On Marriage

I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for 256 days. Now, I know that’s a relatively short amount of time, but I feel like I’ve learned some things about marriage in that time. I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself. And I’ve learned even more about this man that I love so fiercely.

I can’t tell you when I realized that I loved Travis. Honestly, I’ve tried to remember and analyze it and I just can’t do it. We went on our first official date on September 30th, 2010, and became “Facebook Official” the next weekend — October 8th. We jumped in feet first and knew that exploring this affection and attraction we had for each other was the right thing to do. We were good friends before we started dating and we had many mutual friends. It would have been weird and awkward had it not worked out. But it never even occurred to us that it wouldn’t work. It was just right. We were all in.

Our first date: September 30, 2010. The Royals played Tampa Bay. I don't remember who won.
Our first date: September 30, 2010. The Royals played Tampa Bay. I don’t remember who won.

Travis told me that he loved me on a day near my birthday, a month after we started dating. I knew I loved him before he told me, I just wasn’t sure if we were ready to say it yet. So I was relieved when he said it first.

When we were married on October 13, 2012 it was like my outsides were starting to match my insides better. For two years I had felt partnered to this creative and caring guy, and finally I was able to say that he was mine and I was his. I was able to say that we were officially a family — something I had felt in my heart for a long time. We combined our names; we were legally tied to each other. If I was in a car accident, he’s who they would call. I do his laundry. He washes our dishes. We fall asleep every night next to each other, him usually before me. And for eight and a half months I’ve been learning what it means to be his wife; to be partnered forever.

550491_4792207848749_1764399629_n

Sometimes when I look across a room at him talking to someone, or I see him playing an instrument or singing, or I see him playing with our dogs or the kids at church, or when I see him leading our church in worship, I am overcome with love and joy that he is my husband. This man who lives life with zest, who is creative, who is caring and sensitive, who is passionate (and sometimes a little crazy), who is idealistic but not naive, who sees the best in people, who loves God and follows Jesus; he is mine and I am his. He picked me when he could have picked any other girl.

laynehaley-0023

Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes I just want to be alone. Sometimes I don’t tell him what I’m feeling enough and he goes crazy wondering. Sometimes he’s cranky. Sometimes I’m cranky.

But during those times when we struggle, I remember what a privilege it is to be married. I remember that it is an honor to go through life with Travis. That his heart picked me, and that my heart picked him. I remember that there is no one else on earth who could fill this spot in my heart that belongs to him. That if I lost him somehow there would be a hole in my heart forever. I don’t have any proof of this but my feelings.

And remembering that he is a part of me now and that our marriage is a great privilege gives me the strength to carry on. It gives me the strength to fight for what we have. To not let it fall apart or let distance grow between us.

We hear a lot about the sanctity of marriage these days. There are people who feel like gay marriage would threaten the sanctity of heterosexual, “traditional” marriage. I’m not here to try to change anyone’s mind on this today, but I would argue that we straight people are doing enough to ruin the sanctity of marriage just fine on our own.

There are stories every day of celebrities getting married and then filing for divorce hours later. There are people that cheat on their spouses, lie, abuse, and don’t honor the sacred union that they willingly entered in front of God and all their relatives at their wedding. We have TV shows like The Bachelor that are designed to find a spouse for someone, based on looks and staged shenanigans.

Yeah, I think we straight people are doing plenty to make marriage less sacred.

I’ve only been married for 256 days, but I plan on being married for a zillion more. I didn’t enter into this marriage lightly. This means a lot to me. I treasure my privilege to be married every day. And I feel like God is a part of our love; that our marriage is a holy thing.

I believe that WE make our marriages holy. Nothing anyone else could do could ever make our marriages less holy. The sanctity of marriage is only threatened by our actions and our lack of respect for the marriage. When we devalue our marriages, they become less sacred. No one else’s marriage or desire to be married could ever threaten the holiness of our marriages.

So, married people, honor your spouse. Value him or her. Stand by your vows and hold them in your heart and mind. Don’t give up when the going gets tough. Make your marriage sacred and stop worrying so much about other people.

Make the choice to keep your marriage holy. Appreciate your privilege.

 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up! Also, if two lie down together, they can stay warm. But how can anyone stay warm alone?  Also, one can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance. A three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Advertisements

Facing a Fear

Hospice.

The word brings a certain amount of terror to those who hear it. It means that the end is near. It means that someone you love is about to be missing from your life. It’s a word no one likes.

My first and only experience with hospice before today was with Mom’s death in May. She was barely on hospice before she died, so it was even a very limited experience. I didn’t really get to see the full scope of what they do for families.

We talked about hospice and palliative care in seminary, and everyone said it was a good thing, but I didn’t see that for myself until today.

Visiting church members in nursing homes or hospitals isn’t technically on my job description. But I am of the opinion that when the Senior Minister is away or unavailable, anything that he or she would normally do falls to the Associate Minister(s). So this morning we got a call about a church member who was being put on hospice, and since our Senior Minister couldn’t be reached, I went to go be with the family.

I was really nervous about it. I was worried that I’d be an emotional wreck because I don’t view my Mom’s passing as a very positive experience. I felt like it happened so quickly and we were somewhat ill-prepared. In short, it was traumatic for me. I didn’t know what I was walking into this morning. I didn’t know if the lady would be conscious or not. I didn’t know if she’d be in pain or not.

What I found when I walked into the room, was a daughter sitting with a hospice nurse while a 104 year-old woman slept peacefully in a recliner. There was this energy of peacefulness that I can’t quite put into words. The hospice nurse was nothing but reassuring to the daughter. Her biggest concern was helping this woman, who had lived a remarkably long life, to die with dignity of old age.

As I listened to the daughter and nurse talk about her mother’s needs, I thought, “this is what death should be like.” Death shouldn’t be a traumatic fight, it is something that should be slipped into slowly; the culmination of a long and well-lived life. I hope that as the days go on, this woman will experience only dignity, comfort, and peace. I hope that her daughter will experience only hope and reassurance that she’s done everything she can to care for her mother and that this is just the natural way of things.

For long lives, well-lived, I give thanks to God.

For hospice nurses who give dignity to the dying, I give thanks to God.

Amen.

“Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me

And when I lose my direction, I’ll look up to the sky

And when the black cloak drags upon the ground

I’ll be ready to surrender, and remember

Well we’re all in this together

If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.”

– The Avett Brothers

Five Years

5 years.

1,826 Days.

That’s how long it’s been since our life changed drastically. Since the ugliness of cancer infected our sweet family’s life. Since our church and loved ones rallied around us and said “you’ll get through it!” Since Mom started fighting with a strength and passion I’d never seen in anyone before.

Five years ago today was one of the scariest days of my life. I sat in the waiting room at KU Medical Center with my Dad and waited for what felt like hours for them to finish the biopsy and tell us if Mom was going to be ok or not. I was trying to be strong, telling myself that we didn’t have anything to worry about just yet. It could be benign. Mom’s surgeon rushed the lab orders from the biopsy so we wouldn’t have to spend Thanksgiving worrying about the results.

At 5pm on Wednesday, November 21, 2007, we found out she had cancer.

I could write a whole book (or library?) about what she went through. I could tell you about the day she lost her hair, or the day she had her mastectomy. I could even tell you about the worst round of chemo ever that kept her flat on her back for almost a month. I could tell you about my sleepless nights worrying about the tumors that kept showing up in new places. I could tell you how to make “Rice Krispie Treats” out of brown rice puffs and brown rice syrup (NOT as good as the real thing!).

Maybe I’ll tell you about those things sometime, but right now I want to tell you about how Mom never stopped being Mom.

For four and half years, while she was fighting cancer and worrying about side effects, hair loss, and the possibility that she may not win, she never stopped being Mom. Even when she felt like absolute crap, she was taking care of us, loving us, and doing the things she loved. I honestly don’t know how she did it.

When her doctors told her there were no other options, she, being more than a little stubborn and very feisty, didn’t believe them and found more options. She changed her life to help her live better with cancer. She took this on like she did all her projects: with passion and determinedness. She started eating mostly vegan, even though she loved meat and potatoes. She gave up sugar and alcohol, even though she loved margaritas. She started working out, even though she hated it. She did these things because she could keep being Mom. And she lived probably two years longer than she would have by doing this. She got to be Mom longer.

While there are a lot of things about the last five years that have sucked (chief among them losing her too soon), watching Mom become this healthy, passionate person despite doing chemo and a war being waged in her body, was the most amazing thing. On days when I wallow in sadness because I miss my Mom, or on days when I yell at God because cancer took her too soon, I also try to remind myself of the good parts of the journey that Mom’s cancer sent us on.

I try to remember how we experimented and learned new recipes together. The trips to Chicago to the Block Clinic, where she received chemo, and most importantly hope that she could keep living with this disease. Shopping trips because she was losing weight and could buy smaller sizes. Going on walks. Going to yoga classes. Eating out at vegan restaurants. Talking about the future.

Most of all, I remember how she never stopped being my Mom. We  never stopped being a family. I was always her kid. Even when she was stressed and overwhelmed, my sister, Dad, and I were always her top priorities. For that, I am thankful.

There are a lot of things I wish I could change about the last five years, but watching Mom become person who was passionate about her health and the changes that need to take place in cancer care and research is not something I would change.

Cancer sucks. A lot.

Our family at Thanksgiving last year.

What’s in a Name?

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately.

When we first started talking about getting married, I told Travis that I wasn’t going to drop Smith. I wasn’t opposed to adding his last name to mine, but Kassie Smith is who I am. And while I realize that my life has changed drastically because we have gotten married, it doesn’t change who I am: Kassie Smith, daughter of Kyle and Kristie Smith. I know this is a very personal subject for a lot of women, and I’m not passing judgment on anyone about how they did or didn’t change their names when they were married, but this is what has felt right to Travis and me.

When I told Travis that I wanted to keep Smith in some capacity, he thought that was a great idea. Because he’s amazing. Not only did he think it was a good idea, he said he might like to add my name to his name too. So we decided that we would both change our middle names to Smith and our last name would be McKee. I now go by Kassie Smith McKee, though I have yet to legally change anything (it’s on my to-do list, I promise!). And Travis goes by Travis Smith McKee. For us, this represents the forming of two families into one. We know it’s different and people probably won’t understand us having two last names, but we’re excited about it. And it means a lot to me to have my husband not only back me up on this decision but join me in it.

Names are important. They make us who we are. Parents spend days, weeks, months figuring out the names of their babies before they’re even born. My parents had four names picked out when they were expecting my twin sister and I. They didn’t know what our genders would be, so they picked out two boy names (Ken and Kale) and two girl names (Kourtney and Kassandra).

When my Mom was passed out from the C-section, the hospital staff was pressuring Dad to name us so they could get our birth certificates in order. So he named us in alphabetical order; I came out first so I was Kassandra. I think I was probably called Kassandra for the first few months of my life, but then it was quickly shortened to Kassie. I love the way Kassandra sounds and briefly tried to go by that name when I started seminary, but it just didn’t stick. It made me feel like no one knew me. Kassandra is my name on paper, but Kassie is what people who really know me call me.

In college, I learned about Kassandra from Greek mythology, who was so beautiful that she was given the gift of prophecy and had quite a tragic life. Gee, thanks, Mom and Dad, for naming me after someone who had a terrible life. They didn’t know what my name meant, or who it was derived from when they named me, but I do enjoy telling people that my name means “Prophetess of Doom.”

See? I have these stories of how I came to be Kassie, and what I’ve learned about other Kassandras in the past. Our names help us to be who we are, and when we start to think about changing them or editing them in some way, it’s not something to take lightly.

There’s a whole history behind how I came to be Kassandra “Kassie” Smith McKee, and I couldn’t be more proud of it, or the people and events who have helped me to be who I’m becoming.

*I wrote this post forever ago and then forgot to finish it or publish it! Ooops!

Life and Grief and Love

There’s been some big changes in my life lately. It’s been pretty interesting.

And they’re not stopping.

In the last four(ish) months I’ve: finished seminary and graduated, saw my mom’s health decline and experienced her death, gotten ordained, moved, started a new job in a new community, spent a summer away from my fiancé, become a dog person, welcomed my fiancé back home, and been planning a wedding during all of it.

Any one of those things would be enough to stress a person out, but I’ve dealt with all of them. And I will say that, other than my mom’s death, all of them have been good growing experiences for me.

But when can I finally stop and say, “Ok! I’m fully grown now! Let’s slow down?”

Um, never, apparently.

Some Buddhists say that all of life is suffering.* I’ve come to believe that all of life is changing. Nothing ever stays the same. And I guess that’s mostly ok. The hardest part has been losing one of the people who I thought would always be there (or at least until I was much much older). But, even though Mom is gone, there have been little surprises/coincidences/”God Things” that have cropped up that have made me feel like she’s still here for me.

I’ve started seeing a grief counselor. It’s been a really great experience. Hard, but good. During our first session she recommended a book to me and when she said the title I knew I’d heard of it before. It was the same book that really helped my mom when she was grieving her mom! So I went home that night and looked on Mom’s bookshelf and there it was! “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelmen. I remember Mom reading it when I was a kid and recommending it to her friends who were dealing with mother loss. She not only left me a resource to help me grieve her, but modeled to my sister and me how to deal with mother grief healthily. There’s no “right” way to deal with grief, but she showed us that there’s no shame in going to see a counselor or in asking for help. For this, I’m so thankful.

When I look around and remember she’s not there. Or when I pick up my phone and remember I can’t text her. Or when I look up at the photos above my desk and feel that pang in my heart because I can’t hug that beautiful woman in the pictures, I have to fight the sadness and anger that try to overwhelm me. Instead I’ve found myself thinking, “this is what life is like now.” I know, from talking with my counselor and reading Mom’s book, that a huge portion of the rest of my life will be wishing Mom was here.

Some of you (if anyone actually reads this) may be thinking that it sounds like a pretty awful thing to have to miss your mom every day. But I’m becoming ok with it. It means that every day I get to think about her. She can still be in my life because she’s in my thoughts. Constantly. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis is peppered by my grief for her, my desire to remember her advice and love, and to be a person that she’d be proud of.

My therapist said that grieving my mom is the last big act of love I can give her. That has (slowly) changed my whole perspective on grieving. It changes it from this big, nasty, scary, dark pit of despair that is trying to swallow me up, to something that I can actively do to continue loving Mom. Wow.

So this life, full of ups and downs, is a good one. I’m covered in love every day by my family, my friends, my church, and my dogs. And each of the 3,789 times I miss Mom in a day, I get to love her.

*The only things I know about Buddhism are from a class in college so I didn’t say that all Buddhists believe this, because I don’t know that they do from my very limited experience.

**NOTE** This blog isn’t only going to be about my grieving process. There’s lots of lighter-hearted things I want to write about too, but I felt like I needed to address the elephant in the room with this first blog post. Thank you for reading!