When you realize that you’re worth fighting for yourself

If you ever were to ask me where a lot of my inspiration comes from, I’d tell you that it’s quite often from little kids.

They’re such geniuses and probably don’t even know it.

I was in Texas over the weekend for a visit with family and some friends I haven’t been able to see in a while. Much of my time was spent with my nieces—those two little girls have captured my heart more than I thought anyone ever could.

Olivia was excited to show off her food.

I babysat Olivia and Evie on Saturday night so that my brother and sister-in-law could have a nice date night out together. The girls and I watched football (we won’t discuss the outcome of the Cowboys game right now—it’s still too soon), and after Olivia saw me eating Wheat Thins with my dinner, she later grabbed the box and ate them while we were watching the game. I’ve clearly taught her well. Prior to the disaster that occurred at LA Memorial Coliseum that night, Olivia (who is almost 2 1/2) was playing with everything in site while Evie (a little more than 8 months) sat and watched in glee and occasionally attempted to crawl toward something—she’s SOOOO close to crawling!

At one point, Olivia was standing on the fireplace ledge and then squatted down. I’ve always told her to be careful whenever she gets up there (it’s not high from the ground at all, but she’s also still a tiny human), but that night, she looked over at me and said “I be careful. No get hurt. Dangerous.” It was as precious as you might imagine, and I told her that she was right.

Besties for life

The next morning, I was over at my brother’s and sister-in-law’s house again, and Olivia showed off her new talent (that I wasn’t expecting) of jumping off of the couch into my arms. Unlike the night before, there was zero hesitation—she got up on that couch and went for it, regardless of whether or not I was ready for her. I think she knew I would catch her, no matter what, so there was no fear there. There was security and comfort, which helped to increase her level of confidence. On Saturday night, though, she didn’t have me right there in front of her, and she knew what might happen if she tried to jump on her own.

If I were standing on that ledge, of course I would jump. Yes, it would probably technically be more of simply a step off, but still—there wouldn’t be any holding back or worrying about getting hurt. I’m confident that nothing would be likely to happen.

I started thinking about that while I was on my flight home Sunday afternoon and realized that those childlike tendencies don’t necessarily leave us when we become adults. We still seem to be able to jump when we know that there’s complete security, but we’re a lot more hesitant when we’re unsure of the outcomes ahead.

If I’m being perfectly honest, though, that’s not how I always want to live. Sure, there are certainly times when you shouldn’t just jump at something without thinking or considering the consequences and potential outcomes, but there are many times when it’s better (even if it is incredibly scary) to take chances and step into the unknown. For me, when I have those strong tuggings at my heart that are pushing me to do something that frightens the Capri Sun out of me—especially when I’m being taken out of my comfort zone—I try to remind myself that I’m not actually jumping off of a fireplace ledge onto the hardwood floor like a 2-year-old.

Because I do have Someone there who will catch me.

That doesn’t mean that every chance I take is going to end like I want it to end. I’ve had plenty of failures and broken hearts to remind me of that. But it does mean that, even when those setbacks and heartaches happen after making a risky jump, I know that I’m still going to be OK. Those things can’t defeat me, and I don’t need to let them try. My God is a lot stronger than that.

This girl has been through it all with me.

During middle school, high school, college, and even some of my 20s, I was the girl standing on the fireplace ledge who was afraid to jump. Unlike in Olivia’s case, though, there wasn’t any real physical danger for me—it was simply the risk of getting my heart hurt. I think my fear stemmed from the fact that a broken heart, for me, hurts far worse than any physical pain I could ever face (and I’ve endured quite a bit of physical pain). You know what, though? I’ve survived each heartache I’ve had, and I truly believe that I’m stronger because of it. I think that the trials we face in life have ways of building us and growing us in ways we might never have thought possible. We’re usually not grateful for them while we’re going through them, but hopefully we can look back at those times and know that they were part of our journeys—part of the paths we needed to take to get us to where we are today and help us to become the individuals we have become.

I hated the color of my rental car. Naturally, my dad wanted to take my pic in front of it.

I don’t know where you are in your life today. Maybe you’re standing on that fireplace ledge with more reservations than you can count. Or maybe you’re on that sofa and about to take a leap of faith. I’m rooting for it to be the latter, because I’m rooting for you.

You’re worth taking chances and doing the things that might make you a little queasy. You’re worth letting your heart feel deeply and love intentionally. You’re worth pursuing the passions that set your heart into motion. You’re worth running full force ahead toward your dreams. You’re worth the investment of time and energy. You’re worth being loved.

And you’re worth fighting for yourself.

Because our backflips are all different

I’m thankful for the people in my life whom I don’t know who remind me of the important lessons in life.

Especially when those people are little kids who are way smarter than they even know.

On a recent walk on the beach, I saw a girl doing backflips of a tiny sand ledge that had formed naturally near the water. She was ridiculously good, and as I walked by, I made sure to let her know. When I told her, a little boy with her (I’m assuming her younger brother) yelled “watch me!” before performing what I can only describe as one of the most uncoordinated front somersaults I had ever seen combined with a turbo roll of some sort.

When he got up, he looked at me and smiled before shrugging and saying a statement that I wish we were all saying as comfortably and confidently as he did.

“Mine’s a little different.”

Yes, that was the perfect word for it: different. What was so wonderful was that he wasn’t ashamed of that at all. In fact, he was pretty darn proud. He had made it a point to have me watch him perform his own version of the tumble his sister had perfected, and by most people’s definitions, his was so much worse. To him, though, it was worthy of showcasing.

I told him that it was beautiful, and I wasn’t lying. Sure, when I first saw it, the word “ugly” probably popped into my mind. But when I realized what it was to him and how he had actually tried, my perspective changed entirely. You see, what this precious little boy has already learned at such a young age that so many adults still haven’t seemed to grasp is so simple: Our lives are going to look completely different from other people’s, and that’s perfectly fine. We don’t need to shy away from who we are and the things we can or can’t do as well as other people.

Because beauty looks different for everyone.

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the comparison game—suddenly we’re not smart enough or pretty enough or fast enough or thin enough or strong enough or making enough or talented enough or dating enough or experienced enough or traveled enough or social enough or whatever enough. It seems that someone’s always doing a backflip that’s better than yours, while you’re following with an uncoordinated somersault combined with a turbo roll of some sort.

But what if, rather than getting frustrated or feeling embarrassed that the things in your life look different from those in everyone else’s, you embraced those distinctions and were proud of the things you’ve been able to accomplish and were happy to say that you’re still trying. What if, when you started comparing some aspect of your life with someone else’s, you stopped for a moment to say “mine’s a little different” and were OK with that?

As a single girl approaching my mid-30s (IT CAUSES ME GREAT PAIN TO SAY THAT), I have to do a lot of that in my life, especially around the holidays. I’ve definitely embraced it in terms of making my own Christmas cards that look quite different from most of the ones I receive with families and couples and pets on them. Mine features only me—and sometimes a superimposed orca whale jumping over me—but hopefully someday you’ll get a card from me with my lobster (but the Friends version of a lobster and not an actual lobster, which I realize might be confusing based on my previous statement about the whale).

At church over the weekend, we were setting up for all of the Christmas Eve services and were creating a photo setup so that people could take their pictures in front of a pretty lit-up backdrop with a wreath in the background and trees on both sides. We were trying to make it the perfect size for families to take pictures. I understand why, but I also had a soft spot in my heart in that moment for all of the people who would be coming to church by themselves. I took a picture by myself in the setup right after I had just taken a picture of a precious couple followed by a family all together. When I looked at my photo, I couldn’t help but think of how different it looked from the ones I had just taken. For a second or two, I started to feel sad, but then I remembered the little boy on the beach, and I reminded myself that different isn’t bad. I didn’t need to look at all of the extra space in my photo and see emptiness—it’s merely extra room to welcome in more people in my heart and give more love.

You don’t have to be like everyone else. You won’t be. And you shouldn’t. Your life doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. It won’t. And it shouldn’t. You may have a pristine backflip, or you may have one that resembles that of the turbo-rolling little boy on the beach. Either way, give yourself a little grace for simply getting out there and trying.

Because, either way, you’re enough being you, regardless—and especially because—of how different you are.

Because the holiday season can be tough

I love almost everything about Christmas—the scents that permeate throughout the air, the general feeling of love spreading everywhere, the beautiful lights bringing life to homes and streets, and the togetherness that becomes so integral.

But that togetherness aspect can also cause a lot of pain—especially when you don’t have it.

My sweet friend Monique shared a quote with me the other day (I’m not actually sure where she got it—Pinterest, maybe—and I didn’t even ask. I just thought it was really good and one of those things I needed to hear in the moment in which I was at the time.

Sometimes it takes learning how to be perfectly lonely just so God can show you what being perfectly loved feels like. Never doubt the season He has your life in.

Quite honestly, the holidays are the best (and by “best,” I obviously mean “worst”) time for a single gal to feel lonely. You look around, and almost everyone you know is coupled off and enjoying holiday festivities together. The Hallmark Christmas movies all end perfectly for the women who suddenly fall in love and realize that they’ve found their lobsters. The TV commercials all feature families or people in love doing all of the things together. Target puts out an entire section called “MATCHING FAMILY PAJAMAS” and not “MATCHING SINGLE GIRL PAJAMAS” or a simple “MATCHING PAJAMAS.” (I love you with my entire heart, Target, but I cannot thank you for that stake to my heart right now.)

This will be the first Christmas that I’ve ever been away from my family. Sure, a handful of people I know out here have offered to have me join in on their gatherings—which is so thoughtful, and I’m incredibly thankful—but being a part of other people’s traditions and celebrations together won’t be the same (and might even be slightly uncomfortable if they do gift exchanges as I sit there and watch it all or scroll through Instagram), even though my family doesn’t actually do anything super special.

I already feel the pains of missing out on my niece Evie’s first Christmas and precious time with my niece Olivia as she celebrates her third Christmas. And watching The Grinch or Christmas Vacation or any of the Pitch Perfects or really any movie with my sister. And my parents having a stocking ready for me as my mom reminds me that Santa comes to their house every year and that he was confused that I don’t live there anymore, so he left my stocking there so that my parents could give it to me. (I’m 34, Mare. I’ve known for years.) And simply being there.

I know that I’m not alone in all of the feelings of being alone during this season. There are many people out there who either don’t have families or aren’t close with their families or aren’t able to be with their families for the holidays this year. Yes, it’s tough. But I have to remind myself that I CAN DO HARD THINGS. You can, too—whether that means getting through the holidays alone or getting through the holidays with your people. We are in this holiday season and in the different seasons of our lives for reasons we might not know right now. We just need to remember that we are where we need to be.

When I first moved to California more than a year ago, I felt very alone. I knew zero people, and I basically begged anyone I met to be my friend. I invited so many people to go to coffee, and I hate coffee. You know what, though? Since I moved out here, I’ve experienced more love than I think I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

Time and time again, God has reminded me of who He is and who I am in Him. He’s reminded me that I am loved. He’s reminded me that I am valued. He’s reminded me that I matter. And He’s surrounded me with so many incredible people who have poured into me and invited me (or let me invite myself) into their lives. I truly believe that that’s one of the reasons He called me out here—to remind me of how absolutely loved I am as His daughter. He knew exactly how and where this needed to happen. I questioned it at first, but as usual, He showed me that it’s always best just to trust Him from the get-go.

Years ago, I started sending out Christmas cards to my people. I LOVE Christmas cards and began getting more of them as my friends all started getting married and creating families. (Side note: This may sound mean, but pics of crying babies in Santa’s lap are some of my personal faves, so always feel free to send those my way. I can see why they’re crying—you put them in these men’s laps who are complete strangers and have what they might see as scary beards and then expect them to smile. No, thank you.) I decided that me not having a husband and dogs or kids wasn’t going to stop me from making cards, too. It’s become one of my favorite annual traditions, and I get excited about coming up with new ideas for what to put on my cards each year.

Because you can’t let unfulfilled hopes stop you from living your best life.

Every season of your life isn’t going to be perfect or even remotely good. You will go through some that feel like unending winters full of blizzards and snow (I hate snow and anything that makes me cold) and horrid temperatures and all of the things that feel dark and uncomfortable. But then you’ll have seasons that feel like beautiful spring and summer afternoons that you could bask in forever. Regardless of what season you face, just know that you are still loved through each one, and YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS.

You can make it through a lonely holiday season. You can make it through being single when everyone around you is not. You can make it through a prolonged winter. You can make it through the rain. (I just really wanted to say that last one because Mariah is my homegirl and because it is also fitting.)

I hope that you remember during this season that you’re loved just as you are and that you’re never as alone as you feel.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

Who is someone in your life (and maybe it’s even you) who could use some encouragement in this holiday season?

Make journeys, and take chances

Sometimes you go on journeys you never knew you’d be taking.

And sometimes those journeys involve more than 20 hours of driving across the country.

As I recently mentioned, I got a job in California, and I officially made the move out here over the weekend (and I’m on my first day of that new job today). I knew the trip was going to take a little less than 21 hours to complete, but I didn’t want to break up the drive evenly—it seemed a lot more daunting—so I decided driving a little more than 15 hours on the first day and then a little more than five on the second would be better (which is weird because I hate numbers in increments of five). I don’t think I’d ever been in a car for 15 hours at a time, but it seemed very doable.

Please take note: Spending 15+ hours in a car is A VERY LONG TIME, so please make sure that fully sinks in before you start the trip. However, it is indeed doable.

Thankfully, my sister made the trek with me. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived it without her without going completely insane. Sure, she slept some in the passenger seat (she was awake most of the time), but she also drove for a couple of hours to give me some rest, which was very helpful—after all, how else was I going to catch up on my Instagram feed?

You know, the important things.

The trip started EARLY Friday morning. I woke up at 3:51 to get in a very short run because I can’t roll straight out of bed and get behind the wheel for hours upon end. I need something to wake me up, and running is the best option for that. I picked my sister up right around 5 a.m., and we were officially on our way.

We were just really excited to be in Van Horn, Texas, home of space tourism company Blue Origin.

It took a fairly long time to get out of Texas (it’s frickin’ huge), and we only got pulled over once (THANK YOU, state trooper, for letting us drive away with only a warning). After we parted from Texas, even though we drove through lots of desert stretches, it was an incredibly scenic drive. Plus, we had some really solid playlists to keep us going—special thanks to Taylor Swift (obvi), Kelsea Ballerini, Thomas Rhett, Matt Wertz and all of those old school 90s pop artists on Spotify). I feel bad for all of the people who have to make long drives without my sister along for the ride—they’re missing out. (As a side note, she is not available to be a passenger upon request, so please do not inquire.)

We were pretty drained and hangry (hanger is so real) by the time we reached Phoenix, which was our stopping point for the first day. We ate dinner with a friend who lives there and then went straight back to the hotel and crashed. I mean, it did feel like it was two hours later than what it really was in the new time zone, so the rather early bedtime didn’t seem early at all.

It was somewhat of another early morning the next day that included a run through downtown Phoenix and a homeless man shouting across the street to me, “You don’t have to run, but I’m too old to chase you!” Thanks for the info, bud. We were on the road again by 6 a.m., and it felt really good when we finally reached our destination. My hips and pretty much the entire rest of my body were so sore, and I felt like I definitely wasn’t walking like a normal human—maybe more like a newborn calf. I’m not sure. I couldn’t see myself, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the calf thing, but I’ve heard and can imagine that it looks very awkward. Regardless, it was nice to be out of the car.

We didn’t mind the view.

After the cable and Internet were set up, and most of my stuff was unpacked, my sister and I went on a walk on a trail she found, and we sat and overlooked a gorgeous view of the bay. I could have sat there for much longer, but we had to walk to get a few things at the store and then head back to my new apartment to wait for the mattress guy to deliver my new bed. I only brought what would fit in my car, and that was mostly clothes, so I needed a place to sleep. There had been a slight snafu of the truck with my mattress on it breaking down, but thankfully, the manager who helped me over the phone a little more than a week ago drove to a different store where the truck was towed, picked up my mattress, and delivered it to me later that evening.

He came just in time—my sister and I were reaching points of hanger again.

After dinner, we made trips to Bed Bath & Beyond and Target to get some essentials and then headed home for the night. We were both pretty wiped. It definitely wasn’t difficult to fall asleep that night.

I’m not going to lie: It was tough dropping my sister off at the airport the next morning. I know that distance can never break my bond of sisterhood with her, but watching her walk through those glass doors was when it hit me that this is real—I’m officially out here on my own now. I know God called me out here for whatever reason, and I trust what He’s doing, but it’s also not easy to leave behind everything you’ve ever known and be so far away from people who mean the most to you.

I’m definitely excited for what’s ahead, and I know that the many prayers and miles and countless trips of carrying clothes to and from my car and the long goodbye hugs are worth it all. I guess sometimes you really do have to go through some tough times to get to where you need to be—whether those tough times include heartache, sadness, goodbyes, tears, fears, stress, or whatever it is you face along the way. Those hardships are worth enduring and help you become stronger than you ever knew you could be.

And that strength can help you realize that some chances—on love or people or jobs or personal fears you’re overcoming or moving to new places or trying things that might scare you or a number of other situations—are absolutely worth taking.

Goodbye, Texas

There are some things in life I never thought I would be doing.

Like packing up everything I own into my car and moving to Southern California.

Ever since I read the Christy Miller Series when I was in high school, I’ve been fascinated with Newport Beach. (By the way, I highly recommend this series for all young women. And old women. And any women currently breathing.) It seemed like such a dream place and somewhere that could truly change a person in ways he or she never expected.

When my sister and I visited there a few months ago, my heart fell in love. As soon as we arrived, I felt a strange sense of peace, and I really felt like I was where I belonged. I felt this way the entire trip, but I assumed it was because I was so overwhelmed by being able to be in this place I had only imagined for so many years.

On the plane ride home, I started praying and had this moment in which I felt the Lord prompting my heart to move there. I tried to brush it off by telling myself that I had just really enjoyed the vacation with my sister and was on an ocean high or something.

But when God really wants you to do something, you can’t ignore His calling.

When we got back home, I still felt the uneasy feeling that I belong out there—whether that means forever or for now, I have no clue. But it just felt so right, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I kept praying about it, and every single time, the answer was clear: Move there.

I started applying for jobs, and I will say that it was a very discouraging feat most of the time. Apparently a lot of companies aren’t interested in hiring some girl from a completely different state when they can easily hire others more local who can actually show up to interviews at the drop of a hat and not have to make arrangements at work and book travel and possibly be compensated for relocation and whatnot. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent filling out seemingly endless applications for companies from which I would either never hear or from which I’d receive one-line emails saying they were pursuing other candidates.

Rejection hurts.

But then an opportunity came along for a marketing writing job for a private school system, and I jumped at it as soon as I read the job description. Within the next couple of days, I interviewed via Skype and then was asked to complete a writing assignment. I received great feedback and sent my references. I had hoped to hear back the same week I sent those, and I tried not to get too upset when I didn’t. It wasn’t until I woke up from surgery (which was successful!) the following Monday and checked my phone that I heard the voicemail offering me the job.

Holy schnikes—things just got real.

It’s incredible to me how quickly everything has fallen into place and how wonderful God’s timing has been throughout this entire process. (I don’t know why I sometimes think mine is better. It obviously is not.) I immediately booked a flight that night—and it’s slightly surprising I was functioning enough to do so, because I was very heavily medicated and had been advised not to make any big purchases or big decisions that day. Oops.

The following Saturday, I made a one-day trip out there to try to find a place to leave. I told myself I wasn’t flying home without a new home, but my time was VERY limited. I arrived Saturday morning (after having to take a shower with water bottles that morning—thank you, city of Dallas, for the “scheduled” six-hour water outage) a little before 9 a.m. and had a departing flight Sunday morning at 12:45 a.m. (or so I thought—the plane had some “mechanical issues,” so we sat on it for two hours before actually taking off. (P.S. Word of advice: It’s likely not wise to take such a trip the same week of a surgery and one day after having a kidney stent removed from your body. I do not recommend it.)

Biking along the beach heals the soul.

I visited a handful of places and started to get a bit down. What was I doing? What was I thinking? How did I think I could afford to live in California in a nice place? It became apparent that I was going to have to live in a dump for the amount I wanted to pay. I needed a break, so I went to Huntington Beach and rented a bike. As I rode, I tried to clear my head and just enjoy the peaceful scenery. I began praying and asking for some sort of miraculous provision.

It’s amazing to me how much God listens to and cares for us.

When I turned in my bike, I asked the homeboy behind the counter if he knew of any good apartments nearby. He directed me to a place that, as soon as I entered, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford. I mean, a security guard had to open the garage for me and escort me to the leasing office. When the woman told me what the starting rates are for one-bedroom apartments, I cringed. I asked her if, even though she wasn’t supposed to suggest other apartments, she could recommend something nice, yet affordable.

I was just really happy that I found a place, had just eaten what tasted like the best chicken sandwich in the world (I was starving before it), and still had time for a nice evening walk before heading back to the airport.

That’s when Alex came to the rescue. He immediately stepped in and told me about a sister property in Newport Beach. He gave me all of the info and let the people there know I was on my way. As soon as I arrived, I knew I had found my home. It just felt so right. I found an apartment I adore, and it’s in the perfect location. It made the fatigue, disheartening moments and tears from throughout the day all worth it.

It’s all happening so fast, and I don’t have a lot of time left in Dallas. I’d be lying if I told you that I’m not a little scared. I’m not afraid of not knowing anyone in a new location—meeting new people and making friends is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. But I’m afraid of leaving my people. I won’t see my parents every Sunday and get a big hug from my mom right before I leave. I won’t be able to get together with my sister as often or stop by her apartment and see her and her husband and their crazy dogs and cat, and that tears me up inside. I won’t be able to hang out with my niece every weekend and visit with my brother and sister-in-law. I never knew I could love a tiny human who wasn’t even my own child this much until I became an aunt. And I can’t get started on all of my friends and my favorite froyo place—we’d be here for hours.

But even though this is going to be difficult, I know it’s right, and I’m incredibly excited. And I know that the people who are in my tribe forever are the ones I will never lose, regardless of where I am or where they are. I’ve said this before, and I still believe it with all of my heart: Love is so much stronger than distance.

And no amount of miles will ever change that.

Because sometimes you just want something good to happen

I really don’t like trite expressions, such as “when it rains, it pours.”

Especially when they’re true.

As I mentioned last week, things have not exactly been super pleasant in my world lately, and this past week was certainly pretty rough. I’ll spare you a lot of the details, but let’s just say that it was filled with a lot of pain and discomfort and hydrocodone and other medicines. I just want it all to go away.

I spent the majority of the week on my sofa (my company was really great about letting me work from home all week), and I didn’t drive my car much at all. I wasn’t feeling up for going anywhere—walking is a bit painful right now—and apparently you aren’t supposed to get behind the wheel with certain meds in your system. But Sunday was my dad’s birthday, so I drove out to my parents’ house to spend some time with him.

But I had no idea what was in store for me that day.

After I left their house, I drove toward my all-time favorite froyo place. My appetite has been pathetic all week—everything sounds gross and makes me nauseated—but I needed that froyo. On the way, though, my car radio suddenly went out, all of the dashboard lights started flashing and freaking out, and my steering wheel suddenly locked up. Something similar happened a couple of months ago, and it turned out to be the battery. Because I just got that battery, I didn’t think that was it, so I was a bit concerned.

I somehow managed to turn that brick of a wheel a few times and navigated my way to the froyo parking lot (I have my priorities in line), and I pulled through a space and got out but left the car running because I figured it wasn’t going to start back up if I turned it off.

I got my cup of heaven and hustled back to my car and said a quick prayer that I could get it to the Firestone across the street. Thankfully, I did, and the fellas there told me they thought it might be the alternator, though they didn’t actually give it a detailed inspection. They gave me a quote for what it would cost, but I called my car guy because I just got a new alternator about a year ago. The Firestone people said I could leave my car in their lot until I got it all sorted out, so I took an Uber home until I heard back from my car guy. When I finally got to talk to him later, he told me he could take care of it but that he needed my key.

Dag nabbit.

Dear car, I’m sorry if I took you for granted. Please come back.

My relaxing time at the pool was cut short, and I scurried upstairs to shower, change, and call for another Uber to take me to get the key to him. That’s when I met Earlene, an interesting woman who has a story for everything. She’s even had her own fair share of kidney issues. She drove me all the way out there and then waited in the car until I came back so that she could take me to my brother’s house so that I could spend some time with him, my sister-in-law, and my adorable niece. (I’m actually really glad I wasn’t the one doing the driving, because I began having tremendous pain and had to take some of the medication that I’ve grown to hate.) Earlene is a very kind woman—if you ever meet her, for the love, please ask her how excited she is about her 40th high school reunion cruise she’s using her Uber money to pay for next summer—and she offered me a lot of encouragement.

You’re on the upside now—I can tell.

When she said those words, I felt a little bit of peace. And I really hope she’s right. I’ve been trying to remain positive with so many tough things I’ve gone through over the last year, but I feel like they tend to pile up all at once. It’s not easy for me to ask people for help sometimes, and I already felt like I had been causing inconvenience to people with all of the help I needed while I was in the hospital, but now not having a car makes things even more difficult. I’m thankful for Uber, but I’m also pretty sick to my stomach at how much money I spent Sunday afternoon. (After my ride with Earlene—also, please ask her about her theories on the JFK assassination, because I guarantee you’ll be intrigued—when I left my brother’s house, he dropped me off at a Kroger near where he lives so that I could get some needed groceries, and I had to take yet another Uber to get home. I was Ubered-out.)

I know I have a lot in life for which I need to be thankful, and I am. At the same time, though, I think it’s OK to admit that life can feel like a never-ending storm at times. There’s a country song that says “every storm runs out of rain,” and I’m going to believe that. I’m also going to believe that Earlene is right about me being on the upside.

I talked to my dad and then my sister at the end of the day, and my conversations with them reminded me how much the issues with my car don’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. Sure, the situation is quite frustrating and will likely be expensive, but what really truly matters are the people in my life. I still got to spend time with my dad on his birthday. I still got to see my mom, whose love is bigger than life itself. I still got to laugh and enjoy precious moments with my brother and his family. I still got to see my sister this weekend and make a bad day better by talking with her. My car might stop being there for me, but my family never will.

And their love is the sunshine to any storm that comes my way.

Keep those Allen wrenches in your life

There are many things we don’t like to hear people say to us (e.g., “We need to talk”), and some of these things come in the form of questions.

Like, “Will you help me move?”

I hate moving. It’s seriously one of the most frustrating and often stressful processes, and it’s definitely not my ideal way to spend a Saturday during college football season—or any season, for that matter. So, I can imagine the excitement of the crew I asked to help me with the promise of zero monetary compensation but maybe some food. I had a solid team, though, and all of these gems were willing to offer their man (and woman) labor. I had my dad, my sister, Theo (my sister’s boyfriend) and my friend Laz to help load everything from my old apartment to the moving truck and my dad’s car, and then my friend Kiet and his son replaced Laz to help unload when we got to my new apartment.

You might be wondering why I simply didn’t hire movers. Easy. 1. They are expensive. 2. I had a horrible experience with movers a couple of years ago, and that ruined it forever.

Instead, I make people I care about suffer. (Just kidding—I don’t think it was that awful for them.)

This move ended up being not too bad. We started at 11 a.m., and I needed us to be out of the old apartment by 12:30 p.m. so that we could be to the new one by 1 p.m. at the latest. My AT&T setup window was between 1 and 3 p.m., and I just couldn’t risk it. I think the best thing about the entire move, though, was the people I had with me that day. They all played vital roles to help me, and it’s warming to think how much they genuinely care.

tools
We didn’t get a group pic, so here’s my pink tool set

Mr. Meticulous — If you ever have to move (or do anything that involves strategic planning and orchestration), then you want my dad there. He just knows things and makes things magically fit places you didn’t think they would. He also spent a great portion of the day disassembling my bed frame and then putting it back together. Granted, he did get a bit upset with me when he found out I had a set of Allen wrenches in my tool box after he’d been asking for one for a while. I’m sorry, but I didn’t know which one was the Allen wrench. Yes, I put my bed frame together with my own two hands, but it’s from IKEA, so there are only pictures and no words. I know what the wrench looks like, but I had no idea what it was called. But, regardless, my dad came in clutch on Saturday (thanks in part to my pink tool set). We all need people in our lives who want to make sure things are done correctly—not because they want credit or self-satisfaction but because they truly care about us.

The Decoy — My friend Laz is one of those people you want in your life. Always. He’s trustworthy and energetic, and he will make sure to make enough jokes to keep everyone laughing. He picks on me more than I can explain, but my dad says it’s good for me and defends him. He makes situations that aren’t necessarily fun seem more enjoyable than you’d ever imagine. He even started calling himself “THE CHAMP” as he and Theo were carrying my sofa down the garage ramp. (It didn’t fit in the stairs. Picture the Friends “PIVOT” scene.) As soon as Laz would make a trip downstairs, he’d be right back up asking, “What do you need me to do next?” He may treat me like a kid sister he can pick on at will, but he’s one of the best friends I could ever ask for. We all need people in our lives who makes us find joy amidst the struggles.

The Silent Force — Theo is a pretty quiet fella sometimes—especially compared to the aforementioned one—but his positive attitude and kind heart are louder than any words a person could say. He just kept moving stuff without being asked and helped my dad with the bed frame. He’s also an engineer, so he’s kind of a genius when it comes to making sure everything fit in the moving truck. He didn’t have to be there that day, but he was. I’ve always known he’s a great guy, but he keeps showing more and more each day just how big his heart is and how wonderful he is to my sister and all of the people in his life. We all need those faithful people in our lives who remind us what love is and what love does.

The True Ones — Kiet and Tanner (his son) showed up at my new place and didn’t waste any time in helping us get things unloaded. My dad was so impressed with how fast they were able to clear out the truck and his car. Kiet is absolutely one of the most genuine and caring people I’ve ever known, and it’s obvious that his son is a direct reflection of him. They are both so thoughtful, and Tanner is more polite than any high school boy I’ve ever known. We all need people in our lives who remind us that, while there’s a lot of bad that happens in this world, there’s a lot more good out there that doesn’t make the headlines.

The One Who Keeps You Going — I’ve mentioned many times before how important my sister is to me. One thing she’s always been so great and consistent at doing is giving me the best pep talks that ever were. She’s straightforward but not in a way that makes me ever feel bad. In fact, she makes me feel more confident. When I thought we weren’t going to finish in time and that I would have to make another trip out to my old apartment to finish loading things and to do one last sweep through before turning in my keys, she stopped and looked me in the eyes like I was crazy. “What are you talking about? You’re not coming back. We can get this done. Go grab some clothes to put in Dad’s car. We’re making this happen.” And she was right. Whenever I am overwhelmed with life or feeling down about anything, my sister has a way of making me remember that I’m stronger than I think sometimes. We all need motivators in our lives to be there with us when it feels like the world has turned and walked away.

The people in your life have been put there with specific purpose. No, it’s not so they can help you move or to benefit you somehow. It’s so you can have a community of people you deeply care about and who deeply care about you. It’s so you can know the true meaning of love and what it looks like in action. We all have our own roles we play in each other’s lives, and we need one another. I need my Mr. Meticulous. I need my Decoy. I need my Silent Force. I need my True Ones. I need my little One Who Keeps Me Going.

And you have people you need, too.

Life isn’t meant to be spent alone. No, we don’t have to be besties with all of the individuals we encounter in our daily situations. But when we find those special ones who warm our hearts and challenge us to be better people, we need to hang on to those ones. They are the keepers. They are the Allen wrenches we’ve been searching for.

And they will forgive you when you don’t know what an actual Allen wrench looks like.

Family strong

Sometimes life has a way of reminding you just how strong a family bond can be when you least expect it.

Like when you’re on the dance floor.

My brother got married on Friday night, and I have to say it was probably the most fun wedding I’ve ever been to. And seeing as how I’ve been in 17 weddings and attended even more than that, I have a lot of experience in this area. But God did something to my heart at this wedding, and I was overcome with complete joy.

The week leading up to the wedding was long. I’m usually pretty tired by Friday and shoot for the earliest bedtime possible, so the 7:30 p.m. start time at a place more than an hour away wasn’t my ideal situation, but it wasn’t my wedding, so I wasn’t calling the shots. I was already pretty tired from sitting in traffic for an hour and a half on Thursday to drive out to the rehearsal dinner, but I popped in some Taylor Swift for the trek out to the venue Friday and tried to think positive thoughts. It was a happy day for my brother, and I was going to be there for him.

I got there early enough that I was able to take a short nap in my parents’ hotel room while they got ready, and I even got to watch the start of Coyote Ugly on TV. Gosh, I love that soundtrack. As I was sitting there and listening to their conversations and then my dad’s phone convo with the wedding photographer (a family friend who was apparently completely lost), I couldn’t help but smile at how much these two goobers make me laugh. They’re so quirky, yet they’re also so intentional and sincere in all they do. I honestly wish I had been more thankful of them when I was younger.

It was strange to see my brother get married, but it was also good to see the look of happiness on his face that evening. Some of his childhood friends were there, and it was heartwarming to see them all grown up and matured and with wives of their own. Growing up is so weird, but growing up is so good.

My mom was adorable on Friday. Of course she started crying when my brother walked her down the aisle, but she was the epitome of beauty and grace. And the look of joy on her face when she was dancing with him to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during their mother-son dance can’t be accurately described with mere words.

My dad was a true pal all night. He has a way of making friends with pretty much everyone he meets, and Friday was no exception. He was also a real buddy to me and kept me cracking up the entire evening.

My Uncle Bobcat is so caring and just as entertaining as my dad; my Aunt Vickie has a heart of gold and truly listens to you when you talk; my cousin Ryan is the sweetest gentleman you’ll ever meet; my cousin Rachel is the best friend you always wanted and someone who will forever stand by your side; my brother is one of the most determined people I know and reminded me on Friday night that he will always be there for me, no matter what; my sister is the most beautiful person (inside and out) who always knows how to make you smile; and her boyfriend, Theo, is a true gem and a real trooper for willingly spending so much time with our craziness.

my people
Every moment with them matters

These are my people.

Something hit me pretty hard on Friday, and it touched my heart in a way I can’t explain. I know not everyone has a great family situation, and I’m certainly not trying to boast in any way, but I became overwhelmed with one thought Friday night: my family is the best. Now, obviously that’s a very biased statement, and by no means are we near perfect (we can be about as dysfunctional as they come), but there’s a bond between us that can never be broken and never be shaken.

And it was completely obvious when we took over the dance floor.

As soon as the music started playing, my mom, dad, sister, aunt, uncle, two cousins, my sister’s boyfriend (I just consider him part of the Merrill clan at this point) and I were all out there having a blast just dancing with each other. At one point, my dad, uncle and cousin Ryan all did the gator. (If you are too young to know what that is, for the love, consult the Google.) We were all laughing almost to the point of tears. During one of the slow songs, I looked up at my parents dancing and looked around the room and thought, I don’t care if I never have a dance partner of my own. I have my people, and they have my heart.

When Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” started playing, you can bet the women in our family were out there belting and shaking. My sister and I took that whole “dance like no one is watching” saying extremely literally. My heart was full, and it was a perfect way to end the night. We’re family, and together we stand when the world stands against us. Together we ignore the haters. Together we are there for one another through every trial and every moment of joy. And together we dance.

As I made the long drive home that night, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I had to run a race the next morning on not a lot of sleep—I was praying and thanking the Lord for making my heart so full of love and for a family I wouldn’t trade for anything in the entire world. It can be easy at times to take family members for granted and get more frustrated with them than we do with many other people, but I hope I can show more appreciation to them more often. They’re truly Godsends, and the world is a better place with each of them in it.

Especially when gators are involved.