It was the day after my senior prom. (Man, so many good stories could follow that opening line.)
My mom and I were late to my college registration meeting because, well, it was the day after my senior prom. Anyway, we pulled into the parking lot just as the event was supposed to start. We hopped out of the van and walked briskly towards the entrance, both of us nervous and anxious about whatever was supposed to happen at this first official college meeting. As we walked, we noticed another girl my age walking at the same pace but without the anxious face. She introduced herself and said she was late because she had her senior prom last night (!!). I don’t remember much else about the conversation except for the fact that her name was Janelle, she was from Novato, and she carried herself with a confidence I wanted.
It’s been 14 years and I haven’t stopped being impressed by her confidence.
It turns out, being late wasn’t uncommon for Janelle. Consequently, she drove a bit faster than one should. So fast, actually, that she got pulled over by the police. Multiple times. And, actually, that happened so many times that the police decided Janelle should take a little break from driving. They borrowed her license for awhile, so when we had plans to drive back to APU after Christmas break, I got to drive her car, Big Red, wherein I also learned how to drive a stick. Nothing stopped Janelle from her vibrant, confident way of life. Not even the police.
After we graduated college, four of us went to Hawaii for a post-college vacation. It was one of the best choices I ever made. Anyway, one night we were out doing things that 22 year olds do when they have one week between two worlds of responsibility and life change, and when we arrived back, we saw that the garage door was open- which we knew we had closed before we left. Casi and I immediately decided that we needed to call the condo rent-a-cops to have them scour the place. The rent-a-cops were, well, rent-a-cops, so they were a bit worried about entering a home that may have been burglarized so they called in actual cops. Janelle, however, was not worried. She walked in, no doubt telling the officers, “My dad was a cop.” She paused before we walked in, pointed to a mark by the door leading into the house and said, “I’m 99% certain this wasn’t here when we left.” She and Sari proceeded to talk to the officers as we walked in to find clothes on the floor, food on the counters, and a DVD case open on the carpet. Bless you for your confidence, but that, unfortunately, was exactly how we left it.
While Janelle was always the one up for a random road trip or Starbucks run for whipped cream and caramel (yes, that was her exact order), she was also always our pastor. Always has been, always will. And if the word pastor causes you to disengage, then how about this: nurturer, listener, communicator, confidence-giver, truth-speaker.
Right before my last semester of college I found out that I owed more tuition than I had anticipated. I was defeated and worried. Janelle climbed up into my top bunk and listened to me as I expressed my fear that I wasn’t going to be able to graduate. She listened and tried to give input, but I kept interrupting her saying, “Yeah, but I don’t have the money” and “Yeah, but I don’t want to take out another loan.” She stopped me and said “Yea, but…” and proceeded to fill in the blanks with all the other times in my life that God had provided. And then she had me make a “Yeah, but” list of all the ways that God had been faithful. This is Janelle: nurturer, listener, communicator, confidence- giver, truth-speaker.
This is who Janelle is to me, but I know she is all of those things to hundreds of people. She has spoken to large crowds and small groups, listening and empowering them to be who they were created to be, challenging them to see God and the world around them in new ways. She did this professionally and personally. She is relatable, dynamic, funny, and vibrant.
But right now, the narrative of her life is very different. The characters are all the same, but the plot has shifted in a scary, frustrating, and life-changing way. She doesn’t stand up and speak to big groups about who God is. She doesn’t get to sit on the sidelines of waterpolo and football games, cheering on her students. She doesn’t get to travel with her husband, caring for and nurturing people. She doesn’t get to make trips to Target for diapers or onesies, she doesn’t get to get dressed up for dinner with Allen. She didn’t get to have a baby shower. She and Allen, and all of us, lived in fear that one of her seizures would be permanently damaging or fatal for her or for her unborn baby.
I have lost count of how many hospitals she’s been in this past year. I know there were two (three?) in Houston, two in L.A., and about ten in the Inland Empire. She had to leave her newborn and 2 year old for ten days in order to have intensive tests and treatment to figure out what was wrong with her. She’s spent the majority of the last 16 months under 24 hour care, constantly indebted to people to care for her and Allen and their boys.
But somehow, in the middle of the most difficult, scary, life-changing stage of life, she is still the same Janelle: nurturer, listener, communicator, confidence-giver, truth-speaker.
Janelle, you are a lighthouse in a very dark and scary world. And in this particular part of the world, the world where those who love you and pray for you are in constant worry for you, Allen, Josiah, and Caleb, you are our lighthouse. You’ve been sitting in the middle of a raging ocean for the last 16 months, getting drenched and pummeled by the waves of hours-long seizures, frightening test results, and weeks upon weeks in the hospital. We’re all just trying to keep up with whatever the season holds, but you sit there in confidence, firmly rooted in whose you are. Your faith is ferocious as the storms that hit and unwavering as a lighthouse and it beckons us all to follow your lead. You are the signal that says to the world that even if He doesn’t heal or save you, you are still going to follow Him. You are still going to believe that our God is good.
In your darkest hours, you and Allen both have continued to shepherd, pastor, and challenge anyone who hears your story. Your confidence in the God who made you leaves me in wonder, challenging me to believe more than I thought possible.
Happy birthday, Janelle. May this year bring new joy, renewed health, and continued confidence in the one that carries us through.