I learned.

Nelson Mandela once said “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

As someone who is scared of virtually everything, those words have always resonated with me. Those words gave me a sense of hope – that I didn’t have to be doomed to a life full of fear, that it was normal to feel afraid, that these obstacles are conquerable. That maybe there’s something within my soul that could be likened to Nelson Mandela’s… and then I realize I might be pushing it a little bit.

My favorite part of that quote has always been the first two words, which I think might often go unnoticed. “I learned.”

I learned. I learned. I learned. 

Lately I have been taunted by fears and anxieties – some of them reasonable, all of them unnecessary. All of them hindering me from living and loving as well as I know I can. It’s this heaviness in my chest, like a strong hand that holds me back and pushes me down. Lately it’s seemed too strong for me to fight.

Lately I’ve felt lost in a fog of problems that haven’t even happened yet – that may very well never ever happen. I’ve been dizzied by the unpredictability of life and simultaneously discouraged by the things that will certainly happen eventually (i.e. death and taxes.)  It’s torture, truly, and it’s been even more disheartening to me that I haven’t just been able to stop. I haven’t been able to “just let go” like my friends and family have told me to.

And the most frustrating part of it all is I know it’s just some devil on my shoulder talking. But still I find myself wondering if maybe he’s right. Maybe it isn’t really worth it. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s too much of a risk. Maybe I’m not where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I’ll never be where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I’ll be unhappy. Maybe it’s hopeless.

I’d like to say that when I’m in this state of mind that I’m someone I don’t recognize, but I do recognize this person if I look hard enough. It’s the person I used to be – the little 16-year-old girl that didn’t think she was pretty enough. The little 18-year-old who moved away from home for the first time. The little 19-year-old who gave everything up for something and ended up with nothing to show for it. The 20-year-old who forgave and got kicked down. The 21-year-old who graduated college, moved out of her parents house, started a job and knew she was closing a chapter of life that could never be reopened.

All of those girls had to learn that they were stronger than the sum of their fears and insecurities. And they had to keep learning, and keep learning, and keep learning – even when it felt foolish or hopeless to do so. They learned that eventually they would be okay, and then eventually, that’s exactly what they turned out to be.

Okay.

They turned into the 22-year-old girl I am right now. A 22-year-old girl learning how to love wholly in the present despite being hurt badly in the past. A 22-year-old learning  how to find her own voice in a world going on about a whole lotta nothing. A 22-year-old learning that no matter what you do or who you are, you can never make everyone happy. A 22-year-old learning that that’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.

I’m learning that life is a beautiful, continual and maddening learning game. I hate it and I love it. I fear it and I long to figure it out, and it pisses me off knowing I most likely never will. But I guess life wasn’t designed to be understood so much as it was designed to be lived, seized and appreciated.

I hope that one day I am able to fully let go, to not give any strength to the fears and anxieties that creep into my head. And if they gain strength, I hope I’m always able to remind myself that I will forever be stronger.

And if someday the 25-year-old version of myself reads this, I hope you’re proud of the person you’ve become. I hope you’re proud of the choices you’ve made, the love you’ve given, and even the times that you feel as though you’ve fallen short. And I hope that, if you’re still scared, that you’ll remember that you’re still just learning. Lots of living comes hand in hand with lots of learning. You’re going to be alright, and you are so much braver than you know.

Just have fun, babe

“Just have fun, babe.”

Those are the words my Grandpa Lee told me as I was getting ready to head off to college.

With a kiss on the forehead and a reassuring shoulder squeeze, he added “That’s all that matters.”

I can hear his voice – low and sincere – just as clearly as I did then. I remember it as though it was yesterday.

Life has since mercilessly sped by, leaving me dumbfounded and wondering exactly where the time has gone.

It’s been almost four years since my Grandpa gave me this advice, and a little over a year since I lost him. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear his words.

His advice was simple. It could’ve easily been drowned and forgotten in the sea of unsolicited words of wisdom everyone and their sister felt as though I needed to hear. But it’s the only advice I remember and the only advice I ever followed.

And though I’m sure everyone else meant well with their study tips and fool-proof methods of avoiding temptation and the freshman 15, I guess that’s just not the advice I really needed.

I needed to know I could and should just have some fun.

And as I look back on my college career, I always wonder if my grandpa would be proud. God, there was nothing better than seeing pride in his face. I loved watching him read my papers. I loved looking up at him when I sang, seeing him wipe his eyes and feeling like, just for a moment, I was the most incredible human being in the entire world..

I might not have gotten published in the New York Times. I might not have met my husband (not completely crossing that out yet). I might not be Valedictorian and I might not have the slightest iota of an idea of what my future will hold.

But my God, I’ve had a lot of fun.

And for that, even I am proud of myself. Because, believe me, there were many days, weeks and months that weren’t fun at all. In fact, I think my freshman year of college was the saddest, most boring time in my life.

I avoided the freshman 15 by never leaving my dorm room and surviving off of dry Frosted Mini Wheats. I cried – honestly – nearly every night. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, between wanting to live a life I enjoyed and wanting to live a life someone else approved of. I stuck to a strict list of rules that I didn’t even make for myself or really even believe for that matter.

I wasted so many days thinking I was trapped to a life I didn’t enjoy.

My mom thought I was sick. My grandma thought I was depressed. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me.

Now I know that I was just bored.

I think I could name the exact date I decided that I was tired of that feeling – that I decided that I was tired of feeling like I was wasting away and feeling like, when I die, I will be leaving behind a life that wasn’t mine at all.

It’s amazing just how much life will show up for you when you show up for life. It’s amazing the friends you can make when you tell yourself that you’re worth knowing.

Fun is subjective, I know. What I think is fun might not be fun for someone else – but I know I can’t be the only one who has felt like they had to put their own life on hold to hold onto someone, an ideal, an impossible standard.

And if you’ve ever felt that way or feel that way now, I offer you the same advice my sweet grandpa gave to me: Just have fun, babe.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll have the time of your life.

You’ll meet the most incredible people in the most unexpected of places. You might say “yes” and regret it, but even more so, you’ll regret a whole lot of the times you said “no” for no reason. If you want to dance on the table, dance on the table. If you wanna kiss a boy, kiss a boy.

Be with the people who make you laugh, go to parties where all of your friends dance like idiots, say you’re sorry when you do something wrong. You’ll make mistakes and God will forgive you, even if it feels like the ladies at your church at home might not.

The headaches in the morning aren’t always worth it, but sometimes they are. Drink lots of water. Say hi to strangers. Eat the food you want to eat. Go outside. Do things you’re scared of. Don’t try to sleep on your dog’s bed.

These four years will go by faster than you can say “Wait, hold on, I want to do it all over again.” And I think the rest of life will do the same.

There’s plenty of time for us to be responsible, to wear outfits we don’t like, to work jobs we hate. There will come a time for us to act like we know what we’re talking about. There will come a time to be serious and there might even come a time to be boring.

But until then, and even then, there’s always time to enjoy yourself. There’s time to love the places you find yourself in, the people you found yourself surrounded by, the life you give to live every single morning until you just don’t anymore. There’s time to laugh, dance, sing off-key and hug people’s necks.

If I could go back in time, the only thing I would change is I would have had even more fun. And I might’ve talked myself out of cutting my hair.

And I would’ve gone back to that moment, when my Grandpa Lee offered me those words. I would’ve hugged him a little tighter, looked him dead in the eye and told him

“I will, I promise.”

 

Death lessons.

Everything I know about life, I’ve learned from my father, even though the last thing he ever taught me was how to ride a bike with training wheels.

My father was a good man. He was handsome. He was brilliant. He was sharp. He was manipulative. He worked hard. He loved Barbra Streisand.

Or so I’ve been told.

I’ve gotten to know my father, the most important man in my life, through pictures and stories. He was stolen from me when I was four years old, ripped right out of my little fingers without any goodbye or any good reason.

It wasn’t fair. I still don’t think it is. He would probably agree with me if he were here. My mom has always told me I get my stubbornness from him.

I hate to think of him as a stranger, as a face in wilting photographs or as a reason for people to pity me. I don’t think of him that way.

I think of him as my guiding force.

He taught me about second chances – that they’re never guaranteed and that I better do a hell of a good job with my first one. He taught me that I will one day be merely a face in an old photograph, an engraved name in a tombstone, a fine dust, dry bones. He taught me that life will try to make me forget the lessons death taught me.

Life will try to make me cold. Life will make me want to shield myself from the weight of the world, to hold back my love in fear of a broken heart and leave bridges burnt.

But my father’s death taught me I will one day be but a memory, so I might as well be a good one.

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Home, sweet home.

The first 18 years of my life were spent in a town called Richmond Hill, Georgia. “It’s like, right outside of Savannah,” for all of you who aren’t from here/don’t know much about Henry Ford history.

It’s a small town, but a beautiful one.

I grew up with the privilege of spending summers underneath huge Live Oak trees and swinging from their branches. I had a backyard I could run barefoot through, until I got dozens of spurs caught in my feet. I’ve spent hours trying to comb salty, muddy water out of my hair and even though I was terrified of what might be in the murky water, I usually jumped in. I’ve gotten lost in the creeks and let my hand glade over water that was as smooth as glass.

I grew up writing my name in the foggy refrigerator windows of Piggly Wiggly and spent many a day begging for candy bars at the “corner store” gas station. I grew up knowing everyone’s name and knowing I was known, and safe.

My whole world spanned 14.6 square miles. It was all I had ever known.

This town and I had the unique opportunity to watch one another grow. Every stoplight added was a significant milestone. Every new face at school was an exciting story to run home and tell my mom. I’ve watched as the old got torn down and the new got built up. I was there when our football team started being good again. I was there when we didn’t have enough seats for all of the students in our classrooms.

This town has, in many ways, transformed. Sometimes I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. No matter what – it’s always been home.

This town listened as I learned my first words and was even there when I started to believe that what I had to say mattered at all. This town led me to my first true love, and to this day, there aren’t many places I can go here that aren’t stained with some kind of memory. This town is where I buried the dead bird my cat brought to the door, and where I buried my first pets, Muffin and Trixie. This town is where I’ve had to watch friends be buried. This town is where I’ve found some of my closest friends. This town is where I found God, and where I felt like I lost Him.

This town taught me that I was more than I ever thought I was. There were times this town made me feel as though I was completely and utterly on top of the world.

So you could imagine my surprise when I went off to college and found out the world spanned much further than just these city limits. Just the idea of being so small in such a big world terrified me.

As I sit here and pack my stuff to begin my senior year of college a few hundred miles away, it still does.

There are times I feel like I’m still the same little girl I was when this place was the only place I knew. Then there are times I wish I could be that little girl again. I find myself wishing I could remember what it was like to have everyone know my name, or what it feels like to always be sure, always feel safe and always feel like I belong.

I used to think this town was what made me who I am and that I was nothing when I was outside of it. I couldn’t fathom calling any other place home and I often discouraged myself from even trying.

But now, not a day goes by that I don’t thank God that I left. Although I was reluctant to the welcome at first, I eventually realized the world had been patiently waiting for me. I realized I was overlooking unbelievable opportunities to make new memories because I was too busy clutching onto the ones I knew. Every lesson learned, heartbreak endured, love lost seemed to be merely preparation for what this life really has to offer me.

This place will always be a part of who I am, but it is hardly all of me. And even with all of this big talk, I’m still tearing up thinking about driving away tomorrow. I always cry when I leave this place, when I have to hug my mom goodbye and tell her I’ll miss her. I’ll miss her. I’ll miss the water. I’ll miss my family, the friends I’ve made, the old men I smile at in Publix.

And oh my God, will I miss my dogs.

But that always makes coming back all the more enjoyable.

I always thought the beauty of leaving home was that I could return and feel like I was the only thing that’s changed. But here, that’s different. Every time I come back, something palpable and noticeable has changed, whether it be a new building, a wretched traffic circle or something as simple as not having anyone to sit with at a high school basketball game. For years, I resented that, but now I’ve realized that I’m doing the exact same thing.

Changing and growing.

And that can be scary and uncomfortable, but it’s definitely beautiful.

And Richmond Hill, I look forward to catching up with you again soon.

You’re no one ’til someone lets you down.

One of my favorite stories to tell is about the one time I got cheated on. Weird, right?

I’m not sure why I love it so much. Maybe I love to laugh at my own misfortunes, or maybe I know it’ll make everyone else feel better about their love lives. Maybe I just love the ridiculousness of it. Maybe it’s a mix of it all.

And as much as I would love to serve you all of the stupid details right here and now, Destiny’s Child once said “You know I ain’t gonna blast you on the Internet, ’cause my momma taught me better than that” and I really have no choice but to abide by that.

Truly, I do wish both of the parties involved the best. I’m a strong believer in forgiveness, but forgiveness does not mean forgetting… and it’s too good of a story for me to forget.

What I will tell you now is, at the time, I didn’t like it so much. I felt everything you expect someone to feel when they find out something like that. Betrayed. Humiliated. Hurt. Angry. Sad. Confused. Devastated. Taylor-Swift-Speak-Now-Album-esque.

Almost a year ago (thanks TimeHop) instead of going to meet his parents like we had planned to do that day, I drove 168.4 miles back home. And on that ride home, I somehow convinced myself that I deserved it all. And I had already made my mind up that I would give him another chance.

To this day, I’m not sure why I did that. Stubbornness probably had a lot to do to with it. Feeling like I had to be loved and wanted probably had a lot more to do with it than I would like to admit it. Such is life, right?

Nonetheless, last summer really sucked for me. And no amount of sympathy or dates I got asked on could make it better. No amount of “you deserve better”s or “I’ll kill him”s or “Seriously, Mary, say the word, I’ll find him and kill him”s made me feel happy again.

I spent so much time trying to mend something that someone needlessly and selfishly broke. I put myself through hell for someone who didn’t respect me enough to say “No.” I stood up for someone who honestly didn’t really care about me or my feelings at all.

I forgave people who, by all standards of the world, really didn’t deserve it. But if given the opportunity, I would forgive them both again. It’s helped me in the long run.

I say all of this, not in hopes that they’ll see this and feel remorseful and not in hopes that you’ll feel sorry for me, but because I would LOVE to see someone try this on me today.

It’s only been a year since it all happened but it honestly feels like a lifetime.

I remember a few days after getting home, I was talking about the whole situation with a friend of my brother’s. And instead of telling me he was going to kill him like I expected him to, he told me something along the lines of “Mary, you know, I’m glad that happened to you and one day you’ll be glad too. It needed to.”

I hit him with the “Are you high or what?” face REAL quick. But he ended up being right.

You can’t tell me that stuff like that needs to happen because it really, really never should. But unfortunately, things like that happen all the time.

And even though the story didn’t end nearly as perfectly as I had planned in my head, it still turned out to be a dang good one. And I am glad for it.

Sometimes Prince Charming turns out to be a royal douche bag, and let’s be real, that’s more entertaining anyway.

I always say one day I’ll sell the rights to all of my awful stories so I can somehow monetarily benefit from them. But honestly, I’ve benefited so much already. (But money would be cool too so I’m still considering it.)

It’s weird but the debacle honestly led me to some of my best and most favorite friends. I’ve had some of the best times of my life these past months. And I’m not sure if I’ve become a person that I’m fine being alone with, or if I’ve just finally realized it after all.

I think so many girls, and guys for that matter, are looking for someone to make them feel complete. I know, about this time last year, I was too. We cut corners and look over things that we really shouldn’t overlook, all in the name of love or whatever it is that we think love is.

But I’ve realized that I don’t need a better half. I’m a perfectly good whole.

I’ve always tried to follow the relationship advice that you should live a life someone else would want to be a part of. I do think that’s helpful and true… but I think I’d much prefer to live a life that I want to be a part of. I mean, I am the one living it.

You know, I’ve experienced love (Not from this guy). When it’s good, it really is all it’s cracked up to be. But even so, it isn’t everything.

I would love to love someone and be loved like my grandparents loved each other. I’d love to memorize someone’s order at a cheap Chinese restaurant. I’d love to dance embarrassingly in public and I’d love my life to sound like “La Vie en Rose” by Louis Armstrong. I’d love to find someone who makes me laugh until I cry, who teaches me things I’ve never learned, who pushes me to be a better person than I was the day prior.

But there are so many other things I want to do too. My life is so much more than a list of the boys who text me, the boys who love me, the boys who want to marry me. My life is more than the dates I’ve been on or the flowers I’ve gotten on my doorstep. It’s more than the times I’ve been hurt or betrayed. My life will be more than my wedding day, and more than my anniversaries. And more than arguments and good days.

I am so much more than all of those things. And so are you.

And I think it’s when we realize that about ourselves that we really understand what it is that we deserve. And honestly, nobody deserves to feel worthless due to someone else’s inability to treat someone right. Nobody deserves to stare maniacally at a phone, waiting for a call or a simple text back. Nobody deserves to feel continuously disappointed. Nobody deserves to feel unimportant.

Not even you, my friend.

Because honestly, life is too short to not be happy. And life is hard enough without having someone constantly make it more difficult for you.

I hope that you never have to experience some of the things I have. I hope you’re never as dumb as I was.

But I do hope one day you’re able to stand up for yourself like I’ve learned to. And that you listen to Beyonce songs and flip your hair. And I hope you value yourself enough to not sell yourself for cheap. And I hope you become a force to be reckoned with, and a prize to be won.

And I hope that you’ll be happy no matter what.

“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” – Mary Oliver

My mom never taught me how to be a girl.

My mom never taught me how to be a girl.

She never taught me about applying makeup or how to braid my hair. She never taught me how to apply  nail polish without getting it all over my floor, body and the walls. She never taught me about being trendy, or how to know what to wear to a party. She never, NEVER, NEVER EVER EVER taught me how to adequately communicate with cute boys. She never taught me how to accept a compliment, or how to walk in high heels, or how to make small talk, or how to always know the charming thing to say, or how to wear jewelry. Or anything else that I felt that, as a female, had been expected of me to know.

And that was all fine when I was a kid. I didn’t really like Disney princesses as I was too busy trying to talk to animals. If I didn’t like the way my hair looked, I just cut it off. I just wanted to jump in puddles and sing Ricky Martin songs and that was really all that mattered.

But then, I grew up, and I started to wish that I had learned how to be a girl. Sometimes I still do. I still get dressed and wish I knew what I was doing. I still attempt doing my hair or my makeup and seriously get exhausted halfway through. Putting on jewelry is a strange science that I have never gotten the hang of – and lipstick makes me feel like a try-hard and I almost always take it off. The thought of flirting with a boy makes me want to crawl in a hole and die and probably will until I’m happily married.

I remember asking my mom, whenever she and I were both utterly clueless about how to tie the back of a corseted prom dress – why she couldn’t have just taught me how to be a girl. We both laughed, of course, but it was true. And she and I both knew it.

We know the basics. Her nails are always done. I’ve taught myself how to curl and straighten my hair. We collectively know maybe four hairstyles. Braids are a foreign art form but maybe, maybe one day I’ll understand. I’m wearing a ring and a necklace and that is truly a big step for me. I am making progress, truly I am.

And I realize lately, that I wouldn’t trade how my mom raised me for anything in the world. Because while she may have never taught me how exactly to be a good girl, she taught me a heck of a lot about being a good woman.

My mom taught me to always treat other people the way I wanted to be treated. It’s such a simple thing but I was drilled with it every single day. Whenever I said something unkind or did something unkind, she was disappointed in me. Even worse than that – she would grab my arm, look me in the eye and tell me that I knew better. I did know better and I still know better. Being kind is most important.

My mom taught me that a pretty face doesn’t mean much unless your heart is just as pretty.

And my mom always taught me that while God gives gifts graciously, He expects you to do something with them. Sometimes that means singing in the street or in talent shows. Sometimes that means auditioning to be on a national television program. Even when you’re terrified, He wants you to use what you’ve been given. He doesn’t give you things just so you can marvel at them by yourself in the comfort of your own home.

My mom taught me to never get tired of doing things for others and that it’s better to carry more weight than to not be carrying enough.

She taught me to always be as kind as possible but she also taught me that sometimes it will be necessary to tell someone to just “Go to hell.” Honestly, I haven’t tried this one out yet but maybe one day I’ll give it a shot.

She taught me that I don’t need a boy to make me happy. She taught me that the boy doesn’t always need to pay the bill. She taught me that boys are often very, very stupid. Girls are often very, very crazy.

She taught me life was too short to be anything but happy.

My mom taught me to always be worth more than I cost, and to never let people who cost more than they’re worth have too much control over me. It’s always better to help more than you harm.

My mom taught me to never take intelligence or common sense for granted. My mom taught me that it’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to argue – so long as you can listen, understand and back yourself up.

My mom taught me to embrace the things that make me different, or the things that just make me flat-out weird. She taught me to never water myself down, or to meet other people on their low ground.

My mom taught me that I’m the worst liar in the world so I might as well try to be honest.

My mom taught me that I can do things for myself. My mom taught me that I can work hard, even if I don’t want to. My mom taught me that I can do literally anything in the world that I want to do, so long as I motivate myself and push myself to it.

My mom taught me about strength, and honesty, and vulnerability. She taught me about authenticity, and how to think for myself. She taught me about being caring and loving to the people I know, and caring and loving to the people I don’t know. She taught me to treat everyone well, no matter who they are or how they’re different from me. She taught me how to be thankful, how to stand up and speak, but how to sit down and shut up every once in a while. She taught me to never be afraid to dance at parties, or in public, and that life is too short to not laugh at yourself.

And maybe my hair will never be perfect, and I’ll never be able to walk in heels without wanting to die, or know how to wear white without spilling on it,

but I know that I will always be able to meet life with grace, humility, confidence, and strength.

And I think that’s more beautiful, and of more worth, than anything else that I could have ever been taught.

So thanks mom. I love ya.

Who do you love?

Who do you love?

Right now, in this very moment, who do you love?

It can be one person, or a select few. If you’re like me, though, a wave of names and faces just rushed through your mind. It seems impossible to even keep up.

You love your mom. You love your siblings. Your cousins.  Your aunt who comments on all of your Facebook posts. You love your grandpa, your best friends – of course. You love your boyfriend, your girlfriend. If you’re single like me, you love Matthew McConaughey. You  love Beyonce, because hopefully you’re smart, and sweet old men. You love Ellen Degeneres and Paul McCartney. You still love your first love that you should totally not love anymore, and that’s okay. You love anyone who’s ever done anything nice in the history of all time, and Captain America.

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself at this point.

Nonetheless,  you and I could probably sit here for hours spewing off the names of people we love, used to love, hope to love, and wish we didn’t love at all.

But tell me, how long would it take before you said, “And I love myself.”

Personally, it’s taken me twenty years. But for some, it takes an entire lifetime.

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Heartache.

Hey y’all! I decided to start a new blog because I wanted to.

If anyone can help me make this look pretty that would be so beyond appreciated.

I’m going to start this one out differently than my other one. I’m going to start this one as a normal 20 year old girl.

A normal 20 year old girl who doesn’t have as much figured out as her inspirational tweets and Facebook statuses may suggest. A normal 20 year old girl who gets insecure and nervous. A normal 20 year old girl with lots of doubts.

A normal 20 year old girl who gets her heart broken.

I think I sometimes stray from talking about my feelings, both privately and publicly, because I often write them off as insignificant and petty. Let’s be honest, who really cares about feelings?

But then I realize that, well, everyone does. Because everyone has them, even if they don’t want them. I know I wish I didn’t have them a lot of the time.

Even the most stoic, strongest and greatest people in the history of all time have had feelings. Maybe sometimes they even got them hurt.
Pain is not a selective feeling. Heartache doesn’t care if you’re a good person or not. Sometimes it seems like the better you are, the more you feel it. I don’t really understand that.

All I know is I know the pain of heartache. And it sucks.

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20/20

July 6th was my 20th anniversary with the world. I have lived 20 years on this earth. It’s been a lovely time. I’m lucky to have known life for this long – I’ve known its bad sides, its good sides, its pretty and its ugly, and I still love it just as much as I did when we first met.

Of course, being the wannabe philosopher that I so often find myself being, I wanted to share 20 lessons that I’ve learned throughout my two decades as a mistake-prone, awkward, embarrassing yet thoughtful human being. Here we go.

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