Carolyn – I crush at you!

Carolyn is now married to a wonderful man, but back in college she attracted some real characters. One of them was from a former Soviet republic and was studying at our university. He hung around the periphery of our friend group, flirting (or trying to) with most of us at one time or another. His English was probably fine in an academic sense – he could read and understand everything just fine. But, as is the case for any learner of another language, the customs of casual spoken language were much harder for him to grasp. This led to some hilarious moments, one of which was when he declared his feelings about her by shouting- “I am crushing at you!” Needless to say, this has become a favorite phrase in our friend group. Today for my #WCW I am totally crushing at you Carolyn!!!!

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I went to Wisconsin to visit when our babies were little. While it’s tragic that neither one of us took a picture of our own selves while we were together – having this one is sure special!

Carolyn is one of my hoohah friends who miraculously has become an even closer friend in the years since college. She and Norah were in the room next door to me my freshman year in college. Their shenanigans were infectious and their laughter contagious. The two of them helped educate sheltered me on the joys of 80’s music, scandalizing me with their encyclopedic knowledge of Madonna, Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler, Heart, etc. lyrics. (The fact that I can even name those artists is truly only due to their tutelage.)

We connected further over worship music, history/political science/econ classes, and deep conversations about relationships and theology. Carolyn made it ok to be smart, to do well in school and to enjoy the process of study.  I’ve not met many people who get as excited about whatever it is she’s learning than Carolyn. She still exudes that enthusiasm today – constantly reading and learning new things and always open to fleshing out whatever new content has come across her path with deep, honest conversation.

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Seriously this was the only picture I could find of just the two of us. We’ll need to do better!

We’ve had so many good talks over the years. Most recently we’ve begun talking more over text – most often just shooting out over the cellular waves a cry for help or solidarity in the face of ridiculous kid behavior. But just as frequently we’ve been a lifeline for each other, letting ourselves say the scariest things, the darkest things, the things we’re not sure it’s ok to say out loud. I never would have believed that this kind of conversation could happen over text, but I can’t overstate how life giving and how grounding it has been to know that she’s there on the other side of the phone and even if she can’t respond right away, she will eventually. She’ll hear me, offer sympathy or a kick in the pants, whichever is most needed at the time.

Carolyn has shared much of her story on her own blog, Through the Ardennes, and I won’t go into too many of the details here. I feel privileged to have gotten a behind the scenes look at many of the things she’s written about though – infertility, adoption, trans-racial adoption, special needs, parenting, marriage, and more. She artfully and humorously explores these topics, allowing others a peak inside her journey and pushing us to think outside our expectations.

While she’s always been passionate about racial reconciliation and justice, her heart is becoming ever more attuned to the ways our American culture has set up systems that disadvantage her two black sons. She is one of the first white women I know who challenged me to think differently about what I saw as ‘normal’. She inspires me to speak truth to power and to not comfortably maintain the status quo of white supremacy that too often is masked by ‘normal’.

While she is currently buried deep in the land of toddler and preschool, her schedule dependent upon the whims of the tiny tyrants in her home, she continues to push herself outside of her comfort zone. She has found new ways of supporting her family’s income, has become a student of her children and their diverse needs, has found new hobbies in gardening and making art, stays involved and active in her neighborhood and church, and is a constant source of encouragement and strength to her friends.

You are an amazing friend. Writing this makes me want to hop in the car and brave 95 South to see you. But, since it’s rush hour, I’ll probably just send a text. XOXOXO

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If you want to read more of my #WCW posts, hit the tag WCW to the right, or click on this link. Enjoy!

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Jan, my first bonus sister

This week’s #wcw post is going to focus on my husband’s sister, Jan. It’s her birthday this weekend and I want to celebrate her a bit.

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By far one of my favorite pictures of Jan. What happens when you go running in extreme cold. It also tells you pretty much everything you need to know about her.

By the time I got to know Jan, I was already pretty into her brother. Getting to know her was a bonus. I have rarely met another person so simultaneously generous in spirit, strong in conviction, and sure of her own value. She knows what she likes and what is good for her and she will fight for it, even if (and when – because we all know that a strong woman comes up against resistance every now and again….) others are confused or put off by it.

We had the best time together when we were stationed in Germany. She came and stayed with us for 2 months over the summer while she was in college. Some wondered if that arrangement would actually be beneficial for everyone – small apartment and a long stay. But it was a great, great time. Becca was about 8 months old at the time and a truly delightful baby. Jan loved playing with her and making her laugh. Tom was away a bunch of the time on training exercises and such, so we filled our days with little day trips and longer overnights, exploring Germany’s lovely countryside.

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From Trip Advisor: This train is how most tourists get up the mountain…

One of the things that happened while she was there was that she and Tom decided to run a race together – the Königstuhl race, which is a one-way run up a mountain in Heidelberg. It is a STEEP mountain. It was something that Tom thought would be fun to do and Jan agreed and wanted to do it with him. (Just a side note here – that last sentence is so incredibly foreign to me, I cannot even begin to understand.) So we went and I happily dropped them off and then drove up to the halfway point to cheer them on and then waited at the top. It was a great race and they were both happy with their times. We stuck around for the awards ceremony and were shocked when they called Jan’s name! She had won her division! (Or maybe it was third place, but really, who’s counting?)

Jan uses that same determination and gumption (that’s what I call it!) to take on other incredible tasks too. After their dear, dear grandmother passed away who had knitted all of their Christmas stockings, Jan took it upon herself to be the one making the stockings. And she didn’t do this just for her own children; my Bethany was actually the first one to get a Jan stocking – it is one of the most precious things she has done.

My other sister-in-law may argue that one with me though, because Jan HAND MADE the flower girl dresses for her little brother’s wedding. She had never sewn anything that complicated before, but knew her own mother-in-law could help fill in the gaps, and she just decided to do it! They were absolutely stunningly beautiful.

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Swoon.

Someone with her talent could literally do anything she wanted, but she constantly shares her talents and gifts liberally with her friends and family.  And please don’t take that as anything less than wholehearted generosity – it comes not from a sense of martyrdom or approval-seeking, at least not that I am aware of. She is generous with herself as well, allowing her self the time she needs to recharge, noticing the practices and rhythms that keep her healthy and staying true to them.

Jan, you are only one of the many bonuses I got marrying into your family and I’m so super grateful for it.

Dr. Cait-a-lin

I’m trying to decide where to put these writing assignments I’ve given myself. I still have so many friends I want to tell you all about but keep shoving off the writing as my plate gets ever fuller. When I come up with a plan to do this more regularly, I’ll be sure to let you know!

For today though – It’s Caitlin’s turn. Caitlin is a Hoo-hah friend and if you don’t know what that is yet, read August’s #WCW post here.  We call her Dr. Caitlin because she has her Ph.D. and teaches Anatomy and Physiology. As we approach our forties, it’s both dreadful and enlightening to have an A&P professor at your fingertips.  She would never call herself Dr. Caitlin, by the way, it’s just our term of endearment.

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Dr. Caitlin is the one at the top left. We’re hoohah-ing in her living room!

Caitlin is incredibly brilliant, musically gifted, and one of the most driven people I know. In college, she ran track, played in the pep band, sang in one of the most (if not the most) prestigious choirs on campus, and took crushing courseloads.  Today, her driven nature allows her to tackle the special needs of her children, while taking on leadership roles in academia and in her church.

She’s the kind of person who seems like she never cracks under the pressure. But the beauty of being her friend is that she allows herself to be vulnerable with us, letting us see the messy parts – the complications of her life that no amount of doctoral thesis or athletic training could have prepared her for.

Being Caitlin’s friend means your life is enriched by an incredibly advanced vocabulary (somehow she still uses 3 and 4 syllable words while mothering 2 children under the age of 5 – what is that superpower?!) and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the ways our body works.   But intellectual stimulation alone would never sustain a friendship. Caitlin really shows up with all of herself to every conversation. She’s thoughtful and self-critical, always pushing herself to learn new things about her friends, her family, her faith, her beliefs. She finds the best restaurants, is willing to go on any adventure, still loves silliness, and loves beauty of all kinds.

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Nothing like the beach to bring out the best smiles in everyone.

As a fellow introvert, I also greatly appreciate how she has come to appreciate and honor that part of herself, never apologizing for needing to detach or for desiring to spend the night in her jammies with hot chocolate on the couch with her dearest friends. She knows how to take care of her own soul and models that so well to us her friends and to her darling children.  I love sitting in her cozy living room surrounded by her favorite books, listening to the chatter of her children and the laughter of dear friends.

Caitlin – you are a treasure. The beltway lies between us and interferes with our getting together as often as we would like. Nevertheless – every time is sweet. Love you!

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me and dr. cait-a-lin

A Hoohah for a long overdue #WCW

It’s been forever since I wrote a #WCW post – life’s been full.  But this weekend was my 14th Annual Hoohah – where I gather with 4 of my best friends from college for a weekend.

A hoohah? I know you may be thinking in the words of Inigo Mantoya – “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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Well, yes and no! NOW we know it’s a euphemism for our lady parts, but when we came up with the word for our gathering, we didn’t. Once we realized WHY other people looked at us a little funny when we talked about the hoohah, we decided – what the heck?  The term obviously still applies and so 14 years later – the Hoohah proudly continues.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to my hoohah friends, the women who have enriched my adult life in innumerable ways. Have no fear – they’ll each get their own #WCW – because each woman is a powerhouse in her own right. But for today – the group dynamics  🙂 It’s been 20 years since we all met the fall of our freshman year. It feels insane to think it’s been that long, but I find myself thinking about that time a bunch right now as I have friends sending their babies off to college for the first time.

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Pink Shirts from the First Hoohah

My first memories of Carolyn and Norah was the laughter. After the chaos of moving in and saying goodbye to our parents, my new roommate and I were quietly, shyly getting to know one another, stumbling through conversation – two introverts with intense personalities does not make for a boisterous atmosphere. But next door?! Gales of laughter! Lots of movement around the room, loud chatter – basically fun was being had. Little did I know that these women would eventually become some of my dearest friends.

I don’t remember when I first met Caitlin, but one of my first memories of hanging out with her was when we discovered that we both have the odd talent of being able to speak backwards. It’s a completely useless talent, but strangely entertaining to a limited audience. Hence, our friendship. (Mine’s Lehcar Nirac Tfark in case you were wondering.)

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Pink Hats and a baby belly – another common theme at Hoohahs!

I think I met Sam through Caitlin – they were roommates. And we became fast friends, rooming together the rest of our college time. She taught me how to play guitar and introduced me to all the cool music.

The five of us lived together in different pairings all through our college careers, shared classes, pulled all-nighters, experienced young love and broken hearts, pranked each other, cried on shoulders, took road trips, pulled off surprise parties, went to each other’s plays, recitals, and competitions. I have so many memories from college with these women, but it’s really the relationship since then that feels miraculous.

I graduated a year early and got married and part of me wondered if we’d stay close or if we’d drift. But ever since the summer of 2004, we’ve made it a mission to get together and HOOHAH! We’ve been through the highs and lows together – weddings and babies along with depression and anxiety, infertility, chronic illness, travelling spouses, uprooted families, assorted personal and familial crises of all nature. Our gatherings now also generally include a list of all the ways our bodies are beginning to betray us with the added benefit of Dr. Caitlin’s observations of the wonders of the human body.

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The first (and last) time kids (who weren’t breastfeeding) were invited to the hoohah….

(Seriously – having a PhD in Physiology in the group makes for some fascinating convos.) But one of the things I love about us is that we’ve not tried to relive college life once a year. Instead, we’ve just continued “living” with each other even from afar. We talk about whatever most consumes our thoughts that year. I treasure these friends who know all my history, who will ask about that thing that was going on last year – “Is that still going on? Has there been any change? How are you doing with that?” Jumping back in with these women for a weekend every year has been one of the most life-giving things to my heart.

So, I’ll end this with the ingredients for a successful hoohah, just in case you want to do this with your circle of girlfriends. (And you totally should.)

  1. Name it – you don’t HAVE to use a silly name that may or may not be a euphemism, but I can assure you it will never lose its hilarity if you do.
  2. Chocolate – our favorite is York peppermint patties. Just make sure whatever it is, you bring a ridiculous amount of it.

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    yeah. sugar plays a role at the hoohah
  3. Matching attire – The first hoohah we had shirts. Bright Pink Shirts. With the words “First Annual Hoohah” emblazoned across the chest. And yes, of course we walked all around DC in them. No, we didn’t realize the double meaning at that time. Yes, I felt slightly ridiculous walking around in it BY MYSELF when I had to duck out of the hoohah to say goodbye to my deploying husband. Now we have pink hats! And we wear them, sometimes in public.
  4. Delicious food – this one has become even more important as we have spawn who have ridiculous food restrictions or who just won’t touch food that isn’t beige or who can’t be trusted to remain civilized in a restaurant for more than 5 minutes. We pick yummy, local favorites and eat family style.
  5. Nicknames and just general goofiness – life is full of #$*%$(@.
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    Bring back the silly – then, maybe don’t give the pictures to the blogger?

    Allow yourselves a weekend of nicknames, inside jokes, and not caring if you look foolish. There’s something incredibly empowering about just being yourself with your buddies and allowing that experience to buoy you for weeks afterward.

  6. Keep it simple – usually we just go stay at one of our homes. The husband and kids get to be there too, but usually stay far away from the hoohah zone once the yorks start flowing. We’ve done one where we rented a beach house and we’re looking to do a bigger one when we all hit a milestone birthday – but I think a big reason we’ve been able to keep up the tradition is that we’ve tried to keep it simple (and cheap).

Carolyn, Norah, Caitlin, and Sam – Can’t believe how lucky I am that you’re in my life. I crush at you.

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#WCW Week 4 – the one, the only, Debs

I just noticed something the other week that’s kinda funny. My two best high school friends have birthdays just one month apart. And my college buddies’ birthdays are all clustered in a few months pretty close together too.  Today you get to meet another third of the JMHS Triumverate – Deborah.  It will be fun to introduce you all to my college buddies close together as well when their birthdays are all coming 🙂

So, Debs. Katherine (from Week 2) brought us together at youth group sometime during our freshman year. The three of us stuck close throughout all of high school, stayed in touch during college and were in all of each others’ weddings.  As more and more time passes since those teenage years, I marvel at how we’ve been able to remain close all this time. I do not take it for granted.

But let me tell you about Deborah. As I was pondering what to say, the line from Dirty Dancing popped into my head – “Nobody puts baby in a corner.” That’s how I feel about Deborah; you think you’ve got her figured out and fitting into whatever stereotypical box you have for her and then she pops out and surprises you with something else.  When I met her, I mainly understood she was in the drama crowd and enjoyed singing and musical theater. I thought I knew what kind of person that was. But then, we would play capture the flag or something at youth group and this hyper-competitive, funny-trash-talking side came out and it totally flipped things on me. I was like, wait! who are you? She was an athlete – swimming on the swim team all four years of high school, while simultaneously performing in most of the HS dramas and taking on performances with other theater companies in the community. She was equally at home leading with me at Fellowship of Christian Athletes as she was in full ball gown wowing us all with her powerful soprano.  She also never took herself too seriously. (Great story – we totally pranked our youth group at camp one year. She came out in her Madrigal gown and I had dressed in black formals as a piano accompanist. It was skit night and all we said was that we wanted to perform a song.  We were the song leaders at youth group, so I’m sure they just thought we were going to sing a new youth group song or something. But, when we came out like that, you could almost see the cringing. I started up on the piano with some fancy sounding arpeggio and then Deborah started singing in her best operatic voice. Except we performed the extremely silly DC Talk chorus of “Jesus Freak.” It was great. A huge sigh of relief went out from the crowd as they realized it was ok to giggle at us. I wish there were video. Kinda. Actually, it’s great that was before the age of smartphones.)

She never brought a normal lunch to school – there were no peanut butter or ham sandwiches. Sure, she brought leftovers – but it was always something like tikka masala or baba ganoush (before any of us knew what it was). While the rest of us were daydreaming about sleeping in on a weekend, she was furiously perusing the weekend section of the Washington Post looking for a fun show to attend. She’s never been satisfied with just going with the flow and following the script.

So I guess it wasn’t too surprising to me or Katherine when she came back from a “short-term” missions trip telling us she had fallen in love with a Nigerian man while in India and they were going to get married and live in South Africa. I remember her telling us this and kinda expecting maybe shock and dismay, but getting delight and “of course you are” from us.

And guys – she is doing the real stuff over there!! She and her husband are running an amazing ministry there called Living Springs Faith Ministries, where they are dedicated to the transformation of the townships in and around Cape Town, South Africa.  Their community development efforts are exciting, and challenging, and rewarding. Deborah and Gabriel are the real deal. They have two beautiful children, one of whom has some special needs that have made living far away from their extended family very, very difficult. But, in true Deborah form, she has tackled this challenge like every other thing in her life – with tenacity, grace, and incredible outside the box thinking.

Because of her challenges with her own son, she’s been able to advocate for missionary families and try to communicate with people ‘back home’ on the special accommodations that some families need to live out their purposes.  She’s also never lost sight of the things that are important to her. While parenting two small children halfway across the globe from her family and working to get a non-profit up and running, she completed a master’s degree. Wow!

Debs – you are a treasure. Your willingness to go wherever you’re called and serve your family however they need you in that moment without ever losing sight of who God has said you are is an inspiration. Hugs from the other side of the world and thank you for letting me tell my circle about you.

#WCW Katherine the Great, Katie or Kate. But NEVER Kathy or Kay

I’m so super late writing this one out, but it’s still Wednesday! Today I’ll be bragging on my friend Katherine. I met her at freshman orientation at James Madison High School. Actually, she met me, after introducing herself to my mom, behind whom I was literally hiding, because I was a shy, scared to death 13 year old at the time.  (KJ – does this count as a meet cute? I say yes) She sought me out because my mom was reading a book she liked and was brave enough to actually say hello to strangers. After I got over my dread of everything new, Katherine quickly became my best friend in high school.

We were both pastor’s kids, loved sports, books, and history, and had a penchant for falling in love with youth group boys. It was a match made in heaven.

There are too many things to say about her for just one blog post, so here are the highlights –

She introduced me to my other high school best friend and the three of us have maintained a sweet friendship all these years.

She introduced me to my husband. (We won’t talk about the time she went with him to homecoming senior year. I’m  over it.)

When she called me to tell me she’d been hit by a car, I almost passed out from worry. I still sometimes get a little choked up when I go through a certain intersection.

She wrote letters to me in college – back when email was tedious, phone bills were extravagant and ICQ/IM was our texting service.

She is a brilliant, funny, but I have to warn you, HEARTBREAKING screenwriter. One of her films is on Amazon Prime – it’s called Touched By Grace – and you should watch it now.

She’s now a mom of 6 and is the fiercest mama bear and soccer/baseball/football mom pro out there.

She’s a loyal friend – one who can come over for chicken nuggets and mac and cheese because that’s what the kids will eat.

If you ask her to pray for something, you can count on her to actually do that; it’s not an empty gesture.

There’s a bunch more I could write, but I’ll just leave it there for now.

Love you Katherine!

(Katherine has a public Facebook page for anyone who wants to stay in the know on how she’s doing with her screenplays or just to keep up with her writing career. She’s going places so get in now 😉 Also – none of my friends know I’m doing this. I’ll let them see their post before it goes public. I just want to brag on my people and if they’ve got a public presence, I’ll share it with you!)