Sometimes I share pictures from my photography business on here. Sometimes I don’t. Something about these photos were just begging to be shared, though. So here they are, for your viewing enjoyment. 😉
I woke up at the crack of dawn Saturday morning and met Olga and Courtney (who admits he has a silly name!) on the beach to photograph their intimate wedding ceremony. There were no guests, no flowers, no receptions. Just us, and the justice of the peace. But the morning was gloriously sunny (with wonderful moments of shade), and not too hot.
Looking at these photos makes me smile, because I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever get to photograph another wedding like this one. Everything about it was so romantic and intimate. And the fact that Olga was totally willing to destroy her $50 dress for the sake of some incredible photos was amazing. How many brides are willing to roll around in the surf and sand in their wedding gowns?
Olga and Courtney, I wish you every happiness and I’m so thankful to have gotten the chance to share your special day!
I talk a lot about role models on this blog. That’s because I think it’s very important for young people to have godly examples in their lives to emulate. I get excited whenever I meet or learn about someone inspiring. Someone who has a great attitude, or who has done something amazing for the Lord. Usually, these people aren’t famous and I don’t tend to see them being interviewed on the Today Show (although, if the Today Show were to interview one of my role models, I’d probably be pretty stoked). No, these are just “Average Joe”s. Normal men and women, from all different backgrounds and time periods, who somehow made a mark on history, no matter how small.
Anyway, today I wanted to talk a little bit about who we find inspiration from. We live in a culture that reveres celebrities. Young girls cite Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and Shawn Johnson as their biggest role models. Guys tend to admire Michael Phelps, Peyton Manning, and Mark Zuckerberg. I’m not saying that any of these people are bad examples. Some of them are great role models! I even think of Christians like Bethany Hamilton and Tim Tebow.
However, I think that there is one very big empty space that young people are missing when they think about their inspirations. And that is the example of the “Average Joe”. I think about people like Nicole and Karin, both of whom I’ve mentioned on this blog. I doubt you’d ever heard of either of those young women before. You’ll probably never will hear of them again. But they’ve had a greater impact in my life than all the celebrities and sports stars combined.
Because really, when you think about it, just what is so inspirational about all those celebrities? The fact that they said “no” to sex before marriage? The fact that they abstain from using curse words in their songs? Um, I do both of those things. You probably do, too. Those are great, admirable qualities, but just because someone is marketed as “clean” and “family-friendly”, it doesn’t necessarily make them role model material.
When I think about the great inspirations of my life, one of the first examples I think of is William Borden. “Huh?” you’re probably thinking. Yeah, I’m not surprised that you don’t know about him. I didn’t know anything about him either, until I dug up an old biography at an estate sale. But what I read in those pages absolutely floored me. This was a man who lived in the early 20th century, and was born into a wealthy English family. However, he denounced his fortune, gave up his place in his father’s company, and pledged his life to the Lord’s work. Unfortunately, William Borden never made it to the mission field. His life was cut short at the age of 25, when he died of meningitis while training for missions in Egypt. But did he ever have seconds thoughts about the life of luxury he was giving up for a life of potential danger, discomfort, and hardships? No, siree. After his death, these words were found written in his well-worn Bible: “No Reserve. No Retreat. No Regrets.”
THAT was a man worth admiring. And I’ve certainly never seen a CNN documentary about him. No blockbuster movies. No Christian radio show interviews. And yet, he remains one of my biggest heroes of the faith. For a life short-lived, but lived all for the glory of God.
Do you see what I mean when I tell you that your biggest role models can go beyond the realms of celebrities, athletes, and politicians? Nicole, Karin, and William are just three examples of everyday people who have had an impact on me, personally. Who is going to inspire you? Is it going to be the curly-haired songstress who makes three million dollars merely by showing up at a red carpet event — or the woman at your church who works tirelessly to make sure that there’s enough bulletins to go around every Sunday? The one that’s never paid, or thanked, but who continues to print and fold hundreds of papers anyway, just because she enjoys serving the Lord in every possible way. Will you admire the athlete who won a million gold medals and made a fortune advertising for swimming pools — Or the girl who offers to babysit weekly at no charge for that family with eight kids so that they can take their three-year-old to his weekly doctors’ appointments, until the physicians can figure out how to fix his heart?
Those are the people you should admire. They’re not flashy, or famous, or well-paid. You probably wouldn’t even notice them at all unless you took the time to really look. I’m constantly praying that God will open my eyes to see and appreciate His servants. As humans, we’re drawn to notice the rich and gaudy. But, as Christians, we should always seek to be aware of the humble and servant-hearted. Those are the people we should desire to be more like. And once we open our eyes to the amazing Christ-loving people around us, we will never fail to be inspired and encouraged by their godly examples. That’s what our generation needs to be moving toward. Forget Kate Middleton. I’d take Katie Davis any day, any time. 😉
We’ve all met those people. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’ve been one of those people before, on one or more occasions. But lately, they have really been irritating me.* You may know what I’m talking about. Those people (usually teenage girls) who complain about how much they hate living in the 21st century, and how they wish they could go back to the 1950’s, or 30’s, or (heaven forbid) the 1800’s, and enjoy some kind of joyful, fun-filled life straight out of a historical fiction novel.
I don’t think historical fiction does much to help dispel this way of thinking. We all tend to have this sort of nostalgia for the past. I know more than anyone how appealing the ideals and culture of the early 20th century can sound. Drive-in movies, jukeboxes, crinolines that make skirts stick out a good foot-and-a-half. All that sounds fantastic. BUT, I would never want to trade my life in 2012 for a life in 1952.
There are about a million reasons for this. I will list ten.
- No computers
That right there is enough for me. Because, even though I’m sure if I’d never used a computer before, I could function without one, it is too late for me. If you whipped me out of this day and age and stuck me in a little house in the 1950’s with no computers or laptops, I would die. It would be a slow, painful, untechnological death. I need computers. I have the worst handwriting ever. I would flunk every school assignment, lose track of all of my finances, and give up one chapter into a novel.
Also, let’s not forget how awful life would be with…
2. No internet
Without the world-wide web, passing middle school would be pretty much impossible. At least for those of us who live fifteen miles away from a library and didn’t learn how to ride a bike until we were fourteen. (Okay, a small majority, I admit, but I would be in trouble)
3. No modern painkillers at the dentist
I would die. I would die, I would die, I would die. Or, worse yet, I would never go to the dentist. So I would die ugly, with awful rotten teeth.
4. The scary fact that doctors seemed keen on ripping out your tonsils all the time
I’ve seen the movies. I know how awful getting your tonsils removed must be. And let’s not forget that the majority of children in the US had their tonsils removed in the 1950’s. You get a slight throat ache and forget it. Those tonsils are coming out. Doctors had no mercy.
5. Not being able to skip tracks on an LP record
You know how every cd has at least one song that you totally hate and always skip? You can’t do that on a record player. I know. I have a record player, believe it or not, and I have to suffer through those three-minute torture sessions. Talk about a first world problem.
6. No hot running water
I just know that if I was transported back to the 1950’s, I would be stuck in one of those houses with no running water and an outhouse out back. There were still thousands of them around in the mid-20th century, believe it or not. I would be bathing in a little metal tub and sneaking outside in the dark to use the restroom. My hair would be permanently frizzy. Which brings me to…
7. No hair conditioner
I can’t even bear to talk about this one. I would never be able to get married. All single men would take one look at my unconditioned hair and run in the opposite direction.
8. No dvds and no movie rentals
If I wanted to memorize all the words to my favorite movies, I would have to pay ten times to see it in the movie theater, rather than just check it out at the Redbox for a dollar and obsessively watch it multiple times in a row. It would be so much harder to remember great quotes to quip out in awkward social situations.
9. No Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp brings a great deal of joy to the lives of everyone. Imagine a world with no Captain Jack Sparrow. Are you feeling sad now?
10. No blue jeans
Well, I guess the 50’s did have blue jeans, but they weren’t as culturally accepted as they are now. I would feel like a freak if I ran to the grocery store in a pair of jeans back in 1952. And no matter how much I love my poofy skirts and be-bowed dresses, I need jeans. I need to know that I can throw on a pair of jeans and run out the door without being labeled a slob. You take that away from me, and you’re stealing a piece of my dignity as a human. Just saying.
At the end of the day, I love the 1950’s as much as any other geeky homeschool girl. And obviously there would be perks to living in the mid-20th century. I like the way guys dressed back then a lot better, for examples. Bow ties and sweaters would rock my world. And I can’t express how cool it would be to cruise around in a ’52 Cadillac.
BUT, for now, I will keep my life of 21st century modern conveniences. I will watch James Dean movies on my sleek black laptop, peruse Audrey Hepburn photos on my internet browser, and buy my poofy skirts on eBay.
But that’s just me, I guess.
*This entire post was written by someone with a sarcastic point of view. Please take no offense.
Sometimes, I forget I wrote a book. Well, okay, not really. Now that I’m a full-fledged author, I’m kind of always thinking about writing and editing and speaking events and blogging. But sometimes I forget that I’ve already finished this book and that it’s out there in the world and people are reading it and talking about it. When Interrupted first came out, I used to Google my name about once a week and read what people had to say about it. That was waaaaay back in the first few days after its release (think March and April), so there weren’t very many reviews.
Well, just the other day I decided to Google myself again, for the first time in months, and see if anything new came up. I have to say, I was a bit surprised. Not only were there way more reviews than I had expected, but there are a lot of photos and interviews and blog posts of mine floating around out in cyber world. It’s a little bit scary, to say the least.
Anyway, I read through most of the reviews on Goodreads, and decided to share my thoughts on some of them here. Not sure whether or not you’ll find this interesting, but I thought it might be cool for you hear my perspective on what people are saying about my book.
Interrupted has a 3.91 rating on Goodreads, as of right now, and 105 reviews. Yeesh!
Let’s see, where to begin…
Reading Teen wrote, “Rachel Coker has written a novel with a Christian-based theme that is entertaining and interesting without being preachy or ‘goody two-shoes’.”
I must say, that is an immense relief. I always feel like I get the rep in my community for being “Miss Goody Two-Shoes”, and while I don’t mind it, it’s good to know that my novel wasn’t too predictable or overly moral. I’m still trying to spice up my writing a bit and make it more interesting.
Jacqueline wrote, “Really, only a few grammatical errors kept this from being a five star book.”
She gave it four stars. Which is still really sweet. And, yes, I caught those same errors and cringed over them. It was awful. But what fourteen-year-old is going to have perfect grammar, anyway? I’m still surprised none of my editors caught that, but whatever. It was still my fault, I guess.
Martha said, “I think I’ll give this one to my granddaughter at some point.”
Awwwwww! Old ladies (or middle-aged ladies) buying books for their grandkids is the best! That always happens at a book signing, sometimes three or four times, and it always makes me smile.
Andrea Smith thought that, “Unfortunately, this book should be called ‘Disconnected’, rather than ‘Interrupted’. The entire story was disjointed and had no flow”.
Um, ouch. She gave it 1.5 stars, but that probably shouldn’t surprise me.
Muzik_gurl said, “This is a very cute Christian romance that takes place in the 50’s.”
Agh! 40’s, 40’s, 40’s!!!!! But, it’s okay, because she gave me a stellar rating and she seems really sweet. 🙂
Monica said, “A great heart-wreching read. I cried, at least, 3 times.”
Aw, so sweet! I want to hug this Monica chick.
Brian McBride said, “To be honest, I was never one for Historical Romance – or rather, I’d never been interested in trying it. But this book shocked me, and not in a bad way. It took me a bit to get into it, but when I did, I enjoyed every page.”
I LOVE hearing about guys who read (and enjoyed!) Interrupted. Seriously, you don’t know how happy this makes me. 🙂 I had a group of teenage guys buy a copy of my book at a homeschool convention in June, and while part of me thinks they were just trying to get my attention, the other part of me is really hoping that they read the book and like it. 😉
~Kate~ wrote, “I had stopped reading a book the other week because I found it a bit too sad and very close to home yet this one in the sadness department was worse and I was crying loads and even throughout the book yet I actually loved it and I think that was down to the beautiful style of writing by Coker.”
Somebody give me the address of this girl so I can go to her home and give her a hug. Like, not in a creepy way or anything. I’d just love to show up on her doorstep on a rainy night in a bright yellow raincoat or something, singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” and then showering her with hugs. Because I really like her, and I loved reading her review.
And, last, but not least, this is my absolute favorite review ever of Interrupted. I love it so much that when I first read it, I took my laptop around the house and read it to everyone else. Because I think that this woman really understood exactly what the book was about, and that made me feel absolutely fantastic. So here is kindlemom1’s review of Interrupted, unabridged:
“Rachel Coker’s debut novel Interrupted was such an endearing read.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Allie. From an early age she had a lot of responsibility on her little shoulder’s, taking care of a very sick mother. My heart went out to her for all of her struggles and heartbreak.
But while I understood the way she was, so aloof and hardened I couldn’t help wanting to be sad for her too, not because of what she was going through, but because of what she couldn’t see that was right in front of her the whole time.
For the things that she was missing and for hardening her heart against being loved and loving someone else.
I love that this book was set during the era of WWII, I love reading stories set in this time period.
And while I know that the time period wasn’t all full of romance and love (I mean there was a very real and very horrible war going on with lots of people dying every day) I can’t help but think of handsome young men in their uniforms and women in pretty dresses falling in love. When men were gentlemen and women were ladies. There is just something fascinating about the time period that never ceases to amaze me so I really did enjoy the novel taking place between the years 1939 and 1945.
Allie really was a great character. She was downright mean at times but there was always that underlying edge to her that made you wonder what was underneath all that harshness. At times her soft and caring side came through just a little bit. Just enough to let you know that she wasn’t completely hardened and completely lost.
Sam was a great character. I love how strong and steady he was for Allie. Always being there and taking her crap like he did and loving her all the more for it. He truly was the best thing for her.
Beatrice and Irene were such great secondary characters. I love how much they cared and loved Allie. How they never left her side and never gave up on her even though it literally took years for her to finally see what was right in front of her the whole time.
I loved the simple undertones of faith and love in this novel. That doesn’t always work in stories, sometimes it can come off as preachy and overbearing and I really didn’t find myself thinking that was at all about that in this book. I liked how Allie’s faith and new found religion helped her grow and become stronger and happier.
I like in the end the person that she became.
Overall I think this was a great story about growing up and becoming a better person, however you find it along the way.”
Don’t you love the part about Sam “taking Allie’s crap”??? Love it! 😉
Anyway, I tried reading through more reviews to share with you, but there were a lot of pages of reviews online, and after a while they all started to run together in my head and I couldn’t distinguish them anymore. But here were a few of the best (and most painful), in my mind. I’m sure I missed a lot of other great ones, though. 😦
Some people have questions for me about what blogs/websites I read daily (or weekly), so I thought I’d make an entry talking about what sites I make an effort to follow. I love this age-of-blogs. I love it because, for some weird reason, after a few weeks of reading someone’s thoughts online, I start thinking that I know that person. They are my close, personal friend. I whisper my secrets into the computer for them to hear. I window-shop online for birthday gifts to buy them. Okay, well, maybe not. But still. I have a creepy connection to these people that would probably freak them out if they knew about it. But whatever.
And so here are my favorite blogs, categorized, of course.
The Hero’s Blog: http://oinks.squeetus.com/
I’m pretty sure Shannon Hale will never know how much I love her. In, like, a totally non-creepy way.
The Inspirational Blog: http://www.therebelution.com/blog/
This is the blog that first gave me the courage to try to get published. I don’t know if you’ve ever read them before, but I highly recommend the Harris brothers’ books, as well as just about anything else they write. Sadly, they don’t update their blog too much anymore, so I only go on there about once a month. But it’s still worth looking through the archives.
The Christian Blog: http://allshehastosay.wordpress.com/
Jasmine’s was the first blog I ever read, way back when I was probably twelve or so. I always want to have a blog, too, so I could be funny and cool like her. Once again, this blog doesn’t get updated too often, so I only go on there once a month or so. 😦 Bloggers, why you no update your blogs???
The “Smart” blog: http://www.jonacuff.com/blog/
Jon Acuff is the man! Well, I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of other great “men”, but he’s my favorite. I like that he’s funny, not stuffy. So while I always feel smarter after reading his blog, I also always feel happier. Which is pretty cool.
The Writing Blog: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/
Okay, so I’m a little biased, because I contribute to GTW, but still–it’s an amazing resource for writers! Definitely check it out. I’m a published author and I still learn things from this site!
The Just-For-Girls Site: http://inside-out-girl.blogspot.com/
Once again, biased, because two of my best friends started this blog. But it’s still a fantastic read and I recommend it to all Christian young ladies! 🙂
The Funny Blog: http://www.stylebyemilyhenderson.com/
This is kind of an unusual pick for this catagory, because, technically this is an interior design blog. But Emily Henderson cracks me up. Her humor is so similar to mine, it’s scary. Best post, hands down, is this one. I don’t even know why it tickled me so much. Ryan Gosling + Paint Samples = Hilarious. (Warning: This is not a Christian blog, so naturally there may things I don’t condone on it. I still enjoy reading it, but you should probably know)
Well, that’s about it. Actually, that’s very far from “it”–I could list about fifty other blogs I read, if I really want to be thorough. But this is cool for now. What blogs (besides mine, obviously 😉 ) do you read frequently?
But maybe don’t want to ask.
However, a brave few of you actually have asked these questions…. And so I’ll answer!
- Do you write with a pen/pencil, or on the computer?
Oh, my gosh–computer all the way! I seriously have the messiest handwriting ever (well, excepting maybe my dad–sorry, Dad!), and I would never be able to figure out what I wrote later if it was all handwritten. Plus, my hand cramps after writing for too long and I can barely get through two-page essays on my history quizzes, much less full-length novels!
I’m a much faster typist. I think my little sister timed me once and I averaged at like 90 words a minute. (Serious bragging rights) So I can pop things out much more efficiently on a computer.
- Are you planning on going to college?
Um, I’d really like to side-step this question? Pretty please?
Okay, I guess I can’t. But seriously, someone always asks me this at book signings and it’s so awkward to answer because sometimes they actually argue with me about it. In front of everyone. It’s awful, and the first time it happened it induced tears. Ick.
The answer is no. At least, probably not. I’m going into my senior year of high school and I do not see college in my immediate future. Instead, I see writing and selling books, speaking at conventions and schools, running my photography business, and possibly teaching a writing class. I think I’ll stay busy enough (!), and I don’t want to spend the money for college unless it seems like I’m going to need that graduation certificate to get me through life. I’d be happy (okay, not happy, but willing) to discuss this further in a future blog entry, but it is a very awkward subject for me, especially with people who don’t seem happy at all with that answer. 😦
- Do you snack while you write?
Well, seeing as I do all of my writing in my room, and our rooms are supposed to be a food-free zone, the answer is no. I once snuck candy into my room when I was little, but got so busted when my mom came in to tuck me goodnight and I was chowing down on a chocolate bar. A good spanking, an hour of wailing, and years of embarrassing story-telling later, I don’t think I’m going to take food into my room ever again. Now that I think about it, I should just stay in my room all the time. It would be a good buffer against ever gaining weight.
- How do your sisters and friends feel about you being so successful? Are they jealous?
Someone actually asked this at a book signing the other day and I let my younger sister, Hannah, answer. I wish I could have recorded her answer, because she was really sweet. Basically, she said that she wasn’t jealous of me at all, but that she was proud of me, and really enjoyed getting to go with me to book signings and events and hang out and meet people.
Then I answered, too, and talked about how extremely gifted both my sisters are, in ways that I could never be. Hannah is an amazing seamstress and is great with kids. Ruthie is such an artist, and has a magnetic personality. We all have a great, tight-knit relationship, and I really hope that there is never any jealousy or bad vibes between us. Yes, I may do more interviews and speaking events than them, but at the end of the day we’re all equal in each others’ sights.
The same goes for my friends. I don’t think any of them are jealous of me, because they’re all very sweet and supportive. They ask me what I’ve been up to and how my writing is going. But, the truth is, it’s not something I talk about a lot. I’m a teenage girl. I discuss clothes and shopping and baking and movies and my faith and just about anything else teenage girls talk about. My private life is a lot different from my public, author-life, and I hope to always keep it that way. No one meets me or talks to me under the premise of “This girl is so intimidating–she’s a published author.” It’s usually just “This girl is funny and nice and cool”. At least, I hope that’s what they think! 🙂
If you have any more questions, remember… All you have to do is ask! 🙂
A lot of people ask me questions about my book signings and other speaking events. Because, the truth is, I do that kind of thing quite often. I speak and sign books at libraries, conventions, schools, groups, and churches. It’s so much fun for me because I love meeting new people and sharing my story and hearing about their hopes and dreams. But there’s also a lot of work and preparation involved, so I thought I’d give you the low-down (with pictures included) of what goes on behind the scenes of a book signing. I did one today at my local county library (whoo-hoo for the home library!), and it was so much fun to go back the building I grew up visiting and sign books there. So most of these photos were taken while getting ready this morning. 😉
Except for this one:
Which was taken at the Virginia Beach Library, along with a few others in this entry, because that’s one of the few book signings where I have actually REMEMBERED to bring my camera.
But let’s start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start!)
Clothes. Clothes are the most important part of a book signing. Haha, I’m joking (obviously), but if we’re talking chronological-order, then clothes are the first thing I think about. I made some errors in the beginning of how to dress for these sort of things, and I don’t intend to make them again. It’s harder than you might think to dress for your own book signing. I don’t want to look too old, too dressy, to casual, or too indifferent.
Like this is not a good outfit:
I would totally wear that dress to a holiday party, and I’m crazy about the shoes (which I got for $7, by the way — yeah, I’m that cool), but there’s no way I’m wearing this to a book signing. It would make everyone else feel under-dressed and uncomfortable, and I’m pretty sure my feet would be killing me after an hour or so of standing and answering questions.
I would also not wear this:
Jeans = Bad Idea. I might wear this to the mall or the farmer’s market, but not a book signing. I want my audience to have respect for me, and in order for that to happen I realize I must present myself as a mature, confident, professional young woman. BUT, I’m also not about to wear a pantsuit.
After much deliberation (and consulting my sister), this is what I wore today:
I usually wear skirts, always wear color, and those heels are pretty comfortable. So it’s a win-win situation, in my mind.
After all the hard work of choosing an outfit is over, I figure out what I’m going to talk about. (I know — my priorities are so messed up) My speaking engagements always vary in regards to time allotment, so I have to figure out if I’m going to be talking for fifteen minutes or fifty. I’ve done so many by now, that I can usually just speak off the top of my head and do pretty well, but sometimes (especially if it’s a longer talk), I’ll make notecards with reminders on them.
See how pretty my handwriting is on that notecard? Okay, so it’s still pretty messy handwriting, but I fancy myself it’s nice. Anyway, my notecards outlining my speeches usually read something like this:
1. Open with joke
2. Make story of my life last at least ten minutes
3. Avoid saying “um”
4. Make a Princess Bride reference
5. Shake it off like it was nothing if no one laughs
6. Smile, slow down, and ask for questions
I usually follow that list pretty well. Sometimes I forget about the Princess Bride and substitute an Elf quote or something instead. (“I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” 😀 )
Next, I get my books and bookmarks together.
Look at all those lovely copies of Interrupted! 🙂 Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of my table all set up at the library today, but I usually just have books, bookmarks, and some kind of cool sign. None, however, as sweet as this sign Zondervan made at the PLA Conference in March.
The only thing that would be sweeter? A giant photo of my head. Haha, I joke, I joke.
Well, that’s about it. Once I get to the library, or wherever it is I’m speaking, I set up my books and go around shaking hands and greeting the people there. Then I speak for a while, and answer any questions from the audience. After I’m finished, I sit at my table for a while and talk with the individuals who come to buy books. And then, after an hour or so, it’s all finished and I just pack up whatever books I have left and drive home, ready to do it again soon. 🙂
Betcha weren’t expecting that, huh? 😉 Right now you’re probably scratching your metaphorical head, muttering to yourself, “The teen writer-chick chose some random girl named Karin Swenson as the number one person she wishes she’d had the chance to meet? What about C.S. Lewis or L. M. Montgomery or e.e. cummings or some other double initialed literary genius?”
The truth is, L. M. Montgomery rocks my world. I would love nothing more than to sit down and have tea and raspberry cordial with that woman. Maybe gush about some epic puffed sleeves and name some local lakes. That would be sweet. But, truth be told, I really am being honest when I say that if I could have had the pleasure of meeting and talking to anyone who has ever lived and died, I’d pick Karin Swenson.
Which is ironic, because technically I have met Karin Swenson. She went to church with me when I was little. In fact, I’m sure I saw her dozens of times and there’s probably a good chance I even talked to her once or twice. But, she was at least twenty years old when I was a little girl, and rarely caught my attention. I was focused on Sailor Moon and Kraft macaroni-and-cheese, and arguing with my parents about whether I should be allowed to own Bratz dolls. So when we moved away and left that church when I was seven, Karin was the last thing I remembered.
And, to be honest, I never thought about her after that. I totally and completely forgot about her. If you’d asked me, I might have recognized the name, but I had no idea who on earth she was or anything about her. That’s why I was shocked when one evening, over a year ago, my parents announced that they were taking us to the funeral of Karin Swenson, a young lady that we used to go to church with.
At first, this kind of put a dent in my calendar. I hate funerals, and I always feel like we go to them all the time. We don’t, obviously, but that’s what I remember thinking when my parents first mentioned going. Oh, great, I thought. More sobs and sniffles and itchy black clothing and singing cheery hymns when everyone really just feels like crying. Not to mention it was for someone I didn’t even know, much less care about.
[This is is how I view funerals]
Nonetheless, we all went. And, let me tell you what, that funeral home was packed. Like, standing-room-only, high-school-homecoming-queen-killed-in-a-freak-accident kind of packed. We sat near the back and looked through our little programs at all the photos. I was surprised at how pretty and happy Karin looked in all the photos. I didn’t know much about her, but my parents had mentioned that she was young (28) and that she’d died of some kind of disease she’d had for a long time.
By the time her brother got up to speak, I was getting a pretty good vibe for what was going on. Beautiful young woman; dies of painful illness; everyone’s devastated; her whole life was cut short and she didn’t get to do much. Yeah, I was right. It was going to be pretty depressing.
But, actually, I was wrong.
I learned that Karin fell sick when she was seventeen, as a senior in high school. It was a strange disease. Her body couldn’t digest food properly anymore. Eventually she was put on feeding tubes because unable to keep anything down. Over the next eleven years, Karin battled this sickness. She grew weaker—visibly thinner–and her body just continued shutting down until she died in February of 2011. Karin’s brother Jim, a missionary, conducted the memorial service. The tenderness in his voice as he described his sister’s life and love of the Lord spoke of the unique bond between the two of them. He spoke of Karin’s faithfulness. Of her quiet and calm assurance.
“To the rest of the world,” Jim said, “Karin’s life may have looked like a raw deal.” And, from what it sounded like, he was right. I mean, she suffered. For almost a third of her life she was sick. Every time the feeding tube sent nutrients into her body, it felt like knives stabbing her. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t behave like a normal twenty-year-old girl.
“And yet,” Jim continued, “Karin saw her life as a blessing. She saw her sickness as a gift.” Karin saw joy in life, and loved everyone around her. She cared more about her neighbor’s suffering than her own. Jim described one time he thoughtlessly complained to her about food sickness he suffered from in Asia. He shook his head as he remembered Karin’s response. Concerned for her brother, she sympathized and said she was earnestly praying he wouldn’t be sick any longer. It was only then that Jim realized the foolishness of complaining about a mere case of food poisoning from the sister who hadn’t eaten a single meal in years. And yet, she showed him sympathy.
Jim admitted that he had struggled with his sister’s illness more than anyone. He confessed that he had stressed and worried, praying that God would take away his sister’s illness and heal her completely. And yet Karin’s perspective of the sickness couldn’t have been more different. Jim read e-mails he received from his sister only a few short months before she died. In the e-mails, she pleaded with her brother to stop praying for her life and instead be content and happy with the will of God. She reminded Jim that if God wanted to heal her the next day, He would. But if not, she knew that He had a greater purpose for her because of her sickness and death. She described it as a gift, a blessing, in that it allowed her a chance to share the Gospel with those around her and minister to others’ needs.
After the service, there was a time of sharing when anyone could stand and tell a special memory of Karin. I sat in my seat, tears pulling at my eyes, as I listened to friend after friend stand and tell Karin’s parents how much of a blessing she had been in their lives. Some had voices thick with emotion, others smiled through glistening unshed tears. One after one, they shook their heads and basically said the same thing: “Her life was a gift and I am a different person because of her.”
One young man in the back stood and said that he’d known Karin since middle school, before she was even sick. He shared that he had been a special-ed student, and that he spent lunch sitting alone, because no one would talk to him. “Karin talked to me,” he said, “She took me under her wing and was my friend. And I know I’ll never forget her because you don’t have very many friends like that.”
Another woman stood and revealed herself to be a nurse, one who had only ever met Karin once face-to-face. “I never broke through professional barriers,” she admitted, “Until I met Karin.” The nurse described Karin as possessing a joy that she had never seen before, and that she had come to love Karin through the e-mails they exchanged and the assurance Karin possessed.
As the minutes ticked by and I sat in my seat, stuffy in my black dress and suffering from puffy eyes, I began to think about this young woman that I had never met before. At first, I wondered what kind of things Karin would have accomplished for God if she had never gotten sick. She had a Latin and Greek major from the University of Richmond. Maybe she would have been a great teacher, or missionary, or done so many other wonderful things for Christ.
But as I lay in bed that night, the Lord finally laid upon my heart what would have happened if Karin had never gotten sick. Nothing. Or at least, not much. Because, through her suffering, she became an example of Christ that resounded with more people than she’ll probably ever realize. We may never know what path God would have led her on if she had lived fifty more years, but I do know this: Karin had the right view of God, the right view of sickness. She knew that through her suffering and through her death, more people would be able to see God than through her life. And that was a possibility that excited her. It didn’t fill her with self-pity or bitterness or anger. It was just as her brother said: “Karin’s life was a test from God. It was the worst, most painful, most difficult kind of test. And she passed.” And now, because of her sufferings and her pain and her death, Karin is enjoying a life that is far more wonderful than anything she could have experienced on earth.
Few sermons I have ever heard have been as powerful and convicting as the simple testimony of this one woman’s life. Let me tell you that I thanked my parents with tears in my eyes for taking me to that funeral service. When I think back on moments that have changed my life and my perspective, I hope that I’ll always think of sitting in that cold, hard pew, listening to the voices speaking up one by one in praise of this humble, amazing woman. And I hope I’ll always remember how those testimonies created a yearning in me to give my life, my talents, my time, and my everything to serving God and helping others. I may not always be as effective a witness as Karin was, but I’ll always have her example showing me the way.
So my little sister Hannah had a sleepover last week with her best friend, Emily. Both girls are obviously hard on the eyes, and extremely unphotogenic, so naturally I was hesitant to comply with their request for a photoshoot. I mean, what teenage girl wants to spend an otherwise uneventful Thursday night dressing up two girls with the absolute cutest retro outfits and drive them to a quaint little town fifteen minutes away for an hour and a half of giggles and photos? The idea is so repulsive to me that I think I must be some kind of saint for agreeing to this madness.
Obviously, I’m kidding. In all truthfulness, I had a blast. My friend Tessa and I had a great time hanging out with my little sister and her best friend. Hannah and Emily are so beautiful, inside and out, and I think we were smiling the whole time. (Well, except for that little incident with the flesh-eating mosquitoes by the abandoned warehouse) ;P
I thought you all might enjoy looking at the photos! I don’t talk too much about my photography business on here, and I don’t usually share photos of my clients, but I figured since this was just family and friends I might make an exception. 🙂
On another note, doesn’t this town remind you of a scene right out of Interrupted?
It’s been a crazy week. I’ve been in and out of town, hanging out with friends, catching up on over-the-summer school work (yuck!) and working on revisions to Chasing Jupiter. Sorry to say that blogging has not been at the top of my radar. Nevertheless, while I don’t really have time to think out a long, heartfelt, culturally relevant blog post (I’ll put that on my to-do list for tomorrow) or even whip out a Writing Q&A (I’ll procrastinate on that one, too), I do have time for one of those posts where I randomly list things that I think are funny.
I don’t know why I keep coming back to these posts. Maybe it’s just because I’m completely narcissistic and I live under the delusion that I lead a slightly humorous life. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy and I like to laugh more than I like to brood on deep things. Whatevs.
Speaking of which, “whatevs” is the word-of-the-moment at our house. We always have words-of-the-moment. A few years ago, it started with the word “swine”, which, ironically enough, we overused to death before swine flu broke out. It’s a really fun word to throw around. “Fine, then don’t do the dishes, you useless swine. See if I care.” (Well, maybe we didn’t use it that strongly, but still. You get the point). Then it was interesante. Now it’s “whatevs”.
Another thing I’ve been really into lately is decorating my room. I’ve caught like this decorating fever/rash thing and I’ve been checking out all these blogs for ideas. I’ve been buying art and prints to hang on my walls. Just stumbled across this one this morning and I’m pretty sure it’s the best thing ever. If anyone wants to buy this for me, I will love you for the rest of my life. Just saying. Puns + Fred Astaire + Pop Art = Amazing.
I have this thing for old movie stars, which is really cool until you find yourself daydreaming about your life of wedded bliss with James Dean or Cary Grant and then you remember with a rudening jolt that both those guys are dead and they just don’t make men nowadays that look like a tall glass of water in a sleek navy suit (or red motorcycle jacket). I even try to dress like an old movie star half the time, which can be fun until you get stopped by a random lady on the street smoking a cigarette and talking your ear off for five whole minutes about how you look like Audrey Hepburn and you remind her of a girl she went to college with who liked Audrey Hepburn and lived in Massachusetts and had a really hot boyfriend who was actually a jerk. And by the time she’s finished with her story, you’re ten minutes late to your lunch date and the humidity has frizzed your hair to the point of there being no way you look like Audrey Hepburn in any shape or form. All of which happened to me this week, by the way. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
Anyway, maybe the only guy who can live up to Cary Grant-level attractiveness nowadays is Hugh Dancy? But –major sadness- -he is married and my little sister (who knows way more celebrity gossip than me, scarily enough) informed me the other day that he is expecting his first child. Total sob story. I scratched his name off my list of potential future husbands. I probably should have scratched it off when he got engaged, but I guess I was secretly hoping Brad Pitt would leave Angelina Jolie and sweep Claire Danes out of Hugh Dancy’s arms when Hugh was in the middle of filming some kind of historical film in Colonial Williamsburg, a mere half hour from my home, and I would run into him at the grocery store one day, crying into the cucumbers and avacados, and charm him into asking me out with my utter wit and grace (?). I guess I should have known that would never happen. Oh wells. Johnny Depp is a close second, and this photo makes me laugh. No idea where I found it. Maybe the treasure cove that is Pinterest?
Seriously though, I have way better things to do than continue writing this blog entry. My mom would probably agree. I promise I’ll have something more worthwhile to read tomorrow. Or maybe Wednesday. But until then, I leave you with my random train of thought. Does anyone have anything funny to share? I feel like when I’m as busy as I’ve been lately, I crave humor and puns even more than usual. It’s harder to think logically when your brain is semi-fried.