My good friend Kenzie turns 33 today. She is one week older than me. We were both born in rural Minnesota, started kindergarten in the same small town of Frazee and graduated together. She grew up on a farm, milking dairy cows before the beginning of the school day, coaching and playing fastpitch softball, and serving as our class of 2000 valedictorian. I’ve never known her not to be with Mike, her high school sweetheart. M & M just go together. They love each other so much they had six kids together.
I could write “Happy Birthday” on her Facebook timeline to let her know I’m thinking of her on her special day. Maybe even add THREE exclamation points so she really knows I care. She lives two and a half miles from me. I could drop a card off at her house. But that doesn’t begin to describe how amazing this woman is and what it means to me to have her in my life.
So, in an attempt to sum up how amazing this woman is, I will give you a peek into how this strong woman is making each day count during her life.
Kenzie is a strong woman. Like, physically strong. She can outlift me when we’re taking a Body Pump class at the Y. She has the endurance to run marathons (she recently set a personal record during the Twin Cities Marathon while battling a chest cold and a pulled Achilles tendon).
But it isn’t just physical strength. Kenzie has mental fortitude and a strong Christian faith. She and I attended the same United Methodist Church when we were growing up and were confirmed together. Shortly after marriage, Mike and Kenzie were blessed with the birth of their first child Nizhoni. Unfortunately, Nizhoni was born with a birth defect known as congenital diaphragmatic hernia meaning her lungs were unable to develop completely which forced Mike and Kenzie to say goodbye moments after they said hello to their sweet daughter.
At the time of Nizhoni’s birth and death, I had a tough time relating to Kenzie’s situation. We were 21 at the time and while most of us from high school were attending college, traveling abroad, getting drunk, and living selfishly, Kenzie and Mike were grieving the loss of their child. I saw Kenzie a few weeks after the funeral when I got home from a study abroad semester in London and I couldn’t see the vibrant woman I’d known growing up. Her spark was dulled and I certainly couldn’t relate to what she was feeling on any level. It was troubling to me and if I could go back to that time knowing what I do now about being a mother, I would.
Instead of becoming bitter and turning away from their faith, Mike and Kenzie leaned in. Between 2005 and 2012, they added Faith, Hope, Liam, Grace, and Serenity to their family. All five kids are healthy and thriving.
It takes great faith to stay together and soldier on after experiencing great loss and Mike and Kenzie’s commitment to each other is a testament to that faith.
Kenzie did something selfless seven years ago. When her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, Kenzie volunteered to have Grandma Gert come live with her and Mike and the kids. Grandma Gert just turned 92 last week and it has been the best thing for her. The kids get to grow up in a household with their great-grandmother learning how to be compassionate toward others and Grandma Gert gets to live in a house full of activity which keeps her moving and engaged as she lives with dementia.
Kenzie is a “stay-at-home” mom that works at the YMCA short-term childcare center part-time. But “stay-at-home” is very inaccurate. I think I’ve seen Kenzie sit down on only two or three occasions in the last couple of years! She is a Sunday School teacher, an Awana teacher, and a softball coach in addition to volunteer with her church and kids activities. She makes sure her kids are involved in sporting and extra-curricular activities that develop them in all areas of their lives.
Kenzie is the best friend that many dream of having. She asked me a few weeks ago if she could adopt a homeless family to live in her house until they get back on their feet. She wants to help people almost to a fault. She’s willing to take my kids, neighbor kids, and other friends’ kids at the drop of a hat so that we can go on a date night, pick up a work shift, or go to an appointment. Her friends try to reciprocate but we’ll never have the level of generous selflessness that Kenzie possesses. Not even close.
If you are in Kenzie’s inner circle, consider yourself blessed. She ‘s always there to lend an ear, take in a fitness class, or spontaneously go do something new. She went to a hip-hop show with me last month in the middle of the week on a whim!
Kenzie’s annual Halloween parties are epic. It’s gotten to the point where she throws two parties to accommodate all the friends that want to attend. She and Mike transform their garage into a child’s spooky paradise filled with games, experiments, and treats. This year even had a zombie run and obstacle course.
If Kenzie is your friend, you’re doing just fine.
This woman has made it her mission to make sure she is living her life in a way that benefits her family and friends. Her kindness is apparent in her everyday interactions to make life better for those in her life through fitness, community involvement, adventure, friendship, and caring.
If you see Kenzie today or this year, do something for her. Give her a gift card for a massage, or ice cream, or fitness clothes. Not because she would ever ask for a single thing in the world. But because she would give you anything to make your life a little easier.
Happy birthday, Kenzie. I’m a lucky gal to have you in my life.