Dear Younger Me,

Dear Younger Me,

I’ve been toying with this post in my head for a while now. Today, July 17th 2017, marks 11 years since we were told that my wonderful mom was not going to make it. Eleven years ago tomorrow, we said goodbye to my mom. July of 2006, I must say, was the worst month of my life so far.

So a few months ago, I heard this song on the radio called “Dear Younger Me” by MercyMe. In the song, the singer is writing a letter to his younger self. In this letter, he’s torn because he loves his life how it is now, but wishes that things could’ve gone smoother to get him to where he is today.

So I started thinking. If I, at my age right now, could write a letter to my 18, almost 19 year old self, during this anniversary of my mom’s death, what would I say to me? What advice would I give the devastated girl who was just told that her mom wasn’t really there anymore? The girl that would end up on the brink of depression and end up being a hypochondriac for years? So that’s what I’m going to do with this post today. I’m going to write 18 year old Rachel a letter. So…here goes nothing.

 

Dear Rachel (age 18),

I know exactly what you are going through at this moment. You don’t know what to think or do and believe me, this is going to go down as one of the worst days of your life. And tomorrow won’t be any better. In fact, it will be worse. Because tomorrow, you are saying goodbye to the woman that not only gave birth to you, but has been your biggest fan since day one. Tomorrow, you will say goodbye to mom. I know, because I’ve been there. You see, I’m you…just 11 years in the future. And yes, that means that you do survive this, somehow.

A piece of you died the second you heard that your mom wasn’t going to make it, I know that. And guess what, that hole will always linger. Even now, there are days when you can’t stop thinking about her and how unfair it is that she is gone. She was only 63, way too young to die. She had so much life ahead of her, and you have so many things in your life to look forward to, that she is going to miss. There will be nights you will just bawl because something big is happening and all you want is to have her here to share the experience with. You’re going to be angry at times, wondering why she had to go.

I know you’re hurting. Even this far removed, the emotions of July 17th, 2006 are very fresh in my memory. It’s frustrating because a part of you wanted to stay optimistic and hope that she could pull through, but the realist part of you knew it was going to be a long shot. Especially when she started having set backs. Plus, you’re so young, you didn’t want to even imagine this as a possibility. I know. I get it. And when they call the house tomorrow to let you, Matt, Mike and Amber know that she has passed, you’ll be inconsolable. Thankfully Matt is next to you to answer the phone and to give you a hug to try to comfort you.

And you have some amazing friends that are willing to drop everything they are doing to come and console you too. Even though most of them will drift apart from you in the years to come, they were exactly who you needed near you at this moment in time. Lean on them. They love you and some of them are pretty upset about mom dying too. Give an extra hug to Ryan. He will need it and you in the years ahead.

I know that it may sound easy for me to tell you all this. And honestly, 11 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear any of this. But I wanted to write you to give you some hope, and advice, for this now uncertain future.

  1. Lean on God and his word. Pray. Pray hard. Your faith is going to help you way more than you realize. Remember that God knows what He’s doing, whether we understand it or not. And we probably won’t know why He takes mom on this side of Heaven. But also remember that your mom knew where she was heading after she died. She’s going to be up in Heaven, greeted by all the ones who have gone before, and she’ll be watching you. I have no doubt in my mind that mom watches out for all of us. She has the best seat in the house, after all.
  2. Lean on your family. They know better than anyone else what you are going through, because they’re going through it with you. Some of you will handle this better than others and that’s why you have to all stick together. Be there when someone wants to talk. Spend more time together. You will never regret it. And guess what. You and dad are going to become much closer, and you will love that. He needs you guys now more than ever.
  3. Lean on your friends. Yes, I know I said some of them won’t end up sticking around for the long haul, but some of the do. And even the ones that don’t, love you very much in this current season of your lives. It doesn’t matter that some of them won’t be close with you in the future. What matters is the here and now. You have amazing friends right now and they will take care of you.
  4. Know that this first year is going to be hard. Every first holiday without her is going to suck. There’s no other way to put it. All the memories and traditions she would partake in, they won’t be the same. It’s hard. But with every new holiday, a new normal sets in. Every holiday will get easier as times goes on, but the void will always be there. But the holidays won’t always be bittersweet. They will become happier again, I promise.
  5. Every new milestone is going to hurt more and more. Especially since you’re the youngest in the family. It will hurt when you graduate college (and thanks to dad, you will graduate college). It will hurt when you get your first teaching job. It will definitely hurt when you get married and even more so when you have your first baby. You will feel like you’ve been cheated. Even today, I feel that way. Sadly, life isn’t always fair. You’re allowed to be angry and you’re allowed to be upset and to feel cheated. Eighteen years isn’t nearly enough time with mom. But try your best to stay strong. Your family needs you to stay strong too.
  6. Know that your life is turning out really great. As I get ready to turn 30 in just over three weeks, I can safely say that things in our life haven’t always turned out the way I expected them to. But I do believe that things in our life have turned out the way they were supposed to. And just know, you are so happy with your life. At almost 30, you have a wonderful husband, and a beautiful 17 month old girl (named after mom and your husband’s mom, who also passed away). You and our siblings are still extremely close and you and dad are partners in crime. Your best friends are beyond amazing and love you like crazy. And even though mom isn’t here to witness all the amazing times, I do believe that she is watching you. She’ll see all the crazy stuff you do and she’ll probably get a kick out of it. You will always have the memories of mom and a lot of great stories to remember her by. And guess what, she wouldn’t want you upset all the time. You will fight this a little bit, almost being diagnosed with depression. As sad as tomorrow will be for you, you have such an amazing future ahead. And guess what? Mom is going to be watching from the best seat in the house.

Keep your head up. Know that mom loves you so much. And live a life to make her proud. Stay strong in your faith and know that tomorrow isn’t “good-bye” forever. It’s just a really long “see you later”.

You’re stronger than you realize. And you will get through this.

Sincerely,

Rachel (age 29)

Dear Best Friends,

Dear Best Friends,

How would you define a “best friend”?

Me, Kenneth and Maddie, Christmas 2016

The dictionary defines “friend” as “one attached to another by affection or esteem” and defines “best” as “excelling all others”. I can safely say that in my lifetime, I have had many people fill this definition.

Me, Brittany and Jenny, December 3rd, 2016

To me, a best friend is someone that loves you no matter what. They know the real you and embrace it. They may not agree with everything you say, do or believe, but that doesn’t change the way they feel about you. A best friend is there with you to celebrate the good times, but also there for you when your life is falling apart. They stick up for you when others are bad-mouthing you.

Me and Christa, 2007

And I don’t believe that we choose our friends at all. I believe that God picks them for our lives. He places people in the right place at the right time in your life and that person helps you grow into who you are supposed to be. Sometimes those friends are only around a short while before God moves them on into a new chapter of their lives, leaving yours in the process. As sad as that can be, it’s all necessary for you to grow. Sometimes God keeps those people in your life because He knows how much you need that person. He picks people to put in seasons of your life to make you who you are today. I believe that with every heartbreak in my life, God had just the right people by my side to help me get over it and become stronger. I firmly believe that God had just the right people in my life to help me when I lost my mom. Those friends dropped everything they were doing to be there for me when they knew I needed them the most. I can safely say I haven’t needed my friends as much as I needed them those days but I know if I did need them, my current friends (some of which are the same from back then) would drop everything if they could and be there for me.

Me and Sherri, Senior Year Prom 2005

I believe God allowed some of my friends to come in and out of my life. Maybe we weren’t in the right place to be friends at that moment, but eventually our paths crossed again. I also believe that God has made sure that even if we don’t all live here in my hometown, that whenever we do get to see each other, it would be like no time has passed. Our lives move on with or without each other around all the time to make cameos. Most of us have gotten married and some of us have already started families of our own. We have jobs, and lives that don’t always center around each other anymore.

Me and Shelby, 2007

But none of that matters. With every new wedding, or new baby, it’s just adding to our huge group, or family. My daughter has tons of “aunts” and “uncles” that love her so much and Maddie will grow up with my friends’ kids and in ways, it’ll feel like everything has come full circle.

Me and Jimmy, 2016

So to my friends at the end of this National Best Friend Day, I say, thank you! Thank you for loving me. Thank you for always being by my side. Thank you for always having my back. Thank you for sticking up for me (even if that meant slapping someone for me). Thank you for dropping everything when my world was falling apart after mom died. Thank you for dealing with my crazy. Thank you for making my heart so much fuller. Thank you for allowing me to be in chapters of your lives and thank you for being in so many chapters of mine. I honestly cannot wait to see what God has in store for all of us, for all of my friends. Whether in the past, present or future, I’m very thankful that I can call you a best friend.

Samantha and I, 2009

We’ve gone through school together, traveled together, laughed together, cried together. We’ve been there when we’ve needed each other. We’ve been in each others’ weddings, held each others’ babies, and welcomed new significant others into our group with open arms. We’ve celebrated together and we’ve cried together. And we will continue to do so.

Me and Amber, Backstreet Boys Concert 2014

Thank you, God, for my best friends – past, present and future. Thank you for putting them in my life to help me grow and become who I am today. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Alicia, Me, Claire and Jenny – Claire’s wedding – 2016
Me and Amanda, her wedding – 2010
Jenna and I – 2009

What She Needs to See From Me.

What She Needs to See From Me.

I noticed it one day. 

My husband and I were in our bathroom brushing our teeth. Maddie was watching us. No big deal, right? Well, she found her toothbrush and started imitating us. She saw he doing it and did exactly what we did. And she had just turned a year old.

In that moment, I realized that everything I do, she’s watching. Every move I make, every step I take, she sees all of it. She sees how I react to things, what I eat, what I drink. She is literally with me 24/7. I’m the one she looks to when she is trying to figure out how to respond. No pressure, right?

As thrilled as I am that she likes to brush her teeth like us, there are other aspects of my life that I need her to see, and see me at my best. 

  1. I need her to see me pray. I’ll admit, I don’t pray as much as I should and I typically don’t pray out loud. But it’s so important for her to see that I pray to God and that praying is part of that relationship with God. I also want her to know that I believe prayer can change things, and if she doesn’t see me pray, it’ll be hard for me to get her to understand the importance.
  2. I need her to see me reading my Bible. Again, something I don’t do nearly enough. But I want her to know that the Bible is what God gave us as a type of instruction manual to get us through life here on earth. Answers to questions she may have in life, she can find in God’s word. I want her to see me read my Bible. I want her to find it normal to just pick up her Bible and read it whenever she wants, like any other book.
  3. I need her to see me be a Godly wife to her father. A lot of the way I act as a wife and mother, I got from my mom. I saw how she treated my dad and how she was with us kids and that’s how I act. I need her to see me respect her father and to even show affection to her father. She doesn’t need to see me be petty or irrational toward him, which I know I am prone to doing. We need to show her how we pray as a family, how we respect each other, and how we love each other.
  4. I need her to see me be brave. I’m a wimp. I’ll be the first to admit that. I’m terrfied of heights, spiders, thunderstorms and clowns to name just a few. But if she sees me scared, she’ll be scared too. Even if I have to put on an Emmy award winning performance, I need her to see me as brave and confident. That was, she is more brave and if she is afraid of something, she knows that she can come to me and I will take care of it.
  5. I need her to see me work on myself. I’ve never been comfortable with my body and there are more times than not that I’m downing myself one way or another. But because of that, I need to try to better myself every day and let her see that. I don’t want her to have an out of shape mom. I want to be healthy for her and I want her to see me do it. I need to eat healthier, let her try what I eat. I don’t want her to be afraid to try new foods. That goes back to the last point.
  6. I need her to see me be me. No apologies, no excuses. I want her to know that God made her the way she is and that other people and their opinions of her don’t matter. I fought this my whole life, always worried about what people thought about me and how I looked. As you get older, you realize that those same people had a rough way to go and decided to pick on someone else because of their own unhappiness. I don’t want her to even apologize for being Maddie. She is beautiful, funny, sensitive, sweet and smart as can be. I hope she always knows that. I hope I can always show her that.
  7. I need her to see me strive to be like Jesus Christ. Big shoes to fill, right? And I will continue to fall short, but I can try my hardest to treat people like Jesus would. Bring the phrase “what would Jesus do” to life.

Ten Songs for When You Need Encouragement

Ten Songs for When You Need Encouragement

Every once in a while, for one reason or another, you need some encouragement. It could be because of stress, or maybe relationship issues, or a bad diagnosis from a doctor. There are thousands of reasons why you could be feeling discouraged and depressed. I don’t know about all of you, but music is big for me. I listen to music based on my mood. So when I need some extra encouragement, I go to my iPod. Here’s my ten songs that you need to be listening to if you’re feeling down:

  1. “Oh My Soul” by Casting Crowns. Honestly, I can’t have a list without at least one, if not more, Casting Crown songs. They are easily my favorite Christian group out there. I’ve seen them live twice and enjoyed them every time. This song is off their latest album called The Very Next Thing. This song is perfect for someone that is going through a trial in their life. There’s a line that says, “There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know.” What’s better than remembering that even though we go through the fire, that we are not alone and God is always with us?
  2. “Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns. Yes, I know, I already used one song by them. But this song has a special place in my heart. This song came out just around the time my mom passed away. I was obsessed with this song. If, for some reason, you’ve never heard this song (if you’ve lived under a rock), go download it now (it’s on the album Lifesong). My favorite line in this song is:  “And every tear I’ve cried, You hold in Your hand. You’ve never left my side, and though my heart is torn, I will praise You in this storm.” This is something I definitely needed to hear after losing my mom.
  3. “Even If” by MercyMe. This song is brand new and it’s going to be on their new CD called “Lifer” when it comes out on March 31st. I’ve been listening to this song constantly lately. The song is about someone who is going through a rough time and knows that God can just take care of it. But even if God doesn’t take it from him, he will still have faith and trust God. God answers prayers in three ways: Yes, No, and Wait. Even if we pray, God may not answer that prayer the way we want him to. The chorus to this song says, “I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t, my hope is You alone.” It takes great faith to be able to go through a trial and know that it’s all in God’s plan, and to accept that.
  4. “Eye of the Storm” by Ryan Stevenson featuring GabeReal. This song is one that I’ve just recently bought and I love the message behind it. It’s saying that no matter what storm you’re going through, God is right there with you and He’s in control of the situation. My favorite line is: “And when the tears of pain and heartache are falling down my face, I find my peace in Jesus’ name”. I completely believe that it’s my faith in Jesus that has gotten me through some of my hardest times.
  5. “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey. Now, I loved Danny Gokey on American Idol and I was really rooting for him to win during that season. But I’m so glad that he broken into Christian music. He has definitely gone through heartache in his life, most notably the loss of his wife not long before trying out for American Idol. This song is all about moving on with life after a tragedy. My favorite line is: “Let every heartbreak and every scar, be a picture that reminds you who has carried you this far.” It’s all about starting over and new beginnings, with God there to help you along. Such a great message!
  6. “Priceless” by for King & Country. This song is a different type of message. The other songs are more about pain and tragedy, whereas this one is talking about feeling like you are unimportant. This song mentions right away that the mirror on the wall tells lies by pointing out your flaws. We are definitely our worst critic, or at least I know I am. I’m the first in line to find something wrong with me, and I have a very hard time taking any compliment. This song is a great reminder of how we are priceless in God’s eyes. He made us the way we are for a purpose.
  7. “Even If” by Kutless. Yes, I already have one song on here with that name, but this is different. It definitely has a similar message though to the MercyMe song. Just as the first song, it’s about trusting and having faith in God, even if we don’t understand the trials we are going through. I will never know why God decided it was time to take my mom to Heaven back in 2006, not this side of Heaven anyway. But I know God is good and faithful. My favorite line reminds me of that: “You are God, You are good, forever faithful one, even if the healing, even if the healing doesn’t come.
  8. “Mountain of God” by Third Day. Okay, I’m going to be honest here. I am not a fan of Third Day. I don’t know what it is about Mac Powell’s voice, but it annoys me. Now, that being said, I absolutely love this song. It talks about how the journey is long and sometimes it’s hard, but sometimes you have to go through the valley to stand upon the mountain of God. This song has a very inspiring message to it. Like so many of the other songs, it reminds you that God is always there with you.
  9. “It’s Not Over Yet” by for King & Country. Yup, another song by for King & Country. My husband actually heard this song before me and he loved it. It’s about someone who is just feeling completely defeated. The whole song, they sing about how even if you feel like you’ve been defeated or that you’ve hit your limit, it’s not over yet and you can get out of it. The main theme: NEVER GIVE UP.
  10. “Overcomer” by Mandisa. I just realized that I was lacking any female artist on this list (oops!). So I end the list with this awesome song by Mandisa, another American Idol alum. I’ve seen her live once or twice and she’s got an outstanding voice. This song just screams encouragement. It says in the song, “You’re not going under, cause God is holding you right now. You might be down for a moment, feeling like it’s hopeless, that’s when He reminds you that you’re an overcomer.” No matter what you’re going through, no matter how horrible life may be, you can overcome your situation and becoming stronger from it. And again, it reminds you that God is with you. What better encouragement that knowing that God is on your side!

Any other songs you’d add to the list??? Comment and let me know!!!