On April 13th, Jessi and I had the pleasure of hosting Kathleen at my house for an afternoon visit and a yummy cheese and meat tray! Kathleen is someone who radiates love. You can just feel the sunshine when you are around her. Her life has not always been easy and because of that, she has some beautiful wisdom to share. One of my favorite pieces of advice was to slow down and enjoy a simpler life. I've been doing a devotional on becoming a woman of simplicity and Kathleen's testimony was further evidence that slowing down is the best way to truly experience life. I hope you enjoy our conversation with her.
Question #1: If a song was played every time you walked into a room what would it be?
"Well what I would want to be playing, but not for me, but that I just like, would be some instrumental piano, something soothing -- classical guitar. My favorite hymn is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing."
"I grew up singing hymns all the time. My mom would play them on the piano, so we would stand around and sing them. We really did grow up singing them all the time. I love fun music too. I love dancing with my kids, whatever they like. We'll dance to anything. It started when one of them had a dance to go to but didn't think they could dance. So we pushed all the furniture back in the room and turned up the music loud. I never liked to dance until probably my forties. It took me a long time to get there. You know that mindset of "don't put yourself out there" -- so self conscious. But now I could care less what people think, so it's a lot more fun. Now when we go to weddings its just so much fun. I love it when the whole family is out there together." (How many kids do you have?) I have 7."
Question #2: What was your first encounter with spirituality or religion?
"So it started really, really early because of what my family was like. My first encounter was probably, Daddy and Momma prayed with us all the time. Family worship was daily -- it was a part of our life. And it wasn't forced or awkward, it was just a part of our life. We just grew up singing together, and it was normal -- and all praying together. I remember when I was 15 I went to brazil, so Daddy was killed when I was 9 and was buried there. My grandparents were missionaries in Africa and then Brazil. My dad and his brother and my granddad were all murdered. My dad was getting his Phd and flying back and forth, we were going to be moving there. We had been there when we were little, but I had never been to his gravesite. But I stayed with my uncles, it was really great getting to see them because it was my family. But anyways, I remember one night -- it was just such a daily thing, I mean we got in at like 1 in the morning and everyone was exhausted. But they just all knew and went in the living room, some were asleep and some were awake and we just all got on our knees and prayed before we went to bed, like the whole family though. I guess that was all more passive though, I had more of a spiritual encounter I think when I was a teenager - when I went into the living room in the night on the brick floor and was just like I need a daddy, I need a friend. I remember that -- I just really cried out."
Question #3: What is one part of growing old that scares you?
"My grandmother and all of her siblings died of Alzheimer's, so that's what scares me. I don't mind getting old, you know, but what scares me most is losing my ability to communicate."
"It's so sad. Grandmama was so amazing. She was the wife of the one who was the missionary. She ended up marrying her high school sweetheart after Granddad died. Sweet, sweet story. He never left her side, like she wasn't ever in a home. My first cousins came in to take care of her and he was always right there, holding her hand. It made a difference for her. It's really a terrible disease."
"Regret also scares me. Like seeing the fallout of your failures played out. I guess that would be something else, how your choices affect other people."
Question #4: What has been the most enjoyable season of your life?
"Yeah, I have no idea. (laughs) I don't know how to answer it because there's such a mix. So, having little children, and teenagers. I loved being a teenage mom. Like I LOVED being a mom of teenagers. You're just so delighted with little kids but yeah being a mom of teenagers, I just loved it. They're not quite peers but I like to, I don't know, I liked pushing them and watching them rise to it. And then having conversations. I loved thinking "I didn't know this about you." Like the first time my son Davis drew a face. It was amazing. Yeah, so I like seeing who they become."
"I think I've also got to say some of childhood, because before Daddy was killed it was really sweet. Really sweet. There's just a mix, like even the sweetest times for me have had a thread of deep pain. So I don't have a categorically, all-together amazing time. I don't have that, some of that's my own doing and some of that was just in hard things. But there's been so much sweetness."
"You don't want to wish away the seasons. Like with my friends, I would look at them and say right now -- this is what we looked forward to our whole life, do you know that? This right now is what we daydreamed about, this is it. These are the days. (laughs) You know? You don't want to wish to the next. You just want to think "right here is really good." Because it's just human nature to want the next thing. Like I never thought of children's names or thought about what my dress would be like when I got married. I didn't do all of that, I was just busier. There was trauma in our childhood, and so I think one of the ways of dealing with trauma is to be busy, one of the core values is to be productive and hard-working. Especially as the oldest sibling."
"But in every season there is sweetness. Even when there is deep hurt or bewilderment, there is just so much sweetness. My marriage has been hard. Some by my own doing, by my own hands. There's just always a mix of good and hard. Trauma makes you a little more black and white in your thinking a little bit, you are more prone to be like "they are bad or they are good", kind of like all or nothing. It's not the best way to sum up things. That kind of thinking can't be the way you look back at your life, like that it was all bad or all good. It's such a mix."
"The balance, the tension -- it takes so much wisdom and strength, like it's easier to be swept in ditches. It's so much harder to keep two things in tension. What I mean by that is -- of course you grieve, your heart longs for something as you pictured it. You can enjoy it better if you really grieve. If you aren't swept all the way with sadness, but if you actually acknowledge the sadness, you are better off than if you just say "I should be happy" -- something inside of you is just like "bull crap."
"You don't know what cold is until you know what hot is. You know each better by knowing the other. I think disconnection is one of the most painful things there is, disconnection from people, even disconnection within ourselves. Between what you have to project and what you feel. I didn't know these things before, I was always just "soldier on, one foot in front of the next, keep moving and God is good." I knew that, God is good. We knew it like we knew we had a nose on our face. It was a reality. It helped so much to know that."
"The happy times have been when you feel intimacy or closeness with friends or kids or your husband. You know, those are the times that you feel a spike. You think "This is as it should be."
Question #5: What is one question about life that really puzzles you?
"The first thing I think of is just the problem of pain or evil. It didn't puzzle me before, like it didn't puzzle me when daddy was killed because I knew all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Like I knew it. It didn't puzzle me when we were abused. I was like God will work this out, I know it. Even before I knew how it would be worked out."
"I guess its when the pain hits a little closer. Losing someone, that's painful. Being abused, that's painful. Feeling like I did in my marriage, threw me. It's just tragic, there are so few sweet marriages. It just grieves me. I don't know if saying it puzzles me is right, but watching Bonnie Kate (her daughter) suffer. Like those kind of hurts -- the hurt of thinking these relationships aren't as they should be, I know what sweetness is and this isn't sweet. I remember things about my mom and dad, why do I never see that? Why is it so rare to see? I know God will use her suffering, like I know it but it's so long standing."
"So I guess I know the answer, I just don't like it. I know that these present sufferings aren't worth being compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18) They don't feel light or momentary but in light of eternity, one day we'll know they are. And I think too, where it talks about we will see Him -- Like when Hagar was in the wilderness, so alone, and she says thou God sees me. That's just a tiny picture of where we are. Sometimes in this world we may feel like that. But in Heaven we will have unbroken fellowship. Like I think it will blow our minds what kind of sweet, unbroken intimacy we'll have there. So I get it, I think. Like we wouldn't know what forgiveness were without our own sins or being sinned against. We wouldn't appreciate mercy if we didn't deserve wrath, like I get it. I just wish you could use play-dough to figure it out (laughs) like some little hand-craft and then say "I got it, I get the concept."
"I don't always ask it this way but I guess the better question is how does such a just God love us and really forgive us and wash everything away instead of the alternative, you know what I'm saying? That's just a different question, instead of "why is it this way?" One vantage point has a sense of entitlement or like you deserve something, and the other one is that I don't deserve it (the gifts.) Like God didn't have to do that for me, it was just so kind. Instead of God, why did you let my heart get broken, why did you let me go through all this, the perspective is different. Hard pain perplexes me, I just wish it didn't have to be so. I think pain or disillusionment or profound disappointment precedes faithlessness so often. That's why we need each other. Two are better than one."
"Believe in the dark what you knew in the light. I don't even know where I picked that up, but it's true."
Bonus Question: Is there a piece of advice you would give to others?
"No, I feel like someone tell me! (laughs) I don't know, I would say pursue simple. There's a passage that talks about living a quiet life, something about that. I loved homeschooling my kids. We started early and finished really late. That was a huge long period of time when I was at home all of the time. I was like I just want to get out of here so bad (laughs)."
"I just feel like we are image driven and I don't know how social media is going to play out for us in the long run. It's helpful for me now, maybe not for everyone else, but for me now to cultivate an appreciation for hidden, quiet, simple things that are not valued a lot in our society but that are really important. I have a propensity to complicate things which is why I say keep it simple. You know, less is more. There's something nice about pulling the wagons closer, not being with a million people. Also I would say, marginalized people, outcast people -- love the people that no one is loving."
Thank you so much Kathleen for spending an afternoon with us! You were such a delight and we feel so lucky to be able to listen to your story!
The five questions that we asked came from our new favorite tool, The Known Project - a pocket guide for deeper conversation.
If you would like to follow along with our interview series, check us out on Instagram @thesoulfulltable
All photos by the lovely Jessi Arnold.