Posted by: karanoel | May 16, 2020

A place of rest

Audio version of this post:

When the chicks were still inside the house, I would sit on the hardwood floor by their oversized tupperware to watch them and, really, just to be with them. I didn’t hold them often because it didn’t seem like something they enjoyed, but would gently pet their fluffy bodies and talk to them. When I realized their desire to perch and lack of place to do it, I began to lay my arm down on their bedding, call “Here chicky, chicky, chickies!” to announce my availability and then hold still as a slew of birds happily perched on me, until my back ached and I had to move. Though I can’t really explain why, it was a sweet, quiet pleasure for me; a sense of connectedness.

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“Arm perch” in the tupperware

It didn’t take too long for the chicks to start growing feathers, find a perch on the tupperware’s top edge and then explore the terrain beyond. With little desire to have 14 chickens wandering around our house, we moved them (and their heat lamp) to the coop John worked so hard to build. Compared to the tupperware, it was a chicken’s paradise, with room to run and perches to be found. But I missed them. So I would open the coop door, sit on the concrete and call to them, “Here chicky, chicky, chickies!” to let them know that though things had changed, I was still there. A portion of them would come running in response to my call and at least a few would perch on my hand or arm, or maybe my knee, and rest for a while.

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A visit from Angel

But then they realized that open door led to a world beyond. At first it was just a few particularly bold ones that ventured out but then, as is usually the case, many more followed. They were growing and getting faster, so Chase and I were finding it hard to wrangle them all back into the coop. We’d deliver one as two more found their freedom. That couldn’t continue, I realized, but I would miss them. So I started to go inside the coop, close the door and get settled on the ground of those humble surroundings as they seemed only vaguely aware of my presence and then call “Here chicky, chicky, chickies!” It took only a moment before at least one if not a few flew to perch on me, sometimes falling asleep in the warmth of my hand.

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Nighttime coop hangout

This is where our routine stands. I don’t know how long it will last but it has been such a restful pleasure. I’m not an “animal person” but these ones are mine and I love them. I don’t care that they aren’t cute like they once were as they continue their awkward transformation from chicks to chickens. I don’t care that they have nothing to give me except perhaps some distant possibility of eggs. I don’t care that sometimes they scratch me or even occasionally poop on me. I don’t care that in order to be with them, I have to sit in discomfort on the filthy floor of a chicken coop. I just want to be with them.

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Mother’s Day greeting

While reflecting on this very bizarre and unexpected reality for which John has playfully deemed me ‘chicken lady,’ I understood something about the Lord. He loves to be with us. He yearns to be with us. He doesn’t care if we are cleaned up and presentable or look the part of someone lovable. He doesn’t care if we have nothing to give Him back for His care and affection. He is willing to be hurt by us and crapped on by us. He thinks nothing of entering the most humble, even filthy, places if it means He can be in our company. It only takes a glimpse of a King born in a stable to see this is true. And I think if we quiet our hearts, we will come to realize He is calling us, “Here, children, here!;” that He has been calling us all along, letting us know that He is here with us, that He is available for us. Not to entrap us, but to be a place of rest; a place of warmth and familiarity. That we would know we are loved simply because we are His. 

“…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Matt 23:37

 

Posted by: karanoel | May 4, 2020

A quieted space

A few years ago, I read a post by an interior design blogger who talked about “quieting a space” before proceeding with a design update. “It’s helpful,” she said, “because it gives us an opportunity to have new vision for the room without it being cluttered by what is already there.” “This,” she explained, “enables us to determine what design will best suit the current needs of our life and family.” Anything old that meets that criteria remains; the rest is set aside or given away. Likewise, anything new would also have to reflect the room’s updated mission.

It hit me yesterday that Covid-19, while an awful presence on so many counts, has done many of us a service that we can’t often choose for ourselves: Quieting the space in our lives. It’s hard to say what things will look like on the other side, but I’m guessing it may be tempting to grab all the old things that filled our pre-pandemic space and pick up where we left off in a desire to regain a sense of familiarity and normalcy – even if those things don’t best serve our families at this point (if they ever did).

So what if we take this stripped-down opportunity to prayerfully assess the needs and priorities of this season, adding back in only what would best accomplish that mission and setting aside the rest? Just a thought…

Quiet Space

Photo by Simplify Magazine

Posted by: karanoel | May 1, 2020

Chicks and faith

Audio version of this post:


Though we live in suburbia, parts of our county allow for animals that would be normally found on a farm or in a petting zoo, like the chickens, roosters and goats happily clucking and bleating on Strider’s property directly behind us. After the quarantine began, John got the idea to build a coop and buy half a dozen chicks from Strider to inhabit it. Though I’d never considered owning chickens, having something to look forward to in the near future seemed like a brilliant idea, especially during such a time as this. So John began work on what I deemed his quarantine “sanity project” while I anticipated our future life with chickens.

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Instead of selling us chicks, Strider surprised us by handing an incubator over our shared fence, along with 42 eggs to put inside. In response to my clear uncertainty in our ability to bring life out of a few cartons of eggs, he said, “It’s a breeze! The incubator is already set and calibrated. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing.” “Maybe it works that way for others,” I thought, “but this is me we’re talking about.” He followed up with a few basic instructions, ending with, “Keep however many you want and I can take the rest back.”

We found a good spot in our dining room for the styrofoam incubator, plugged it in and then carefully laid all the eggs inside. Despite Strider’s confidence and my desire to believe that living chicks would result from this experiment, my doubt was decidedly stronger. But, having seen dozens of chickens in his yard and knowing his track record with hatching these creatures, I figured it was at least a decent bet. 

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So we made a chart to track the 21-day incubation period and then began the wait. Chase recorded the incubator temperature each day, which hovered right at the level Strider had set, as well as the humidity level, which dropped a little each day. When it got below 40%, we put in some more water as instructed and watched it soar again. We looked at those eggs every single day, trying to find some evidence of life, but there was nary a change. 

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On day 18, per Strider’s instructions, we brought the incubator into our dark closet and held each egg up to a special light to identify and separate the fertilized eggs from the rest. In recent days, I had talked myself into believing there was life in there, but had an underlying dread that this day would prove my initial doubt right; that they would all be empty and we (and everyone we’d told) would be terribly disappointed. But much to my surprise, nearly all the eggs had contents – presumably chicks. I was thrilled. We removed the rotating component and placed the fertile eggs back on the stillness of the rack to await their upcoming hatch date.

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On day 20, while we were homeschooling at the kitchen counter, I could have sworn I heard a chirp. “Was that inside??,” I asked Chase, thinking it might have been a bird in the yard. We held our breath and listened. “I think so!,” Chase replied. We ran over to the incubator and immediately noticed a small crack in one of the eggs. From inside came a distinct, high-pitched “cheep!” Homeschool was awash for the rest of the day because we could not keep our eyes off the action that was finally taking place. With great enthusiasm, we called John over and cheered on Chirp, as Chase named him – “Come on Chirp! You can do it!’ – watching the tiny crack grow and grow until the whole thing broke in half and the wet, wobbly chick burst out of its used-up home, shutting down my doubts that this whole experiment would fail.

Over the next day, we were glued to the incubator as if to the most riveting National Geographic show ever filmed, as chick after chick hatched, stumbling around and flopping over eggs like wet, drunken sailors until they’d had a chance to find their sea legs and fluff up. It had become so crowded, we waited until a break in hatching and moved a batch to the “brooder” (a giant tupperware from Home Depot with a clamped-on heatlamp), before heading back to watch more of the show.

John teased me for my intense interest and excitement, but it was honestly one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. And it has been sheer delight seeing and holding these dozens of chicks, the substance of what we’d hoped for, who are sweetly chirping in the background as I type. Maybe especially so since the idea of this reality was so challenged in my mind.

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I am pretty darn sure that if we were to do this again, I would have far less doubt and far more confidence, not just in Strider’s direction which was incredibly helpful, but in the process itself to bring about life from a fertilized egg even though it looks no different than any other.

This, my friends, is a picture of faith. It isn’t necessarily a full-throttle belief in everything God has said, or even in one particular thing. At least not for me. My faith journey began as a decent bet, born out of a need for hope in difficult times, based on a process that worked for others. I was filled with doubt, thinking as usual, “But this is me we are talking about.” But as it turns out all life – even mine – becomes fertile the moment Jesus enters it and when allowed to rest in the warmth of His love, can’t help but develop and grow.

So maybe faith the size of a mustard seed really is enough. To grasp that little bit of hope with our weak little grip. Just enough to plug in the incubator despite our doubt, and follow the simple instructions despite a lack of any outward change. Because if we do, life inside could be forming and growing and getting established, until one day it starts to crack through the surface, sing its sweet song for all to hear and become the very substance of something we had only hoped for but now find ourselves holding in our very hands. 

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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief. Mark 9:24

Posted by: karanoel | April 26, 2020

We will be okay

Audio version of this post:

As I was caretaking my roses this morning and reflecting on current events, an experience from a few years ago came to mind. Our last house had an extensive rose garden that had been lovingly planted by our landlord, Pat. Several rose bushes in her diverse collection had been given to her as gifts from her kids to mark special occasions. I did my best to care for these notoriously fickle plants, knowing how precious they were to Pat and can’t say I minded the harvest of fresh, fragrant bouquets on my table.

At one point, in the middle of a severe drought, I was concerned that the watering system wasn’t reaching all of them. So I turned the system to manual to see exactly where the water was going. It turned out all was well, so I moved my concerns elsewhere. It wasn’t until two months later, when the roses were really struggling that I realized I had never turned the sprinklers back to auto. With absolutely no rain, they had gotten absolutely no water.

In a panic, I texted my dear gardener friend, Rachel, about the very imminent, excruciating death of nearly 40 very precious rose bushes. Her response was one I will never forget. “Don’t worry, Kara! Those roses are established. They’ll be okay!” After a few more texts to make sure she understood how shamefully long it had been, followed by assurances that I had not actually destroyed Pat’s beloved garden, I crossed my fingers and carried on. As it turns out, except for two rose bushes that had issues before the incident, all were restored to perfect health.

This pandemic feels like a drought – some big, bad thing far beyond our control. The resulting social distancing feels like someone turned the sprinklers off a couple months ago and forgot to turn them back on… and, even worse, might not remember for a long time yet. We haven’t received the regular watering of connection with people without the barrier of technology, masks, distance and often fear. It feels wrong because we were created from relationship and for relationship – a kind that is close, personal and uncovered. Without it, like parched roses, we struggle.

It is good to recognize this so we will truly appreciate the people in our lives – something we may never take for granted again – and to set aside the distractions and divisions that separate us even in the best of times. But what if it goes far beyond that? What if it is teaching us to trust that no matter how dire things look or feel, we who are rooted in Jesus will always hear His assurances, “Don’t worry! You are established. You will be okay!” Not because circumstances are ideal or our needs feel like they are being met, but because we are established in His love and He uses difficult times to deepen our roots in Him, grow our trust and demonstrate His ability (and delight) to supernaturally meet our needs.

The day I found out Cole died, I told my cousin through tears, “I will be okay.” I knew it was true. Not because I felt okay or because I trusted in my strength to get through without the presence of this precious relationship, but because in every instance of drought and devastation since giving my life to Jesus, He had demonstrated His ability to sustain and restore me. It has not been an easy road and, like these current circumstances, certainly not one I would have chosen for myself, but He has proven Himself faithful, loving and true. And, as a result, I have seen the most beautiful growth in my life.

So to my fellow believers, take heart! And to those who have not yet placed their roots in Jesus, I can think of no better time. His arms are always open and the invitation always stands. Let us all become established in this relationship that cannot fail, no matter how devastating the trials. Not only will we survive, but we will come out the other side bursting with new growth and fragrant blooms… just like all who trust in Him and, of course, Pat’s beautiful roses. 

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O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland…

 I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people..
. Isaiah 43:19-21

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19

Posted by: karanoel | April 16, 2020

A church of everybodies

This was another writing assignment that I thought I would share. (Sorry about the roosters and construction in the background of the audio version!)

In 1973, the year I was born, my parents, then only in their 20’s, started a humble, unbuttoned Bible study in the Los Angeles home of a musician friend. With a focus on relationship with a loving God and an earnest welcome to “come as you are,” people of all kinds were drawn to this small group that would become a church of hundreds and, eventually, hundreds of churches. 

There was no hype or advertising. Just people inviting other people who were dissatisfied with the “free love” the world offered and who often, in response to the invitation, found fulfillment in the extravagant love of Jesus which, though free to receive, was costly to give. In turn, they invited others who experienced the same. People were transformed to such a degree that several decades after the fact, more than I can count are still offering up their heartfelt gratitude for what my parents imparted during that unique time. But what I remember most as a young girl was the fun and friendship that surrounded me.

It was a creative community, full of actors, musicians and artists – many well-known – who contributed to the plays, musicals and other vibrant expressions of the gospel that were common in this life-giving version of L.A’s culture; a church simply called “The Vineyard.” There were other people of fame or influence in their own fields, but also so many others who would be recognized nowhere else, but felt known and valued there. It was a rare sort of environment where the nobodies blended seamlessly with the somebodies, creating a place of belonging for everybody

One year, when the church had lost its building, the obvious solution was to move the services onto the beach. It was distracting but glorious. The seagulls cried, families played, surfers rode waves while our unconventional congregation gathered together to sing worship songs, listen to a short, impactful message given by my dad, and linger to talk and laugh on the sand before the gleaming ocean. Some passersby were drawn out of curiosity and then moved on. Some stayed and became part of the family.

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Because that’s really what church is supposed to be: A family. Brothers and sisters, not of blood, but of Spirit; a tie so close that it lasts through this life with all the joys and beatings it can give, and then right on into eternity. It’s then, after the end of my life, that I anticipate experiencing in full what I only tasted at the beginning: A joyful, loving community full of music, beauty and laughter, where all the somebodies and all the nobodies, each known and deeply valued, join their voices in the chorus of creation; where everybody knows they are right where they belong: Together.

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Baptisms

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Still friends all these years later

If you have a few minutes, give this beautiful song a listen – a duet by Marty Goetz and Debby Boone, both part of that original church, at my dad’s 70th birthday.

Posted by: karanoel | April 10, 2020

Good Friday

My mom said she really likes having the audio option, so this is for you mom!

This morning, a facebook memory popped up from 4 years ago: A picture of John, Chase, me and Cole at the lake by Grammie’s house in Jacksonville, Florida. Seeing Cole’s sweet face in the photo made mine light up, but Chase’s dropped with the weight of sadness. So I gathered him onto my lap and held him tight.

My Boys

A little later, we sat together at the kitchen island reading the story of Good Friday. It is an uncomfortable story full of pain, loss, doubt and confusion. We hurt for what Jesus had to go through, but also for his mother, his friends, the disciples who didn’t yet understand what was to come; the dramatic turn that would make it all worth it. It was tempting to alleviate the discomfort by flipping the page to Easter but instead, we closed the book and paused to feel it. 

We talked more about Cole. Chase looked up at me, a large, sacred tear suspended from his eye – the first, I think, that he has shed in his grief. I cried with him and for him, just like I imagine God did with and for those who also lost Jesus. We paused there too, in that raw connection of loss, letting the discomfort breathe as we held each other.

But then we talked about what the disciples didn’t realize. That Easter was on its way. Resurrection was around the corner. It would not change the fact of Jesus’ death, but it would utterly transform its meaning. This wretched cross to which Jesus was bound would now be an arrow that points to life; a new kind of life that is no longer susceptible to death. It is an invitation for us to hope in what we don’t yet see; to trust that whatever wretched cross we bear will in God’s hands become a blazing symbol of new life.

Cross

We have lost Cole. It is hard. But I fully believe that the same power that resurrected Jesus’ body from the grave and ushered Cole into the wholeness of eternal life can and will resurrect our understanding here on this earth. While the fact of Cole’s death won’t change, in God’s hands it will be filled with new life that transforms everything it touches, forging new beginnings where it looked like there was only an end. 

It is okay to pause in our hurt. To fully feel our losses. To weep and to hold each other in our pain. But it’s also important to remember that it’s not the end of the story. Resurrection is around the corner, my friends. We have reason to hope! 

Another post I wrote a while back if you need a little extra hope: https://karaluker.com/2016/09/28/so-much-more/

Posted by: karanoel | April 8, 2020

Help

Hi friends. How are you? We are settling into a rhythm with this new, temporary “normal” of having John and Chase home. I’ve been less tempted to saturate myself in the news and am feeling more settled. Hopefully, I’ll soon get the chance to write down some of the posts that have been floating around in my head for a while. For now, here is another assignment from my writing workshop (which is sadly almost over). The topic was triumph. I’m also including an audio recording in case you prefer to listen…

Triumph isn’t always displayed by steadfast feet planted on a mountain top and outstretched hands declaring their victory to the sky; a great feat conquered once and for all. If it were, what hope would belong to others who find their strength failing lifetimes away from the peak they yearn to climb? When the doubts of quivering hearts far overwhelm any hint of confidence in their ability to make it one more step forward upon shaking legs and blistered feet as they tread on unknown terrain?

No, triumph is often found in a crumpled form, no longer able to stand let alone conquer, as the reality of what “is” pelts like freezing rain and violent wind against the expectations of what was “supposed to be.” It is here, in a frailty that always existed but is only now realized, with nothing left to lose and the burdensome armor of bravado finally cast aside, that a dry, cracked mouth whispers, “help.”

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It is a word as brave, as humble, as any ever spoken. It holds in its fragile hands a primal fear of being left in the muddy shame of weakness, alone and abandoned. But in those same trembling palms sits a small, piercing hope that someone will hear and though all seems lost, that rescue will come. And so it does. It always does. For the poor, the desperate, the lonely, the broken who dare to utter “help.”

There will be no magical transport to the lofty peaks cloaked in clouds. What joy would there be in that kind of victory? Nor will there be aid to crawl back down the brutal, rocky path in defeat. Instead, still collapsed on the filthy ground that marks the shattering moment of disappointment or failure, comfort comes as the longing soul finds itself no longer alone. Something has floated into the heart, carried by a wind of hope, unseen but deeply felt. A Presence who has come in response to the humble plea for help, bearing with it a tinge of warmth to ease the bracing pain of loneliness and a sliver of light to hold back the darkness. Despair, a moment before consuming all hope, is pushed back a step, as if retreating by force. 

Earthy fragrances rise from the ground, enter the lungs, tickle the senses. Had they been there all along? The crumpled form straightens, lifts a hanging head and downcast eyes, seeing for the first time through the disappointment, beyond the pain to the textured faces of mighty cliffs, the vibrant, water-laden leaves of surrounding trees, the rocky path leading out of sight. The path. It continues. “Could I?,” the soul questions. 

And so the form rises, still weak, still bruised, but now able to stand. A step is taken – slow, unsure, stumbling. Not back down in the direction of known locations but up, to the unknown, to carry on the journey already begun. More steps will follow, some fumbling, some with greater ease than ever before. And more trouble will inevitably arise. But each time it does, recognizing weakness will come more quickly. “Help” will become a triumphant battlecry, forging trust in every instance, bringing strength born of dependence on Someone greater. And so, one day, on the top of the mountain those feet will stand, but the humble soul will know with joy that victory was won long before. 

view from the top

photo by Ani Dimi

Posted by: karanoel | April 4, 2020

Touching base

For the first time in at least three weeks, I’m sitting in my sweet little shed, with free time to write. The sun is in and out today, infusing the humidity with its stuffy warmth when it breaks through the thick clouds. Next door, there is a pickleball match going on, filling the air with the hollow smack of the ball off the racquet and wild bursts of enthusiasm after what was presumably a great shot. John continues to build a chicken coop behind the shed, the humming and buzzing of his power tools broken up by gaps of silence as he lays out materials or studies his plans. Chase is inside, happily playing Legos via facetime with his cousin in Washington. From the feel of things this peaceful day, you’d never know there was a global pandemic going on. 

But make no mistake, life has gotten turned upside down. Some are enduring sickness, exhaustion, financial devastation or even the death of someone they love; this virus leaving a mark they won’t soon forget. For us, it has been an inconvenience. Nothing more. So far, anyway. I need to remember that when I’m feeling squeezed; entitled to things I used to enjoy; yearning for space and freedom I don’t currently possess. It’s not that I disagree with boundaries set for the greater good. It just doesn’t mean it’s easy.

And yet there are things I know to savor that have come as a direct result of this plague; things I know I will miss when life goes back to normal and time starts again… extra time to bond with Chase as we push through schoolwork or find yet more objects to race down the slide at recess, seeing if they can beat the current champ (can’t remember if it’s the gray rock or the green hot wheels)… having John around, a presence I love; getting to witness and more deeply appreciate the work he does for the nonprofit that employs him… our time together as a family, taking walks and bike rides amidst more families than I’ve ever seen out together, performing this strange choreography of distancing from others as we draw ever closer to each other.. and yet a greater sense of community blossoming as we all walk through this together. It is almost as if we are remembering something, like a sweet dream from long ago, that was lost or maybe just forgotten. 

I don’t know exactly what you are going through right now, but I pray with all my heart that hope would rise up in the very place you stand. That fear would flee as light floods the darkness. That healing grace would overcome all sickness. That joy would rise up and declare through every cell in your being that this is a new day for you. A day not determined by a virus, the news or any assumptions of what the future holds, but one formed by the hand of a God who loves you with unfathomable passion and longs to establish you in these hard places until trust grows so strong, fear and hopelessness lose their grip. So I pray we can rejoice in this day. Not because of what we see going on in the world or what we feel, but because of who He is. Much love, Kara

Flower in Rock

Posted by: karanoel | March 22, 2020

Kidnapped

Having already written about most of the eventful parts of my life, I decided to tackle the time I was kidnapped for my writing workshop last week. So here it is!

***

“This must have been the worst day of your life,” my dad said with conviction. “Not even close,” I honestly replied. Although it certainly wasn’t my best either. I don’t think being abducted tops anyone’s list of good times.

As a reckless 18 year-old living in Hollywood, I think “drama” is the word that best describes my life at that time. With the extreme choices I was making on a daily basis, the consequences were equally so. On this particular night, my roommate, Allison, and I had decided to go to a club. Or maybe it was a rave. All I remember was that it looked like nothing more than a warehouse dressed up like a school gym for senior prom. When we entered, music was pumping a sudden, abrasive affront to our ears, as flashing lights revealed glimpses of color and people; a forced effort to set a mood that we were far too sober to enjoy. We stood there in the slight awkwardness of a young night, greeting a few people we recognized with flirtatious glances or words that couldn’t be heard, before pounding a few drinks, maybe dancing a little and then heading to a line that snaked like a river to the bathroom.

In front of us were three young guys who seemed too clean-cut for this place – more like college students than rave goers, I thought, as I took in their crisp button-downs, brightly contrasting their deep brown skin and tight, tamed curls. When they turned around to talk to us, we realized it wasn’t just conversation they were offering, but a line of coke. Heck yeah! Who in their right mind would turn down free drugs? So eventually we crowded into the restroom and did our lines before Allison and I headed off toward the music, tossing a quick “thanks” over our shoulders.

Upon our return, the stiff school dance atmosphere had morphed into something alive; sophisticated; welcoming. We belonged there, not like wallflowers watching the scene unfold, but in the middle of it all, dancing with newfound energy, reveling in the power of our youthful beauty as our long locks whipped wildly to the strong beat thumping through our young, immortal bodies.

The rest of the night is a blur. A swirling mass of faces, so recently foreign, now warm and familiar. Music that went on endlessly. Did the song even change? It could go on forever, for all I cared. I was lost in pleasure. There was more alcohol, I think; more cocaine. From those same guys? I don’t know. I didn’t care. As long as it kept coming. This was living. I was alive.

I don’t know how all the hours passed, but we didn’t leave that used up warehouse until late morning. The daylight felt harsh. My power, like a vampire’s, was drained by it. I was tired. So very tired. All I wanted to do was sleep in a dark room where day could not lord itself over me. But we had to stop at the record store, Allison said, because she needed to buy concert tickets. “Fine,” I replied. “But I’m staying in the car.”

Sitting alone, with the key in the ignition so music could mask the silence, I realized that my head was heavy. Far too heavy to keep perched atop my long, wearied neck. How nice it would feel to drop the weight; to rest. The suggestion was tantalizing. My tangled mass of curls bobbled in indecision for a split second before yielding wholly to the suggestion, tumbling with a thump onto the headrest behind. Oh yes, I sighed, with slow, deep breaths. But how heavy my eyelids now seemed. How nice it would be to close them – just for a moment. I wouldn’t lock the door, though. Just in case. Sleep fell hard on me, this I knew. No, I would leave it unlocked so Allison could get back in. “Yes, just in case…”

The sweet sensation of sleep was interrupted by the abrupt opening of my car door and the sound of hurried voices. Not Allison’s somewhat high, nasal voice like I would have expected, but the deeper, hushed sound of men’s voices. Drowsy and confused, I squinted up to see a couple guys standing above me. Before I could respond, one roughly pushed me over into the passenger seat and quickly slipped behind the wheel while another jumped into the back. Doors slammed, the engine came to life and we were gone in a moment. Something felt disjointed; wrong. But my mind was too fuzzy to identify what it was. 

Recognition came as my brain fired through the haze. “The bathroom. The coke. The guys from last night.” “Yes, I remember them.” That brought relief. “We must be meeting Allison somewhere,” I concluded before yielding again to the drugged exhaustion. Unsettled sleep wove itself between thickly fogged wakefulness, one barely discernible from the other, forming a dreamlike tapestry of jumbled colors and pictures. On we drove like this, in and out, light and shadows, for so long it seemed. But where were we going?

The car stopped, startling me with its searing silence. I sat up, suddenly sober, and looked out the window. Another parking lot, this one smaller, off a busy road, I thought. Was it a motel? Yes. But not one that looked familiar. I was ushered out of my car, escorted up a set of stairs into a room; an abandoned room, it seemed. Things were out of place, the toilet torn from the floor. I was set on the bed, not roughly, and offered another line of coke. Oh God, yes. The familiar warmth returned, chasing away the reality that was starting to settle in.

The third guy entered the room, having driven a separate car. It was the smart one, I think; the leader of this unlikely trio who had apparently followed us to the record store and taken me to wherever it was we now were. When the big one tried to get frisky with me, I swatted him away like I would any other guy with an unwelcome advance. This was not the time and I was definitely not in the mood. He took the hint and backed off. More lines of coke were offered and voraciously received. Time passed. Was it hours? I don’t know. 

There were some hushed discussions before the smart one left. My insides were getting restless. I was over the drugs. Over the experience. The hotel room. These guys. I wanted to be done now. But as the fog lifted, I was jolted into a sober awareness of my very vulnerable position. Allison wasn’t meeting us here. These guys had kidnapped me. I had no idea where I was. And neither did anyone else. 

“I need air,” I panted. “The balcony. I need to go outside.” A feigned panic attack – or was it real? After a moment’s hesitation, wishing I’m sure that his leader was there, the big one said “okay” and opened the slider, lurking just inside as he let me out. I drew in a deep breath – of fresh air and car fumes – that felt years in coming. I couldn’t go back into that room. The truth of that fact pulsed through me with every growing surge of adrenaline. It was time to get the hell out of here. And fast. Without time to plan the details, I flung my body over the rail. There were no stairs, but protruding objects – columns or a planter? – that kept me from falling too far or too hard. My feet touched ground. It felt like freedom. But it didn’t count yet. It wouldn’t go unchallenged. My car was gone. So I ran. Faster than I’ve ever run. Like my life depended on it. 

The sidewalk that caught each footfall was going opposite traffic which was fortunate because not long into my race, I saw a small blue car carrying my captors. It drove along the other side of the boulevard, watching me keenly, following at my pace. I scrambled over fences, behind dumpsters, trying to keep unseen but in motion; an animal of prey frantically trying to escape a pursuing predator. My heart beat wildly. Finally, with my legs and lungs on fire, hope appeared ahead in the shape of a gas station. I would have to risk crossing the street, to their side of the road. But I had no other choice. 

My last bit of adrenaline shot me across traffic into the parking lot, an Arco I think, where I gasped for air and let my tears freely flow. The blue car appeared just a moment later, but passed by with distinct frustration; deterred from pulling in, I’m guessing, by the inhabited police car that just happened to be sitting there. Relief. Exhaustion. 

The policeman looked at me, concerned, and asked, “Are you okay?” “Yes. I’m fine,” I replied as I walked away. It didn’t dawn on me to share my story, so full of my own wrongs, to report the abduction or ask him for help. I had no car, no purse, no money. I just wanted to be home. So I walked over to the pay phone and called my roommate collect, pleading for an answer. The ringing stopped almost immediately as Allison shouted into the phone, “Kara! Kara! Where are you???” “Arco. On Van Nuys Boulevard, I think. They have my car. I can’t get home. Please come get me.” She would come right away, she said. I needed to stay put.

I wandered over to the side of the gas station, unloading a flood of emotion, when a redneck sort of guy in a white t-shirt and an old blue pickup opened his window and kindly asked if I was okay. “No, I’m not,” I replied as I poured out the whole tumultuous story before him. “Do you want a line of speed?,” he queried. As if I were completely incapable of learning from my mistakes, I responded with a very relieved, “Yes. Thank you.” So I sat in the passenger seat of this stranger’s truck and did a line of speed on his dashboard. He offered to go to the motel and get my car back. It didn’t seem likely but it was a generous gesture, deeply appreciated in the moment, so I left him with my parents’ phone number and my genuine gratitude for the listening ear – and the speed – before saying goodbye.

Not too much later, my roommate arrived with emotional fanfare. She’d seen them drive off with me, she said, and had no idea where I’d been all this time. My parents had called, right after she’d gotten a ride home, wanting to talk to me. “They took her!,” she blurted out. She was worried for them; worried for me. She called the police but felt impotent to help. Her relief at seeing me was possibly even greater than mine. 

The news team had come too, interviewing me right there in the gas station parking lot, preserving my identity by facing me away from the camera and calling me “Linda.” I’m pretty sure the whole interview was completely incoherent, but they played at least part of it. I saw it that night on the 6:00 news, from the safety of my apartment after what, in the end, was just another day in the life.

I’d like to say that the experience was potent enough to change my course of recklessness, but it wasn’t. I’d always been stubborn; strong-willed. It would take time yet. More hard things. A near-fatal overdose on heroin just a week later. A very rough marriage a year later. And countless other precarious situations along the way. But I would come to value my life; to treasure and inhabit it instead of trying to escape or destroy it. I would become a mom and my whole world would change. I would start making wise choices and surrounding myself with truth and goodness. The drugs would fall away, unwanted and unneeded. I would marry a kind man; a loving man. My life would become beyond beautiful.

I am so grateful to the God who spared my life, probably more times than I know, so this would be nothing more than an insignificant side note in my history. My dad said that after they learned I was missing that day, he got a mental image while praying for me. It was of God’s hand reaching into a giant bowl of prayers that had been sent up on my behalf, over many years I imagine, grabbing some to cover me and keep me safe once again. I would be okay, he knew then, and I would come to know that too. I am more than okay and, yes, so very grateful.

Ps. Do you remember the kind guy in the blue pickup? Well, he went back to the motel room I described – with a lead pipe, he said – and got my car back, delivering it to my parents’ home and receiving a small reward. Because sometimes God can use even our outright foolish decisions for good. 

Posted by: karanoel | March 19, 2020

Finding joy in the funk

You guys, how crazy is life right now?! My feelings during this pandemic have been all over the place, like a fish flopping around on the dock, trying to find my comfort zone  and breathe deeply again. An initial vague awareness of the disruption – a novel corona virus – turned into legitimate research to determine whether or not to cancel our trip to visit our sweet, high-risk Grammie. The mixed-information overload that followed stirred confusion and anxiety, which then morphed into fearless joy through prayer (when I remembered that anxiety is the result of trying to control what’s beyond my paygrade). In the end, wisdom, not fear, dictated the cancellation of our trip and I felt like I was back to normal, happy me. Phew! 

So we bought a little extra food and settled in as the silver-lining part of myself anticipated school closures like it was a global snow day, providing us time to play with all our friends. Until growing restrictions – and the wisdom of flattening the curve – said differently. And more people were getting sick. And dying. And companies, including my husband’s, were taking major hits. And there was hardly anything left on store shelves. On top of all that, Chase and I had been non-pandemic-sick for what seemed like forever. Would we ever get better? And why wouldn’t the forecast stop with all this freaking rain??? We live in Southern California for heaven’s sake! Could it get any more oppressive?

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local store

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my backyard

In the midst of the chaos, news and restrictions, it was hard not to notice all the beauty taking place. My neighborhood rallied to cover needs and extend community to each other, from six feet away, with a big heart and a sense of oneness. I gleefully read of money being raised for those whose workplaces had been closed down; of people in Italy singing from their balconies; of friends or even strangers offering to run errands for more vulnerable populations; of families spending unprecedented time together with no clock to race against. Light shines brightest in the darkness, doesn’t it?

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my amazing neighbors

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play doh playtime with my boy

Even so, a slight funk settled over me. I didn’t curl up in bed with the shades down or anything, but I was having trouble feeling settled in the upheaval, with my rhythm knocked off and the limitations of favorite indulgences (like, ironically, alone time). Life returning to normal would bring relief (and, believe me, I would welcome it!), but I know it’s not what I actually need. As said by Sam Storm, “Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” Yep, it’s the presence of God I need. That’s where the unfailing joy is… always. And, honestly, there’s no better way to realize this than through difficult times, uncertainty, upheavals, suffering.

I don’t need to look beyond my own life for proof. This year has brought an overwhelming sense of joy. I can hardly contain it sometimes. It’s also brought the new and thrilling freedom of finally appreciating who God made me to be and of wanting to whole-heartedly engage in this beautiful life I’ve been given. I’ve told John, “It feels like my life is just beginning!” This really makes no sense in light of losing my son. You’d think I’d just have to grind it out for the rest of my years. But here is the truth. This joy and freedom has not come in spite of my suffering, but because of it. Why? Because the immense pain revealed my desperate and immediate need for the Lord. I couldn’t survive without Him. This I knew. And I don’t just mean a sweet little moment with Him to start my day, but for His presence to dwell in me, every moment, to overwhelm the hurt and bring comfort; to wrap me up in love and speak the truth I thirsted for. It required an intimate relationship of invitation and trust. I did it for survival. Joy just happened to be the ridiculously enjoyable, life-changing byproduct. 

While these current circumstances look insignificant in comparison, I’m finding myself thirsty for His presence. So I cried out to Him yesterday to enter into my funk with me. I blared worship music in the car, singing along off key, with a voice still husky and crackling from my cold. And do you know what? My heart was already lighter this morning. So I will keep on seeking His presence, His heart and His purposes for this season. I’m guessing that the seeds planted as He responds to this invitation (as He always does with all His people) are going to further establish my joy, completely independent of the fickle beast of circumstances, and produce the most beautiful, life-changing things on the other side. 

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If you have felt the weight of these current times too, would you join me in seeking Him?

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