THE ONE FRIEND

“Every girl needs someone to giggle about boys with,” Kay said to me, leaning close, her warm brown eyes searching my face.

Me, myself, & I

“I’m fine,” I said. I folded my arms across my chest and tried to ignore the flush of my cheeks. My mom’s friend was giving me advice, and I wasn’t sure it was okay.

Still, there was truth to what she had said. I went home that evening, knelt on the floor of my bathroom where I knew I could have privacy and prayed for a friend. “Just one friend, Heavenly Father,” I whispered. “It would be nice to giggle about boys with someone, even though I don’t like boys right now.”

I had never really had a close friend. There were girls who were around my dad’s church, and sometimes in our neighborhood. There were the girls that I spent one afternoon with outside while their parents talked to my parents about our church. There was the girl who lived next door to us for a while and whose parents were a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She told me that Jesus was a star in the sky. She also dared me to lick a fire hydrant, which I did while she watched and laughed at me. There was the girl who came to my dad’s church because we picked her up each Sunday while her mom slept in. I never went inside her house, though, because I was afraid of the old and run-down trailer.

As a missionary’s daughter, I wasn’t taught to make friends. I was taught to make disciples and converts. At 14, I was a teacher in the children’s ministry in the church. Little kids swarmed around me, nicknamed me “Miss Katie”, and always marveled at my two-color eyes. I would hug them, sing with them, sit at their table at church dinners, and teach them Bible verses. I loved being the center of their attention.

Yet, now, I was resisting against only being a teacher of young children. In the privacy of my bathroom, I was down on my knees on my plush purple rug, begging God for a friend.

Enter Leslie. Her parents had joined my parents as missionaries in Germany. They were from the South and had deep, beautiful Georgia accents. They loved sugary tea and Gospel music. She was my age.

Me & Leslie

When I first hung out with her, I wasn’t sure if we would be friends. I didn’t know if it was allowed, and also I simply didn’t know how to be a friend. Leslie was vastly different than me: She wore Winnie the Pooh shirts and quoted Disney movies. I wore floral tops and quoted the Bible. Her nails had fresh coats of bright paint on them. Mine were plain.  She read Christian romance novels. Ok, I did this too. She excelled in school. I was okay in school.  She could rollerblade. Yeah, no.  She wore pants. Oh man, my long skirts were in the way of life.

She was, in short, the coolest girl I’d ever met.

When my parents allowed, we had sleepovers. I met her other friends, Katie and Audrey. We baked cookies. We fast-forwarded through VHS tapes of Disney movies to our favorite parts. And yes, we giggled about boys together, just as Kay had suggested. Granted, the giggling came over boys depicted in romance novels rather than real-life boys, but still. They were my first audience to the stories that I wrote. Captive and compliant and fascinated by my work. The perfect fans.

They spoke their minds freely. They laughed without reserve. They were wholly themselves.

These girls showed me that maybe, just maybe, having friends was an important aspect of being human in the world. In the book, “The Horse and His Boy,” C.S. Lewis wrote this line about the Narnians, “They were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly, and didn’t give a fig about anyone else.” Being ready to be friends with someone is different than being prepared to convert them to Christianity.  I began to see that, perhaps, getting to know someone is the first step in walking next to them in life. Once you know them, have listened to them, and have spent time with them, it’s easier to love them than to judge them. It’s more natural to pray with them than to shun them.

Jesus Himself knew how to have friends. He ministered to crowds almost daily when he was on the earth. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and fed the hungry. But, at the end of the day, only a select few stayed close to Him. These men knew His heart, His suffering, and His purposes. Jesus revealed Himself to them in a way that the large crowds had never experienced.

How to reveal one’s soul and be vulnerable was what I learned from those early friendships. Suddenly, I didn’t have to be perfect. I wasn’t the preacher’s kid. Or the missionary’s daughter. I wasn’t on a pedestal, trying to be a Godly example. I was just a girl, talking with other girls about hopes and dreams and guys and plans and silly stories.

I was accepted. I was challenged. I was loved.

Letting friendships happen naturally became a desire in my heart and mind. Later, when I finally branched out on my own, I searched for honest, open friendships. I looked, not to save souls, but to love other humans with the passionate and compassionate love of God. This practice, amazingly, gained me several close friendships over the years. After all, humans were created to live in community and connection, not in a solo vacuum.

Leslie and I stayed close friends for 5 years while she was with her family in Germany. Then, she moved back to the U.S., graduated from college, married, and built a family. All before me. She expanded her world first.

She was my first friend in my teenage life. My one friend who introduced me to other girlfriends and started to teach me how to be me in the world. My one friend who started to open my eyes to a world that was brighter and wider and more fun than I had ever experienced.

My one friend who taught me actually how to be a friend.

To the girl who helped spark a fire in me—-

To the girl who laid a foundation of friendship for me—-

To Leslie…..

Thank you.

“True friends are always together in spirit.”

-L.M. Montgomery

Advertisement

The Great Big World

I slumped on the worn brown couch in the therapist’s office. She sat across from me. Blonde hair, blue eyes, calm demeanor. I crossed my arms and said, “I don’t belong here. Therapy is for people with marriage problems.”

“Ok,” she said.

“It’s not for my kind of stuff,” I insisted. This woman was not getting it.

She shrugged. “Your stuff is your stuff.”

I stared at her. Suddenly, I wanted to weep. Yet I refused to give this stranger that satisfaction. I felt like she wanted something from me.

Then again, I felt like everyone wanted something from me, even God Himself.

I was 25 years old when I first went to a therapy session. I didn’t even go of my own volition at first. A friend of mine saw my downward spiral into depression and intervened. She filled out the paperwork for me, had me sign it, and then took me to my first session.

For this act, I remain in her debt.

By the time I was slumped on the therapist’s couch, I’d been gone from missionary and church work for 3 years. It had felt like a lifetime of firsts. First time having a job. First time having a boyfriend. First time staying out late with a group of friends. First time having a roommate. First time paying rent. First time getting pulled over by a policeman. First time getting kissed. First time having a glass of wine.

When I stepped off the plane from Germany into the United States as a 22 year old woman, I plunged myself into a world of choices. I suddenly was doing things that I hadn’t been doing before. It was exhilarating.

It was also terrifying.

I did all the things that well-adjusted, young adult would do but lived with a fear that very little of it was pleasing to God. I was convinced that, while I was loving the life out on my own, I would ultimately face God’s judgment for it. Even though, amidst all the new experiences, I still went to church every Sunday and Wednesday, tithed my income, and did my devotions every day. I also volunteered at my new church, sang in the choir, and went to Bible study.

The problem with the big world I found myself living in, compared to the small one I’d been exposed to, was that it both overwhelmed and scared me. Sometimes, I couldn’t breathe. Other times, I would just act strangely. At work, I’d run to the restroom and feel my chest constrict. Once at a friend’s wedding, I sat on the floor of the women’s restroom, thinking “I’m not going back out there. It’s too much. They’re dancing.”  

My strict upbringing was coming to a head in my daily living. My prior posts have been telling the tale of how I was raised (and more will come). The environment for a strict, fundamentalist woman is not conducive to exploration, questions, or ventures. Any branches formed outside of a husband, a homelife, or the church are considered detrimental to a woman’s wellbeing and must be cut off. I moved from having very little power in decision-making to having all the power of decision-making over my life. The result was stagnation.

I couldn’t even make a choice on what kind of tea I wanted to order from the tea shop down the street from my apartment.

God made human beings in His likeness. We are stamped with the Divine Image of the Creator of the Universe. This means that we should be growing, changing, exploring, and reaching for the heights of accomplishments inside this world that He has given us. I just found myself a tiny bit stunted in the growing area.

Enter my therapist. Whether or not I first felt I belonged in her office, the truth is that I did. I wasn’t moving anymore on my own. I needed help. I needed a launching pad to sort out my place in this vast world. That pad just happened to be a worn, brown couch.

One afternoon, as I conveyed more to her about my “stuckness”, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “God isn’t requiring something of you. He just wants you to be.”

I didn’t have a response to that. Just be? Like just be myself? I didn’t know how exactly to do that since I held to the belief that I needed to be someone else other than me. Ever since my first encounter with Jesus as a child, I’d been taught by His people that I needed to conform to His likeness. After God’s love was poured out on me unconditionally to make me His child, then He provided a list of rules for me to keep, just to ensure He would still love me.

Super confusing.

So, if I let myself “just be”, would He still love me?

I didn’t know.

I started to “be” a little bit. I stopped obeying so many of the rules of the church. The entire time, I talked with God about it. I told Him I was angry at Him, that I thought He was mad at me, and that I wanted Him to love me.

In the 2003 movie, “Luther”, one scene shows Martin wrestling with turmoil from his soul. His friend asks him, “Martin, what is it you seek?”

“A God Who loves me!” Martin cries out.

This became my same quest.

I suppose here would be the place to write about a great moment where I was so caught up in the love of God that I had a transcendent experience. Alternately, here would be the spot to write that I lost my faith completely and walked away from it all, because God didn’t exist and who cares what He thinks.

Except, neither one of those things happened.

Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

What happened, as I let myself be the person I was designed to be, was that God’s love showed up around me like a gentle wind on a summer day. Gradually, I saw Him everywhere. In the kindness of my co-workers who covered my shifts when I took personal days off. In the provision of finances when I couldn’t pay my bills. In the care of my friends who came and sat with me whenever I was sad and lonely. In the sprouting of flowers in the garden I planted. In the textbook of the science classes I took. In the gentleness of my new boyfriend.

Love became an ever-present reality. I still don’t understand how it works but it remained, even as I let go of all the rules and regulations. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I found this big world became a little smaller as I experienced life as God designed it. I went after the desires He placed on my heart, and I heard His voice behind me saying, “This is the way! Walk in it!”

Divine Love knows no limits, despite our desire to put it into a box and to tuck it away. It reaches into our humanity, into our brokenness, and into our shattered hearts.

From a place of grace, love reestablishes us.

For me, as I recognized the great love of God, the most powerful, additional realization was that His love had been there the whole time.

Then, one afternoon, I stood up from the worn, brown couch, gave my therapist a hug, and left her office for the last time. “You’re gonna be okay,” she said.

And, she was right.  

With love,

Kathleen

The Baptist Nun

P.S. I have more stories coming about my past, so please come back for more.

LET HER OUT OF THE HOUSE

“They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching —
But can’t you hear the Wild? — it’s calling you.” – Robert Service

Around 1999, my brother David built a bike cart. He crafted it with the help of one of the members of my grandpa’s church. The cart was large and sturdy with two giant wheels and a flatbed. A miniature truck attachable to the back of a bike.

Perfect to carry recycling bins.

In Germany, the law requires recycling to a level of detail that dismays most Americans. You must separate plastic, paper, cans or metal, and glass (white, green, or brown). My family had five bins lined up along our kitchen wall. Our “regular” trash wasn’t very large at all, especially once my mom separated the compost as well. All food remains were tossed into the large Rubbermaid bins in our backyard. A rat made his nest there once until our neighbor deftly ended his life with a pitchfork. The dangers of compost are real.

Once a week, my brother loaded up the bins and rode the mile down the hill where the recycling center was. Each village had its own recycling station, separate from the main recycling centers in the larger cities. These areas had dome structures color-coded and clearly labeled for each type of recyclable material. I would ride with my brother often on these excursions. My long skirt threatened to tangle in my bike chain. Our gracious neighbors along the way would nod and wave. I wonder what was truly on their minds at that point. Did they pity the odd religious Americans? Did they ponder if they should interfere for the sake of the children? Or did they notice at all?

My brother educated me on which bins were which, how to organize the recycling, and where to throw in the glass containers and bottles. I always enjoyed the sound of smashing glass the best. A shattering of something while my soul was restless.

I didn’t have words for it at that point in my life. I just knew I liked the sound – the release it gave me.

The weekly bike rides with my brother got me out of the house. At other times, we would go on longer bike rides, exploring the nearby woods and outlining villages. I desperately tried to keep up with his long stride. Sometimes, I would help him with his garden as well but wasn’t engaged as he was. Sometimes, he would get into his own head, and forget that I was there at all. He volunteered at the village fire department, played soccer, and had a few friends in the village. Most days, I stayed indoors, or just outside our door on the patio. Both unwilling and unable to venture out. When he left for good to attend college in Tennessee, I regressed even further.

I stopped riding bikes altogether.

During this time, I went to dinner at a German family’s home. Their daughter, Jessica, was a part of the children’s ministry that I led in my dad’s church. Jessica had wanted me to come over and play with her. I was much older than her but felt “compelled by the Gospel” to go there to minister to them.

Instead, her dad asked me questions about my life in a rapid-fire format. He had a bushy mustache that twitched whenever he spoke. One of the many questions was, “What do you do for exercise? Just run around the house once?”

I muttered something about biking with my brother. I never went back to their house for a meal. But those words stuck with me. That question was full of dripping sarcasm and judgment towards me. I was only fifteen, close to sixteen. I didn’t know yet who I was or what I wanted. The limits of my exploration were real – bound to a small book with lined pages and a pen.

I wanted to smash some glass.

I wanted to be seen, heard, noticed.

I wanted to get the heck out of the house.

Yet, this didn’t seem to be allowed.

Alone in my room, writing in my journal, I summed out that the few options available to me were to marry and have children, or possibly become a teacher at a Christian school. The other desires I had—to go to college, maybe join the Navy, maybe become a nurse, maybe study journalism and write, maybe become a pastor—were forbidden fruit.

I wanted so much more.

A bit like Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I was thrilled when I watched her sing, Part of Your World:  “Ready to stand, and ready to know what the people know, Ask ‘em my questions and get some answers! When’s it my turn?”

(That movie had been banned in our house for Ariel’s lack of clothing and her “rebellious nature”.)

But I wasn’t Ariel. I wasn’t going to defy my parents, yell at my dad, or run away from home. Instead, with both of my brothers gone to college and then married, I dug my heels further into the routines and roots of a good church girl.

I didn’t work a regular job. I studied the Bible. I taught children’s classes. I tutored two kids at my dad’s church in reading and writing. I studied writing through a Christian-based correspondence school. I babysat. I became very good at the piano and marginally good on the violin. I had lots of time to read. I learned how to keep a house, how to engage in small talk with other adult Christian women, and how to make a delicious casserole.

In short, I bought into the idea that I was waiting in the wings for a husband. Then, once married, I would leave my father’s house for my husband’s house.

No houses in between.

This idea, where girls stay at home until married, is propounded among many Christian cultures, not just the one in which I was raised. It is rooted, I suppose, in a desire for the protection of women and girls. I’m not saying the wide world can’t be a scary place; it’s just that it is so much bigger than I was allowed to experience.  I was drilled in the concepts of Elizabeth Elliot’s “Let Me Be a Woman”, where she said, “God might have given Adam another man to be his friend, to walk and talk and argue with if that was his pleasure. But Adam needed more than the companionship of the animals or the friendship of a man. He needed a helper, specially designed and prepared to fill that role. It was a woman God gave him, a woman, “meet,” fit, suitable, entirely appropriate for him, made of his very bones and flesh.”

In other words, the best and only life is one where I was married with children. I bought into this hook, line, and sinker even as I buried any other ambitions. I wrote in my journal in 2003, “I’m reading Passion and Purity by Elizabeth Elliot. The book is very interesting, explaining her love story and challenging young people to put Christ first in their love lives.”

I stayed at home until I was 22 years old. I did not meet any men who wanted to marry me during this time. I tried to leave once to go to a Christian college, but the week before I was supposed to leave, I had a panic attack and a “conviction of the Holy Spirit” not to go. The rules of my environment were engraved on my soul by this point. While I wanted to leave, I also desperately wanted to be good.

I might have stayed with my parents perpetually if it hadn’t been for two things: the death of my grandfather and Divine Intervention.

My grandfather died in April of 2006 in an unexpected way. At his viewing and funeral, hundreds of people lined up to pay their respect to a man who had impacted the community around him. He had been involved in local politics, farmed several acres of land, and in his retirement years, driven a school bus. People knew him and loved him. After I was back home, I couldn’t get the images of people out of my head. What was going to happen when I died? Would anyone even notice?

Suddenly, my other private hopes and dreams seemed to clamor much more loudly for my attention. Maybe I could leave to be a nurse, or a journalist, or a missionary on my own. Maybe I could get a job to earn my own way in the world. Maybe I could go do something with this single life I was living.

Then, Divine Intervention. One summer evening around June of 2006, I went for a bike ride. I had convinced myself to go again. “Gotta do something,” I thought. The concrete bicycle path wove through the corn and soybean fields. A fading sun hung low in the horizon. I sucked air as I rode. My skirt twisted between my legs. I yanked at it incessantly, thinking with longing about the corduroy pants I wore during horseback rides.

“What do you want me to do, huh?” I said out loud. No one was nearby. I was 22 years old, overweight, jobless, and immersed in a world of church, Bibles, hymns, prayers, and financial straits. My plea was to God. I wanted guidance. I wanted a commander to direct me.

I wanted out.

I urged the sky to split open and a loud voice to tell me what in the world I was meant to do on this planet.

That didn’t happen.

What did happen was a very clear message in my heart and soul and mind.

You need to leave now. If you don’t leave now, you won’t ever go.

I bunched my skirt in my hands and willed my legs to move faster, as I sped home.

My parents didn’t flinch when I told them I was leaving.

In fact, they bought the plane tickets. My moment had come. I was finally let out of the house.

I was about to find out how much I’d missed all those years sequestered away from life experiences. I was about to realize that my fundamentalist rules were not going to work in the world outside the four walls of my father’s home. I was on the cusp of engaging with people and with moments that would shake me, shift me, and change my heart on many values.

I couldn’t see it that summer night as I laid down in my bed, smiling over the fact that I was truly leaving. But, I was on the verge of learning and growing and spreading my wings. I was about to learn how much I had missed over the years. I was about to know how much I didn’t know. Over the next few years, I would embrace the life outside the four walls of my family home. I would struggle and fall down, I would cry and hurt, I would question my faith and relearn about God’s love.

It was going to be brutal.

It was going to be hard.

It was going to be worth the effort.

But I hit the glass ceiling of my denomination’s rules….

and finally, crashed right through it.

I think my brother was proud. After all, I’d learned how to smash glass from him.  

Until next time,

Kathleen

The Baptist Nun

PS: if you want to read about some of the things I have learned since I left my father’s home in 2006, check out my other blog: coloradowriter84.wordpress.com

Me – still biking 🙂

SKIRTS: A STATUS SYMBOL

Me: Star of the family in bright red

I only wore skirts or dresses until 2005.

I suppose it’s not all that unusual of a statement, considering women from varied religions and cultures wear long dresses or skirts instead of whatever style is trending in fashion. Indeed, fashion trends currently support a dress or a skirt as a cute option for modern women.

There is one picture of me around 1989 where I am standing in a sand dune in Holland, sporting a matching shirt and shorts with Minnie Mouse scattered over them. My corkscrew curls are fuzzy from the wind. My grin is wide and wild. I loved that outfit.

But after Minnie was too small for me, I spent the next 22 years of my life bound in skirts that reached my ankles, legs hidden, feet encumbered. Another picture from 1999 depicts me at a picnic trying to catch a baseball, awkwardly stretching my arms forward, while my jean skirt billowed around me.  

Fashion trends and cultural norms aside: in my church, the skirt symbolized submission and status. Wearing a skirt meant you followed the rules. My church required submission to a lot of rules, yet the skirt on a female ranked high in priority. Close to the top of the list, following the no drinking or dancing or mixed company hangouts.

If you wore a skirt, you were right with God.

I believed that a particular type of outerwear would somehow make me better in the eyes of God. Attempting to hide my outer self beneath mounds of fabric would keep my life pure and righteous.

All it did, in reality, was harden my heart and limit the effects of grace. It may seem strange to think that the clothes that I wore affected who I was, but it is true. Somehow, when I was surrounded by other girls and women who wore capris or jeans or leggings, I raised myself to a sense of superiority.

I knew I was right with God.

And I liked it.

I liked the status of the skirt.

One evening at my grandfather’s church, I sang with a group of other teenage girls. We practiced hard and delivered our song with gusto. Later that evening, my grandpa complimented me on the song. “You were so poised,” he said. “Especially compared to the other girls.”

Poised. Positioned. Perfect.

That became my anthem. In the play, “Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye says that his people wear their yarmulkes to “show their devotion to God.” For me, every outfit I wore was to show my devotion to my tribe and my God. I longed to be the good girl. I ached to do everything just right so that I could be affirmed one more time.  

And for what purpose, I now wonder?

My church taught me that my clothes were meant to keep me pure, that the skirts pleased God, and that I was to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Yet, all it did was elevate my sense of superiority to those around me and made me think my outfits made me noticeable to God. I became addicted to forms and structure.

Skirts added to the illusion.

As if the Divine cares about threads we sew together.  As if the Divine channels power via flowing garments, knee-high stockings, and long-sleeved white blouses. As if grace extends further if one is dressed a certain way.

I hoped I was special to God because of my certain way of dressing. I watched the wrath of the church ensue on any woman who stepped out of line to wear any slacks or form-fitting top. I tried to reconcile the rules I obeyed with the God of Love and Grace that I adored.

In 2005, as a 20-year-old girl, I began riding horses with a group of other Americans with a lady who owned a barn near Frankfurt, Germany. My mom helped me pick out an outfit that would “still display modesty.” It was a long top with a bulky fleece sweater, and for the bottom half, a pair of oversized culottes.

My first night in the barn was amazing. Being around horses made me feel alive in a way that I never had. Hailey, one of the other riders, strolled over to me as I brushed my horse. We chatted amiably, and then she said, “I like your outfit.”

She wasn’t rude or mean. In fact, she almost sounded encouraging.

But at that moment, something shifted in me. I was done trying to be above everyone else. Poised. Positioned. Perfect. This would no longer work for me.

I went home that evening and announced to my parents that I was wearing pants to ride horses. “It is ridiculous to not wear pants to ride a horse,” I said. My voice held no questions or doubts.

I didn’t feel closer to or further away from God as I made changes to my wardrobe. But, slowly, as the next years of my young life unfolded, I softened towards others. I was no longer appalled when another woman approached me in pants, or whatever they were wearing. I began to focus more on their words and their actions.

Movement towards others and engagement in the world around me became more fascinating as I left behind the confines of a skirt. I could explore more freely the world around me and say “yes” to more activities because I wasn’t constantly thinking about what I was wearing or what other people might think about what I was wearing.

God stayed close to me throughout the whole process. The garments became a neutral part of my relationship to Him. He began working on the posture of my heart instead as a hardening had occurred. Jesus declared harsh words over the Pharisees and their pleasure derived from their outward appearances. “You are whitewashed tombs,” he hurled at them. “Outwardly you are clean but inside you are full of dead bones.”

My long skirts had been beautiful. My jeans were now comfy. But neither reflected grace. I might have been trying for perfection, but I was coming up short. Not a single piece of clothing can make a soul righteous. Only grace can.

Grace—the undeserved favor of God upon me simply because I am His Divine creation. Lanelle Harris wrote a song with this lyric, “Were it not for grace, I can tell you where I’d be: wandering down some pointless road to nowhere with my salvation up to me, forever running but losing the race were it not for grace.”

Forever wearing status symbol clothing but missing the point.

The point of: grace opens the gateway to a relationship with the Divine.

Grace covers me.

When a symbol becomes an idol, it no longer honors God. The Pharisees wore their tasseled robes, and phylacteries with the Torah inside them, yet their hearts were far from God. Their outward appearance dressed up a ragged inner self. When my skirts and dresses elevated me above the other women around me, the clothes became a problem. When wearing jeans meant I was walking in more freedom and liberty than the other women around me, the jeans became a problem.

There is nothing wrong with symbols and guides inside our relationship with the Divine.

Yet, they are not the sole purpose.

I’m finding more and more that God is deeply interested in the attitude of my heart rather than the appearance of my physical body. He desires to chip away at the callouses on my heart, the dust in my soul, and the cobwebs around my mind so that I can be filled up with grace and joy and purpose.

And, that little girl in the Minnie Mouse pink outfit? She had joy all over her face. Not solely because of the outfit either.

Her little self knew she was loved, cherished, valued.

I’m re-learning what it’s like to be that little girl. Practicing humility like a little child is challenging as a clumsy adult.

But, it’s good.

Because all of life is good. Because all of life is a gift from God. Because grace abounds and abounds and abounds, like rolling waves of a fierce ocean.

No matter what I’m wearing.  

Love, Kathleen

PS: when I locate the Minnie Mouse photo, I’ll post it.

My Convert.

The first time I met Amy, I liked her but didn’t tell her so. My family found her when we went door to door in a Las Vegas neighborhood, inviting people to church.

Las Vegas was an interesting interlude to my childhood. We moved there in 1995 to start another Independent Baptist Church, taking a break from Germany. (Eventually, my family would return to Germany but more on that in another post). We bought a trailer home and lived in a park with other trailers. Almost immediately, we searched for a church building, put a sign out front, and began the process of finding people to attend. Every weekend, we diligently knocked on doors and invited people to our newly minted church.

Amy’s mom let her come with us.

Amy frustrated me. I wanted to be friends with her, but she was resistant. Maybe because I was convinced that she had to be saved before I could actually be her friend. One day, Amy joined our family at our house for Sunday lunch. I opened my Bible and told her the whole story of the Gospel. She just stared at me. “Do you want to pray the prayer?” I said. The sinner’s prayer. The plea for Jesus to save you. The magic prayer.

She did.

My little Independent Baptist heart was pleased with my first convert.

After this, Amy never came back to our church. Her mom wouldn’t let her. I was confused by that. Hadn’t I saved her? Did she not mean the prayer when she prayed it? What did this mean for my conversion abilities?

I wish I could say that this interaction cured my need to convert others, as it ended poorly. But it didn’t. The pressure to share the “good news” weighed so heavily on my spirit that I had to continue. We had to save souls because everyone was on the threshold of hell if we didn’t rescue them. If we did not share the Gospel with every single person we encountered, their blood would be on our hands on judgment day.

The problem was I wasn’t very good at “sharing my testimony”, as my church liked to phrase it. I had believed in Jesus since a little girl, gone to Christian school, and was an obedient kid. I listened to powerful conversion stories from those in my church – from drugs and alcohol and sinning to Jesus’ way of loving and serving. My story was boring in comparison.

Not only was my story uninteresting but telling people that they were going to burn in hell unless they prayed a prayer with me was overtly intimidating. All the responsibility fell on my shoulders, it seemed, to ensure the eternal destiny of everyone was secured.

Based on my track record result with Amy, I wasn’t succeeding.  

I continued to do my best as a faithful soldier of my church to save souls, though. I gave out pamphlets, I brought up Jesus, I invited people to church. Sometimes, people came to our church because I’d invited them. But more often, they simply smiled at me and politely moved on with their lives.

How was I going to stand in front of Jesus someday and bear to feel His wrath that I hadn’t seen more people pray this prayer?

It stressed me out.

Until.

One day, I read about C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity. He said he was riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle. It was a beautiful day. When he first sat in the car, he was not a Christian. By the time he left the sidecar, he was converted.

No prayer. No words. No outward acknowledgment.

Simply, a change of heart.

His story moved me.

Then, I read Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of John, where He said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me.”

Why was I trying to draw people into Jesus when He was doing it Himself?

Why was I attempting to save the world when Jesus already had?

Why was I so worried about hell when it seemed like it was a concept that was only pressed by preachers and teachers who wanted to scare people into conversion?

Why was I working so hard to change hearts when Jesus is the only One Who can do that?

My cessation of converting people did not happen overnight. Rather, it was a gradual surrender to the fact that God loves the world more than I could fathom. A renewed belief that Jesus is so much bigger than a formulaic prayer made up by a church somewhere. A sense that Jesus was working in lives around me in more ways than I could understand.

I switched from inserting hell into conversations and asked people about their lives. I stopped attempting to save their soul on my own, and began offering my own experiences of God, prayer, and hope as an encouragement to anyone who had an interest in knowing. At times, I wouldn’t bring up God at all. I would just be kind, courteous, and generous.

Through this evolvement, an interesting development happened. People started asking me to pray for them. They would ask me about my faith. They would pour out their hard times to me. They would ask me where I went to church.

And so, Jesus did His work of bringing people to Himself by Himself.

I was just along for the journey.

It has been an incredible experience.

And the weight of souls in hell no longer presses on me.

I wonder about Amy sometimes. I wonder if she ever went back to church anywhere. I wonder if she ever talks with God. I wonder if she and I could be friends now that we are both adults.

I like to think we would be, and that thought makes me smile.

Until next time,

Kathleen

The Baptist Nun

PS: Want to know more about what I want to talk about? Check out my other site: https://coloradowriter84.wordpress.com/

How I Became the Baptist Nun

The long, flowy garb of the good girl

I had simply decided to stay home that day.

We were newcomers in Germany again in 1997, missionaries from our Baptist Church in Indiana. We were there to start a Gospel-preaching, Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church for the German-speaking people.

My parents and brother had gone to the old military base to clean up around the building that would become our church.

This was newsworthy in the small town of Herzogenaurach in southern Germany. A newspaper reporter appeared on the military base that day, asking questions of my dad, probing for information.

My dad, German still rusty, must have tried to say that his daughter was at home.

The reporter interpreted this information as, “Mr. Bracher has another daughter who lives in the United States in a Baptist church.”

There it was. In black and white. I was living in a Baptist church in the United States. Therefore, I was a Baptist nun—just like those venerable souls who devote their lives to service in the Catholic Church. The nickname struck our family as funny because like the Hatfields and McCoys of history, Baptists and Catholics have feuded for centuries over who is theologically correct.

I was 14 years old.

Honestly, the article really wasn’t that far off. I didn’t venture out much, beyond the walls of our home. So, while I didn’t live in a church, the newspapers’ misinterpretation of my whereabouts actually didn’t matter much. I wasn’t allowed to play sports or be in youth group or have a job or go anywhere alone. I didn’t have many friends (just one!). And, I was homeschooled.

My only recourse, as a young woman tamped down by her religion, was to surrender my life to God. Just like a nun. Just like Maria in “The Sound of Music”. Or at least, in the first part of that movie. (I mean, who knew that she would end up married with seven children? This end would have also been accepted in the Baptist group, though.)

I dreamed of writing. Of newspapers. Of becoming a teacher or a nurse or joining the Navy. Of branching out. Of being free. But every time I tried, I was stonewalled in some way. This pressure to stay true to this religion became inbred in me until I had no will to fight it anymore. I had to grip onto something or I would slip away.

With limited choices available to me, God seemed the logical choice. I bought into the idea of Him with all my heart, soul, and mind. From my childhood, all the way into my early 20’s, God was a refuge. The invisible friend I cried to when things weren’t right. The silent solace in my room at night.

I became the perfect missionary’s daughter. The one who prayed every night and every morning. The one who gave 10% of her $5.00 allowance to the church offering plate. The one who memorized every verse lined up by my Sunday School teacher.

I used to write my dad notes before he would preach. Verses about sermons, or Oswald Chamber’s words, “Preach the word in its undiluted sternness.” I wanted him to know I was listening, out there, in the pew, probably in another floral, floor-length dress. A dress that undoubtedly would match my mom’s.

I wanted to be my dad. To stand behind a podium and say powerful words. To see people walk forward and kneel to God after something I had said. To raise my voice and wave my arms, while people stared at me.

But, women weren’t really allowed to speak. Not in front of men, at least. Our area was limited to the women and children’s ministries.

When our German church finally opened, my Dad told my brother David and I that we were going to lead the children’s ministry. I couldn’t believe my ears. Me? Lead something? I had never given it any thought really. But maybe this was the time. My time to be heard. My time to shine.

My nerves came from trying to tell stories in a foreign language, not from this chance to be in front of people. All my energies went into these stories. As time progressed, I settled more and more into this role. The girl who could tell stories. The girl with the passion.

I moved into speaking at women’s conferences, women’s sessions, and even the large children’s event at my grandpa’s church. These were leaping moments. Propelling me into the Independent Baptist movement even deeper.

I believed that my voice was being heard.

I believed that my passion was stirring up women to do things.

But, my voice was only heard in small sectors. I was repeating the same old stories taught to me by men. I was a parrot of the theology passed down from the 1970’s mass migration from the Southern Baptist Convention.

I was the perfect nun for my group:  devout, committed, shunning the outside world. I prayed early and often. I memorized Scripture, wrote down Scripture, quoted Scripture. If there was a spiritual act to do, I did it.

And yet….

While other 20-year olds were graduating college, I was sitting in a roach-infested hotel room with my parents as we were attending a missionary conference in California. I was writing in my journal, trying to be grateful for my birthday arriving. My log from September 11, 2004 reads,

“I’ve experienced a few bouts of depression at being 20. Plus being away from home in a one-horse town and a small hotel room hasn’t helped. But God has reminded me to count my blessings and has even added a few more today.”

I gave no further details on those blessings. I suppose I didn’t need to. The truth of my circumstance lay in the first 2 sentences while the last sentence is my Baptist training at its best.

I clung to all of the forms of Baptist ideology, but it did not bring me the lasting joy and the peace and the hope it promised. As Richard Rohr would frame it, I was the “loyal soldier”. I was trying to lay the groundwork for a deeper faith, a wider connection, and a fuller experience of the world God made. But my experience became limited, after while.

I knew more of Jesus and His work was to be found. I just didn’t know where yet. This would come later as I grew up, left my parents’ house, and moved on from the church as it was. This would come when I used my voice, not to parrot old themes, but to ask questions, stay curious, and be vulnerable with other humans around me. (More to come on these ideas later!)

My brothers still tease me about the label of the “Baptist Nun”. I’m okay with it. If I hadn’t devoted myself to these practices of faith, I’m not sure how my future would have played out. Having this name meant I was spending time with Jesus and learning more about Him.

I think He was thrilled when I took the first step away from rigidity. When I left the forms of my organization and explored greater depths of faith and grace. When I embraced the idea behind the name “The Baptist Nun” and rejected its connotations of judgment, shame, and doubt.

Now you know, I am the Baptist Nun. Not because I’m housed in a certain religion, but because I’m seeing Jesus more and more everywhere around me. Sometimes, He just doesn’t look like how I’d imagined.

And, that’s the fun part.

Yes, me and Jesus. We’ve had quite the journey together so far.

And it’s only getting better from here.

More soon,

Kathleen

The Baptist Nun

A Note to the Reader

I enjoyed my childhood. If you look at pictures of me then, I’m smiling all the time. My eyes are bright. My pigtails are tight. My dresses are frilly, just how I liked them.

This tale isn’t going to be based solely on my childhood. Or even have a clear timeline at all. I’ll share journal entries, anecdotes, conversations, sermons. What I’m trying to convey is my story about a belief system that drove me, compelled me, and dictated to me my every move.

Behind the grins of the little girl in old photos was a solid hope. A goal of growing up to be something. A holding onto myself.

At some point, that hope was lost, as I entangled myself more and more into the world of my church at the time.

The Baptist branch of faith has so many diverging directions, it’s difficult to follow their road map. All I was taught was that “we” were “right”, and everyone else was “wrong” and “going to Hell.”

Looking back now, I think we were a bit off but more on that later.

Everybody has some weirdness in their life. Whether it’s an odd uncle, or a crazy sister, or an obscure family ritual, all of us have hidden parts of our past. For a long time, I didn’t want to talk about my “other” life as I’d termed it in my head. Maybe if no one knew, the past wouldn’t rear its ugly head and bruise me.

Now I’ve reached a time to divulge my experience in all its rabid intensity—from long, sweeping skirts to a looming fear of a rapture at any moment

We are shadows from our pasts. We are solid in our present moments. We are bright clouds for our future.

This blog is neither autobiography nor memoir. It is also not meant to tell the stories of any other member of my family or shame any person I met through my then church.

Rather, it is an exploration into what I experienced and how I saw the world then. It is a commentary on how I see the world now. Perhaps, if I might venture to use the term, it will be some sermons on how I feel now. (hopefully, you will not fall asleep during but do feel free to grab snacks as needed.)

Thanks for being here with me.

Coming in 2022

Me in the coolest glasses ever

I grew up in church. I was a missionary kid.

I was a good girl. I did all the ‘right’ things.

But underneath that smile in the picture, were doubts, questions, wonderings.

I have written some about it. But this blog will be more.

And of course, I’ll share the story of how I became known in my family as “The Baptist Nun”.

Grab a snack. It’s gonna be fun, I promise.