Because sometimes the plus-one thing doesn’t happen

The saying “This ain’t my first rodeo” annoys me, so I think I’m going to change it up a bit and say something else.

This ain’t my first wedding. (This obviously won’t always be interpreted the right way, so I’ll keep you posted.)

Weddings are not foreign events to me—I’ve been in 19 and attended plenty more as a guest only. I enjoy weddings because they’re fun celebrations of people beginning journeys together that you hope will last for their entire lifetimes.

But weddings can create predicaments for those who—whether by choice or simple reality—are flying solo.

My sister is my go-to plus-one. In fact, the only two guys who were ever supposed to go with me to weddings both bailed on two separate occasions—one lived in a different state and decided a few weeks before the wedding that he was too busy with work to be able to get away for a weekend, and the other merely changed his mind and didn’t want to go. My sister would never do either of those things, and she’s actually endured some pretty awkward and entertaining situations at weddings where she knew pretty much nobody but me. (If you ever meet her, please ask her about the chocolate balls story.)

We have a slight problemo for an upcoming wedding, though: My sister is going to be out of town for another wedding. She has a husband, so she doesn’t need me to be a plus-one. It’s fine.

My sister wasn’t able to be my plus-one at her own wedding, so I went solo. (photo courtesy of the great Kelsey Brown)

Now, I’ve gone to weddings by myself before, which has always been easier when I’ve been in them, but I don’t think I’m going to know that many people other than the bride at this one. Will I survive? Yes, and I’m sure I’ll meet some great people. Even though it’s not always as fun to go stag, it can still be a fun night.

In order to convince others (and myself) of this, I’ve compiled a list of ways to turn a wedding without a plus-one into a great evening.

Dance. I cannot express the importance of this strongly enough. You should always dance, even if you don’t have anyone to dance with you. Plus, you don’t have a date to try to impress with your sweet moves, so you can really let yourself go. And when the slow songs come on, you can twirl around the floor on your own, take a restroom break, catch up on Instagram posts, or make small talk with the people around you who are not swaying with others.

Be more carefree. Even when you’re getting ready for the wedding, you can have less anxiety about how your dress looks on you or whether your hair looks better down or pinned back. You’ll likely also have less stress at the wedding, too. I mean, you don’t even have to keep track of where your date is or worry about if he’s having fun, because you don’t have a date.

Be more daring. A dateless wedding is a great opportunity to meet more people and strike up better conversations than those regarding what the weather’s been doing lately or surface-level information about your career. And if you’re really feeling bold, you can test out a joke or two without worrying about whether or not people laugh. If they don’t, you may never see them again, so who really cares? The only person who can make fun of you to you later is you, and hopefully you won’t do that.

Scout. If you’re flying solo at a wedding, there’s a chance you won’t be the only one doing so. You might meet someone who strikes your fancy whom you never would have met if you’d brought a semi-random plus-one or skipped out on going altogether.

Let’s be honest: The real reason you go to a wedding is to celebrate the union of people you truly care about, and the event isn’t actually about you and your dating status. But it’s definitely an event that can remind you of how single you are and how much you wish you had someone in your life, as well. Someone who knows everything about you and still wants to be with you. Someone who will fight for you. Someone who will endure the bad moments and celebrate the good ones. Someone who will always cheer for you. Someone who will hold your hand and genuinely care when you cry. Someone who would never intentionally hurt you.

Someone who consistently shows you what true love is and what true love does.

Being single isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it can certainly be challenging at times. It shouldn’t be something that sucks out happiness, though. Some people find their people later in life, and some never find them at all. Regardless, it’s important to find the joy even in those moments when you feel the most alone.

After all, if you look around you, you’ll realize you’re never as alone as you might think you are.

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What if we didn’t judge people?

Life isn’t really one big stage on which we’re performing on a daily basis.

So we don’t actually need to worry about the crowd’s perception so much.

I’m not a gymnast. Even though I tried to be way back in the day, I didn’t get very far—I was horrible. So, honestly, it comes as no surprise to me that no one has ever asked me to judge international gymnastics competitions. I mean, what expertise do I possess to be qualified to judge others in this sport? Zero.

It’s interesting, though, how quickly we’re able to judge other people in so many other areas of life. I was talking to my friend Bonnie one day last week about a mean comment someone had said to me about my outfit. I usually don’t care what people think about what I’m wearing, but it was one of those days when I didn’t need any extra negativity, and this person made me feel like I didn’t even belong at work that day.

And then Bonnie said something so true: “The world would be a better place if people would stop judging.”

Amen, sister.

You know what this sign doesn’t say? “Judge people.”

For many of us, as we get older, we tend to care less and less about what people think of us in some areas of our lives—we’ll go to the grocery store in pajamas, and we’ll say things out loud in public that might have embarrassed us 10 years ago. But, even as adults, every once in a while, other people can still make us feel small.

When I was teaching high school, I remember so many instances when I had to remind my students that they should feel comfortable in their own skin and not worry about what other people thought or said about them. I would argue that most high schoolers are pretty concerned with judgments others make about them, but I would also argue that the concern doesn’t always vanish when you’re older.

For the most part, I couldn’t care less about people judging me. Life’s too short to worry about stuff like that. It’s been more of a struggle, though, when it comes to guys I’m interested in—because obviously their opinions matter. But I don’t think they should to the extent that I sometimes think they should. I can recall many situation in which I’ve been to shy or quiet when I really should have just been me.

Let’s flash back to college. I was really good friends with a guy I had a crush on, and we spent a significant amount of time together. I was pretty comfortable around him most of the time, but there were other times when I felt I couldn’t completely be myself and make my dumb jokes and comments or even sing out loud in the car. That’s not a good thing, and I later realized that.

Thankfully, down the road I became more comfortable with other guys I met, and I performed Taylor Swift on a boat and unexpectedly sang the same song at a wedding reception, both in front of fellas I liked. But I sometimes still have moments when I freeze up out of fear of what a guy will think of me. Every once in a while, it may take me about 14 minutes to hit send on one text because I’m having anxiety about what homeboy will think. Note to self: It’s just a text.

People are always going to judge us. It doesn’t mean it’s right, but it’s a reality. We don’t have to let their opinions impact the way we live, though. We are the people we are for reasons, and we don’t need to change simply because of what others might think about us. If you want to sing Whitney or Britney at karaoke, please belt it. If you want to veer away from tradition when planning your wedding, go for it. If you want to believe that leggings are pants, believe it, and wear them with pride. If you want to put ketchup instead of mustard on your hot dog, slather away. If you really like the shirt that your friend said she’d never wear in public, for the love, buy the freaking shirt. If you are sitting at the airport and realize you forgot to put on deodorant, but the bathroom is too far away, and the deodorant is right in your bag and would be easier to put on right where you are, you do what you need to do, regardless of the looks you receive.

Just be you.

Bonnie is right: The world would absolutely be a better place if people would stop judging. But it would also be better if we stopped caring so much about those judgments. I know I’m going to remind myself more to be me all of the time, even when it comes to some guy who strikes my fancy. After all, he should accept me for who I am—just like others should accept you for the person you are. And, to be honest, the people who truly care about you won’t make you feel like you’re not good enough as you are.

Because love is better than that.

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Because life can be exhausting

I wish I could go back and tell my kindergarten self to appreciate and actually sleep during nap time.

Because that little girl is going to miss it greatly when she’s an adult.

I think we all go through periods of life that are more exhausting than others. It seems like there will never be enough hours for adequate amounts of sleep, the madness will never end, and we’ll be in perpetual states of zombie-like existences. After all, there’s simply no time for rest.

To be perfectly honest, I’m tired. Really tired. For years now (probably beginning some time during college), I’ve averaged about four to five hours of sleep each night. I’m aware that adults are really supposed to get between seven and nine hours, but that’s obviously not happening.

And let’s be real: Lack of sleep is not the only thing that makes us exhausted.

Life is hard sometimes. We deal with things that wear us out or leave us hurt and emotionally spent. We face situations that require so much of our energy that it’s difficult to expend it in other areas of our lives, as well.

My friend recently had her first baby, and her life has definitely changed in drastic ways. We met for froyo the other day, and she apologized for not being as perky as usual. She mentioned that there was baby throw-up in her hair, she hadn’t showered in two days, and she had attempted to throw on a little bit of makeup so that she looked somewhat presentable. She also lost her dad last week and yet is somehow keeping herself together. She’s exhausted.

Another friend of mine is going through a difficult breakup and all that goes with a broken heart. Crying sure can wear a person out. She’s also trying to remain strong and positive at the same time, and she still has to go to work and go through many other aspects of her life as if everything is normal. But she’s exhausted.

I met a man on the elevator the other day who was on his way to catch a plane to Chicago for a meeting, and then he had to turn around and fly home that same night. He travels quite a bit throughout the week for work and said he does a lot of day trips like that, and the weekends are spent going to his kids’ soccer games and making up for lost time with his family. He seemed exhausted.

I’ve been in a rough patch for quite a few months now and feel drained a lot of the time. I’m trying to make some bigger decisions than I want to deal with, and I’m also trying to forget about something that just won’t go away. On top of it all, on Friday I found out that I have to have a more invasive surgery than I originally thought. I’m exhausted.

We all have very different situations, and we all deal with them in different ways. When my friend with the newborn asked me how I’m doing, and I said I am really tired, I apologized and said I shouldn’t say that to her. But she said something I’d expect to hear from her: “It’s not a competition. I want to hear about it.”

And she listened.

snoozefest

Moments after this pic, my sister, Audrey (my parents’ dog) and I were all three snoozing.

She’s right, too: We all have our own reasons for feeling worn down, and we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. Instead, we should simply be there for one another. People need people. No matter how busy we get or how tired we become, it’s always important to make time for people. If you throw yourself into your work or your training or whatever it is you focus much of your time and energy on that has nothing to do with the important people in your life, and you never make time for those who truly matter, at the end of the day, what do you have?

Exhaustion isn’t exactly a comfort for the lonely.

The difficult periods usually don’t last forever—and time doesn’t last forever, either. When you’re feeling exhausted, remember that there are people who care about you and will be there for you if you let them. And also remember that others out there are tired, too. You don’t know the story of every person you encounter, so try to keep that in mind and show a little compassion any chance you get.

I’m going to try to start making more time for others but also still finding plenty of time to rest and sleep. Sure, I’ll have to make some changes to my schedule, but I think I can do it if I’m diligent about it.

Besides, I don’t want to look back years from now and wish I could tell my 32-year-old self a bit of advice that I should have known all along.

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We all have our own marathons

Life can spin you around like you’re on a tire swing until you finally get so dizzy and fall off.

But then you still have to stand back up and walk away.

Unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with kidney stone issues for quite some time now. It’s pretty annoying. Last Thursday, I found myself in the ER because one of those renegade stones left my kidney, and it was a pain I really couldn’t bear. I’m not good at describing pain, so I’ll use the comparison a doctor once gave me when I asked him why it hurts so badly: It’s like one of those stickers you find in the grass (apparently also called grass burrs) going down a super thin tube that it’s too big for and clawing and stretching it as it goes.

Basically, it makes you want to die.

Even though I had signed up to race the Cowtown half marathon, I had known for a while that I wouldn’t be able to run it. My sister was signed up for the full, so I told her I would run the last part of it with her, because those are tough miles to endure—both mentally and physically—and it’s nice to have someone run them with you. But after Thursday, I wasn’t even completely sure I was going to be able to. To be honest, though, I’d do anything for my sister, so maybe I was actually running with her regardless.

I was rather drained on Friday and groggy from the meds and whatnot, so I spent pretty much the entire day on my sofa. After all, my boss had banned me from coming to work by sending me a text that said, “You are not allowed at the office.” (I’m actually thankful he did, though, because I was pretty useless all day.) I didn’t do much on Saturday other than go to church with my friend Bonnie and babysit my sweet niece. I felt I had rested enough and would be fine by Sunday.

killedit

I’m standing next to greatness. (She’s still wondering why they make you walk so far to get a finisher’s shirt.)

It’s a different feeling being on the other side of cheering at a race, but I really enjoyed being able to go to different locations with my brother-in-law to cheer on my sister. I could seriously talk for days about how proud I am of her—being able to see her accomplish something she’s been working toward for months made me happier than any race I could have run that day. The marathon is no joke, though, and I knew those last miles were going to be a battle.

When I joined her somewhere between miles 20 and 21, she had the look on her face that a lot of people who decide to run marathons get—the one that says “WHY THE HELL DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!” She told me she was going to die. It’s kind of challenging to motivate someone at the end of a marathon. On the one hand, you want to help her achieve her goal, but on the other hand, she probably wants to kill you for saying the things you’re saying to her when you haven’t been running for multiple hours already.

What I realized while running with my sister Sunday was that I needed her during those miles just as much as she needed me—because she reminded me what it means to fight when you aren’t sure you want to fight anymore.

Life is kind of like a marathon in a lot of ways. Or maybe it’s a lot of different marathons. Either way, it can be a true struggle at times, and there are moments when you want to give up on situations or on people when you really need to keep fighting. You need to keep believing. You need to keep hoping. You need to keep running. (And, yes, I did once tell her to “just keep swimming” like Dory.) Part of me wanted to cry when she told me, “I listened to everything you said. I pushed hard up the hills,” and then when I got to see her battle the last few hills of the race.

She was hurting so much, but she wasn’t about to give up—because she knew it was worth every single bit of pain, every single tear, every single curse word, every single mile, every single bead of sweat, and every single moment of exhaustion.

My sister is two years younger than I am, but I look up to her in so many ways. She’s taught me so much about life and how to trust and how to love, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have her by my side for the 30 years she’s been alive. Even when I think I’m supposed to be helping her, she’s actually helping me more than she’ll ever know.

At one point in the race, she said to me, “Nat, I’m falling apart.” I told her that she wasn’t, but I know exactly how she felt. Whether it’s a marathon or kidney stones or relationship stuff or work or financial troubles or family matters or a multitude of other things, it can be easy to start to feel like you’re falling apart in so many ways. It can also be easy to throw in the towel in those moments.

But those are the times you have to find the fight within and believe you can survive—I personally like to sing Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” or my homegirl Mariah Carey’s “Through the Rain.”

When my sister crossed the finish line, I couldn’t help but throw my arms around her. She did it. She trained for months, she fought through the pain, and she crossed that line with the kind of grit that I hope I can have in all areas of my life. You should have seen the look on her face and the way she immediately started fighting even harder when we saw and heard my mom right before the finish line. And then she saw my dad and her husband and dug even more deeply.

Because genuine love really helps people during their toughest moments.

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When you feel unpretty

Sometimes I wish there weren’t mirrors constantly around us to let us assess our looks so easily.

Because they sure can make a person feel unpretty.

It’s fairly easy to feel unattractive in this world, and this has been true for a long time—even before the many Instagram filters available to achieve that perfect pic. The feeling of being unpretty can become even more magnified when that whole dating thing is involved.

I’ll never forget one of the first times I truly felt ugly. It was at a middle school dance when I was in the sixth grade. I was standing with one of my best friends (who is gorgeous, by the way), and a guy came up to ask her to dance. She told him she’d only dance with him if his friend danced with me (definitely not my idea), so he went back to get his buddy, who happened to be one of the cutest guys in our entire class. The image that ensued can never be erased from my memory: The boy who wanted to dance with my friend was literally dragging his friend across the floor to dance with me. Homeboy clearly wanted to be anywhere other than swaying back and forth to some great 90s song with me, and it was seriously such an uncomfortable few minutes of my life. He barely spoke to me and kept looking around so that we hardly made any eye contact.

When the song ended, I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. Suddenly my hair was too frizzy, my face was too pale, and there were so many other imperfections that I hadn’t noticed as much before as I did in that moment. And then a thought bombarded my mind and wouldn’t leave: I wasn’t pretty enough for boys to like me.

And I believed it.

To be completely honest, ever since that middle school dance, I’ve struggled with believing that guys will ever be interested in me. There have been guys I’ve liked whom I’ve spent a lot of time with, and I know they like my personality and hanging out with me, but they never feel the same way. For me, there’s always only been one explanation for it, and it goes back to that dance. When my friends started dating, having boyfriends and then eventually getting married, I stayed single, and I really believed part of the reason was because they all have that beauty that I seem to lack. If I ever wanted to find a man, it was going to have to be someone who just really likes my personality.

unpretty

Band-Aids can’t fix everything.

My most recent heartache resurfaced some of these destructive feelings, and it turns out you can feel just as jilted as an adult as you can as a middle schooler when you’re in some of your most awkward and emotional years of your life. It’s frustrating because I’m pretty confident in most areas of my life, but this is certainly not one of them.

There’s a Bethany Dillon song called “Beautiful” that I think pretty accurately describes how many of us can feel at times.

I want to be beautiful
Make you stand in awe
Look inside my heart
And be amazed
I want to hear you say
Who I am is quite enough
Just want to be worthy of love
And beautiful

But reading those lyrics and listening to the song carefully makes me realize that the beauty I’m seeking someone to see in me really isn’t just what I see in the mirror. It’s that “look inside my heart and be amazed” part that really hits home. That’s what I want. And as far as “worthy of love” goes, well, don’t we all need love? Aren’t we all enough as we are? If someone makes you feel like you aren’t enough, then perhaps that person isn’t right for you at all.

I understand that we aren’t always meant to be with the people for whom we fall. Not everyone is going to be attracted to us—and that’s OK. Different people are drawn to different people. It’s important to remember, though, that you’re beautiful to the Someone who loves you more than anyone else ever can.

unpretty2

At least they don’t care what I look like. They still loved me back when I had bangs. Bangs were NOT a good look for me.

There’s a sign I have hanging in my place that says “Be.you.tiful,” and it’s a great reminder that it’s best to be yourself and not try to change who you are to live up to what others think is pretty. I wish I could go back and tell my middle school self this so that I didn’t spend so many years thinking I would never be pretty enough for anyone. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to let others make her believe that she isn’t good enough as she is. I want all people to know that about themselves.

Because you are the most beautiful you there is.

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Being patient and not waiting

When you order something online, you often have the option for standard shipping (which will take a bit longer), or you can pay extra and expedite how quickly your item gets to you.

The choice is yours.

I haven’t always been the best when it comes to patience—just ask the University Park red light camera people, and they can back me up on that one. It’s difficult to wait for some things. I know waiting is important sometimes, but patience isn’t only about waiting. People will often throw the quote out to you about it being a virtue and whatnot (whether they always know what that means when they say it is an entirely different conversation), but I also think it’s more than that. I think patience is knowing how to react and respond in a situation when you might want to be rash or explode.

teacher-mom

“In honor of my daughter being here today, we’re going to have snack time early.” Genius.

Whenever I think of patience, I think of my mom. I took off work one day last week, and I went to visit her at her school that day. She teaches kindergarten, a job that requires a really special kind of human. Well, my mom is definitely that type of person. As I sat there and watched the way she interacts with her kids and the way they listen to her and how much they respect her, I started to think about how she acts in such a patient manner in every single area of her life, and I couldn’t help but wish that I were more like her in that regard.

When I was a teacher, I learned a lot about patience with other people. I feel that I grew in that area during those seven years of my life, and I am not one to let my temper explode. In fact, it really takes a lot now to get me truly angry, and I’m thankful to my mom and my teaching career for that. But I can’t say that I apply that kind of attitude in every aspect of my life.

There’s a verse in the Bible that says “Patient endurance is what you need now,” and even though it was written to the Hebrews, I like to think I’m meant to read it—because patient endurance is what I need a lot of the time. I think endurance is the perfect word to follow because when you’re in that period of uncertainty, it certainly can feel like a trial you’re having to persevere through for however long it might be. And the whole not-knowing part of it all brings an entirely different element into the patience picture: trust. It’s a time when you have to trust that, even if what you want to happen doesn’t exactly happen, everything will be as it should in the end. It’s kind of like when you’re waiting to hear back from a job or a school to see if you got it or were accepted—you aren’t completely sure of what’s going to happen, but you have to accept the outcome and trust that it’s the right one.

And I think the wisdom gained from patience means knowing when you shouldn’t wait for something. There are some things you simply shouldn’t sit back and expect to come your way without you actually taking leaps of faith toward them. It can be tough to know when to wait and when to jump, but I think there are certain moments when the heart just knows exactly what to do—and you can either follow it or let those chances fade.

I think about Rapunzel in the movie Tangled (yes, I’m comparing parts of real life to a Disney movie) and how she waited in that stupid tower for so many years. But then an opportunity came along for her to escape and find life and love outside of the tower, and she took it because, even though she had some doubts and anxieties, she knew it was absolutely the thing she needed to do to be who she needed to be and to be with her person.

Sometimes you need to sit in a restaurant for a really long time until your steak dinner finally arrives and is delicately placed in front of you. But then there are times when all you really want is a cheeseburger from the drive-thru at Whataburger, which you’ll get a lot faster.

It’s all about knowing in your heart what is right and following it without hesitation.

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Learning to cry

Sometimes the things we did so naturally before we knew how to think at higher levels become things we think aren’t so natural anymore.

Like crying.

I’m not big on tears. On average, I probably cry twice a year, maybe three times if it’s a bad year. For reasons I won’t discuss right now, I learned to suppress my tears long ago, and I’ve always done my best not to let them even build up inside my eyelids.

I’ll tell you right now that it’s not a good thing to do. What usually happens is that I wait so long to cry about so many different things that when one thing finally sets off those tears, it’s like a freaking waterfall exploded, and I’m wallowing about months and months of bottled-up emotions. It’s ugly crying to the extreme: My face gets ridiculously splotchy, and my eyes are usually so puffy the next day that I have a tough time getting in my contacts. I realize it’s not a good idea, but it’s been the story of my life for as far back as I can remember.

And then 2016 happened.

learning-to-cry

My baby sister (left) has been giving me great advice for years.

Last year was not a good year for me. A lot of different things happened that didn’t make me smile, and the biggest thing I faced was a heartache that seemed to form slowly but then shatter my heart suddenly—and it just won’t go away. I cried more in 2016 than the past few years combined, and I felt like such a fool for it. My sister has always told me that there is nothing wrong with crying and that it’s actually healthy for me, but I’ve struggled to believe it. She might be right, though.

There’s an episode of Gilmore Girls in which Lorelai is trying to get Rory to wallow after her first broken heart, but Rory doesn’t want to and tries to spend all of her time not thinking about her pain. By the end of the episode, Rory is sitting on the coach with multiple big containers of ice cream, ready to let the tears flow.

Because crying is natural.

A few months ago, I had been trying to ignore tears and my feelings. I was sitting at my desk at work, and something sparked my emotions, and I felt the tears coming. I bolted to the elevator and ran to the bathroom in the adjacent hotel and cried for what seemed like way too long. There was some convention going on, so the bathroom suddenly filled with women on their break, and I hadn’t been smart enough to hide in a stall. One of the women asked me if I was OK, and I shook my head to say no. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Sometimes all that you can do is cry.”

I’m slowly learning that what she said carries validity in many instances. No, I don’t think it’s right or necessary in every situation that upsets us, and I can’t say that I’m suddenly going to become someone who cries in movies (except for My Girl, the only movie that can make me cry—I can’t take that scene at Thomas J.’s funeral when Vada wants to go climb trees with him again and says he can’t see without his glasses; it’s an absolutely heart-wrenching moment). But maybe I’ll be better about crying when I need to instead of holding it all in and waiting to explode one day in the future.

When we’re happy, we smile. When something is funny, we laugh. When we’re upset, we might show anger or frustration. When we’re sad, we cry. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to do that last one—and I don’t think I’m necessarily alone in this regard. It’s hard to let others see we’re hurt or upset or maybe not always as strong as we’d like to be. But maybe crying really isn’t the sign of weakness I’ve made it out to be. Maybe it’s just a way of showing that you’re human and have emotions. Jim Valvano said it’s something we should do daily, and he’s a man I greatly admire. Though I don’t think that will be the frequency for all of us, he makes a valid point.

We’re all going to face hurt in life—that’s inevitable. As much as I’d like to act like I’m immune to it all, I’ve come to realize that I’m not, and I can’t. And my sister is right: It’s OK to cry. If you have to break down in a bathroom by yourself, sob in your bedroom while your sister sits with you and lets you let it all out, wallow in your car, or cry in a parking lot where you met your mom because you needed a hug, it’s OK to cry sometimes.

And I know a lot of Atlanta Falcons fans can relate right now.

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