Posted by: Kara Luker | November 12, 2010

The happiest day of my life

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

A few posts ago, I shared about the relentless grace of God at one point in my life and alluded to another. This is about that time.

At 19, I married Sean. We’d known each other as kids and reconnected at his sister’s wedding, which my dad did the ceremony for. I remember standing in the kitchen that night telling my mom he would be fun to party with. I’m sure she was thrilled.

And party, we did. But not quite in the fun way the word implies. There were many late nights with paranoid people in hotel rooms or neglected houses, snorting up powder that burned its way through our nostrils and sucking in cigarette smoke until it hurt to breathe.

I was in no place to step into a relationship, let alone a lifetime commitment. But I saw wonderful qualities in Sean and an unfulfilled potential that love would draw out. And he seemed to see something in me too. I felt understood. Our broken pieces fit together.

We decided to get married in a casual conversation on the way back from a trip to the desert with my family. I can’t recall how we reasoned this out after 3 months of dating, but it seemed a light and easy decision at the time. We were living together anyway, and had plans to move to Colorado. I wonder now if it was our need for perpetual motion and change; an inability to remain still. It is hard to say.

We moved to Colorado a short while later. We chose the town of Durango by throwing a finger down on a map of the state. It was a picturesque environment, but a painful time. We were explosive and damaging to each other. Hateful words were said. There were jealousies and abuses.

When Sean’s sister and her husband moved to the island of Lanai in Hawaii, their descriptions of the island sounded pleasant and alluring. We were desperate to get away from ourselves and the chaos we had created, so we sold everything and moved. We brought ourselves with us, so there was more of the same. But things were not as volatile as before. Maybe because the use of hard drugs had diminished. Mostly we smoked pot, which had a calming effect on the relationship and served as an escape for me.

But despite my attempts to disconnect from myself, I could still feel this internal alarm that something was terribly wrong. There were undercurrents in our relationship and beliefs that carried things where they shouldn’t go. There were distortions, and I could do nothing but bend into them. I was hurt more deeply during this time than almost any other; actions that marred me and spoke of my lack of value, confirming what I already believed.

But there was some happiness too. We lived in a fourplex with concrete floors that Sean painted a bright purple, with the cockroaches he eventually befriended. Rent was $200 a month. Our neighbors, native to the island, were unique and wonderful people. On one end was a quiet elderly woman who lived a modest, spotless life. In the middle was a mysterious man with long dark hair and chickens who freely wandered. And on the other end was Earl the Pearl – a gregarious man with dark skin, a beer belly, and lots of friends – who insisted anyone passing by drink a warm Budweiser with him and listen to stories.

Behind our place was a banana tree, where I stood in the morning to drink my Kona coconut coffee and smoke my cigarette. It was the highlight of my day and the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning. I took the shuttle from the center of the island where everyone lived, across the surprisingly arid landscape, and down to my job at the resort, where I spent the day overlooking the stunning colors of Manele Bay. I was no prize as a waitress, but there were good things and people in my job. I found a sense of community there, but kept it as separate as possible from the rest of my world.

After several months on the island, I started to get very emotional. I was surprised by the volume of tears and my inability to hold them in. I think Sean was surprised too. It was strange because I had become so removed from emotion, pretty much a nonentity that went about in life without really existing. It was hard to know what to do with myself.

It dawned on us one day that I just might be pregnant. So early one morning, I went to the clinic, the only place on the island to see a doctor. They sent me to the lab portion of the small wood building, where I met a friendly technician in a white coat, with short-ish curly hair and no makeup to speak of. I peed into a cup, handed it over to her, and then paced out front by the shrubbery while I nervously inhaled a cigarette.

After what seemed like an extraordinarily long time, she called me back in and reported that the test came back positive; that I was indeed pregnant. She could have had no idea what I’d been through up to that point, what my marriage looked like, or what I thought of myself. But she had to have seen the joy on my face.

It was Valentines Day of 1995, the day I experienced the most outright declaration of love I have ever known; the day I first knew that God loved me. I hated myself and felt unworthy in every way, but I knew that this little baby was clean and pure and loved, and that I had been entrusted with him so it meant I had value. And I now had a reason to live.

Faith sprung up from nowhere like a jack-in-the-box. Suddenly it all made sense. All the things I’d learned growing up in church finally applied to me.  Every day, I walked around the island for an hour or two and prayed and sang out all the songs that were in my heart. Everything looked different; brighter and warmer.

I started making decisions that were good and wise, small ones at first but they grew to be bigger and more significant. This was my second chance in life and I wasn’t going to blow it. There was joy in my heart, and I danced through the rest of the pregnancy. Sure, there were hardships. And there were plenty of heartaches as I struggled to lay down my addictions. But God was good and He loved me and I knew it.

Near the end of my pregnancy, we moved back to California to be near our families, a choice that turned out to be a huge blessing. And on October 7, 1995, on his very due date, Cole Traveler Gustavson was born.

In the heartbeat of this little person, the whole story of Christ unfolded for me – the lowly shepherds in the field being honored, the filthy prostitutes being loved and accepted, the outcasts finding a home, wretched sinners being forgiven. It is a story of love, from start to finish, and I, for one, have never been the same.

A song that seems to sum it up:


  1. I love reading your posts. You have a way of drawing me in with your wonderful descriptions. What a blessing Cole is! Congratulations all over again!

    • Thank you Julie. This one was a pleasure to write!

      • Kara:
        Our prayers are with you in your unbelievable loss. Can’t imagine. We expect to bury our parents–not our children. We grieve with you. Had a rich time with your dad a week ago. What wonderful parents you have.
        Love to you and to them,
        Paul & Karen

      • Thank you so much Paul. It is a hard reality but we have known a deeper love and more powerful grace than ever before. My dad enjoyed your visit so very much – I heard all about it and would love to hear your exquisite piano playing sometime.

  2. Reblogged this on where waves grow sweet and commented:

    Today is Cole’s 23rd birthday. He’s celebrating in heaven this year – no doubt with his warm eyes all crinkled up as his bright smile beams. I sure do miss him, but what he deposited in my life can’t be measured and it can’t be stolen. He’s deep in my heart and all through me. I wrote this post several years ago, but wanted to share it again in honor of this special day.

    Cola Pop, You changed my everything and I am eternally grateful. Happy first heavenly birthday! Love always, Mom

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