31 Days of My People: My Sista {16/31}

There’s this neat phenomenon I’ve heard about. From what people say I guess it occurs rather frequently, given the right circumstances. But I still have a hard time believing it, because in my world it’s about as rare as a unicorn.

But y’all, folks say that sometimes, really truly: Your People are actually related to you.

I know, right? Seems pretty far-fetched to me. Not to be telling tales out of school or anything, but for me, most of My People–the ones with whom I share everyday life and most of my memories– share no blood with me whatsoever. It’s just how it is for me.

I have a few exceptions to this, and one of them is my sister Kara. We share blood for sure, along with the exact same eyes, laugh lines, sense of humor, and thighs (thanks, a lot, mom.)

Wonder why people ask us if we're twins?

Wonder why people ask us if we’re twins?

Kara got the good hair in the family. I mean really freakin’ good hair. She’s got this thick, wavy, every-shade-of-blonde-and-brown mane, and I’m sitting over here trying to constantly to get some volume and tame my flyaways and such. It’s so annoying.

My sister is the reason I know how to drive and get around places. We used to get in her car and drive all over the city, listening to music and stuff. For no specific reason. I think maybe that was her cheap therapy or something. For the life of me, I can’t believe she would have wanted to hang out with her kid sister all the time like that. But I loved those times. All I could think of was all the places I would go when I was able to drive myself. I was going to know all the cool places. Mostly malls. But still.

We were born 13 years apart. So basically that meant I wanted to be just like her. She was always so awesome to me. She was pretty and smart and fun had bright, awesome clothes and fun friends and tons of shoes and makeup.

Every weekend she would get ready to go out with her friends, and most of the time I was right next to her, watching her do her hair and put on her makeup. I was fascinated by how it turned out perfectly every time, even in the Blue Eyeshadow Phase. Then she would try on 1,822 outfits before finally choosing one, and head out the door, probably without giving me a second thought.

I would wait for a good half hour or so, just to be sure she wasn’t coming back, then I would sneak in and try to replicate that makeup. Using all the available options, which were from Clinique. (Whoops!)

After I made sure my 11-year old face looked totally awesome with the blue eyeshadow and all, I would dig through that pile of clothes she’d discarded while trying on the 1,822 outfits and put one together for myself. My favorite thing was her belts and scarves. You could get lost in them. She could probably have opened six locations of belt and scarf boutiques if she had kept all those.

When I had figured out the outfit I would be rockin’ for the next hour or so (until I had to leave my fantasy dreamland) I would try to do my hair. This, as you could guess, is where things started to fall apart. I mean… hot rollers? Why did they magically turn her hair into a Pantene commercial but make mine look like a cheap Shirley Temple wig you’d wear for Halloween? Must watch more closely next time.

Of course, since I was a kid and all this crap was very expensive, I would head to the bathroom and scrub the stuff off my face so she wouldn’t kill me for wasting it. (PS: Who knew Zest soap wasn’t a great facial bar/eye makeup remover?) I’d always hope my momma didn’t see me on the way down the hall and yell: Wash that shit off your face! You ain’t gonna go around lookin’ like no floozie!

Back in Kara’s room and meticulously rearrange the pile of clothes she had discarded on the bed, replacing the ones I’d been wearing. I was a clearly a genius. But this trick was nothing compared to later when I was a teenager. I would occasionally sneak an outfit out of her closet and wear it to school, then sneak it back on the hanger (EW!) when I got home so she wouldn’t know I’d borrowed it. I don’t know if she ever did catch on, but at this time I would like to take a moment to apologize for possibly causing my adult sister to wear dirty clothes out in public without her knowledge. Please forgive.

When I was 16 I got my first job in the mall working at the one-hour photo lab. Kara worked at Discover card, whose offices were located inside the Sears store at the other end of the mall, so I would frequently get to see her “at work.” It wasn’t a big deal, but it seemed super cool to me. No one else my age had a gorgeous older sister who would buy them an Orange Julius on her break time. I had a good life.

As I “grew up” (aka: thought I was actually some sort of adult) I dreamed we would continue to grow closer, but for a while that just didn’t happen. We actually grew apart. She became a Christian and got married, and we just didn’t understand each other much anymore. I didn’t agree with anything she was about during this time, and I am sure she felt the same way toward me.

It wasn’t until years later when I became a Christian myself that I understood some of the changes she had been trying to make in her life when her priorities shifted. She was there the day I took a step into faith and decided that I could no longer ignore all the signs that Jesus was just who He said He was. I can’t even imagine what was going through her mind as she watched her messed-up little sister finally get over her stubbornness for a moment and admit there was something bigger to live for. The whole day was surreal, and in most every way my journey to faith was a solitary one, but I am so glad she was there when I finally took a step.

We still don’t agree on everything, but that’s okay. We are better friends now than we ever have been. She has given me two of my favorite things in the whole wide world: my nieces, Gracie and Sara. Kara turned 50 this year, and it was so much fun to throw her a surprise party! I loved seeing everyone who came to celebrate her and how awesome she still is after 50 years! Some of her friends were there who have known me since I was that dorky teenager who worked in the mall.

She's 50, people. And I'm not even 40 yet. So there.

She’s 50, people. And I’m not even 40 yet. So there.

Today, Kara and I don’t get to spend as much time together as I would like, but we talk or text often. She’s a busy band mom now. What?? That doesn’t even compute, but it’s adorable to me to think of her in her daughter’s team colors sweatshirt, feeding the entire band some chili or something.

When we are out together, she loves it when people ask if we are twins (which happens a lot) because she’s 13 years older than me. Which I always say is either really great news for her, or really bad for me. I would also like to remind everyone that she is still 13 years older than me. (Don’t forget, I’m the young one.)

I don’t tell her enough that I love her to pieces and don’t know what I would do without her. But it’s so true, especially now. Since our momma has been gone I feel like we’ve been closer than ever. Probably because she and I are so much like our mom (even some of the parts we hate to admit) so spending time together reminds us of her.

It’s one of Kara’s biggest dreams to take off and move to North Carolina, but I just don’t think I can allow that. I don’t think I could deal with not knowing that we would be running to Target together or meeting up for lunch at least a few times a month. No, that just isn’t gonna work for me. I need My People, and that includes my sister. Especially my sister. She’s my unicorn.

Folks, Your People are so very important. If Your People share your blood, consider yourself very lucky, because that’s not always the case. And if you have a fantastic big sister, tell her how awesome she is, even if she did get the good hair in the family.

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31 Days of My People: Jess {15/31}

You’re about to go on a road trip to a fun place for the day, and your friend-who-likes-the-driving-part picks you up, so you’re pretty sure it’s gonna be a good day. With a car full of awesome ladies you love, you know it’s gonna be good. Then when your driving friend mentions that she brought some snacks along for the ride, you’re thinking, awesome! But when you finally open the container of snacks to find every single passenger’s individually wrapped favorite snacks? Holy cow, you’re in the presence of Your People.

This is what it’s like with Jess in your life. You live a carefree existence being toted around everywhere with a nice supply of your very favorite snacks forever and ever.

Well, something like that….

Sometimes it’s not car rides and snacks. Sometimes it’s flowers on your doorstep after a really crappy week. Once in awhile it’s a little card in the mail, or a note tucked onto the windshield of your car. Sometimes it’s a text message with a hideous picture of an obese cat, that you despise but can’t help laughing at.

EWW.

EWW.

It doesn’t matter exactly what it is, but when Jessica is Your People, you live with a pretty consistent stream of happy surprises infused into your life. Thoughtfulness is her love language. It’s impossible not to smile when you’ve been on the receiving end of her thoughtful acts of kindness.

And if you’ve hung out with her? Then you’re SUPER lucky, because she has a big, contagious smile that can put the sunshine to shame.

Out of all Your People, she will never be the one to forget your birthday. Or your anniversary. Or your kids’ birthdays. Or that appointment or interview or other-important-thing you mentioned. She will remember it and ask you about it because that’s what she does. She makes people feel like they’re special. (And people are special, it’s just that she lets them know it.)

Now don’t get me wrong. Jess isn’t perfect. I mean, sure you’ll have a thoughtful friend who shows that she cares about you all the time. But if you want to go to a restaurant where the whole group you’re with decides what they want and everyone’s ready to order when the waiter comes, she’s not your girl. She will ask 4,736 questions about three different menu items, then get the fourth one.

And if you’re somewhere that gives you a cup to get your own fountain drink, and you try to just dispose of it when you’re done without refilling it for the road? You will get scolded. Why would you waste that??? she asks. Last night at Panera I may or may not have referred to her as the “trash police.”

And let’s say you want to give her a little gift to reciprocate all those little surprises she’s always so thoughtfully giving. Don’t pick out something with a totes adorbs asymmetrical print and pattern. She’ll have a seizure and you’ll be dead to her. She just can’t even.

And she’s stubborn. So stubborn. When she gets an idea in her head, there ain’t no gettin’ it out. Which is why I’m sure she didn’t bother to tell us when she decided to track her lost iPhone using the “find my phone” function. She tracked it to a house (by herself) where she promptly knocked on the door and let the occupants know that her lost phone was inside their home. After a few moment of awkward conversation about it, she left. With her phone in hand. Oy vey. That girl. 

Yeah, she’s not perfect, but that is fabulous news. Because when I asked her why she thought we were each other’s People, she said “Maybe because we know that we’re all a mess, and people make life better.”
Right on, sister.

Did you know that my girl Jess wears crazy socks year round? If you see her out and about, ask her to pull up a pant leg. There is a 94.8% chance you will find a brightly-colored crazy-patterned sock on her foot. She knows every inch of Amish country, especially the spots where you can get a puppy and a box of donuts the size of your forearm all in one stop. And she ALWAYS has the best Halloween costumes. Don’t even try to show up at her Halloween party and be all, I didn’t really want to dress up. She will not understand the words that just came out of your mouth.

The sister-wife and Rosie.

The sister-wife and Rosie.

Bon QuiQui

Bon QuiQui

Another thing y’all probably don’t know about Jess is that her life hasn’t always been as perfectly cheery as her pretty face seems to make you think. She endured some hard stuff at a young age. Nowadays she looks back and can see how amazingly God has pieced her life together to help her heal from wounds of the past. There have been a lot of those if that would have never happened, then this wouldn’t have, and we wouldn’t be at this place at this time, and we would have never…It’s one of the things I love most about her.

It’s cool to watch Your People put on the lens of hindsight, zoom way out, and see the big picture of what God is doing and has done in their lives. There’s a very pure appreciation for where they’ve come from, where they are now, and a sense of wonder about where they’re going. Just lovely.

Sometimes I think about me and Jess and how we are kind of unlikely friends. We are complete opposites in many ways. Had she and her husband not started attending our church, we may never have crossed paths. We were introduced in the lobby one day, we invited them to go out sometime “for lunch or drinks or whatever” (which was hilarious to two non-drinking former Nazarenes! Ha!) and they actually took us up on a lunch date. We spent time with Jess, Dave, and their super hilarious son Julian. I had an inkling we’d be lifers after that.

Somehow we stumbled into home group together, (she would remember that better than I would… we call her The Vault.) And once we all started connecting within our group, it was clear, we were among Our People.

Learning her loves is a fifty-fifty thing. She’s got some constants. Family. Traditions that bring people together. Funky socks. But some of her loves are ever-shifting, and you just have to figure out where her interests lie at the moment. Like whether she’s eating popcorn by the bag or roasting cauliflower for dinner. Whether she’s drinking a Coke freeze or a super, duper, large iced tea. Those loves are fluid. They can change. I’ve learned to keep up with the ones that don’t. They’re the most important.

Jess is crazy supportive of my endeavors. Teaching, abolition work, writing, anything. She will attend a function, help me sell stuff, spread the word about whatever I am going after. It’s just no question whether or not I can count on her support. I suppose that’s because when it comes down to it, she’s not an encourager of what I do, but she’s an encourager to me. Because We are each other’s People, and that’s just what you do.

At least if you’re Jess, that’s what you do.

Thank you for being My People, girl. I love your Type A-ness, your smile, and your thoughtfulness so very much. I want everyone to have a Jess!

~~~~~~~

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31 Days of My People: Erin {14/31}

I don’t recall the last time we’d talked. But out of the blue I got a message from her.

I thought to myself, How weird. I’ve been thinking about her a bunch lately.

It started with a simple Can I take you out for coffee sometime? but then it was full of brave, to-the-point things such as I want to talk about what inspires you. I want to talk about Jesus.

This is brave stuff, people. In our time, you don’t get a lot of folks just saying exactly what they mean. I want to spend time with you. For a specific reason. I have things I want to talk about with you. Can we make that happen?

Sadly, it’s not common. It should be, but it’s not. Ladies, this is the worst for us. We follow each other’s Pinterest pages and see one another posting fun selfies on Facebook, and all of a sudden our highlight reels seems like our whole, perfectly packaged, color-coordinated lives. Not so. Life is messy and we need to get real about that. We need to reach out to each other and connect. But memories of mean girls, feelings of inadequacy, or the never-ending what-ifs can paralyze us into staying on our own little island, keeping up the stagnant status quo.

But there are those moments when something inside just can’t stand still anymore. Especially when you get to that point when you’re shedding the things that used to seem important, but no longer really matter. When you’ve got one arm around your right-now self and the other around the person you want to become, and you realize that to make a move, you’ve got to let go of one.

It’s a journey we all take at some point in our lives, and in order to take it, we have to have Our People. And sometimes you notice that you need more of Your People around. So you invite them to coffee. To talk about Jesus and the stuff that inspires you. 

My girl Erin (another redhead!) has been My People for a while now. I think we’ve always kind of known it. We’ve been on the fringe of each other’s paths, which have crossed now and then. Thinking back, I couldn’t remember exactly how we’d met. She reminded me we taught a children’s ministry class together back in the day.

Around that time, she and her husband Danny also took Financial Peace University at our church, which my hubs and I facilitated. They got to hear all the details of our debt-free journey, and I am happy to say they drank the Kool-Aid big time. (WOOHOO!) They are on their path to being debt-free and living simply. She talks about us being an inspiration to them, but it’s very much also the other way around.

Erin is a beautiful person, inside and out. She falls in the category of My People I Can’t Wait To Spend More Time With in my life. 

We did get together for that coffee, you know. And during that time, we talked at length about important things. There was very little small-talk because neither of us were super interested in that at the moment. Sometimes girls need to talk about cute shoes and vacation plans. But sometimes we gotta talk about what’s moving in our spirit and our hopes and dreams and fears and goals.

And sometimes we’ve just got to talk about how there are things we want to throw around, like important questions we don’t yet have the answers to.  And we want to throw them around with someone who also doesn’t necessarily have the answers and who can be okay with that. Because shrugging our shoulders and saying oh well, I’ll never be able to figure that one out doesn’t work for us. We want to talk about it and toss it around with someone else who shares our heart on the subject, and see how iron can sharpen iron on the matter. That might take a few coffees or a few beers or a lifetime, but it’s worth the work.

Did I mention that Erin is a redhead? There’s some business about redheads being fiery and I really do believe that. She’s got this fire that won’t quit, and even during the times when she feels all melancholy about those questions she’s wrestling with, there’s always spark in her that keeps the joy on.

She’s got two perfectly adorable children. (seriously, Fiona’s curls and Felix’s chubby cheeks make me want to die of adorableness-overload!)  I get to watch her parent from afar, and I from what I can gather, she seems to give her kiddos room to just become. Photos of her kids capture a variety of moods and outfits and activities that show their personalities coming out in every dynamic. She’s there guiding, but not pushing. It’s a beautiful thing. Those little humans are going to bring more joy into this world because their momma allowed them space to be themselves. It’s going to rock to watch that unfold.

Erin says it was after our coffee date that she knew for sure we were each other’s People. Our conversation moved from topic to topic so easily, talking through heavy things that you normally only talk about with your very best friends. We talked about the ways we’d felt God moving us along in our lives and where we thought we might be headed (or how unsure we were about that.) We both left feeling energized, refreshed, inspired. This is a telltale sign of Your People, my friends. Your People build you up and allow you room to breathe. You never come away stifled or feeling drained after being with Your People. This is a beautiful thing.

I can’t wait to get to know Erin even better and share more about how she’s shakin’ this world straight up. But can I just tell you what my take-away will be from talking about her today?

It’s Being Brave. Could you think for a moment about a person in your life who just might be Your People? Would you be so brave as to say to them something like I’ve really wanted to spend more time with you, so let’s make that happen. I want to talk about how you met Jesus, and how He has changed you and what’s going on in your heart right now.

Seem too risky? Erin did it. And she’s still doing just fine.

Or maybe you’ve just started reaching out to people but things didn’t go so well. What would it be like if you contacted that person and said Hey, you know what? Our first conversation didn’t go so well, and I’m sorry for ______. Can we maybe start over? Would that bring a little peace and joy to the universe in the form of a verbal white flag? Nothing wrong with that.

Still more of you might have People in your life, but you’re ready to move on to something more profound and authentic. Maybe a little more meshing of your faith and your everyday. Could you take a brave step of saying I love being friends with you. I feel comfortable talking with you about anything. I’m also at a point in my life where I want to connect even more deeply with people I love. Would you consider setting aside the first 15 minutes of each of our get-togethers to just talk about our dreams/faith questions/other-specific-important-things? 



We need each other. We need folks with whom we can discuss these life-giving things and air out our frustrations and know we are still safe from rejection and judgment. Our People are that safe place. Let’s be brave enough to reach out, open up, and become that safe space for them. And I just bet that in those brave little moments,  we will find what we’ve been looking for as well. 

Another lovely redhead in my world!

Another lovely redhead in my world!

Beautiful

Beautiful


Erin, you’re an inspiration to me wrapped up into a tiny, gypsy-hearted package. Just the best of people. One of the things I love about you is your positivity. You’re always trying to be uplifting and I appreciate that. I love the journey you are on, with all its layers, and I’m honored to be part of Your People, cheering you along every step of the way. So glad you invited me for coffee!

31 Days of My People: Tuesday People Tips #2 {13/31}

It’s Tuesday again!

I hope you are enjoying reading this 31 Days of My People series as much as I am enjoying writing it. I’ve been sharing stories of My People and I’m overwhelmed at the response from so many of you who have said things like:

“You have such great People in your life.”

“I think these are great reads that will make others think of their PEOPLE and maybe, just maybe begin to appreciate their PEOPLE a bit more.”

“Every day I can’t wait to read who is next!”

“I was so bummed when I checked and it was just your Tuesday Tips! I wanted to meet more of Your People!”

Okay well that last one… I get what the person meant! But Tuesdays in this series are special, because Tuesday People Tips are all about helping you start, build, and grow your relationships with Your Very Own People.

So here’s Round 2 of your Tuesday People Tips:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This week I want to focus on the logistics of staying caught up with Your People. We live in an overwhelmingly busy world. SO many things fight for our attention, and commitments can overtake us pretty easily if we let them. So if you have Your People or you’re trying to build better relationships with some, then there have to be some logistical considerations.

Let Technology Work For You

My momma taught me that a girl needs pretty stationery to send notes and letters when the time is right. I will never forget that, and a good old-fashioned letter or card in the mail is the ultimate kind gesture to me. (I still believe in you, USPS!)

But of course options like text, email, and Messenger are the fastest route to Your People. And as much as technology drives me insane because of what we let it do to us at times, I can’t deny how great it can be for keeping in touch when things are busy.

On any given week, you can find a group Facebook message going between me, my friends Sarah and Jen (in West Virginia) and our friend Marla, who lives across the planet in Cambodia. Even though it is impossible to see each other often, we can certainly keep in touch because of technology. We’ve talked each other through some pretty tough situations, discussed theology and social justice, and cracked up together all because of one little free app. Not a bad deal.

This week my friend Jeff, who lives across the country in Portland, launched his first ebook on Amazon. (WAY TO GO, Jeff!!) We carried on a great conversation about it via text, then later he emailed me some things and asked me to help him edit some things in it. It just worked best that day for us to text and email, so rather than wish we could do all this over the phone or in person, we just let technology work for us.

Put each other’s birthdays in your iPhone calendar and set an alert. (I am THE WORST at remembering dates, so this one is a MUST for me!) Text pictures of your kids’ soccer games to Your People. Follow each other’s Pinterest boards to share recipes from across the country. Bottom line is… Whatever it takes, do what needs to be done to connect. Relationships don’t just happen. They have to be maintained. Technology can be your assistant in this.

Small=BIG

There have been many times I’ve come home to find a small surprise awaiting me from My People. Chocolate covered pretzels in my fridge. Flowers on my doorstep. A card tucked in my screen door.

Sometimes a one-line text message with ridiculous emoticons (see technology above) is all I need to get through a day. Something indicating that one of My People is thinking about me.

When a friend invites you over and then you find YOUR favorite drink in the fridge, that’s a small thing that says they were thinking about you. Those small things are the BIGGEST to me. They don’t take a huge amount of time or even tons of effort. Just a small acknowledgement that I matter to someone. To My People.

Good is Better Than Perfect

All of the above fall into this category, to be sure. In fact, this might be the best tip of all Tuesdays. A good time of connection with a friend whenever you can is better than waiting for the perfect time. The other night Emily and I stole away for two hours, tucked ourselves into a booth at Panera, and talked about everything until we just had to go home. Two hours was all we had. That wasn’t nearly long enough to catch up fully. It wasn’t enough time at all for either of us. We were just getting warmed up!

Sure, I’d love a long, lazy weekend retreat with a few days with each of my friends to sit around a fire and talk about all the things of life. But if I can’t have a lot of time with My People, you’d better believe I will take a little bit. Memories and connections can still be made in short bursts of time. There’s no rule against that.

So yes, plan ahead and try to maximize your time together. Use technology to help facilitate keeping touch, and be mindful of small things that mean a lot. . But by all means, let the good be GOOD, and don’t push it aside waiting for the exact perfect time or place. Talk on the phone for 20 minutes while you’re driving home from work. Meet up at the grocery store and chat while you get your weekly essentials. Get creative to make sure you get to connect and spend some good time with Your People, because they are perfectly here, right now. And THIS is the time to enjoy them in your life.

Plan some good time with Your People this week. Get creative.

Plan some good time with Your People this week. Get creative.

31 Days of My People: Missy {12/31}

Sometimes you don’t even know just where to begin about Your People. So you just start with a good story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We were so excited. The room we chose in this cabin had a queen-sized bunk bed. We’d never even seen such a thing. That means 4 of us Divas could stay in the same room. Awesome.

I definitely couldn’t sleep on the top because I get up about 47 times during the night to pee. (Teacher bladder side-effects) And that’s disruptive enough when you’re sleeping in the same room together, let alone trying to navigate up and down a top bunk in the dark. No way, Jose.

So Missy and I snagged the bottom bunk while our two other Diva-friends climbed on the top. But this was a strange set-up. The top bed was secured underneath by thick ropes instead of beams of wood, so when our friends climbed on top, there was naturally some sagging. Those two friends found themselves rolling toward the middle of the mattress, basically creating sort of a top-bunk taco, while Missy and I now laid underneath with a mattress about 6 inches from our noses.

Maybe this wasn’t such a cool set-up after all.

We laughed about how ridiculous it all seemed, but it was still somewhat functional so we tried to calm our minds to get ready for some sleep. But just before our final lights-out, when our eyes had adjusted to the dim room, we noticed something.

It was a stain. A rather large stain on the bottom of the mattress right above us. It was darkish. Brownish reddish. And pretty large. Did I mention it was large?

Did I mention 6 inches from our noses?? Yeah.

There were several minutes of lamenting this (now very obvious) stain. Debating what it possibly could be. How did it get there? Could it simply be someone had a (very substantial) bodily fluid accident? If so, why was there some splatter around the edges of the stain? Dear Lord. And if this is what’s on the bottom of the mattress where cabin renters could see it, when WHAT IN THE HECK does the top side look like? Gulp.

It was official. We decided right then and there that the mattress above us (SIX INCHES above us) had clearly been the scene of a horrific murder sometime in days past. Our peaceful cabin in the woods was now starting to give us creepy vibes.

And believe it or not, that wasn’t even the most surprising part of that weekend, but somehow we all made it through with only slight emotional damage. Good times.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ah, the stories. The stories we have that create the inside jokes that create the looks that know what you mean without saying a word are the very fabric of Our People. It’s the stuff that holds us together throughout an entire life.

Missy is one of my dearest friends, and that’s a huge understatement. There is absolutely nothing in the universe she doesn’t know about me. I can best describe her as a deep well of wisdom and loving advice. She’s one of the safest places in the world to take my heart’s concerns.

This is a friend you need in your treasury of People. She’s my Strawberry Pie Friend. She’s a busy momma of three amazing little ones. Her husband works hard as a teacher while she works hard from home, caring for her kiddos and ensuring they grow up to be good citizens of the world.  She has a close family and lots of little networks of friends. Her life is very full.

To hear Missy tell it, things are hectic. It’s hard to balance everything. She has a lot of important hats to wear, and sometimes they’re all stacked up on top of her head all at once. She sometimes feels overwhelmed at trying to do everything and do any of it well. We’ve all been there, right?
But let me tell you what it’s like from my perspective: This girl gets it. She knows that loving big in all the small moments is the only way to do life.

She models a healthy marriage by making sure she and her husband have time together, away from the kids. Who else is going to assure them that mommy and daddy love each other and all is secure?

She cares well for her home, which in itself can be a full-time job when you have little feet and hands all over the place at all times. Her home is a welcoming, beautiful space that makes you feel comfortable as soon as you walk in. But it’s about so much more than having a nice house. Missy knows that a welcoming place is part of overall hospitality, with which she is most definitely gifted.

Her children are well-loved by both parents, but I especially admire how she interacts with each of her kids as individuals. She knows their personalities and that what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other. She is never too busy to listen to a story, a lament, or a question from one of her kiddos. While doing so, she also manages to lovingly help them understand they are not the center of the universe, and sometimes they have to be gracious and be okay with their request going unmet. I thank her and moms just like her all around the world for being patient and loving enough with her kids to help them develop this perspective.

During the days when her littles were even littler, everyone was home together. All day. Every Day. All. Day. Long. She knew she would have to establish healthy routines for everyone so they could stay a happy family. She taught her tiny kiddos that the numbers on the clock held their boundaries, and from this-number-on-the-clock to that-number-on-the-clock, it was quiet time in their house. They could lie down and take their naps during this time, but if they chose not to nap, this was still quiet time. They could choose a calm activity such as looking through a book in their beds, but they had to stay in quiet time until that-number-on-the-clock.

Is this not brilliant? She knows herself and her family well enough to know that everyone needs a rest during the day, including her. (Especially her!) She’s smart enough to understand that her mental and emotional state sets the tone for the whole household. So if she and her kids could both get a little reset throughout the day, everyone would be better off for it. She gets that we all have a limited capacity, and that we need to allow some margin for making sure we don’t hit our limits.

In addition to being an incredible wife and mom, Missy is just a downright great person. She’s thoughtful and encouraging and funny. She is very intuitive, picking up on things before most people would, and she remembers to ask how that thing is going that you mentioned to her three weeks ago.

When I looked back over my Facebook feed that highlights our friendship, I couldn’t help but smile. It is literally a back-and-forth string of encouragement and love. So many instances of us thanking each other for our friendship, for uplifting words, for remembering such-and-such.

Sometimes, my heart and mind get cloudy and anxious and downright dark. She understands and doesn’t leave me there. She comes right after me, never bothering to ask if I need her to. Because she sees me there, in a poor state, and knows I need a friend to pull me out. She doesn’t avoid my mess because it makes her uncomfortable to talk about. She doesn’t pretend like it’s not there. She dives right into it with me. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, because she cares more about me than she cares about her own comfort.

I write this part through tears, because Missy has jumped right into that mess with me more times than I can count over the past year or so. I have told her many times that I don’t think I could have made it through this year without her. Her prayers and encouragement are still helping to lift me up, without her even realizing it.

When you find a friend who will share the best AND worst moments of your life, she is positively Your People. If she tells you what you know is the truth even when it’s not what you want to hear, or if she prays for you right over the phone when you’re having one of those days, if she listens as you say things you’re discovering about yourself that even YOU don’t like, by all means, keep that friend. She is Your People in the very best way, and you have no idea how valuable that truly is until you’ve walked a stretch of life with her.

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Missy, you are the real deal, girl. I love you so much and I could never express how thankful I am to have you in my life. So very grateful that you are My People.

31 Days of My People: Tonya {11/31}

We all need a redhead as one of Our People. I happen to have a couple of them in my life, and Tonya is one of them. Before I tell you all about why she’s incredible, I want you to know that today is her birthday! (So leave her a birthday wish in the comments if you have a minute to spare, which you do or obviously you would not be reading this post)

My first memory of interacting with Tonya was several years ago (she says it was in 2007 and I trust her because I’m way too lame with dates to remember exactly.) We were both attending a women’s retreat hosted by our church. I would be leading the women in a morning devotion, which was my first speaking gig of sorts, and I was nervous. I had studied and prayed and prepared for this little 15-minute talk like I was about to preach to a packed stadium. I needed to be at the top of my game in order to share with the ladies the next morning.

So naturally, What did I do? I stayed up into the wee hours of the night talking and laughing and playing games with a bunch of incredible ladies. Score one for being responsible! Oh, wait…

But as I’ve said before, the thing is not the thing. This situation was no different. The devotion I was leading was exactly that…one devotion in the grand scheme of this women’s weekend. Just a handful of moments. I wanted to do well, but the real thing was to spend time building relationships with the ladies. Getting to know these women I worshiped and served alongside each week.

And that’s where Tonya came in. I remember praying for her and her friend Tammy at some point during that weekend. I don’t recall anything whatsoever about what the prayer really was, but I do recall that we connected and I knew that wouldn’t be the last I’d see of these women.

Fast-forward several more years, when my husband and I were transitioning into leading a different home group. The group was mostly established and had a group of core families, so we were excited to get to know them.

From this group have come many of the most important relationships in my whole life. And my friendship with Tonya is one of them.

She’s one of those folks that everyone just loves. She’s so friendly and genuine that you can’t help but fall in love with her after a short time getting to know her.

Her sweetness has a spicy side too though. Don’t get her wrong. She’s got the traditional fiery redhead personality at times. She wears her heart on her sleeve so you usually know what she’s feeling. I think that might be one of my very favorite things about her. She’s not afraid to let herself FEEL her feelings. She just doesn’t DO fake.

Another thing I love is that Tonya’s not afraid to be wrong. I know that seems like an odd thing to say about a friend. But how many times have you held a conversation with someone, and when the topic takes a turn into something serious, they act like they have it all together and speak only in absolutes. Always. Never. Definitely. This kind of thing doesn’t allow room to wonder and breathe and grow together. I’m more interested in spending time with folks who can wrestle with a topic and ultimately say: here’s what I think that’s about, because X and Y and Z. I’m not entirely sure if that’s right. But I’m trusting God to show me the right thing.

That’s Tonya. She leaves room for the unknown. She leaves room for God to change her mind about something or someone along the way if need be.  In the meantime, she stays busy loving the people He puts in front of her.

She’s open to what others think because she’s not naïve enough to believe she knows all the answers about everything. That is so refreshing to me, because none of us really do.

Another thing I love about Tonya is her sleep talking. Now this one is actually not something I’ve witnessed first-hand yet, because every time we go on an overnight trip, I always end up bunking with our friend Missy, and Tonya usually bunks up with our friend Mandy. But Mandy’s multiple experiences tell us that Tonya’s sleep talk can get very interesting. Let’s just say that this is a slight exception to Tonya’s “feel her feelings” trait. What seems to happen is, if she’s had a frustrating day, she apparently keeps all the frustrated feelings inside all day long, but then promptly (and loudly) lets them out at night by saying Whatevertheheckshewants in her sleep. The stories are beyond hilarious and I can’t wait to hear it all in person. I’ve already called dibs on bunking with her the next time we go on a trip.

So many of my most memorable trips and events include Tonya. Along with our group of girl friends, affectionately called The Divas, we’ve perused Amish country more than once. We’ve descended on a winery that offers cheap flights, and proved what lightweights we can be. We’ve participated in a city-wide scavenger hunt that surely left scars on Lancaster (sorry, small-town peeps.) We’ve spent the 4th of July together in the 44444. We’ve prayed together at many gatherings. We’ve survived situations where epic acts of TMI were committed against us. And I mean LEGENDARY. Oh, the stories.

She looks more adorable in a hoodie than any girl I’ve ever known. When she wears something teal, just watch out because pairing that together with her red hair is the ultimate awesomeness. She thinks skunks are super adorable. We share a love for pumpkin everything, essential oils, and Ed Sheeran. We also share similar opinions on some controversial topics.

Tonya is a great friend, but she’s an even better human being. She has a big-hearted husband and a beautiful daughter (another feisty redhead!) She’s takes her momma job very seriously, and she’s doing her best to make sure she sends a well-rounded, kind citizen out into the world when it’s time. And I for one think she’s doing a fabulous job.

If Your People includes someone who is thoughtful, fun-loving, humble, hilarious, and real, (even if they aren’t a redhead) then I’m happy to say…you’ve found your Tonya. You are so very lucky.

Here she is kicking a total stranger. Watch out, people. (no humans were actually harmed in the making of this photo)

Together on a windy, gorgeous day in Amish country.

Together on a windy, gorgeous day in Amish country.

I love you, Tonya! Here’s to pumpkin everything and Wessssside forever!!!!

31 Days of My People: Emily {10/31}

Earlier this week I wrote about My Kiddos. As a teacher, they are of course the biggest part of our jobs. They take a ton of mental, physical, and emotional energy to serve. But no matter how much of ourselves we spend on them and how tired we are at the end of the day, they are the reason we keep coming back every day and every fall.

The students—even the difficult ones—are what we live for.

It’s pretty much everything else about our jobs that is utterly, completely, horrifically exhausting and life-draining. Meetings. Committees. Paperwork. More paperwork. More meetings. State mandates. Federal mandates. New curriculum. Supplementing the new curriculum because it is essentially crap-in-a-binder. Recess duty. Lunch duty. Bus duty. All-day-meetings (aka professional development.) Conferences. TBTs. RtI. PTO. CBAs. PLCs. LPDC. IPDPs. IEPs. RIMPs. SLOs. CEUs. Professional Growth Plans. Benchmarking. Data Analysis. Returning phone calls. Returning emails. Writing notes. Documenting phone calls and emails and notes. Copying. Laminating. Filing. Book orders. Newsletters. More meetings. And still. More. Meetings.

For all these reasons and many, many more, it is obvious to me that all teachers need a Work BFF to make their days as pleasant as possible. Even this article outlines 8 reasons we all need a Teacher Bestie. I am totally convinced.

That’s why I am so lucky to have Emily. She’s my Teacher BFF. All the way.

I work in the largest K-3 building in my state (last I checked) so there are a LOT of teachers in my building. There are 11 just in 2nd grade alone (!!!)  There are many wonderful people who work in our building. So out of all of them, how do I know that Emily is my Teacher BFF?

When I walk past her in the hallway, we only need to exchange glances to understand exactly how each other’s day is going.

When I need help with something, she’s the one I go to. I could run it by a million people, but if Emily hasn’t looked it over and given her opinion, it’s not 100% to me.

When there’s something I need to vent about, I know I can go to her and it will stay right there. There’s no worry if something is going to come back around like a game of telephone, with one shred of the truth wrapped up in 17 new rumors.

When I have to attend [yet another] meeting without her, it is completely impossible difficult to get through. When she’s not at school for a whole day for some reason, it’s downright unbearable. Nobody to share all the silly and random things with and have complete appreciation.

This is my ninth year teaching. When I first started, Emily was assigned to me as my mentor for our district’s entry-year program. I can’t even begin to imagine how much work I must have caused her. She helped teach me how to really plan, make assessments, and create content to go along with our curriculum. She helped me navigate all the behind-the-scenes stuff that you have to know to be a good teacher. Everything I do well, it’s because she either showed me how to do it or we came up with ideas together.

The funny thing about having someone you love being around at work. You start to realize you want to be around them more than just a few passing moments in the hallway.

So every once in awhile when our schedules allowed, we would extend our day. We’d hit up a restaurant for an early dinner/late lunch or a coffee. Then we could just hang out, talk about work and life and whatever. It soon became apparent we had more in common than just things related to the classroom.

Getting to know her has been awesome. She’s hard-working. A think-ahead-er. Funny. Smart. Endearing. Humble.

She’s gorgeous (we tell her to freakin’ stop, but she just goes on being gorgeous all the time. It’s really getting annoying, Em. Please.) She has this high-pitched squealy kind of voice that only comes out when she’s either super (super) excited or when she’s basically using it to say What the heck are you talking about!? It’s adorable and uniquely her. Plus you’ll never lose her at a crowded party. She sends me the BEST EVER memes to make me laugh, usually about work craziness. They get me through the week.

Between our occasional dinner dates, hangouts, and constant texting, we’ve had many important conversations about work, family, God, and wine. Not necessarily in that order. I’m thinking we could both wear this t-shirt pretty accurately.

Yeah... about that.

Yeah… about that.

She’s a busy momma. She has a blended family that includes a hubs, three boys, and a little feisty girl. I got to have her son Jonas in my class last year, and I love him to pieces. He’s brilliant like his mom. Creative. Ornery. All Boy. Pretty sure he’s My People too.

Several years back, Emily lost her mom. Little did I know that nearly four years ago when I lost my mom, Emily would be teaching me things all over again. She’s one of the only people in my world who totally gets it when I talk about how much I miss my momma. How I think about calling her at least a few times a month, then remember I can’t. She’s the only one who has ever told me the truth when I ask if that will ever go away.

We’ve helped each other out through some tough life junk. Not just carrying the extra weight at school when one of us had something going on, but with the day-to-day encouragement to handle whatever we’ve got going on. My friends, that is a telltale sign of Your People.

She’s a picky eater who will barely touch a vegetable, and I’m 90% vegetarian. She’s port and bordeaux and I’m fruity moscato. She’s more reserved and I’m the loud one in the room. But these things are just details when it comes to who Your People are. Emily is not only my Teacher BFF, she’s My People for life.

She says that she feels that in the time we’ve known each other, I’ve had a huge influence on her life. What I hope she realizes is that I feel the same way. My work days wouldn’t be the same without her, and neither would my life.

At our Fall Festival last year.

At our Fall Festival last year.

work BFF def

Word.

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One Percent, Em!

You’re the very best of the best, Em! Here’s to the One Percent! I don’t know what I would do without you!

31 Days of My People: Jean {9/31}

Did you ever meet someone and just instantly know they were something special? There’s just something about them, isn’t there? They have a captivating tone to their voice. They have a sparkle about them in some way. They are generous and kind and you just want to be around them and hear everything they have to say.

Jean is one of those people. I’ve been trying to think of the perfect way to describe her and I think I’ve come up with the right word: Darling.

She is simply darling. You just love everything about her when you see her. Her big ol’ smile, her twinkly eyes. Her adorable outfits. And that’s before she ever says a word.

Jean is a CATCH Court mentor and has been since 2013. This was right around the time that I’d started learning about human trafficking and its prevalence in my beloved city. I had joined the fight, and started a small line of handmade jewelry called Fancy Freedom Designs. I sold my jewelry and donated a portion back to an organization called Freedom a la Cart (Doma at the time), which supports the women of CATCH.

At this point in time, Jean and I hadn’t even crossed paths yet.

Then one day at CATCH Court, someone was wearing one of my necklaces. She complimented its owner, who told her about Fancy Freedom. And that, as she puts it, was the beginning of a long love affair!

She’s not kidding! Jean is easily my #1 customer. She’s ordered more things from me, from in-stock items to custom gifts, than anyone else since I started. She tells everyone about Fancy Freedom Designs. I think she sits at home all hours of the day and just emails and texts and calls people all day long to tell them about my jewelry. (Except on Thursdays when she’s at CATCH, obviously.) But seriously, I’ve had a lot of people say they found out about me through Jean. At some point I may have to compensate her for basically being my entire marketing department. She’s been such a wonderful cheerleader, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have such a kindhearted, caring person in my corner. I just love her to pieces.

So imagine how excited I was when she asked me if I’d be interested in coming with her to a nearby city to do an artistic afternoon with the women of Safe Harbor House, a residential program for women who are coming out of traumatic experiences such as sex trafficking and domestic violence, among other things. They offer a holistic approach to healing, and as part of that, host regular workshops and such to give the women creative outlets to express themselves and learn new skills.

Spend an afternoon with Jean? And teach some amazingly strong women a new creative expression? And enable them to create one-of-a-kind, beautiful things that inspire them to keep going in their journeys? Yes please!

We set out on our road trip, and little did I know, some of the best parts of the day were about to happen in the car, while I was listening to Jean’s story.

That day on the highway, I listened intently and learned that Jean is every bit as tough as she is darling.

She told me that day (and has since emailed me details again to refresh my memory) about some medical issues she’d experienced.

And by “some medical issues” I mean life-threatening situations she’s been in. More than once.

Jean has PKD (polycystic kidney disease) and she found out when she was 23 and was trying to become a donor for her own father. She went on for years with no symptoms, but eventually had to go on dialysis.

In 2001, she married an incredible (and cute!) man named Bob. They make a fantastic couple, and he is as big-hearted as she is. The following year she was blessed to receive a kidney from her friend Laurie, volunteering to be a living donor. Jean had both of her diseased kidneys removed, and the transplant went great for both ladies. All seemed well. Shortly after, she suddenly crashed and the medical staff had to work to stabilize her. By the time this happened, the blood in the new kidney had clotted. Her team tried over the next several days to get that new kidney (affectionately nicknamed “Laurean”) for Laurie+Jean!) working correctly, but within a week it had to be removed. Back to square one and the dialysis.

I cannot even imagine how painful this must have been, both physically and emotionally. Not only did Jean have to go through all this herself, but she was a newlywed and her beloved Bob was enduring it alongside her.

For months she actually had no kidneys. And you’d think that would just be the end of this story. But Jean sure knows how to pick some good peeps. Later that year, another friend offered to be a living donor! This time it was Donna, (donating her kidney, “Dean,” of course, for Donna +Jean) and all things went well with this transplant. (YAY!) Jean says that she proudly carts around the workhorse, “Dean” and I know she couldn’t be more thankful.

Perhaps it is all this struggle that makes Jean the delightful lady she is. She simply says there are many people who have had it worse than she has, and she considers herself and Bob to be some of the most blessed people she knows.

I would agree. I mean, she and Bob have each other as Their People. And Jean’s People are everywhere. We share some mutual People through our anti-trafficking efforts. But when I asked Jean to tell me a little about Her People, she had no hesitation.

Obviously her Bob is incredible. He’s her rock. Standing beside her through all of that difficult time during the kidney transplants. He’s her best friend and the love of her life. She also mentioned a childhood friend, Jenny, who goes as far back as when they were kids and they were sneaking out of their windows after bedtime. Her friend Laurie, who gave her a kidney and cried with her when things went South, now lives in AZ, but they are as close as ever. Jean says they “specialize in capers,” a phrase which really only makes me love her all the more. Of course she would have enjoyed elaborating on such shenanigans, but that would put my life in danger. So… there’s that.

Even if I had never taken that road trip with Jean and found out all the additional awesomeness about her, I would still absolutely already know that she was My People. We share a love of freedom and reaching out to others to help them understand that they are valuable and loved and created with purpose. And that right there is enough. Everything else is just a bonus.

Best Customer Ever Selfie!

Best Customer Ever Selfie!

Jean is the kind of People we all need more of in our lives. She’s sweet and kind and giving and tender-hearted and tough all at once. And all that rolled into one beautiful person sure is inspiring.

Who is the Jean in your life? Is there someone who you already knew was awesome but then just blew you away with the rest of their story? Leave a comment to tell us about him or her.

31 Days of My People: My Kiddos {8/31}

We are now in the second week of 31 Days of My People, and I have never been more excited about a writing project! If you missed any part of the series, check it out here.

I have an important file in my classroom filing cabinet. The words in bold, black Sharpie label its contents: WHY I DO THIS

This file is SO very necessary. Because some days as a teacher, the paperwork and the meetings and the mandates and the people in offices somewhere who try to tell you how to do your job… It’s all just too much. And you feel like quitting. And you wonder if you can really make any difference at all.

Those are the days I open that file. I leaf through photographs of previous years’ classes. I laugh at silly drawings that students have created for me. I read and re-read notes from parents thanking me for making a difference in their child’s world: He loves to read now! She’s never been more confident. He comes home every day excited to tell me about school. Thank you for caring not only about my child, but about our whole family.

This is the stuff. THIS is why I became a teacher. Because I’m a bleeding-heart true believer. I think it’s the most important job in the universe. No matter what else goes wrong, these reminders tell me that I really am making a difference. These children matter. And I matter to them. These are My People. My kiddos.

The directions were: Write a sentence for the word “I’ll”

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In case you’re not able to decipher 7-year old writing, this little guy just wrote a sentence, using his best encoding abilities, stating “I’ll be moving to the family shelter on the next month.”

Just let that sit there with you for a second.

This was written one week ago, on the last day of September. So “on the next month” means right now.

Right now, a little boy in my classroom is living in a shelter with his family.

Another kiddo is being raised by her grandparents because both of her parents are in prison. She knows. She talks about her “real mom” (grandma) and her “other mom” like it’s a typical family unit. She’s bright and cheerful and ready to take on the world every day. So is my little guy who is living in the shelter right now.

This is my ninth year teaching, and although I’m sure I haven’t seen it all, I sure have seen plenty when it comes to the lives of my students. For the most part, they’ve experienced far too much for the small amount of years they’ve been on this planet.

But my kiddos are nothing if not resilient. Every day I see why Jesus said we need to become like little children. They are loving, pure, generous, and full of wonder.

It’s just the very best thing in the whole world.

My kiddos come from every single situation you can imagine. Some are well fed and some eat free lunch and breakfast at school as their only meals. Some have beautiful new school clothes each fall and some exclusively wear ill-fitting hand-me-downs. Fashion isn’t a concern when you just need clothing on your body.

Some of my kiddos sleep in warm cozy beds in meticulously decorated rooms, just for them. Others pile up on the floor or on a single mattress at night with several other members of their family. Some live with their parents. Most live just with mom or grandma.

My kiddos’ faces are little pink seashells, and smooth roasted coffee and All the Colors of the Earth in between. Those faces hold huge missing-tooth smiles, wide-with-wonder eyes, and sometimes sniffles of disappointment.

They are chubby hands, and hungry stomachs. They are sticky cheeks and sweaty hair after recess. They are high-strung and zoned out. They are kind and aware as well as self-centered and tunnel-visioned.

They say my name at least 3,792 times a day. Each. They interrupt. They don’t wait their turn. They fumble. They cry. They freak out over a paper cut. They are all up in each other’s business. They tattle. Oh, do they tattle on each other.

But they also dream. And give a billion hugs out of nowhere. They write notes that say “I love you” nearly every day. They ask amazing questions, and come up with incredible connections between what we’ve learned and other things they know. They put up with my ridiculous dancing and singing every day. They look out for each other. They let me know when someone is feeling left out. They giggle. And it’s the most beautiful sound in the world.

I spend huge chunks of time with other people’s children. And there are days when I feel like giving up on it. But there’s just too much I would miss about these kiddos.

I love My People. All of them. But there’s a special place in my heart for the ones who are under 4 feet tall. My kiddos. Because they aren’t just MY people. They’re the future’s People. They won’t be my kiddos forever. They will be citizens of the world very soon.

So right now my job is to love them. To show them kindness and to show them that one person can make a difference. In doing so, I get to play a part in making our future better by building up my kiddos today.

My daily reminder

My daily reminder

To all My Kiddos, whether current or past: Mrs. Case loves you back.

31 Days of My People: James {7/31}

In 6th grade, he told Natalie Porreca that I French-kissed him, which was SO not true.

You’d think that one would be unforgivable. But apparently, I am a gentle and charitable soul.

He had the blond flip hair that reminded me of Zach from Saved by the Bell. He was a prankster, so I should have known what I was getting myself into. I had my first perm-gone-wrong, and that boy never let me forget it. How did we become friends again?

James and I have one of those…what do you call it? Evergreen. We have an evergreen type of friendship. No matter where we’ve gone, what we’ve endeavored to do, our relationship remains year after year.

His given name is James Russell Carter. Rusty to his family. But always James to me.

In high school we were mostly going about our separate ways. Not intentionally. It’s just that we had different classes and interests and such. He was a dedicated band nerd and I was all about my art classes and my boyfriend.

As most high-schoolers did back then, we had jobs at the mall. I worked at the one-hour photo lab. James worked at a men’s clothing store. And Jamie, our other amigo, worked at a place where they sell a bunch of glass and metal things you can engrave. Very serious work, you know.

Clearly I was the one with the best job out of all three of us, so at some point I convinced both of them to jump ship and start working at the photo lab with me.

That’s when the fun really started.

You know how the experiences you have with some friends pretty much ensure you’ll never be able to run for Congress? Yeah, that’s pretty much how it is with us. James, Jamie, and I had so much fun at that photo lab, it’s borderline inaccurate to call it “work.”

We spent our clock hours cracking up over everyone-in-the-universe’s pictures. Their life’s memories, people. Just hilarious. And the grown-ups in the mall, the ones who had worked there far too long, simply weren’t having it when it came to our loud, obnoxious horseplay. I am sure we doled out some measure of torment to them on a regular basis.  And I’m pretty sure we developed as much of our own film as we did our customers’. Oh, and also, said photo lab (their entire company, actually) is no longer in business. Go figure. Total coincidence, I’m sure.

It wasn’t all fun and games with us. We also survived some awful moments together, such as the time an elderly woman brought in about 15 rolls of film she had taken while on her trip to Ireland. She had just returned from her trip where she had gone to visit her relatives and the site of her ancestors’ homestead. A once-in-a-lifetime trip that could never be replaced. And then, our film processing machine malfunctioned. All her film was ruined. RUINED. I mean, almost every single frame on every single roll.  It was nobody’s fault, just simply a mechanical error that had happened at the absolute worst possible time. We salvaged what we could, but that wasn’t much. And the poor woman stood in front of us, quietly crying, while we offered her free-everything-for-life, which was completely useless in the face losing images of memories she could never, ever replace. That was a bad day to say the least.

We had a love-hate relationship with that photo lab, to be sure. But being together all the time at that job helped keep our friendship going when our separate high school pursuits might have otherwise caused us to drift apart. For that I will forever be thankful.

One night when we were sweeping the floor and counting the cash drawer, James said to me very soberly: I need to talk to you. I could tell this constant jokester was not joking this time. His face had never been more serious. We finished up our duties, and we sat in the small, poorly lit office in the back. I already knew what this 17 year old boy was about to say, but I prepared myself anyway.

I wish I could remember the exact words, how he started, and every little detail of what he said. Perhaps he does. But there in the back room of the photo lab, surrounded by boxes and the thick stench of chemicals, my friend opened up his lips and his heart, and said the hardest words he’d ever said aloud:

I’m gay.

I would have liked to have responded with some profound, loving words. But all I recall saying was: I know.

I asked James this week what was one thing he’d want people to know about our friendship. He responded: “You were the very first person that I ever actually told I was gay.” He said, “I’m crying as I type this because I don’t know that you really know how much I trusted you and you never betrayed it. Ever.”

He was right. At the time, I had no idea how profound that moment was for either of us. After all the years of trying to understand his own feelings, and feeling as if he had to keep it all inside, he was coming to a place where he had to open up to be fully honest with himself and the people around him.

Can you imagine years of trying to mentally and emotionally prepare for something of this magnitude? Having no idea whether what you were about to say would walk you right into unconditional love or a backlash of rejection? Not about your job choice, or your style of clothing, but YOU. They might love YOU or reject YOU. I cannot fathom the lump I would have had in my throat.

James has said before that my reaction helped set the stage for the trajectory of the rest of his life. For my friend to entrust his biggest moment to me is humbling to say the least. That’s when he knew I was His People. He said after he’d told me, and then never once worried that he had, he knew we’d be for life.

James isn’t my gay friend. He’s my friend. He also happens to be gay. And brilliant. And hard-working. And stubborn. And sarcastic. And nostalgic. And tender-hearted. And the best uncle you’ve ever seen on the face of this planet. Those are just a few of the things that make him who he is. All the things together make him into the person that I love and cherish as one of My People.

We are now approximately a billion light years past high school and that little back office of the photo lab in the mall. But James and I are still close, and we always will be. We don’t see each other every single day. We don’t agree on every single thing. We have to make breakfast dates in advance to be able to catch up on each other’s lives.

He’s now a professor of social work at Wright State. His research and ideas have been published more times than I could count. He’s won awards for his work and advocacy. I’ve never seen anyone work harder to realize their dreams. I’m so thankful I’ve been along for the ride the whole time so I could see the beautiful, confident person he’s become. And he’s always been so supportive of my endeavors. He champions me as a teacher like nobody’s business. He’s encouraged me in my creative pursuits. He’s just there for me. Like a friend always is.

Friends, you just never know when Your People are about to let you into a profound moment of their lives. We all have something about us that requires a sacred trust to let out. When Your People give you the gifts of their thoughts and feelings, return the gesture with lots of love. It doesn’t matter if you understand everything they are going through. Just be there to show them that you’re going to love them no matter what. It may completely change the course of their life, and yours.

When we live through hard things together, and come out on the other side of them holding on to love and trust, we are sure to be each other’s People for life.

James and Me

Together after James came to support Fancy Freedom’s Liberator Award Nomination

james wedding

Getting spiffy at Jamie’s wedding

I love you, James. You are forever My People no matter what. And I thank you for trusting me to be part of such an important moment of your life. We are both very different people now than we were back in high school, I know. But my favorite part of us is that we love and respect each other for who we are. And that will never change.