Friday, October 31, 2008


Few of us really know what hunger is.

I eat all day long. I am hypoglycemic, so if I don’t eat something every three or four hours, I get shaky and mean. You don’t want to get near me around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon if I haven’t had access to a snack.

I imagine that, for most who are reading this, hunger is what happens when you’re on a self-imposed diet or if you’re on the freeway too long without a McDonald’s stop.

A lot of my new neighbors in Westwood are really hungry. Hungry, as in they have no idea where the next meal is coming from unless it's out of a dumpster. Being LA’s college town, the community probably won’t let them starve. But it gets old...and sad...sometimes, passing out dollar bills every time you have to run to the drug store. (We actually WALK to ‘run’ errands living in Europe.)

Yes, I know all the reasons why we’re not supposed to do that. I know there are shelters and soup kitchens. All I can tell you is that if they have to ask, they need it more than I do. I remember a story about CSL being challenged by one of his colleagues on the topic one time. His response was something like, “Yes, I know he’ll probably just spend it on drink. But if I keep it, I might just spend it on drink!” We’re all really beggars on one level or another.

What do we actually own?

My mother was the type that would stop and help hitchhikers out in the 60’s. (No, come to think of it, she wasn’t the ‘type’ at all. But she did it.) Sometimes she would give them a ride. My father always called the State Patrol and the emergency room when she was late coming back from Atlanta. It never deterred her in the least. If someone were hungry, she made sure they were fed.

The worst trip of Katherine’s life was when we took her to New York for her 12th birthday. We thought she’d love it, as besotted with “The Theater” as she was. But all the fabulous plays in the world couldn’t make up for the grief she felt over the hungry, homeless people. She was in tears walking down the sidewalks of The City. Brooks finally got a stack of dollar bills and we let her hand them out all day long. The inequity of poverty overwhelmed her. (And no, it doesn’t matter to any of us if it’s their own damn fault they’re on the streets. Call us suckers. They are still worthy of compassion.)

Although Katherine loved going on a mission trip to Malawi with her father-in-law’s church, the relentless NEED saddened her. She told me, “We’d work all day long, as efficiently as we could, but we never got to the end of the line.” Being forced to turn some away was devastating to her. How desperately she wanted to ease their pain, satisfy their hunger, help to heal their sicknesses.

It is sadly ironic that Katherine has to suffer such gnawing hunger herself now.

Eating is one of our family’s greatest passions. My two oldest children were born ravenous. They nursed all day (and night) long. When they were James’ age, they would scream when the breakfast oatmeal ran out. Katherine averaged 3 bowls per morning. I was in a major health-food phase at the time, so the Arnold girls weren’t allowed to have white sugar, processed food, any of the bad stuff. It backfired. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.

Much later, countless friends and neighbors laughingly told me about having to make special grocery store runs when the Arnold girls were coming over. They were particularly notorious for cleaning out cookie drawers and candy bowls. No one could believe how much those cute little girls could pack down. I have to confess that I set a bad example for them. I was a low birth weight baby and a skinny (hyperactive) child who was wildly applauded for eating. I also inherited a very high metabolism. (At least until things ‘change’d.....get it, ladies?) As an adult, I have achieved a certain level of fame for how much I can eat. The girls, wanting to be just like Mommy, thought it was great fun to eat a lot. I am 5’3” and fairly lazy. My husband is 6’6” and a very self-disciplined runner. Our girls and I have always eaten more (and much worse) than he does...which was fine for them until the vertical growth stopped. They don’t thank me so much anymore.

Anyway, I think it’s interesting to note how many celebrations and ceremonies are centered around food. Every Southern family get-together is a moveable feast. My mother’s mother was a wonderful old-fashioned cook, who always had something on the stove ‘just in case’ someone happened to stop by. She had six grown children who frequently did, along with their spouses, children, friends, pets, and strays. We celebrated almost every holiday at her big, old, white house on a hill in Gainesville, Georgia...sometimes as many as 50 of us for Thanksgiving dinner. Nenie would cook at least 10 dishes for every occasion, but then everyone else would bring two or three to add to the banquet. Just writing about it conjures up intoxicating smells which are starting to make me salivate.

I’ll be back after I run to the kitchen......

Food is an instrument of love. I’ve written before (and I will write again some day) of the flow of fabulous food that showered down on us while we were at UCLA. I learned many lessons from it. Literally hundreds of people went to great trouble to keep us well-fed. Mothers of small children took hours out of their busy days to provide us with wonderful meals. They would struggle in, pushing a stroller with one hand while carrying heavy bags of food and holding a toddler’s hand with the other. This was after a long search for a parking space, followed by a long hike to the hospital and a long trek down miles of hall looking for us. It was a great sacrifice of love.

By the time Katherine got down to Acute Rehab from ICU, she was fully aware of this food offering. Her sense of smell (atypically) remained intact, and she was tormented by the aromas drifting down the halls. As she grew more aware of her situation, she, strangely, became hungrier and thirstier by the day, even though she was receiving adequate caloric intake from the nasty beigey-gray substance given through a feeding tube in her stomach. I have since read that an acute sense of hunger can be one physiological/psychological side effect of a brain injury.

At first, Katherine could not tolerate the sight of a drink or any food in her room, so we discreetly wolfed (no pun intended) down the generous meals in the privacy of the staff kitchen or lunchroom. But she would get lonely even for those brief periods. Knowing how I have to eat or get loopy, she started encouraging me to eat in the room with her. I would sit just feet away from her, but with the curtain drawn between us so she didn’t have to watch. Eventually we did away with that. As she wistfully glanced at me choking down my sandwich, I would assure her that it wasn’t very good (even if it was delicious) and that she wasn’t missing anything. But of course that is exactly what she was doing...missing one of the old loves of her life.

To this day, Katherine’s nagging hunger remains. It haunts her day and night.

She told me that if she could only do one again, she would pick eating over walking.

Still, Katherine chooses to join us for most meals now. She is a “people person” above all else. She exercises self-discipline of the most stringent type by calmly sitting there while we satiate ourselves. It’s got to be terrific torture. She is learning volumes about the practice of the spiritual disciplines. On a daily basis, she chooses to be a part of the fellowship breaking bread together, in spite of the personal sacrifice. But sometimes she is very quiet.

It hurts me as a mother. From the time we first hooked up on the delivery table, feeding my child has been the most instinctual of job descriptions. So I’ve often wondered about the purpose of this imposed fast. I believe it might be in the category of “sharing in the sufferings.” Once, I reminded her of Christ’s fast during the temptation. “Yes, but that was only 40 days,” she countered. Jay said, “Well, Katherine, I guess you’ve got Jesus beat.” Of course no sacrilege was intended...that was in the “might as well laugh” category. (We did.) Still, the mysteries remain....

I’ve been thinking a lot about hunger these days. One of Webster’s definitions for the infinitive “To hunger” is: Have a craving, appetite, or great desire for.

Dear God, we’re all hungry for something.

I tried going without food for a while the day I wrote most of this blog. What I felt was a relentless, nagging need. Want. Desire. An emptiness that desperately needed filling.

This may be a wild stretch, but just maybe, like Hosea, God is allowing Katherine the privilege of suffering as an example to the rest of us.

Maybe He’s using her to remind us all that we’re desperately needy for some food and drink that last. In a land of over-saturation, we’re suffering from spiritual malnutrition of the most insidious kind.

And maybe I’m supposed to be reminded of my own spiritual poverty when I connect with those beggars in Westwood. I am in no way above them.

We are family.

As we enter this holiday (Holy Day?) time of celebration, perhaps we should challenge each other to develop an increased awareness of the intense Hunger all around us.

As Dostoyevsky said, “If an onion is all you have, give an onion!”


An onion of love, an onion of hope...

(CHRISTIANITY: One beggar telling another where the food line starts.)


You are my Shepherd, I'm Your little lamb
You lead me to the still water here in the pastureland
Sometimes I willfully wander
that's when I stumble and fall.

I hunger and thirst for mercy
I hunger and thirst for Your name
If I hunger and thirst for anything but You
I hunger and thirst in vain.

You are my Father,
I'm Your little child
You make a place at Your table
and ask me to stay awhile
I want to stay in Your presence
I want to feast in Your hall.

I hunger and thirst for mercy
I hunger and thirst for Your name
If I hunger and thirst for anything but You
I hunger and thirst in vain...

(Susan Ashton, "Hunger and Thirst" from Angels of Mercy)


"They will neither hunger nor thirst...He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." (Isaiah 49:10)

"You still the hunger of those you cherish..." (Psalm 17:14)

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6)

"Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." (Luke 6:21)

"Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst." (Revelation 7:16)

Friday, October 17, 2008


Yesterday was my grandson’s first birthday.

What a year it’s been.

Although we’re planning a party for him next week, of course we had to have a little family celebration on the actual day. He smeared cupcake icing all over his face like a good little boy so that his Daddy’s daddy and his Mommy’s mommy could take lots of silly pictures. Then we put him on a blanket in the back yard to open presents, which were stuffed animals he didn’t love and clothes he was bored with. After that, he got fussy. (He’s got a bad cold.)

While his aunt Sarah and his granddaddy tried to entertain him, James’ mother and I sat in the backyard swing and watched as the sun illuminated the mountains on its way out. We rocked gently in the blessedly cool twilight, letting Jay clean up the mess. Katherine was quiet, exhausted and hoarse from fighting to be understood all day. I knew she was sad about having to be an observer rather than an active participant in the proceedings. As a tear dripped out of her left eye, she whispered to me, “This isn’t how I planned it, Mom.”

No kidding.

Katherine is a planner. A MAJOR planner. As an adult, it has frustrated her that I am not. She has things mapped out a year in advance, unlike her mother, who usually flies by the seat of her pants.

I reached over and hugged her head. “I know,” I said, “But God has a plan.” It felt weak and trite coming out, as so many condoling words do. I followed it by reminding her of all the good that’s coming out of her so many people are being encouraged by her story...yada, yada, yada. “Yes, but what about James?” she asked. I understood her completely without her having to spell it out. As compassionate and caring as Katherine innately is, her love and concern for her own firstborn child trump every other consideration. I know that she is honored that God is using her circumstances in mysterious ways as a blessing for others...BUT WHAT ABOUT HER BABY???

I know how I’d feel if I were her. I’m not nearly as selfless as Katherine is. I’d probably be having a fit. I’d be screaming and crying to God, “Well, it’s great that all these people are being blessed, but does it have to be at my child’s expense??? A child needs his mother to hold his hands while he’s trying to walk! A child needs his mother to pick him up when he’s crying! A little boy needs his mother to get down on the floor and play with him! What about my baby??? Is he going to be okay with all of this? Is he going to be scarred for life?”

We looked up and saw James silhouetted against the silver sky, sitting high on the shoulders of his grandfather. “He’s doing great, Katherine,” I said. “Just look at him.” She sniffed and nodded and made the “Ouuuuh...Cute” face. “He is,” she agreed. I started carefully wiping her tears away. “They only come out of my left eye,” she reminded me. “The right one doesn’t work.” But as I leaned over, I saw a little one dangling off her right eyelashes, sparkling in the dark.


Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:11)

In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:11)

...and best of all,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008



For once, I’m almost speechless.

(God forbid.)

You guys are incredible. Thank you SO much for your love, support, encouragement, affirmation...and for the confirmation that I am supposed to be doing this.

Obviously, this is about a lot more than what my family is going through. I am honored and amazed that God is using our pain to bring healing to others. You can’t know what a blessing and privilege that is. I appreciate those of you who have opened yourselves up and risked “public exposure” by your comments. It helps to know more about those who have chosen to share this rough journey with us. I realize that we are certainly not alone in facing heartbreak. Please know that I will be praying for those who have shared their own hurts and challenges. We are one body. When the pinkie hurts, the whole hand throbs with pain...and the arm, and the.......


Typical me: When I first had a chance to read the comments, my initial thought was, “ I really gotta fly right!”

I got an immediate jolt of Spirit fire: “No, Kim...” He said, “All you really gotta do is be loved.”

I mean, how can anyone resist Him???

The good news is too good to be true...but it is.

No strings attached...

“Come one, come all, to the ugly bug ball!”

(...If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up
If I’m crazy, I don’t wanna be sane
When I’m empty, you fill up my cup
When I’m hurting, you bear my pain...)


*A couple of clarifications about the previous blog:

The comment in question was verbal, not written. Please note that I said it was “somewhat” negative. It was not a scathing indictment. Hopefully, the person that made it doesn’t even realize that it provoked such commentary. As “tami” commented, my post was not intended to “rally the troops” in support of the blog. I must confess, however, that it was precious to discover that I have so many willing defenders. I need all the help I can get!

The point is....the 'negative' comment reinforced reservations I have had myself, and forced me to really examine my motives and revisit the risks involved. I also felt that I needed to provide a little background information for those who are late to the dance.

The responses serve as a sign that the blessings far outweigh the curses. Thank you for giving me some peace.

Also, in rereading the post, I remembered that the words to the Jill Phillips song (“God Believes In You”) are“Everything matters if anything matters at all...”

I do believe that’s true.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Public Exposure

(*WARNING: Do not read this unless you have nothing else to do. It is self-indulgently long and contains little pertinent information about Katherine’s condition. If you choose to read it anyway, you will understand why I got those teacher’s comments in second grade.)


Recently, I got my first somewhat negative comment about the blog from someone other than a family member. Victim of low self-esteem that I am, I instantly went into a spiral of self-doubt. WHY AM I DOING THIS???

I am from a background that doesn’t quite approve of public exposure. It is with pride that many of my compatriots quote, “Grandmother always said you should only appear in the paper twice... at birth and at death.” Weddings are a fairly recent (20th Century) concession. My sweet mother, who is a young 81, suggested soon after Kelly started it that we needed to “Get off that Caringbridge Thing so someone else can have a turn.” It simply is not considered genteel to put one’s self forward, demand attention, expose one’s private business.


First of all, I need to tell you that I’ve never really written anything before except for some bad poetry and inappropriate letters to people like my daughters’ ex-boyfriends. Although I’ve taught high school English, I was not an English major in college. I think most of us who love to read harbor secret fantasies about writing, however, and I am no exception. I just never got around to it. If someone asked me to write an Advent devotion for the Church newsletter, I’d be paralyzed by “writer’s block” and would agonize until well past the deadline over what to say. I’d write a sentence, change a word, change another word, and finally scratch out the whole sentence. I would read the entire thing over again each time I finally did manage to tack a new sentence on to it. It would be a lengthy, labored process.

Talking has never been a problem, however. My grandmother was one of five sisters named Converse, and that is what they did...wonderfully well. I grew up listening to their highly descriptive, endless, epic stories. My father, who was half Converse, was also a remarkable raconteur. As a child, I drifted off many nights to his amazingly realistic sound-effects of WWII missiles exploding over Germany as he scurried from foxhole to foxhole.

Evidently, the legacy of excessive verbiage has passed on to me as well. In elementary school, I would get straight A’s in everything except for “Citizenship.” (Okay, not always in Math, either.) The mean teachers would give me a “B” in that box and write, “Talks too much with other students” in the comment space. The nice ones understood and let it slide. And I told stories, too, weaving dramatic sagas in the ‘cloakrooms’ of my old elementary school whenever the class was left unattended. Some of my baby cousins claim that they are still receiving therapy for the ghost stories I told them in the dark closets of my other grandmother’s rambling century-old white house.

Words stream through my mind in a constant flow, usually so fast that I can’t catch them. I know I don’t catch the best ones...I’m not quick enough. I’ve always been fascinated by words, and I believe there is great power in them. THE Word spoke Creation into existence, and we enter into the creative process with our words as well. Human words are a pale substitute, however, for the intimate heart communion that one day will render them unnecessary and meaningless. In the meantime, we struggle to share our stories, our experiences, our hearts. It seems to me that communication is one of the main reasons we’re here: to commune with one share communion. In the movie “Shadowlands,” a former student tells C. S. Lewis, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Words are tools we use to share the human experience.

I’ve found that the written word is sometimes easier than the spoken. The fear, self-consciousness, and possibility of misinterpretation that may be obstacles in spoken communication disappear in writing. For several years preceding Katherine’s AVM rupture, I felt as if I were speaking a foreign language that no one could understand. In a place of terrific physical (and emotional) pain, I retreated into isolation. Some of what I was experiencing was simply not articulable, so I gave up trying to answer truthfully when people asked me how I was. But this forced me into a new intimacy with God that made the suffering much more than worth it all. For the first time since my 8th grade diary, I began journaling. When I was physically able to write, I talked to myself and God on paper, sometimes pouring out words that I couldn’t speak to another living soul. Sometimes He answered back, and I wrote that down, too.

It was all preparation.

The second full day after my arrival in California in April, I lay in my bed at UCLA’s Tiverton House with my grandson asleep beside me and began typing a letter to my friends. Words just poured out onto the electronic page of my laptop...I was talking by typing. In my mind, I was addressing a specific audience of friends who like to know the details. (As do I.) When I got to the hospital that morning, I asked Katherine’s friend Lauren how to send out a group email. After helping me with that, she suggested setting up the blog so other friends, whose addresses were not yet in the new laptop, could also have access. Thus was the blog born.

I wasn’t completely sure what a blog was.

Sometimes it takes my breath away to realize how many people are reading my private thoughts now. I wonder who most of you are. A few have become friends I’ve never met. I am blown away that so many are interested. I can’t allow myself to think about it as I spill my guts (and my family’s) out onto virtual paper in the privacy of my little apartment in LA. But it really gives me something to consider when I’m in Athens and need to make a grocery store run. I might run into someone who’s known me for years, but not really known me at all. Until now.

Guess I’m out of the closet.

In some ways, it’s ironic that I’ve put myself in this position. No one’s kids have been lectured on the Evil Dangers of the Internet as much as mine have. I am sickened by the “Jerry Springer/nasty ‘reality’ TV show/Facebook” need (obsession) we have in this society to expose ourselves to public ridicule at any price. (And voyeuristically to enjoy the negative exposure of others.) I realize that, in some ways, I have entered the realm of that culture I abhor by the use of this vehicle of communication. I acknowledge the many intrinsic risks...and the terrible vulnerability to which they expose us.

For now, I’ve decided that it is worth it.

Early on, when the implications first began to dawn on me, I tacked that "About Me” caveat onto the page in about three minutes while sitting in the noisy lobby at UCLA. I am so glad that I did. It is vitally important to me that anyone reading this understands that I don’t consider myself a “SuperSaint” or an expert on matters spiritual. (Or anything else.) You’ll never catch me running for political office.

But I will tell you this: In the middle of the most paralyzing fear of my life, the words simply began flowing out, unlocked from the self-conscious paralysis of a lifetime. The effortless ease with which they came was supernatural, just another of the many peripheral miracles of that mystical time. In the deepest place in me, I knew that this was what I was being called to do “at such a time as this.”

Later, when a moment of self-doubt first crept in, I prayed about it. This is what I heard reverberating through my spirit: “Just keep it real. Keep it true.”

So, at least for now, I very belatedly welcome you all to this story...Katherine’s story, my story, our story...chapters in the big one. I believe that every single human life is a fascinating story...and each of us has a sacred story to tell, for we are all created in the image of the Creator of the Big Story. All of history is His Story. Our stories are rivulets that flow into the great River of Life itself that surges from the Throne. Every tiny drop is important...every little tear. As Jill Phillips sings, “Everything matters if anything matters at all.”

Because death exists, suffering is universal. In the words of our hometown boys (REM), “Everybody hurts.” Although I’ve heard several comments that writing the blog must be “cathartic” or “therapeutic” for me, I hope it is more than that. It is my prayer that the stories I share from this painful time in the life of my family may in some way help others in their own times of suffering. It is a blessing for Katherine and for those of us who love her to know that her pain is not wasted, but somehow used for good. In turn, we have been richly blessed by the stories others have been brave enough to share with us. For instance, I recently received a beautiful, particularly poignant letter from someone whose sister was killed by an AVM rupture just a few years ago. Strangely enough, the sister’s name was Catherine; she left behind a 2-year old child and a grieving family. In her letter, this precious young woman wrote, “...I would have loved to help her get better, the way you are helping Katherine. How joyous it is to see the pictures of Katherine as she fights to regain strength and mobility. I love seeing James in his mother’s arms. In a way, by seeing Katherine’s progress and seeing all that you all are doing to help her, I can imagine me doing that for my Catherine. Through reading your blogs, I am able to play out, in my mind, the scenario I had envisioned for my sister when she first fell ill, and I thank you for that opportunity, for the peace it gives my soul.” (No, thank you, dear girl. Your story reminds us to be truly thankful for every day, no matter how hard. We will keep you and your family in our prayers.) We bond together in sharing the grief and pain that are inevitable components of life on earth.

In attempting to ‘keep it real and true,’ I realize that what I’ve actually been doing in this sharing of stories is testifying. Webster’s tells me that the stem is the Latin “testis,” witness. Testimony is defined as “firsthand authentication of a fact: EVIDENCE.”

I can tell by a few of the comments I’ve gotten that some of you are in the same place I was in before this happened. Believing, but doubting. Wanting to believe that it’s all true. Thinking we have to try harder, be better, in order for all the promises to prove authentic for us. Subconsciously holding on to some of our core beliefs like hypotheses that need testing, rather than authenticated facts. Wondering, my personal faith strong enough? Would it hold up under the biggest test? (I barely make it through the small ones.) Will these ‘spiritual theories’ be supported by evidence when tested by fire?

This is the gist of my personal story...this is ‘that which I have witnessed firsthand and can therefore authenticate’:

I am weak, wavering, inconsistent, complex, and conflicted. I cannot will myself to stay strong, be selfless, keep the faith, fight the fight. I identify with the Apostle Paul in Romans 7 when he confesses, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway...” My best is not good enough.

I cannot hold fast to what I know is true.


the Truth holds.

He holds fast to me.

He holds us all.

...and in Him all things hold together.

That is my public testimony.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hi Friends,

Just a note to let you know we're still around. I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while... 'technical difficulties'...but I hope to in the next day or so.

Thank you for waiting with us.