Today I’m excited to welcome Kristen Leigh Kludt, author of the newly released: A Good Way Through: My Journey with God from Disappointment into Hope. Kristen and I met through a Christian women’s writing circle, where I quickly fell in love with her wit, her honesty, and her thoughtful perspective on the work of God.
This piece is adapted from her book.
This is the fifth installment in my 2017 Advent Devotional series, a series of reflections by diverse authors on finding God in the waiting. To read the first four, start here.
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A Light Has Dawned
by Kristen Leigh Kludt
One day, as I was reading about a group of women having dinner together, I started to cry. The line that got me was something like, “Please pass the butter.”
Why am I crying?
Deep inside, I was afraid. I struggled to accept my own belovedness. I feared that I wasn’t worth befriending. As I read, desire awakened in me. My tears at the simple description of life around the table moved me to action. I texted a few friends, and we gathered a group of six women, most of whom didn’t know each other, for monthly dinners together.
The six of us met only five times before Jennifer moved to Seattle and the group disintegrated, and yet, it was the safest, most intimate group of women I had ever known.
We met first at Julia’s to introduce ourselves and set a reading plan. Julia made delicious, intricate dumplings and I made a cherry cobbler and a salad, splurging on goat cheese and dates from an Armenian market up the street and decorating it with red and orange nasturtiums from our yard.
Our next meeting was at Stephanie’s house. She chose to host that evening because it was the night of her brother’s birthday—her brother Nathan, who had been killed in a car accident when he was eighteen.
Stephanie has a gift for creating spaces of beauty and openness. Her home is my retreat center; walking in fills me with warmth and love and peace. That night, I entered to the scent of sizzling garlic and ginger and a slideshow of Nathan as a child set up on Stephanie’s laptop. Linda arrived with a colorful confetti of salad, complete with a stowaway praying mantis from her walk over. We spent a few minutes trying to evict the little intruder. I stuck two pans of cookie dough in the oven, filling the house with the scent of melting chocolate. Each of us arrived more dressed up than usual, dressing for ourselves and for each other.
Stephanie’s backyard is impossibly lovely. It belongs on the cover of a magazine: a terraced landscape of succulents and trees, flowers and lights. She set the stage beautifully that night. Nathan loved Chinese food, so that was our theme, and she had borrowed placemats, chopsticks, and sparklers from Linda’s travels in China.
We dined outdoors, under the towering live oak, encircled by its branches. The crisp, fruity white wine Jen had brought was the perfect complement to the hot day. As our plates filled and emptied and filled again, we shared stories about food and our childhoods. I remembered Swedish Christmases at my grandparents’ farm, the excitement as a kid of throwing a piece of bread into the pot of Duppa and having Papa lift it out for me, gently setting it on my plate, and how much better potato sausage tasted when we pressed it into the casings by hand. I remembered how my dad made us pancakes shaped like animals; on my first Christmas trip back home after moving to California, he made me a reindeer.
The sun slowly set behind the hills and the lights hanging from the great tree took their places. I pulled the pans of cookie dough from the oven and heaped them with ice cream, letting the cold sweetness soak into every crevice of the hot cookie and melted chocolate. I brought them to the table. We dove straight in with our forks, sharing one platter while we shared our unmet hopes and dreams.
We talked of love lost and longed for, of children, of death. Each woman brought the raw, uncensored gift of herself to the table—baring hurt, grief, and anger at God. I thought my son, of how long I had waited for him, of how I couldn’t protect him from pain. We joined hands in prayer, and I felt hot tears roll down my cheeks—tears for the losses of these dear women, and for my own.
Stephanie shut off the lights above, and we stood in a circle in the dark. She read a verse from Isaiah:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. –Isaiah 9:2
Then she struck a match, and we lit sparklers. They showered our uplifted faces with their audible explosions of light; we laughed, we whooped, and we danced. We drowned out the serenade of the crickets and the hiss of the sparklers with our cries of joy and triumph.
We have won! We suffer, we grieve, we cry, and yet here we are in this moment. We have life, we have love, we have food and safety and lights in dark places. Most of all, we have hands to hold and people to cry and laugh with. Even the memory of it now makes my flesh tingle.
That evening nourished my body and nurtured my soul. I wanted to soak it in, to hold on to it when my days turned bleak. In a way, I did.
Today I am different because of these women. Today I feel surrounded and held and loved by incredible women—gracious, loving, faithful, kind, beautiful women—women I trust to care for me. I know now that I am worth befriending. Through these women, God has carried me.
That night under the lights opened me anew to the rich intimacy that can be found in friendship. If I were the woman I was trying to be—the competent, capable, perfectly-put-together-woman—I would not have needed these friendships. If I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t that woman, that instead I was needy, broken, and insufficient, I would have missed this gift. I might not be the perfect mother, but I was loved.
These women were the arms of God on the days when I wrestled with guilt and shame. Through them, I was borne.
I wrote of that night in my journal, and I ended the entry: “I am in awe.” As I look back on that brief summer of companionship with those women and the life to which they opened me, I am in awe still.
Kristen Leigh Kludt is a contemplative Christian writer and spiritual guide. Her debut book, A Good Way Through: My Journey with God from Disappointment into Hope released in February. Learn about Kristen’s creative spiritual practice (and download her free Advent art template!) at KristenLeighKludt.com or on Instagram. Mother to two boys, she lives, works, and plays in San Francisco’s East Bay, where her husband is a pastor. She is growing daily toward a life of integrity and love and invites others to do the same.