All it takes is one: My eulogy for Grandma

I’m convinced that all it takes is one person.

One person to see your true potential… One person to believe in you… One person to pick you up, brush you off and tell you it’s going to be ok when it feels like the rest of the world is trying to knock you down… One person to think that you could do no wrong… One person to love you unconditionally…

That person for me – and for many of us in this room – was my grandma, Nancy Cason Goth.

Grandma – I invite you to call her that, as well – and I had a special relationship. Grandma and I were bonded by so many things: our favorite color … our first name … our perfectionist tendencies and desire for perfect order …

But when she peacefully entered eternal rest on Monday, we were bonded by something even greater:

She chose to take her final breath in the same hospital where I took my first exactly 30 years prior.

April 3 will forever be our special day. While it felt sick and ironic at first to lose the most important person in my life on my birthday, it suddenly dawned on me that she knew exactly what she was doing.

I’d like everyone to take a moment and think about a time when Grandma made a difference in your life – or was the difference … when she came through for you or made you feel special.

For me, it was all of the weekends I spent with her as a young child when my family was living in Mt. Lebanon. I’d hop out of bed at around 6 a.m., awoken by the scent of burnt Eggo Waffles, which I ate by the box across from her at her two-person kitchen table. When I finished my plate, she offered me more, and I always nodded “yes.”

We’d start our day with a 7 a.m. trip to Foodland (do those even exist anymore?!), where she let me push a child-sized shopping cart and in it would go more Eggo Waffles, Rice Krispies Treats, JELL-O chocolate and swirl pudding, and peach rings. We’d then go to Ames for senior citizen discount Tuesdays. After all of that, it was time for pampering at Gary Coslow’s: Grandma would get her hair frosted and permed, and she’d even schedule in time for Martha to French braid my hair – and the appointment always ended with a big grape Tootsie Pop.

We’d come back to her house and eat bologna and cheese sandwiches with crushed sour cream and onion potato chips and put together movie poster-sized Disney puzzles.  By 4 p.m., it was time for dinner. We went to McDonald’s for chicken nuggets, French fries, an ice cream cone and playing on the playground.

Calories didn’t count with Grandma.

She even curled my hair before taking me to school Monday morning. And the timid, sensitive kid who was me suddenly had a spring in her step like the curls in her hair – and a sense of confidence that only Grandma could restore.

It was her month-long visits she’d spend with my family after we moved to Harrisburg when I was 8. As soon as she arrived, I’d carry her small bags upstairs, and, when most grandparents would want to unpack in peace and quiet after being bombarded with excited grandchildren, she’d let me sit on her bed as she unpacked – carefully placing out each item. She used to say, “There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place.” I get my obsessive compulsive tendencies from her. She even made it a point to schedule with each sibling and me a day to eat lunch with us at school and an evening activity after school.

It was the times when I needed to get away from college and just seek refuge at grandma’s. I went to college just about an hour away from Pittsburgh, and my friends were always lining up to squeeze into my car and make the trip to visit Grandma.

IMG_1943And it was the way she bid me farewell at the end of each visit, which never seemed long enough, telling me her door was always open, with a sincere sparkle in her eye as if she meant it.

Because she did.

She’d hold both of my hands and squeeze them repeatedly, just like she did when our entire family was with her just a week ago.

Grandma made my day every day. She made my life.

Long before Grandma’s passing, when I thought back on her 91 years of life, I’d feel extremely emotional, because I felt it was unfair that the woman who made so many others’ lives easier didn’t have an easy one, herself… But Grandma wouldn’t want us to grieve that, because she never did. What’s worth celebrating is how she always picked up and came back stronger. From her husband abandoning her and two adolescent boys to taking her first fall in October 2005, she always came back stronger – even during her most recent one for which she eventually traded in her earth angel wings for heavenly angel wings as her reward.

Grandma had this sign on the desk in her house on Pickwick Drive, right behind her stationary bike that she rode at 4 a.m. every day. It said, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” When I read that as a little girl, I thought hard about the meaning, and Grandma explained it to me. This past week has been the tomorrow I’ve worried about for a long time – losing her. I’ve been saying for years that the day I lose my grandma will be the worst day of my life, but the 30 years of love and memories I have with Grandma fill my heart with joy, peace and a celebratory spirit.

We have the blessing of remembering Grandma by so many things and knowing she’s always with us:

When you hear beautiful piano music or George Gershwin and Andrew Lloyd Weber show tunes, know that Grandma is putting on a hell of a show for her friends up in Heaven and giving us a sneak peek for the fun times that are ahead for us to have with her again.

When you see an old fashioned on a restaurant menu, know that Grandma is enjoying one, as she tells me that it’s always happy hour in Heaven – and that she won’t even have to tell the bartender how to make it…or remind the server to bring it with two black straws.

I hope and pray for a number of things as I stand here today.

First and foremost, I pray that as grandma peacefully passed and even as she lies here today, she knows how incredibly admired and adored she was and always will be.

I pray that everyone can allow the feeling of love to overcome the feeling of loss.

I pray that, even in this time of incredible sorrow, we can take all of the things that we learned from this resilient, loving woman and apply them to our own lives… Like when the going gets tough, the tough gets going… To “just whistle a happy tune”… And to be that one person to someone – that one person to not only make someone’s day but make their life.

Sweet Grandma, you are why I am strong.

You are why I am here today.

You are why my life is so good.

I learned from and was loved by the best.

I love you to Heaven and back.

 

I read this eulogy at Grandma’s funeral Saturday, April 8, 2017. I’m sharing this with you to give you a glimpse into who she was. I wish you all could’ve met her! You would’ve loved her. Thank you for reading.

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Goodbye to pushing, proving and pleasing, hello 30s + big news!

I’M 30 YEARS OLD, Y’ALL!

Am I supposed to dread turning 30?

Because I don’t.

While the idea of time passing can feel sad and scary, because it makes me think about my mortality, with time comes experience, knowledge and wisdom. As my older sister said earlier this morning, “30 is wiser yet still no wrinkles.”

And I’m at peace with this decade of my life coming to a close, because I feel so incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished and, most importantly, who I’ve become within just 10 years.

At 21, I graduated from college a semester early, in December 2008. Not many people understood why I was so excited to get my career – heck, my life – started. I put myself through college and, during those years, worked three part-time jobs to pay my bills and feed myself all while doing “normal college student things,” like building my resume – serving as president of two organizations, a leader within a third and writing for the campus newspaper – and maintaining a vibrant social life.

Saying I was exhausted is an understatement. I didn’t have the privilege of ever being on the payroll of Mom & Dad Inc., and I wouldn’t have it any other way because of the important lessons and character this instilled in me. But I was ready for a real paycheck and a life that I designed.

Naturally, my packed college years, which followed a childhood centered around trying to create peace in a negative home environment and raising my baby sister, brought on the same people-pleasing, balls-to-the-wall behavior through my 20s.

In early 2009, I landed an amazing job and moved to Washington, D.C., on my own in the middle of the night. By “on my own,” I’m talking a loaded-down Honda Accord filled with everything I owned and very little money in my bank account. Since the amazing job didn’t pay amazingly well, I waited tables after my 9 to 5, from 5:30 p.m. until after midnight. Riding the Metro home with $200 of cash in my pocket to an apartment where cars were often found on cinderblocks in the parking lot wasn’t ideal (and where deranged people would bang on my door in the wee hours of the morning), but I didn’t know “ideal” at the time and have never been a stranger to hustling.

And I knew that this was just the beginning of an excellent adventure…

I was dating a great guy at the time, who was about six years older than I. Six years doesn’t seem like much now, at 30 years old, but it did at 21. I fell in love with D.C. while I was with him. He introduced me to a few of my favorite parts of the DMV (stands for D.C./Maryland/Virginia), including sights, restaurants, bars, etc. And our breakup, before summer 2009 started, introduced me to some of my favorite spots to go and think and pray that there were wonderful things out there for me.

And there were.

I spent that summer and fall looking ahead a bit, thinking about my professional development and even dabbling in dating. After I kept getting involved with guys from my past who weren’t ready for the relationship I was ready for, I joined match.com. Everyone knows that I have the.best.dating.stories from my few months spent online dating before finally meeting my husband, Nate – like meeting the following characters:

  • A 30-something attorney who referred to Morton’s Steakhouse as his law firm’s cafeteria (pretentious much?)
  • A tennis player (that’s not the weird part – that’s actually really attractive) who fed me leftovers for dinner (that’s the weird part – a chicken breast and egg salad to be precise on our second meeting/first date)
  • And the Award for Most Horrifically Awkward Date Goes to: A guy who showed up wearing a backpack (I immediately felt so turned off and weirded out by this) … He drank way too much, professed his love for me then insisted on walking me home, forcing me to lie about where I lived so he wouldn’t know where I actually lived … And when he got radio silence from me, he decided to try to break it with texting a photo of some very personal information he received from his doctor. (You can tell there’s more to this story.)

Very shortly after cancelling my Match account (I was still getting messages, because I had paid through that month), I decided to take a chance on a 22-year-old nuclear engineer wearing a white oxford, red tie and fleece who said he had a college degree, wanted to get married and have kids. In his first message to me, he asked me out on a date.

“I really have nothing to lose,” I said to my roommate, cautiously optimistically.

(I really didn’t.)

I used to think that Tuesdays were the most useless day of the entire week until I met him – my husband, Nate. We met, enjoyed our first date and, without realizing it at the time (at least I didn’t), became a couple on that random Tuesday night and the second day of winter. Despite the fact that I ate a chopped chicken salad on our first date and not pizza, I could tell pretty quickly that our relationship was the most special one I’ve ever had and ever would have.

For this very reason, about three months into our relationship, I decided to start seeking therapy to overcome childhood trauma so I could bring the healthiest me into the relationship. I found myself challenged by the drama in my family and keeping it from Nate out of shame; I clearly struggled with finding my own identity outside the family I was born into. Through therapy, I learned that “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

This investment in myself started to play out in my life. I found out that spring, right after turning 23, that I had been accepted to Johns Hopkins University to pursue my master’s degree in communication. I got the initial acceptance email while I was at a boutique hotel in D.C., right near my office, booking space for a team meeting. I immediately texted Nate from the hotel before heading back to my office. We celebrated when he came back to town the following weekend. (He was living in Pittsburgh during this time for a five-month training, followed by Bremerton, Washington for a month.)

Life was coming together, and I finally started to feel as though I deserved it.

I spent the next few years working on my degree, one class at a time while I worked full-time, building my relationship with Nate and working on myself – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. In addition to continuing therapy, I started my weight loss journey in February 2012 and lost 50 pounds within eight months through heathy eating and continued exercise. Practically as soon as the final pounds came off, I moved on to a new job, in November 2012.

Six months later, in May 2013, we got engaged. Seven months after that, in December 2013, I finally ate the last piece of the huge elephant I had been choking down for three and a half years and earned a master’s degree. I was 26 and less than five years into my career and in a healthy relationship and body and single-handedly planning our wonderful wedding, lived in a beautiful condo that my fiancé owned and had a great job and a shiny degree that I never thought I’d measure up to or afford.

My life was everything I dreamed for it to be, and perhaps I romanticize about this time in my life a little too much…

Nate completed his five-year commitment to the U.S. Navy and went on terminal leave just two weeks before our mid-April 2014 wedding. Two weeks later, we were headed south on I-81 bound for Augusta, Georgia. Everything about my life changed suddenly, except I was telecommuting for my job in D.C. and had Nate. I felt so incredibly thrown off and attribute this to keeping myself so busy leading up to the move that not only did I not have time to visit Augusta before deciding to move there and look at the house we would rent for our first year there, but I didn’t have time to process. I dealt with this in the same way I have through other big changes like going away to college, graduating from college and moving to a big city – I kept busy.

I continued working full-time; launched this blog right away; started teaching group fitness classes; made friends; and even found a good gym, nail salon, you name it. I reconstructed the life I had in Arlington, Virginia. Within six months, I found a job in my field, a perfect outlet for my health communication experience. A month later, I ran my first half marathon, and a little more than a year after that, Nate and I bought our first home together.

There you have it – a recap on my 20’s. I’ve been holding pretty steady at 28 and 29, avoiding any big life changes but gearing up for new adventures.

Speaking of which…

I’M WRITING A BOOK!

I’m working with a major health website on a book about a certain healthy eating practice. That’s all I can say for now, so stay tuned!

Goodbye to pushing, proving and pleasing

While I look back on my 20s with great pride, I realize that they were about pushing, proving and pleasing – and I refuse to bring this unsustainable lifestyle into my 30s.

Instead of concerning myself with pleasing people, I’m going to bring a stronger sense of self and confidence into my 30s.

And instead of becoming more serious, I’m going to continue to focus on nurturing my inner child, something that therapy has helped me to do. For this very reason, I did a smash cake photo shoot with the super sweet and talented Jessica Miller of J. Miller Fine Art Photography – keep scrolling, and enjoy!

Now that my crazy, over-stuffed 20s are over, I’m ready for a nap.

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So long, pushing, proving and pleasing. Hello, contentment, confidence and being unapologetically myself.

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Credits:

3 things we can learn from petunias

When I was a little girl, my grandma called me “Petunia.”

For that reason, this kind of flower will always be special to me. When springtime rolled around, it was a no-brainer that I’d be planting petunias. And they’d be purple – my grandma’s and my favorite color.

As I was watering them today, I thought about a few ways that tending to petunias relates to life.

1. Replanting can be difficult and scary but can also be necessary and beneficial.

I knew that I’d be replanting the petunias I bought, because they came in hanging baskets of which I wasn’t particularly fond, and I wanted to put them in terra cotta pots on the stairs leading up to the front door. Well, I removed them from the hanging baskets the only way I could – by dumping them out, onto the driveway. Some of the pots were smaller, so I bought fewer hanging baskets than I had pots, planning to separate the plants. As I did so, I was worried that I was tearing apart the roots and killing the flowers. (I really should’ve consulted my mother in law, who’s terrific with flowers and anything that needs care in general.) However, I trusted that, with some potting soil and lots of nurturing, they’d thrive. And they have.

Two years ago, just this week, instead of being dumped out onto a driveway and torn apart like my petunias, all of my stuff was dumped into a moving truck and dropped off in Augusta, Georgia. And I found myself truly broken … for quite a while. However, over time, Nate and I started to see the result of hard work and having made good decisions, which includes moving to Augusta. Going away to college, moving to Washington, D.C. after graduation and then to Augusta are a few of the best decisions I’ve made, because they’ve enhanced my life by distancing myself from people who made me unhappy and drawing myself closer to who and what fill my soul. It’s all about blooming where you are planted.

2. Sometimes the plants that turn into the most beautiful flowers are the ones that haven’t budded yet.

One of the white petunias I bought didn’t have blooms on it yet, but, after a little nurturing, they appeared.

This, too, is metaphoric for my move to Augusta. I wasn’t sure what this experience would hold for me, but I knew one thing: Despite how low I was feeling, I needed to give it at least a year, and I told Nate that. Within six months, I found a job I loved, and, within nine months, we purchased a home. Sometimes things are worth sticking around for and investing in, so keep your heart and mind open to change so you can see the beauty.

3. Deadheading is necessary if you want beautiful things to grow.

Deadheading is the removal of dead flower heads from a plant to encourage further blooming. When petunia blooms die, they become dried up and brown. If you leave these on the stem and don’t pinch them off, then the plant will look just like that – a plant – instead of flowers.

Just like with petunia blooms, sometimes relationships die, or we’re in the wrong ones. If you leave these in your life and don’t pinch them off, then they have a way of poisoning you and the rest of your life. I’ve learned the painful lesson that those who disrespect our boundaries have no place in our lives, and my ability to recognize when deadheading is needed and to take action has served me well. My heart and mind have room for life’s blooming blessings!


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I am what I choose to become

I stepped into a red and black “Spandex-y” thing and back in time, to 2003 – the last time I wore it, a swimsuit.

That year, I went out on a limb and joined my high school’s winning water polo team. I was at a place in my life where I was looking to reinvent myself and gain a sense of belonging to a group with a good reputation. As a then-non-athlete whose high school had a very strong athletics program, I chose to accomplish both by playing a high school sport. Water polo felt somewhat safe, because I swam in summer league as a kid.

Putting on this swimsuit again 13 years later as I prepared to swim laps for the first time in at least a decade conjured some memories and subsequent feelings…

One day at practice, the coach pulled me aside. I sensed something was up, but, guilt-ridden me thought that it was all about my skill or something else I did wrong.

Sidebar: Being guilt-ridden and paranoid was a coping mechanism that I acquired during my childhood to protect myself from the hostile environment in which I was raised. However, these negative thoughts are “mistaken beliefs,” which I’m working on in therapy, that no longer apply to my life.

But what the coach had to tell me had nothing to do with my shortcomings. Instead, it had everything to do with that of the adult who wrote the check for my booster club dues.

This check, which I recall being to the tune of a whopping $35, bounced.

I felt like even more of a misfit than I was already feeling, because, at the most basic level, all of my teammates’ parents paid for them to be there. I didn’t have even that going for me.

My father worked his tail off and made good money that supported a family of six, but another member of the family spent the money he brought home at a faster rate – even neglecting to pay the bills.

I thought to myself that I very easily could’ve covered the cost with the money I made as a hostess at a restaurant and babysitting – if it wasn’t stolen from me, of course, which was unfortunately a common occurrence – but I opted for never going back.

I quit.

This isn’t the first time that a check that this person wrote for one of my activities as a child bounced. I’ve always told people that I quit a 10-year figure skating run, something I was truly good at and passionate about, because I wanted to be an all-star cheerleader. I said that I quit cheerleading, because I wanted to be more involved with the musical productions. This was all just a cover up for bounced checks and disappointment.

I even felt uneasy when uniform orders rolled around, because I knew that it involved a purchase that either wasn’t possible for me or, even worse, would torment me with anxiety. While I could deal with not having what “everyone else” had, I knew that this was amplified in team situations where everyone had to be coordinated, and I couldn’t deal with having to explain to others why I wasn’t.

Healing begins

The embarrassment I felt was a burden too heavy and unfair for me to carry, but I didn’t know how to let this go until I was an adult out on my own and seeing a therapist to overcome trauma I faced in my childhood, which included all kinds of abuse. I started therapy in March 2010, just a few months after I met Nate, because I wanted to be healthy for my relationship with him. And knowing what was going on at home in Pennsylvania, just two hours north of where I was living then, was taking its toll on me.

A turning point in my therapy was when I walked in to my appointment one day, in 2011 or 2012, and saw the following written on a dry-erase board:

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”

My therapist wrote this specifically for me. It’s as if this quote gave me permission to no longer feel embarrassed by others’ bounced checks and other more traumatizing bruises from my childhood. And I believe it is this quote, my therapist at the time and the change I underwent that explain why I’m able to share about this today.

I recall feeling so much insecurity when I wore this swimsuit in 2003 – insecurity that I hadn’t earned my keep (to this day, I hate feeling indebted to people), that I wouldn’t have a ride to or from practice because that person’s car was repossessed, that I fit in with the rest of the team… and that I was enough. (And, sadly, this certainly wasn’t the most heartbreaking thing to happen that year; I’ll save that story for another time.)

Gaining stability and security

Putting on that swimsuit last week brought back painful memories but wasn’t a painful experience, because it was a reminder of where and who I am now. I live a more stable, secure and, therefore, enjoyable life than I ever thought possible, which I attribute to marrying an incredibly stable, loving man.

A defining moment in my relationship with Nate was when he asked me why I don’t like to shop like most girls do.

My answer: “Well, I’m [23/24?], live in the most expensive city in the United States and am making it on my own, so I don’t have a lot of extra money sitting around. I’d prefer that what little I do have be in the bank than in my closet.”

I was also paying for my master’s degree as I went along, in order to avoid incurring student-loan debt beyond what I had from undergrad, so I was making productive decisions that would pay off later. And they have.

Nate’s response: “I’m your security.”

Those are the three most powerful words I’ve ever heard come out of his mouth – maybe even more so than, “I love you”?

One of the things that I learned in therapy was the need to nurture my inner child. It’s imperative for those who dealt with childhood trauma do this – especially before they have children of their own so they don’t steal what they never got during their childhood from their children – thus continuing the cycle. “I’m your security” are words that I needed to hear as a child but didn’t, so I made it a point to allow the child version of myself to hear and believe it, and I tell her this often.

When people ask me, “How/when did you know that you were going to marry Nate,” I never know how to answer. But now I know. I realize now that it was this very moment, when we were driving down Henry Street through Old Town Alexandria, when Nate nullified all of my insecurities about trusting someone other than myself and when I knew that I deserved that.

Because I am not someone who bounces checks and would disappoint my children like that…

I am someone who spends (and saves) my money wisely, because it’s the responsible thing to do and because the needs of my marriage and future family are more important than my selfish desires.

I am not someone who feels entitled to things that I cannot have and, therefore, put my family’s financial wellbeing at risk…

I am someone who works hard and gets so much fulfillment out of contributing financially to my family.

And I am not what happened to me…

I am what I choose to become.

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Perspective in the ICU

An hour-and-a-half-long doctor appointment…

A bandage on the inside of my arm to remind me of the blood work I just had done…

An hour and 45 minutes away from my desk on a Monday…

These were the concerns I had at 11:30 a.m. today – until a cheerful man approached me.

He joked about whether or not it would be necessary to press the “up” arrow to call the elevator again after I did. And he complimented me on my outfit. His joy made me think:

“Maybe he’s a new grandfather.”

“Or maybe he just got some good news.”

I asked him how his day was going. He shared that his son was in the ICU after having sustained serious injuries from a car accident.

I’m always amazed by God’s good timing with giving me a little perspective.

Note: For the sake of confidentiality, I’m going to call the gentleman “Mr. Dad” and his son “Son.”

In the short elevator ride, I expressed my condolences and asked how Son was doing. Mr. Dad immediately asked me if I’d like to meet Son.

“I’d be honored,” I said.

He first led me into the floor’s commons room, where I was greeted by two beautiful blonde women – the boy’s girlfriend on the left and mother sitting next to her on the right – and an adorable yellow labrador service dog. In the midst of all they’re going through, they even offered me some water and freshly picked strawberries. This family’s positivity and strength was truly inspiring.

An air mattress in the corner and a supply of food that they could make in the kitchenette caught my eye. By the looks of it, they had been there for a while – two weeks to be precise.

Mr. Dad took me back to meet Son. I successfully fought back the tears after having seen this sweet boy – someone’s boyfriend, brother and son – hooked up and holding on. He showed me his school photo. Handsome boy. Very quickly, I learned a lot about Son. He’s a good student, skilled athlete, a giver and a fighter.

I could feel Mr. Dad’s love, pride and hope as he talked about Son and shared stories. They reminded me of my husband and his father.

When it came time to leave, I put my right hand on Son’s left, looked into his eyes and said to him:

“You’re in good hands here. Everything’s going to be OK.”

He nodded ever so slightly, signaling that he received my remarks.

I said it, because I firmly believe it.

As Mr. Dad and I walked out of the ICU, he shared about his current routine. He wakes up very early to go the YMCA, because, “I need to stay strong for [Son].” Then he’s back at the hospital in time for the doctors to cut off the pain medication at 6 a.m. in order to check responsiveness.

Mr. Dad led me back into the commons area, where I continued to visit with the family. I looked around at the room again and saw a team of amazing people rallying around this incredible boy.

But my eyes kept shooting back to the air mattress and food, because it represented two very special things: sacrifice and unconditional love.

What began as a typical elevator ride turned out to be the most touching experience in my career to date. I drove home from work today in silence, free from distractions. Instead, I reflected on how necessary it can be to put others’ concerns and needs ahead of my own. I got some perspective on my own challenges, as well as a restored sense of gratefulness.

I’m married to a man who would camp out in a waiting room and sleep on an air mattress for our future family and me and hold our hands through pain.

If you feel moved to do so, please donate to the family’s Go Fund Me page.

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Blooming where you are planted

It’s the first day of spring, and I’m reminded by one of my favorite sayings:

“Bloom where you are planted.”

I love this for the same reason that I love springtime. The saying gives hope that after the harsh cold, rain and darkness can come magnificent beauty. I’ve witnessed this during a couple different times in my life – most recently, when I moved to Augusta, Georgia, about two years ago.

I built this blog as I was preparing for the move and started writing just a few days after we got settled. Primarily, I sought to give others a glimpse into my lifestyle in order to inspire and help them to eat healthfully and exercise and, secondarily, to keep my family and friends updated along the way. Putting myself out there has also motivated me to hold myself accountable in my own wellness journey. I stress “wellness,” because I’m not just talking about physical health but also mental health.

The early days of this blog document my adjustment to life in Augusta. In one of my first posts, I shared 8 tips for kicking homesickness. I read this list today, about two years after reliving and writing about what I learned 10 years ago, when I went away to college, and it still holds true.

I typically don’t re-read the early blog posts, because I don’t particularly want to relive that difficult time. However, I felt inspired to do so for the purpose of writing this post, and, while it brought a little bit of pain, it showed me even more progress. Here’s where I am on each of my 8 tips for kicking homesickness:

  1. I’m fully unpacked!
  2. Not only did I stop calling D.C. “home” a long time ago, but I’ve also made a concerted effort to stop talking about it so much – not for anyone else but for myself. As time goes on, I identify less and less with D.C. and more and more with Augusta.
  3. Getting dressed and going out in public where people are – and especially finding a job that I enjoy that allows me to do this every weekday with people whom I enjoy – has done wonders for my adjustment.
  4. My life in Augusta oddly looks a lot like it did in D.C. During the week, I go to work and exercise and squeeze in whatever else I need to do. On Saturdays, I start my day at the gym, run errands, spend some time writing and go out to dinner with my husband and sometimes our friends. On Sundays, we grocery shop and finish chores around the house to prepare for the week.
  5. Since moving here, I’ve started running half marathons and have run four of them and am registered for my fifth one.
  6. Most importantly, I’ve made some fantastic friends and have kept close ties to friends from previous stages in life.
  7. This is the first time I’ve looked at the short, intermediate and long-term goals I set for myself, and, while I haven’t followed them intently, it’s cool to see the power of setting goals. We decided to settle in a different area of Augusta, which shows the need to be flexible in the event of a change of heart and change of plans.
  8. I’ve learned to find the most joy in the simplest things, like sipping strong coffee on a sunny Saturday morning, taking a hot bath after a long run and even going to bed before 10 p.m. with the laundry all folded and put away.

Nate and I woke up this morning to the end of a wonderful weekend on Hilton Head Island, S.C., visiting with two of our best friends from D.C. This made me “check in” with myself and ask how I was feeling about leaving two special people whom I relate to a part of my life that I’ve missed very deeply. See, for a while after the move, traveling was very hard, because, everywhere we went, I thought about how was used to go home, and worse, how close everything used to be. I remember leaving Nate’s parents’ house or my sister’s house in Virginia and desperately wishing we were driving just three hours north to return home.

While I felt sad for our visit to end, I felt even happier about everything I was returning to – a comfortable home and life that I love…

That’s when I know that I’m blooming where I was planted.

charm

How I learned that I can love unconditionally

Anna and Nate's Wedding by Ward Photography | www.wardpics.com

Today is my baby sister’s 21st birthday.

But I didn’t send a gift.

Or even a card.

Most of my posts are far more planned out. However, this one is different, as the inspiration behind it comes from a text message that I received just a few hours ago.

In fact, I had totally forgotten that I even sent my little sister, Gretchen, a text message last night, before I went to bed. I wanted her to have either a message from me in her inbox at the stroke of midnight or as soon as she woke up in the morning. I wanted her to know how incredibly special and loved she is.

This was the first exchange we’ve had in months. Not because we’re mad at each other – or at least not because I’m mad at her. Our fallout ultimately stems from the decision I made June 3, 2014, to sever the ties with a few toxic family members, with which she obviously disagrees.

After months of missing her from my life but feeling oddly at peace, that’s when it hit me:

This is what unconditional love feels like.

I’ve always struggled with the concept of unconditional love, because I wasn’t shown this starting at a young age. It’s hard to feel or behave a certain way when you haven’t watched something first. As becoming a mother someday is something that is in the distance but on the horizon, this has always been a troubling feeling.

“Will I love my children unconditionally?”

And then I remember the sacrifices I happily made for Gretchen, when our parents separated and we lived with our mother.

I’m the one who dropped out of the after-school activities I enjoyed so there would be someone to pick her up and walk her home from the bus stop after school…who fed her an after-school snack…who helped her with her homework when I had homework of my own (I had just started high school)…who made her dinner…bathed her…read to her…and tucked her in – all while our mother was out having her mid-life crisis.

And I enjoyed every minute and would do that all over again for her – not if I had to…but if I could. It was this experience that brought us closer, because we suffered through some very difficult times together.

Gretchen and I have been inseparable since she was born. Through the shuffling around of our two other siblings, her and me as a result of our parents’ nasty divorce, we stayed together. We always found a way to do that.

That’s why I’m patient and believe that we’ll be reunited again someday.

Unconditional love is having faith and hope that people will come around.

Unconditional love is being disappointed, sad and even angry but allowing love to overcome those feelings.

Anna and Nate's Wedding by Ward Photography | www.wardpics.com

But unconditional love is not allowing people to hurt and walk all over you. If there’s one thing that therapy has taught me, it’s that you can feel all of the things above while keeping your boundaries. And that’s what I plan to do.

charm