The challenge.

Last night I was having dinner with my Uncle George. He has always been someone who has pushed me a little further – yeah, an A- is fine, but why didn’t you get an A+ – and I love him for it. We all need someone to remind us that, while we are wonderful, amazing people, we can always push ourselves a little more and challenges ourselves in new ways.

So when the topic of writing came up he immediately asked why I don’t write more, everyday to be exact. My answer – I don’t have anything to write about. Uncle George being who he is immediately called me out on that. While I told him to stop yelling at me, I knew he was right.

I’m always telling people to be more comfortable with who they are and to realize how uniquely beautiful they are, but sometimes I don’t take my own advice. Why don’t I write more? Because I don’t feel like what I have to say or write is interesting or important enough to share with the world. We are all important and interesting enough to put ourselves out there. It’s just a little easier said than done.

My life is full of new experiences, meeting new people and putting myself out there like I never have before. I should want to share that. I should want to tell people the things I am learning along the way, things I have messed up or dropped the ball on. But I’ve been too scared, which most likely isn’t the correct word for the emotion I feel when thinking about writing. It’s more of a combination between scared and lazy. My couch is really comfortable. The struggle is real.

So, hopefully, you will be hearing more from me soon, and I challenge each of you to put yourself out there more and do something that scares you.

In loving memory.

Unfortunately we have all known someone who has been affected by cancer. Whether it’s an acquaintance or a close family member or friend, it’s never an easy thing to experience. My family lost one of the most amazing, loving men – my Uncle Chuck Hanline – years ago to pancreatic cancer. I know this is something you usually just say when someone passes, but there is no one more caring than my Uncle Chuck.

There wasn’t a day that passed when he didn’t put his family and those he loved above himself. Every morning from the moment he woke up until he fell asleep it was 100 percent about us. His daughters, parents, siblings, friends and really anyone he came in contact with were always at the heart of everything he did. This world really was a better place with him in it. That’s why I’ve decided to do something to keep his memory alive.

This fall I will be participating in a 150-mile, two day bike ride in Washington, D.C. and Maryland with my friend Maria. All funds raised go to the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Sibley Memorial and Suburban Hospitals for cancer research. It’s going to be a long road to preparing for the ride, and I’m going to need help and support along the way. Even $1 donations (thanks Mike) make a difference.

Not all stories end with heartbreak. Recently one of the strongest women I know celebrated her one-year anniversary of being cancer free. We can continue to bring this joy to the lives of many by raising money to further cancer research. Please help me reach my goal of $2,500 and maybe even surpass that goal!

Click here to make a donation today!

15 things I always forget to thank my soulmate for.

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The other day my best friend Haley and I were hanging out with a good friend of ours and she said she’s jealous of our relationship. Jokingly Hal and I always talk about how everyone wants to be us, but it didn’t ever occur to me that not everyone has that closeness we have. My relationship with Hal is easy and fun and perfect, the way all relationships with our friends should be. So in the effort to be sappy and remind Hal how much I love her here are 15 things I always forget to thank my best friend for. Happy Valentine’s Day soulmate.

1. Most importantly, thank you for being so low maintenance. I love that we can either plan a huge night out or sit at home in our pajamas watching Netflix and it’s equally as fun.

2. Thank you for knowing when to push me to open up and when to sit in silence.

3. Thank you for always being able to read my mind. It doesn’t matter what is going on or where we are, you always know what’s going through my mind and it’s such a relief to not always have to explain myself.

4. Thank you for always being 100 percent honest with me. People underestimate how open we are with each other, but I love that even when people tell me not to repeat something I at least have to tell you. They should all know you don’t count and everything they say can and will be repeated to Hal.

5. Thank you for being there for all of the most important moments of my life – dance competitions (duh), graduation, moving day and even when tragedy strikes and my life falls apart.

6. Thank you for never letting how different we are stand in the way of our friendship.

7. Thank you for never judging me even when I know you would never dream of doing whatever nonsense I’ve gotten myself in to.

8. Thank you for hating the same people as me.

9. Thank you for all of the random funny texts, pictures, SnapChats and Instagram posts. I love knowing that we can go months without talking to each other but we are always thinking of each other.

10. Thank you for never failing to pick up where we left off no matter how much time has passed since we talked to each other.

11. Thank you for always supporting me even when I know you disapprove.

12. Thank you for all of the shots you’ve let me take even when I shouldn’t because you know at least for a few hours I will feel better.

13. On those mornings when the alcohol is no longer making me happy, thank you for sitting around all day with me doing absolutely nothing.

14. Thank you for never letting me down and always being there when I need you most.

15. Thank you for showing me that I don’t need a boyfriend to find real closeness. You are my soulmate and always will be, having an amazing boyfriend is just a bonus to the amazingness that is already my life.

Blessed.

I’ve been struggling with what to post next on here. How do I compare to my last post? It was so personal I feel like people expect that kind of post from here on out, especially since I received such amazing feedback. You don’t realize the wonderful people around you until a special moment like that. I have been so blessed to have such spectacular people in my life, whether I know them from 15 years ago or met them yesterday.

Before writing my last post I had some hesitation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put myself out there like that. Vulnerability isn’t my greatest strength, but in the end I decided to just close my eyes and click publish. I am beyond thankful that I did.

To help encourage others to stop holding back and hiding the things they think make them damaged I want to share one response I received from someone who used to be a very dear friend of mine. You may think you are bruised and broken, but it is those scars that make you the beautiful person you are today. Don’t ever think you aren’t good enough, and don’t ever let someone make you feel bad about yourself because of the things you have been through or have done in the past. Once you open up and put yourself out there people will accept you more than you think.

While most people posted comments on my Facebook post or in my blog comments one very special person sent me a message. It was more personal, so I understand why they didn’t want to leave it in the comments. I’m not a person who cries often, but this definitely brought me to tears. I wasn’t looking for sorry or anything like that, I no longer hold any grudges and I hope others can let go of grudges they hold against me. But this was just what I needed to hear:

First, I want to say I have a slight hatred of that school, and who I was when I attended it. Some of the hatred comes from how sheltered we were, and some comes from the ideas, (or way of life?) that they tried to push down our young throats. I’m glad for the beliefs they instilled in me, but short of that, I hated my years at that school. I also want to say I am sorry, because I remember those rumors, and I remember telling you I was disappointed in you when you asked me about that situation all those years ago in class. I had completely forgotten about it until I just read that blog, and I sit here haunted by it. I was NEVER disappointed in you. It was something I was instructed to say, and I hated that I said it then, and now I hate I never apologized to you. You were, and ARE, a beautiful woman and I am glad to have met and know you. And I really enjoy your blog : ) Hope you are doing well.

Judgement.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the judgements we pass on others before knowing anything about them. “The waitress was such a bitch.” But do we ever take the time to think that she might have something going on in her life that is making it difficult for her to deal with our petty bullshit and need for “one more thing?” We, and I’m including myself, have been so self-centered that we cannot reach past our own assumptions, life, problems, needs or anything else to consider that other’s also have lives. Everyone around you has a story, a problem, something bothering them, something bringing joy into their life. We are all different and I’ve spent so much of my life focusing on that and how I don’t fit in here or there and I’m tired of it.

The worst part is we have all been on the other side of the judgements. We’ve had rumors spread, lies told, but yet here we are still passing onto others when we know the pain that it brings.

I’ve been on the fence about using this example because it’s really personal, but I used to say I wanted to use the shit I’ve been through to bring light into the lives of others and help other people learn. So I’m going for it.

Middle and high school were difficult times for me, especially during my time at a private Christian school. I’m going to try to leave out specific names of places and people because that’s not really what’s important here.

I was in seventh grade when the rumors of me being a flirt and a little loose with the guys started. It was probably around the time I was caught kissing a boy in the stairwell, but honestly I can’t remember exactly. All I knew was that me being friends with mainly guys was somehow socially unacceptable and made me a floosy. I don’t know how because at the time I didn’t even know what a blow job was and didn’t have any desire to do more than kiss a boy, but you know how rumors work. Before I knew it I was sleeping with every guy in school, and our school went up to 12th grade.

Kids are already trying to figure themselves out at this age, so you can image how this affected me. I always tried to pretend to be tough and not care, but the truth was I cared a lot.

That summer between seventh and eighth grade I had something taken from me. I had very little say in the matter and I didn’t realize what had happened until days later. Maybe I was that whore everyone thought I was. If I wasn’t I would have stopped, said no. But now looking back, I didn’t know how. Thankfully, I’ve found my voice.

As I told my best friend about it I bragged, pretended to be more grown up than I was, but inside I was torn apart. This girl who always said she wanted to wait until marriage, that was no longer an option. The worst part, I started to believe I was this person in the rumors. I believed I was a whore, that I wasn’t worthy of my faith and my God. When I was kicked out I felt like I deserved it. So I didn’t fight back, I accepted this version of myself that was tainted, something I never said I wanted or planned.

That’s the problem with lies, eventually we even start to believe them ourselves. We spend so much time tearing down others and so little time thinking about how our actions are really affecting those around us. I know we were only in middle school, but that’s one of the hardest times of our life. It shapes us into the person we will be someday. I only hope that I can continue to take the bad and use it for good.

Recently I had a semi-encounter with someone I used to attend that school with. Apparently she wasn’t going to go anywhere that I was present. Nearly 10 years later and here we still are believing the awful rumors of our childhood. I am still that broken person to so many people – so many people who don’t know me at all. This one particular girl, I can’t remember ever even talking to her. What is it that makes her feel that way about me? When I heard this I felt myself being pulled back to my eighth grade self. For the first time in so many years I cried because of what someone else said about me.

I am one of the most confident people I know because I choose to be. Happiness, confidence, joy – those are things we choose to be. They don’t happen by accident. But here I was at 24 years old letting some stupid idea of me, that had nothing do with who I really am, get under my skin. That’s when I realized that I had to stop doing the same to others. Whether someone knows what you say or think of them, it’s a terrible thing to think your opinion is so important that it should be used to tear others down. We are all beautifully different and that should celebrated. Never forget to stop and think about what someone else has going on. Because that girl you just called a whore, maybe what was taken from her wasn’t her choice.

Dear Brandon,

Brandon

It’s been a year since you left, and it doesn’t feel any more real today than it did a year ago. I keep expecting to go over to Aunt Dawn’s or Jill’s for the next family gathering and see your smiling face. I always loved that about you, no matter where you were in life you were always so happy. You brought so much laughter and joy into our lives. I miss that.

A year ago today I was so angry. I couldn’t understand how you could let us down the way you did. We all thought you were clean and doing so much better. We were afraid to check on you and badger you, but I know we should have. Addiction isn’t something anyone can fight alone. It’s hard not to think about how if I would have reached out one more time, seen you one more time. But now I understand that gets me nowhere. All I have left are the memories of you, and they bring a smile to my face every day.

I can’t remember the last full day that passed without me thinking of you. Just seeing a guitar, worshipping at church, being around your family – all of them make me think of you. I miss you every day. Sometimes I listen to Nelly and think about how you were my cool, older cousin who let me listen to rap music even when it was against the rules. You were always including me even though I was the annoying little cousin. It was a blessing to have such an amazing person in my life all of those years.

So much has changed since I last saw you. I’m in graduate school at Georgetown University now, finally moved away from home. Jonathon is leaving for the Navy in March. Olivia and Grace are so grown up. I think they understand better than the rest of us that you are better off now than any of us and we should be happy for you, not sad. You always wanted to be a worship leader, and now I know you’re up in heaven doing what you love. Every time I’m singing in church, in my car, at my apartment I know you are right there with me.

We are all going through so much right now, so I just hope that you keep your arms wrapped around all of us. This family has their own angel now to look after us, and we need it more than ever before. You were our sunshine, and I hope that the memory of your smile continues to make each day a little brighter and a little better. I know it does for me.

I love you and miss you so much.

10 things I’ve always wanted to say to my dad.

It’s no secret that I grew up without my father in the picture. It’s always been me, my mom and my little sister, Savannah. It couldn’t have been more perfect. God blessed me with two of the  most amazing women in my life because he knew I needed something a little extra. But despite the amazing childhood I had, granted there were a few bumps in the road, there has always been an emptiness left behind where my father should have been. Lately I’ve been thinking about him a lot and what I would say to him if I saw him. Well, that’s not going to happen, but I still feel like it’s important for me to say.

So here are the 10 things I would say to him if I could.

1. Thank you for making me a strong person.

After being disappointed by the one man who should always be there for you there isn’t much else I can’t handle.

2. I know I was better off growing up without you.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to do.

3. No matter how many times I say I don’t care about you – I do.

I wish being in my life was so important to you that you would have stayed, tried a little harder, become a better man. I don’t hate you, and I never will. It just would have been nice to have you around. You didn’t even try.

4. Yes, you have influenced every relationship I have ever had.

I know how it feels to have someone I love leave, so I make sure I never get close enough to allow that pain back into my life. There are only a few allowed close to my heart, none of them have been my boyfriends.

5. When I see pieces of you in me it terrifies me and makes me happy at the same time.

Even if it’s your temper I remember so well, I’m glad to know we have some kind of connection.

6. Even though it’s my goal to be nothing like you, it’s something I haven’t been able to avoid. 

I’ve walked away from so many who love me and who I love. It’s that love that scares me because those you love the most can hurt you the most.

7. When other people complain about their dads I get angry.

At least their dad is there to make them angry.

8. I think about you all of the time.

It doesn’t necessarily make me upset or make me happy to do so. It’s just something I do.

9. I wish I knew your birthday.

Unfortunately my mom doesn’t even remember you because she’s buried the memory of you and would rather it stay that way.

10. I love the person I am today, and without you there’s no telling where I would be in life.

I guess there is a silver lining to you walking out.