I don't remember my first memory of John. He said that we got in a fight and there may have been hair pulling involved. I have no idea, I don't remember it.
The farthest back, pre-dating memory I have is band camp, marching by each other and generally goofing off together. I also remember playing Mario Kart with him in his room while I was hanging out at his house waiting to decorate the barn for a Halloween party. I didn't win Mario Kart, but that was the first night I got all these funny feelings in my stomach about him. This was all the late summer/fall of 1996, my senior year of high school.
I was dating another guy at the time, he was a real ass. We were cool at first but then he decided I was a little chunky for him, then my hair was to short, then that I was just very ugly. Other guy never really hesitated to tell me these things, I never really hesitated to believe him.
John was my friend first. I would talk to him about other guy and he would be all protective and sweet about it. Naturally when other guy and I broke up, it was John that I turned to and John that I began dating.

We were typically teenagers dating, it was very good or very riddled with angst depending on the day. I had a great deal of baggage relationally and very little esteem for myself. I made that John's problem, and he handled it very well.
The first time John told me he loved me I was standing in a public phone booth in Biarritz France and he was sitting on his bed in Clyde Ohio. Looking back at it now, that distance seems very analogous to us. We loved each other (and in some ways still do) very deeply, but seem to always be separated by this distance that just can't be breached. (It's all very movie of the week tragic I know, but I promise I'm getting to the point.)
John and I weathered graduation, international travel (a trip on which other guy went as well I might point out), and me going across the state to college. I didn't want to spend time with anyone but him, I was obsessive. Looking back it wasn't really as obsessive as it felt, but I was a 18 year old girl that thought she knew so much more than she really did.

We broke up in February of 2000, not because we didn't love each other. Looking back it seems that we loved each other very much, we just weren't on the same side of the world.
A little over 2 months later his mom was murdered. All I wanted to do the night I found out was go to his house, but I didn't know what my place was. I saw him the next day and we picked up where we left off.
That whole time was so much turmoil, grief, and just raw emotion. We were back together again, and this time I wanted it to be for keeps.
We were together until February of 2002. (February was apparently not a great month for our relationship)
It doesn't much matter who broke up with who but we were again, deeply in love on what seemed like opposite sides of the world. We were both young, but people have been married younger and it was fine. All I know is that I wanted to marry him, move in and have his babies. But it was over.
We went silent for 2 years.

In those two years I got saved and learned so much more about myself then I ever would have had John and I stayed together. I discovered that I had based my entire identity in being his girlfriend. He never ever once asked me to do that, I chose to do it based out of my baggage and my relational damages. But I would have never stopped had we not broken up and gone silent. In 2004 I was preparing to move to Cincinnati after clearly hearing God tell me to move. One month before I left, John emailed me and we began speaking again.
In the next two years we spoke very frequently, weekly and sometimes daily. We dissected our relationship and talked about the silent years and what went on with us then. It was very dramatic, but in a refreshing sort of way.
Neither John nor I behaved perfectly and I still have some relational steamer trunks that I keep trying to drag around with me. But we're friends and still speak. I have loved John for 13 years. The love has changed as much as knowing him has changed me.

I learned what I will and will not accept in a relationship. I learned that sometimes, no matter how deeply you love someone you just can not be with that person. I learned how to forgive without feeling the need to get even. I learned to keep my mouth shut and not make things worse by mouthing off. I learned that some secrets should not be kept. I learned that I should be more careful before I accept other peoples secrets with the promise not to tell someone that I love so much. (It was not my secret to keep, they should have never asked me to). Loving John taught me more about unconditional love than most things in my life. When we broke up the last time the instinct of most people I knew was to bad mouth him and tear him down. But I wouldn't allow it. Because while he made mistakes, I made huge mistakes too. Loving him taught me to want the best for people even if what was best for them wasn't what I so desperately wanted. It taught me to loosen my grip on people and things. In retrospect, I see God very much training me up to see that His will (at the time I would have called it the universe or fate) is so much larger than my will.

If John and I had stayed together I would have never been in that church Christmas Eve 2002. I may have never moved to Cincinnati and done all the things I'm doing now that I love so much. Maybe I would have, a few years later and farther down the line. I don't know.
What I do know, is that loving John changed the course of my life for the better. I am a better person for knowing him and loving him,


Steve Korn

I met Steve in January 2003. He was on staff at Cedar Creek church in Perrysbug Ohio. I knew him from afar but then took a class called Intro to the Creek. He talked for awhile about what it was like at the church and then turned it over to an outreach guy to talk about their Great Commission program. But first, he invited anyone that wanted to talk to him to step outside and he would love to talk to people one on one about Jesus.
I so desperately wanted to speak to him because God had grabbed a hold of me a few weeks previous on Christmas Eve and dude wouldn't let go. But I knew, I just knew that he didn't really mean it. I knew that people in churches were hypocrites and just set you up to fall on your face so they could laugh at you. I wasn't really interested in this outreach stuff (ironic isn't it seeing as I now lead outreach at my church)and I was feeling like I'd hit my Jesusy quota for the day so I got up to sneak out of the class. I walked out into the hallway, and there was Steve. He was talking to another Steve on staff about how if no one wanted to talk he would just listen to outreach guy talk. Great, I was off the hook! I crept down the hall and was almost to the stairs when Steve called, "Excuse me ma'am. Did you want to talk about Jesus?"
That was such a God moment. Because I did, so badly I could have cried.
Steve and I went to the common office area and he talked to me about Jesus for almost 3 hours.
I told Steve about Christmas Eve, about how I had been sneaking to church ever since and that my parents went there but I didn't want them to know I was going too. I think the exact phrase I used was, "some kids sneak crack, I sneak Jesus".
The most important thing that Steve said to me that night was, "I'm an asshole"
He absolutely shattered my perception that people in churches had all their stuff together. He told me about how he was banned from intermural sports because he didn't just want to win, he wanted to win and grind the losers face into the mud. He said he couldn't have a drop to drink, because he was a mean drunk and he never liked to stop at just one drop. But, he said that he met Jesus when he was falling apart and didn't know his caboose from a hole in the ground. He said that if we all waited until we had it all together, if our salvation depended on us being all squeaky clean than Heaven would surely be an empty empty place. I left that night feeling so seen, so acknowledged and listened to. It was clean cool water to a girl that felt so lost in the desert.
The following Sunday I snuck into church and sat alone soaking it all in. I got lost in the last worship song and didn't get to leave as early as I needed to to avoid my parents. I dashed out the door just ahead of them and ran smack into Steve. He remembered my name. He shook my hand and asked if it was ok if he hugged me. I stammered out, "my parents are coming!" He looked over my shoulder and saw them (I didn't know till after that he knew them). Quickly he put his arm around my shoulder and rotated me so I was standing behind him. He said hello to my parents and shook my dad's hand. The whole time I was hiding half behind him and half behind the door. I was safe, no one knew about me and Jesus.
Week after week I would see Steve, he seemed to be seeking me out. Every time he remembered my name, remembered that I was sneaking Jesus and he always asked me how Jesus and I were doing.
Steve was the final step in a long journey to the foot of the cross for me. He introduced me to a Jesus that I am still desperately in love with. He showed me a Jesus that cared about the large and the small in my life and he showed me a Jesus that knew my name.

I was baptized at Cedar Creek in September 2003 and I would have loved nothing more than for Steve to do it. But he left in August. I saw him again a few months later at a church he was the guest speaker at. I gave him a hug and told him what a difference he made in my decision to follow Christ. He was so humble and so real.
That was the last time I saw him.
I think of Steve often, especially when I'm talking to people about how imperfect we are all in churches. I tell them that I knew a guy that told me he was an asshole and that introduced me to a Jesus that was perfect enough to cover the sins of every person in and out of a church.



It seems apropos to start with where this all ends. Jesus. As I was making up the list of the 30 people (or groups of people) that have shaped and influenced me I can clearly see that the path connecting them all is the path that led me to Him, Jesus.
The first time I met Jesus as an adult was sitting in a seat at Cedar Creek Church in Perrysburg Ohio on Christmas Eve 2002. That night I sat there sobbing, for the first time in years, wondering how I could ever make it in this community of perfection. My heart was cracked open and I fought against it with every ounce of my being. Church, Jesus, God. It was the exact last think I was interested in, I was outright hostile towards all things Jesusy and I did not want this.

Almost two years before this my friend was murdered. The night she was killed, sitting on a balcony I felt a whisper rise up in my heart. A whisper that it's not supposed to be like this, that there was someone out there that had it under control, that had a purpose. I knew that whisper was God, which only served to make me hate him more. Who was this God that would allow my friend to be killed, that would allow such heartache and suffering? I felt abandoned and alone by this God. I held onto that anger for two years. I stoked it and nursed it like a child that I loved.

But that night, Christmas Eve 2002, God was through with my anger. I can't explain adequately the shattering I felt that night. But I knew I had to explore it. I was a terminal people pleaser; to the point that I couldn't really tell you what my favorite color was until you told me yours. (Because how could you like me if I wasn't exactly like you.) I knew that my parents wanted me in church, they wanted me to have a relationship with God.
I also remembered the people I grew up in church with. People that ridiculed me, told me I was stupid and adults that joined in, or at the very least sat idly by while it happened. I didn't want to be like most of the people in the church I grew up in, nor did I want to fake it for my parents sake. If I was going to do this I was all in or all out.
So I snuck to church. I sat in the same services as my parents in a large church, just slightly behind them and to the left. I would leave during the last song so they never saw me and I soaked it all in. I snuck out of my apartment at 2am so my "holy roller" roommate didn't ask me what I was doing and bought a bible at Meijer. I read it in the dead of night and fought the voices in my head telling me that I didn't deserve a God like the one described in those pages.
I spoke to Steve Korn (who will have his own post in this series) who told me that sometimes he (Steve) was an asshole, but that God still wanted him and loved him. He assured me that the people in church aren't nearly as perfect as I believed them to be and that was the beautiful thing about the church. In February 2003, keeping with my torrid late night run ins with God I got on my knees in my apartment and accepted Christ. I told no one for another month.
I continued to sneak to church. I snuck to a bible study. I was afraid my salvation would wear off, that like so many other things I started in my life I wouldn't follow through and finish.
When I finally told my parents my mom was so excited she drove me over a can of Mountain Dew at 1030 at night. (Mountain Dew used to be my love language)

Before I met Jesus I thought, fantasized really, about killing myself everyday. I have written out plans and notes about how I would do it in a way that caused others the smallest amount of inconvenience as possible. Because more than anything, I felt inconvenient. I did all sorts of things that were destructive inside and out before I met Jesus, and for awhile after. But I went to bed the night after I accepted Jesus and I realized with a start, that for the first time in years I hadn't thought about killing myself. It took almost 2 years after that to get over that tendency completely, but I have because of Jesus. He saved me eternally and he saved me physically by removing the razor from my wrists.

As I think about the people that I'm going to write about on this list, I see the love letters that God was writing on their lips to me. Even the few that are on here because of how they shaped me through terrible, abusive, and tragic circumstances. God was there. I can't explain it or wrap it all up in a nice pink bow for you. But God was there, even when I hated him, even when I didn't think he noticed, even when I felt so invisible he was there inviting me to Him.

He's doing the same for each and every one of you. He is writing you love letters in the small and large kindnesses of people you know and strangers. He's sending you comfort when you are hurting and He is longing for you to fall in love with him too.


Is there any room for me?

I was having a discussion online about Twitter and whether it's frivolous or not. This sparked again this frustration I'm having with people online talking about how stupid different medias are because they aren't real communities, or that they are but they're not as "real" as face to face communities. Several bloggers I follow and a few people on Facebook have stopped completely, because their online life was overtaking their life life and they didn't want that to happen. I mean I get it, I was thinking this morning about cancelling Myspace because I'm hardly on it and just copy/paste blogs from here for the most part.
But what frustrates me is a lot larger than just the online thing. What frustrates me is this idea of partnering up or shutting up.

I was talking to my friend Joan the other day and she said she wished she had things to do like I did because it's just her. There's not much else to do. She is single, older, divorced. There's this perpetual aura of loneliness and partial satisfaction surrounding single people. I'm neither of those things really, but I am a little dissatisfied with the interaction I have with people sometimes.
I'm not uncomfortable being the 3rd, 5th, 7th, or even 9th wheel. I am friends with a lot of husbands and wives and I (for the most part) love the glimpse inside of such intimate relationships it allows me. But I don't really want one.

Almost all of my friends are married or coupled up in some way. Most of those couples also have kids. I attend a church of almost entirely young families or empty nesters. I work at a company of mostly married people or people that I just don't hang out with. I work really hard to be flexible to all of these schedules with husbands/wives/kids so that we can spend time together. I'm also trying to spend more time at home, it just happens to be alone because everyone has their families and their own homes to go to. This is all ok.

But in addition to all of that I am on a few forums, Facebook, and Twitter. I follow way to many blogs but they're all organized neatly in Google Reader so I can keep up without breaking a sweat. Through all of these places I have met people who are married, single and all levels of in between. I met Pete (whom I love) through Myspace after pinging onto his page through Dan. He is now working to move to Cincinnati and live in my basement. I met Katy, Melissa and Angie on a Don Miller forum and have met them all face to face, they are some of my closest friends (and coming to Cincinnati to see me in T-Minus 3.2 weeks!) Some of the people whose blogs I follow I've jumped to following them on Twitter, and maybe someday we'll meet face to face.

In all of this gobbly gook is a place for me. Because don't we all really just want to belong somewhere? I belong all these places, my house, your house, church, work, online and offline. When people talk about how these places are just distractions and wastes of time I take a little bit of offense to it. In a partnered up world it's really difficult for a happily single girl to feel like there's still room for her. It's hard to convince people that I'm really ok when they give you puppy dog looks and decide that anyone with a penis and a pulse is clearly husbandly material for you. It's hard to find your way in the sea of strollers when you can't relate to 2am feedings and the terrible two's. (Luckily I have 2 beautiful nieces and a handsome nephew to help a bit in that area). It's hard to type this out without making the couples and the parents in my life feel alienated as if my desire for non partnered up and parental conversation and hanging out is somehow a slam on their life. Because it's not, anymore than their desire for a partnered up parental life is a slam to mine.

Sometimes this happily single girl just feels a little squished between the parents and couples in her life, wondering if there is any room for her.

So maybe a lot of the stuff I post on Twitter is a distraction, but so was a great deal of the conversation I had with some of my closest "real" life friends when we were first getting to know each other. That's how you build a relationships, online or off.


The Man

I think every street/neighborhood has one. That creepy neighbor, usually a man that everyone is a little more wary of then necessary.
Nowadays, the connotation of being "that guy" is even worse because it seems that pedophilia is much more prevalent. But is it? Or are we just hearing about it more because of our hyper connectedness?
I digress, that isn't the point. The point is my memories of The Man.

I lived in what I would describe as the country, but the city limits butted up against my parents back fence. If you were to walk out our front door and go to the left by exactly one mile there was a farmers market called Steinbauers. You had to cross rail road tracks to get to the store. Incidentally, my first job was with Steinbauers. I can still work up a good drool thinking about Jimmy's baked goods. (chocolate sour cream cookies and rhubarb pie...OH.MY.GOSH!)
If you back up towards my house, just before the railroad tracks there was a house that (when I was growing up) was the last house on the left side of the road before the tracks.
I still don't know the name of the man, only that we weren't to stop by his house. I don't know what it is he did that freaked out parents and children alike out, but when we walked or biked by the house I'm pretty sure we changed sides of the road so we weren't even on his side.
Every once in awhile, while riding in the back of the car and trying to memorize everything around me, I would catch him outside. I only remember him in stolen glimpses and dangerous stares. He had a huge porch on the side of his house facing a small wooded area (that would one day blissfully block the view of new duplexes that began crowding out country road). He would be sweeping the porch, or fiddling with something. As if he could sense my stares he always seemed to look up and at our car. Although I could be wrong, I could feel his stare boring into mine as I furtively drank in this scary scary man that was so dangerous.

I would probably chalk most of this memory up to a child's crazy imagination....but then there's this.
My parents are very friendly people, they would chat with everyone on our street...even the neighbor across the street that was always so mean and wouldn't let us ride our bikes on her pile of dirt (I'll write about her later). They probably knew the name of everyone on our road. But I never ever remember them speaking to this man. Ever.

There is also the more concerning question of why I saw so many sinister things in so many places growing up. But that's a subject best broached another day.

****Also, starting 6/28 I'm going to start a mini-series of blog posts. I'm going to write about the 30 people (or groups of people) that have shaped me into who I am at 30. Stayed tuned!****


Bobcat Bethany

Last weekend mom and dad came down for the weekend to work in my yard. So naturally a rented one of these:

I was DRUNK with power. In just under 2 hours we turned 3 sides of this (which went all the way around my yard)

Into this:

We also tore down the shed and the deck it sat on. All relatively light work thanks to the kick ass bobcat I got to drive around on. If I had it to do all over again I would totally have rented a dumpster just to throw everything in it as we went, but nothing I can do about it now I suppose.

Here's Dad and Jeff standing triumphantly by the pile oh wood that I just destroyed with the bobcat

Matthew got a kick out of the bobcat as well as the big Evans truck that delivered 8 yards of dirt. We filled in a hole left by the previous owners above ground pool and built up part of the front yard that was retaining water.

This is Matthew and I about to pop a wheelie in the bobcat (what Jeff and Doug referred to as a wussy wheelie but whatever!)

Here's Matthew enjoying a ride on the bobcat. I have no idea why this child was wearing a winter cap and gloves on an 80 degree day.

Evans brought be 8 yards of dirt to play on with the bobcat.
They even hauled away all of my fence panels and some posts. Matthew thought his truck was pretty cool too. So he sat back and watched.

We tore down my shed and ripped up the deck. I drove all around my yard with about 6 feet of decking balanced precariously on the bobcat scoop. Then I got to bounce into the road and flip it over into my yard. It was CRAZY fun.

The boys got a chance to take out some aggression on the deck with a sledgehammer. I just sat in the bobcat and watched, seeing as how I was trapped by 6' sections of decking.

After we got everything torn down and set by the side of the road it was time to get cleaned up. We had some yummy dinner at Acapulco and then Jeff, Doug and I went back to Meijer where Mom, Dad and I saw a cute "conversation set". Originally $400 this had 2 rocking chairs, 2 footstools and 1 slate side table. Everything padded and 2 throw pillows. It was on CLEARANCE 50% off! PLUS I was able to use a 20% off general merchandise coupon and I went home with all 5 pieces for $170!
There was some assembly required, which I left up to the professionals

But have no fear! While they were working to put together my conversation set I was spreading grass seed and straw on my 8 yards of dirt.

Apparently kicking the straw around isn't the most efficient way to do it...

If you're wondering where Matthew was during this whole time, he was hanging out in the fort he made out of my "conversation set" box.

Finally, after a long day of working in the yard I was able to sit back and relax in my new patio chairs. Where I promptly fell asleep.

In front of my face

I'm always in a hurry. Even when I don't have anywhere to be. I exist in this like hyper drive of rush. It doesn't matter how fast I'm going, I could be cruising along at 80MPH, but if there is a car right in front of me it's not fast enough.
This morning I'm driving to church and even though there was plenty of time to get there and get everything accomplished before the serve I was feeling rushed. I get on 42 and am behind a mini van, going slow. I was so mad at this mini-van. I was silently fuming and wondering what the hell this guys problem was, why can't he just go fast, clearly where I'm going and what I'm doing is way more important then whatever is happening in their lives. I spun my wheels trying to find the right moment to pass this mini van and go about my merry little (and much more important) way. When I was finally able to pass them, I noticed they were stuck behind a car. Once I passed them the mini-van got into the left lane and passed this car too.
All of that energy and time that I spent fuming and focusing on the mini-van and it wasn't even because of the mini-van. It was because of this car, that I couldn't see, that I didn't know was really the root of the problem.

I'm like that off the road too. I get so trapped in what is simply in front of me. I can't see around it, I'm blinded by the immediate. It's so hard for me to look beyond that immediate obstacle and see what is really blocking the way.
It's not my weight, it's the reasons I hold on to it.
It's not my financial balance, it's the story behind why I self-sabotaged my money for so many years
It's not that I don't want a relationship ever again, it's why I don't want one right now (and how right now has become almost a decade)

I spend so much time spinning my wheels because of what I think is the problem. My weight, my lack of finances, my seemingly outright anger towards the idea of settling down in a relationship. But those things, those things that I focus on are just mini-vans. They are just the symptoms of the real issues. They are just the things that are right in front of my face.
It won't be until I pass them, until I realize what the car is, the hidden root of the symptom is, that I will have perspective.

I get so caught up in what is right in front of my face that I am blinded to what I really need to see.



I tore down my fence last weekend...another post to come about my adventures on a bobcat.
I also had 8 yards of dirt brought in to fill in the massive hole in my backyard made by the previous owners pool. We spread some of the dirt up farther in the yard because water tends to stand there and we wanted to build that up a little.
I spread grass seed (apparently the wrong way since dad had to go back and "clean it up a little") and Jeff and I shook some straw all over the place. I've been watering it with my new sprinkler 30 minutes a day.
I was sitting on my patio the other day (on my new patio furniture!) and watched as birds swooped down and stole piece after piece of straw from my yard.
It occurred to me how much I've felt like the straw.
I read on Anne Jacksons blog a few weeks ago an entry about a drawbridge. Specifically this sentence spoke to me:

For years, you have permitted others to walk in and out of your life according to their needs and desires.

It's not necessarily that I have let people walk in and out of my life, but that I have let people walk all over my life. Taking what they want and leaving little.
I have allowed people to speak cruel things into my ears and I bought what they were selling as straight up gospel truth.
Like the birds I have allowed these people to swoop in and out ripping pieces of straw from me.
"You're stupid"
"Who do you think you are?"
"You're weird"
"What is wrong with you"
"You're pretty fat"
"I suppose you look ok, but you're getting a little big"

So on and so on I've allowed people to tell me what I'm worth and I've adopted their opinions as my own.
Watching the birds in my yard I could feel all over again the cruelties I've silently allowed stinging all over again. As I sat there watching the birds stealing my straw and thinking about all these things I also remembered a conversation I had with my friend Mel a few months back. She was talking about a revelation she had through her own conversations, about the myth of us splintering ourselves off. That someone has taken a piece of us, or a piece of us died with someone or left with someone. The person that Mel was speaking to said, "You know that's not true right? You're still a whole person even in the midst of pain and disappointment"
We talked about finding out identity if Christ, completely and totally. That in finding our identity in Him completely we are complete even in the midst of pain, sorrow, disappointment, or whatever other rosy and cheerful things that might happen in our lives.

It gave me pause, sitting on my patio, thinking about all of these pieces of me that I had thought for so long were ripped from me and floating around outside of me and outside of my control. While I'm being honest, I also thought they were floating around outside of God's control too.
But sitting in the sunshine, staring at the birds I realized, that I am a complete and whole person because of Jesus. Even when I build up walls, even when I shove people away or am shoved away because of any number of pieces of mismatched luggage, I am complete in Christ.


If I don't try

The thing about owning my house is that I try more. For the first time I am solely responsible for doing things and making decisions on what to do. My parents certainly help and so does my sister and brother in law. But it's mine.
I'm building a shed with Nicole tomorrow. I'm really excited to do it, but I'm going to do it. I'm not going to sit in the grass while dad and Jeff do it. I'm going to do it. I'm going to try instead of watching.
Because if I don't even try, it just won't get done. It's a weird feeling, this idea that I can do something.

I've been visiting this blog about a do it yourself couple in Virgina. I also bought a DIY magazine one my 2 hour shopping excursion to Home Depot Memorial Day weekend. I keep thinking, "I can TOTALLY do that!" Often, I really can't. But I think I'm going to start trying.
Somethings I'll need help on, but other things....other things I'm just going to try. If I screw it up it will be ok and I'll have a hilarious story to tell about how I messed it up. If I don't, then I'll have something awesome that I accomplished and a hilarious story to tell about how I did it.


Honesty is the best policy

Is it really?
How many lies do we tell on a daily basis? Which ones are acceptable, small enough that they're not hurting anyone? Do those lies exist?
Is lying by omission any better than lying by admission? If you just don't correct someone that has an incorrect assumption about something is that still lying?
I say no.

I think there are ways to answer the, "Do I look fat in this?" question that aren't lies, but also aren't unneccissarily cruel. The root of that question is usually, "Am I beautiful, do you find me attractive?" anyway.

What do you think? Is honesty really the best policy?