Oh, What a Day: Heaven on Earth

Photo by Space, Place and Southern Grace Photography

This is an excerpt from a talk I gave in October of 2016, with a few updated tweaks at the end.  Most aspects of my life now look very different from when I wrote this and my faith has taken some big hits.

It’s actually the hits that made me think of this piece and want to revisit it.  I’ve felt the strain of climbing a mountain lately. Hoping and believing have been exhausting and often disappointing.

I’m in the middle of a freaking mountain, tired and defeated, but I think I’m making the decision to continue climbing on because it’s the only decision that makes sense to me.

And all of this will make more sense when you finish reading the rest. 


At the start of summer 2015 I had been depressed for about a year following a big breakup, and in hopes of distracting myself or giving myself perspective or something, I listened to God when he pushed little unadventurous me to go to Haiti for my first mission trip.  

I was literally crying by myself as I sat alone in the huge auditorium of my former church when I saw a video advertising the trip and decided to go.  I didn’t even stop to consider how I didn’t know anyone else who was going. I just knew I needed to go. 

Since then, I have gone four more times, and I just love it so completely.  Unlike most people who have been to Haiti, I won’t tell you to go and I won’t promise you it will change your life, but I will tell you it has changed mine. 

It wasn’t just the babies who loved me right away or the ones like my friend, Dabens, who withheld their love until they knew I was one of the missionaries who saw them as worth coming back for.  Haiti- the physical place- made me feel so much closer to God. It healed me, truly.

The first time I went we had a little extra time to get away from the site we served and explore, so we made plans to hike up to see the Citadel, an ancient fort built on top of a mountain, the highest elevation in Haiti.  When I found out about this adventure, I. Was. So. Pumped. I had felt randomly called to mountains for a while and this “light two mile hike” sounded like an answered prayer. 

Here’s the thing though: it wasn’t at all a “light two mile hike.”  It was more like a 14 mile roundtrip hike, straight up a treacherous unpaved mountain.  

Listen, I have an entire section of my wardrobe dedicated to the false athletic look, but. I. Am. Not. Athletic. NOT.  So, years later, I am still so amazed that I survived this hike. On days when I’m like “maybe I’ll start being a runner” and don’t even make it to the end of my street, I give myself grace by remembering that I can hike 14 miles up and down a mountain when needed.  

Again, it was pretty much all incredibly steep switchbacks of sliding rocks, covered in goat manure, narrow with no guardrails to keep you from sliding off the side of the mountain.  There were donkeys and motorcycles racing up and down the trail. It was over 100 degrees and no one had brought enough water, as it was a little longer than advertised.  

During every flat stretch on the mountain, there were small clusters of homes far frailer than most seen in the village where we served, each housing happy babies and weathered looking adults.  At times, you almost wished you were still going straight uphill so you didn’t have to be confronted with guilt and shame and the feeling that you couldn’t do anything to help what the world considers the poorest of the poor.  

To make the shame worse, from the bottom of the mountain to about ¾ of the way up, there was a group of Haitian men who followed us, hoping we would pay them to let us ride their frail donkeys to the top.  They all kept saying, “you have only gone 1 km,” even after miles (which almost caused me to push some Haitian men on donkeys off that mountain).  

They would each focus on one of us the entire time, heckling us the whole way up.  My guy was named Willie and his donkey was named Blue Jean. Every few yards he would say, “Jessica, you look tired.  We are here for you. You don’t look like you will make it. I’m worried about you.” I’m pretty sure those were the only English words he knew, for real. 

Hecklers, y’all.  Hecklers! As if we, unlike them, weren’t sweating enough and feeling inferior already, we had people literally staring us down during our misery and telling us we weren’t going to make it.  (But Willie was actually very sweet, though).  

The thing is, I didn’t know if I would make it.  I’m not athletic, my will power is classically the worst, and man was I tired.  People kept dropping like flies, deciding to head down the mountain. Only about 2/3 of our group of 34 ended up making it to the top, and a good chunk of them with the help of a motorcycle or donkey. 

I made it though, me!  Without Blue Jean!!! I made it 7 miles up a mountain, even though many didn’t.  Even though I was discouraged. Even though I’m not strong and my will power sucks most of the time.  Even though people kept telling me it was farther away than it really was. Even though people called me by name, tempting me to take the easy way out.  I made it. Me! I made it because I really, really wanted to. I needed to make it. 

And do you know what I found at the top of the mountain?  The highest point in Haiti? I found the kind of beauty that made the suffering worth it.  

I found the perspective I had needed– from the top, I could see such a far way, over many of the mountain paths I had climbed and the mountain villages we had walked through.  Seeing the view at the top of the mountain, hovering over the suffering, made it harder to pity the people who lived on the mountain, because although they lacked many resources, they climbed to the top of the mountain with ease and got to see that beautiful snapshot of God’s creation every single morning.  

They got to see everyday something my heart wanted long before it knew it existed. Standing on top of that mountain, full of perspective, I can’t say I didn’t envy the people who get to see that view everyday.

At the top, our group celebrated together, because we had finally, FINALLY made it.  Standing up there looking over the island, we felt stronger just by being there. We got to sit together and get much needed rest, the rest we thought would never come.  We looked out at the beauty of Haiti and talked about everyone we loved that we hoped could see that same view one day, the people we wanted to bring back with us. Then we prayed, and just like that we all hobbled back down to Earth, changed, still not believing we were strong enough or worthy enough to see what we had just seen. 

When I think about Heaven these days, I think about my trip to the Citadel, and how alike I imagine the journeys to each are; about how both are places I knew I belonged, long before seeing them. I think about how at first, people told me it wasn’t that far away and didn’t make me aware of how difficult it would be just to get there.  I think about how later, people made it sound like it was even farther away than it really was, hoping I would give up. And I think about how badly I want to arrive at those destinations. I think about how the majority of the journey feels like a steep uphill climb, and the parts that are flat only last long enough for you to look around at the suffering of others before it’s uphill for you again, praying that there’s something better at the end of it all for everyone.  I think about how each journey involves moving towards something so beautiful that it makes suffering worth it.  

Beauty that redeems suffering…  that’s how I characterize God and that’s what I think of when I think of Heaven.  But that’s just my take.  

I think it is so unfortunate that many people try to sell faith as something that will make your life easier.  It won’t. It doesn’t. Instead, if anything, for me it makes it more difficult to reconcile how difficult life always seems to be.  Even when I’m in periods of life that don’t feel like a roller coaster, I’m acutely aware here are people suffering all around me at any given point in time.  It’s everywhere, it’s all around me. I don’t need my faith because it makes it easier now, I need my faith because it reminds me that someone designed something so much better– a higher high than the world’s worst lows.  

I need my faith, even still, even now, when it seems like such a difficult thing to cling to because it reminds me Someone greater than me sees all the same suffering I see and cares.  Really cares.  

So I’m hiking on, with no idea if it will be worth this hard ass journey to pursue heaven, but being brave enough to hope really earnestly that it is. 

Oh, What a Day: A Day at the Races

Photo by: Space, Place & Southern Grace

My younger self was a lot of things: chubby, overly enthused, perfectionistic, eager to please, wise beyond her years yet still naive AF about some things.  I really must say that as an adult, I love younger me. I cringe daily at the facebook statuses she made, yes, but I love her.

She could have grown up to have daddy issues, but she didn’t.  I don’t think. I do tell my husband we should invite his dad on pretty much every date with us though, so???

But glaring malfunction?  No.

She could have had mommy issues, but she didn’t.  I don’t think. I mean, I have issues with my mom that I am continuing to discover.  But, again, no glaring malfunction.

But, what I mean, I guess, is I never went out searching for someone to fill those roles for me, which is sometimes a thing people do.  While I never sought it, people have tried to do that– fill that void for me– at least on the Mom front.

While I have shared some about my admittedly confusing family dynamics, there is still a lot I haven’t shared.  

My stepdad is my “dad,” as you may know.  

My eccentric ex step- step mom is a new character, I think.

By “eccentric” I mean she had some very serious, very obvious mental health issues she needed to work through.  

There isn’t a word for the spot on the family tree taken by the person your stepdad– who has temporary custodial rights of you– marries.  So I always just called her by her name, which in the style of JVN per his recent memoir, I will keep undisclosed.  

Her relationship with my Dad went from zero to sixty, and from the first I did not like her.  I thought she was a show off, I thought she wasn’t trustworthy, and I questioned her jumping into a relationship with someone with five kids so quickly and completely.  

She moved in with us only months later, abandoning her home, job, and life she had built hours away from where we lived.

And then she and I fought a lot.  

The first fight I remember occurred when I was struggling to nail doing a backbend in my living room, and she came in and showed off how she could do one.  I told her that coming in and showing me how she could do it breezily when I was struggling to learn myself was hurtful, and felt like she was rubbing it in my face.  I SPOKE MY TRUTH.  

I don’t remember what she said, but I know her reaction was disproportionate to my articulate and not unpolite statement.  Aka, it was cray. “Backbend gate” gave me the first warning signs that she was a less than stable person.  

My Dad had told my sisters and I that we should give her grace, because she had a challenging life prior to them coupling.  And she had.  

Among other things, she had been divorced fairly recently, had experienced many miscarriages and had even had the unfortunate experience of giving birth to multiple stillborn children.  My Dad was widowed and had five kids and I’m sure she saw us as a great chance to have a family in one fell swoop.

Except I was wildly resistant to that.  Per the Jessica then Tincher now Rukavina mantra, people aren’t supposed to be used to replace other people.  Even in the eighth grade I knew that.

It wasn’t just the angsty “YOU’RE NOT MY MOM” thing my sisters often yelled (yell) at me when they were (are) mad… it was also me understanding that you should have healthy and realistic expectations of people.   

Again, I love younger me.

Per my resistance, she would do things like plan special one-on-one outings with each of my four sisters to build goodwill but never with me.  Yes. It was blatant.

My husband often marvels at my knack for setting boundaries.  If someone mistreats me, I am politely done with them. My relationship with her is where I first learned that.

Once, she slapped me in the face– I can’t remember why.  I turned to my Dad, told him that I was a kid and she was an adult, and that I was going to leave and he needed to deal with it.  Boundaries.

When she later came to my room to apologize I told her I didn’t want an apology, I wanted her to start changing her behavior so she didn’t need to apologize all the time for flying off the hinges.  Boundaries. Her response was to call me something akin to a “holier-than-thou princess” and literally bent to the ground and kissed my feet repeatedly.

When she lost it, which happened often, sometimes she would start a rampage where she would disclose graphic bits and pieces of her early trauma in great detail to make me feel sympathetic for her.  I would say: “I’m sorry that happened to you, but I am a kid and I don’t need to be hearing this right now.” Boundaries.

Sometimes she would even slap or punch herself in the face in front of me and my sisters, to the point of giving herself blackened eyes.  Yes. And then sit in the front row of church that week and cry, as though she had been battered, instigating gossip within our small congregation.  

That was my childhood.  

It toughened me, and taught me about boundary setting. 

Brené Brown, the She-hero that she is, says something likeeee, “It’s a lot easier to be empathetic if you are boundaried”.

This was the most true thing in the world for my relationship with my ex-step-stepmom.  Once I moved away for college and wasn’t quite as enmeshed in the dysfunction anymore, it was a lot easier for me to empathize with her past and (then) current struggles.  

In my second semester of college, I made the interesting choice to invite her and my Dad to my sorority’s annual “Mom’s Day” at Keeneland.  To my shock, they actually came. It was the first time in my entire life that I can remember having someone there for me at any kind of “parent’s day” event… ever.  Ever. 

Uncharacteristically, they didn’t argue with one another.  Uncharacteristically, we didn’t fight with each other. They bought me a couple of cocktails, which made me feel very cool because I was only 19, and we had a weirdly good day.  Honestly, it made me hopeful that she was getting better, they were getting better, things were getting better.

My expectation wasn’t that she could become a mother figure for me, but instead that she would become someone I could find common ground with.

The very next week my best friend, Katie, drove me home to our shared hometown for Easter break.  On our way home, I called my Dad to make sure they would be home because I have never had a key to his house and didn’t want to wait outside.

When he answered, he informed me that she had just left that morning.  After saying she needed to take her mom to a doctor’s appointment, she had returned to the house with her mom, her best friend, her best friend’s parents, and the police and said she was leaving for good.

There were no goodbyes; in fact, there was a “no contact order” so my sisters and I have never heard from her since.   She tried being their mom for about five years and then she left, never to be heard from again. 

You know what’s weird?  I can forgive her.  

For often being a nightmare to live with.  

For being overly competitive.  

For being furious with me for setting healthy boundaries.  

For potentially giving my sisters and I secondary trauma, unapologetically.  

For leaving.

For everything.

Because boundaries.  And therapy.

However, I don’t think I will ever enjoy a day at Keeneland again.

Waiting On Miracles

My Mom, in all of her glamour shot glory.

I feel like I need to start by saying this: this story mostly isn’t about me– it is about a crisis my family is going through right now that has triggered some of my hard feelings from a long time ago.  In other words, I understand that my feelings, while important (everyone’s feelings are important), are the least important right now. With that said…

One of the best, most complicated days I have ever experienced happened just a few months ago in a hospital room in Cleveland, Ohio, of all places. 

My brand new husband and I had just driven about seven hours to visit his brother, Mark, who was hospitalized and awaiting a liver donation.  

Talk about a whirlwind of a six months… after an untimely diagnosis of an aggressive form of liver cancer, and a subsequent surgery to remove part of his liver, there were complications.  Thus we needed a liver ASAP.

It wasn’t possible for him to get a transplant in Kentucky, but thankfully a place in Ohio had agreed to do the surgery and he was promptly transported there by jet.  It was stressful, scary, and hopeful all at once. 

For those who have never had a loved one need an organ transplant, I can’t paint the picture of what that weird waiting game is like– desperately hoping someone will literally die so your VIP has a chance to live.  

This was unfortunately familiar ground for me.  When I was 10 years old my mom, a 29 year-old mother of five, needed a liver transplant.  She needed one but she never got one. She died three days before her 30th birthday, after being on the organ waitlist for months.  

When we got the news Mark needed a transplant, I had all of the anxiety that comes with knowing firsthand how the story could end, while hoping and hoping and hoping it would have a different outcome from my Mom’s.  

Thankfully, a lot has changed since 2001; for example, it is now possible to donate half of one’s liver to a transplantee.  Two people can live, perfectly healthy, each with half of the same, divied up liver that will continue to grow like the mutant super-organ it truly is.  

Although many people (including one of my literal saintly friends) offered to undergo testing to see if they could be a potential match for a partial liver transplant, my brother-in-law really needed a whole liver because he needed a particular vein to be transplanted, too.  

All of this brought us to the Cleveland Clinic, a fantastic hospital that took charge quickly. 

Within AN HOUR of us arriving to Mark’s hospital room, he got the call on the landline in his room.  They had a potential liver. He was getting the transplant, it was all happening the very next day. And we got to be there, Sean and their dad and I, when he got the call.  We got to be in the freaking room when someone we love got a call that told him he had a fighting chance to live a long, happy, and healthy life.

We got to see a little more light zoom right back into his body. 

The only thing I’ve ever experienced I could compare that day to is holding a niece or nephew after they were born.  It felt like a beautiful freaking miracle of fresh, new life and it turned the world back into a place where good things happen.

We.  Were.  Ecstatic. 

But also.

Grief is complicated.  (Understatement of the century, I know).  

When my Mom died I was 10 years old and I did not have a real chance to grieve.  Instead, I had four younger sisters to help out with (the youngest being only 2 years old), and the impending obstacle of freaking middle school to endure.  

When you have four younger sisters to change diapers for and fight over one bathroom with, a girl cannot get a single moment to herself to think about her complicated existential angst.  Nope.

Instead, 19 years later all of the grief I never got a chance to really experience for my mom hit me when someone else I love got the great big miracle she didn’t get.  

I was the happiest I have ever been, and the saddest I had ever been, and felt guilty for even thinking about myself and being sad at all.  

That’s what grief can do to you.

It can hibernate and pop up when you least expect it.  When you get the miracle you want, it can cause you to think about all of the miracles you didn’t get but really, really needed.  Or the ones you still need and are worried will never come because– by definition– they usually don’t.

Watching Mark’s friends and family rally behind him and make sure he got the best possible care made me wish everyone in this crazy difficult situation could have a superstar team like his; in particular, it made me so incredibly sad my Mom didn’t have the same resources.  Seeing him get a transplant he direly needed after a relatively short wait time brought back painful memories of the months she waited in agony in her own hospital bed for a liver she would never get.  

Yes, God has granted major life-defining, death-defying miracles in front of your tear-filled and wonder-stricken eyes.  But also, the rug has been pulled out from you a time or two, too, and you can’t forget or completely forgive that either. 

Real talk: it makes it hard to be adequately thankful to God for giving you the thing you begged him for when you remember you are still a little pissed with him.

That’s how my husband and I (because I speak for him sometimes) have collectively felt since we heard about his brother’s diagnosis last New Years Eve, although he actively tries to not be angry.  I don’t try that hard. I’m honest and I’m kind of fed up. I tried not to be for 29 years, but I’ve hit my upper limit for tragedy and I just can’t even

Since the transplant, unfortunately, Mark has had more complications and recent biopsies found more cancer cells.

God undeniably sent magic.  He sent a miracle– really a whole series of miracles for Mark to get a transplant.  But before there was a miracle, there was a cancer diagnosis, and after the miracles, there was more cancer. 

Our family is stuck in the WHY?  Why did it have to be this way? (PS, this is rhetorical. Trite descriptions of the mysteriousness of God and his plan need not be sent to me right now because I honestly could not handle it, please please please and thank you so much). 

We have to pray and we have to hold out hope that strong, brave Mark will be cured and kick cancer’s ass once and for all, but we don’t have to like that we have to hope so hard; we don’t have to like that we live in a world that needs so many miracles.

I will settle for one more though, and am thankful in advance for it.

Oh, What a Day: The Day I Was Schooled on Humility

I have been on a few mission trips in my life and have personally learned so much from them; however, I also have a lot of complicated feelings about them I am still working through.

Something I have understood since I returned from my first mission trip in 2015: it is far more difficult to live on a mission to serve others any chance you get than it is to take a week long trip to serve somewhere a plane ride away.  

It is easy to want to help but hard to be open to being inconvenienced.  

For me, asking a person if they are hungry in my own city is a lot more intimidating than offering a snack to someone who simply looks hungry in another country.  

For me, talking myself into pausing to offer help whenever (and wherever) I see it is needed is much more difficult than simply resolving to be available to do anything asked of me during a window of paid-time off work.

For me, committing to a weekly service commitment at my own church is more daunting than going to a country I have never been to before to assist people who, for the most part, cannot understand me and who, likewise, I cannot understand. 

All three of those things are difficult for me, but I push myself to do them sometimes.  Not as much as I should, but I try.  

I try because I believe in the teachings of Jesus, but probably more so, I try because I have seen people who live that way and I want to be like them. 

My friend, Lindsey, is one of those people.  The woman is on a mission.  

A couple of years ago, we traveled together to Chicago for a conference– her first time in the Windy City!  

Aside from the conference, the only thing she expressed interest in doing was helping hungry people.  Oh, and taking photos at Millenium Park, naturally. She did not go to Chicago for a mission trip, but she did choose to put a mission behind our trip.  That is who she is! 

Therefore, our free day in the big city consisted of taking a few photos at “the bean,” sitting on a bench by the lake for a really long time, and then wandering around with the hope of feeding some bellies.  

We did not have a real plan and it was intimidating.  At the end of the day, we only talked to and fed two people; however, the lessons I learned that day were ones I will sincerely never forget.  I learned more in one day on the streets of Chicago, talking to one under-resourced man in particular, than I learned on a couple of my trips to developing countries.  

As we were walking and psyching ourselves up to approach someone, we saw a man with a sign on a corner across the street from us.  Resolved, we stopped in a McDonald’s and as we were purchasing cheeseburgers, brilliantly brilliant Lindsey said something I had never thought of before… “are you sure he is hungry?”  She said this not because she wanted to save $1, but because she wanted to make sure, if we were going to meet a need, we knew what the real need was. Again, brilliant.  

Am I the only one who would have assumed a person holding a sign on a street corner would be hungry? 

After we crossed the street hoping to feed a presumably hungry belly, this was the tune of the dialogue:

Us: “Hi there, are you hungry?”

Man: “Kinda hungry… depends on what you have.”

Us: “Oh, we have a cheeseburger.  Would you like that?”

Man: “I think so. (Pause)  See, the thing is I got all of my teeth pulled two weeks ago, so I can only eat soft things.”

Us: “Oh, that sounds super painful!”

Man: “Yeah… a lot of people think I’m an asshole when I say I don’t want what they offer me, but it just hurts to eat a lot of things.”

Me (I am pretty sure Lindsey does not say bad words, unless she is in a real pinch): “Well, you do not seem like an asshole to us.”

HE DIDN’T HAVE TEETH.  He was hurting and did not have teeth.  Of course he was going to be picky– he had to be.  

And he was called an asshole for it.  

This back and forth made me stop and rethink a previous encounter I had in my own city when someone who seemed to be without access to food told me they only wanted the food I was offering if it was chicken.  In the moment, I had thought (honestly) they were ungrateful and overly picky. Maybe they were, maybe they were not. I will never know because I did not ask questions. Instead, chickenless, I just moved along with my day.

What Lindsey tried to teach me, this Chicagoan man drove home.  We cannot actually meet needs until we take the time to learn what they are.  Sometimes we think we know the problem and the solution but we don’t know what we don’t know.  Often, we are naive to our own biases; completely unaware of our own blindspots.  

This conversation woke me up to the fact that I, as a person with relative power and privilege, need to ask questions of the people I am hoping to help- whether it be by voting, or volunteering, or giving money to a cause- instead of assuming I know enough of the story to prescribe the solution.  

These conversations are hard.  Really, really hard.  Learning to eat my “I know better” instinct is honestly pretty dang difficult, too.  Thankfully, (praise Jesus!) the Chicagoan man who schooled me on humility taught me the importance of wading through discomfort to ask and learn, instead of prescribing and fixing. 

I’ll forever be thankful for him. 

(And for Lindsey, my hero). 

Oh, What a Day: The Day My Best Friend Found Me

I don’t believe in love at first sight.  Except, I kind of do.

I was there the day my best friend, Katie, met her husband, Shane.  We were standing up to leave a coffee shop as he took the stage for an open mic night.  With no shame, he called our asses out and said we needed to stay until his set was over.  He totally and undeniably loved her from the moment he saw her. They have been married for almost eight years now and have two kids.

Somehow their oldest is the same age that Katie and I were when we first met.  Life. Is. Getting. Too. Weird.

Shane loved Katie the moment he saw her and the thing is– I totally did, too.  

A different kind of love but YOU GET IT.

When Katie rolled up into Camden Station Elementary School in the second grade, she had thick wiry hair and purposefully mix-matched socks.  I knew in an instant that the new girl from Connecticut was destined to be my BFF.  

I knew from the moment I saw her that I needed that brand of quirky in my little world. 

She, on the other hand, was reluctant (if not resistant) to becoming best friends.  Maybe it was my over-eagerness. Maybe it was the persistence with which I insisted she learn cheers during recess every dang day.  Maybe it was my purple plaid “Pocahontas-y” jacket I wore without fail. Who’s to say?

We both remember the day we actually, for real for real, became best friends for life after months of me insisting we do so.

We were in either the second or third grade.  It’s hard to say for sure which grade we were in because we were each in Ms. Gaddis’ class both years.  And it was 22 or 23 years ago. You lose track.  

Our second/third grade class had spent the day going on a field trip to Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo, an Australian themed petting zoo-ish situation.  Yes, you can pet KANGAROOS in Kentucky. Kangaroos aside, this was a super special, significant field trip because it was forever away– at least it felt that way.  

Imagine being the bus driver for that trip and driving 60 or 70 second and third graders long distance.  I can’t. Bless them.

I recently looked it up and Kentucky Down Under was really only like an hour and a half from my elementary school.  But it felt soooo farrrrrrr awayyyyy to elementary school kids.  

It was so far away, in fact, that our parents had to pick us up because the buses weren’t scheduled to get back from the trip until after school was out for the day.  Field trips were never like that! Never!

Guess whose parents definitely, maybe forgot to pick them up and therefore sealed their fate to be forever friends?  


While we waited for them to get there, in the age before cell phones, we sat on the OG Camden Station Elementary School playground, in a little cove next to the fire-pole thingy.  Katie took apart her little woven keychain made out of long plastic strips that she had learned to make in brownie scouts and taught me how to put them together.  

That’s how it all started, folks.  That’s the story.

It was unusual for one of Katie’s parents to not be there promptly.  I was really lucky they forgot to pick her up for a while in this particular instance.  I got Katie and her whole family out of the deal.  

Unlike my Bestie, being stranded was something that happened to me a lot when I was growing up.  A lot, a lot. Over the last two plus decades, Katie and her family were my saving graces more times than I can remember.

As itty bitties, her parents swooped us up from a great many gymnastics classes, cheerleading practices, and shopping trips to Wet Seal (again, bless).

Her Mom relearned Pre-Calculus so she could save me from failing the class in high school, at which time I had just moved and been forced to transfer to another school in our county.  Seriously, she spent hours and hours and hours helping my ass learn Pre-Calculus and her daughter didn’t even go to my school and wasn’t taking that class yet.  

In graduate school, after her parents moved to Florida, they continued to invite me to come down for Christmas with Katie, her husband and their kiddos.  

When Katie and Shane’s daughter was maybe a year old, I kept her overnight once so they could have a staycation.  I definitely got their car, which I had borrowed for car-seat purposes, towed from my apartment complex accidentally.  They went and got it and didn’t even let me reimburse them for the costs.  

After graduate school, Katie’s parents bought a second home in Lexington for when they came up from Florida to visit Katie and her kiddos.  I rented their upstairs bedroom and was their part-time roomie for two or three years until I got married.

On occasion, I have learned the hard way the importance of being really careful about who you let find you when you are forgotten or lonely or feel lost.   

In the second (or third???) grade, I got really lucky that Katie was the one who found me. 

When my class went to Kentucky Down Under for a field trip, petting a kangaroo was only the second coolest thing that happened to me that day.  And that, my friends, is saying something. 

Oh, what a day.  

Oh, What a Day: The Day I Didn’t Kiss Him

Last week I shared about my first date with my husband.  This week we are jumping right along to date number three, which was just as awkward as date number one and almost as awkward as date number four.  Yes, somehow it got worse. 

Date number two was comparatively uneventful.  The only notable point to be made about date two is that I took him to my favorite coffee shop, which I frequent more than is fiscally responsible or healthy.  This is a big deal because I had only taken my other two Bumble dates to another local coffee shop unofficially (but kind of officially) designated for awkward blind dates in my town.  Instead, Sean got to go to my place.

Between dates two and three I’m not sure what happened in my brain, however, after about six months of abstaining, I got the notion it was safe to start drinking alcohol again.  I was eating more and crying less so the occasional beer didn’t feel like a terrible life decision anymore. 

Since I had mentioned before that Sean kind of reminded me of comedian John Mulaney, when Sean asked what I thought we should do for date three I proposed we drink bourbon and watch one of John Mulaney’s Netflix specials at my house.  Did I drink bourbon? Never. But since I was starting to drink again, it felt like a good enough time as any to change my personality and pick up a new drink.  

I also never had boys (or men) come over to my house, by the way.  

It was a lot of weird choices and I didn’t really consider how weird this all was until about the same time he pulled into my driveway.  Then it all hit me as he knocked on my front door. And stuff got weird.

He loved the John Mulaney Netflix special.  Of course he did– he is, as I previously said, kinda John Mulaney-ish.

Meanwhile, I drank my little Woodford and ginger beer business, sitting mostly silently, internally freaking out about how I had invited a man to my house to netflix and not chill.  BUT DID HE KNOW THERE WAS NO CHILL? 

But kissing a new person was a terrifying prospect for me.  Guys, I cannot stress this enough: I felt pure terror.  Once you start kissing someone, you get on board a roller coaster of emotions and expectations, and that was too much for a little anxious Jessica who just got off that roller coaster with someone else not too long ago.

No.  No, he didn’t know that because this was America in 2018.  If you invite a boy (man) to your house on a third date, I have learned they will assume you will at least kiss them.

Cue Sean.

Just as John Mulaney got to the middle of a pretty crude bit wherein he was explaining an interaction he had with a homeless woman, Sean decided to put his arm around me.  I can’t repeat what it was John Mulaney said because it was lewd — which made it extra awkward that Sean chose this point to put his arm around me.

You need to know Sean denies he put his arm around me then, but I remember everything always and it totally was.  My memory doesn’t play around.


Sean: “Well, I just saw that there isn’t a lot of time left on the clock and I knew I wanted to put my arm around you.  I knew if I was going to put my arm around you it needed to be now.”

So, fair enough I guess.

Except his arm was now around me, while we were on my couch, on our third date.  And I was freaking the eff out. (As previously mentioned, it was actual terror!)

I hugged my knees to my chest and sat up perfectly straight, like a true awkward weirdo.

End scene for John Mulaney: I immediately popped right up off that dang couch lickety split and proceeded to move all around my living room and kitchen and mapped out in the greatest of detail everything for a Harry Potter themed party I had hosted there about a year prior.  

He knew where the sorting hat went and every detail about all three of the cakes I had made.  He got to hear about where I put the house points jars and the handmade golden snitch ornaments and more.  Lots more. Because Harry Potter was the first thing that came to mind when I wanted a reason to get off the couch and release nervous energy.  


Then, after I ran out of Harry Potter party related facts, I abruptly– and literally– sashayed to the door and said, “and here’s the door.”

I said that.  Out loud. It happened!

When he got over his probable shock and made his way to the door, he hugged me and seemed to be angling for a kiss; I shut that down real quick and pretended not to notice in my own not-at-all-smooth way.

Sooooo, ummm, yeah.  That was date three with my husband whom I liked (and now love).

Oh, what a day.  

We went on a fourth date, where I finally consented to letting him kiss me.  It was just as weird as date three when I did not let him kiss me, in case you were wondering.  Get ready to hear about that made-for-cringey-tv relationship moment next week. 

Oh, What a Day: Our First Date

As I previously disclosed, I met my husband on Bumble. Yes, Bumble.

This was after my former therapist encouraged me to muscle through heartbreak and try online dating. It was a very interesting time in my life.

I was majorly depressed, barely ate, and cried sporadically– in private and in public. Because of all of this, I was abnormally skinny and had a drier than usual sense of humor.

That is the version of me my now husband inherited.

Nothing about our profiles suggested we would be a match. Truly…

His Bumble profile said something like this: “I love bourbon and craft beer, reading, running, and hanging out with my dog. Professionally, I spend most of my time in Eastern Kentucky defending coal companies.”

My profile said something like this: “I love Jesus, reading, exploring coffee shops, and hiking. Baristas are really nice to me. INFJ. I don’t run, and I don’t like dogs. There, I said it.”

What I did not say: I don’t currently drink alcohol, and I am a liberal woman who isn’t particularly down with defending coal companies. Nevertheless, those things were true, too.
Despite all of this, we matched!

I was skinny and swiped for him, so I was promising enough in his book. He had a job and went to a good school, so he was promising enough in my book. We both liked reading. When you are 28 and 30 that might as well be enough. (Don’t come at me).

As you may know, on Bumble, the girl has to make the first contact.

My opening line: “What do you do when you are not defending coal companies in Eastern Kentucky?”

His response: “When I’m not defending coal companies in Eastern Kentucky, I’m defending coal companies in Western Kentucky.”

Guys, we got married a year and four months later. Life is weird.

After a week or so of periodic messaging, we agreed to meet at a local sports bar, Winchell’s– his choice.

When I walked in he was already seated. To be honest, he looked older than I had anticipated. Internally, I briefly questioned if I had been catfished. I now know I wasn’t– his hair is just prematurely salt-and-pepper. He blames law school.

Before I got around to hello, I said: “I’m new at this online dating thing and I didn’t remember to take a screenshot of your profile to send to my friends. Please don’t murder me.”

I said that.

His response, after a long pause, was: “ok.”

I sat down in my depressed “I barely have the energy to eat anything, so I should probably only put good stuff in me when I do eat” state, and briefly glanced at the menu before asking the waitress what semi-healthy items they had to choose from.

A BLT. That was the healthiest thing on the menu. So that is Winchell’s.

Sean later told me this was the point in which he kicked himself because he thought he had already blown it.

This love connection was clearly off to an amazing start.

Some more highlights from date one:

He passively mentioned his Mother in the past tense, which caused me to latch on and ask if his Mom had died. This turned into me disclosing that my Mom had died as well, and us talking about the untimely deaths of our Moms. Light, right?

I, the girl who was paranoid about being murdered, mentioned I lived very close to where we were. This caused him to ask me the name of my street, as he was in the process of closing on a house in the same neighborhood. Like an admittedly naive noob, I told him.

Later, I proceeded to describe the two houses on either side of me… one was painted neon yellow on only one side and the other had grass up to my knees. He made a point to let me know I had given him enough information to find my house.


It is entirely possible he only proceeded to date and marry me for the sole purpose of saving me from being murdered by less honorable Bumble dates. Or maybe it was because he bought a house in my neighborhood and it was super convenient. Who is to say?

At some point I also mentioned that, while a warm person, I am not a hugger. (I don’t need more opportunities to be awkward, okay?).

After our server asked us if we needed anything approximately three times after Sean had paid the bill, I abruptly got up to leave.

In the parking lot, I realized that while the date had been real awkward (thanks to ME), he was pretty okay. I talked myself into uncharacteristically hugging him so that he would know that I wasn’t not interested.

As he did with the whole “you know, you just told me how to find your house” narration, he commented about how I had hugged him despite saying I’m not a hugger.

So then I reached my upper-limit of awkwardness and probably just ran away or something. I don’t know what I did.

A few days later, we agreed to meet again the following week after Thanksgiving festivities wrapped up. We did not communicate much until the day after Thanksgiving when we both texted each other at the exact same time.

I don’t think it was an instant love connection on either side. Instead, I’m pretty sure we both thought this is kinda weird, but it’s kinda working.

And we are kind of married. (No, but we are actually full on married).

And we are kind of obnoxiously adorable. Evidence: the stories on my personal instagram account. My husband has become a D-list local celebrity and gets recognized as “the boyfriend,” by strangers in Lexington coffee shops. He has admitted that he secretly loves it.

And when you are married and adorable, however obnoxiously, you don’t need to make up a story about how you met.

I am grateful for our awkward little meet-cute.

And I’m even more grateful he kept his promise and did not murder me. At least, not yet…

Oh, what a day.

Just wait until you hear about our next few dates.

Oh, What a Day: The Day My Therapist Told Me to Stop Dating Church People

You have heard it before and I will tell you again: I think everyone should at least try therapy.  

By try, I do not mean go once to say you did it and leave in a huff because you do not feel anything was accomplished.  By try, I mean go consistently at least three times, even if it feels uncomfortable and unproductive, and be open to it when you do go. 

Personally, over the last few years, I have seen three professional therapists and two lay counselors.  Of those five, I have only gotten along with two: one professional and one lay counselor. Forty percent– not an outstanding pass rate! 

You will not always like your counselor.  Not all counselors are good at what they do.  Similarly, not all clients are good clients. 

I, for example, have a Master’s degree in Counseling.  I am not a good client.  I am also an INFJ on the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, so I think AND feel a lot.  I am a lot to throw at a counselor. 

I have gotten a lot of good out of going to therapy, even when the therapist was (in my opinion) awful. Oftentimes, yes, they offered poor advice and misconceived observations that were unhelpful and sometimes even infuriating; however, thinking through my strong reactions to their words was always productive. 

However, one of the therapists I did not care much for ended up changing my life.

I started seeing her at the pinnacle of my life imploding into a shit storm.  At least, that is how I felt. Dramatic, much? 

When our sessions began, I was devastated about a relationship that had kinda just ended and also kinda never came to be.  Yup, one of those.

Also, in the middle of that depression, my car died.  I had no savings. I had ZERO extra dollars to make car payments.  I was in a really rough spot in a lot of areas of my life at once. So I had to take an hour plus long bus ride to get to my therapy sessions, located only a few miles from my office.  Or, alternatively, I had to ask my friends to pick me up from work and drop me off at therapy. See? A shit storm.

This particular therapist was an advice giver.  Not all therapists are, and my favorite ones usually are not.  Her advice was not for me to take the bench on the dating scene while I got the rest of my life together.  Instead, to my surprise, she told me I should muscle through and keep dating– even if I did not particularly feel like it.

She said I just needed to stop trying to date people I met at church or churchy places.  From hearing about this isolated dating interaction, she said it seemed like dating within a group of people I already knew was toxic for me, especially when there were so many expectations packed in because of religion.  Church boys can actually be jerks sometimes. That is what she said (in so many words).  

I really did understand where she was coming from, to a degree; however, meeting “the one” in church, as you may know or can imagine, is a hard dream to give up for a single, 27-years-old Christian girl living in the Bible-belt.  If not in church, then where?  

She suggested I try dating apps.

After receiving her challenge and agreeing to try it out, I more-or-less met my husband immediately.  I was not expecting it, and was not entirely convinced I was ready for it, but it happened anyway.  

Although my husband has suggested we create an alternate story for how we met (aka, LIE), I have no issues with telling the truth.  We met on Bumble. I am not ashamed!  

I went on three dates with three different people in one week, thus pretty much doubling the number of first dates I had been on in my life.  My husband was guy number two. I will also note, he was the only one who got a second date.  

It was all over before I even had time to meet anyone especially creepy or have any great stories.  One week, three dates; I married the guy behind door number two. Really. 

My friends could have told me to try online dating, and I probably (absolutely) would have made a cringey face, told them my social skills weren’t up to it, and dismissed it.  But, because a therapist told me to, and I literally felt awful and had nothing to lose, I humored her.

Literally, I humored her.  Our first handful of dates were hilarious because my social skills were really not up to the task of dating!  Luckily, my husband was thirty and single, so he was prepared to be pretty forgiving.  

That therapist got to hear about a couple of our dates before I ultimately ghosted her.

We were not a match, that therapist and I, but she got some laughs and I eventually got a husband so I would say it worked out pretty well for both of us.

Despite her not being my favorite, seeing her helped me to let go of my ideas regarding how things “should happen.”  

Maybe you won’t meet the love of your life at church, in a grocery store, or volunteering. 

Maybe they won’t be the exact height you hoped for, or share your political beliefs, or enjoy running, or have a family that is any less crazy than your own.  

Maybe you won’t “know” on date number one.  Maybe you will just know it went well enough that you could do it again and again and again until it magically turns into something more.  

Maybe going to a therapist will help you be open to something other than your scripted wishlist.  

Or maybe, if you are like me, you will first need to find the person who is the embodiment of your preconceived wish list and then have your heart unexpectedly broken.  Only then will you be ready to throw yourself into the great wide chasm of “maybes.”  

My husband was raised Catholic (like Catholic School, Catholic) and is politically conservative.  I am Protestant and went to a “megachurch,” and tend to hold pretty progressive political beliefs.  When we met, all we had in common was a love for reading, our mutual introversion, and the fact our Moms had both passed away.  That’s it. That is all.  

We met on Bumble, had our first date at a grungy sports’ bar and grill, and got married a year and four months later.  Life happens.

Neither of us have ever been happier.  The things we were worried would be big obstacles for us ended up being non-issues.  

It all worked out, is working out.  (Well, I do still have perpetual car issues and no money, but at least I’m in love now). 

Nothing about it should have.  

But my former therapist told me that maybe it could.  

And maybe a therapist could prepare you to be open to your own “maybes,” too. 


Oh, What a Day: Oh, Hello

This is a story of two days, not one.  Yes, I realize I am tampering with my whole concept of “Oh, What a Day,” but humor me.

When my heart is hurting, nay excruciating, I have a thing I do.  I get on a plane and I effing leave Lexington, Kentucky for a week.  I go to visit some of my favorite people in the world and eat amazing food while telling them my feelings.  Then I go back home and stay depressed for a while with a week of amazing ethnic vacation food stored up in my fat supply before I stop eating altogether.  

It has happened twice so far. 

The most recent time was almost two years ago.  

Two of my best friends from college had just moved from Kentucky to California about a month or two before said onset depression. It was a great opportunity to be their first visitor and to get pretty much as far away from my city as I could without leaving the continental U.S.

On the last day of my trip, they had to take their pup to doggy training, so I opted to walk to a nearby Chipotle for dinner on my own.  I was already emotionally primed, knowing the next day I would have to fly back to Kentucky and continue to deal with my problems in a place surrounded with bad memories.  

And then!

And then, while I was walking back from Chipotle, a song came on my Spotify playlist and just completely wrecked me.  It perfectly summarized everything I was feeling and caused sudden onset sobbing.

When I looked at my phone, I discovered the song “Hello, My Old Heart” was by the amazing but not super well known music group the Oh Hellos– the favorite band of the person who had broken my heart, thus causing my trip to California.  Because of course it was. Of course!

Anyhow, I lost my shit as I listened to this beautifully sad song about trying to keep your heart guarded so it does not break again.  It felt extra sad and significant because it was his favorite band.  I both missed him and felt lingering pangs of resentment towards him all at once.  Feelings are complicated.

I have written about my first heartbreak before, but this one was infinitely worse.  It felt like my true rock bottom, and I did not see any way out of it. It was the first time after the first heartbreak that I had finally been brave enough to let my heart feel something again–a calculated risk– and it left me stifled and disappointed and a million other emotions too difficult to articulate on my own.  This song gave words to it. 

And then! 

A month or so after the aforementioned day, when I wept for both having let my heart stand unguarded for once and for feeling it was doomed to resort to self-protected lovelessness again, I went on my first date with my now husband.  Life.

About four months into dating Sean, Spotify sent me a notification that the Oh Hellos would be performing in Cincinnati, a short hour and a half drive away.  Since I pretty much only see bands live if their music makes me feel like I’m in a therapy session (à la Brandi Carlile and Taylor Swift), I had to go.

Sean, despite never having heard of the band, agreed to go with me because I am quote, unquote dainty and therefore should not go alone.  But I so would have gone alone, because I do things like that (even if I am dainty). 

We went to the concert together and got tacos and margs with my friends beforehand.  He drove and he did not complain. He stood with me for three hours in the ultra-loud concert hall, obviously not enjoying the music, without complaining.  Going to concerts where you do not know the songs and, therefore, cannot lip sync along to the music is just not fun. It’s just not.

However, he cuddled and swayed with me, and every time I looked up at him, he was smiling.  

I waited and waited and waited for the Oh Hellos to sing the beautiful song that spoke to me so clearly on the walk back from the Chipotle in Campbell, California.  Despite being their most well-known song, “Hello My Old Heart” did not make the set-list that night. 

Your girl was bummed.  Really, really bummed. 

On the way home, I fell asleep.  I fell asleep in the car, on the way home from a concert for a band my new boyfriend had never heard of, while he drove the two hours home in the middle of the night.  And he was ok with it.  

He was ok with doing things that bored him if it meant I was not alone.  He was ok with being at a concert so loud that all the words blended together so he could not understand them if it meant he got to hold my waist and sway with me a little.  

I do not know if waking up in that moment was when I realized I loved Sean a little bit or not, but I do know it was when I realized I did not really need to hear “Hello My Old Heart” anymore.   Finally, only a couple of months after having my heart smashed and buried, I found someone I did not need to protect my tiny, raw heart from.  

It only took 28 years, but the day came. Finally, an honest to goodness good one. 

Oh, what a day. 

Oh, What a Day: The Day My Husband Fell in Love With Me

Comedian John Mulaney jokes about how it is counter-intuitive that, when relationships are going well, couples decide to meet one anothers’ families.  


It can be awkward and anxiety-provoking.  Why do we do it? Why?!

Because it simply must be done.

In my first ever relationship, we started to talk “meet the family” around the nine month mark.  And by ‘we,’ I mean ‘me.’ He decidedly did not want to meet my fam.  Therefore, I did what a great many people have done before me in times of relational conflict: I iced him out, and we took a week long “break.”  Like a great many people who mostly just act when ultimatums are handed to them, he ultimately decided to yield and consented to meet them.

I won the ultimatum (or so I thought)!

As a result, we *cough cough* “made up” for the third time ever; the very next day he told me he couldn’t actually come with me anymore, because of a scheduling conflict with his own family.  To his genuine surprise, I promptly kicked him to the curb (for three entire months, before I agreed to getting back together).  

Please note I have learned a lot about boundaries since then.  Don’t be younger me. Don’t be passive aggressive. Don’t give ultimatums. 

You don’t want to actually go through the semantics of having your love interest meet your family, you just want them to want to meet them.  

You get me, right?

In my second ever “so we agree, this is a relationship” relationship, he brought up wanting to meet my family after only a couple of months.  Given my prior experience, my response was to question him about what game he was trying to play.  

Why would he want to meet my family? What was his ulterior motive?!

It was too easy.

Just four months after we started dating, my now husband and I drove to my grandparents’ house for dinner with them, my Step-Dad, my four sisters, and my nieces and nephews.

I had warned him about my crass Grandpa, whose three great loves in life, excluding Grandma, are mowing his grass, Donald Trump, and fighting with me about politics.  

I warned him my Grandma would be so perfect he would want her to adopt him.  

I warned him about how I would likely turn into a fire-breathing dragon when some of my sisters would inevitably attempt to bait me.  I warned him.

The thing about me is that I can present as being super sweet and quiet and agreeable, untillllll you learn, NO, I’m not really like that all the time.  

I have two personalities.  One is what I call “kindergarten teacher.”  Many people assume I teach kindergarten and have kids of my own.  Nope and nope. I get it though. I am a care-er to my core, I am creative, and I am just a nurturing little baby whisperer.  Seriously, kids meet me and just know I’m good people and will play with them. However, “kindergarten teacher” is only half of my personality.  

My other personality is what I call “boss.”  If you meet me in a class, or in a work related meeting, you might wrongfully assume I’m in charge of some things.  Nope. I get it, too, though. I can be terse, obnoxiously logical, and speak authoritatively— using periods instead of question marks.  In the real world though, I try to keep this side of me under wraps.

Until I reach my breaking point.


Nothing gets me to my true retaliation-rant form quite like 10 minutes or so of Fox News–the news channel exclusively played in my Grandparents’ living room, or an inevitable sass-off with my youngest sister.

All of this was explained to him beforehand, but he still wanted to meet them.  He was allegedly prepared to see past the “kindergarten teacher” version of myself.  It was a bold move. 

And it went exactly as I described it to him.  I told him so, and it was so.  

We had dinner with my family, crowded around my Grandparents’ dining room table.

This is how said dinner started…

My Grandpa said, “Sean, I already know I like ya.  Jessica said you are a nice conservative boy, so you’re pretty good in my book.”


There’s more…

My Step-Dad (whom I call Dad) said, “yeah, we’ve been hoping she would find a nice conservative guy who would help us unbrainwash her.  If it were up to her, she would have us give all of our hard-earned money to those people on welfare.” Insert some other generic comment about me being a Socialist, and so on and so on.  

This is when Sean met the true me.  

I got my pointer finger out and looked around the table at my family, and said, “raise your hand if you have ever been on any type of government assistance. Your hand should be up (point) and your hand should be up (point) and your hand should be up (point)!  We can’t act like we don’t know “those people on welfare.” Half of us at this table, at the very least, have been “those people” at one point or another. We can’t pretend like we are any better than those who need help now, or like they don’t deserve help when people in our own family did.  So yes, I believe in sacrificing a little bit to help people who need to be helped.”

Silence.  Much like after any textbook mic drop, there was silence.

Then my Grandma, like the sweet angel she is, politely changed the subject.  

Thus ended our discussion about politics, and we all ate something smothered in gravy, while my Grandpa drilled Sean about his job and his family and my sisters asked inappropriate questions they already knew the answers to.

When we got in the car to head home, Sean said two things to me:

“One, your grandpa is exactly like you described him.”

“Two, that. was. awesome.”  

I was afraid the sassy rant me would be what made him realize he, a conservative boy, couldn’t date me long-term. (I have literally been told, following a first date, that I was “politically dangerous,” and therefore they could not date me).  Instead, my fiery defense of my beliefs ended up being exactly what made Sean start falling in love with me.  

When I was not present, he also told his conservative Father about it, to which his Dad said, “good for her!”  He can appreciate a well-argued rant, regardless of whether or not he entirely agrees with it. I have grown to love him especially for it.  

Now, at weekly Sunday night dinners, my two favorite Rukavina men listen to the rants I have pitched in the week prior, and tell me they are proud of me.  It is why this year has included me standing up for myself, and the principles I believe in, more than ever before. They are constantly helping me to embrace my inner boss. 

What I have observed, in my soon-to-be thirty ancient wisdom, is some people who have experienced hardships understandably cannot wait to do all they can to separate themselves from the circumstances; they don’t want to be associated with the problem, or those going through it, no matter how far removed they are from it themselves.  An example would be people who have managed to dig themselves out of a financial hole and are then resistant to helping those in hard times; they claim they were able to pull themselves out of it on their own, and others should, too. I guess I can understand that. But it’s not how I choose to operate.

Instead, I use the memory of my hardest times to push me to help others who are still going through them.  I use the memory of all of the people who helped me make it, without turning to government assistance, to help others likewise.  

My husband, who has never experienced real financial hardship himself, has very sweetly and empathetically walked with me through some of my memories of struggle and allowed it to shape how we share our money and resources. 

It is also worth noting my husband has admitted he will have to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the next presidential election, if she gets the nomination, because of my massive student loan debt load.  

So, I ask you, who un-brainwashed who?  

Oh, What a Day: The Day I Needed School Supplies

When I was probably about 26 years old, one of my grandmothers asked me when I would meet a guy “so I didn’t have to go to school anymore.”  


One of my grandpas said: “Doesn’t she know you only know just enough to be dangerous?  You can’t quit college yet.”

But, on the real, the answer to her question: when I was 29 years old.  

As you may know, I just got married about four months ago (yayyyyyy, commitment!).  He and I grew up in very very different worlds, and it is still taking some getting used to on both of our parts.  

On my part, I have always been both fiercely independent and also on the cusp of running out of money (except when I have literally run out of money).  

As Sean has put it, he had parachutes on parachutes, for which we are both very grateful.  

Parachute guy and broke, independent girl get married and have to learn the dance of how much help parachute guy can offer to broke, independent girl without one or both parties becoming resentful.  I get aided by his parachutes sometimes, and I must admit it is very nice to feel somewhat secure for the first time in 29 years.  

Sean was the youngest of three boys. His Dad is a Doctor, and his Mom earned a Master’s degree in guidance & counseling and taught kindergarten students for about 40 years.  In other words, they were pretty much the most prepared parents to have ever existed.  

Alternatively, my single Mom didn’t finish high school, had me when she was 19, and then had my two sisters soon thereafter.  The woman supported three kids as a 21 year-old waitress, with no financial support from our biological father. I cannot even imagine.  

Then when I was six or so, my Mom married my step-Dad and they had two more kids.  If you have been counting, you understand there were a heck of a lot of kids to care for.  

While Sean and I grew up in were very different households, on paper, the place where I grew up seemed to be full of families just like his.  

Oldham County has and had the highest income per capita of any of the counties in lil’ ole Kentucky, and its reputation precedes it. 

To that point, years ago, at work, an angry parent called in and tried to argue her kid deserved more scholarship dollars simply because he graduated in four years and “nobody does that anymore.”  Already agitated from listening to her negativity and poorly argued badgering for a longggg time, I told her I had actually managed to graduate in three years, not four.  

Her response was to ask where I was from.  When I told her, she said, “well, to me, that explains everything.” 

She assumed I had achieved a fairly exceptional accomplishment because I came from an exceptional place, and not because I am an exceptionally hard-worker.  It was not very nice of her.

It is easy to assume if you come from Oldham County, you are well-off.   I was an exception to the rule. Growing up there, it was not a difficult place to feel shameful and hyper-aware of being really poor, even if you weren’t really poor and were just pretty poor. 

In my family, we did run out of resources like food and toilet paper at home sometimes, but pint-sized me usually chalked it up to my parents forgetting to go to the store to get what we needed (neglect) instead of them not having the money to pay for it (poverty).  Maybe that was true, maybe it wasn’t, or maybe it was a little bit of both.  

Whatever the true reason may have been, I often did not have what I needed.  

One of the earliest memories I have from school occurred when I was somewhere between ages five and seven years old.  I remember standing in the lobby of my elementary school, holding flimsy food stamps in my hands and collapsing into tears.   

My Mom had told me to take food stamps to the little bookstore run by the school and ask if I could buy the required school supplies for the year with them.  

My internal response: shame shame shame shame shame shame.  

Like hell did baby Jessica feel like flashing paper badges to prove she was poor to people at school, who would most likely feel awkward and not be able to help.  Like. hell.  

I did not want to ask, because I knew school supplies were not food, and I knew my elementary school was not a grocery store.  I did not know much, but I knew this plan was not especially well thought through.  

When my Mom later asked me if I had picked up my school supplies, I had to tell her I had not tried because I had been too scared.  I am sure the news was not well received. For better or for worse, she was never a warm fuzzy kind of Mom.  

I have no idea how this story resolved or how I got school supplies that year, if I got them.  I would imagine my school probably would have helped though, because my elementary school helped my family a lot when I was young.  

The principals would take me home from school when I didn’t get picked up from after school field trips, and after choir practice, and when I missed the bus home.  My teachers let me sleep through classes when they knew things were rough at home and could see I needed rest more than I needed to do crafts.

I deeply hated but appreciated all of it. 

On this day though, there was no saving grace.  It was probably the first time I was publicly confronted with being poor, and subsequently felt a lack of dignity.  It is one of my earliest memories, but not one I have reflected about very often; however, the same feeling of shame for being poor is something I have carried with me for over two decades.  

But also, while this memory and many like it have led me to a lot of embarrassment and shame, they have also helped to shape some of the boldest and best parts of me, too. 

As much as is within my power, I do not want those who are in need (especially kids) to feel like they do not deserve dignity and respect.  They do.  

Whether I realized the correlation or not, the day I stood in my elementary school lobby and bawled my eyes out is likely why I have worked so hard to rally my friends and family members to help single Moms in need get school supplies for their littles each year. 

It is likely why I sometimes have gone broke venmoing college students money, and why I helped one of my younger sisters with her college tuition for a while even though I could barely manage my own student loans. 

It is probably why I have never taken my education for granted, and why I have worked so hard to help a few special refugees and kids from Haiti pursue their own college educations.  I know how important education can be when you have next to nothing.  

It is why I am perfectly comfortable giving every bit of extra I have to help others who need resources more than I do (which sometimes, maybe causes me to live irresponsibly off my credit card).  I know what having no options feels like. I have felt the food-stamps in my hands and cried for having needed them. 

Last but not least, it is the cause of the big embarassing argument that, against all odds, caused my husband to fall in love with me.  

Oh, what a day. 

I’ll tell you all about it next week. 

Imposter Syndrome

Photo Credit: Caitlin Hon Photography

Since I started dating my husband about a year and a half ago, I have regularly felt like an imposter.  

He owns a home in a nice cozy suburban neighborhood, so now I kind of do, too.  I wanted to start blogging again, so he got me a new shiny rosegold macbook and a new-to-me camera without blinking (and only grumbling a very tiny bit about it). He also venmoes me money when I periodically run out of it.  With my solo income and student loans, it is not very hard to run out of money…

Since we got together, we have gone to a swanky Christmas gala his friends helped sponsor, and birthday parties where there are super cool custom-made ice luges.  When we plan vacations that include AirBNB stays, it is not unlike my kickass father-in-law to try to talk us into letting him put us up in a picturesque resort instead.  The hotbar at Whole Foods has become our lifeline. I don’t have to (but still will) almost exclusively shop at consignments stores anymore.  

My life is starting to look pretty darn cushy.  

Thus, imposter syndrome. 

In a couple of ways, I was privileged before I got married.  I have advanced degrees, which is a privilege (although, again, I will be paying off my catastrophic student loans indefinitely, so it doesn’t always feel like a privilege).  I’m white, which I know is the privilege.  I grew up in a beautiful suburban area just outside of Louisville, Kentucky that proudly offers some of the best public schools in the state.  

But there were struggles and challenges, too– many that I was not up to meeting on my own.  As a child, I was no stranger to anxiety-attacks or feelings of overwhelming helplessness.

Looking at me now, you maybe wouldn’t know it though. 

I am a listener (and have a secret Master’s degree in counseling), so people are prone to sharing their stories with me.  Something I am often struck by, is the way some seem to genuinely think they are the only ones who have ever suffered. There have been a few instances in particular, some of which I may write about in the future, where I have been left with the impression that some do not think I am tough, or have had any experiences nearly as trying as their own.  People seem to expect me to be shocked by their stories, and never to be able to relate.  

Surely I am not someone who has grit, or who has experienced hardships.  Surely. 

But I do have grit, and I have been able to relate.  I usually choose not to share though, because historically when I have opted to share my experiences they were often brushed aside or discounted because I was construed as a basic whiny girl with privilege.  

As a culture, we often make hardships into competitions that lead to unfair comparisons, “one upping” sessions, and can ultimately polarize us instead of bringing people together.  It shouldn’t be that way.  

I’m learning everyone has had, or will have, hardships.  People who have been on welfare, and people who go to private school, and people who don’t even understand their hardships count as hardships, and people who are cross-sections of any or all of those groups. And everyone else. Everyone.

Everyone has struggles. They just come at different times and present differently.

You may never learn that, though, if you aren’t open to being honest and truly vulnerable (not just pretend vulnerable) about yours.

So, without further ado, I’ll go first.

Tune in next Tuesday to read about one of my earliest experiences of shame. 

Oh, what a day.

Oh, What a Day: The Worst Day of My Life

When I woke up, the tone had already been set: it was going to be a real shit day.  I knew it and feared it and hoped against it anyway, because you can actually do all of those things simultaneously.  People and feelings are often complicated. 

The morning started by having holes drilled into one of my teeth, to fill in the lone cavity of my adult life.  The only thing inflicting more pain than the actual drilling itself was the feeling I had disappointed my angelic dental hygienist, Rhonda, by having a cavity.  She is so kind that I usually don’t even admit it when she hurts me during cleanings… and I am not a person who typically holds back. She is just so nice!

After the drilling and the self-inflicted shame, I walked across campus to my office where I could obsessively ruminate for hours.   Not unlike a monotonous game of ping pong, my thoughts bounced back and forth between 1. why I hadn’t gotten the job I had been turned down for the week before and 2. all of the possible ways the day might end.  

But I already knew how it was going to end, had known for a month how it would end.  It was going to end.

Before the work day was over, I trudged the half-mile to my parking spot and drove across town in my mega-old, air-conditionless car to go to the podiatrist.  There, I had a wart on my foot cut off and then burned with the acid of a crazy expensive African beetle, of all things. I am still not sure why I scheduled those two appointments on the same day, but it was not my best laid plan…

It is worth noting I am weird about feet to begin with, so someone staring at my warted foot with a microscope and then continuing to do hurtful things to a highly innervated area was just icing on the shit, anxiety-laden day.  This was my third or fourth visit to get said wart taken care of, so you can imagine my delight and horror. My warted foot felt hopeless, doomed to forever be disgusting. 

Following this appointment, I limped out of the office building to discover my keys were locked inside my car, because of course they were!  I had just spent $30 on a copay for my gross little foot, an actual fortune for my 24 year old self with a Master’s degree and a half and a job that paid me like $26,000 a year; now I had to spend even more money to have Pop-a-lock come and bail me out– which they did, approximately two hours later.

Two hours, in the heat of August in Kentucky, waiting and thinking and worrying and sweating profusely.  I remember debating if I should call or text my boyfriend to see if he was back in town and could swoop me up, because I really needed to be swooped up and cuddled a little bit; however, I don’t think I ended up deciding to do that.

My memory is fuzzy, but I don’t thinkkkkk I called him.  When someone leaves for a week long vacation during a fight, and then stays away for four weeks and barely communicates with you during that time, you start to get the impression they don’t want to cuddle you anymore.  Or swoop you up when your life is an actual wreck. Or decide they do want to marry you and let you have as many babies as you want. Or even just answer their phone, really.

This was the set-up for the day my boyfriend of three years broke up with me, after essentially running away for a month to dodge the inevitable.  My first ever breakup, with my first ever boyfriend. I am, of course, choosing to not remember those other times we broke up. I’m the one telling. this. story.

Finally, I was rescued by the company that capitalizes on flustered people locking their keys in their car, and returned to my apartment.  My ‘boyfriend’ and I had agreed to meet there in the evening to go for a walk and talk, after he made it back in town.

Then, just like that, there he was.

For probably three of the four weeks he had been gone, I had been building myself up for the disappointment of the break-up.  But then I saw him, and my heart told my logical brain to STFU because it wanted him back, earnestly.  

It was a weird weird feeling, seeing the person you love the most in the world, after not seeing them for a long time, and wanting to hug them but knowing better.  Instead, we awkwardly looped around my neighborhood while he worked up the courage to tell me:

You’re ready to get married and I’m not, so our relationship cannot continue.”  

What I am sure of: I cried a lot.  A scary lot. The third biggest cry of my life. 

What I am also sure of: I asked him if I could rub my buckets of snot on his shirt.

What I am certain of: he said I could.  So I did. I wiped my snot all over him, while he held me.

He broke my heart and ran away, yes, but he also let me rub my snot on his shirt when I was sad; therefore, I cannot pretend he was a cold-blooded monster.

Mid-snot rub, I looked up at the man who was holding me, with whom I had survived all kinds of hell over the course of three years, and had loved more than anyone.  Through sobs, I said, sincerely without intending to be mean: “you will probably never have sex again.”

And he said: “that idea has occured to me.”  

I don’t know if it would be funnier if I had intended it to be mean… but as previously mentioned, I did not.  I was just stating what I now understand to be a pretty rude sounding, intuitive prediction. 

While I am an introvert, he was an extreme introvert.  He was perfectly happy spending a lot of time alone, and filling the rest with his two best friends and his family.  He didn’t ever really seem to need or want people beyond aforementioned individuals. Save for my annoying friendliness and persistence, he probably would not have ever dated me either.  


If I, for one, can learn to not say every seemingly true thing that occurs to me and makes me sound like a socially-challenged witch, then surely he can have fallen in love again and be in a healthy relationship.  And I have mostly learned, I think. It’s a process…

Back to worst day: the entirety of this song and dance took about ten minutes, and then he left, snotted up– never to be seen or heard from again.  Not even once.  

He was gone.

There I was, completely alone, with a migraine from my cavity fill-up, producing more snot and tears than is possibly good for any one human, with a big old broken and bleeding heart.  I had nothing to do but attempt to limp back up to my apartment without completely alarming my precious roommate. It felt like the worst day of my life, and that day it was.  

I felt it all over again whenever well-meaning old people I only kind of knew asked me when we were going to get engaged and I had to tell them we had actually broken up, and every time I had to go to scary doctors appointments alone, and every time my best friend’s baby asked where he was in her precious innocent baby voice, and every time someone told me I had dodged a bullet with him when they learned we had broken up.  

It hurt like hell, for a long time. 

Then gradually, over the course of about three years, it stopped. 

It would be easy for people to look at my life and say this story had a happy ending, because I ended up married to Sean— a saintly man who always carries a handkerchief that can be acquired easily when my nose is extra runny; however, I would argue my happy marriage has nothing to do with this story.  

Good things do not cover-up or erase suffering.

But past suffering can squelch the good stuff, if you let it.

This breakup story did not end with a husband sweeping me off my feet, saving me from dying alone.  It ended with me starting my former blog as a way to cope, making the decision to try to redefine myself after the relationship ended, and it ended in therapy… several rounds of it, with several therapists (because not all therapists are actually even helpful). 

Time didn’t heal those wounds, nor did any subsequent relationships.  My decision to heal did, and it took me awhile to commit to it. 

My decision to go to therapy meant agreeing to look at myself through a microscopic lens to see ways I needed to grow, so I could try to be healthier in future relationships.  It meant being open to owning my shit, and accepting that life doesn’t just happen to me.  It meant acknowledging I sometimes give people less than they deserve, and I sometimes accept less than I deserve.  

Because of my hard work in therapy and my own introverted self-analysis, my husband doesn’t have to deal with any baggage from that relationship (don’t you worry, I do have other baggage he has the privilege of carrying with me), and instead can just laugh at a story he thinks centers upon my past foot problems. 

Now, I, too, can laugh about the “worst day of my life.”  

That day only ended-up being the third biggest cry of my life so far.  In fact, an even bigger whammy of a heartbreak wrecked me down the line.  

One day, I will tell you about my first and second worst all-time cries and my incontestable biggest heartbreak, but sharing those stories will take a lot more courage and obsessive editing than I have in me right now, or will likely have any time soon. 

For today, saying “shit” like seven times in a blog post, admitting I slept with my long-term ex-boyfriend, and owning up to having the worst possible social skills and saying accidentally hurtful things to people I love took enough courage.  

Oh, what a day.

We’ll see how brazen I feel next week.