31 Days of My People: Jeff {5/31}

He had these pants. They were red. Borderline maroon, but leaning toward red for sure.  Imagine those red pants on a tall, lanky runner’s build. Somewhere around 6’3”ish. I thought, who wears red pants like that? Brave.

That was my first memory of him. We joked about those red pants and other things any chance we got. Working in a cubicle farm that served an online retailer was far from exciting, but our little team of coworkers-turned-friends made it as fun as it could possibly be. We were all college-ish age, most of us taking classes and working that job. We worked second shift, and all the rest of the world wasn’t available when we were. So we spent a lot of time with this group of folks. But I spent most of my time with Jeff, the red pants guy.

Jeff quickly became My People. I am not even really sure how. We both liked to talk and debate and wonder. He was all engineering-y and outdoorsy, and I was all artsy and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Our little coworker-friend group got into all kinds of shenanigans. Once we persuaded our boss (who called us her Dream Team) to let us take a day off for “team-building” and she actually went for it. We spent hours canoeing in the middle of a work day, laughing our heads off, and nearly drowning about 478,082,374,001 times. It was purely awesome.

We would drink Disaronno amaretto on the rocks. Once in awhile, he and his roommate Chesley would force me to watch Monty Python movies, which aren’t even the slightest bit funny to me even after the whole liter of amaretto was empty. British accents + dumb humor. Kill me now.

We’ve gone tubing in the winter, where I nearly got a concussion. We’ve lived it up as tourists in Vegas. We’ve driven to the top of Pike’s Peak and speechlessly walked through Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We’ve been to a tiny place called Filthy Wilmas. True story, people.

At Pike's Peak in Colorado

At Pike’s Peak in Colorado

Returning home from 105 degrees in Las Vegas to low 30s in Ohio

Returning home from 105 degrees in Las Vegas to low 30s in Ohio

Since we were both young, fun people who went everywhere and did everything together, folks who didn’t know us naturally assumed we were a couple. This presented a pretty significant problem for us since, like most young, fun single people, we were in the trenches when it came for the search for a significant other. Most folks would have just done the obvious and started dating their friend by default, since they were always together anyway. But that just wasn’t us. We both knew we were each other’s Fill-in.


noun: a person or thing acting or serving in place of another; a substitute

At some point we even started calling each other Fill-in, because regardless of how everyone else looked at us, we knew that’s exactly what we were. We were placeholders, and that wasn’t a bad thing.

Although we were fulfilling an important role as friends, we were really filling in for someone else in the future. Our friendship was instructive, in an unspoken way. When we laughed at each other’s jokes, we were teaching one other how important humor really was for a lifetime. When we had long conversations (with or without Disaronno) we were training each other to be good listeners for the one whom we would listen to forever. When we gave truthful (and sometimes hard) advice, we were practicing honesty with our future partners. It’s nothing I could have articulated back then, but looking back now it seems so obvious. Thanks for the training, Fill-in. It’s coming in handy big-time.

One September day, after Jeff had already moved cross-country to take a job with Intel, I called him with some bad news. I found myself at a difficult crossroad, completely the result of my own poor choices. I had already made up my mind about what I was going to do, but I needed him to know what was going on. Of the handful of close friends who had any idea what kind of life-changing moment I was standing in, he was the only one who told me he thought I was about to make a mistake. He was the only one who was brave enough to tell me he thought I could do better than what I was about to do.

I didn’t take his advice, and that is something I’ll always regret. But if I’d learned nothing else, I had at least learned that I had one person in my life who wouldn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear.

There was something else about this guy. He was a believer. He talked about God and I knew he believed in Jesus. Like, the whole shebang about Jesus. He knew that any talk of God was the last thing in the world I wanted to hear, but when he spoke about it I never felt as if he was being pushy or judgmental. He was just sharing what truth was to him. This whole thing didn’t compute for me. How could someone be all about God and still drink cool beers and enjoy snowboarding? I mean, was it even possible to be normal and fun and all about Jesus? I wouldn’t have believed it was, except for Jeff.

About a year after my poor decision-making skills left a big scar on my life, I was in a very funky place. We were running up our phone bills again with a long conversation that spanned East coast to West. Something had been building in me that I’d been trying to shove down for a long time, but I was finally starting to talk about it. I was pushing questions onto Jeff like I never had before, and I could tell it was making him uncomfortable. I was asking him things about heaven and hell and God and being a good person that had him backed into a corner. I am certain he knew where all this was headed, and I was starting to get kind of belligerent about this whole God thing with him, which I’d never done before.

He was standing on the edge of hurting a friend’s feelings with the truth. But lovely people, when a person you care about is asking you for the truth, you give it to them. What he said that night told me that the thing I was missing in my life was Jesus, and that there were simply no other answers to my questions.

When our conversation ended, I wasn’t sure if Jeff and I would ever talk again. Truly. (He said the exact same thing.) But I knew he had been completely, totally honest with me. And that was refreshing, even if it stung momentarily.

I set out on a journey to figure this business out. I always thought anything to do with Christianity was backward, sketchy, and boring. And I discovered that for some people (usually the loud ones) that is the case. But none of those things were associated with this Jesus that Jeff followed. None.

Jeff had opened the door and let me discover for myself that Jesus was the answer to all these dang questions. Every single one of them. And He still is.

Jeff gave me my first bible over a decade ago. I still carry that one…now wrinkly, torn, and tattered. Missing the maps and half the concordance. But I don’t care. I don’t think I will ever get rid of it. Because it reminds me of my friend Jeff and my very ragged search for truth. And how he was an integral part of it. Of who I am today.

When Jeff came to visit for the first time after I was married, he took my husband aside and had a conversation with him. He made a point to tell him, man to man, that we’d been friends—and only friends—for a long time, but he was glad I’d found the one whom he’d been filling in for all that time. Mad respect for that moment.

Now my lady-reader-friends, before you go asking me for Jeff’s number because he sounds like such a great guy… simmer down. He’s all settled down now. He is married to an incredible little redhead who couldn’t be more perfect for him. Her name is Mckayla and I don’t think I could have handpicked a better gal for him myself. She’s brilliant, beautiful, funny, and outdoorsy(!!!) They still live on the West coast and have now gifted the universe with the most gorgeous, chubby little baby boy that you’ve ever seen. Aunty Krysten is madly in love from afar. I’m so happy for their little family and the way they are following after God together. I secretly obviously want them to move straight to Ohio tomorrow so I can hang out with them both and drink pumpkin beer and pretend Ohio winters are as fun as the ones in Oregon.

Jeff's text to me upon opening gifts for his baby boy, Alexander. Priceless.

Jeff’s text to me upon opening gifts for his baby boy, Alexander. Priceless.

Young ladies, if you find yourself in a situation where you have a close friend of the other gender, and he makes you laugh and respects you and encourages you and all that, just pump your brakes. Don’t get all girl-stupid and jump to conclusions. You might just ruin everything. Ask God for a wider lens and zoom out all the way. Just chill for a minute and realize that maybe, just maybe, this person is your Fill-in. You probably have a lot to learn from him. And you–and your future–will be better for it.

Thanks again, Fill-in. I think you did an awesome job.

31 Days of My People: Jamie {4/31}

Middle school is just the WORST. I mean, seriously… there are funky growth spurts and ill-fitting fashion trends. Insecurity and hormones start to come into play. There are mean girls and nerds and jocks starting to emerge. And the lunch room. Good Lord… where does one sit on the first day? How do you walk your shaky, insecure-trying-not-to-seem-insecure self up to a table and dare to sit down? That deal could be a life-changer in and of itself.

Seventh grade was coming to an end at Finland Middle School, and I had just started to become friends with a girl named Jamie. She was funny and nice, which was very rare in the arena of thirteen-year-old girls. On the last day of school, I gave her my phone number so we could hang out over the summer.

She never called. Not once the whole summer.

That was a bummer but when you’re that age, people pledge friendship all the time without coming through, so I chalked it up to being another situation like that.

So there I was on the first day of 8th grade, now worrying about who I would sit with at lunch. Then out of nowhere, there she was. Somehow we found each other in the lunchroom and sat together. I can’t recall who else was sitting at our table, but I can tell you it was an unlikely mix of people. The fringe folk who didn’t really fit exactly into any specific clique. But we were there, together. And just like that, Jamie was My People.

We were literally inseparable from then all the way through high school. We had some other friends as well that became our little band of amigos, but it was always me and Jamie no matter what.

The summer between 8th grade and freshman year we thought we were really awesome. We bought a box of hair dye and shoplifted another (sorry, moms) and locked ourselves in the bathroom of my house. My mom came to inspect the situation, and when she banged on the door and asked what the heck we were doing in there, we told her we were doing facials. Apparently that was a good enough explanation.

Now when I came outta that bathroom with black hair, my mom gave me a twisty-eyed look and some rant about not being old enough to mess around with hair dye or something. But Jamie’s hair?? Oh it was a tragedy. You see, Jamie had the most gorgeous, thick, all-the-colors-of-blonde-and-light-brown hair. The kind that women pay hundreds of dollars to attempt to have. It was beautiful. So when she dyed it black…let’s just say her mom was none too happy about that. She dragged Jamie off to the hairdresser, and after what was probably a few hundred bucks later, Jamie had to endure stripped out, grey hair for a couple of days before it was colored back to a normal shade of light brown. I can’t believe her mom even let us hang out anymore after that.

Nearly every day that summer, we walked several miles to a dollar store, or to Taco Bell, or to each other’s houses. Sometimes we would walk to the COTA bus stop, and ride the bus downtown or to campus (without our parents’ permission, of course.) We would walk around all the weird campus shops that sold tie-dye and “tobacco” pipes and such. We would talk to strange people and once in awhile ride around in their cars. How are we not dead?? 

We thought for sure we looked just like those deep, angsty college girls. After all, one of us had black hair and we both listened to The Doors on occasion. Now I see little teenage gals walking around in the mall or on a campus and they stand out to me like a sore thumb. SO OBVIOUS, kids! You don’t look like a college girl at all. You look like the awkward, insecure child that you are. And PS: Get some damn clothes on. Don’t you know the world is dangerous? 

Yeah, Jamie and I never would have listened to that either.

Throughout high school she had to put up with my boyfriend situation. (Sorry about that, girl!) She was definitely more mature than me. Probably still is. She stuck by me through my flannel shirt phase, my cowboy boots phase, and my red leather jacket phase. Jesus, please help Jamie forget all those times when I was wearing things that clearly must have embarrassed her. Thank you and Amen. 

SO many memories. Our senior spring break trip with another friend included all of the following: jumping on the bed, wet bologna, a stay in a hotel that was apparently known as a crack house and place of prostitution, and hitching a ride with a trucker from Tennessee back to Ohio when our car ultimately broke down for good.

Seriously, how are we even alive?? 

I desperately want to tell you all the details of these memories, but word count simply won’t allow it. Plus, all our stories are much better told with silly voices and exaggerated hand gestures. Come over for dinner sometime and I will gift you with the whole presentation.

As much as all these goofy things stand out, there’s something to be said for growing up with someone. That’s really what Jamie and I did. For over 25 years we have been growing up together, a little at a time. We’ve seen each other through so much stuff of life. Death of loved ones, car accidents, moving all over the country, weddings, good and bad life choices, family drama, and missing each other dearly at certain times.

After high school, Jamie joined the army and went off to boot camp and all kinds of army training schools. I missed her so much back then, and the letters we wrote back and forth were the best thing ever during that time. I was so proud of her but a little lost without my BFF for a while. I would never trade that time apart though, because she was on a cool journey to really find herself and become who she is today. I’m so thankful for that because she’s awesome.

Now Jamie is close to retiring from the Army Reserve, and she just accepted a brand-new job as an RN with Grant Medical Center’s Emergency department (WOOOHOO! You go girl!) I always knew she’d end up in a career where she was helping people, because that’s just what she does.

She’s married now to a great guy, and I had the pleasure of standing beside her in her wedding a couple of years ago. She was a stunning bride, full of happiness and solid in who she was. It was a lovely moment to witness.

Jamie & her husband Dave

Jamie & her husband Dave

When I asked her what she’d like people to know about our friendship, she said: “I don’t ever have to filter anything with you. I can show you the ugly sides of myself and it’s ok and time or distance doesn’t change that AND we always seem to laugh so hard, sometimes I forget that I haven’t laughed that hard until we are together again.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Jamie and I don’t see each other very often nowadays. We have to plan dates in advance and put them on the calendar to make them happen. That’s just part of life. But there’s never a day where we can’t call or text and pick up right where we left off. Because that’s what you do with Your People, friends. That’s one way you know they’re Your People to begin with.

On the day we almost got kicked out of Bob Evans

On the day we almost got kicked out of Bob Evans

I love you, Jamie! You are “Vonderfully Perfect and SOOO COOL!

31 Days of My People: Betty Jo {3/31}

Belcher’s Market, Columbus, Ohio, circa 1983:

Butcher: Here you go, here’s your bologna and your cheeses.

Customer, with toddler on her hip: Thank you, ma’am.

Butcher: Now you go on home now and clean that baby up, you hear me? He is filthy! His feet are black as tar! You go home and put him in the bath and don’t you EVER  bring that baby out of the house looking like that again!

Customer: Yes ma’am. I will. I mean…uh… I won’t…. Thank you, ma’am.

Butcher’s Daughter: Who was that lady, mom?

Butcher: Hell if I know, I ain’t never seen her before in my life. *goes about business at the meat counter*

Butcher’s Daughter: *blink blink*


Just after a funeral, in a Kentucky holler, circa 1985:

Husband of Deceased: Thanks for coming, Betty Jo. It’s been a real long day. Boy, I sure am gonna miss her.

Betty Jo: Well… you know she wasn’t nothin’ but an old whore.

Husband of Deceased: Yeah, I know, but I loved her. Sure will miss her. Good to seeya, Jo. Thanks again for coming.

Betty Jo’s Daughter, not sure what “whore” means, but sure it’s a bad thing: *blink blink*


This was life with my momma, Betty Jo. One minute you were going about your normal business just being a kid, and the next minute you were thrust into an awkward moment that you didn’t quite understand (but you totally knew was awkward.)

But the weird thing about her was this: no matter what she said to anyone, they just agreed with her. It was freaky. Whatever it was, good or bad, no one seemed to be able to argue with what she said. Maybe it was because she just stated the obvious. Or maybe it was because she was plumb crazy. I guess I’ll never know since there was no one around to compare with.

Betty Jo was born in Turkey Creek, KY. Her parents were poor, like everyone else in their universe. She had to quit school after 8th grade because the books were too expensive and so were the clothes to wear. And besides, she needed to go to work to help support the family. She was a real-life coal miner’s daughter, and my Papaw had the black lungs to prove it. She and my dad married young, had 7 kids over a span of 23 years, and I was lucky number seven.

betty jo beautiful

In front of her home in Turkey Creek, KY

Betty Jo, 8th Grade Graduation

Betty Jo, 8th Grade Graduation










She gave birth to me when she was 42 years old. You just didn’t do that back in the 70’s. The way my mom told it, the doctor warned her that either the baby would die or she would die during childbirth. Didn’t faze her a bit. Betty Jo told him that if God saw fit to give her a baby when she was 42 years old there must be a good reason. And here I am, 38 years later, doing just fine.

Well, fine is a relative term, I guess. My momma’s life ended on December 22, 2011. It was a Thursday. It was her 76th birthday. I was in Target picking up last-minute items for my trip to India that was happening in just a few days. Right after that I was headed to Ari’s Diner to pick up gyros and baklava to surprise her with a birthday lunch. Before I was halfway to her, she was already gone.

Nothing has been the same in my life since that day.

I always knew that losing my momma would be hard, but I never imagined the extent to which I would miss her. I never imagined I could miss anyone or anything this much. This missing is by far the heaviest thing I’ve ever carried.

Mostly it catches me in the small moments. When I make a batch of her iron-skillet cornbread. When I see an Avon catalog, which is where she always purchased her perfume. When I see something pretty she would have enjoyed, like a beaded table runner or some flowery stationery. She said you should always be prepared to send a nice card if you need to.

My momma was a butcher at that little grocery store for about 15 years. It was kind of a strange job for a mom to have. But then again, it had its perks. I got to take a cow brain in for show-and-tell once. (Wonder why I didn’t have  a lot of friends??) Sometimes my mom would cut off a thin slice of Colby cheese and give it to me as an after-school snack, and I would walk around the store holding up that big, floppy circle of cheese above my head and taking bites off the bottom. What a little weirdo.

She thanked the Good Lord and cussed like a sailor. She smoked three packs of Salem Lights 100s a day until she had to be on oxygen full-time. She looked through all the sale papers every Sunday. She loved Conway Twitty so much that she sobbed like she’d lost one of her own children the day he died. She was so ironic it was just silly sometimes.

I put that lady through a lot. Can you imagine how tired she must have been after raising 7 kids, with a good part of the final stretch completely on her own? Dang. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. But I had a great childhood. My dad passed away when I was barely five years old, but I don’t feel like I missed out on a thing. She must have been a miracle worker, because we never had much money but I always had great memories. I never lacked a thing.

I picked up a lot of things from being around my mom.  Some bad habits, but mostly good things. I still worry that I wasn’t a good enough daughter. I pray that something in my life made her proud of me. And I wish in a thousand ways that I could have just a few more minutes with her to listen to her gripe about the loud neighbors.  I’d be more than happy to go get 10 for $10 of something I doubt she’d ever need from Kroger. I would give anything to sit with her and listen as she yelled at the TV screen as if the football players on either team were taking her advice.

Your family is your family no matter what. But as for Your People…blood is no prerequisite. But my momma…She was My People. Always will be. I know there’s someone just like her in the ones you call Your People.

Blood or not, you’ve got someone who mothers you and has your heart as fully as Betty Jo had mine. If she’s still with you, take a moment to tell her how awesome she is. Thank her for the ways she made you into the person you are today. Spend some time just doing whatever she’d like to do. Because right now is the only chance you have to show her how important she is to you. This Butcher’s Daughter knows that all too well.

31 Days of My People: Martinez {2/31}

According to Wikipedia, “Jennifer was the single most popular name for newborn American girls every single year from 1970 to 1984.”

Well that explains a lot.

If I start typing in the name Jennifer into my phone, six ladies named Jennifer will pop up immediately. Of these six, I text or talk with four of them on a very regular basis.

I got flowers twice this year, both of them with a card signed by Jennifer. I had to text around to see which one sent them to me. That’s a cool problem to have.

That’s the kind of thing that happens when you’ve found Your People. And today I would like to introduce you to my dear friend, Jennifer Martinez. Feel free to call her Martinez like I do, since the Jennifers are too many to number.

How we met: I bought some teacher books off a lady who’d placed an ad on Craigslist. It would be at least several months until we saw each other again, when we were both taking a class and realized we worked at the same district. And wouldn’t you know it…about a year later, that Jennifer lady moved to my building and started teaching around the corner from me, which is when I realized she was also the Craigslist bookseller lady! Full circle. We found ourselves in many of the same endless meetings each month, agreeing with each other’s ideas regarding teaching. A lot. And that’s how it started.

Talking after meetings turned into lamenting about the things that make our jobs so difficult. Those conversations led to monthly dinners with more of the same mixed in with serious discussions about life, love, God, and fonts. (Deep waters, people). These regular interactions made room for lots of laughter and inside jokes and eventually turned into talking and/or texting every day, especially when she left our building to become her own boss and follow a new kind of dream career. And just like that, without even much conscious effort, Martinez had become My People.

Later on, life took some sharp turns for us both here and there. That’s when stuff gets real, friends. When the sunny everyday of life turns into mostly grey with a side of dark and stormy, you find out quickly who is going to be standing in the rain with you. This girl never wavered. When I refused to hear truth, she spoke it to me anyway. It was just what I needed, and she knew it better than I did.

Some other things you need to know about this chick: She is über creative. Her new career I mentioned? She creates original, awesome teacher resources that are seriously useful and equally lovely. She sells these resources and gives experienced teacher advice through her company, Everything Just So. And let me tell ya, she really likes things JUST so. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title for her endeavors!  Oh and yeah… she did this little thing where she was only one of two teachers selected from the state of Ohio for a national collaboration called The Master Teacher Project! She put in countless hours to develop practical, engaging lessons that can be used by teachers all over the nation to help their students. She’s a real-life superhero with a cute purse, people.

Martinez knows of all the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants, has gorgeous hair at all times, and loves that pretty light teal color, whatever it’s called. We share a love of cilantro sauce, Papyrus stationery, fonts by Kimberly Geswein, and Jesus (probably not in that order.)

When I tried to narrow down exactly what it is I love about our friendship, it turned out the be the exact same thing she was thinking. When I asked her what would be one thing she would want to say about our relationship, Martinez said “Above all else, it’s real. I can be myself with you without fear of judgement and I can tell you anything without fear of it traveling elsewhere. I know what I see is what I get – no pretense, no false motives, just honest care from someone who understands the meaning of friendship and lives it. You’re there when things are pretty, but even more so when life is dirty and messy.”

I would like to eloquently respond with a big, fat DITTO to all of that.

And that’s the stuff, friends. When you get the vibe that there is real going on whenever you’re with someone, then BANGO! You know you’ve found Your People.

Martinez is one of My People, and I am afraid she’s stuck with me. (Sorry, girl!) I appreciate her friendship more than she will probably ever know. I pray that each of you can find a Martinez in your life and somehow convince her to stick around forever and ever.

me and martinez

Join me tomorrow for Day 3 of 31 Days of My People!

31 Days Of…{1/31}

Welcome to my 31 Days 2015! Every year, hundreds of writers around the world link up for a challenge to write for 31 days straight for the month of October on a single topic. There are SO many wonderful ideas out there, but this year, I knew exactly what I would write about. Something dear to my heart. Something I love and want to share with the universe:


31 Days of My People.

We all have our people. You know the ones. Your tribe. The ones who “get” you. The ones you’ve known your whole life. The ones you met recently but would love to spend more time with. The ones you work alongside every day. The ones who live in your house and the ones who live far away and make you miss them dearly. We all have those people. They make up our world. Our memories. Our life, really.

I want to share the awesomeness of My People with you this month. They’re awesome not because they are mine, but because they each have qualities that make them so beautifully unique and admirable and real. I am convinced you will love them as much as I do. I’m convinced we all need our very own People.

My people are the best. The very, very best. They are so, so important to me.

They’re funny and silly and brilliant and deep wells of wisdom. They’re Christ-followers and agnostics. They are old and young, gay and straight. Mommies and Daddies —bio and step and adoptive–and hopefuls and just-fine-without-kiddos kinda folks.

They’re hair stylists and doctors and stay at home mommas (and dads!) and trash collectors and engineers and academics and nurses and nerdy computer people and blue collars and 9-to-5ers.

They’re organic veggies and Lunchables and runners and couch potatoes and pale like me and also every shade of brown and beautiful. My people are corn-fed Midwest, sweet-tea drinking South, and Pacific Northwest sustainable. They are complicated, tender-hearted, thoughtful, moody, opinionated, hilarious, and flawed just right for me.

I believe it’s Our People who truly make our lives. They’re the ones we make memories with. We carry one another’s burdens and celebrate one another’s glorious moments. Sometimes Our People can be ones we don’t even spend much time with, but they inspire us with lives lived with hearts wide open, so we scoop them right into our circles and call them our own.

I hope you’ll allow me to introduce you to some of My People, in hopes that they will inspire you to love your tribe of People with your whole life. (And to reach out and find Your People if you don’t have them quite yet.)

Join me back here every day in October. Tomorrow you’ll meet ONE of my many Jennifers!

PS: If you’d like, you can check out my 31 Days of Moments from way on back in 2011. And you can join the Write 31 Days Challenge too! Check out the details here.


The Thing is Not the Thing

My husband’s primary area of gifting is working behind the scenes. He’s a fixer. He enjoys a task to tackle with his hands, a specific process that works toward an end he can see with is own eyes. So it was never any surprise to me when he signed up to go rebuild neighborhoods after hurricane Katrina, after ice storms in the midwest, after the devastating earthquake of 2010 in Haiti.

He’s worked with Samaritan’s Purse and Vineyard Mercy Response. These organizations are well-equipped and always ready to descend on any area that needs rebuilt after a widespread disaster. So when they get the call that help is needed, they go into action immediately. Volunteers and materials are organized, temporary command centers are established. There’s no time to mess around. They can’t be late. The well-being of entire communities depend on their ability to know what to do, how to do it, and to do it quickly.

My hard-working, task-oriented husband is just the kind of dude they need. And typically, it’s folks just like him who volunteer to give up a week of their lives and vacation time to take on long days of manual labor to help others in need. It’s a really cool thing.

So when you combine the well-oiled machine of a disaster relief agency and teams of folks who are all about gettin’ it done, you’d expect that everyone from the highest person in the organization down to the newest volunteer would be all about the tasks at hand.

But one lesson my husband brought back from his trips tells a different story:

The thing is not the thing.

One of the mission leaders, a man who had been on staff with disaster relief organizations for many years, held that as his mantra: The thing is not the thing.

The first time my husband heard that, he understood what the guy was trying to say, but at the same time, he thought okay, but the thing kind of IS the thing when you need to rebuild someone’s home in a week so they have a place to stay. But it turns out, they were really both right.

The team got the message. The thing is not the thing. The thing is not hanging drywall when the homeowner starts telling you about how she lost her husband in the storm. The thing is not clearing tree branches when some of the folks from down the street need a few bottles of water. Caulking windows or installing piping or rewiring electrical boxes aren’t the thing when a family needs prayer to keep looking for their still-lost loved ones in piles of memories and rubble.

The people are the thing. The thing you’re really there for. Connecting with them, listening to them. helping them understand that no matter what’s been lost, hope can always be found… that’s the thing.

And here’s the deal: What I’m noticing is that the thing is not the thing whether the disaster around us is a hurricane or just a bad day at work. Because it’s true that all of us are fighting hard battles that no one else may know anything about. But the thing is us. Every one of us. The thing is that we all keep that shred of hope, and that we all help others see it in the midst of our big and little disasters, and in our joys and in the plain old humdrum days.

Let Me Be Clear (The Wrong Kind of “Bonding”)


It had been a long day already. Manning my booth at the local festival had made for a super exhausting day. The streets were closed for the event, but the foot traffic was heavy, which meant that my husband and I were sure to run into someone we knew even though we were just hopping across the intersection to grab some grub off the food truck. It happened on the way back, the familiar “Hey!” that occurs when you spot friendly faces.

We stopped to chat with the friends, folks we’d known for years from church. We did the dance of telling why we were there and such, then the conversation came to a screeching halt when he randomly said with a chuckle, “So how ‘bout the fag fest?”

Wait… what??

Silence. Yeah, we’d heard him right. My husband and I had simultaneous looks of disgust on our faces, and we talked over top of each other with our responses to this shocking statement. Where did that come from? Is that really necessary? I don’t think so.

The next 30 seconds were awkward to say the least. The wife attempted to make a quick joke about how her man must’ve had too many wine tastings so far that night, while he himself stumbled over a good-ole-boy type of response to try to play it off. But it was super clear. They’d said something that had obviously rubbed both of us the wrong way.

It’s very hard when someone you know (or think you know, anyway) and have loved and trusted for years says something that kind of changes the way you look at them. The same weekend all this went down just happened to be our city’s LGBT Pride Parade weekend, which is what this man must have been referring to. There was no context whatsoever, just an arbitrary, crude statement, seemingly made in jest. But the words he used. The tone.  And the way he was clearly trying to rally us into his line of thought, and believed himself to be funny while doing it…that bothered me to no end. Just. Yuck. Seconds later, we were walking away, and my husband and I both looked at each other with a sad feeling of disappointment in this friend of ours.

What made this man, a friend we had known and loved for years, think we were going to be okay with him saying this to us? Using language that was clearly meant to be derogatory and relegate an entire group of people to some sort of second-class status? Did he assume that all straight people would be down with this mentality? (Oh, God help us. UGH.)

This wasn’t the first time I’d found myself in this bewildering situation.

I thought back to the times that family members started telling racist jokes or the way they casually used the “n” word like it was an actual way to refer to anyone. Why did anyone seem to think that was okay?

As a teenager, a man came into my store and dropped off a small newspaper, saying “I have something for you, sister,” then promptly walked out. Upon opening it, I realized it was some racist propaganda, published by some “white heritage” supremacy group. Why did he think it would be okay to give this to me? I’ve never even seen that man before.  

And just last summer, when we’d moved into our new home, my first conversation with a neighbor included him running down a description of the neighbors around us. He actually said phrases like “sketchy Mexicans,” “unruly Somali kids” and “THOSE gay people.” Never a kind reference to the families themselves. (The individuals who were, you know, made in the image of God just like we were.) This man JUST met me. Why was he assuming that I’d be okay with any of this?

All of these scenarios are appalling to me. They left me wondering why in the heck these people thought it was okay to speak this way about others to me or to my husband? Is it because we happened to be white and “appear” to be straight? Does that make people think we will somehow band together with them by verbally assaulting someone who looks or acts differently than we do?

Let me be CLEAR.

I’m a woman. That doesn’t mean I am into man-bashing or hearing stories about how “worthless” all men are. (Ask my girlfriends about this one. Ain’t nobody got time for that.)

I’m white. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with you using racial slurs (I am completely fine with asking you to leave my home if you do) or grouping all of “those” people together with sweeping statements about what “they” are like.

I’m heterosexual. That doesn’t mean that I hate or fear anyone who isn’t. Being gay or bisexual or transgendered isn’t contagious, as far as I know.

I’m American. That doesn’t mean I want to discuss people of other nationalities as if they are somehow less enlightened than we are, or act as if all people from a certain country are all the same.

I’m middle class. That doesn’t mean I despise rich people or think poor people are a bunch of lazy bums who just need to get jobs.

I’m a follower of Jesus. That doesn’t mean I vote a specific way or not, or that I in any way hate or feel threatened by people with other worldviews.

I’m human. We are all human. Offending, being offended, and generally hurting each other’s feelings are kind of part of the deal sometimes. I will extend grace to those who say something that offends me. Everyone deserves a chance to make things right. Please do the same for me, as I am probably offending someone right this very minute.

But I will make myself clear, because staying silent about things that matter is a greater offense to me. Allowing someone to think we have found common ground by excluding someone else is dangerous. It perpetuates a myth that we can somehow become closer if we just look around and figure out who is different from “us” then do or say something to feel superior to “them.” That’s the wrong kind of bonding, and I don’t want any part of it.

So if anyone would like to include me in a group to try to bond with, let it be the group of the all-ins. As in we are “all in” because were are all human and all flawed and we are all guilty of bias and bigotry in areas of our lives. We are all in because we all bleed and cry and laugh and try to bond in both healthy and unhealthy ways sometimes. We are all made in God’s image. In all of us there’s a divine center that the Creator himself has put there. Let’s look for that common thread.

We are all in this one big group of being very human, so let’s try to remember that. Let’s understand that when we use our words to divide and classify, it is impossible to bond. Let’s just not tolerate that. Let’s raise the bar in our conversations. Let’s spur one another on toward knowing better and doing better.

I hope that’s pretty clear.