31 Days of My People: Ashley {25/31}

We are now in the final week of 31 Days of My People! Whoohoo for the home stretch! If you need to catch up on any of the posts in this series, you can find them all here. I’d be honored if you’d share your favorite one so far. Thanks for reading! Now, it’s time to meet another one of My People!

Gosh, we were just born to do stuff, weren’t we? God truly built gifts into our lives. Everyone is good at something. Some make a living with their gifts and others just bless the world. I am thinking of several women who are really, really good at friendship. They are such spectacular friends to me that it isn’t even fair. And others whom I constantly admire for being such good moms. Two friends threw creative, fun, adorable parties for their daughters last weekend, and I was in awe because I am not a Fun Party Mom. (I just do not have this particular gear, but when I witness it, I’m all, “Well done!” and “Thank you for inviting [my daughter] Remy so she can have some childhood memories of fun parties and maybe time will dull her recollection and she’ll think I threw some.”)

-Jen Hatmaker, For the Love, Page 31

When I first read this, I immediately thought about my friend Ashley. I have a ton of amazing moms in My People, but I’m pretty sure Ashley is the chief  Fun Party Mom. She’s the one who pins a ton of cute-themed party ideas on Pinterest then actually uses them. I’ve been at her house the night before she prepares for a party for one of her girls. She doesn’t just have a cute Minnie Mouse cake, she has individual Minnie Mouse flags for cupcakes. She doesn’t just serve popcorn, but color-coordinated chocolate covered popcorn snack mix.

I love all these adorable things. I just don’t have any little kids around to throw these parties for. If I had some, I’d like to think I’d be Fun Party Mom, but more likely I would be Order Pizza and Have Two Friends Over Mom, perhaps with a balloon or two. I’d have good intentions, I would probably just dilly-dally and not be able to decide on a theme or some such thing. But Ashley goes all out. And soon after she wraps up one adorable party, she starts pinning for the next one.

Now some people might roll their eyes at this kind of thing. Some might think that we don’t have to “go all out” and have color-coordinated anything for a kids’ party or whatever. And you’re right. We don’t HAVE to. Nobody HAS to have that. But when I see my friends digging into things they love with their gifts, nothing makes me happier. Ashley is creative and has an eye for design and she loves memory-making with her kiddos. And being Fun Party Mom meshes those things perfectly. So run that race, girl.  

This is just a start. My girl Ashley is a joy. One night when my divas and I were getting together, she showed up. It was her first time there, and I’m sure it’s hard to come into a group of ladies who are already established as friends, and already have stories and background and all that. And it was a particularly interesting evening.

One of our divas was feeling very stressed. She had just found out that she was pregnant again, which was of course a happy thing. But right at this particular time she was feeling more overwhelmed than happy, since she had two little ones already and #3 was going to be here SO much sooner than they’d planned. Instead of staying silent on the sidelines in the midst of this moment where we were trying to rally around one of our friends whom she had never met, Ashley shared her own personal struggle with difficult feelings after her first child. Her words comforted our friend in her moment–and in a way that none of the rest of us could—and showed us all that she was indeed, Our People.

And if sharing her own struggles wasn’t enough, her baby girl Ellie sealed the deal for us that night. At one point amidst tears and attempts at encouragement for our distraught friend, we looked over and Ellie had her hand stretched out toward her, intently staring right into her face. It was if she was praying for her and willing something amazing to happen. It was quite a moment for us all.

This is what I’ve loved about Ashley from the very start. She’s been open and honest about difficult things, and she jumps right into a situation allows God to use them to help others through whatever they’re going through. Yes, it’s tough to do. Yes, it can get uncomfortable. But it’s the only way to do life together. To be there to celebrate the amazing stuff and to sit holding hands through the crappy parts. It’s bearing one another’s burdens. It’s the stuff Your People are made of.

Ashley loves natural foods but also eats Chick-Fil-A on Thursdays. She’s beautiful wearing yoga pants or her skinnies and a cute new scarf.. She doesn’t mind talking about makeup or God’s grace. She can laugh one minute and be serious the next. Just some of the things I love about her. But there’s something I don’t understand about our relationship…

Why, exactly, do I keep hanging out with people who have all the gorgeous hair? I gotta work on that. Ashley’s another one of those women whose hair always looks good, even in a messy bun or weekend ponytail. It’s kind of necessary though, since she is a hair stylist by trade. Her hair always looks healthy and shiny and full. And it could not be more annoying. Hello again from over here with my plain old regular hair. Did someone at the Awesome Hair Department forget about me?? I’m filing a complaint.

Recently Ashley has been helping me through some rough spots. She keeps speaking truth to me even when I didn’t ask for any. She keeps reminding me of the Good that is on the horizon. She’s that ray of sunshine when I desperately need one. She is definitely gifted at encouraging. The last time we had our one-on-one date where she was piling on the uplifting words, we were out pretty late closing down one of our favorite restaurants. Her mom sent her a text, a little worried that it was getting so late and she was still out and about. It’s possible she thinks I’m a bad influence or something 🙂

I promise I'm not a lush, mom!

I promise I’m not a lush, mom!

This year, she and her husband Jonathan have taken over the leadership of our home group. I love how they’ve taken an extended time to pray about their vision and have been sharing much about where they believe we are headed as a group. It’s been lovely to watch their transformation as a couple over the past year, and how their individual personalities function well together to share the responsibilities of leading a group. I’m excited to see what happens going forward.

Ashley and her man make a great couple. And they make gorgeous babies, ones who are growing up fast. She’s taking her beautiful hair and her Fun Party Supplies and making the most of every, single second of life. She’s showing Jesus to those around her along the way, and all of us in her path are better for it. Even the next generation gets the benefit, since those little feet are following their mama duck around the house 24/7 and soaking up everything she says and does.

When life gives your lemons, you make lemonade.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.

When you have People like this in your life, keep them around. Everyone you know will be better for it.

I love you, Ash! Thanks for being My People!

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31 Days of My People: Mary {24/31}

The knock at the door startled me. Who the heck would be out in this cold? I opened it to the delightful face of my new friend, Mary, standing on my porch in her multi-colored toboggan and holding a container of something yummy.

She was just stopping by for a second to drop off some soup for me and Todd, just because. So like her. We chatted for a few minutes about nothing in particular, then she had to run because she was double-parked. Just before she left, she casually mentioned that she was taking her daughter Emma in for some bloodwork that week, and asked if we would keep her in our prayers. She followed that with something about the doctor thinking she may be anemic, without a touch of worry in her voice. Just say a little prayer. Of course! Keep us posted. Okay then. Thanks for the soup. Be careful, see you later.

I closed the door, and with the soup in my hand, I said to Todd, I hope she doesn’t have cancer.

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

Mary and I had apparently been neighbors for some time without knowing it. We attended the same church in Grove City, but hadn’t even realized we just lived across the railroad tracks from each other in the town of Mount Sterling, about 25 minutes from church.

We’d met at church somehow, and later she came to my house in November 2009 to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. I was so hoping she would be My People. You spend 5 minutes with Mary and you love her for life. She’s so down-to-earth and positive. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, she makes you feel like you’re at home.

We’d gotten to know each other a bit since that night we packed shoeboxes together, and we’d already had some great conversations over tea about everything under the sun. I was so excited to have a friend nearby since no one in the universe lived in that dinky town with whom I’d made a connection. Mary was a breath of fresh air to me.

And now here I was, just a few months after we’d met, peering out the curtain at my new friend. She had dropped off soup for us for no reason at all, and now she was walking off my front steps out into the cold, as I said a silent prayer that her Emma didn’t have cancer.

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

Why would you even say that!? I deserved the scolding tone in which my husband was asking this, but honestly I couldn’t answer. I had no idea why my mind immediately went to cancer when my friend had just asked us to pray for a simple blood draw and some tests for anemia. I shook it off, decided not to mention it out loud again to avoid the bad juju, and we prayed for Emma to be calm through her routine bloodwork.

Within a couple of months, I was trying unsuccessfully to balance on one leg while I quickly pulled jeans onto the other, eyes watery, telling Todd that I just had to go. I wasn’t sure what I would say or do when I got there, but I just felt like I should go. Yes, it was after 10:00 at night. No I don’t know if she wants visitors necessarily. I just feel like I should be there with my friend.  I still had the phone in my hand that had just communicated the message that Emma did indeed have cancer. I was on my way to the hospital to be with Mary, and I had no idea why.

Sometimes Our People’s stuff compels us to action. Mary had just found out her daughter had cancer, and I just needed to see her and hug her and tell her (even if I didn’t know how it would be true) that everything would be okay. So that’s what I did. It was a strange gesture, showing up at the hospital like that, seeing as how we had been friends for less than 6 months, but I just felt it was the right thing, right then.

Mary says now that this is when she knew we were each other’s People. She says, “What I do remember was that evening you ran up to the hospital right away and I met you in the hall just off the elevator and you cried with me. It was one of those moments that I felt like I was slipping off the face of the earth and God used you as one of the ropes holding me.”

I’ve said it before, friends. We never have any idea what our showing up can do for a friend. The gestures seem small, inadequate and sometimes even pointless. But they can make a huge impact.

The next year was a whirlwind of surgeries, appointments, chemo, CaringBridge updates, recovery, emotions, etc… for Emma and for their whole family, really. I am still amazed at how they all handled themselves during this time. To say it was difficult would be a gross understatement. Of course it was. But as a friend who bore witness to the whole process, there were so many incredible moments that happened during that time.

Mary lived out her faith in front of me in a way I had never seen anyone do before. Even in the ugliest of moments, she talked about how she felt God’s peace and was learning so much. Her graceful demeanor and carefully measured words during that time were more comforting and convicting to me than any other sermon I’d ever heard. Just after she found out that Emma had cancer, she wrote this about the whole situation:

April 12, 2010 @CaringBridge.org

“ it has made me think about faith.  faith is easy when we feel like masters of our own universe…i mean, sure, we go to church, pray, praise God, and feel like our faith is generally strong, but what happens when things spiral beyond anything we can control?  what happens when life blindfolds us, takes away all comforts, and sets us in an unfamiliar, hostile environment and then expects us to walk with our hands stretched out in front of us like blind people wondering if our next step will send us crashing to the ground?  this is when i think real faith is born.  this is the place that shows us how very small we are and how very dependent we are on a God that is much bigger than anything we could begin to muster on our own.  it is in this dark and scary place that we can either choose to curse God for allowing our picket fence lives to be challenged and changed by things we don’t like or understand, or we can choose to reach out to Him with both hands and ask Him to walk us through this valley of the shadow.  He is not a cosmic candy man ready to hand us our every whim and wish, but He does promise to never leave us, He does hear our prayers, and He continues to be merciful, loving and good.  this is when superficial faith is tested and replaced by something very real…something that cannot be manufactured on our own,…something we can’t get because of the church we belong to or how many good things we do,..it is replaced by real faith which leads to having real peace.  i can’t see what’s up ahead, but God’s holding both of my hands.  we go together each step of the way.”

Wow. Just wow.

It’s been five years now. Emma is healthy and cancer-free. She just started college, (majoring in biochemistry, pre-med track so she can do cancer research!) Her family is doing great and their faith is incredible.

During these years since I met Mary, I have been so inspired by her. If you ask her to tell you about herself, he would likely say something like “Oh, I’m just a mom” or something to that effect. But what she would not tell you is that she’s an incredible mom. One of the best I have ever known. One who shows her children (and the world) what it looks like to follow Jesus and be a real person.

Everyone I know says the same things about Mary: You just feel so welcome around her. Her home is so inviting. You know you will leave there relaxed and refreshed. She always shows she cares about you. She always makes you feel comfortable.

It’s all true. And I would like to add that she has a lovely sense of wonder about her. She’s one of those folks that no matter how old she gets, she will always have a young heart. She knows how to laugh and make others do the same. She knows when to be serious and when to scrap the whole plan for the day and spend it baking cookies. She’s friendly, but knows how to say no to things that would get in the way of her prioritizing her family. She’s basically one of the very best people on the planet. There’s no other way to say it.

Many of my favorite moments with Mary came out of our book club. We had a handful of gals who met at her house each week for book club. Sometimes we actually talked about the book. Sometimes we talked about God and His mercy and how completely awesome He is. Sometimes we watched stupid YouTube videos while I avoided her overweight cat.

In 2011 when the news was all abuzz with details of the Prince William and Kate’s wedding, we decided to throw our own Book Club Royal Gala. We ate British-y sounding stuff, talked in terrible fake accents, and even dressed up in our own royal clothing, complete with tiaras, long gloves, and the like. We were completely ridiculous, and it was one of the best nights of my life. My cheeks hurt the whole next day.

Mary, Amanda, Me, Emma, and Jess at the Royal Book Club Gala

Mary, Amanda, Me, Emma, and Jess at the Royal Book Club Gala

I don’t get to see Mary as often as I’d like anymore. I moved and now we’re 25 minutes away from one another. Life is busy for both of us. She’s even a grandma now! (Nana!!) But I did get to see her the other night when she came to my house to lead a paint-party, where she taught me and my divas to paint this little gem right here:


She’s incredibly creative. And a very patient teacher, obviously.

But more than anything, she’s an open-armed, big-hearted lady who is grounded in her faith in Jesus Christ, and it shines from every place in her life. She is truly the loveliest of people, and I’m so happy I get to know her. So proud to call her My People.

Friends, Mary’s daughter Emma isn’t waiting until she’s a doctor to help with research to fight childhood cancer. She’s starting right now, by participating in the BuckeyeThon Dance Marathon, and she needs our help to meet her fundraising goal! Check out Emma’s page here and donate! Every dollar helps kick cancer’s butt!

31 Days of My People: The Target Lady {23/31}

As soon as she spoke and began dragging my items across the belt, I asked her, “West Virginia or Kentucky?”

She paused and squinted. “What’s that, young lady?”

“Are you from West Virginia or Kentucky?”

When she smiled, her plump cheeks jiggled a bit, which made me love her all the more.

West Virginia it was. I knew it. Southern accents are adorable, but I think your ears had to live around one before you could start distinguishing between the Louisianas and the Tennessees and the Carolinas. Kentucky and West Virginia have their own tempo, phrasing, and more of a skip than a drawl. I can just about pick it out anywhere.

We struck up a conversation, first about accents, then about Pikeville and Louisa. She’d never heard of Turkey Creek, which was not really a surprise. Then it moved on to biscuits and gravy (practically a requirement) and whether sausage or pepper gravy was the best for breakfast, and eventually moved onto whether or not I wanted to save 5% with some such-and-such card. I spared her my spiel about preferring to be more off the grid and how we all spend more with plastic anyway. She was just doing her job. A polite no thank you, ma’am worked just fine.

I walked away with red and white bags full of detergent and Ziploc baggies, and a head full of memories of that Kentucky holler.

~~~~~~~~~

My cousin Abby and I went creekin’ one time, without bothering to mention it to my mom and granny, who were in charge of us for the day. We just rolled up our pant legs and left our shoes and socks behind, and off we went. It felt like just a little while but it must’ve been longer because before we knew it, her grandpa, who just happened to be one of the local deputies, showed up worried to death and took us back in his sheriff’s car. Granny wasn’t too pleased, but my momma was steamin’ mad that we had left without telling her and that we were down in the creek like a couple of boys. And all I heard was DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S COPPERHEADS ALL OVER THEM CRICKS as she was whomping me with my very own shoe.

This memory brought to us by: The Target Lady.

Yep, The Target Lady. She’s My People. She’s pleasant and kind and has that adorable WV accent. I look for her every time I go, and I’ll wait a little longer for her line just so I can hear her. She’s a little hunched over and uncomfortable-looking. I always imagine to myself that she’s a spunky old lady who just likes being out of the house and that’s why she’s working at Target when she’s clearly over 70. I try not to think that it’s likely she is working on her feet all day because it’s what she has to do to survive.

Every time I go through her line I wonder if she will remember me. It’s definitely possible because I see her often enough. But most of the time she just gives me the small talk due a customer and asks if I want to save 5%.

It’s kind of a bummer, since I remember everything about her wrinkly face and the way her voice sounds, to think that I’m just some customer to her. But then one day it dawned on me. I remember her because her soft, spotted, somewhat wrinkly skin reminds me of my momma’s. Her voice takes me right back to the holler. Her slow movements make me think of my granny in her big kitchen, peeling potatoes.

The Target lady gives me something every time I go through her line, and I’m not talking about a coupon. I associate her with happy memories and that’s why I’ve adopted her as one of My People.

But I’m not Her People yet. I’ve realized that with every interaction, I take from her. I take reminders of my family and the place where I spent half my childhood. I get access to those memories through her, but what am I giving to her? Is my conversation kind enough to remind her of someone special in her life? Do I take time to pause and really listen when I ask how she’s doing today? Do I ask any follow up questions to show I am genuinely interested? Do I bring those topics up the next time I go through her line?

What about the other People I’ve adopted? Like the Starbucks lady who offers me extra stuff all the time for no reason, other than just to be kind. Or that waiter at Red Robin who always remembers me and Todd.  The local boutique owner who sells my jewelry in her store. They are my adopted People as well. But am I really theirs?

This whole thing has me thinking: How can I better love these People of mine who are just in my space, if not yet in my actual world? They may never be my BFFs, but I might love them just enough in some small, tangible way, that I could become that one customer who brightens up their day. Asks something about them personally to make them understand that they are not alone but that they are important.

I think if we take the time to look around, we’d see a whole lot more of Our People in our paths. Do we really have a responsibility to engage with these folks? I mean, aren’t they just cashiers and baristas and waiters and shopkeepers? Being friendly, sure, but what else is required?

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.] The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-40

I’m pretty sure my neighbor includes The Target Lady I see every week as well as the girl I get my coffee from every single weekday. And I am definitely sure that Myself would enjoy being smiled at, and engaged in a way that made me feel like Somebody’s People.

This weekend when you’re out, try to think of some of Your People you may not even directly know. If they’re in your path, they are there for a purpose. What both of you will gain from it remains to be seen. But it can start with this greatest commandment and grow into a pleasant exchange that mutually brightens your day. And who knows, maybe these folks you have under the umbrella of Your People might become your sitting-in-your-living room people.

Or maybe not. Maybe the whole purpose for them being Your People is so you can make them understand, even for a split second during their day, that they are noticed, valued, and important. Because they are.

31 Days of My People: The Jujus {22/31}

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. On one hand, it can be so annoying. It doesn’t always work correctly, resulting in us spending extra time trying to make it do what it said it was supposed to do in the first place (I’m looking at you, Siri.) Or even worse, it lulls us into wasting inordinate amounts of time when we could be living real life. That’s the worst.

But the best of technology comes when it helps us connect our real lives with the real lives of others. When it helps us stay in touch with real, actual people we care about. Or when it joins us with a tribe of thinkers who share the same heart. That’s when I fall back in love with technology,

I have technology to thank for My People, The Jujus. I think God might have had a little something to do with it too.

Around 2010ish I read a book called Is That All He Thinks About? written by an author named Marla Taviano. The book was amazing and insightful, and I drove my friends crazy telling them all about it. We even bought copies (and the companion ebook) for everyone in our home group that year.

Because of the book, I found the author’s web site and I was hooked on reading her blog. I found myself reading through current and old posts and constantly saying things to myself like YES! Me too! I know, right?!

This lady was My People already. Marla’s writing was frank, funny, and real. The way she talked about Jesus sounded like the same exact Jesus in the bible, y’all! He wasn’t some Fix-it Felix in the sky or some weak doormat. He was The Savior of us all, just showing the world how to love and be loved.

And Marla seemed like a normal person. She shared her everyday thoughts and struggles and highs and lows. She questioned and wondered and had bad days like everyone else. On her blog, I’d commented on a few blog posts, which turned into mini-conversations, which turned into us realizing we were both about to embark on trips across the planet (me to India and her to Cambodia!!!) which then turned into emailing back and forth to share our feelings about all that. In those interactions I realized she lived across town from me. Before you know it, we were setting up a date to meet.

Since I was going to someone’s house whom I’d never met before (!!!!) I had a deal worked out with my husband that if I didn’t call by a certain time, he was to call me and/or show up at the address I gave him. Seemed totally secure to me. Turns out when I arrived, Marla was the sweetest thing ever. No axe murderers here. She and her daughters and I talked and laughed and had a great time. We ended up sending a text to my husband with a photo of me tied to a chair in her kitchen, held hostage by her three girls. (Oh how I wish I could find that picture!) Good times.

Kind of around that same time, a sweet lady I’d never heard of named Sarah was also reading Marla’s blog from the nearby state of West Virginia. She had begun heart-connecting with what she read as well. She joined Marla in a read-along group at her blog, and began the same process of chatting back and forth here and there with this new online-friend. Sarah was also a writer, with a make-you-think style somewhat like Marla’s, but with a little touch of southern belle charm. I hopped on over to her blog a few times through Marla’s as well.

By that time I was pretty sure Sarah was another one of My People, (unbeknownst to her.) When I read her thoughts, they felt a lot like mine and Marla’s—questioning, challenging, stretching. Just lovely. At some point Marla had also met Sarah, who brought her best friend Jen when she arrived on Marla’s doorstep (genius! safety in numbers, right?) and they quickly turned from online- to real-life friends.

Sarah’s friend Jen, a missionary to Honduras for 8 years, also shared the same heart as the rest of us when it came to figuring out just what Jesus meant when he talked about love, justice, mercy, and the like. She’s also a wonderfully thoughtful writer, although she would probably never say that about herself at all. Every once in awhile she would begin a Facebook post and a few minutes later shared a Sermon on the Mount of sorts. She reminds me of another Jen in my life, since she is more the quiet and reserved type. But when she opens her mouth, you’ll definitely want to be there to see what comes out of her heart.

One of Marla’s great gifts is connecting people. At some point she realized we all needed to get together. Our thoughts were so similar, we were all trying to apply God’s truth in new, similar ways in our own lives. We were each struggling a bit to find folks who wanted to think and talk about these things on a regular basis.

Not long after, some magic happened, and there we were: the four of us having coffee, closing down Panera, and throwing around ideas about solving the ills of the world. It was a beautiful, heart-building thing.

Friends, let me tell you how valuable it is to have People who are outside of your normal daily life to lean on. Sometimes you need vision outside of your immediate circle. Sometimes your people are too close to a situation to give you objective perspective on things. Sometimes it’s easier for those slightly-more- distant folks to hurt your feelings a tiny bit because they’re a little outside of your typical circle. This is what the Jujus became for me.

We’ve talked each other through raw emotions, how to love the poor well and live in the richest place in the universe, divorce, infidelity, fear about the future, feeling like we are living in two different worlds, trust, questions about theology, health issues, strongholds in our lives, longings that may or may never be fulfilled, disappointments, joyous occasions, social justice, white privilege, avoiding the Santa/savior routine, being thankful for what we have, trying to learn from things when we leave our past behind. You know, just a few light topics of conversation.

The whole Juju ideas came up in conversation one day in a conversation we were having about purging. Purging is harder than it sounds, especially when there is emotional attachment to certain belongings. Our stuff sometime symbolizes time periods, situations, or people, that are no longer in our lives. When one of these friends was talking about having a hard time purging, I mentioned that the stuff she was referring to add “bad juju” and she should get rid of it. Everybody had a good laugh over that one, and the word stuck around. From then on we would constantly throw around #TeamJuju.

As for technology, I’m so thankful for it because of My Jujus. Every week (sometimes every day!) Facebook messenger is our friend, allowing us to talk about whatever is going on in our worlds that week, even though we are all in different states and/or hemispheres.

But I’m even more thankful to God, because I know He placed us in each other’s lives at just the right time and for just the right purpose. He kinda always seems to do that, doesn’t He?

The Jujus: Jen, Marla, Sarah, & me.

The Jujus: Jen, Marla, Sarah, & me.

I am grateful to have My Jujus (and of course the Junior Jujus, led by Chief Jr. Juju Olivia Taviano.) They are each so uniquely gifted and have such huge hearts. If you have a chance in your life to have a small, dynamic group of friends that can take any question or doubt you throw their way and barely even flinch, then you know you are sitting side by side with some of Your People.

Friends, one of My Jujus is hurting right now. Jen’s momma is in the hospital due to some problems with her heart. She will be having a bypass next week, but for right now could you just pray for healing for her momma? Thank you, lovelies.

31 Days of My People: Delaine {21/31}

Have you ever known someone so determined to do what they know they’ve been put on this planet to do that nothing in the world can stop them? That pretty much sums up my friend Delaine.

So, there was this one time that Delaine decided to teach herself the language of Hindi. HINDI. Before you read another word, check out this video that Rosetta Stone produced about Delaine, highlighting how she used the program to teach herself Hindi at home. Like a BOSS.

And when people asked Delaine why she was trying to teach herself this difficult language? I snagged this post from her Facebook page that explains it all:

January 7, 2014

Why Hindi and Marathi?

Because when I go back to India, I want to pray for those in the villages in their own language. I want them to know that God is calling people all the way over here in the West to leave their homes and love on and care for the tiniest of villages in the East.

Our love for India is what brought us together. At the time, I had recently returned from my trip there and Delaine had been longing to go back. She and her family have huge hearts for India and have been called to show God’s love to its people. I know one day, when the time is right, I’ll be writing a blog post about how they moved there to live full-time among Their People. I cannot wait for that day!

But one of the things I love most about Delaine is that she doesn’t just dream about living in India. She works while she waits. Another post from her Facebook page illustrates what I’m talking about:

May 23, 2013 · Columbus, OH

There’s no need to wait until I get to India to be philanthropic and generous- not when there are felt needs and real wounds right here in my community, my church, and even my Facebook wall. God’s mission isn’t beginning and ending with one trip- but He calls each of us to do what we can to help others wherever.we.are.

EXACTLY. Every single one of us has work to do right where we are. And if we don’t know specifically what that work is, then we can just jump in and help someone else do their work until it becomes more clear to us. What we cannot do is sit by idly while the world hurts in so many ways. We can each offer the little tiny talents we have to make a difference.

Delaine and I are actually fairly new friends. We just met a few years ago (our first breakfast date was Dec 1, 2012!) but when she describes us kindred spirits, she’s not kidding.

Throughout this 31 Days series, I’ve been asking each of My People to answer a few questions to help me guide my writing and potentially remember anecdotes that this old brain has forgotten somehow. Just a few simple, quick answers. But my friend Delaine has done a full-blown interview here, and I am blown away. (She is clearly prone to exaggeration because she says way too many wonderful things about me here.) But it’s incredible to know that things we think might be small gestures toward Our People can mean so much.

KC: What do you recall about how/when we first met/ became friends?

D: We met at a time where I felt like God was asking me to pursue justice and compassion in India, but I wasn’t seeing any doors opening to do so. I was so frustrated because each time I even mentioned living in India, it was met with surprise and doubt by well-meaning friends and family. I didn’t really feel like I had an ally who had been to India and could give me guidance as to what to expect and how to engage with this beautiful people. Up until the day we met, Jonathan and I had given financially to build a water well in Bangalore, but had no real concrete ties to the land or the people.

I remember feeling like I had met a kindred spirit, a “sisters, indeed” sort of feeling! We met through a real life friend, Marla, and she connected us because of our involvement with India.

I loved how you encouraged me to move forward with loving people in India, and living a sold-out life in service to others. You were not shy about how painful that can be at times.  You understood what it felt like to be overwhelmed with love and overtaken with immobility at the same time. You were real with me. And to find out that you had ALSO been to Bangalore WITH THE SAME MINISTRY that Jonathan and I gave financially to, I was blown away. I immediately felt like God was orchestrating something. You opened up a photo album of your trip to India and I got to see many of the faces that I had only heard about through friends (Brad and Melissa Pauquette). Then, to encourage me and to give me hope that there is a future for me in India, you GAVE me one of the photos of a water well–quite possibly the one that we gave towards building.

A photo of one of the fresh water wells at a leper village in India

A photo of one of the fresh water wells at a leper village in India

I remember trying not to cry (in vain) and not scare you away by being an emotional crazy lady that cries over photos of water. But I sensed you understood where I was coming from and that picture hangs on my wall today- it serves as another sort of well… when I’m feeling disconnected, unimportant, too far removed from my beloved Indian family and loved ones, I go back to this picture, and I remember how I may never see my impact, like I may never see the well we built, but the work is still needed and appreciated! I LOVE YOU!

KC: When did you first know/think we’d be each other’s People?

D: Oh. I guess I got a little carried away with my first answer! I guess to build on what I’ve already said, it was love at first hello! 🙂

But first impressions can be that way sometimes. I knew for sure that you were my people, when you followed up with me, checked in on me, sent me advice about fundraising and innovation, and asked me “how can I help you do this?” I remember having tears in my eyes because justice and compassion are overwhelming. They are gut-wrenching disciplines sometimes, where it feels like no single action, no single human can make a big enough dent in the world’s problems to make a difference.

But month after month, year after year, I watched you as you made one piece of jewelry at a time, one event at a time- meanwhile encouraging ME to do the same!

And I guess, I realized I was your people too when I found myself praying for you and your family, in the secret, quiet times. Sometimes, I wear the Redeemed bracelet you made for me on my wrist as I pray for you, and  praying for you leads me to pray for the CATCH program and Doma(Freedom a la Cart) and all the other anti-human trafficking advocates.

Delaine wearing her REDEEMED bracelet

Delaine wearing her REDEEMED bracelet

KC: What are the top 3 things you’re passionate about?

D: 1. It’s important to me that each person has a chance to reach their biggest potential in life! This comes from my faith in Jesus- He leads me to work toward a more just, more empowered community.

  1. I am passionate about my marriage. My husband is my best friend. Not trying to be cliche here, but beyond the work of Christ through me to seek justice in this world, my man is my next passion in my life! #sorrynotsorry 😉
  2. Travel!!! One of my favorite things to ask people is where they have been and where they desire to go for vacation. I’m one of the few people I know that gets very excited about being on a plane- I get really chatty and annoying. I want to go to St. Kitts (for the island feel), Belgium (for the chocolate), and Istanbul (for the culture clash)!
  3. Good, rich, interesting food! In fact, I think I might like travel BECAUSE of the amazing food! #BonusAnswer

KC: What are three things you’re not a fan of?

D: 1. Cats- I’m a dog person  (and Krysten said: AMEN!)

2.Traffic, it literally feels like ants are crawling on my legs when stuck in traffic

3.Gilmore Girls and other fast-talking, whiny characters, which may include the majority of female characters on television because that’s how The Man writes for women… Forgive me.

KC: Would you be willing to share a funny quirk of yours?

D: Okay, this is a real life truth here…

When I’m at home on Saturday mornings, I put on Bollywood music on Pandora and sing and choreograph dances… I have about 15 different song routines- it’s helped me learn Hindi, make a fool of myself, and provides great belly laughs for my family. Jonathan thinks I should start a Bollywood dance class for exercise… That’s just what the world needs… a Haitian American woman leading an Indian Bollywood dance class.

KC: Girl, that is exactly what the world needs!

KC: Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or about our relationship?

D: You’ve inspired me to go back to school. I’m majoring in Social Work, minoring in Human Rights with a specialization in Global Inequality and Poverty. Thank you for leading by example, and showing that I can go back to school as an adult! 🙂

KC: That’s about the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard, D!

Sometime I would love to gather all y’all in my living room with Delaine so she could share her wisdom and delightful personality. So she could tell you more about her heart for justice, racial reconciliation, refugees (isn’t that all of us?) We could talk about the time she came to my class to teach my students about Kwanzaa. Girl brought her teacher-heart and a drum and sang songs with my class. They were still talking about Mrs. Thomas in May when we left school. Or perhaps she could tell you what inspired her to host women in her own home under the theme of “Arrival Stories.” Women from all over the world sharing about how they arrived in the US. Just sharing, because our stories are important. All of them. Beautiful.

Mrs. Thomas, banging her drum for my 2nd graders

Mrs. Thomas, banging her drum for my 2nd graders

Friends, we connect with people all the time over many, many things. You might spark up a conversation with the dry cleaner about your favorite band or brand of coffee. But when you keep in touch, encourage each other’s dreams, and help each other grow in an understanding of how every person on this planet matters, then you know for sure you’ve found another one of Your People.

Thank you for your kind words, Delaine! I love you! Enjoy Hawaii!!

31 Days of My People: Tuesday People Tips #3 AND a New Book! {20/31}

Welcome to Tuesday People Tips #3! Today there’s a little bonus at the end of the post so don’t miss it!

Each Tuesday I’ve been sharing my tips for fostering relationships with Your People. This week, I’m filing these tips under the “golden rules” of loving Your People.

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Make Space

We talked a bit last week about using technology as a tool to help your friendship when time is tight. And yes, a timely text or email is great for those hectic times. But we have to actually make space for the People in our lives too. It’s been said that a person’s priorities can easily be seen on their calendar and in their checkbook. And yes, where we spend our money speaks about what we consider important, but where we spend our most precious commodity–our time–is where we truly show our values. So we need to make space to spend time with each other whenever possible. For you that might be once a month, or once a week. There’s no rule with this stuff. Do what feels right for you and Your People. Just carve out some space to enjoy with them.

Know Your Place

While we all want Our People to make space for us, it’s important that we know our place in each other’s life. The seasons of our lives will drive this. If you have a friend who is a busy mom with 5 kids, she’s not going to be as available to meet up one-on-one with you perhaps as often as your single friend. Don’t take that personally. If you are truly each other’s People, you’ll recognize that this is a season where her focus has to be on the kiddos, and relationships with friends will probably work better through technology rather than daily hang-outs. Also, understand that even if you were once the #1 go-to for one of Your People, as life progresses that may not always be the case. Years ago my friend Jeff and I would have picked up the phone and called each other first to share fun news or get advice about something important. But now that we are both married, we know obviously that “first place” belongs to our spouse. We would never look at that as a negative thing, we just know our place in each other’s life, and it’s a little further down the totem pole than it was years ago. Friends, we must know (and be fine with) our place in Our People’s lives. This gets rid of any weirdness in relationships, and shows that you respect Your People and Their People in all circumstances.

Avoid Avoidance

Lastly, there will be times in Your People’s lives that are hard. Life takes us all on some long, winding, bumpy roads. We want to show up for our friends when it’s time to celebrate the great milestones of life, but we cannot avoid also walking along with them in the not-so-happy times. Perhaps one of Your People is traveling a dark and twisty road right now. You don’t know how to help. You can’t really change the circumstances or do anything to make it all better. Heck, you don’t even know what to say or if you should mention what he or she is even going through. Friend, that doesn’t matter much. Just don’t avoid her. Please don’t pretend like he isn’t hurting. I know it’s awkward, I know it makes you uncomfortable to talk about. We all get that. But I promise you that if Your People are going through hard stuff, they already feel kind of lonely. Don’t avoid their situation just to keep up your level of comfort. Show up, dive in with them, and just make sure they know that you are there to talk/pray/be with them if needed.

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Speaking of going through tough times with Our People, here’s a resource that might help Your beloved Person if they’re finding themselves in a rough place right now. Today is Book Release Day for Rachel Wojo’s book, One More Step! WOOHOO!

I hardly know Rachel. We’ve met exactly one time, briefly. But it was one of those encounters that I know God orchestrated in my life, even though it seemed purely coincidental at the time.

I was in an airport on my way home from a writer’s conference. A woman stopped me, seeing my She Speaks bag, and mentioned that she’d just come from there. We had just apparently spent the same 4 days in another state, walking the halls of the same exact hotel, going in and out of the same conference rooms, and we hadn’t crossed paths once. Strange.

I wasn’t even supposed to be on a plane that weekend, but there I was, back in my hometown, now meeting this woman at the baggage claim. We chatted for a few moments, then she happened to mention she had one advance copy of her book left, and asked if I would like it. Of course! How fun to get to read someone’s words before they go out into the world for everyone to see.

Little did I know God would use that book to speak through Rachel and right into my life, where things had recently been dark, difficult, and just way too much for me.

The full title of Rachel’s book is: One More Step: Finding Strength When You Feel Like Giving Up.

So in a strange way, I guess Rachel is My People too. A person that God plopped right into my life to speak in a way that I needed so badly. Perhaps you or one of Your People needs to hear the hope that’s in this book. Great news! You can now get it!! Today, One More Step was released into the universe. Check out this link to learn more about the book and to order!

Also, if you are local to the Columbus, Ohio area, you’re in for a real treat! Rachel’s Book Release Party is happening tonight at Lifeway Christian Store at Georgesville Square from 7-8pm!

Happy Tuesday! Go love Your People well.

31 Days of My People: Jen {19/31}

We are 19 days into this series, 31 Days of My People. Probably about 8 of you are still hanging in there, and for that I am thankful. I am tired, folks! But the thing that keeps me going is that I have more of My lovely People to share with you. Y’all have had nothing but kind and wonderful things to say about them so far, (I told ya you’d love them) so let’s keep the good vibes going and DO this thing.

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I have all these Jennifers in my life. They are all awesome in their very own ways. This one is my Jen. (Or JP to my husband, who gives them all his own nicknames so he can keep the Jennifers straight)

I’m just going to start with the obvious: Jen is beautiful. I mean, gorgeous beautiful. If you’ve ever met her in person, you know this is one instance where I am not exaggerating one tiny ounce.

I kind of have this aversion to very long hair on women over 40. (forgive me, ladies. It’s just an issue I have) I personally think you’ve gotta have some seriously special, uber-healthy hair to pull off a long, flowing mane after you leave your thirties. But Jen is my #1 exception to that rule. She just broke into her 40’s not too long ago and still has the most incredible, healthy, full-of-body hair that will give any twentysomething head of hair a run for its money. It’s kind of embarrassing to be around her, just sitting over here with my regular hair.

THE HAIR! And also her husband Brian.

THE HAIR! And also her husband Brian.

But it’s so worth it, because Jen is one of those people who I’d love to spend more time with. We talk regularly and see each other a couple of times a month, at least. But if I had my way, she’d be hanging out on my back porch drinking some wine every other night. She’d be putting up with me asking her a million questions and writing down every single thing she says. She’s got a lot of wisdom, this one, but for some reason she would never agree with that statement. She probably just can’t hear me under all that hair.

My husband and I met Jen and her husband Brian over a decade ago when we started coming to the church, which happens to be pastored by Brian’s dad. Our first memory connected to their family was when my germaphobe husband and I were teaching the 4 & 5 year-old Kids’ Ministry class together. Jen & Brian’s oldest son Jason was in our class, and apparently had some sinus issues. Little 4-year old Jason sneezed, Todd wretched, and my blood started to boil. I watched this little guy’s confused face, having just blown a good amount of snot all over his chin, waiting there for a capable adult to help him out. My 6’1”, 260lb husband was paralyzed, his face twisted in horror at the sight of preschooler snot. HELP HIM! I yelled from under the pile of the other 15 preschoolers. Todd grabbed a tissue and threw it at Jason, saying “blow your nose!” which was super helpful because as we know, a 4 year old nose-blow only results in the sound “fffffffff” coming out of their mouth. Needless to say, I had to disturb the pile of preschoolers to go rescue this poor child from his own snot bubble fiasco, and that was the last time Todd “helped” in the Kids’ Ministry classes.

Sigh.

That story is one that Jen & Brian didn’t hear about until after it was over. (We might have even waited several years to tell them that story, just to make sure they loved us enough not to disown us when they realized Todd was the one who had traumatized their kiddo)

Some time since then we all became part of the same home group, meeting several times a month together. Jen is part of our group of Divas. All of us look up to her as a role model of sorts. We all agree that she’s got a lot of wisdom we’d love to benefit from.

She’s got four kids, all of which are awesome in their own unique ways. I absolutely love how she and her husband parent…with a nice mix of freedom and firmness, coupled with a huge dose of reality.

Out of the 10 of us, she and I are the only Divas so far who have raised kids all the way through teenage-hood and lived to tell about it (yay us!) I think that makes us have some sort of special crazy-person bond. I’m pretty sure we both think we’ve messed our kids up a little along the way, but it turns out they are real live contributing-to-society people now, so we had to do at least a couple of things right. The struggle is real, moms. You can do this. Just keep going.

I don’t really know how we hit it off. She’s quiet and demure and I’m typically the loudest one around. She says we connected because my husband and I were “so freakin’ normal” which I definitely take as a compliment. There’s nothing I’d rather be thought of than normal, and as she puts it, “solid and straightforward.”

I thought the same of her. She and Brian both are the kind of people who aren’t always the first or the loudest to speak. But when one of them leans in to say something, you want to be sure you hear it. Just the first few times this happened, I knew they were both Our People.

And then… we went halfway around the world together. We took a trip to India with some other folks, all visiting our sponsored children and looking forward to spending time with the amazing people of Cornerstone Ministries.

You guys, just going on vacation with someone gives you a special little bank of memories you’ll cherish for a long time. But when you travel to the other side of the Earth with a bigger purpose… to look into little brown eyes and reach across culture and language just to somehow say to them, you’re loved, that’s a whole different thing.

When you make memories like bouncing beach balls and blowing bubbles with a swirl of happy little faces round you, and your ears full of giggles you just want to bottle up and hide in your carry-on, you’ll have something to talk about for life. When you’ve walked past trash heaps where little boys and old men and mangy dogs are all digging through side-by-side for food, and you shoot each other that look that can’t even be backed up by words, that’s something. When you stand next to one another and awkwardly try to bless a person with leprosy with a small gift, all the while knowing you are the one really getting the blessing, that’s going down in your history. When you board that plane back to your half of the planet, and your mind is full of the beautiful faces of folks who spend Lord knows how much time and money to host you for dinner in their homes, that’s an amazing feeling. Knowing you have a friend who understands all the feelings and thoughts you have about all these experiences, that person is Your People forever.

Sometimes I wonder if Jen got stuck with a little more than she bargained for when she took on this “straightforward” friend. Because that girl has been on the receiving end of some of my serious junk. She knows all the crazy, and so far she hasn’t taken a step in the other direction. I love that we’ve lived through some hard and beautiful things together, and the hard stuff is a tiny bit less hard when you have  someone who can just be there and say, I know.

I love you, Jen! I’m so thankful you’re My People! Stick around, would you? I think our very best years are yet to come.

31 Days of My People: Amanda {18/31}

My whole wedding situation was a disaster. We were scheduled to get married in May. Construction on the church where our ceremony was to be held went wayyyyyy past its deadline and we soon realized that venue wasn’t going to work. But we had this nonrefundable honeymoon booked for which we had to be married in May. So we decided to have a small, quick wedding to make things official (so we’d be all set for the honeymoon vacation in May.) Then we moved the public ceremony to September so we could still celebrate with our family and friends, and my dress would get to have its day.

Problem solved, right? Wrong. In the midst of all this, there were behind-the-scenes things happening, including leaving our church for a new one (which didn’t make some folks at church #1 very happy.) The construction at church #1 was still taking too long, and every time we checked in with them (and someone actually called us back) we were assured everything was just fine and there would be no problem with the fall date. Come to find out, two weeks away from our (already postponed) wedding ceremony, the church was still not finished. There were other issues as well, that need not be aired now, more than a decade later, but the bottom line was that our wedding ceremony was obviously not going to happen. We ended up having to send out postcards thanking everyone for caring about us, reassuring them that nothing had happened between us and that we were enjoying our first year of marriage, but that we would able to celebrate with them due to unforeseen circumstances.

Talk about sad. The whole thing was awful, emotional, and a waste of money already spent. I now had this beautiful wedding dress, veil, shoes, handmade bouquet and flower arrangements, etc… that would never get used. It was a bit depressing, but at this point it barely mattered. I was married, happy, and just had to get over it. I couldn’t return my dress, even though I’d bought it right off the rack because it fit me perfectly with no alterations. But in wedding-dress world you pretty much can’t return anything, ever. I didn’t know what I was going to do with that thing, because I definitely didn’t need it any longer, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.

A couple of years later that dang dress was still hanging in my closet, untouched. I’d recently met a gal named Amanda. She and her fiance had started teaching in the kids’ ministry where I worked, and I’d started to get to know them a bit through our interactions there. They were good people, I could tell. When she started talking about needing a wedding dress, I somehow mentioned that I had one she was welcome to try on. The conversation eventually led to me saying If you wear a size 8/9 shoe you’re welcome to those too! Turns out that’s exactly what size shoe she wore.

She tried on the dress. It fit. Along with all the undergarments and the shoes. Now Amanda and I are built somewhat similarly, but she is several inches shorter than I am, so I figured even if she liked it, it would need some serious alterations to work for her. But somehow, that off-the-rack dress that was perfect for me actually fit her perfectly without changing a stitch. I still believe that was a little tiny miracle just for her.

So there it was… my dress our dress was about to have it’s day. Now I knew exactly why I’d been hanging onto it for those years, never feeling right about trying to sell it or give it away. It was never really mine to begin with, I was just holding on to it for her.

At the end of the next October, I got to see that dress in action. It was as beautiful as I’d imagined. Not only did my friend look gorgeous in the dress, but their ceremony was classy, understated, and moving. Her husband Adam gave her daughter Aaliyah a necklace to wear as a symbol of his love not just for her mom, but for her as well. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. They became more than a couple that day. They became a whole family. To this day, Adam and Amanda’s downtown winery wedding is my all-time favorite.

Absolutely perfect!

Absolutely perfect!

The dress gave us a story that would forever link us together. How can you not be each other’s People with that kind of history? But that was just a start. We got to know Adam & Amanda better over the next several years, and now she is one of my very best friends.

They started taking Financial Peace University, which my husband and I facilitated at our church for many years. During this time we were able to get to know them and share our journey to becoming debt-free. Amanda always says we “took them under our wing” but I laugh when she says that. I just think we loved them from the start and tried use what we’d learned to help them jump-start their financially free life together as newlyweds. They drank the Kool-Aid too. 🙂

Not too long after, we found ourselves in a small group with Adam and Amanda, and apparently they haven’t gotten sick of us yet.

Amanda and I are 77 Sisters. We were born about 6 weeks apart in 1977. She comes from a small, quaint little town called Newton falls. And people, the zip code there is 44444. All 4’s. So that means that the 4th of July is kind of a really big deal there. (Get it? Spend the 4th in the 44444?) Our friends and I had heard so many stories about the 4th in the 44444 that we wanted to check it out for ourselves. It turned out to be just as much of a small-town delight as we always imagined it would be. So much fun.

Newton Falls: The 44444

Newton Falls: The 44444

Amanda has a freaky-weird luck when it comes to winning things. Especially when the winning happens from a radio station. When she starts dialing, she must say some strange spell or something that jams all the telephone lines except she one she’s calling from. Seriously, it’s like contest voodoo. She’s won more concert tickets (and stuff in general) than anyone I’ve ever known.

Once she heard that Bon Jovi would be coming to town. She asked me if I would want to go if she won tickets. Of course, because BON JOVI. It wasn’t too long after that, she called to see if I was free on such-and-such date because she had JUST WON TICKETS TO SEE BON JOVI and we were going. Whattheheck!?!?!?!? File that under one of the best surprises ever!

We rocked the heck out at that concert. I will never forget dancing like a couple of teenage fools while singing along to Bad Medicine at the top of our lungs. File THAT under one of the all-time best days ever! We both barely had a voice for a couple of days afterward. And PS: Jon Bon Jovi? That man’s still got it.

Pre-Bon Jovi concert

Pre-Bon Jovi concert

Amanda is a genuinely wonderful  person. She’s got a big heart and she is moved to tears over more things than she’d care to admit. She’s one of those folks who would give you anything of hers if you ever needed it. She goes out of her way to make people feel special, even though she probably doesn’t think that about herself.

She also loves everything Amish. It’s kind of a weird obsession. She’s a fan of local and handmade stuff the same way I am. She knows every song lyric to anything that was ever on the Top 40 Countdown for sure. Same with lines from movies.

We’ve been on many road trips and overnights. She was there when I asked a perfect stranger for a piggy-back ride (and he obliged.) She and her husband made certain I wasn’t kidnapped by some creepy folk while I was momentarily inside their ice cream truck. We’ve witnessed crazy things at the Renaissance Fest. We’ve made plans a year in advance to see the Hunger Games movies as they’ve come out. We’ve run races together. We’ve been to countless parties and important gatherings together.

Before running a race on a COLD day

Before running a race on a COLD day

And we’ve talked each other through some pretty hard stuff. Solicited advice from one another about life and marriage and finances and friendships. We’ve created more inside jokes in the 7-8 years we’ve known each other than most people have in a whole lifetime.

This is the stuff that relationships with Our People are made of, my friends. These stories and memories and conversations and inside jokes, they are the moments that make life…life. They are the things that stitch together our individual lives to make our very own little communities.

Amanda is the kind of friend that never makes me wonder if I truly have People in my life. People who care. Who will be there. The ones who just aren’t going anywhere. These are the kind of People you want in your life, dear folks. Even if they never take you to see Bon Jovi. 🙂

31 Days of My People: Jay & April {17/31}

Sometimes life’s just not fair. A lot of times, actually. We all know this. Many times something will happen to us and we’re all: life’s just not fair, and we may even have ourselves a little pity party over it for a minute. But eventually we kind of get over it and get on with things.

But when life doesn’t seem to be fair for Our People, it grates on our nerves and presses against us from all sides even more than usual. Our hearts have lots of achy vibes when it’s Our People who are hurting, facing injustice, asking Why, Lord? while they wait and hope and pray for their situation to move from hurtful to healed.

It’s in these moments where we rally around Our People, offer whatever we can as support, and pray them through the icky, unfair parts of life.

This whole process is illustrated so very clearly when we stand beside friends who desperately want to have children to complete their family, but for whatever reason are unable to do so. I’ve prayed alongside many of My People who were aching to be parents, had wonderful, stable homes, and could provide so much for a baby, yet still remained childless.

I’ve witnessed that struggle they deal with when they try to reconcile the promise of God giving us the desires of our heart with their present reality of the not yet. I’ve seen how they try to navigate ignorant comments from well-meaning people and push their hurt down a little further each time while they try to seem fine on the outside. I understand their thoughts of feeling forgotten by God because it seems like their prayers for a family have bounced off the sky and landed in a barren field in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve seen it in the faces of some of My People over the years. And I remember a few years back at a prayer meeting, when I saw glimpses of these same things again on the faces of a man and woman I did not yet know.

Jay and April had been married a couple of years at the time, and they were ready to begin a family, but at that point they had been unable to. Their hearts were hurting and they were sitting smack-dab in the middle of the not yet. My husband and I had the privilege of praying over them for this very thing. I don’t remember the exact prayer, but I do know that I asked God to enlarge their tent, because it is something from Isaiah 54 I pray over every couple longing to be parents.**

Fast-forward not too far into the future, and Jay and April have become foster parents. They began attending our small group which is how we got to know them better. I am so thankful we did. We got to hear first-hand how God opened doors to allow them to care for many different children when their families of origin could not. Heart-wrenching and wonderful, every bit of it.

Eventually, April began coming to our girls’ Diva nights, where we meet once a month and have an awesome, real time together. April said she knew we would be each other’s People after the first time she attended Divas. In her words, she says, “I felt (and continue to feel) like I had found someone I could be real with.”

Man, isn’t that what this whole People thing is about anyway? When you find someone you can be real with, someone who forgets about judging you and just accepts you for who you are, someone with whom you can share the real stuff of life and never worry if they’re going to shut the door on you because of it…that’s when you know you’re in the midst of Your People.

Jay and April both have a great sense of humor. Jay is quick-witted, a lot like my hubs, which cracks me up. They come to us all the way from Maine, so they have that Northeast accent (Have you ever seen Down East Dickerin’ on the History Channel? Pretty sure those are Jay & April’s People!)

They both have big ol’ huge hearts, and if you could be in the room to hear April say something is Wicked Awesome just one time, I know you’d love her forever too.

Jay & April!

Jay & April!

Oh, and did I mention they have two little boys?? Oh, yeah…that happened too. 🙂

Through the process of fostering, they’ve been parents to a little guy who is definitely all boy. He’s growing so fast and I can’t believe he’s already two years old. Every couple of weeks when I see him, he knows about 678,000 more words than he did last time, and he looks like a tiny grown-up. It’s awesome to watch him flourish, knowing that it’s all because of how God chose Jay & April to raise him in their home.

This week I filled out paperwork to be a reference for their adoption of this little guy. As I mailed those papers back, I prayed I’d articulated just how wonderful my friends are, and what great parents they’ve been to this little guy, so the adoption agency can fully understand that they simply need to grant legal status to this family that God’s already knit together.

And I hope that someday soon, I will be filling out similar paperwork to convince them to do the same for this little guy’s baby brother, who they also have the privilege of caring for right now.

In a span of about two years, God has taken Jay & April from sitting broken-hearted while strangers prayed for them at a Tuesday night prayer meeting, to raising two beautiful sons and awaiting the final words telling them that the law recognizes what all of Their People already know. That they are, indeed a family.

Jay & April, I’m inspired by the way you handle everything. You don’t have the option for it not to be all at once and hectic, it just happens that way. And you handle it beautifully. I’m so thankful you are Our People so we can walk alongside you through it all and watch God’s promises unfold in unexpected ways. It’s wicked awesome.

**This reference to Isaiah comes from something intensely personal that God spoke to me years ago. He showed me how He was widening my narrow definition of motherhood, and would allow me to mother many more than I ever possibly could in a traditional way. I always pray this over families struggling with becoming parents, because no matter what God’s answer is regarding how they will become parents, this mindset applies. God can always (and is always working to) redefine our Good, and I truly believe that’s what He means by giving us the desires of our heart–making our heart’s desires align with what He has in store for us. I’ve seen it happen so many times, and it is a beautiful thing.

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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