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Joanna and Aileen

Thank you #20: to my wife

A couple of years ago, I started a Thank You note series. The (lofty and unrealistic for me) goal was that I would write one a week for 50 weeks. Alas, the last one I published in the series came out in September of 2016. I never really quit the series; just got busy writing other things. I'm reviving it for this post--the story of someone whose name topped the list when I started this project.

Joanna and AileenHave you ever heard the one about how I met my wife? I mean, our union was in no way official because (1) it was illegal back then and (2) we are both happily married to our husbands. But still, she’s the only wife I’ve ever had. This is our story.

It was the first week of November 1998, the end of a very long six months. Jay had started working in Asheville, NC in early May that year; I stayed back in Sanford, NC with our three kids: ages 3 months, 2 years, and not-quite-4 years. The plan was that our Sanford house would sell quickly and we would find an affordable home in Asheville within a month or so. Yep, that was the plan. In reality, it took approximately forever to sell the house; by October, we gave up and rented it so we could close on our house in Asheville.

My memory places our first meeting simultaneous with the moving van’s exit. “I’m Joanna! I live across the street,” she said when I answered the door. “I was so excited when I saw you unloading toys; I think our kids are about the same age!” She was right. As it turns out, her oldest, a girl, is a month younger than my oldest daughter; her son is a month younger than mine.

She was a stay-at-home mom, working part-time, despite having advanced degrees that qualified her for a professional career; same here. There were other similarities—crazy coincidences we learned as we got to know each other. For example, she knew and loved sign language; I’d been raised around deaf children and had communicated with them fluently back in the day. I’d been gleefully addicted to Diet Mountain Dew since its inception; Joanna too. Like me, Joanna graduated from her high school in 1983.

“So where did you go to high school?” I asked her.

“A tiny little private school in Wilmington, NC,” she said. “You wouldn’t have heard of it.”

“It wasn’t Cape Fear Academy was it?” It was the only school I knew of that fit the description.

“Um, YES! How did you guess?”

“Oh my gosh you are kidding! Jay moved to Wilmington in the 11th grade and actually graduated from Cape Fear Academy in 1981!”

Our families shared Super Bowl Sundays, birthday parties, trick-or-treating, Easter Egg Hunts, and always snow days. Oh man, snow days were the best. I recall those days in full color, punctuated with squeals and laughter and sweetened by the smell of fresh baked cookies and steaming hot chocolate. The four big kids--Margaret always thought of “Nana” as her personal playmate—raced out to our backyard hill, streaking down then trudging up to do it all over again and again until they were soaking wet or completely exhausted or both.

Our friendship formed over Power Rangers™ and Powerpuff Girls™, Legos™ and Polly Pockets™, PTO meetings and summer vacation. We talked about parenting and marriage, friendship and family, and where to find the best prices on dinosaur egg instant oatmeal. When it was time for our girls to go to kindergarten, we were delighted that they were in the same class. Two years later, our sons started school—together in that very same room.

“It’s like having a wife!” we often said, appreciating the convenience of having someone to pick up a gallon of milk or drop off library books, watch the kids for just a minute or pick them up from school. But Joanna was much more than a partner in the monotony. When three-year-old Margaret, diagnosed with both the flu and pneumonia, was so terrifyingly ill that I could barely see beyond her rising temperature, Joanna was there. When little grade school Baker experienced yet another classmate making fun of his impeded speech, Joanna’s rage matched my own. When Jay and I rushed 8-year-old Trellace to the emergency room late one night, and during all the days after when she was hospitalized for peritonitis following her appendectomy, Joanna seamlessly filled in the gaps.

For a little more than five years, Joanna and her family lived across the street from us. I have to keep recounting that number because I just can’t believe it was only five years. (Of course, that’s just chronological time; it has never been all that reliable in tracking memories.)

So, here’s to Joanna, my across-the-street wife and one of God’s most extravagant gifts to me. I will forever be grateful for this extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime friendship that has made me a better me.

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WHYM: Faith with Uncertainty

WHYM sarah mccoy

WHYM: Nathan, Sarah, Josh, and Andy

“It’s like real-life Tetris,” Josh said, laughing.

“Every time we load stuff, it’s hilarious,” Sarah said. “We have to sit around the drums. And the microphones are, like, here,” she said holding her hands on either side of her head and gesturing forward and back. Josh pivoted on the restaurant bench and leaned back. “One time Andy had to sit like this,” he said, lifting his legs to place his feet on an imaginary drum.

“And there was always something wrong with that car,” Sarah said, shaking her head, somehow frowning and giggling at the same time.

“The Jeep Liberty! That was fun!” Josh said, meaning it.

Sarah looked at me, making eye contact. “It wasn’t fun.”

“It was!” Josh laughed as he ticked off the crises they faced. “We ran out of gas once; the breaks went out one time. And it would just start smoking for one reason or the other. It was great.”

“Josh enjoyed it. I didn’t.”

We were having lunch at White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville, talking about Josh Linhart and Sarah McCoy’s new music venture. These two have been performing together since 2011 when they were college sophomores majoring in music at Mars Hill University. Now, five years later, they are two of the four musicians in the newly formed group, WHYM. Sarah is the vocalist and plays keyboard and guitar; Josh plays percussion; Andy Little, also a MHU grad, plays bass; and Nathan Culberson, a graduate of University of North Carolina in Asheville, plays electric guitar.

“Why the new name?” I asked them. (For the previous 3-4 years, the musicians of WHYM were known as The Friendly Beasts.)

“Mainly because our sound is so different now.” They spoke as much to each other as to me, so it’s hard to remember who said what. “Back then, we were college students who wanted to jam together. We did things as cheaply as possible; we were amateurs.”

“Now we are taking it up a notch. We’ve hired technicians to help us with production and we’re doing things professionally.”

“So even though the four of us were together as The Friendly Beasts, WHYM is really a whole new band.”

“WHYM.’ I’ve been trying to figure out what it means,” I said as Sarah and Josh seemed to wait for my answer—as if it was up to me to come to my own conclusion. “Is it initials for something? Is it from another language? Is it a play on the word ‘whim?’”

Silence. We sat there, thinking, not talking, about those four little letters. Sarah was the one to respond.

“It’s not any of those things. It’s really about the sound of the word. We wanted a single syllable that had a soft sound. We brainstormed a lot of different sounding words, and this one just seemed to fit. But we don’t really know what it means exactly. It’s a mystery.”

“The meaning will work itself out,” Josh added. “Kind of like our faith.”

“When we were younger, we saw things as more black and white. Now we have questions and we allow room for those questions, for the mystery, in our music.” (Their words began to merge again.)

“And not just in the lyrics, but also in the actual music.”

“We have been wanting to think about uncertainty.”

“Not to worry about it . . . “

“To leave space for it. And to be okay with uncertainty.”

“We think it’s more authentic.”

If WHYM is anything, it’s authentic. These musicians have been raised in the church; all four came to know Christ early in life. (Three of them are actually pastors’ kids!) They have lived their faith, wrestled with it, questioned it, and have kept believing.  Their music draws listeners into a safe space where followers of Christ don’t have all the answers, where mystery is expected and therefore is not nearly so scary. As a youth minister, a parent to teens, and a friend to many college students, I can attest that this is the kind of safe place our students are seeking: a place where Jesus is Lord, the Holy Spirit moves in the most mysterious of ways, and humanity is beloved by God, even when they are uncertain.

WHYM started a Kickstarter campaign that lasts until March 3. Every donation—from $1-$5000—grants free music and additional rewards. (Just $5 gets you their new release, coming out in May!) Would you consider supporting them? If you do, down the road, you and I can both say, “You know that amazing band WHYM? I helped them get their start!”