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. 

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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?  

Ours.  

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.

You should also know I said, “WHY DID YOU PUT YOUR ARM AROUND ME AFTER HE SAID THAT?!”

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.  

Yes.

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.

Yup.

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.