Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Year in Review

(This post is a day late because my New Year's Eve consisted of a lot of sleep and a lot of throwing up.  So there you go.)

When I look back on 2013, a lot of thoughts rush through my head, but there's one thing that I keep coming back to.  For quite some time, I thought that the night I got baptized last year was the culmination of my years-long journey back to Christ.  And while that is true, it was, there is something bigger that I was missing out on.  That night was the start of the craziest, most incredible ride of my life.  And that was made so clear to me in this year.

I have learned more about God and His love for me in the past year than I could have ever dreamed was possible.  So much of that has to do with the people He placed in my life.  My church family walked with me and loved me even when I couldn't physically be with them.  My new Texas family took me in as their own without knowing a thing about me.  My sweet Reformation brothers showed me what it means to prove love for someone through actions and taught me that who I am really is enough.  There is truly not a day that goes by that I don't think about the fact that the people in my life are a beautiful manifestation of the blessings God wants to lavish upon His children.  The way they have loved me so well continuously points me back to Him.

The biggest surprises came in the form of two trips I didn't expect to be able to take.  Going back to Nashville, and Sanctuary, meeting Kyla, watching her and Taylor get married, seeing Brennan again...surreal doesn't even begin to describe how that felt.  I was reminded yet again that that city has a piece of my heart, and I'm fairly certain it always will.  Texas was a dream that formed back in April, and I didn't know why at the time, but for once I chose not to force it.  I told God that if it was meant to happen, He was going to have to drop it in my lap.  I didn't stop praying, but I honestly didn't think it was going to happen, and certainly not as quickly as it did.  I had no expectations for what would happen when I got there, and I think it was because of that that I found myself at home from the first second.  Memories from that weekend are some I'm going to carry with me for the rest of my life.

My social life expanded in crazy, bizarre ways.  I found so many people in so many places who know what Christ's love means in a big, bold, humbling way.  These are people who have accepted me without condition and loved me when I didn't expect them to.  With so many friendships, I learned what it means to not have to try, to be able to rest assured that it was known that I was loving them the best I knew how.  People that I've had a basis of authentic friendships with showed me what loyalty means when things get hard.  New friends like my Reformation brothers, Hannah and Travis and Peyton and Emily, showed me how Christ loves without expecting so much as a thank you (which, of course, only made me want to thank them more).

But my social life was also the area that my One Word for 2013 came most into play: Release.  When I wrote my One Word post back on January 2nd, this was what I said about releasing my friendships: "I'm releasing the grip I've had on the people that I love and was scared absolutely terrified to lose, people like my best friend Ryann who is moving back to California as soon as she graduates in May, because none of them were mine to keep in the first place."  Surprisingly, Ryann was the easiest one for me to let go of.  I mean, I miss her like crazy, but all along, I've been able to remember that she is where she is supposed to be, and beyond that, she's still been here for me in every way she possibly can be.  Our saying is "oceans be damned", from the letter I wrote her when we left Campbell at the end of April, and I'd say we've done a pretty good job of living that out so far.  Other people have not been quite so simple.  Seeing people I cared, and still care, for very deeply leaving without so much as an explanation has never been something easy for me to accept, and it's been happening a lot this year.  But God has been working in me to help me see that He gives exactly the people that I need for exactly the length of time that I need them, and that, as I wrote back at the beginning of the year, they aren't mine to keep.

When it comes to my family, I'm still learning to let go.  I crave words of affirmation, and right now, I'm in the middle of learning how to accept that who I am just isn't going to be enough for them and to accept the pain of rejection.  Because I can't make them like me.  I can't make them be okay with the choices I've made.  I have to stop trying so hard.  I'm also learning to let go of the self-serving idea that the way they treat me means they don't love me.  I am no less broken than they are, and if I desire for people like my friends to see my heart beneath the mistakes that I make, then my mom and Holly deserve the same benefit of the doubt.  I'm seeing the beginning fruits of this effort, as I have kept my cool much better while on this Christmas break than I ever have before, but there is still a long way to go.

The most important lesson of this year for me was in my relationship with myself.  To stop holding myself to impossible standards and expectations.  To stop letting myself get weighed down by the picture others have of me.  To stop beating myself up every time I get this love thing wrong.  Teaching a perfectionist not to obsess over perfection is always a tall order.  I didn't know what it was going to look like going into it, but there's a particular new friend of mine who has spent months patiently teaching me what it means to see myself the way that my Father sees me, and it's a lesson I've needed to cling to so desperately this year.  Yet another example of how God gives us the people we need just when we need them.  I know that I am doing the best that I can in my life and my relationships, and more importantly, God knows that.  That is enough.

It's been a big year, y'all.  2014 is going to have a lot of changes, bigger life changes than I've ever faced before, and I know that I'm going to have to cling to the one thing that doesn't change, my Rock, my Father who loves me unconditionally and purely.  My prayer for this next year is that I continue to learn to step back and stop trying to be an intermediary between my relationships and God, to be okay with what my life looks like and trust that His plan will continue to be more beautiful than I could ever create on my own.  I pray the same for each of you, as well.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Somebody hold me.

I'm an emotional mess this week.

Granted, I do have every girl's legit excuse for being an emotional mess going on right now, if ya catch my drift, and that always makes this already sensitive girl much, much worse, but this is just ridiculous.

Yesterday, I cried because a friend who has been the biggest mentor in my life over the past 5 years by far sent me an email, and I took it as an attack when if there's anything the past 4.5 years that we've known each other taught me, it's that this woman would never ever in a million years attack me, let alone intentionally make me cry.

Then, I cried because my mom went to her boyfriend's house.  I haven't dealt with separation anxiety since I was, like, 10 (my dad dying really messed me up for a few years).  Please explain that one.

Today, I cried over some stupid thing Chelsea said that I normally would just roll my eyes at, and because Mom isn't here to help me deal with her.

The one not-totally-irrational thing that I've cried about this week is that I leave for school on Sunday.  School by itself is not what made me cry.  I mean, duh, Campbell is my home.  I want to go back as soon as I leave.  It was the oh-so-fun combination of between being sick and the surgery I'm sickeningly behind on making up all the stuff from this past semester (I did get those reviews done today, though, so yay), and it's my last semester starting in a week and oh my word I love my school, and my first grad school application is due on Saturday that turned into this giant wave of absolute panic about the future and OH MY GOSH I CAN'T DO THIS insanity.

I keep telling myself that every college senior hits this point sooner or later, and it's totally natural to freak out about leaving a place that you love and have been at home at for 4+ years, but I still felt pretty crazy sitting here trying to focus on this book about the Vietnam War and instead crying really hard.

Once I finally finished those reviews tonight, I ate some cheese and crackers and some ice cream - not together, mind you - and plan on staying up late tonight watching Glee.  I'm giving myself a mental day tomorrow for New Year's Eve before I jump into grad school applications.

Because sometimes, that's just what you need.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

A step in the right direction!

For the first time since getting home from Texas, I feel like I actually had a decent amount of energy today.  YAY for that.  I'm definitely still coughing an absurd amount, but it's only Day 3 on the Prednisone, so this is very promising.

It's now almost 1:30 in the morning.  I woke up around 6:20 for absolutely no reason, which is crazy considering what time I fell asleep last night.  I helped Mom make chicken soup (because she had been up since 4 doing all sorts of things, but she also slept all day yesterday thanks to a tooth infection), then watched/got terrorized by Blake until about 12:30 (though Mom was around for most of it, he just happened to really like beating the crap out of me today).

After I took a nap, I started in on reading a book that I need to understand properly to write a book review on.  I got through 206 pages today.  The last 25 will have to wait for tomorrow.  Thankfully writing my two book reviews (there's another one, too) should not take too long because of my ability.  Then, I will be down to two incompletes from this past semester.

If y'all could pray for continued healing for my lungs and sinuses, that I avoid any infections, and that I continue to have productive days so I can get my school work done as well as the grad school applications that have deadlines very soon, I would greatly appreciate it.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

All I am, I surrender.

I used to think that my choice to surrender was something that happened the night I got baptized.  I mean, I know that I definitely surrendered that night.  I remember so clearly the feeling hitting me that I was done fighting to be on my own.  I was His.  It was simple.

What I'm slowly learning, though, is that I have to make the choice to surrender myself to Him every single day.  Over and over again.  Without stopping.  Because what I know all the way down to my bones one day can seem so foreign to me the next.

I have to surrender every time I feel like I'm going into panic mode about school.

I have to surrender every time I feel like I'm not going to survive one more second in this house with my family.

I have to surrender every time I get caught up in drama, every time I forget that I don't live my life for the approval of the people around me, and that their words are not what define who I am.

I have to surrender every second of every day, or I will slip right back into the person and mindset I've spent the last year and almost 9 months trying to get away from.  And the enemy knows it.

Because it's only when I surrender that I can feel myself stepping out of the way and letting God do what He wants to do - protect me, keep me safe.

So if I know that's what God wants to do, why is it so hard for me to let Him do it?!

There are still a lot of chains that God has to break, more than I realized.  Ugh.  And my biggest battle isn't even the surrendering part.  It's the not beating myself up for messing this all up yet again.  I can't focus on all the people who say they've been inspired by my story because then I start thinking about how I feel like I've fooled them all.  That's what confuses me; I try my hardest to be authentic, but if I really am being authentic, how can people tell me how inspiring I am when I don't have my life together any more than anyone else?

Oh yeah.  Because this isn't about me.  Ha.  I love when realizations come to me in the middle of me writing out all of these questions.  People are inspired by me and my story because they see God moving.  It's got nothing to do with how much I have it all together.  I'll never have it together enough to warrant the praise I've heard.  Because the praise isn't about me.  It's about what God is doing through me, for me and for others.

I don't know what the point of this post is.  It started pouring out of me once I heard the lyrics in the title, from the song "Give Me Faith."  I've found myself running over a lot of the same questions lately.  I just need to stop thinking so much.  That's a pretty hard pill to swallow for someone like me.  I really hate not understanding things, not being able to get answers to questions - especially when they keep popping up in my mind and heart.  But I've been seeing recently with people I care about that I'm not always going to get answers from them, even when they promised me such, and they're just broken people like me.  So why do I expect answers from the Lord who is perfect and holy and pure goodness and knows so much better than me?

He's going to work out all of the questions running through my head, all the problems I'm facing right now, all the ache in friendships that are confusing me to bits, for His glory and my good.  Tonight, I choose to rest in that.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Pictures a-plenty.

Today was, all in all, another bust.  I'm pretty sure I have viral bronchitis.  I finally begged my way onto a 12-day burst of Prednisone, which is pretty much the one medicine left that may heal my lungs after nearly two weeks of not being able to breathe.  However, being 9 days out from surgery and a MRSA carrier means that being on Prednisone, a steroid, makes me highly susceptible to getting an infection.  Since I was on 2000 mg of antibiotics a day for a week and that did nothing, this was a risk I had to take if I want to breathe well before I go back to school.

So since nothing blog-worthy happened today, here are the pictures I actually managed to upload from Christmas.  They're nearly all pictures of Blake, because he's the fun part.

He was so obsessed with this pirate chest that he didn't want to open the rest of his presents.

This would be the stupid trampoline we were up all night trying to get put together.  For me, it was all worth it when I saw his face as he jumped on it.

True story:  since before Halloween (he was Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates for Halloween), Blake has insisted that a pirate says "Yo yo ho!"  It's still funny.

My precious!

I can't believe this girl is a freshman in high school and almost 15.

Surgery buddies!  Dustin had his shoulder operated on the Friday before my thyroid surgery.

I'm so behind on...everything.  And my family is getting hit hard right now.  Prayers for all of us would be greatly appreciated.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

I don't know what's wrong with me today.

Aside from the two-hour block where I got up, ate a little bit, took a shower, and went to the eye doctor, I have spent the rest of the day sleeping.

Like, my mom couldn't even wake me up for dinner and I barely woke up when Holly left to say bye to her.

I'm coughing up all sorts of gross stuff, and my doctor is still closed for the holiday. The good news is that my throat is doing okay from the surgery.

I need to be productive tomorrow.  But for now I am going back to sleep.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

God is for you. Christmas 2013.

Today was not a good day by worldly standards.

Mom, Holly and I were up all night trying to get Blake's Santa stuff together because mom decided to buy Blake an electric trampoline and it was the most difficult thing in the world to put together. By the time we finished, Blake woke up. So I did not fall asleep until 9 am this morning.

I got a few hours of sleep, and then the whole afternoon was spent trying to get ready for the big meal tonight and listening to Mom and Chelsea yell at each other.

Uncle Kirk, Aunt Donna, Dustin and Brianna were here from 4:45 to 7:30 and that period of time was actually really good. This family loves food, and we eat GOOD at holidays. And then we just say around playing with Blake and telling stories about all the stupid things we've each done recently and laughing hysterically. It was great. It's how we spend every Christmas after our big meal, but it's even better when the four of them are here. More laughter!

And then they left and the arguing restarted. We watched a couple of stupid movies and snapped at each other some more. During all of that, every muscle in my body started hurting to the point that I cried through half of the second movie. Not that anyone cared.

Yes, there are pictures. But I can't even sit up right now (see previous paragraph) so I am blogging from my phone and uploading pictures on here is a hassle. Plus I just want to go to bed. They'll be up eventually.

In sum, this Christmas, I am thanking God that my joy comes from Him and not worldly circumstances and that He gives gifts like peace that passes all understanding and a Son who saves me every single day.

This was my Facebook status today. It sums up what I want to say to you all, as well.

"Merry Christmas to my family, friends, and friends that feel more like family. God has given me more blessings through y'all this year than I can count, and I pray that each of you is surrounded by your own family of love today, whatever that may look like. I hope you remember that God is for you today and every day. Christmas happens, that little baby was born in a barn so many years ago, because God is for you. We are all loved more than we could ever imagine. Rest in that. And I love you, too."

Merry Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas to all!

And to all a gooooooooooooood night.

Praising God for my family upping their get along percentage for the holidays.

I feel awful (still) but it's been an overall good day.

Tomorrow involves more food, more family, and a visit from Matt. I don't need anything else.

I pray you are able to celebrate this Christmas and cherish the little baby that came to save.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Sometimes, even I don't want to write.

There were some deep, introspective thoughts I had to share tonight about the power of music and how even though my mom and I spent half the car ride to Durham (3+ hours) arguing, we spent the whole ride back teasing and joking because we were singing to The Eagles and the Nashville soundtrack the entire time.

But now I'm laying in my warm and toasty bed and the house is finally silent after a whole bunch of yelling and arguing after Mom and I got home, and all I want to do is enjoy the quiet and go to sleep.

So yeah. Sometimes I don't even want to write. And that's okay.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Oh, North Carolina.

The land where nothing about the weather ever makes sense.

Especially when you live 10 minutes from the beach.

That's how you can have an iced-over car one day and be sweating the next.

It's 3 days before Christmas and 70+ degrees outside. Gotta love it.

Thankful for the beauty of air conditioning.

I slept a lot today.

Tomorrow, I have to go to Durham. But at least I should see Matt tomorrow night! And Holly and Michael get in on Tuesday.

This is why I love the holidays. PEOPLE.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

I'd forgotten how awful this is.

Swallowing is a bit easier.

But my throat is very very swollen and itchy and I can't put ice packs on it because the weight of the packs hurts too bad.

And the body aches are brutal.

I wouldn't get out of bed at all if I didn't have to.

Ugh.  Here's praying for a better day tomorrow.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Yet another day.

Not totally sure where today went.

Swallowing still hurts.

My eyes hurt.

Breathing is a little bit easier, so yay for that.

I like sleep. And also Popsicles. I'm having weird dreams. Not about Popsicles, though.

My cousin had shoulder surgery. Mom finally got the infection out of her shoulder surgery wound. Christmas dinner will be interesting.

My mom had students come over to clean our garage and set up our Christmas tree. She introduced me as "That's Mallory, with her throat slit," and has been calling me Frankenstein the rest of the day. I love it.

Also, for some reason, my ears keep popping like I'm on a landing plane. It's weird.

Good night.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

I am quite over today.

The first day or two after surgery are the worst. Add in the fact that I'm sick and I'm just all in all miserable.

Every muscle in my body hurts. It's so weird how surgery on your throat can make your abdominal muscles spaz every time you try to sit up. So needless to say, I haven't done much sitting up today.

Oh, and then there's the fact that my mother is mad at me because I'm upset that she didn't come home until almost 8:00, leaving me to fend for mysef several more hours than was necessary (because Chelsea is never any help), because apparently to her, going out to dinner with the boyfriend she sees all the time anyway is of higher priority than helping the daughter who just had surgery yesterday. Never mind the fact that I've been at her beck and call every second that I've been in this house in the four weeks since her surgery. And I was even doing stuff for her last night. You know, like four hours after getting out of surgery. But sure, I'm the outrageous and selfish one.

So yeah, I'm completely over today. At least I got to talk to Matt for like 45 minutes. That was awesome. And he's coming home for Christmas. I am stoked about that. :)

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All good.

Going to try to sum this up as quickly as possible.

Surgery didn't start until 2:30. Not surprising, that's how the medical field works, but also not fun to wait 2.5 extra hours.

I was awake in recovery by 4:30, discharged around 6:00. Impressively quick.

Doc told Mom I'm a medical phenomenon. Not the first time I've heard that. She said she's done thousands of thyroid surgeries and has never seen one grow back at all, let alone find a perfect little right half of one like she did during my surgery.  I've yet to hear of a medical professional who has actually seen this happen before.

She had to make a new incision. I had the same one for the other two surgeries and even though she told me she was going to use the same one, she told Mom that once she started, she just thought it would be too risky. The new incision is right at the base of my neck where it runs into my chest, so it should heal up okay.
I feel about as good as can be expected. Imagine the worst sore throat that you have ever had and then multiply that by 50. Thank God I have popsicles and soup.

My whole head and neck hurt. But I'm good. My anxiety was much lower than usual, and it was helped by the fact that Pastor Sean drove all the way to Kinston from Dunn (a good 2.5 hours) just to pray with me.
Thanks for the prayers. They are felt and appreciated. Continue to pray for pain management and healing.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The day after Texas, the day before surgery.

This morning, I didn't get up until 8:00.  Mommom got here at 8:15.  That is so very unlike me, but it's my own fault.  I stayed up half the night getting caught up on all the TV show winter finales I didn't even try to watch while I was in Texas.  Normally, though, I can get myself up on time if I know I have somewhere to be, but today it just wasn't happening.  Thankfully Mommom hadn't eaten breakfast, either, so she didn't mind stopping at all.

When you schedule surgery only 8 days in advance and for a day that's two days after you get back from a trip, you really don't have any time to waste.  Today I had to head to Kinston for my pre-op stuff.  It was typical.  A quick meeting with my doctor to go over some details, then instructions on where I needed to go over at the hospital (which is only across the street, yay).  I had to watch some stupid instructional video and then registered and went to get my bloodwork done.  Then we had to wait a while to see the anesthesiologist because for some reason there was only one there, so he was having to run back and forth between people like me and operating rooms.  Everything went off no problem, though, and we were leaving Kinston by 12:30, got lunch, and were back in Swansboro by 2:00.

I couldn't call to find out what time my surgery tomorrow is until after 3:00 because they don't finalize the schedule until late in the day, so I decided to take a nap.  I didn't plan on sleeping until 4:30, but at least I woke up and called before they left for the day.  Hooray!  For once I don't have to be up before the sun for surgery.  My surgery isn't scheduled until 12:00 noon, so we don't have to be there until 10:30, which means we don't have to leave the house until 9:00.  Mom and I are both thrilled about that.

Mom made tacos for dinner before 7:00, which was when I was no longer allowed to have anything but clear liquids, and I spent a good portion of the night working on some stuff for my grad school applications.  I also organized stuff for tomorrow, took my first of two pre-surgery showers with the nasty scrub they give you, and spent a good bit of time talking to friends.  Around 11:00, I had a big bowl of chicken broth.  Agh.

I've been working on getting caught up on the blog ever since (obviously).  I usually don't sleep much the night before a surgery, anyway, so this was as good a time as any, and I'm glad I won't get even more behind.  Now it's almost 3:30 in the morning.  My alarm is set for 7:45.  I'll probably load up my computer (because I highly doubt I'll even want to pick it up for a few days), and then lay in bed and do stuff on my phone until I get tired enough to sleep for a bit.  Writing all these blog posts did make me feel more tired than usual, so that's a good sign. :)

I'll try and get a quick post up tomorrow night (from my phone), just to let  y'all know I'm okay.  If I don't get on here, you can probably find updates on my Twitter, because that is much easier to use, especially in a drugged up state.  Thank you for your prayers!

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Goodbye. For now.

Monday morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 7:30.  Not because I was tired.  Because I simply didn't want to leave.  I had a text from Alma as she took Dennis to school that she'd left breakfast for me on the table, so I got dressed and finished packing my stuff up, neither of which took long at all, and headed downstairs with my suitcase.  I was eating as Alma returned, and Alex came down right around that same time and started getting his own breakfast.  His high school doesn't start until 9:00, the lucky thing!  Alma was telling us how Dennis got up late because he overslept because he was so tired, and I couldn't help but laugh a little.  We kept joking that "because Mal was here" should be a totally valid excuse for the boys for being so dreadfully tired at school and maybe not having their work done. Don't I feel special. ;)

Alma, Alex, and I just stood around talking as Alex ate.  I had time to kill and definitely enjoyed the extra time with them.  Alex actually ended up leaving for school a few minutes late I think, but neither of them seemed to care.

I managed to get one more picture with him before he left.  And I hugged him, but we talked for a few more minutes and then he decided he had to give me one more hug.  I think they like me. ;)

Alex was heading out the door about 8:55, just as Alexis showed up to take me to the airport (yes, the same Alexis from yesterday).  I had to get out of there real quick because Alma was on the verge of tears, and if she started full on crying, I was going to full on cry, too, and I didn't want to be sad.  The visit was so amazing I wanted to keep my mind on all the positive things.

Alexis ran me by a Sonic that was on the way so I could get some more food for breakfast that wasn't outrageously expensive.  We talked the whole way to the airport.  I got to know more about her.  She is such a sweet girl!  I'm thankful that we had already traded numbers because I knew I wanted to keep in touch with her.  When we finally got to the airport, she even got out and got my bag for me, and then hugged me and told me she loved me.  Pretty instant friends, if you ask me. :)

I don't like how I look in this picture, but I love it because I'm so happy I got a picture with Alexis!

The Austin airport is a lot smaller than I realized, a lot smaller than it felt when I was trying to get out of it on Thursday, so getting to my gate took no time at all.  Add in the fact that Alexis and I got there quite a bit earlier than expected, and I had plenty of time to waste as I waited for my flight.  So I listened to music, texted many of my new friends about how happy I was to have been there and how great the visit was, and writing on The City about the same things, and then just simply reminiscing about everything that had happened in the past few days.  I kept looking down at my wrist at one of the few little gifts that Alma had given me throughout the past few days, and I was grinning like a fool.

This is an I Am Second bracelet, but not just any one.  It's Alma's.  She gave it to me.  I plan on never taking it off.  Ever.  :)  It's the perfect little memento for me to carry around as a reminder of all that these days in Texas held.  I left a piece of my heart there in Austin, and with this bracelet, I'll never forget that I'm carrying pieces of the hearts of several people there around with me, as well.

This is the caption I put with this picture on Facebook: "Chris told the congregation that I have fallen in love with the church.  And that's true.  I loved these people fiercely before I ever stepped foot on Texas soil.  Spending a few days with them only served to solidify and strengthen that love, but more importantly, it made me fall infinitely more in love with Jesus.  I left Texas with a new resolve to make God first in every part of my life, and I'm going to wear this bracelet wherever I go as a reminder of what this trip did for me."

I hate goodbyes, especially with people as far away as they are.  But I told everyone that this wouldn't be the last time they saw me in Wells Branch.  I'm certain of it.  They mean too much to me now for me to not make my way back to Texas one day.  I don't know how, and I don't know when, but I will be back.

There aren't words to accurately describe the gratitude that fills every part of my soul because of this journey I made to Texas.  There are things I learned this weekend that I am never going to forget, and people who have made a permanent mark on my heart.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

We Are Family

Sunday morning was church!  Alma ran me to the rec center (where the services are held) before the first service, because her family goes to second service, but I wanted to go to both to meet as many people as possible.

I got there early (of course) and got to see the action of setting up and meet Mona, another woman whose name I recognized from The City, who also happened to be Ciara's mom.  She was so sweet and surprised me by giving me a beautiful hat and scarf that she had crocheted!  Chris made sure he found me a shirt, because Alma had been telling me since Thursday that I needed to get one.

apparently a burnt orange (the color of the University of Texas) Live for More t-shirt makes me a winner. so says Chris, anyway. ;)

I loved getting to see firsthand what a service was like after only knowing the sermons online for a year.  And of course, I ended up sitting right next to a girl, Alexis, who never posts on The City but follows everything on there and knew me from that.  The funny thing was, she showed up a few minutes late, but her boyfriend Sam knew who I was because she had told him about me.  I ended up not being able to make it through, though, because my health would just not cooperate.  Alexis came and took care of me after that service so that Alma didn't have to miss, and it was a beautiful time of getting to know her.  Sam would have been there, too, but he had to go help a friend.

Eventually we got back to Alma's house.  I was going to take a nap, but ended up hanging out with Alex and Ciara until they left for youth group with Dennis.  

See...I made Alex take a smiling picture with me, too.  I think I managed to get him to do it by reminding him that I was leaving the next day.  ;)  Just kidding!  He's as sweet as his brother, at least to me. :p  I don't think he minded my penchant for pictures.

The funniest thing about that bit of hanging out with them was that somehow Ciara started trying to draw pictures of me.  They are hilarious.  And yes, I took pictures of them.

#1 - we both agreed that she gave me a butt nose.  so that led to...

#2 - in which I have tiny puckered lips and a very pointy chin and long neck.  Apparently Ciara is a bit of a perfectionist (I can totally relate), so she went for...

#3 - where she got so tired of messing up my nose that she decided not to give me one at all.  but when I mentioned it, she added to it...

Boom.  Don't ask me why she drew it like that.  Ciara is an enigma. ;)  One final attempt before they left for youth group led to this....

#5.  The dinosaur was not planned.  It happened after she decided she didn't like the original shape of my head, and then when she drew a new line for my chin, she just suddenly went, "Oooo!  Dinosaur!"

Then, they had to leave for youth group and I slept for almost 3 hours.  I woke up just in time to eat a late dinner, and I finished right as they returned with a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  I told them that I would wake up to hang out with them for the night (I needed to wake up to eat and take my medicine anyway), so Alex told me they'd bring back some ice cream, and they so sweetly brought my favorite.  Ciara and I devoured that thing as we, Alex, and Dennis sat around watching several episodes of How I Met Your Mother.  I've never seen that show before, but it's funny!

Alma and Francisco went to bed around 10:00, I think, and the four of us stayed up goofing off.  We were dancing around like idiots, and with some nudging from Ciara and me, I got to see Alex twerk.  Ha!  The self-proclaimed grumpy old grandpa actually twerked.  It was hysterical.  Dennis kept saying he couldn't do it because he doesn't have a butt like Alex.  I think the skinny jeans also helped. (You're welcome, Alex. Now the world knows you can twerk. :p)  We danced around to the Cha Cha Slide and the Cupid Shuffle until I just couldn't anymore because my asthma kicked in.  I also may or may not have rapped them the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song for them.  The details cannot be confirmed. ;)

Once we sort of got tired of music, we just started talking about all sorts of random stuff, and something Alex and Ciara mentioned made me think of these two funny videos from the comedian Jim Gaffigan on McDonald's and Hot Pockets.  So I played them for them on their laptop.

And then the computer died.  So we just sat around being weird together some more.  Including taking group selfies.  

I also went up and took a shower at one point.  Finally about 1 am, we all decided we had to get to bed.  The boys had school in the morning, but they just said they were having so much fun that they would rather hang out with me.  So who was I to complain? ;)  Before Ciara headed home, she came over and gave me a big hug (since I was leaving in the morning) and then she just sort of fell on me, so I got Alex to take a picture of it. :)

Believe it or not, those few hours of hanging out with Alex, Ciara, and Dennis, they were the highlight of the weekend.  I'm not sure why, but it was just so sweet and special.  Sitting around with them felt so natural.  And I had no idea I could have so much fun with a 19 year old, 17 year old, and 13 year old.  But if you had walked in, or observed that scene as a stranger, I don't think you would have had any idea that we'd only known each other a couple of days.  That time meant so much to me that on the spur of the moment, I asked if we could all pray together before Ciara went home.  I was so unbelievably happy that I wanted to take the time with them to thank God for the bonds that had been solidified that night.  And Ciara prayed, too, and the things that she said were so simple and beautiful.  I'm amazed I didn't cry when I went to bed that night.

As if there had been any doubt in my mind before, these guys are my family.  And I am so blessed to be able to call them that.  :)

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