I've wanted to do this series last year but never got around to it. But this year I'm going to do it. It started whenever I saw on Facebook that it was someone's birthday and thought, "Oh, that person is so cool." And I wanted to somehow, ultimately, pay tribute to the fact that I know some of the coolest, sweetest, wisest people around. So every month, as my friends' birthdays come up, I'll zoom on over to next month's unpublished edition of Cool People I Know and write a little blurb about how cool they are and why I like being friends with them. (Although writing this has made me realize I don't have nearly enough pictures of me with the cool people I know. I may have to start trying to fix that...)
Some of these friends may not have actual birthdays in the month they claim, but Facebook says they do, and Facebook is what reminds me to write about them in particular. So here are all the people whose birthdays I saw in January.
Jen. I first met Jen at our community college, where she and I were in Campus Crusade together for a little while. I loved hearing her thoughts and insights every time the group met together. She later ended up marrying someone from the church I went to, and they now have a family together. I sometimes feel like I "lose" my friends when they get married and have kids -- their lives get wrapped up in kids and cooking and decorating the house and all the things that I have just zero interest in, and our common interests fall to the side. But I genuinely enjoy reading Jen's posts about her family, and we've occasionally had conversations over Facebook about common interests we still share. Her posts are thoughtful, compassionate, and interesting. We don't get to see each other often in person, but she's someone I pay attention to whenever she pops up on my news feed.
Mary. Mary is in charge the costume shop for Huntington's theater program. Although I never worked in the costume shop while I was there, I took her costuming class and spent plenty of time searching together for the right outfit for each show. Mary is one of those people who instantly puts me at ease, whether I was figuring out the awkwardness of a costume that just didn't fit right or stumbling through what I'd missed in the first half of her class (due to some awkward scheduling, I ended up needing to take two overlapping classes and skipping the first half of most of Mary's classes). Sewing of any kind is... not my expertise, but even when I was hopelessly lost, she'd make sure and explain it all to me until I understood enough to get through the assignment. Most of the time I get to see her whenever I go back to see a show at the university, and even if it's just a few minutes of catching up, it's really nice.
Aaron. Aaron and I were in an acting class or two together back at my community college, and though we don't chat much these days, he did sign up for my 2014 movie challenge -- and his choices were great fun. Several musicals or movies based on plays, as well as the ridiculous-but-awesome "My Name Is Bruce." I'm definitely going to have to pay attention to anything he recommends on Facebook.
Kyle. I worked with Kyle on a couple different youth ministry teams at my church in Illinois. He was on the drama team for awhile (and was very good), and then when I headed up a video ministry team, he and a group of his friends from school were all on it. Kyle was awesome to work with -- very creative, lots of fun, but also willing to refocus whenever I realized we'd gone 30 minutes without coming up with anything useful. Most of all, though, he was really serious about God. We obviously always tried to make God a central part of the ministry teams, and frequently you'd get teens who were just sitting through the God stuff to get to the fun stuff, but Kyle was always interested in for sharing what God had been teaching him and praying for his peers and growing as a Christian. He was one of those students who was just a delight to work with. Now he's married and (I believe) graduated from college and even though we don't run into each other much anymore, I'm sure he's grown from a great teenager into a great adult, and I very much wish him well.
Jessica. Jessica joined the drama company at the same time as I did, although unfortunately I never got to travel with her. She rose up through the ranks quickly as a leader, thanks to her boldness, her love for others, and her strong morals. She was one of those rare people who are both extremely strong and yet extremely approachable. I never felt intimidated by her or worried she'd judge me or call me out on being too timid. We also shared a dark sense of humor which meant occasionally someone would tell a joke or watch a morbidly funny movie and we'd be the only two to laugh at it. Hopefully someday soon I'll get a chance to catch up with her.
Lucy. Lucy and I went to Huntington together. We were in the same graduating class, but she was a theater minor and... perhaps a PR major? It was something like that -- I knew her from theater stuff. She was a really funny, delightful person to be around, one of those very open people who would both happily discuss her own life and ask other people about theirs. In classes and rehearsals for shows she was focused, practical, and never afraid to ask questions if she didn't understand something. I follow along with her on Facebook and am always happy to hear things are going well for her.
Naomi. I first knew Naomi only as the younger sister of my online friend Sarah. But as the years went by, I got to know Naomi as her own person as well, and she's delightful. She's got a great sense of humor and very smart observations about culture. We share the same love for movies, TV, and musical theater, and I always enjoy having a discussion with her about any of them, because she has solid opinions but doesn't get defensive or snarky about them.
Elizabeth. I'm pretty slow to get to know people, so it took me awhile to get comfortable around Jacob's family, just because they were new to me. It's been wonderful getting to know his sister Elizabeth, or Bessie, as most of his family calls her. She's got a snarky sense of humor that reminds me of mine, which puts me very much at ease. Even though I feel like I'm still getting to know her, I feel very comfortable with her, and that's awesome.
Cassie. I was somehow placed in the extrovert party dorm my first year at Huntington, and so was Cassie. While she was more inclined to spend a lot of time with one or two close friends than I was, we were both frequently overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of our dorm, and during the second semester, when I had a room to myself, I offered my room to her as a respite where the two of us could just chill quietly with the door closed. Hiding away from the rest of the (very loud) world, we ended up bonding some and continued to be friends the rest of my time at school.
Gina. Gina and I haven't been close in awhile, but we were great friends back when I was 12-14 or so. We both were Christians who loved musicals and writing, and we had a very similar goofy sense of humor. I can't begin to count all the times we wrote stories together or gushed about our favorite shows. When AIM faded into obscurity, we kept in touch on Facebook but spoke less. I am, however, always inspired by her Facebook posts. She truly has the soul of a poet, always posting about the more thoughtful and beautiful parts of her faith, and every time she posts something, I think, "She's really a lovely person." She just recently got married, and I wish her all the happiness in the world.
Sarah. Sarah and I have been good friends ever since I first traveled with NLDC, and for a while there we even got to be roommates in South Carolina. I could not be more lucky to be her friend. She has strong opinions but is always willing to discuss them respectfully, and she really listens to what the other person is saying. She's one of the most encouraging people I know, and she goes out of her way to be available to offer words of encouragement to everyone. Through the last several years, she's been one of the people I've gone to when I was just feeling down, and she'd pray with me over text or send me "YOU CAN DO IT, YOU'RE AMAZING" messages. I'm so amazed by her and I know wherever she is and whatever she does, she'll be blessing people.
Christian. It took me a little while to be comfortable around Christian, just because I wasn't sure how to read him at first. But now that we're friends, I've come to realize he's an incredibly inclusive and warm person. He's one of those people who post videos on your Facebook of songs he thinks you'll like and ask your opinion on a video game out of the blue because he knows you game. It can be easy for more reserved introverts to feel unseen and unnoticed, and he's excellent at letting you know that he heard you.
Charles. His two sons both were heavily involved with NLDC, but he and his wife really went out of his way to be a parent to all of us travelers -- in fact, they were known among most of us simply as Mama and Papa. Whenever we were all at homebase, the two of them spent so much time pouring encouragement and prayer and wisdom into us, filling up our love tanks so that when we went back out on the road, we had more energy to love those in our path. Papa also paid attention to those who felt like they were on the sidelines, reaching out to them with quiet encouragement and letting them know that he saw their efforts and he saw their growth, even if they felt like no one else did.
Thank you to all you amazing people I know with January birthdays. :-) Now on to February!