Friend #33: Luke (and the ladies: Jessa, Shatera, Elena, Nyah, and Liza)

My first memory of Luke is from second grade.  He had recently moved to town and to my class.  He was a threat to me in a lot of ways—I liked being the tallest and the smartest person in the class.  This new kid was smart, and he was tall, and I didn’t like that very much.  But then we had hat day at school.  And I vividly remember that the teacher turned off the lights to get us to be quiet (can you believe that actually used to work?), and Luke’s visor had different lights on in that lit up the room.  I thought someone with a hat that cool might be an OK person after all.

From when we were seven to when we were seventeen, Luke and I would go head to head in a lot of our classes.  It was a bit of a sibling rivalry.  But I have proof when he signed my senior yearbook that he conceded upon graduation that the odds were in my favor.  Luke was the kind of guy in high school who would do well in all the honors classes, played basketball, and was liked by everyone.  He sort of had a Keanu Reeves from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure persona back then.  But then he would spend his summers and spring breaks doing work trips and mission trips to Russia and Haiti.  And you could tell he was moved and challenged and changed by his experiences beyond the “Duuuuuuuude” mentality. [If you went to Parkway West and you have a yearbook from either 96 or 97, there’s a picture of Luke in Haiti putting a big pipe in the ground in the first few pages—I always thought it looked like it came out of National Geographic or something—such a great shot].

Luke and I lost touch after high school, but then I saw him at our 10-year reunion and I met his wife Jessa (then pregnant with their 2nd daughter Nyah).  At the time, I was considering going overseas to combat human trafficking in Southeast Asia.  Without any hesitation, Luke offered his support and assistance in whatever way I would need.  I think our sibling rivalry became a sibling loyalty.  And my welcome in their home was no different.  In addition to daughters Elena and Nyah (ages 6 and 3), the family welcomed little Liza just 3 weeks ago.  And they had me over for lunch in the midst of all that!

Baby Liza Pearl, born on June 16th.

When I was being introduced to the family, upon arriving, I was also introduced to Shatera, a young woman who very much seemed to be a part of the family.  I wondered whether she might be the nanny, or whether she actually was a part of the family.  Partway through lunch, I broached the question of how Shatera fit in.  They all laughed.  “Yeah, we wondered how to tell you.  Shatera’s 17, which would mean Luke would have become a dad in high school.”  I was there and I know THAT didn’t happen.

It turns out that Shatera IS a part of the family.  She has had a pretty rough home life.  And now she lives with Luke and Jessa and the kids, only on the weekends during the school year, but more frequently during the summers.  Shatera is a truly lovely young woman.  Intelligent and well-spoken.  She is so obviously a survivor, with such a good head on her shoulders.  She was waiting to get her ACT scores back—territory I know all too well.  It is so apparent that she has a bright and shiny future ahead of her, and even more apparent that it will be brighter because of the love she is able to give and receive in the context of this family.  So cool.

Watching Luke and Jessa juggle family and food prep and discipline and crabbiness from little sleep from late-night fireworks was like watching a seamless dance.  I guess by kid number 3, there’s a certain rhythm that develops, but to see this little boy I knew hold a newborn like a football while calming a three year old and asking thoughtful questions about my life—I was stunned.  And Jessa, too.  Nothing can rattle her.  It was just so clear that they were firmly content in their life and that they had the perspective to know that a rough moment or a rough day would pass in time.

Luke is still competitive and competent.  He works for Oracle, which I guess is known for its cut-throat, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately atmosphere, but he is thriving in that environment.  And he coaches basketball in one of Minneapolis’s rougher urban neighborhoods.  Jessa is creative and funky, having recently stepped out of some more intensive roles, but still finding ways to contribute her various talents.

Looking at Luke’s life now: A successful career.  An amazing family.  Changing the lives of the people around him.  And doing it all with an easy-going confidence and generosity.  The odds might be in his favor now.  Or at the very least, he’s giving me a good run for my money.

Shatera, Nyah, Luke, Elena, Liza, and Jessa

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