Decide, Change, Fight.

I loveeeeee October.

 

Not only is it my birthday month, the holy grail of Mother Nature’s magic and beauty, and the time of year where I feel convicted to wear fifteen layers of vests, scarves, and plaid while inhaling all things pumpkin spice, it’s also a month that advocates awareness for one of the leading mental illnesses that impacts millions of people all around the world every single day. One that claims the lives of many who see no way out of it. One that I have personally experienced first hand to the point that it almost consumed me entirely. One that I think is so crucial to talk about, because there are many suffering in silence when I believe they don’t have to be.

 

Depression.

 

There are many types of depression ranging from post-partum to clinical to bipolar disorder and anything in between, and I would never want to discount the severity of one type over another or lump them under one general category because I know each type is so very different for anyone having gone through it. I have personally only ever been a victim of clinical depression, so I can only speak to that, but I do have a passion for sharing my struggles with anyone going through any version of this disorder, because I don’t want anyone to ever have to face it alone or embarrassed as I did for years.

 

So, in honor of National Depression Awareness month, I want to – in the most non-cheesy, non-judgmental, non-preachy way – share some tangible tips that I truly believe helped me overcome my personal battle this ugly beast. And I list these in this very specific chronological order because reflecting on my personal journey, I realize that every little thing I did to jumpstart my recovery led immediately into the next in this exact pattern.

 

Please please please….hear me out when I say that I am in NO way making any major medical claims here that everyone can relate to, and this is NOT intended to be a roadmap for everyone to follow verbatim. So, heed my disclaimer to take this blog for whatever worth it is to you at your own discretion. Also understand that this is a VERY vulnerable and raw and real side of myself that is not easy for me to share, but I am using my story as a platform to reach others and to also give myself more liberation and strength in doing so.

 

This is my comeback story.

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#1 – I didn’t take my life…but I did decide to take it back.

 

Last June I hit an all time low with my depression and decided I was done with life.

 

That is seriously THE. HARDEST.  thing I’ve ever written, and I honestly feel a twinge of guilt and fear in exposing that reality for the whole world to see — especially to the ones who don’t understand what I felt in that moment because it’s not a war they’ve ever had to fight for themselves. But I feel like it’s so important to acknowledge what happened because it is such a crucial part to my story of how I got to where I am today and where I am going. It’s important, because though I am definitely not proud of that particular moment, I am proud of how far I have came with every moment since then. And while I know not everyone suffering with depression is suicidal, I know for a fact I the number of people who do succeed with it is a growing statistic I lose sleep over, because I feel compelled to use my story to do something about it. And while there’s no magical cure for just ‘’opening up about my feelings” on the situation, I do think there’s a safe place of understanding and encouragement here for those who can relate.

 

So, there. I said it.

 

I’ll spare the specifics of that night and the ugly truths from my past that haunted me for years leading up to that point, because it’s honestly not the most important part of the story here, but I will share the major turning point that changed it all for me.

 

I CHOSE not to go through with it.

 

Now, hear me out. I know depression itself is NOT a choice. It’s an illness and in many cases a chemical imbalance that everyone going through feels different levels and degrees of. I know for a fact that it does not matter how successful or blessed or well off or “happy” you appear on the outside because you only feel what’s diminished and broken on the inside and often have no idea WHY you even feel that way.

 

I don’t believe anyone ever chooses depression, but when it comes to whether or not we survive it, I truly believe — I have to believe — that we do have a choice to make. And we are in full control of that choice, though I COMPLETELY empathize that it can be a highly complex and overwhelming one to make when our judgment is hindered by the thoughts and lies that this illness fires our way.

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Everybody has different reasons for the path they choose when they arrive at the crossroads of ending it quickly or managing it over time, and I can only speak from my own journey as I chose the latter, but I believe one of the hardest things about my personal warfare was deciding to show up to the battleground in the first place. Because once I decided, it was a constant decision EVERY. DAY.  from that point forward to put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing pull myself out of it. And I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.

 

That’s what made it even harder.

 

Because admitting that I needed help to someone I loved and also someone I didn’t know very well when I consulted with my doctor? Well, that was a beast of fear and shame and tough choices all over again in itself.

 

Nevertheless, I CHOSE to take control of what I could. I CHOSE to get professional and medical help for what I couldn’t. And I CHOSE to take my life back, one day at a time.

 

And, as I would soon learn, that in itself was already half of the victory won.

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#2 – I got help.

 

There very well may be people out there in this world who thoroughly enjoy digging up bones from their past and spewing out their feelings on a cold leather couch in some stranger’s office with a psychology degree hanging on their wall and a notepad in their hand. I cannot denounce that those people might truly exist, but I can promise you this.

 

I am most definitely not one of them.

 

However, I knew that my battle was one in which its complexity and deep roots were too much for me to bear on my own. I needed help. So, the first person I told was my husband — who was probably the only person in the world who knew how bad my symptoms were getting because he came home to my emotional roller coaster every night and rode it front row.

 

I want to get to my point here because y’all are running a marathon here to read my story (as per usual because I always have a tendency to ramble…) and I am SO grateful for your persistence, buttttttt I do want to take a quick couple paragraph detour here to give credit where credit is due, because my husband was absolutely my rock during this unstable season of my life. If you have ever been with someone who is deeply depressed but can’t relate because it’s not a war you’ve ever had to fight, you know this can be such a hard place because you often have no clue what to say or how to help. On the flip side, if you are the person drowning in an illness you can’t explain to your partner who doesn’t resonate with your struggle, you have so many feelings of frustration, guilt, hopelessness, loneliness, and even bitterness.

 

Looking back now, there are distinct moments in my mind where I know deep down I did not deserve the grace and patience and love he was trying to give despite a situation he couldn’t understand or control, because I was most certainly not giving it back to him in return. But just like the vows we spoke the day we became one and committed to the long haul, he clung to me through the “for worse” and “in sickness” part of our story anyway.

 

I thank God daily that walking AWAY FROM me was not an option in his book. Only walking FORWARD WITH me every step of the way to my recovery.

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To get back on track here, we both sat down on the edge of our bed one night and decided that it was time to seek guidance from someone on the outside, because we were both clueless and overwhelmed. The very next day we went to the doctor together and she prescribed some medications and referred me to a therapist right away.

 

Now, I have always considered myself a social butterfly, but when it comes to exposing the tender spots of my heart to talk about my feelings to someone I barely know, I’d rather just keep to myself and pretend it’s all good in the neighborhood. Because the truth is, I am so incredibly afraid of judgment, rejection, and disappointment.

 

So, if no one else will say it, I will.

 

Therapy sucks. Hardcore.

 

While I literally hated every routine follow up and depression screening and “tell me how you feel about that” interrogation, looking back now I know that it was absolutely necessary for me to be able to get over myself and the fears I had in coming clean about my problem. This was essentially the bump-set-spike for the next chapter in my story, where I learned the beauty of opening up about my depression through the very platform you’re reading these words from right now.

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself here…that one deserves its own special section in this blog.

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#3 – I opened up.

 

Hey! Remember that one time I told you how much therapy sucks?? Yeah, my opinion still hasn’t changed since we last talked. But I must confess that therapy was indeed the catalyst that taught me how to channel my feelings and document my journey in a way that fostered my creativity and fully embraced one of my greatest God-given passions — writing.

 

At first it felt silly and I thought my therapist was crazy when she suggested I journal my progress daily or even write a letter to my family about my struggles, but over time it really became my release. I don’t know the science behind it, but there was something about putting the pen to that paper or typing it all out that allowed me to really organize my feelings into patterns and connect the dots for myself as to what triggered my feelings. Although it wasn’t a requirement, I somehow rallied up every ounce of confidence and courage to turn a series of my journal entries into a blog post to open up about my depression, because for some reason it was easier to confess what I was going through safely on the other side of a computer screen than say it face to face to my friends and family who honestly had NO IDEA I was even experiencing all of this.

 

You can find that blog here, and can I just say how TERRIFIED I was to actually hit that “submit” button. Because once it was out there? Y’all, it was out there. My words and secrets were officially exposed to the world for all to see and judge and yes, reply to.

 

I NEVER expected to get all the positive feedback and support that I did from publishing that one single post. It was to my surprise….liberating. Comforting. Humbling. It was also heartbreaking getting hundreds of anonymous and public responses from others brave enough to raise their hands and say “Hey, girl. Me, too.” That was a major turning point for me — because once I realized there was nothing to be ashamed of because I wasn’t alone on the battleground — it almost gave me permission to forgive myself, love myself, and really focus on my fresh start of moving forward with my recovery, arms locked with the new tribe I had officially found to encourage me every step of the way.

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#4 – I changed my diet.

 

Y’all, I have a VERY low tolerance to medications.

 

In fact, I believe there is still embarrassing footage floating around somewhere out there of me when I woke up from anesthetics after getting my wisdom teeth removed, flirting with some other sorry sucker in the recovery room who was just as whacked out on hydrocodones as I was. Ohhh, yes. He was most definitely a sight for sore eyes (or, should I say sore gums) and we were a match made in heaven, both sporting chipmunk cheeks, glazed eyes, and a cotton-mouth full of bloody gauze that kept falling out with every slurred pick up line and helium-induced-sounding laugh we exchanged.

 

I can’t tell you his name, what he looked like, or even what his phone number was that he illegibly scribbled on the napkin I was using to wipe the drool off my chin, but I can tell you this — ever since then I have had a serious complex with ever wanting to take prescription drugs again.

 

That’s why getting on antidepressants to relieve my issues was such a personal struggle for me at first. I had been on and off things like Citalopram and Xanax for years to help manage my symptoms, but hated the way they made me feel — or should I say, how they didn’t make me feel. While they helped me to not be so anxious and upset all the time, they mellowed me out almost to the point where I just didn’t feel anything at all. I was just…empty. Foggy. Numb. Like I was just floating through my life on a rain cloud, but it was somehow all okay now and keep running on autopilot. And while I would of course never ever shame anyone for getting help this way because at least they are getting help, I knew deep down it wasn’t something I personally wanted to continue forever.

 

This was such a hard place for me because I really wanted to feel emotions, but I knew I had to learn to manage the intensity of them better. And the only way I knew to manage the intensity of them better was to use something that physically changed the chemistry of my body and the way it functioned. I mean, after all, depression is largely a chemical imbalance, right???

 

So, I took the gosh darned pills.

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I continued this vicious cycle until about a year ago, when a friend introduced a nutritional detox program that forever changed the game for me and allowed me to toss those pill bottles in the trash for good. Which, by the way, coincidentally came at perfect timing since I just so happened to find out I was pregnant shortly after. The shocking yet exciting news of our little nugget was the final nail in the coffin to my journey with antidepressants because I personally opted to not be on them during my pregnancy and essentially quit them cold turkey. Which is probably frowned upon and annoying to every medical professional ever – as I was reassured over and over by my highly qualified OB that there are little to no proven risks for expectant moms using certain medications – but I didn’t care because hey…I have a five minute degree in Web MD and Google, thank you very much.

 

So, yeah. Peed on a stick….check. Quit pills…check. Drastically changed my eating habits….checkkkk.

 

Do all the big stressful life changes at once, right?

 

Now, before you roll your eyes as to WHY I possibly thought it was a good idea take part in something like this I just want to point out that our digestive tract is home to over 80% of our immune system. Also, over 90% of our serotonin — which is our body’s natural neurotransmitter that is responsible for our overall well-being and happiness — is produced there. For those of you who are scientifically and medically challenged like me, I’ll save you the time of Googling all this terminology and tell you that it just means we often tend to feel how we eat and treat our gut.

 

To summarize here, better food = better mood.

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Not everyone’s cup of tea, I get it, but for me this concept made perfect sense and aligned with my personal health goals of wanting a more holistic approach to getting to the root of my depression problem. It focused on getting me healthier from the inside out by resetting my gut, balancing my blood sugars, eliminating toxic buildup, improving metabolic functions, and **ehemmm** changing my body’s chemistry —–> which ultimately boosted my serotonin levels over time. Not to mention, it was easy to adapt and safe for baby!

 

So I did the gosh darned thing and took part in this “cellular cleansing” sorcery and became the girl who suddenly valued good nutrition and water intake instead. Don’t panic…I didn’t starve, and I most definitely wasn’t confined to the bathroom for a month, as many people might assume when they hear the word “cleanse.”  I was still able to wear white pants and maintain a social life and go about my day as a very busy and very, very pregnant middle school teacher.

 

And before anyone hates on me… I’ll have you know that my tiny human grew to be a perfectly on time and healthy 7 pound 10 oz meatball and I did not jeopardize her health or my health in any way. K, thanks, byeee.

 

I won’t lie. I was kind of a skeptic initially, as most people naturally are when it comes to these kinds of things, but wouldn’t you know it…this silly little detox plan actually helped me self-diagnose and identify certain food triggers that set off a lot of my depression symptoms –like chronic fatigue, migraines, debilitating digestion issues, and lack of energy/apathy. After over a year of learning what does and doesn’t serve my body through practicing the skill of moderation, my levels have now stabilized and my symptoms have subsided and I am officially — wait for it — DEPRESSION MED FREE FOR LIFEEEE. And I rarely ever take any other kind of meds, for that matter!

 

That’s right…no more loopy love fests with random strangers in recovery rooms for this girl.

 

#5 – I focused on filling my vase.

 

Okay. I know I probably sound crazy with this analogy, but stay with me, here.

 

First, let’s have a mini intervention. There’s something you should know…

 

Hi, my name is Caitlin and I have a slight addiction and obsession with all things Rachel Hollis.

 

If you have no freaking clue who this woman is or have never subscribed to her podcasts, followed her Instagram feed, or especially read her latest book Girl, Wash Your Face, you are seriously missing out. I don’t say this lightly when I say this book CHANGED. MY. LIFE. and my outlook on my recovery journey.

 

I won’t give any spoiler alerts and won’t judge if you have to secretly Wikipedia her, but for the sake of the point I’m trying to make here just know that she is the bees knees when it comes to practical life advice about how to handle all of your messy life issues.

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One of the greatest takeaways I glean from listening to her wisdom is this one analogy she always makes about comparing herself to a vase standing under a continuous flow of things like happiness, gratitude over blessings, health, self-care and hygeine, personal time, rest, nutrition, adequate hydration, exercise, and  energy — basically all essentials needed to truly thrive in life. She talks about how often times as women especially we are so worried about filling up everyone else around us that we are constantly tipping this way and that way to sprinkle good things on our babies and spouses and friends and family — but we do it in such a way that we eventually tip over so far to get any last little drop out that we fall. Break. Shatter. When if we would just stand tall and strong and let all these little blessings pour into us and fill us up, eventually they would naturally overflow to those around us without us having to try so hard to keep it all together.

 

Friends.

 

This is SO real. How in the world can we expect to keep up with all the hats we wear in this life if we are constantly pouring from a vessel that is never really satisfied or full to begin with? No wonder so many of us are barely keeping our head above the raging waves that depression and stress and anxiety try to drown us in!

 

So… how exactly do we “fill our vases” when there’s only so much time we have in a day that doesn’t involve punching a clock, paying bills, wiping butts, folding laundry, juggling ball games and parent teacher conferences and Pajama Day Fridays, or rolling through Mickey D’s drive thru for the fourth time in a week to feed your hooligans because you haven’t been grocery shopping in like four hundred years and you’re THAT level of exhausted?

 

I’ve got two words for you.

 

Personal. Growth.

 

(I know, I know…don’t all roll your eyes at once…)

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I must confess that I truly SUCKED at this in the beginning. I thought it was so cheesy and cliche, as I was never much of a “love yourself” kind of person and tore myself apart daily with self-degrading talk and head trash that I wasn’t worthy of true happiness or that quite frankly, I just didn’t have the time to make myself a priority. In fact, my philosophy used to consist of making myself so busy doing everything for everyone else, that it would somehow distract me from what was really going on beneath the surface.

 

Y’all, this homegirl needed some WORKKKK to get over her “too stressed to be blessed” mentality.

 

My self-help journey was something I had to REALLY open my mind to and discipline myself to take it seriously until became a habit. I learned it didn’t have to be elaborate or fancy or excessively time consuming, just intentional focused tidbits here and there in the nooks and crannies of my day to make a huge impact over time.

 

At first I started small…then it snowballed into bigger changes that I STILL work on today. Each morning I tried to start my day off with a five minute devotion or quick meditation/prayer before my feet even hit the floor. I learned to speak affirmations to myself while getting ready, even though it felt SUPER awkward at first to refer to myself as “a life-breathing, vision-speaking , truth-seeking world changer” while simultaneously popping a zit, plucking my eyebrows, or sitting on the toilet. I listened to different music that motivated me and gave me an extra pep in my step. Sometimes it was Mandisa, sometimes it was Shania Twain, annndddd sometimes it was Nelly. I plugged in to podcasts and soundcloud calls in my car on my way to and from work. I listened to audiobooks while folding laundry or washing dishes if I couldn’t find the time to sit and physically read a book. I changed my closest circle of people with ones who filled me up with positivity and ambition to reach for the next best thing instead of ones who emotionally drained me with negativity and drama. I looked for new opportunities that gave me joy and fulfillment in life and learned to say ‘’no” and let go of some commitments that really weren’t worth the stress or headache anymore. I learned the power of schedules and routines and strategies instead of running 12,197 miles an hour like the energizer bunny trying to do all the things with caffeine courage and both arms swingin’. I set aside intentional ME time each day to decompress in a healthy way, whether it was hitting the gym or doing a DIY facial or organizing kitchen cabinets because somehow color coordinated tupperware arranged by sizes and shapes from left to right gives me a sense of serenity unlike any other. And before I hit the bed every night I journaled or silently reflected on 3-4 things from the day that I was genuinely grateful for…even if it was the crummiest day ever and I just wanted to sulk in self-pity and binge eat an entire sleeve of Oreos while watching Grey’s Anatomy on Nexflix to relieve my sorrows instead.

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Though it may sound crazy  – and though I’ve certainly not arrived anywhere yet by any means as I’m on a constant journey to growth – I know I am a heck of a lot farther down the road to recovery than I ever was before I learned to crack open a book or pep talk myself in the mirror. I truly believe that when you learn to change your habits and mindset, it changes the way you think and speak and do everything else in your life.

 

But here’s the thing…as my girl Rach would say. Personal growth has to be personal. It has to stretch and challenge and change YOU, before it can change any situation you are working through.

 

And when YOU change and show up in the world as the best version of yourself that you can possibly be, the strangest thing happens.

 

It changes everyone and everything else around you, too.

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When I look back on these action steps I took to get to where I am today, I realize how seriously 99.999% of it came with an open mindset of wanting to get better and being unapologetic throughout the whole process. I had to really start looking at myself as not needing to be fixed because there was something wrong with me, but more like needing to be restored because there was massive potential within me.

 

This whole process has been exactly that — a restoration still in the making, and one that will likely always be because nothing worth having or becoming happens overnight. It’s like reaching into the depths of my broken heart, tearing it down to the frame to find the source of what isn’t working anymore, and reassembling the nuts and bolts of the person I want to become one by one over a lifetime until it somehow becomes something beautiful and whole and functioning again.

 

I believe they call this building your legacy.

 

There’s no specific blueprints or diagram to follow. Just the vision I hold in my mind, the hope I hold in my heart, and the tools I now hold in my hands to get the job done in God’s perfect time.

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So…if this resonates at all with you…if you have ever been in that dark, scary, suffocating space of constantly questioning your worth and potential in this fierce world that feels like it’s spinning off its axis into the deep end most days, I just want to point out something remarkable to you.

 

You are still here.

 

YOU are STILL here.

 

And I am here with you, too.
I am so deeply glad to my core that we are in this place of healing together.

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Simplify.

To Be More….With Less.

It’s no secret, you guys.

I’m kind of a perfectionist.

The longer I trek through my twenty-somethings I am becoming well aware of how this has impacted all areas of my life — some in good ways and some, well…let’s just say it’s not pretty.

It seems like every time January 1st rolls around each year, I go to Walmart or Mardel’s and get this fancy journal with an inspirational Bible verse on the front cover and matching gel pens and I make this long, ridiculous, detailed, color-coded, alphabetized and highlighted list with cute-sy swirls and hearts and what-have-you’s about things I am going to do to “make myself a better person”. (See? Told ya I was a perfectionist!)

I start out jotting down one or two fairly simple and realistic goals but the problem is a new one pops in my head and I get on such a roll that I literally just. Can’t. Stopppp.

I’m going to make my bed every day. Do 100 sit-ups and go for a mile walk every day, rain or shine. Learn to highlight and contour my face and do more with my hair than just throwing it in a boring braid or messy bun and rolling out the door. Make a Dave Ramsey budget spreadsheet on Microsoft Excel and religiously document every single penny we spend. Clean out the closet and thoroughly clean at least once every new season. Alphabetize the DVD’s in the TV stand. Make five new friends. Create a scrapbook of our wedding photos from four years ago that I STILL have never printed off. Practice piano for twenty minutes a day. Get all the dishes and laundry done and house picked before I go to bed. Have the most stellar and detailed lesson plans known to man-kind and teacherhood. Make 2-3 crock pot meals on average per week. Quit drinking soda and eating junk food cold turkey. Read the entire Bible in a year (but secretly betting myself I can do it in about two or three months if I read several chapters a day!!!! Pin a rose on my nose!)

And on and on and on…..

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I get all hyped up about it and am real committed….for about the first week. I cross off Goal #1 almost immediately. #2 and #3 are usually quick to follow. By about Goal #4 the Momentum Train is starting to slow down, but hey! At least it’s still a rollin’!!

But then…I slowly crawl to Goal #5. I look down at the list I scribbled — or more like calligraphed –in my fancy notebook with an inspirational Bible verse on the front cover with my matching gel pens and all the cute-sy swirls and hearts and what-have-you’s and realized I’ve filled about FIFTY lines and several pages out of endless to-do’s that are staring back at me, burning into the inner depths of my soul. (**Insert heart palpitations and cold sweats here**)

Then I look at my calendar and realize it’s only January 7 and I am literally already so EXHAUSTED with Project Get My Life Together: 2017 Editionand I’m not even maybe a sixteenth of the way through my goals. I also realize I forgot to wash a plate from last night’s dinner and oh, yeah! Guess who didn’t make her bed this morning??? I mean, no one else knows or cares I already broke the rules, but I know. I TOTALLY KNOW. Then I get overwhelmed and ugly cry in the shower because I realize maybe I am NOT really a better person after all and have severe commitment issues.

Then I have to console myself with a cookie…which, by the way, totally breaks Goal #23.

And I do this to myself.

Every. Stinking. Year.

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Needless to say…you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to calculate how THAT one has worked out for me…

So, this year is going to be different. No seriously, I mean it this time. Because I am going to take the same concept of bettering myself a little each day but apply it in a much more realistic approach with a support system who is doing the same thing alongside me. I choose to believe that life doesn’t have to be SO. HARD. anymore.

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One of the missions some of my sideline sisters in my Arbonne business and I have recently challenged each other to do this year as part of our personal growth and development is to each pick and commit to just one word — yes, ONE word….not 50 bullet points in a journal — that we are going to focus all our energy and attention towards every day in 2018 until it becomes a habit. The idea is that every day you reflect on your word and what you are personally going to do during that day to put it into action. Once we spend 365 days mastering this word by applying small things to our daily lives, they eventually grow to yield big results. Then, we will pick a new word and move on to the next year. Simply wash, rinse, and repeat!

And you guys….it’s totally MANAGEABLE. We just write our word down on something as simple as a sticky note where we can look at it every day and remind ourselves how we are going to make it happen.

A sticky note??? Are you kidding me?? This is GOLD! I mean, I didn’t even have to buy a fancy journal or a single gel pen or anything! This, my friends, is what you call do-able.

Disclaimer** This obviously is definitely not our own original idea, but we are borrowing it from this increasingly popular social experiment that’s been going around called My One Word. If you have never heard of it, you should definitely check it out here! It’s good stuff! http://myoneword.org/

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The really amazing thing that I’ve loved about this challenge so far is that we all have chosen different words that serve us, and it is so inspiring to hear everyone’s journeys and what they are doing to live out their words daily. We are all on the same ultimate mission — not necessarily to Be The Best, but to simply Do Our Best — however we all have our own spiritual and personal journeys we are taking until we get there. I don’t know that anyone ever necessarily “arrives” at their final destination of being the very best that they can be, because after all isn’t the idea that you always have something else you can do more effectively or intentionally? I know I certainly haven’t arrived. But in all honestly…I really don’t ever want to arrive.

Because that ultimately means I have stopped learning and growing and my journey is over. And I can’t settle with that.

If there’s one thing I have really come to know about myself, it is that I am one that seems to be always seeking something. It may seem obsessive, but I don’t ever want my wanderlust thirst to become more than I am right now to ever be fully quenched! I WANT to be inspired. I LONG to feel accomplished. I DESIRE to leave my fingerprints on this world long after I’m gone. However, unlike in years past, I realize that what I NEED is to make goal setting more realistic and less stressful if I want anything good to come out of it.

So the word I have chosen for 2018 is simplify. (And no, it’s not because I teach middle school math, although that ironically does relate…)

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It’s because it’s time to learn how to be content. To be intentional. To be happier. To give more of myself to the Lord, my students, my clients, my friends, and my family. To actually have a nice “flow” to my life — rather than constantly flying by the seat of my pants.

To be more…with less.

So essentially I start out my mornings asking myself what I am going to do to “simplify” my life today. Then I do it because I say I’ll do it. And life is slowly improving all the way around already.

For example, yesterday to make my day go smoother I decided to get up half an hour early. I hit my Bible and got my daily devotion and prayer in first thing before my feet hit the floor. I ate a good breakfast, packed my lunch, and got to work earlier. I greeted my students with a smile at the door and spent the first part of each hour letting them each have their time to share what the highlights of their Christmas Break were before jumping into what I needed them to do right away — which made them more efficient and me less grumpy! I had some unexpected extra plan time that allowed me to get ahead on lesson plans and grading so now I won’t be behind for next week. When I got home I put away two baskets of laundry as soon as they came out of the dryer instead of letting it set until the weekend when I would have three more on top of that to deal with. I devoted an entire hour towards solely working my Arbonne business instead of waiting until month-end closing week to finally “get with it”. I got my clothes set out for school the next day so I wouldn’t be so rushed getting ready the next morning. I enjoyed some meaningful pillow talk with my husband before kissing him goodnight and got some quality reading time in after he fell asleep instead of scrolling through my Facebook news feed until the wee hours of the morning.

And it was a great day!

Now, granted I didn’t get my bed made and the dishes are definitely NOT done but it didn’t ruin my entire day or make me feel like a failure like it would have last year! And the even better news? Because I managed my time better yesterday, today went smoother and I actually have more time and energy to take care of other things now!

Like doing those dishes and writing this blog… =)

And tomorrow will be even easier because of what I did to “simplify” my life today. I can only imagine what my life will look and feel like after 365 days of this!

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And yeah, yeah, yeah…..I realize it’s literally only the fourth day of the new year and I’m normally a creature of habit that gives it up after the newness wears off and reality sets in, but I can feel a totally different shift with this particular challenge than any of the New Year challenges I had ever set before. I can tell that this is a plan I CAN stick to. It works because it’s simple! No cold sweats and heart palpitations for this girl!!! #WinWin

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So as we have officially launched into 2018, I want to challenge my readers to also pick One Word to focus on. Write it down on a sticky note, old receipt in your wallet, napkin in your glove box, your bathroom mirror, or whatever you have available. Commit to doing small tasks every day that lead you to master and live out that word. Remember that what you didn’t have time to get to today is merely a great starting point for a task to conquer tomorrow, so there is no need to stress about it. Have a friend or co-worker or loved one do this challenge with you, too!

Then sit back and watch the beauty of it all unfold. #2018vibes #itsagoodyeartohaveagoodyear

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What I Never Knew I Always Wanted

There they were, clear as day. Two pink lines.


There I sat – propped up on the bathroom vanity amidst all the makeup brushes and nail polish and bobby pins and my curling iron all strewn across the counter – staring at a little plastic stick that in that very moment sealed my fate, answered my deepest prayers, and forever changed my life.

Sweet Jesus, this was really happening.

We were officially going to be parents.

I can’t really describe that feeling in simple terms, because if I’m being completely transparent here, it was anything and everything but simple. It was a multitude of thoughts and emotions that came flooding in. First I felt complete and utter shock and couldn’t breathe– like when you free fall off that first big drop on a roller coaster and you swear that your stomach is going to wiggle its way right up your throat and lunge out of your mouth. Or when you suddenly wake up and realize you overslept thirty minutes past your alarm and blast off like a rocket out of bed without hardly letting your feet hit the ground.

Or when you discover that yes, indeed, you have been walking around for a solid fifteen minutes with the back of your dress tucked in to your leggings after using the restroom on your plan hour…until a 7th grader kindly points it out to you in front of the entire class.

Yeah, thanks for the letdown, LuLaRoe….

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Next came the “warm fuzzies.” The tingling in my chest. The tears in my eyes. The butterflies in my tummy. The warmth of God’s touch on my face, as this sudden fullness and contentment in my life was something I had long prayed for. The ridiculous sort-of-hipster-sort-of-disco happy dance I did right there in the bathroom before realizing I still had to break the news to Kurtis. The way I completely melted when I ran outside to the shop to tell him and saw that shocked yet  priceless look on his face when he realized he was going to be a daddy for the first time.

But it was also bittersweet too. For the first time in our nearly ten year relationship together, it was no longer going to be about us. Our life of being spontaneous and taking off for a random weekend trip cross-country or running to town for a late night Dairy Queen ice cream run would soon be changing to sleepless nights of diaper changes, warm bottles, and lullabies. I won’t lie, that scared me a little. How much was this going to change our married life? Would we still be us? Would I still be…. me? Would I still get to do the things I’ve always dreamed of doing – like skydiving and traveling the world? Would I miss out on some much needed girl’s nights with my best friends since I was now officially the only married momma in the group?

Would I seriously have to say goodbye to those favorite pair of maroon skinny jeans from Charlotte Russe? (I mean, I am basically a Kardashian in those suckers…and you’re talking about a girl who generally speaking has “pancakes” flapping around back there, no how many squats or wall sits or Pinterest Booty Blaster workouts she does…)

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Also came sorrow for wanting to share our exciting news with our loved ones, but knowing so many people in our life are struggling and desperately yearning for the blessing we were so graciously given without having to deal with infertility treatments or adoption complications or even loss of a child.

And when we did have a miscarriage scare at 5 weeks that to our surprise turned out to be okay, there came extreme relief yet slight guilt of being one of the lucky ones who God spared while so many other deserving couples on the sidelines were not so lucky and had to hear the heart shattering words “I’m so sorry for your loss” in the coldness and emptiness of a doctor’s office.

I definitely can’t leave out the feelings of fear and anger that overcame me nearly every time I turned the TV or radio on and learned of another protest, homicide, mass shooting, drug bust, inappropriate student/teacher contact, terrorist threat, and natural disaster that raged on all around the world, realizing I can’t protect this precious God-given gift from it all no matter how bad I want to.

And of course, eventually came the insatiable need to binge eat an entire sleeve of Oreos or a jar of Vlasic pickles in one sitting. Laughing hysterically at memes on Google images — and then literally sobbing two seconds later because I just realized the chinese place in Buffalo closed an hour ago and all I wanted out of life was some damn cashew chicken. Then the food aversions. Oh, the food aversions! I went from eating everything in sight to only eating saltine crackers and applesauce and, well basically being a vegetarian (and I am married to a beef farmer, mind you…) And we can’t forget the sudden talent of being able to sleep anywhere — literally, ANYWHERE — to the point I swear I’m metamorphasizing into a cat or soreness so intolerable that someone could literally bring me to my knees if they accidentally bumped me in the boobs even slightly. Oh yeah. There is definitely no “glow.” And can I just say that I never knew a human could PEE. SO. MUCH.

And as for clinging to the toilet like a starstruck tween girl on Nick Jonas to projectile vomit because I caught a whiff of the husband frying sausage and eggs for breakfast??

Well, I’ll just let you envision that one for yourselves…

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So, yeah. Quite the wild journey it has been so far for only ten weeks in! I would say that to my surprise I have had the GREATEST sleep of my life but I don’t currently have a piece of wood to knock on and I definitely don’t want to jinx myself, so I think I’ll just quit while I’m ahead…  

Because let’s be real. That perk is gonna go away realllllll fast when I swell up like a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade and become an internal punching bag at 2 AM for this kid.

People ask me all the time if pregnancy is everything I imagined it would be, I never really know what to tell them because to be honest,  it’s something completely unimaginable until you experience it firsthand. I mean, sure. I always pictured what I would look like with a baby bump in the mirror and have most definitely designed the most immaculate dream preggo wardrobe board on Pinterest. I always dreamed of how many kids we would have running around in the front yard (yes, I’ll admit I’ve done the pencil test or M.A.S.H game from time to time back in my day…) and have even occasionally scribbled a cute baby name I heard while out and about on a napkin in my glovebox so I wouldn’t forget it later on. But now that it’s actually a reality, it’s a completely different shift. Like when I saw that flutter on the screen at my first ultrasound and heard that tiny heartbeat after two LONG days of bed rest waiting to either confirm or deny whether or not we lost our baby. When I realized that I will get to celebrate the next Mother’s Day for the very first time and see Christmas morning through different eyes in a couple years. Or how much fun it will be to pick out the most adorable teeny outfits and nursery paint colors and completely buy out Carter’s and Babies’R’Us just because I just can’t contain myself.  Or what it will feel like to see my husband – my very best friend of ten years who I have been through everything with – holding our baby for the very first time in his arms. To love him on a level unlike any other, not just as my husband but as a father to the greatest thing in our life. To see that look on his face when he stares into the eyes of something so perfect and little, vowing to love and protect him/her until his last breath. To feel the butterflies from within as this bump beneath my T-shirt grows more and more each day — even though I may have to sacrifice my bootylicious jeans and gain a few stretch marks in the process. To feel that first kick or hear that first cry after a long, painful labor I thought I’d never survive. To wonder if he or she will have my nose and daddy’s eyes and who they will grow up to be someday. To come home from the hospital with a newborn in the backseat — and literally have NO CLUE what to do next.

Also, I kind of can’t wait to watch Kurtis gag at his first dirty diaper change. That really gets my soul singing.

It truly is an experience like none other. From going from someone’s daughter, granddaughter, wife, aunt, sister, friend, and teacher to someone’s mom is a feeling that there are simply not enough words to blog about. And If I really want to open up here, I will confess that I am becoming a newer, stronger version of myself and slowly climbing up out of the ruts that years of struggling with depression had left engraved on my heart, because I am finally realizing that being a mother is what I never knew I always wanted and needed all along. Those scars and voids are being mended the more this bump grows because I know this blessing came just at the right time, when God knew I needed it most to make sense out of this crazy, beautiful life.

This is my purpose. This is my WHY. And it feels so good to finally know what that is.

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Oh, how different our little world is going to be here just in seven short months! Sure, there are lots of “unpleasant” truths about pregnancy I could complain about. I mean, I won’t lie. I have so many fears about this whole process ranging anywhere from being a good enough mom to taking someone else’s unwanted parenting “advice” calmly to how my body can possibly take all that stretching and trauma to accidentally defecating on the delivery table.

Yeah, buddy. I lose sleep over that one…

And I have since learned NOT to Google pregnancy/birthing stories because, well, that one never turns out pleasant.

But to be honest most days I can’t really focus on the negative because there are just too many things about it all to celebrate.

So I choose to focus on the celebrating part.

And also on thanking God daily for blessing me with exactly what I needed at this stage in my life.


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Closing Time

Because moving on is part of moving forward.

Today was quite the day, you guys.


It was my last official day as an agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor for Niangua R-V High School. {And before you say anything like “shouldn’t you already be off for the summer and toes-deep in the sand on some beach somewhere sippin’ a pina colada?” please note that ag teachers are on a 12 month contract from July to June, which basically means we are running on auto-pilot 24/7, 365 days a year. We also drink our coffee very very very very black, eat drive-thru’s on the daily, and have mastered the art of sleeping with our eyes open. True story. }

So June is already here and gone. This morning I took my last hour-long drive through all those hills, curves, and miles of countryside that I’ve come to know by heart – as they have carried me in their arms this entire year, pumping me up for my mornings and winding me down at the end of another long day. I threw away the last poster from my wall, peeled sticky tack off my bulletin boards, and cleaned the rest of my highlighters and sticky notes and bobby pins and scented Germ-X out of my desk. I loaded boxes and boxes of all my lesson plans, family pictures, Hobby Lobby decorations, plaques, and my old FFA jacket in the back of my car. I unplugged my coffee pot and emptied the mini fridge that hid my jug of sweet tea when I needed an afternoon caffeine boost and all my chocolate for when I needed that little sugar rush while staying late grading papers. I hugged some co-workers goodbye…and may have also left sappy notes in their mailboxes.

{ Yeah buddy, I’m THAT girl. }

I watered the greenhouse and swept my shop floor one final time. I turned in my keys for the new teacher coming along and took my name tag off my door. And I sat one more time in my squeaky chair and stared at all those empty desks that not too long ago were full of the students that became “my kids” this past year.

Right here in this little room that was home for so many of us who desperately needed it.

We did a lot of learning and growing in this tiny classroom. We lived, we loved, and we laughed.

Also, we killed LOTSSSS of spiders.

We had heart-to-hearts before the morning tardy bell sounded and deep life discussions before the last bell of the day rang. A lot of “your mom” jokes were fired {okay, so I’m not the most “politically correct” teacher there ever was…} and many General’s Orders for saying cuss words out loud were written. In this room I prayed in desperation, cursed in frustration, cried in defeat, smiled in proudness, and celebrated in triumph. In this room I sat in this very chair one year ago as a first year teacher – so fragile, like a paper airplane in a hurricane – thinking there was no way I’d survive it all.

But, here I am, still soaring.

Last year’s beginning is already today’s end…and I really can’t believe it.

And I won’t lie…I’m a little unsteady about what’s coming next for me as my identity will soon completely change from a high school ag teacher to a middle school math and science teacher.

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However, as this bittersweet conclusion to a beautiful journey I’ve experienced this past year has officially drawn to an end, I know it’s now the start of a new and exciting chapter in my life story. And for that, I am happy.

I am really, genuinely happy.

In a month I will hang different posters in my new classroom and decorate new bulletin boards. My pictures and plaques and little personal touches will be unboxed again, a million new nail holes will plaster the walls, and new students will soon come rushing through my door. My Pinterest Lesson Plan board will slowly evolve from “parts of a cow” and “welding tips” to all things osmosis, phases of the moon, solving inequalities, and the Pythagorean Theorem. I will exchange all those red staff polos and Cardinal’s T-Shirts in the back of my closet with purple and gold ones that say “Hermitage Hornets” on them. I will make new memories, befriend new co-workers, experience new challenges, and achieve new and greater heights.

And above all I will keep learning and growing and loving all those kiddos on my new class roster, even if I do roast them with a “your mom” joke from time to time.

{Don’t worry, I DO know when there’s a time and place for it…** insert eye roll here**}

I know good things are ahead for this girl, although some amazing memories and that old weathered “Welcome to Niangua” sign will soon be in my rear-view for good. 

It’s hard, but it’s time.

It’s time to roll the windows down, crank those speakers, and let my hair fly in the breeze as I press on down this new road, because after all; moving on is part of moving forward.

And what a coincidence that the song jamming on my playlist this very moment by one of my all-time favorite 90’s bands just happens to be the perfect summary for it all.

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So, what more is there really left to say?

Except…

On to the next adventure.

 

Oh yeah, and I also need gas…

 

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Fess Up, Get Up.


So it’s time I fess up.


I’ve not been {completely} honest with you all.

You read my blogs. You compliment my latest engagement or wedding session on my photography page. You see my pictures on Instagram and follow my life on Facebook nearly every day from the other side of the computer screen. You shake my hand at church every Sunday morning and sing along as I play the piano for the congregation. You laugh at all my stupid jokes when we go out for dinner and drinks on a girls night out. You hear me reply “I’m good” when I check out at your register at Wal-Mart and you ask me about my day. You see me smile back at you in the McDonald’s drive thru when I stop for my morning coffee. You heard my valedictorian speech when I graduated high school and watched me walk stage when I earned that four-year degree. You pass me the salt and pepper at family dinners from across the table and ask about my future plans – and you think I have it all figured out. You see the smiles, sunshine, accomplishments, and happiness that I choose to show the world. That’s how you see me because that’s all I’ve ever let you know about me.

But what you don’t know is there’s more…so much more.

What you don’t know is that this morning I was late to work because it was such a chore to get out of bed and face another hard day.

What you don’t know is on my days off I am really spending about 13-15 hours a day in bed in my dark room alone while my husband is out making a living for us and being The Responsible One…until finally I scramble to get a load of laundry folded, wash the dishes from last night’s dinner, and grab a quick shower before he comes home so he doesn’t have to see me this way yet again.

What you don’t know is that while to you I often look like a chicken running around with my head cut off doing anything for everyone and trying to keep up with my busy schedule, I like it that way because it distracts me from feeling worthless.

What you don’t know is I love teaching because it gives me purpose.

What you don’t know is I love photography for the sole reason that it lets me capture the very small things in life that are rare and beautiful and often unnoticed and forces me to reflect on these tidbits of joy when I am at my weakest.


What you don’t know is the reason I have to constantly have music blaring no matter what I’m doing is because it helps drown out the silence and loneliness I often feel. And I don’t really care that it annoys you when you’re around me, because sometimes it’s all I have to get me through.

What you don’t know is that every time you stop and ask me how long I’ve been married and inform me that it’s about time to start cranking out kids because my biological clock is ticking I cringe and want to cry…because this darkness I am struggling through is completely diminishing the beautiful and exciting and fun image I once had of motherhood.

What you don’t know is that before I sat down to write these words you’re reading right now I called my doctor to schedule another appointment and renew another prescription. I’m not sure if it’s going to work, but I did it anyways.

What you don’t know is several weeks ago I had to gather any ounce of hope and strength I had left to really talk myself into choosing to live when I was at the end of my rope and suddenly didn’t want to anymore. 

And I did this alone, because you didn’t know. Because I didn’t tell you.

I never told you that I struggle with this battle.

Every. Single. Day.

I’m guessing if you’ve made it this far it’s safe to say this is definitely not what you were expecting to read from the girl who always seems to have something positive to say or a story to laugh about. You came here for inspiration or a good chuckle, not a re-enactment of a Cymbalta commercial, right?

But…as uncomfortable as it may be to read these words…it’s the truth – my truth. And the truth isn’t always pretty or easy to confess, which is why you’ve never heard any of this until now. I just wasn’t ready. And quite honestly I didn’t think you cared, because afterall my problems probably don’t hold a candle to what some of you face daily.

But they say the first step to a better tomorrow is recognizing you have a problem and asking for help today.

So, here I am.

Besides. I figure it’s much better for you all to read this than my obituary, right?

I will say that I do have strong moments, which I try to share with you all any chance I get. There are good days where I manage to find joy in the little things and genuinely feel happy…for example, yesterday, when my parents came over with my sisters and I was babysitting my niece. Dad cooked dinner for us on the grill and we spent the entire evening riding around the farm on four-wheelers, watching the cows graze and swim in the pond, chasing lightning bugs beneath the June sunset, and just, well, being together.


Yesterday was such a good day…then today was hard again for no reason at all. It ebbs and flows, I guess. And I swear if one more person tells me that “happiness is a choice” and that I should “count my blessings”, I am going to smack them in the face with my journal and chuck my pills at them.

Because if they knew anything at all about depression they would understand that nothing about it is a choice. I don’t recall pulling a twenty out of my wallet and saying “Sure! I’ll take it!” when the Devil came knocking on my door soliciting this emptiness and darkness that has been overtaking me for several years now. 

I don’t get it. I can’t really tell you when it all began and how it got to this point so fast. I mean, sure I’ve had my fair share of heartbreaks. I’ve lost ones I loved so soon and so tragically. I’ve experienced family drama and have lived through the destruction of divorce. Twice. I’ve dealt with the aftermath of my biological father abandoning me at four years old. Some of my closest friends have come and gone forever. I’ve been rejected and told no from some amazing opportunities I thought I had in the bag. I’ve came in second place against some people who wrongfully took first. I’ve had to say goodbye to my comfort zone and jump head first into major life changes I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve watched horrible people get away with horrible, unspeakable things and have let all the wrong people push me around in all the wrong ways. Nothing I’ve went through is too traumatic compared to what others have to go through every day, but it still all adds up, ya know?

But on the other hand I have a lot of great people in my life. I am smart, talented, and successful. I have salvation…though I’ve not been the most stellar Christian lately and can’t tell you the last time I knelt in serious prayer. I have a job, even if it isn’t the one I necessarily had in mind. I love my husband and my husband loves me. We have fun together and have a beautiful life. I just can’t seem to fully enjoy it like I want to because the good times seem to only be temporary. I don’t understand this pain and can’t give you a textbook answer for why I have it. All I can tell you is that it’s just here – living in the inner depths of my soul and heart and mind – and I want it to pack its bags and get the heck out so I can enjoy my life again like I used to.


Yeah, I struggle.

But despite how crummy I felt this morning as my familiar friends Stress, Anxiety, Guilt, and Shame came barging in at 7 a.m. to ruin my day, the important lesson I’m taking from today is that eventually I did get up.

I took a shower. Got dressed.  Ate some breakfast – which I never do. I went to work. Texted a good friend to invite her over to see our new house and eat dinner – after she cuts these split-ends off that I’ve been neglecting for a good year and a half now. I made that appointment….and this time I promise I will go and won’t make another excuse or tell myself to suck it up or spend another day like this. I wrote this journal entry and shared it with you just in case you needed to know that you’re not alone and this girl you look at as Little Miss Sunshine has her fair share of cloudy days, too, just like anyone else.

It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone, like I sometimes feel. And if you’ve been where I am or are there now, I hope you realize that, too.

And I know it’s hard. It’s SO. HARD. Getting out of bed and going to work when you’re already physically, emotionally, and mentally drained is hard. Going to therapy is hard. Taking meds is hard. Telling someone you love that you’re struggling is hard. Admitting it to yourself that you have a problem when you know there are so many beautiful blessings surrounding you is hard. And trust me when I say that writing about it and exposing it to the rest of the world full of your friends, family, and complete strangers is even harder – especially when some of them just don’t get it because it’s not a war they’ve ever had to fight.

But, it’s also absolutely necessary if we want to be one of the Lucky Ones. You know, the Survivors. The reality of this horrible illness is not easy to take in. For every person who gets their life back after depression, there are many others on the sidelines who do not. This has to change…starting with me and you.

We’ll get there.

I know I’m nowhere close to where I want to be…but I am making baby steps in the right direction. 

Day by day, right? 


That’s what matters. Not where I came from or even necessarily where I’m at right now, but where I’m going. Just the fact that I am still here today writing this and for once finding beauty in the rain coming down outside is proof that there is still hope out there for me.

The happiness is temporary, but that also means that so is the pain. And today, I’m going to focus my attention on that…and maybe even dance in the rain because right now I feel strong enough to do so…and there’s a damn good John Mellencamp song playing on my iPod.

So if you’re reading this and can relate at all – whether miles apart, down the street,  or in the very next room – please know that although you and I have our separate battles and I don’t have much energy left to get myself through most days, we’re not alone in this. My heart holds your hands through your toughest days and darkest hours.

And I can’t thank you nearly enough for holding mine at such a fragile and vulnerable time in my life as I am striving to get back up from the heavy waves that have held me down long enough.


A Brown Renovation Story

So the Hubby and I recently decided to tackle our first DIY project together in our married life.

 

Don’t worry…we haven’t killed each other and no one has had to attend therapy yet. (Stay tuned, just in case…)

 
Long story short, after some BIG career switches, we are now living on his family farm that has been in the family for nearly 70 years. On this property stand two houses – the main farmhouse that we are going to completely overhaul in about a year after we get our life and finances in a little better order and this little bitty studio home that we have been fixing up and are currently living in for the time being.

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For about the past month we have been {attempting} channeling our inner Chip and Joanna Gaines by trying to flip this place into something we can call home temporarily while we remodel our dream house, so we don’t have to live in the middle of a disaster zone.

 
Because let’s be real…ain’t nobody got time for not being able to use the shower or toilet for a week, scraping popcorn ceilings all over their nice furniture, or wiping sheetrock dust off the kitchen counter just so they can make a flipping peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

 
Although I’m pretty sure we could star in an episode of “Tiny House, Big Living” this place has so far worked out amazing, considering all it really needed was some paint, new flooring and trim, a couple new windows, and some MAJOR cleaning.

 
It has been quite the learning experience thus far, from tearing out linoleum to hanging ceiling fans to trying to find any place at all to put the coffee pot and all the Tupperware. (Never underestimate a woman with decorative baskets and cabinet organizers from Bed Bath and Beyond!) But after several exhausting weeks, we are FINALLY moved in and it’s starting to feel like home sweet home!

 
Now, before I get too far into this, let me just clarify some things so we’re all on the same page here. If you came here for a professional design blog with very detailed DIY instructions of how to flip a shack into an immaculate HGTV worthy mansion by two highly skilled and reno-savvy people, you’re DEFINITELY in the wrong place (although we would feel pretty honored). However, if you came here to watch the hilarious but totally honest journey of two completely inexperienced homeowners with a tight budget who had their fair share of struggles, epic fails, and head scratching moments while taking on this crazy adventure, then welcome aboard the hot mess express! We’re your kind of people!

 
Se here it is, the Reality of Home Renovations, as told by The Browns.

 

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PART 1: The Overhaul, A.K.A Mission Impossible

Someone once told me I could make even a port-a-potty look cute, which I about died laughing because this place was definitely not much of a step above that when we first began. I remember when we first got the idea of fixing this little house to live in for the year until we could remodel the big house…and then basically crying when we walked through the front door.

 
This place sat vacant for years, after my husband’s great aunt passed away. Now please understand that NONE of her clothes, furniture, dishes, or even food in the cabinets had been cleaned out for all this time, not to mention the fact that several windows were busted, screens were torn, mice had defecated all over the kitchen countertops and carpet, and spiders and flies plastered about every square inch of the floors – some dead, some alive.

 
Why smell four years of abandonment when you can practically taste it?


It was rough, yo. I remember standing there thinking, we’re nuts! There’s no freaking way. It was 450 square feet of filth and pure horror. I mean, you practically needed a tetanus shot just to even turn the light switch on! I swore there wasn’t enough bleach, Febreze, Scentsy cubes, or pinesol in the world to fix this mess, let alone make it livable.

 
But my ever-so-calm and always reassuring husband convinced me that we really could do this, with a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of elbow grease.

 
And so, it began!

 
First task was to empty the place one Hefty trash bag and truck load at a time, then tear out the disgusting carpet and linoleum. That alone made the place smell A LOT better – and made for a hellacious bonfire!

Part 2: The Make-Over

Next all the trim and outlet/light switch covers were removed and the walls were scrubbed so we could begin painting! I knew from the get-go that this place was going to be a farmhouse-style cottage when I got done with it, so picking just the right colors for the walls and cabinets that would complement all my furniture and décor and not make this tiny space feel even more closterphobic was critical to the end result.

The cabinets were definitely the most exciting part of the entire project – not to mention WAYYYYY easier than I expected! And trust me when I say that I am definitely no Picasso and have absolutely ZERO experience when it comes to painting and distressing things. I just picked up the paintbrush and taught myself, and it was definitely do-able! I changed my mind a couple times once I actually began painting and didn’t like the color, but in the end decided to paint the bathroom vanity with Indigo chalk paint from Market 116 in Buffalo (really looks more like a charcoal gray, not blue – thank goodness because that’s what I was going for!) This paint is ahhh-mazing! It’s no sanding, no priming, and advertises as only needing one coat, but I did two to be safe! 😉 There are so many colors and they also have tons of cheap sample sizes you can try out before you commit to a full sized can, which costs $35 but is TOTALLY worth it and goes really far!


I let the paint COMPLETELY dry then I brought out the detail and grain with this alsphaltum antiquing gel (SUPER easy to apply and also available from Market 116 in sample and full-can sizes for around the same price as the paint!) Basically you brush it ALL over the paint then use cheese cloth or something that doesn’t shed fibers (like old T-shirt rags or those soft blue shop paper towels) and wipe off what you don’t want to keep to create a distressed look to your liking! The key I learned with distressing with the gel is to move WITH the grain and wipe as straight as possible. What I love is that it is very forgiving in that if you apply to much, you can easily wipe it off or if you want to add more you can easily brush more on until you get the desired results. And if you mess up? Who cares! Just paint over it, let it dry, and start again! 😉

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Originally I had picked out a creamy tan for all of my kitchen cabinets, but I ended up loving the dreamy charcoal look so much on my bathroom vanity that I decided to go two-tones with my kitchen cabinets, using the Indigo chalk paint on the bottom and the Gray Taupe for the uppers. I LOVED the end result and the two colors really matched my ugly laminate countertop and made it look so much better! After distressing everything and adding some new hardware, I had new kitchen cabinets and a bathroom vanity that looked like a million bucks – for less than $150 altogether!!! #BargainStatus

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So basically I am now addicted to chalk paint and have since also redone ALL of our dressers, the bed, and TV stand…and believe me when I say there’s plenty more where that came from!IMG_5202

For the walls, I ended up going with Valspar Blue Twilight for our bedroom and Stone Mason Gray for the rest of the house (From Lowes, which I’m pretty sure we kept in business during this entire adventure!) I was very pleased with the results against the white trim and new cabinets!


Next challenge was the flooring, which we also purchased from Lowes. We ended up going with these vinyl click together planks that look like real barnwood by Shaw – which any farmhouse-look addict can definitely appreciate! We loved that they are durable, waterproof, beautiful, and not to mention – affordable! We did the entire house for about $800. DISCLAIMER** we are definitely NOT pros, and my hubby had to tear it all out a couple times and restart, but he did such a fabulous job! And we are thoroughly convinced that God created knee pads just for this job and trim to hide all the imperfections of accidentally cutting the pieces too short! 😉


Now, let’s backtrack a little so we don’t lose the effect here….
Before……

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And after! What an AMAZING difference paint, floors, trim, and cleaning can make!

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Part 3: The Staging and Decorating

One of my FAVORITE things to do after moving in is finding the perfect places to put all of my flea market finds and Hobby Lobby treasures. It’s so amazing watching a room completely come to life with hanging a picture here, adding some greenery there, and throwing in a fun rug and some accent pillows. In this case, these finishing touches were exactly what we needed to make this tiny place cute, quaint, country, and cozy! **Side note, this is usually a matter of arranging and re-arranging about ten times and adding about a hundred new nail holes until I am completely satisfied!

Part 4: The Deleted Scenes and Bloopers

I saved the best part for last with this blog, lemme tell ya! As with about any catastrophe in life, I always try to find the humor or lesson learned in each situation to make the most of it – because after all there is no such thing as perfect, there’s only reality!! So as for the things HGTV doesn’t show you about the truths of renos….you’re welcome!

 
1- When patching holes that go COMPLETELY through the drywall and even expose to the world outside, duct taping the mesh patch on the wall without correctly puttying and sanding over it is NOT how you do it….

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2- When your husband is laying the floors, do NOT point out that he cut off too much and that even though it is in the back of the closet behind all the shoe racks and hampers and closed doors and no one will ever see it, you will still always know in your heart the flaw is there. Yeah, that one doesn’t end too well!

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3- When touching up paint after the new floors and trim are installed, you might want to check and make sure you are indeed using the correct shade of paint…or your wife will yell for having to redo it herself…and DON’T tell her just to cover it up with a dresser, because she will totally bring up the messed up floor in the closet…

 

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He’s been told he’s color blind, but he doesn’t seem to think he is…
4- Painter’s Tape – the biggest lie ever.

 

 

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NOTHING about this is straight….
5- Understand that clothes WILL get ruined forever and you’ll be scraping paint off your hands in the shower for weeks.

 


6- Cleaning up first requires making even bigger messes.

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7- Never underestimate the power of using a level when hanging things.

 

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Fail.
8- Believe it or not, cabinet and furniture hardware doesn’t always come in standard 3-inch sizes, so measure first.

 

 

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Well, crap….
9- Sometimes your weatherproof tarp sticks out from your siding and you’re too frustrated to fix it. Thus the Lord invented the X-acto knife.

 

 

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I don’t know what’s funnier…the fact that we did this or the fact that we tried to paint over it to hide it better.
10- When installing a stove in a place that is too small, be prepared that your husband will probably just cut the trim off {noticeably too short} to force it to fit…

 

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11- When revamping a dresser into an adorable TV stand with convenient DVD storage because your old entertainment center won’t fit in your new house, you might want to first double check that your TV isn’t too big and will just hang off the edges.

 

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Just flipping fabulous….looks like we’re buying a mount!
12- Measure twice, cut once. Enough said. 

 

 

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Why use a ruler when you can “eyeball” it….
13- What happens to the stuff that doesn’t fit in your tiny house? It gets crammed in your husband’s shop.

 

 

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Don’t worry, he’ll have this spotless in no time so his truck can fit in here!
14- If you are lazy like us and don’t wash the brushes and rollers out to re-use, you might want to get ahead of the game and buy plenty upfront.

 

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15- No matter how much you beg and bribe your husband to hang up the new ceiling fan, it will probably sit in the shop and collect dust for weeks because he has other “priorities.”

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16- Face it. It’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE {despite your valiant efforts} to cover all the eyesores in your house and land the perfect lighting to capture perfect shots of the finished project that you would feel confident enough submitting in a magazine. So, ya might as well embrace it!

See if you can spot all the eyesores in my little I Spy game here…

 

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For example, toilet paper rolls and toothbrushes…
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Freaking flies…
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Trash cans, air conditioners, outlets/cords, and dirty dishes…
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The unpacked amazon box I tried to hide from the photos, but made it in one anyways…
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Annnndddd of course, the hubby’s hat.
 

 

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So here we are, about two weeks in to living in our new home, which we’ve nicknamed as the Little House on the Prairie. (And our new motto is, as Alan Jackson would say, it’s alright to be little bitty!) While we have to take three minute showers because our hot water heater is small enough to be a footstool and we have to walk up to the main house to do laundry and eat off TV trays because we can’t fit our washer and dryer or kitchen table in here, this place is becoming home sweet home and we are LOVING it!

 
When I reflect back through all these photos it’s almost impossible to believe we can now confidently sleep at night, cut vegetables on the countertops, or even walk around barefoot in here. It’s been a wild ride, but through it all we have definitely changed out outlook on what it means to work hard as a team and have a vision for what could be.

 
Of course, pictures are never the same as the real deal so come on over sometime, have a cup of sweet tea, chat with us about our experience, and see it for yourself! Our door is always open to friends and family! {Except those crazy mother in-laws….kidding!}

 

Chances are I’ll be sitting right here with my feet kicked up watching competitive tennis on my too-big- TV  because we don’t have Dish and our X-Box isn’t hooked up yet to play movies and stream Netflix. It will probably be this way for a while because, you know, my hubby has “other priorities.” 😉

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Tough Decisions

“Dear Mr. Bransfield…”


There I sat, blankly staring at my computer screen in my classroom with sweaty palms, trembling hands, and a heavy heart that felt like it was going to beat itself right out of my chest no matter how hard I desperately tried to hold on and told myself to just breathe.

In a matter of minutes I would be printing that letter and sealing the envelope – no, my fate – to the profession I loved so dearly and worked so hard for since I graduated high school five years ago.

I was about to officially resign my position as the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Niangua High School for the next school year.

And the scarier thing? I didn’t have a clue what my next move was going to be.

For weeks my husband and I talked about this after he received an amazing and unexpected job opportunity for a new line engineering position in his company that would allow us to move back home to our family and the farm over an hour away, which we’ve always wanted from Day One. As new and exciting as we knew this journey would be, it required both of us giving up the current jobs we loved and excelled at to take a new path in a new place that was well out of our comfort zones. For me it was even harder, as no other ag teaching positions were open in the area we were moving to and I didn’t know what I was going to do for income the next year.

Now if you don’t know much about Cross Timbers, Missouri, I will simply tell you this. I absolutely love love love living in this little corner of the world. However, finding good job opportunities here is hard to come by and often times requires about a 45- 60 mile commute no matter which direction you go. Welcome to Small Town, USA! (And don’t even ask what happens when you run out of milk or toilet paper…)

So, yeah. To say I was a bit stressed out is the understatement of the year.

Do I quit? Do I tough it out and stay at Niangua and drive almost an hour and a half every day one-way? Live with my grandparents in the town next to where I worked or buy a small apartment to live in just for the week? Become self-employed and pick up my photography business again? Substitute teach? Go back for my Master’s Degree? Do we start a family and I just stay at home for a while? Can we even afford that right now?

Wait, wait, I’ve got it. I’m going to make my break and audition for The Voice. Problem solved.

Or at least it would be if I could sing.…

Dang. **Back to the drawing board**

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People would stop me out and about and ask me all the time what I was going to do when they heard the news about us leaving and starting this new journey. I would just fake a smile and tell them I wasn’t sure, but was trusting it would all work out. I replied kindly and tried to hold it together, but in all honesty I just wanted to curl up in a ball on the ground and cry…because as much as I knew people meant well by asking me all these daunting questions about my future, their words also felt like daggers ripping through my chest.

Because the truth was I was completely clueless.

For weeks it was endless days and nights of deliberating at the kitchen table over dinner. Weighing pros and cons in the car on our way to the grocery store. Thought-crunching in the shower. Praying and asking God for any ounce of enlightenment while updating my resume and desperately stalking the moteachingjobs website. Dancing around like fools in our living room as we were celebrating the fact that we were packing boxes for the LAST time to move into our forever home. Holding each other and crying together in bed wondering if we made the right decision when the reality of it all finally hit and we both said our goodbyes to the co-workers that became friends and students that became the kids that weren’t ours but we claimed as our own anyways.

Yeah, it was hard, I’ll be completely real with you. And I’m pretty sure we kept the Kleenex company in business during those long weeks as I boxed up my classroom and he cleaned out his work truck and we took this giant leap of faith into The Unknown.

I’m not even sure Siri could define the perfect word for how we were feeling about this situation without having some sort of technical/robotic/psychotic breakdown trying to sort out all our thoughts and feelings.

We were no doubt riding front seat on the emotional roller coaster of Adulting and Life. Hands in the air, screaming at the top of our lungs, full-speed through all the loops and drops and turns that lay outstretched before us.

Which is kind of ridiculous considering that leaving is definitely not out of the ordinary for us. I mean, we have packed up our life and moved for our jobs literally every year since we got married three years ago, so we’re basically experts. Seriously, I should have some sort of professional certificate in cleaning rent houses, painting walls, and patching drywall. (Ugh, WHYYYY do I even bother using a hammer and a nail when we are going to just leave again in nine months and I’ll have to take it all down again…)

And as for packing boxes onto trailers and using ratchet straps? Let’s just say U-Haul ain’t got nothing on this homegirl…

#NeverUnderestimateAWomanWithDuctTapeAndASharpie #AlsoAddProfessionalWineDrinkingAndFrozenPizzaEatingToMyResume

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This is nothing new. We’ll be fine. We’ve quit many jobs before and have moved a million times, and it’s always worked out, we kept telling ourselves. But somehow…it was different this time. We both felt an uneasiness about not knowing what would happen next for me and what that would mean for our upcoming finances with investing in a farm and renovating a new house. But, we tried to write it off as much as possible and just keep riding on faith and gas station energy drinks.

That’s when I got the message.

Remember when I listed off all those things I considered doing with my life this next year? How ironic it is that the one thing I never considered would be the next opportunity to come knocking on my door, or in this case, popping up in my inbox?

A good friend of mine who I’ve always loved and respected as a professional in the education field informed me of an opening at her school district for a middle school math and science position that still remained unfilled for the upcoming school year, which I was very apprehensive about at first. She explained how they needed someone passionate and energetic to step up to the plate and kindly encouraged me that she felt like I would be a great fit for the job, even though it wasn’t a content area I was used to teaching and would require quite a bit of a learning curve on my end.

“Would you have any interest in applying at all? I would love to talk with you about the options!”

I about fell out of my chair.

Options?

Here I was, feeling all bitter and defeated that I was giving up a job that I really enjoyed with students I really loved to just sit at home for a year until another agriculture teaching position came open close to home – whenever and IF ever that may be. Don’t get me wrong, I completely supported my husband and was thrilled for his new adventure, but couldn’t help but feel slightly envious deep down that I didn’t have an exciting opportunity lined up to help fill the void of missing my old job and no longer contributing substantially to our income. I had given up all hope and accepted the reality that I would just have to leave the profession of teaching for a while and make my living by some other means. Then suddenly I have…options??? Options that were only FIFTEEN minutes from my doorstep for that matter???

Could I really do that? Teach something….new? Different? Hmmm…

The next day I received a phone call from another school district with similar news, asking me to consider applying for another possible job opportunity as a high school special education co-teacher.

More options? Sweet Jesus, it’s like Christmas!

So once again, my husband and I found ourselves carefully weighing the pros and cons of each position, just like all those nights before when we deliberated about whether or not he should consider his new job offer. It seemed like yet another impossible decision, as both were such great and unexpected opportunities that each came with their own set of challenges. No matter which way I went, I knew was going to have to face change.

And change is, well, scary.

Needless to say, after two interviews, one LOOOONNNNNGGGGG weekend, many sleepless nights, several phone calls to friends and family, and a rather detailed pros and cons chart later (yeah, yeah…I’m a nerd, don’t laugh…) I decided to trust my gut feeling and accept the middle school science/math position.

Now, I tell you all this not to ramble on for over 2,000 words and waste five minutes of your life reading about two complete strangers and how they’re practically driving the struggle bus off the nearest cliff. (Yes, I’ve been told I’m a bit dramatic…)

I tell it because in the aftermath of it all – through all the tears, heartbreak, excitement, and fear of the great unknown –  there were lessons learned. Lessons worth sharing because my guess is like us, YOU too have experienced your fair share of tough decisions in your own life. And if you haven’t yet? Well saddle up and get ready, because your wild ride is sure to come around someday!

So, basically there are four morals to this story worth talking about. And I’m not the most eloquent or profound writer ever, so I’ll just borrow a few quotes from the pros to summarize my general thoughts.

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#1 ~ There will come a time when you think everything is finished. That will just be the beginning. – Louis L’Amour.

I won’t lie. It got pretty dark for me there for a while after I turned my letter of resignation in. I felt like I had just signed my death sentence. I knew it was all a blessing in disguise and we were making the best decision for our future by making this big change, but I thought it was all over for me because I didn’t have a job lined up at the end of my contract with Niangua. I was really going to miss my students, the community, and all my work friends. More importantly I was going to miss the sense of belonging I had by impacting students lives every day – so much that it broke my heart and I balled like a baby every day on my way to and from work. I felt like I somehow failed when I walked away from it all, even though I obviously couldn’t control the fact that there wasn’t another job opportunity waiting for me when we moved.

But you know what?

Opportunity found its own way to me in God’s perfect timing. And the end of that chapter is just the turning of a new page for what’s coming next in my story.

I can feel it.

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#2 ~ Be willing to be a beginner every single morning. – Meister Eckhart

When my husband and I decided to make the big switch with both of our careers, we realized how overwhelmed and under-qualified we probably were, but we didn’t let that stop us from taking the risk anyway. We knew were both about to become something that we weren’t, something that we never had experience in being, and something that we would both have to work our absolute hardest to become if we were going to do it right.

Now don’t get me wrong, we are both still VERY nervous, but somehow we both know it’s going to be okay. We are willing to learn from mistakes we make today so we can be better tomorrow.

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#3 ~ The weaker we feel, the harder we lean on others. The harder we lean on others, the more we grow. – JJ Packer

Stop it.

Stop thinking that your problems are yours to face alone.

Stop  thinking that you can’t ask for help, because it’s a sign of weakness.

Stop thinking that just because you’re an adult in the real world you have to make all the big decisions yourself, because after all it is YOUR life.

Stop feeling guilty about expressing your fears and worries to others because their problems are way more complicated than your own.

Just stop.

We would have never been able to reach a rational decision that we felt good about if it wasn’t for the outpouring love, support, advice, and prayers from our loved ones and co-workers. We thankfully didn’t have to do it alone – and neither do you!

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#4 ~ The only way to know you’re making the right decision is to trust that you are. (Okay, so I really did come up with that one on my own. Go me!)

The moments leading up to calling both schools to tell them my decision were stressful, I won’t lie. I had spent so much time carefully considering all my options to make the decision that I felt was the best for me. But when I did finally decide? Suddenly I had peace of mind. It was like the fog was lifted, the void in my heart filled, and I learned how to trust fate and be bold again. I made a decision – arguably one of the most difficult ones I’ve ever had to make – and actually felt extremely confident and excited about it afterwards.

Why?

Because deep down I trusted my heart, which is ultimately always the right call.

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So as for an update on our current situation, we are both learning to simply be content right where we are in our life. We are taking this new adventure by the horns, one day at a time. We are accepting the fact that every time God closes one door in our lives, He is showing us the way to a new one that will soon be open for us to walk through. We are both learning and growing in our new professions and are excited to see where they will lead us in all our future endeavors. We realize that more challenges are ahead and more even complicated decisions are inevitably going to come our way.

That’s just life.

But no matter what happens next, we know at the end of every day we are learning and growing – together. For that, we are blessed. For that, we are thankful. For that, we are leaving it all in the hands of the Man Upstairs, because after all He’s never done us wrong before.

And for that, we are sure to conquer all the tough decisions life will throw our way for years to come.

 

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“P.S – Don’t Forget to Have Fun.”

So tonight I held the bi-yearly ritual of going through my closet.

 

Cleaning house, as they call it. Getting rid of all those tops that I’ve only worn a handful of times. Old T-shirts with stains and tattered threads that even a Pinterest T-shirt quilt couldn’t breathe new life into. Skirts that no longer fit….and dresses that I no longer wear because it would require tanning, leg lifts and calf raises, and also frequent leg-shaving. Shoes that are wore plum through the soles. (Yeah, I’ve been told I’m an avid pacer….) That cute romper my friends talked me into buying from Forever 21 – that still has the tags on it and has been stashed in the deep abyss of my wardrobe and forgotten since the day I brought it home because I literally have no idea when or where I could possibly ever rock something like that. (Let’s be real…I don’t really “go out” anymore.)

And of course, let’s not forget all those things that almost didn’t make the cut the last time I went through my closet, because I felt like they were staring into my soul and begging for a second chance as I was bagging them up for the next yard sale so I quickly snatched them back, shoved them in my closet, and slammed the doors shut before I could change my mind about it. (Whew, that was a close one…)

Yeah, you guessed it. I STILL haven’t worn them… #Here’sToRoundTwo…OrMaybeFive

As all these things were being stripped off the hanger one by one and chucked left and right all across the bedroom floor, my clumsiness and utter lack of coordination caused me to pull the ENTIRE rod down, letting ALL my clothes tumble to the floor and make an even bigger mess – and also, naturally, whack me on top of the noggin.

Nice one, slick.

Now, please understand something. This is a crisis for the girl whose entire wardrobe is all-things color coordinated and arranged according to sleeve-length.

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Wasn’t kidding…

Which brings me to another valid tangent…why in the world do they call it OCD if the letters aren’t even in alphabetical order? STU-to-the-PID.

But I digress…

So in the midst of all this I stand up to take care of this newfound dilemma and lo and behold there it is, on the overhead shelf, concealed behind stacks of hoodies and blanket scarves – that I should probably also go through.

My high school keepsake box. (Dunnn dunn dunnnnnn….)

Thinking the mess could wait for a little detour trip through memory lane, I reach – no, more like excessively strain on my tippy toes because my 6’2” husband wasn’t home yet – to pull it down from the shelf.

Dust bunnies? Seriously? I mean, I haven’t been out THAT long……have I? How rude.

So I wipe the gray fuzz away with my sleeve and open up this box to find some long-forgotten artifacts of the life I lived before college tuition statements, electric bills, car loans, resumes, cover letters, and W-2 forms.

Amidst all all the hilarious letters my friends and I used to pass in class, yearbooks that conceal some pretty embarrassing junior high headshots, certificates for my nerdy-ness and dedication to FFA and dance team, leftover senior pictures, my valedictorian speech (**Face palm** sweet Jesus, did I really say all of that corny “Don’t forget about me and I won’t forget about you” crap in front of everyone???) and my fifteen-sizes-too-big cap and gown, there was one thing that made me freeze right in my tracks.

A graduation card – written by one of my favorite teachers ever – which was given along with a College Survival Guide that really did offer some comfort during all those late night study sessions, tears, and finals.

While I am undeniably grateful for everyone who watched me walk across that stage with pride to receive my diploma (without tripping, I might add!) and took the time to fill out hundreds of cards full of “Congratulations!” And “You’re going to do amazing things!” this was the one graduation card that I decided to keep out of all the others. It wasn’t the fact that it was Hallmark’s fanciest piece of work. In fact, it was fairly simple cardstock engraved with a plain Jane script.

It was what was hand-written on the inside that convinced me to tuck it away, with the premonition that I would one day need to read it again. And believe me when I say this – I needed to read it then just as much as I needed to read it tonight.

“P.S – Don’t forget to have fun.”

I know. Pretty deep, right?

So here I am, sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor, clothes still strewn out everywhere, with a complimentary goose egg on my head reading these words.

Is it possible to have a mid-life crisis at 23? A mid-mid-life crisis, perhaps?

Kidding…

But there was a slight epiphany or “lightbulb flicker”. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a concussion.

So…yeah. Confession  #4,576. Sometimes I forget to have fun. I get too absorbed in conquering my extensive to-do lists, bottomless schedules, endless bills, and even those stupid dust bunnies on top of my closet shelf that I forget to take in the moments that really do matter and make the most of all the blessings I’ve been given.

I am alive and healthy today. Check.

I have a job. Check.

I have faith. Check.

I have friends, family, and a great husband. Check.

I have a roof over my head and food in my refrigerator. Check.

I have coffee, sweatpants, and Netflix. Check, check, check.

Annnnnddddd I have Best Choice frozen peas to ice this bump on my head. We’ll put a special check mark next to that one.

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When I look back on the past five years of my life since I received that graduation card, there’s nothing that alarms me too much. I mean, I’ve never robbed a bank or anything and I’m pretty sure last time I checked there’s not a warrant out for my arrest, so I must have done at least that much right. There’s been a lot of good times in my life followed by some not-so-good times. I’m definitely no mathematician, but if I were to calculate it all up I would say my laughs to tears ratio is relatively normal for a young becoming-of-age woman.

However…

There have also been numerous times when my stress, fears, and overloaded schedule compromised what could have been some pretty awesome opportunities and memories. Some of which could have probably been added to that keepsake box…or even started a new one by now.

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Seriously. Don’t be Grumpy Cat. Don’t be that guy.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here and dwell too much on the “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ves” of my past, but I will say that I would have said “yes” a little more. (Relax, I’m not talking about drugs or rides in sketchy vans here…)

I would’ve taken that chance when I was asked if I wanted to join Sigma Alpha in college. Ate out with those girls after late night Friday class instead of going home to an empty apartment because my roommates were already homebound for the weekend. Studied abroad one more time – but this time in Costa Rica. Ripped the tags off that romper for a fun night out with my best friends that I never hardly see anymore – but said I had housework and lesson plans to get caught up on instead. Visited my favorite sunday school teacher in the nursing home I drove past every day on my way to and from work just one more time before she passed away and was gone forever. Sang karaoke at the state fair when invited to the stage by a complete stranger, just because I secretly like to sing. (If you ask my shampoo bottle, I’m not half bad…)

Yeah, buddy. All this from a five year old graduation card in a forgotten, dusty box…

So take it from the girl who is 99.9% pretty sure the Energizer Bunny is her spirit animal. When life gets a little crazy? Slowwwww. Dowwwnnnnn. Learn to let it go and let it be. Make time, even when there’s not much left at the end of a long, hard day or week. Go out with your friends. Wear that romper. Try out for that part in that play. Get that edgy haircut. Jump out of that plane (with a fully-functioning parachute, of course…) Turn off the T.V and break out that Monopoly board with your family. Date your husband or wife. Let your hair down. Take a drive. Take a vacation. Do anything you gotta do to smell the roses, or whatever.

Oh, yeah. One more thing…have a little fun, will ya?

 

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13 Things Playing the Piano Has Taught Me About Life

Tonight I sat down at the piano and just…played.

Not for fame. Not for Facebook likes or YouTube views. Not for a Sunday School worship service or ladies quartet special at my church, which I’ve been playing for for about eight years now.

Not for anyone…but me.

Mind you, I do not get this luxury very often. Between juggling lesson plans, grades, FFA activities, parent teacher conferences, professional development days, an hour commute, dirty laundry, bills, and the dishes from last night’s dinner this doesn’t really leave me with much “play time” to my crazy days anymore.

But something amazing happened tonight. As I sat down at the bench, slid open the fallboard, and my fingertips started dancing on ivory and ebony, I was taken back. Back to the days of do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. To the days of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” To the days of learning the power of hold and release of the sostenuto pedal and how to correctly place my hands. To the days of memorizing the treble clef scale by the acronyms “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” and “F-A-C-E.” To the days where I first learned to play piano at twelve years old.

And it got me thinking about all the things I’ve learned from one childhood hobby that became one of the greatest blessings and saving graces in my entire life so far.

I’m sure if I thought about it even harder I could come up with way more than just thirteen, but this is what I scribbled down on a notebook so far…

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1 – Success takes time and effort.

Every now and then we get a guest speaker at church who leads a sermon if our regular pastor has to be gone. Usually, this person is one of our missionaries that only visits once a year with their beautiful wife and twelve children. (Kidding…but only about the twelve kids part, not the beautiful wife, just to clarify.) As if all the fancy brochures, PowerPoint presentations, and polaroids of their family camping on the beaches of Puerto Rico, feeding the malnourished children in Africa, or holding a baby kangaroo on an Australian safari isn’t enough icing on the cake, lo and behold, one of them just so happens to be a piano playing and singing prodigy. So, essentially what happens is I get a day off to sit back for a change and listen to someone else play – and it’s so show stopping and jaw dropping that I sink down in the pew utterly mortified in my own ability and solemnly swear I’ll never touch the keyboard again for as long as I live.

Because there’s no way on earth I’ll ever be that good.

Seriously. It’s like Keeping Up With the Modern-Day Beethovens and Mozarts. But then I have to stop and think of where they began and how they got to where they are today and remind myself that I have just as much potential, if I want it bad enough. I know it’s cliche, but whoever first said that practice makes perfect really knew what he or she was talking about. Because afterall, the only way to ever master anything in life is through trial and error, failure and triumph, and a dedication to keep on keepin’ on through it all.

Oh yeah, and also by not comparing yourself to others all the time.

2 – Never underestimate the power of “The Rest”.

This may sound redundant, as I have blogged on this before…but…there’s something to be said about pausing in life, if even for half a beat. We often fear the pause because it challenges us to give up all control and just be still in the moment we are in, but if we follow through it refreshes us just long enough to land that next note perfectly.

3 – Sometimes you’re the melody, sometimes you’re the harmony.

You will have Your Days. You know, where it’s your turn to be in the spotlight and carry the main tune that everyone recognizes. Like on your high school or college graduation. Your birthday. When you land that big promotion or win that award. Walking down the aisle on your wedding day. Announcing your pregnancy or gender reveal to family and friends with all things silly string, glitter, and colored balloons.

But sometimes, it’s your turn to be in the background while someone else takes the main lead. You will find yourself doing a lot of behind the scenes work or playing the accenting chords that are less noticed, but yet are still very necessary to the overall song.

Just remember your solo is coming some day.

4 – Be bold.

Until just about a year ago I utterly AVOIDED playing any songs in the hymnal that had two sharps, five flats, or several arpeggios. (For those of you are musically challenged and secretly trying to Google search this right now…this is code for songs and notes that are VERY. VERY. HARD.) I was afraid of failing and messing up in front of the people who loved me the most – which is ridiculous for the sole fact that they are the people who love me the most. So, I skipped them. Found easier songs. Stuck to the familiar.

But here’s the problem…for all those years I sure missed out on a lot of beautiful songs because I wasn’t willing to take that risk.

Never again.

5 – Just keep going.

Ugh, nothing cooks my grits or embarrasses me more than missing a chord or hitting the wrong key and it suspending loud through the sound system for all to hear.

Happens. All. The. Time. Take for example, last Sunday, when I completely skipped an ENTIRE line of “Victory in Jesus.”

Now, a younger twelve year old version of myself would have stopped immediately, apologized to the entire congregation, and made everyone restart the entire verse over again until I got it right. No, perfect.

But here’s what happened instead because I have since lived and learned.

I just laughed it off and kept playing.

And you know what? Nobody noticed, because everyone was focused on worshipping Him – as it should be – and not criticizing me. I think I could use a bit of this wisdom in other areas of my life as well.

6. Just listen…

Sometimes I play in the dark with the lights completely off. Or I close my eyes. This is partially because I get bored when I’m home alone and find funny piano challenges on the Internet, but it’s mainly because I can’t look at my hands to be sure I’m playing everything right. I can’t see the notes or read the words to sing. I can only listen…and feel…and then something amazing happens. The music just flows from my heart and guides me through the rest of the song.

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7. You’re never too old/too young to learn.

I read an article the other day about an 83 year old man who started taking piano lessons for the first time ever in his life after his wife passed away, with no former musical interests or experiences. I also read that Mozart began composing music when he was just three years old.

So…to answer your question about whether or not you should take a chance and do all the things you’ve always wanted to do because of your age – um, yeah. You should totally do them, regardless of what statistics show or society thinks. Life’s too short to sell yourself short.

8. Raise your voice.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good accompaniment without vocals every now and then, with nothing but instrumentals. But I am going to counteract my former statement from above in  Number 6 for a second just to say that when nothing makes sense, when you’re not sure where to go or what to do, when you stand for something you believe in with your entire being, when you are in the deepest dumps or are on the highest mountains – raise your voice. Not in chaos. Not in disrespect. Not in burning flags, vandalizing private property, or name calling.

But in song. In harmony. I think you’ll find that more people will hear you that way.

9. Use your talents for the greater good.

I’ll never forget the day my piano teacher came to me and said that she was moving away and getting married. I was not only scared of losing a great friend, but I was also terrified…because that meant that I was now the new pianist for our church. I was in junior high and was anything and everything short of an expert, especially compared to her. I had really only been playing for about four years and pretty much only knew how to play “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace.”

But the opportunity to use a God-given talent for the purpose of honoring and glorifying Him in song by showing leadership in my church turned out to yield one of the greatest blessings in my life, and before I knew it I was learning new hymns left and right.

10. Rhythm counts.

I don’t think there’s anything more annoying than a metronome…and yes, I have watched Peppa Pig before…

Life ticks away, one beat at a time. You never slow it down, and you can’t exactly speed it up either. But what you can do is learn to pace yourself in order to get some flow…some rhythm. When things get crazy and every day blurs into the next, learn to slow yourself down so you don’t skip over any notes. If every day is a drag and you’re constantly bored, learn to pick up the pace so you don’t miss a beat and get left behind. (Also, we should probably do a Freaky Friday thing and swap lives so maybe I can get some of my sanity I had before I became a teacher…just kidding and I am ordering my metronome off Amazon right now as we speak…)

11. You can always find your way back to “The Middle C”.

Ah, the Middle C. I call it Home Key. The center key of the piano, where every beginner player learns to read notes and translate chords from. It’s the starting point for almost every song, and quite arguably the most recognizable key of them all. But sometimes we have to leave the Middle C….branch out a little and hit those really high or really low octaves if we want to really make some music and find our full potential.

This sort of translates into becoming of age. Leaving home. Finding your own place in this big old world. Sure, it’s always scary at first…but you know why they call it the Middle C??

Because no matter what, you can always find your way back to where you started – because it’s the center of everything.

12. Collaborate.

I love me a good piano solo. I’m talking Adele or some classic Stevie Wonder. Absolutely beautiful. But…

Have you ever heard a violin duet with a piano? An organ? A guitar? An entire choir  or orchestra?

That, my friends, is what you call music. Everyone – of different walks of life, of different experiences, of different styles – harmonizing together in one song.

13. Remember you’re not the only key on the keyboard.

88 keys.

52 white, 36 black, all different sounds.

1 instrument.

Infinite potential.

If I could rephrase this to say anything else worth saying at all, I would tell you this.

There are 7.4 billion people

With all different nationalities, races, beliefs, etc…

In this 1 world

And I believe that there is still hope for us, if we can figure out how to make it happen together.

**Insert mic drop.**

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