Jim and Heide Blair

Every year from Memorial Day to Labor Day GO TOGETHER encourages Gurnee residents to host a barbecue in their neighborhood as a way to connect with their neighbors. Jim and Heide Blair hosted a get-together at their home for members of a local group. This story expresses the impact it had on one family in particular. 


Normal… this is a word I try not to think about. When I do, I feel shame. You see, the normal that I associate with is the kind of normal that other folks would see and quickly cross to the other side of the street to get away from. It’s a normal that has a lot of darkness in it, things I am not proud of. Words like prison, convict, undesirable… these words are connected to the normal that defines me. Normal…My wife and my daughter, they are also part of my normal, and I am ashamed that I have made the decisions I have made which have brought them in contact with the darker parts of my normal. It’s an uphill struggle every day of my life to mend the hurt, to right the wrongs, and to try and provide the kind of normal that they deserve and, so desperately, desire. It’s one of those kinds of struggles that I am constantly afraid of losing.

I am a member of a local group here in Lake County. Recently, we were invited to a barbeque at the home of a family that lives here in Waukegan. I brought my wife and daughter, as well as my granddaughter, for an afternoon of food and fun. The food was delicious, and we played games all afternoon. There were toys, too, which my young ones played with. They had such a good time that it was difficult to pry them away when it was time to leave. For hours, we just ate and talked and played and… well, that was it. It was… normal? There it was again… that word, and I just kept thinking about it throughout the afternoon. Is this what normal people do on Sunday afternoons? How will I able to duplicate this next weekend when my daughter wants to come back? These questions, and many others, took up permanent residence in my mind, and I began to feel a sense of longing, of disappointment, and of sadness that I might not be make this happen for my family again.

At one point during the afternoon, another member from our group began asking questions about the kids at Lydia Home, an organization based in Chicago that does a lot of great work for foster kids. He talked about how he would love to meet with those kids, to share with them how the love of Jesus Christ has transformed his life. He was so intent, so passionate about his desire to make a difference in their lives, and to help them find a way to make better decisions with their lives than some of us had in ours. As I listened to him, I looked over at my daughter as she lay in my wife’s arms, napping away a short break in her festivities, and then it hit me:

There is no normal. Normal is what happens when we forget about the people around us and focus only on ourselves, on our mistakes and on our own perverted realities as we try and live up to some idealized version of ourselves. What this family did, feeding strangers, treating men as men, women as women, and a daughter as the precious gift that she is… that is what matters. God has called us to love those who maybe don’t see love very often, to throw parties for those who maybe haven’t been celebrated very often, and to see the could be instead of the what was in everyone we come across.

And there was a sobering realization, as well… I realized that I have been so focused on my past mistakes that I have forgotten to love others as well. I have been so fixated on what it would feel like to be normal again that I forgot to love those around me.

That one afternoon was not the end all; it was not the first day of the rest of a re-awakened life. No, it was much more than that. It was a picture of the love God has for us that he wants us to share with those around us. It was a barbecue, with lots of food and games…