think I should be or someone I think others want me to be. I’m sure this sounds incredibly elementary – like, no duh – but it is revelatory to me and the foundation of it seems to be surrender. That God made me as I am for His purposes; for His joy and mine. If that doesn’t look shiny and beautiful, that’s okay. Because even with all my shortcomings, I’m enough.” 

There is a deep rest that is coming from this place and some default ways of propping myself up to be this person I thought I should be are falling away because they are now unnecessary. It’s like I’m coming out of hiding; just showing up as I am. And do you know what? I am having the best time ever. I never realized that being me could be such fun.

I’m guessing this is something a lot of you already experience as a normal thing. If so, that thrills me. If you are someone who is struggling with self-hatred, let me be a voice of hope and truth as so many others were to me. Below is part of a letter I wrote to a young friend who has been struggling. I hope that it encourages you on your journey. I also highly recommend Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, which was incredibly helpful to me.

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Dear friend,

This is what I have learned and what I can guarantee that you will find. The torment you are experiencing is not coming from who you are. Not how you look or how you act or how you interact with other people. Not from your weaknesses or imperfections. Not from what anyone thinks of you. It comes from one thing: Believing a lie the enemy has attached to who you are.

So any course you take, whether in thought or action, that is based on a belief that there is something inherently wrong with you will not ease your pain. It certainly might numb it, but it doesn’t address the actual problem so it is incapable of solving it and will only serve to prolong (and possibly increase) the torment. It will likely be a wild goose chase, under the false assumption that if you arrive over “there,” you won’t feel the pain of being yourself anymore. But every time you get there, you will find that the target has moved because there will always be some evidence left of the self you have learned to hate. I spent a good many years going down this path and it was nothing short of hell on earth.

And that’s the big setup. Satan is hellbent on destroying you – or at the very least removing you as far as possible from the person God made you to be because you bear God’s image and He hates God. He also knows how fervently God loves you and the easiest way to hurt Him is by hurting you. The only power Satan has is deception, but it’s enough. Because if he can get you to believe this warped version of yourself, you will self-destruct without any further work on his part.

No doubt, you think that there is sufficient “evidence” to back your reasons for self-hatred – legitimate reasons that could be proven in a court of law (and have certainly been proven daily in the unforgiving courtroom held in your mind) – and you are convinced of your guilt and your shame, not realizing that no one ever said you had to be innocent or get it right to have value or belong. We are all guilty. We’ve all gotten it wrong. We’re all failures. That is why we require Jesus’ redemption. If you think otherwise, you will spend the rest of your days defending yourself or running in fear of the condemnation that is following you, looking for peace but never finding it.

The only way to make the torment stop is to address the lie you are believing: That you are not worthy of love and acceptance as you are. The truth is that you are. Not because you’ve done a single thing right or because you feel like you have an ounce of value, purpose or belonging, but because God masterfully formed you; because He loves you and He allowed His son to die on the cross to silence every last word of judgment against you (not just from the enemy or from others but also from yourself). Accepting this truth – this love – is the key to peace.

It is a simple thing, but not an easy one. If you’re anything like me, you’re guarding the negative views of yourself and your solutions as if they were sacred treasures other people are trying to tear from your hands. As miserable as they are, they are your security.  Plus, you may think that if they only knew what really goes on inside or who you are deep down, they would understand that you’re one of those people outside the reach of love and acceptance; that you are different from all the other people who can find peace without running somewhere else or being someone else. 

But if you will ask God to help you and if you are willing to be honest with yourself, you will find that it is smelly trash you’re clinging to and you will come to want nothing more than to get rid of it. This is a powerful place where transformation takes place, but it will feel vulnerable. The enemy will double down on what he’s whispered in the dark places. Doubt will rise up. Fear will too. Maybe some anger. That’s okay. I’ve been there a thousand times and each time the Lord has used those places as an opportunity to speak His love, reassure me of His truth and lead me into more peace than I ever thought possible. I also learned to trust the input of adults who had gained freedom in their own hard places and had my best at heart. The truth they were able to reflect back to me was crucial, especially when I got tangled up in the lies and couldn’t tell which way was up. 

It wasn’t an overnight transformation for me and it probably won’t be for you either. You’ve learned to trust your own perceptions above what God says and learning to trust Him is going to take some time. But please believe me when I tell you how very worthwhile it is to set out on this path where your life is being built up rather than torn down. Freedom is yours for the taking.

Love, me 

Posted by: Kara Luker | October 18, 2022

Under the Tuscan Sun

There were many specifics I left out of my last post on our very magical European trip for the sake of space and time, but there was one experience that I intentionally set aside so I could share it here, in its own special space…

As we approached the home of Candida Bing, the instructor who would hopefully teach us to cook a scrumptious Italian meal, I recognized it as one of a few John and I had passed on our walk the day before. We had wondered aloud what sort of people owned these houses along this small road in the hills of Tuscany, whether they lived there full-time, part-time or rented them out, what they might do for a living.

There was such a quietness, a peace, as we wandered past the ivy-covered stone walls of the 17th century farmhouse and through the courtyard lined with lemon trees in large terracotta pots to where Candida stood in her apron, sweater and sandals, a basket of freshly picked vegetables hanging on her arm and fresh herbs held loosely in her hand. She welcomed us without fanfare but with warmth, as if we were already friends – or maybe even grandkids who had come by, as usual, to spend the day gathering from the garden to make something delicious for later.

She led us through the meandering garden, pointing out vegetables growing in raised beds, a grove of trees from which she harvests her own olives for oil, rose bushes climbing up trellises and filtering the warm light. We wandered through this eden, informal and intimate, 40 years in the making by this humble woman who shared it freely with us. Sheree followed her closely, asking questions as we walked, but I hung back, listening and absorbing her presence and landscape. Overwhelmed by the beauty, spoken in what must be the language of my heart, tears kept rising from a rarely tapped well within. It felt strange to be so moved by this person and place I hardly knew, but I couldn’t seem to hold it back, nor did I want to.

There was no rush, no timeline, unlike back home where time is money and everyone has somewhere to be. We breathed in the sweet slowness before eventually making our way through the patio into her kitchen which, though having been renovated, still felt like it belonged to this old, rustic home with open arms and stories to tell. There was an antique oven, well loved and beautifully maintained, a couple of hutches holding various glass items and Candida’s collection of classical CD’s, and more open shelving than I thought possible, not boasting perfectly curated decor but piles of plates and cooking vessels and jars and cookbooks, easily reached without fussing with doors. In the center of it all was a large wooden table that said “Yes, we have work to do, but have a glass of wine, dip your bread in some olive oil, and stay for a while.”

Which is just what we did. At perfect ease in these surroundings, we took turns layering coffee-drenched ladyfingers with mascarpone and topping the rich tiramisu with cocoa powder while she alternated between instructing us, praising us like small children and playfully teasing us for our mistakes. She recruited us to chop broad beans and shell peas, responding all the while to questions we threw her way, not giving her whole story away at once as though it had been rehearsed, but revealing with openness the pieces deemed relevant by our curiosity. Over the hours, we listened and we learned – about her time in the States when she was younger (which explained her excellent English) and the successful high-end hat company she ran with her father (which explained the fascinating room full of hat molds), about her grown children and the 500 rose bushes she had grown at one point, about the way Italians approach life and cooking, about how it gets so hot in August that they don’t do anything but exist. We talked some more and we laughed, sinking ever more deeply into the warmth of our surroundings, pausing now and again to take a sip of wine or respond to the crackling of the sambiocca, demanding more liquid in the pan.

When the cooking was nearly complete, Candida shooed us outside so she could finish a few final details and plate our food. We adjourned to the large table on the patio, kept cool beneath its covering; held close to the stone and brick walls of the house. We squealed with delight with the appearance of our first course and each one that followed; this humble feast that made our taste buds dance and our pride soar. Conversation continued, a little deeper than before and perhaps more subdued, as we rested in that gorgeous setting, seeped in love and goodness, full of the best food, topped off with Candida’s homemade limoncello. 

Even though she had guests coming to stay that evening, she didn’t rush us off or rush off herself. It was as though she knew everything would get done in its own time. I couldn’t quite grasp that; the lack of awareness – or care – of a ticking clock and the stress that goes with it. When we finally got up from the table, she reiterated that we could stay as long as we wanted… to enjoy the garden, explore more of the property, wander through her art studio. And so we did, trying to capture with pictures what we were experiencing with our heart and senses, knowing they could never do it justice. At last, more than six hours after we’d arrived, we decided that it was time to head back to our villa, tuck this sweet, sacred memory away and continue on with our adventures.

I have thought of that day often and pondered what made it so special. Part of it, I think, is that although Candida had achieved things that might appear more significant, it was here in this quiet, hidden part of the world where she devoted herself to the cultivation of her home and land that we were so deeply touched. It makes me wonder if sometimes the same could be said for us; that in devoting ourselves in the quiet, unseen places we find ourselves – our homes and families, our neighbors and jobs – that we too have the ability to make an impact on others far greater than anything we could accomplish through the achievements that look more important. That maybe we could set aside some of the things that seem so pressing to be present with others. To learn from each other. To swap stories. To laugh together. To share a meal. To invite each other to settle in and stay for a while. Just a thought. But one that speaks powerfully to me. I would love to hear what has been speaking to you.

Posted by: Kara Luker | October 9, 2022

A trip worth remembering

It was always our intention to go to Europe for our 10th anniversary. It had been 30 years since John’s lone visit after college and I had never been. Having hit the decade milestone in December, we began planning a springtime trip to France and Italy with one of our favorite couples, Sheree and Andrew. Between Covid, war and all the other uncertainties going on in the world, I was holding the trip loosely, expecting it to be postponed or canceled. But at the end of April, we set off on a European adventure for two weeks that now resides in memory as one of the best times I’ve ever had.

There were so many highlights, like our walk in Paris to a gourmet market where we stocked up on fine wine, the most luscious charcuterie elements and a tasty selection of macarons on our way to a sunset picnic right in front of the Eiffel tower. We drank, ate and laughed, people-watched, fended off vendors selling bottles of beer and cheap wine, then talked and took pictures and laughed some more as the sun went down and the tower began to glow. Sheree and I attempted to jump in unison for a photo op, acting more like the teenagers we were when we met than the middle aged women we are now.

One brisk morning John and I set off on bikes through the busy streets of Paris, planning to return to the Eiffel Tower so we could climb the steps and see the view. I had just complimented him on his navigation skills, which are always so spot-on, when we realized we had made a big circle and were back where we started. We giggled like school kids and set off again, weaving between cars and buses and people zipping by on electric bikes, and through the chaotic roundabout by the Arc de Triumph, making it to our destination which felt decidedly tame after the journey there. While we didn’t take any pictures of our ride, we considered our in-tact bodies a worthwhile souvenir and opted – for the sake of time and, perhaps, safety – to return by cab. 

I have never considered myself a city person but the walking… oh, how I loved the walking. Miles and miles of it. Not in yoga pants and walking shoes for the sake of “exercise.” But properly dressed to the cafe for cappuccinos and croissants and to museums and restaurants and train stations and parks and shops. And back to the hotel every once in a while for a rest or a change of clothes or when we had thoroughly spent the day and night called us back. I suddenly understood the shows we’ve watched when people give up their spacious U.S. homes to live in a small flat in a European city in the middle of it all. I don’t plan on doing that – yet, anyway – but I finally get the appeal.

Our stays in Italy were equally magical, each holding in their hands unique experiences and sweet memories full of laughter, food, wine and beauty. Andrew, humbled by this exquisite existence we were inhabiting, kept saying, “I’m just a regular guy.” I felt the same. Like, how does someone like me get to be somewhere like this? And yet, we couldn’t help but soak it in, feeling grateful and blessed. 

Our day trips into Florence were filled with stunning architecture, live music, the biggest, meatiest sandwiches we’ve ever eaten and more gelato than we will ever be able to burn off. We shopped at the marketplaces full of every leather good imaginable and spent an evening watching the sun go down beyond the duomo. The view was glorious, rivaled only by the joy of watching a handful of very enthusiastic (and perhaps intoxicated) young Italian guys joking around with each other and singing with contagious spirit and gusto.

The road back to our villa in the Tuscan hills wound right by the cemetery where John’s great uncle is buried, having lost his life during World War II. John and I ventured back one day to pause there, in that peaceful resting place with the river running by, and think about history and family and the cost of freedom. We facetimed a few of John’s older family members and breathed in the beauty of this unlikely reunion.

After having taken planes, trains, cabs, cars, bikes and our own two legs, we hopped on a ferry that carried us along the Amalfi coast and deposited us on the beach of Positano. We hiked 243 steps up to our Airbnb and, having already lost our literal breath, lost our figurative breath at the stunning view from the patio where we could have happily spent our entire stay. But there were adventures to be had as we walked a million steps up and a million steps down to explore restaurants and shops, taking in the vibrant colors and fun patterns of clothing that reflected the playful beachy vibe, discovered a vivid orange cocktail that was just as yummy to look at as to drink, shared the brisk sea with a surprising number of jellyfish and enjoyed dinner looking up through the darkening sky at the houses built right into the hill, their lights aglow, like a giant, festive Christmas tree.

Having little interest in history and an unrealized appreciation of city life, I was least excited for our last stop in Rome. How little did I know then how much this city would capture my affection, not just for the place but for the people we encountered along the way, like favorite characters out of a book who brought the story of Rome to life with heart and humor. The hysterical commentary provided by our taxi driver from the train station assured me from the start this is exactly where I wanted to be. Within minutes of dumping our luggage at our apartment, we had already made our way on foot to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps which were adorned with masses of flowering azaleas, placed there out of tradition yet seeming like a personal welcome just for me.

The rain was supposed to follow us to every city, causing me to wonder if we’d timed our trip wrong. But somehow it kept getting pushed off, never arriving even when the weather app assured us it was on its way. Then, while standing in the open air of the Colosseum, a powerful crack of thunder broke through the moody sky and released a single drop of rain onto my cheek. I braced myself for the downpour. But it didn’t loose itself until our tour was over and we’d trekked back to our flat, providing a perfectly-timed backdrop to our much-needed nap… then dwindled to a drizzle as we sauntered to dinner, wetting the cobblestone streets and reflecting the city lights as though we were walking through an impressionistic painting. How could I have thought this city wouldn’t capture my heart?

I thought that after two weeks’ time, I would be sick of traveling – and maybe our traveling buddies – and dying to go home, but in the end I wanted just one more day. Or maybe two. There was so much more to see and do. But it was time for all of us to get back to our lives and family, so we took one last taxi to the airport in Rome and, despite nearly missing our connection in Paris, flew back to the States, where we were happy to be home, fattened in body and soul, and looking forward to another trip… someday, somewhere.

Posted by: Kara Luker | September 30, 2022

A quick clarification & bonus post

My mom pointed out that there was an ambiguous statement in my post yesterday that could have made it sound that my own dysfunction was the cause of my son’s suicide. I’ve updated the language in the post and wanted to clarify to those who already read it that I believe the reason for his suicide was that Cole saw his “nakedness,” felt the burning shame of it and hid in fear. If he had realized that the problem was the shame rather than the fact of his unclothed weakness, he would never have felt the need to take his own life. To expand on this a little bit, I’m including a post I wrote a handful of months after he died. Please feel free to ask questions about posts or point things out if they hit you weird. (Thanks mom!)

THE LIE OF SELF-DESTRUCTION December 4, 2018

I had just stepped into my bathroom to brush my teeth, thinking of nothing in particular, when a thought came tearing into my head like a flaming meteor and seared its truth on my mind: Cole’s suicide had nothing to do with me. It’s not that I didn’t have failures as a mom. I had plenty. His dad and the Navy had plenty too. But others have experienced far worse and lived. And his death wasn’t because of the difficulties he was facing, as hard as they were. Many have faced far worse and lived. He committed suicide because he believed a lie.

All self-destructive thoughts and actions, from the seemingly trivial to the horrifically significant, can be traced back to a lie. The one I believed was that there was an inherent unworthiness in me; that my very identity was damaged, thus rendering me unfixable. While I never directly attempted to take my life, I lived for years in murderous contempt of it, feeling like it would be no loss if I were erased from the earth.

gavel

My thought life was a courtroom with an unforgiving judge who held a growing stack of evidence against me, using even the smallest failures to shame and devalue me. The message was increasingly strong: “You don’t belong here.” But it didn’t stop there. It stated with persuasive authority, citing tangible proof, that everyone around me did; that they all possessed the value I lacked. It was so freaking convincing. So instead of recognizing it as the strategy of a predator separating his prey from the herd in order to devour it, I came to trust it as truth and isolate myself from any voice bearing a different message.

It is no wonder that self-destruction followed. I starved my body for days at a time, cut myself with knives and used every substance I could get my hands on to separate me from this loathsome person – myself. When I awoke after overdosing on heroin, I didn’t feel joy that I was alive. It was almost a disappointment that I had to rally the weary soul inhabiting my 18 year old frame to live another day.

While I don’t know exactly what lie Cole was up against, I know it must have felt something like that… That he – or maybe just his circumstances – were unfixable. I don’t judge him for it. How could I? But what breaks my heart is that I know his life could have been transformed, just like mine. Because there is no “unfixable” in the Kingdom of God, no “impossible,” no “unworthy,” no “too screwed up” or “too far gone.” That is absolute truth based on the word of the living God and can dissolve the fiercest lie.

If Cole had allowed the light of this truth to shine on his beliefs, self-destruction would not have been an option – no matter how difficult the hardship. His mind would no longer host a courtroom of condemning voices and a guilty verdict, but resound with the echoes of the Highest Court declaring him innocent for now and always, loosed from the weight of his failures and the desperation of his circumstances. That’s why Jesus came and why he died; to bear the penalty of our sin and shame so that every single one of us could be delivered from self-destruction and alienation into love and belonging. No one lies outside of this. No one.

So, if you are struggling with any unkindness toward yourself, please know that your problem is not your flaws, your failures, your sins or your circumstances. Your problem is that you have believed a lie. But there is such good news. Your value and your identity are fixed in His righteousness; untouched by anything you’ve ever thought or done. God’s love for you is unchangeable, no matter how carelessly or hatefully you’ve regarded Him. So bring it all into the light. Let the Lord speak His truth over your life. Let the lies fall away. Be transformed into a vessel of grace and compassion toward yourself and others as you are filled with the abundance of His life and love.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

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