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.


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!)


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.


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

Posted by: Kara Luker | September 29, 2022

Naked and unafraid

Illustration by Louis Veuillot

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” It’s a verse from Genesis 2 I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; one that comes before Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit the serpent promised would open their eyes. Their eyes were indeed opened – to see their nakedness and to feel the shame of it. Fear quickly followed, resulting in fig leaves and a hiding place. 

I have come out of so much shame and fear and can’t properly express how grateful I am for this. But shame still surfaces sometimes about the way I look or act or various other aspects of my being and makes me want to cover up my nakedness – the unclothed parts of me that make me feel vulnerable and exposed – and hide in fear. 

One example is the ongoing saga of aging. Honestly, I love getting older. Age has brought me so many gifts and so much freedom. But it’s not easy to feel like the only one who is looking older in an area where most women either look great naturally or are using artificial means to maintain their youth. As alluring as the “fixes” can be and as much as I would love to look younger for John (and myself) and just to blend in, I am sick of hiding. I’m tired of yielding to the lie that I’m not acceptable as I am; that I have to measure up to some invisible standard of who I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to look like. At this point, I would far rather face the discomfort of being known for who I am and possibly rejected than for being wrapped up in fig leaves and possibly accepted.

I’ve also noticed that I’m tempted to hide from opportunities to be with people. Like when John asked me about inviting out-of-town friends to stay with us for Thanksgiving and I initially said no because they are particularly capable in the hosting and cooking departments and I felt pressure to perform, certain I’d come up short. Which is lame because I love being with these people. And, in case you missed it, I’m sick of hiding. I decided that I only have to show up and do my best. No need to hide or pretend I’m anything other than I am because there is no shame in my nakedness. So I changed my mind and said yes – and I meant it.

I realize these sound like pretty insignificant concerns in the big scheme of things and I get it, but it’s significant for me because the life-sucking pattern of seeing my nakedness, feeling my shame and hiding in fear has plagued me for ages and I want nothing more than to get rid of every vestige of it, no matter how big or how small. It was the root cause of my addictions, eating disorders and general self-destruction, all of which dragged me through hell. I would venture to say shame and fear were the cause of my son’s suicide and I’m guessing if you are struggling to be at peace in your own self or skin, you’ll probably find these same suspects at the bottom of it too. 

So how do we come out of hiding? How do we make peace with the nakedness we see in ourselves? Through the cross. It was our beautiful invitation back into the garden, where we can once again be unclothed and unashamed; where we will be enveloped by a deep sense of acceptance and belonging that can’t be touched by something so irrelevant as shame. It’s where our eyes will opened to see grace. What a beautiful sight! And I have to imagine that our freedom will give permission to others to drop their fig leaves and come out of hiding too. I feel my courage rising. I hope you do too. (Just please don’t take this too literally. Don’t want to get anyone arrested for indecent exposure :))

Posted by: Kara Luker | September 22, 2022

A helpful alarm

If you look on my phone, you will find all sorts of alarms scheduled to alert me to various activities. The obvious one is my morning alarm that makes sure I am awake to get Chase fed and ready for the school day; one I’m particularly dependent on after transitioning from summer when I was free to start the day whenever my body deemed it pleasing. But I also set alarms to remind me to pick up Chase from school at varying times depending on the day of the week, as well as for his extra-curricular activities (and mine) which I’ve been known to completely blank on without a reminder. 

But, after embracing this idea of alarm setting, I still had a problem.  Sometimes my phone would be ringing its chimes at the top of its lungs in a clear attempt to tell me something, but I would stare blankly at it, having no clue what that might be and hoping it wasn’t important. Or I would talk to it in bitter tones, feeling exasperated with its constant demands and saying things like “I don’t know what you want from me!” Very mature, I know. So I began naming my alarms so that when those aggravating chimes sound off, I’m able to look at the screen, know exactly what I’ve intended to do with that block of time and carry on with it. Considering my weakness in the area of time management, this has been such a helpful tool.

A conversation with my mom yesterday gave me a whole new application of this concept. It was the idea that a particular struggle could serve as an alarm to help us remember something specific and useful. I can think of so many things that could work as that aggravating intruder to the flow of our day – anxiety, anger, fatigue, depression, self-pity, temptation, among a host of others. These can all be very loud in their demands, but I think we can agree they aren’t typically helpful, creating nothing more than confusion or frustration. 

But what if we identify a potential purpose for that alarm – a label, if you will – so that it becomes a productive part of our lives? If instead of using it as a reminder to pick up a kid from school, we use it as a reminder to pick up a piece of truth? Would this weakness not then become a strength in its own way?

The big, blaring alarm for me is usually tiredness. Without going into the history of why I have such a dramatic response, suffice it to say that it is a discomfort that interrupts my peace, propels me into a state of fear that I will not have enough or that I will not be enough, and makes me want to run toward places of comfort and self-reliance. Sometimes those fear-based choices create their own fall-out, further undermining my ability to get the rest I need and numbing me enough to prevent dealing with the fear behind the fatigue, which is by far the bigger problem. Not to mention the hopelessness that sometimes rises up, saying things like “this will always be a struggle” or “I’m a loser for feeling or being this way.”

So yeah, wow, that’s not super helpful. But if I determine ahead of time that whenever my tiredness alarm starts blaring, I will use it as a reminder to speak truth to myself and invite the Lord into that moment with me, then this struggle I loathe might just become the catalyst I need. I might have to get back to you on the exact messaging of my alarm, but I think for now it’s going to be, “It’s okay to be tired. There is nothing to fear. I have all that I need. Lord, will you be my rest and my strength?” Even if I’m double-fisting Diet Cokes and feeling the panic rise, I am still going to declare what is true, invite the Lord in and carry on with the good things He has intended for this beautiful life He’s given me. 

Is there an alarm in your life that could be used to remind you to pick up truth? Is there a specific truth that would speak to the heart of your struggle? Would you be willing to invite the Lord into that struggle, even if you are in the middle of behaving in a way that feels ungodly? I am obviously in the middle of walking this out myself, so feel free to share any suggestions you may have!

Posted by: Kara Luker | September 17, 2022

A love note from heaven

Hi friends. I just posted yesterday, but something hit me last night that I can’t help but share today.

Chase and I have been reading the book Wonder each evening before bed. It is a fictional account of Auggie, a 5th grade kid with severe facial deformities who is foregoing homeschooling to attend school for the first time. His is the kind of face that shocks people when they see it for the first time and occasionally makes kids scream in terror. Because of the obvious self-consciousness arising from this perfect storm of genetic abnormalities, he had taken to wearing an astronaut helmet that was given to him by his sister’s friend. It hides his shame and gives him an empowering alter-ego. But the helmet was lost, leaving him exposed and vulnerable.

Near the end of the book, after Auggie has experienced both the pain and beauty of putting his uncovered self out there and the resulting transformation and realization that he belongs, this conversation with his dad takes place:

“Good God, I hated that thing,” he laughed, almost more to himself.

“I was so bummed when it got lost,” I said.

“Oh, it didn’t get lost,” he answered casually. “I threw it out.”

“Wait. What?,” I said. I honestly didn’t think I heard him right.

The day is beautiful, and so are you,” he was singing.

“Dad!” I said, turning the volume down.

“What?” he said.

“You threw it out?!”

He finally looked at my face and saw how mad I was. I couldn’t believe he was being so matter-of-fact about the whole thing. I mean, to me this was a major revelation, and he was acting like it was no big deal. 

“Auggie, I couldn’t stand seeing that thing cover your face anymore,” he said clumsily.

“Dad, I loved that helmet! It meant a lot to me! I was bummed beyond belief when it got lost – don’t you remember?”

“Of course I remember, Auggie,” he said softly. “Ohh, Auggie, don’t be mad. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t stand seeing you wear that thing on your head anymore, you know? I didn’t think it was good for you.” He was trying to look me in the eye, but I wouldn’t look at him.

“Come on, Auggie, please try to understand,” he continued, putting his hand under my chin and tilting my face toward him. “You were wearing that helmet all the time. And the real, real, real, real truth is: I missed seeing your face, Auggie. I know you don’t always love it, but you have to understand…. I love it. I love this face of yours, Auggie, completely and passionately. And it kind of broke my heart that you were always covering it up.”

As I read this aloud, my heart ached with the truth of it and my eyes welled up with tears, because just like Auggie, I needed to hear it. To know that my heavenly Dad looks at me with this kind of loving affection. Not because he feels sorry for me and wants to show pity. Or because there are parts of me he can find that aren’t so ugly. Or because someday I will get it right and turn into a beautiful swan, or at least become closer than I am now. But because he thinks I’m beautiful as I am. He loves to look at me and to be with me. Not in a tolerating kind of way but with delight. And it breaks his heart when I hide and reject who I am and refuse to look in his eyes.

I don’t know if you have felt weak, ugly and unworthy in some way, whether it be inside yourself or out, but I hope you too can receive this love note from heaven. You are worthy and acceptable and beloved and beautiful – not “if” or “when” – but right now, in the midst of your weakness and ugliness. Because your heavenly Dad, the creator of heaven and earth is saying, “I know you don’t always love yourself, but you have to understand… I love you. I love you, completely and passionately. And it breaks my heart when you hide.” 

So let us drop our walls and defenses and hiding spots. And all the judgments we’ve made against ourselves and the fear of rejection. And all the things we do to make ourselves acceptable. Let’s let him wash away the shame and renew our vision toward ourselves. Let’s let him love us. Because there’s nothing he wants more. And if our truest hearts could talk, they would say there’s nothing we want more either.

Posted by: Kara Luker | September 16, 2022

A shift in focus

When talking with a friend at the dog park last month, we briefly touched on the topic of our school age kids not being super goal-oriented. I joked about how Chase clearly inherited from me his focus on “enjoying the ride” rather than getting anywhere in particular, and then we moved on and talked about other things. But after Sunny had exhausted her energy and I hopped in the car to head home, I found a little ember from the conversation smoldering in my mind. “Are there any goals you’d like to set this year?,” I asked Chase later that evening. “Yeah,” he responded, “I could think of a few.” “So could I,” I said.

Chase quickly made a list of goals which mostly had to do with things he’d like to achieve in Minecraft, as well as a few real-life ones related to swimming and a language arts software he uses for school. I tried to keep my list fairly simple and focused on the things that are in my heart to do, but often get neglected as time gets away from me. Write one blog post a week. That’s doable, right? Write one rough draft chapter of a memoir each month. Still daunting to someone such as myself who’s never written a book, but not impossible. Make time to have meaningful connections with the people in my life. Yep, that’s gotta matter. I also added some projects I’ve wanted to complete and gave myself a generous deadline for each one.

This might not surprise anyone who has not just rolled along like myself, but wow, it feels like my whole life has been reoriented. I mean, it mostly looks the same from the outside. I still take morning walks, care for my household, meet up with friends, try to get some writing done. But each day now bears a focus and purpose that is serving to crowd out some other activities that weren’t bad, but maybe weren’t the best use of time. A case in point…

A favorite indulgence of mine is a leisurely wander around one of my favorite stores, usually followed by a purchase of a few (very reasonably priced) items that catch my eye. But then I usually need to return at least one of these items, which leads me to back to the store for another wander, at which time I buy a few more things and the cycle continues. Well, one day last week, I had returns to make at Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx, both favorites that can swallow me whole. Chase was at school. I had no firm commitments that day and had the time to mosey around these stores and see if there was anything else I “needed.” Oh happy day! 

“Except,” I told myself, “if you do that, you won’t get the rest of your errands done before picking Chase up. Which will delay the writing you planned to do tomorrow and the project you were going to finish the following day.” In no time at all, the weightier matter won out and get this… I arrived at my favorite stores, got in line, returned the items and left. I mean what??!! I didn’t know this was even an option!

The interesting thing is that I’d been hoping for a while to be spending less money on things that don’t really matter, as well as to be spending less time on mindless distractions, but wasn’t really gaining any traction (unless you count my irritating, fruitless statements about wanting to change my habits). But as my focus shifted toward the things I actually want to accomplish, along with an honest assessment of the time I have to do them, the lesser things started getting squeezed out without much fanfare or effort. 

Let me clarify, though: This post is not about goal-setting. It’s not about striving. It’s not about feeling bad for having distractions or about filling every hour of your day with something meaningful. I am still spending time on my phone and watching TV and will certainly allow myself some delicious wanders through Marshall’s. This post is about focus. When we focus on what matters, rather than on what we want to change, a shift happens and transformation is the natural byproduct. 

If you’ll follow me just a little further. I have some far more significant struggles than wasting time. Sometimes I feel stuck in a cycle of behaviors that don’t line up with my beliefs. The more I try to do better, the more stuck I seem to get. But so many times, when my focus has gotten shifted onto who the Lord is in all of His wholeness (instead of on me and my brokenness), the suction of sin just seems to break and it loses its hold on me for the moment. I mean, I’ll be listening to my audio Bible while I’m doing housework or gardening – not even really paying attention – when I’ll find that the pressing need to self-medicate decreases or evaporates. Or, I’ll listen to a grace-filled sermon on a walk or read a truth-filled book before bed and find a calm over my previously agitated mind. When these moments are strung together and my focus really gets captured, the whole atmosphere of my life is transformed into one that feels propelled forward by hope… pretty much effortlessly.

This doesn’t happen because I’m being “good” or doing spiritual things. God isn’t granting me some kind of special favor as He sees me crack the Bible or listen to worship. That will never, ever be the case. But there’s no escaping the fact that when we turn our focus toward Him, our hearts are captured for the things that really matter; the things that will bless our lives and those around us. And when that happens, the lesser things naturally get minimized in their significance and their pull. And as it continues to happen we find ourselves moving forward, without stress or strain, in freedom and purpose. I’m guessing this is why Paul says in Philipians, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Does this make any sense? I’m hoping so. Anyways, there you have it. With my weekly blog post done, I should probably move onto the next very important task at hand: Lunch!

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