Enjoy the Ride

“Oh this too shall pass. This loneliness won’t last for long.
I wasn’t there to take his place; I was ten thousand miles away.
So when you hear my voice, and when you say my name, may it never give you pain.”
– Gale Song, The Lumineers

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I started this post a week after my baby cousin died and it’s taken me until now to finish it. Partially because I still can’t believe it all to be true, and partially because there are no words to convey all the feelings I have over the span of one day, let alone 6 months. However, I knew I wanted it to be done in time for his birthday, so here’s my best shot.

Over these past 6 months, my family has gone through what none should. Our Zachary was killed while riding his motorcycle in his hometown of Cave Creek, Arizona. My family lost a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, a grandson, and a best friend…it’s an indescribable emptiness that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

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I go back to that night so many times. Getting the news the following morning instantly shattered me, as it did every member of my family. Anyone who knows me knows that my cousins are my siblings; there is no difference between the two in my mind. Losing one of my cousins is like losing a limb. I have very little recollection of the moment I found out he was gone, but I know I sobbed…and screamed…and tried to figure out how this could happen to my baby cousin, to our family. An unfathomable pain swept across my heart and as much as we know that time heals all wounds, our family will never be the same. He is irreplaceable.

Zachary would have been twenty-three today. My heart aches to know he won’t see twenty-three…or twenty-five, or fifty, or ninety, but I know that, in those moments of sadness, God stills my mind. He reminds me of His plan and the fact that we’ll all be together one day. People that know me, know that I am a planner; I get excited about putting events and parties together and being with friends and family, no matter what the occasion. I see this reunion as the ultimate “party.” We will all be happier than we could ever imagine because we will be together again in God’s kingdom and I honestly cannot wait for that day. To hug you again and to see your sweet smile and hear your hearty laugh…that’s all I could ask for.

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I have seen things since we lost our Zachary that have really changed my outlook on this entire situation. Something that I heard a lot was acknowledgment of how tight-knit my family is. While this was absolutely true before April 20th, this tragedy has allowed me to see my family come together in a way I honestly didn’t know was even possible. We cried a lot, we laughed, we held each other up. We spoke when words were needed and sat in silence when they were not. And we hugged…we really hugged. For the first time in our lives, we knew what it felt like to wake up one day and have our entire world be broken. We made sure that each other was okay before ourselves. There was a selflessness between every one of us that gave me such a sense of security…we were going to get through this together. We saw friends and family from around the country, and around the world, fly to Arizona to be together, donate money, or send their words of encouragement. It’s easy to remember the anger and negativity surrounding this horrible tragedy, but it takes courage and strength to find a positive in it and I found my “positive” in my family.

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During these 6 months, my faith has been tested. The devil tempted me time and time again to blame God. “How could He let this happen? If He was a true God, these horrible things wouldn’t happen.” In those moments, I am reminded that God’s plan is bigger than anything I can comprehend. As much as it hurts, the tears that I cry are because I miss him and I wish this painful experience didn’t happen, but not because I don’t believe that he’s in a better place. I admit there are times where I slip into a dark place and these questions taunt me, but I am lucky to have found our church, Fearless L.A., to remind me of that peace that God offers us every single day.

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If I have learned anything from losing Zachary, it’s simply that I will live more freely, I will love more deeply and I will become more like him. Zachary lived a simple life with a motto that was essentially “Do What Makes You Happy.” In February, he posted an Instagram of his motorcycle in the sunset with the quote “Enjoy the view you’re given.” That seems so easy, but how many times a day do we take our “view” for granted? Or just say “yes” to things we really don’t want to do? Or brush off the simple every day things…our health, our family, our friends, a roof over our head, our jobs…? Or pass up an opportunity because we think we’re too busy? Or worry more about material things and less about the people we spend our time with? Zach really understood that the biggest things in life are your friends and family and just having a beer or two at a “beer-cade” bar in Chicago and grabbing a pizza at Lou’s is best way to hang out. During this time, I have learned really evaluate what I care about and what is important to me and hold on to it…and hold on tight.

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Z – We’ve heard time and time again that you lived your life to the fullest. You never took a day, or a moment, for granted. I can’t give you a physical birthday present this year, but I can make you a promise to continue my life with your mindset…to not pass up an opportunity that comes my way and not be afraid to fail. To try for that promotion, to say “yes” to grabbing a drink with a new friend, to wake up early and look at the sunrise every once in a while, to thank God for everything He’s blessed me with in this life, to live every single second like the next isn’t promised and to face life head-on in all its excitement, hardships and quiet moments. Thank you for teaching me the importance of those things.

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”

Happy first heavenly birthday, my angel. I’ll be missing you and I’ll see you soon, but until then, You’ll Be In My Heart…

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Thankful

I’ve been trying to think of a way to get back into blogging. Honestly, I just miss it. But finding something to write about, especially as a comeback post, isn’t always easy. Then I realized that writing why I am thankful would not only be appropriate for today, but also remind me to be extra grateful for those things…so here it is!

1. I am thankful for my health. I am thankful to be here after having some bumps in my “health road.” I am thankful for the way I was born and for the doctors that have ensured my safety in any situation since then.

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2. I am thankful for my family. My best friends in the world. My support system. I am so thankful for you. My parents, you have given me the world and shown me how to be the best person I can be. Even if you are far away now, I still feel your love. I am so thankful for my cousins, my papa and grandparents. I am thankful for my surrogate mom. I am thankful for my mom’s family for never making me feel like I didn’t belong. I am thankful for my guardian angels that have gone before me. I am thankful for my puppy, Khoya, and my friends who have become more like family.

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3. I am thankful for music. I am so in love with so many songs and the feelings that just one song can give you. I am so thankful to be able to hear the beautiful sounds created in our world. So many times in my life have had music in the center of them, whether it’s a concert, music playing while I’m getting ready with my friends or on while I’m driving in the car with Matt or sending a song to the people I love when it reminds me of them. These times make me especially grateful today.

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4. I am thankful for seasons. I hate the cold, as most people know, but the cold brings back my favorite season, spring. The cold reminds me how lovely the warmer months are. The warm months are ones of rebirth and change. Every year something new comes and reminds us how lucky we are to be alive. This makes me so grateful.

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Even just writing these things makes me smile. Seeing how many little things and people there are that make my world better every day and for those, I am truly thankful.

– Al

Say Yes and Figure It Out Afterwards.

Freaking out, but it’s official. I’m staying in Champaign for one more year…!

As I read over my post from October, “I’m So Anxious,” I realize I was just so angry and so shut off. I was needing to prove people wrong and show them that my decision to live my life my way was the best choice for me. Graduating early was the only thing I wanted to do because it was the only thing I had control over at the time. I have recently looked back on that period of my life and how much I have changed and grown since then and I’m honestly astonished. I never thought I could/would come this far.

I know everyone’s original question probably still remains: “What drove the decision to graduate early..?” I guess I could blame it on being “free spirited,” as my mom calls me, and my willingness to go against the social norm. I could say it has everything to do with the incredibly challenging first semester I had this year that went horribly wrong when I was so sick.  Along with that came the complications from my illness that left me with debilitating headaches, and severe anxiety and depression, so when my advisor said I could graduate early by just taking 21 credits (basically, one extra class) for my last semester I was like “ABSOLUTELY, get me out of here”…I was so ready to leave.  So ready to get out that graduating early was the only decision I would even consider at that time and I didn’t want anyone challenging me otherwise.

Maybe it was because I was the lucky one, the one with the amazing Public Relations summer internship that would turn into a full time opportunity after graduation. I was the one that was offered several other sales opportunities with really good sports teams and other companies. I was the one with the amazing support system that would be there after graduation. Everyone told me how lucky I was, so why not graduate, I mean, they wanted me and everyone told me they were amazing chances that I would be losing or passing up if I didn’t take them. I had a taste of the working world last summer and I LOVED it, I wanted to be in that environment and I thought I was ready to be every day.

I don’t really know all the reasons, all I know is that I just wanted to do it. More than anything.

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All of those reasons aside, I’m admitting it. 100%. I. Was. Wrong. I thought I was ready for the real world. I thought I knew what I wanted out of life and who would be there. I thought that if I graduated early, I would know exactly what I wanted because..well, because I was supposed to. But guess what, t-minus 1 month until graduation and I still have no idea.

Someone told me I have a “wild spirit” once; that I don’t like to be held down. Maybe this is why I don’t know what I want. I can’t decide on just one thing. Graduate. Work. Done. Ummm…no. I want to do everything. I want to live everywhere and experience everything and I know that I can’t do that quite yet. So one more year to decide couldn’t hurt, could it?

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Bottom line, I’m not ready to give up my life here. I’ve made such an astonishingly, spontaneously thrilling life in college and I’m just not ready to let it go. Staying in Champaign will let me experience college on an entirely different level. I’m getting to live with my best friends and spend another year with the people I love to be around. I get to graduate with some of them and experience our lasts together. I get to be an Alpha Phi for another year, work at the salon, blog for Panhellenic for Alpha Phi. This is what I want out of college..not to leave and have a life of regrets and what ifs. Everyone can make their own assumptions of why I’m staying now, but these are my reasons written out in black and white for everyone to see.

Also, my parents just found out that they are moving to Florida. Amazing, I know. So why would I leave here to go home to have my family leave? Or go with them with no job or any idea of what to do? None of what my plans were seem to be making as much sense as my idea to stay here, so I’ve made my decision…Champaign wins for one more year.

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Lastly, To My Friends and My Family: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for shutting you out, not listening and rebelling against you when you were just trying to help. I wish that I would have listened to your advice earlier, but I hear you loud and clear now and thank God it’s not too late. I can’t wait for another year with some of you and for the rest of you to come visit! Love you all, AAFNMW.

Al

She Designed a Life She Loved.

“What good is livin’ the life you’ve been given if all you do is stand in one place?”
– Lord Huron

The only word I have in my head right now is bliss. Sheer bliss.  I am receiving the amazing opportunity to travel throughout this incredible world with my best friend, sister, soulmate, my rock, my cousin, Kendra. I am the luckiest girl.

292878_10150286292526173_525871172_8126293_1900853_nIf you know me at all, you know this is something I have been waiting to do forever. I decided not to study abroad in college because I know I am just too free-spirited to be in a new country with new people… new everything, but then have to go to class or follow a schedule of where to be and when. I mean a schedule of countries, sure, but something didn’t feel right about studying abroad. So, I passed that chance up multiple times, decided on graduating early and using that money to travel through Europe and I can now officially say that huge risk paid off and I am over-the-moon ecstatic about it.

We booked these cities/regions:
Athens
Mykonos
Pompeii
Rome
Florence
Venice
Tyrol Region
Munich
Prague
Nuremberg
Heidelberg
Amsterdam
Bruges
Paris
The French Riviera
Barcelona
*Of course, if you have any suggestions for any of these places,
things to do, restaurants, beaches, etc., please let me know!

I have to say how blessed I feel right now. I have the greatest parents to be sending me on a trip like this, the most fantastic family to support us on our journey, the most amazing best friend & cousin to be coming with me and sharing this experience with me and the most perfect God and guardian angel, gramma, to guide us on the trip of a lifetime. I said it once, but I’ll say it again, I really am the luckiest girl in the world. I cannot wait to leave, but planning the details of this trip is going to be so much fun, too, so I’m just going to enjoy this time and take in every moment leading up to it. I know I’m going to want this time back one day.

IMG_9205As it unfolds, there will be plenty more posts. We leave June 30th, (right after my 21st birthday in Vegas…can this be any better?!) so we’ve still got some time, but a trip like this could never have enough excitement and the words in this post cannot convey how absolutely, exceptionally elated I am.

I love you, Kenners. Thank you for being my person and my best friend every single day, for being you. I cannot wait to share this amazing journey with you & experience all that this world has to offer together. Here’s to laughing until we cry, to trying new things in new places with new people and to the memories we’ll make that will last a lifetime! aafnmw.

My viaggi futuri Pinterest board can now be my viaggi presto board. Love it.

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Al

Great Minds Discuss Ideas, Small Minds Discuss People.

I think I realized something this weekend and I feel like it’s important enough to talk about here.

People are ALWAYS going to talk. They’re going to say hurtful, rude things just to make themselves feel better about their lives, when in reality, if they’re having to talk about you in the first place, clearly their lives are so miserable that they have nothing better to do. The thing I realized, and I’ve actually been able to fully embrace, is that no matter what they say, as long as you believe in yourself,  you’re better than them. You’re already ten steps ahead.

There’s a saying that goes, “Pay no mind to those who talk behind your back, it simply means you are two steps ahead.” How. True. If someone has to talk about you and the things you do and even judge you based on them, you’re obviously doing something right. If you were just a boring person, they’d have nothing to talk about at all.

The thing I want to always remind myself in times like this is that there are no way for me to stop people from talking. I can’t control what people say or do. Butcan control how I react towards these people or how I let their words affect me. I have really always been a wall…I never let the negative things people say get to me that much, if at all. But, I’m a human. So of course, sometimes it’ll get to me. Just remembering the fact that they’re talking about me for a reason alone makes me feel much better.

I have always talked up my “support system,” but times like this make me realize how great they really, truly are. My family, kerm, my roommates and my friends at school are purely God sent. People talking about you don’t know what you’re going through in your life, they probably don’t even care and spew hateful words. But the people in your corner are there to back you up, no matter what. They know what is really going on and they know the real you. Keep these people forever and cherish them for the amazing beings that they are.

At the end of the day, you begin to feel bad for these people. They have nothing else to do except talk about you and look deeper into your life to find things to use against you. Pray for these people. Pray that they find happiness in their life and in their soul that they are seeking by attempting, and failing, to bring yours down. Keep your head up and pay no mind to those who abuse the privilege to be a part of your extraordinary story.

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Al

…Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away.

Whenever I hear this, I think of you. (This was the song that she sent me last night that I talked about on my status. I’m still in shock. I am so lucky.)

And I have absolutely no way to describe the feeling that I have right now knowing that you’ve been gone for three years. Three. Years. When I say it like that, it doesn’t seem too long. I mean, hell, college has gone by quicker than I can even fathom. But when I look back on how much has happened in three years, it’s an eternity. How much I’ve had to go through in my life without you being here with me. You would be so proud of all your babies here. I have to say, you raised the greatest three girls in the whole world. Auntie Gina is the most caring and genuine person I think I’ve ever met. To have her as my aunt is truly an inspiration and I’m so honored and lucky to have someone so strong to look up to. Auntie Mona is, to this day, someone I can go to in any given situation, no matter what. She’s such a good friend and an even better aunt. She gives the greatest advice and knows exactly how to make your day when you need it. I’m so happy for her that she’s found Quinn and I have a pretty good feeling you were behind that, so I’m sure she’s so thankful to you. And then there’s my mom. I know that she and you had a very unique relationship and I know that because so do she and I. As I’m getting older now and starting to look back on my past 20 years on the planet and I realize that these are the last times I’ll have with her before I graduate and start  my life, I’m starting to realize how great she really is. Not many people can say they have a best friend in their mom, but I really do. I haven’t been the perfect daughter by any means, but she looks past my flaws and mistakes and loves me like you did and that alone makes me the luckiest girl in the world. She cares about me more than just a “motherly instinct,” but as a best friend and as someone who, I genuinely know, won’t give up on me and will always have my back. She is the perfect mom and I have you to thank for that because I know you were so perfect, too. Us grandbabies ain’t so bad either. Zach’s in college in Mesa and as bad-ass as ever. Garrett is killin’ it in high school and is driving now! I still have my voicemail on our phone of you wishing me good luck on my first day of driving. I’ll have to send that to him now. Emma is just the greatest little human in the entire world. She’s so thoughtful and sweet and precious and perfect. Sam and Kendra came this summer for the weekend and I’m so beyond happy I got to spend time with them. I know you were there, too. I’m so incredibly blessed to have those two in my life because they, along with Z, G and Emma, are some of my best friends and I’m so lucky that they’re my family. You left a phenomenal legacy here in your family and I will never be able to thank you enough for giving me this never-failing support system.

I can still see us six standing over you on that last day and Sam telling us how lucky we are to have had the experiences and the beautiful, perfect moments that we had with you. Who else in the world could say that they had a best friend in someone who was 70 years older than they are? No one, but I can. Your advice and your guidance gets me through even my toughest days here and that’s something that I will never be able to replace.

I still cry every time I Love You, Baby comes on or I see old pictures of us. I found some old cards from you telling me how much you love me, your “sunshine,” but what you don’t realize is you were mine, too. You still are. You made my life so bright and so warm and my childhood would never have been even a fraction of as perfect as it was if you weren’t a part of it. The problem is, now, my sunshine is gone. Please don’t take my sunshine away. That line always made me cry when I was little because I couldn’t imagine my sunshine being taken away, but three years ago, it was and, now, I’m starting to realize that I’m not sure how to go on without it. I’ve never felt more loved than I did with you. I never had more fun watching a LifeTime movie or going to the “beauty shop” or laying in bed and talking about what the perfect life would be like. I’ve never seen someone more beautiful. I’ve never seen more happiness or love than with you and papa. I’m so lucky to have been able to witness those things because I know now what sheer bliss is because of you.

I just realized I’m writing this like a letter to you. Like, I’m hoping you’re reading it or hearing it in my head or something. I know you and I still have our little ways of communicating, but I want you to actually know all of this. I am so lucky to have had seventeen exquisite years with you and those will be something I cherish for the rest of my life. Every day you are on my mind. I know you’ll continue to stay there and you’ll be there for every milestone that I have from here on out. I know that there are going to be thunderstorms that hide my sunshine and some days will feel worse than others, but I promise you that at the end of those and even during their darkest points, I will still seek my sunshine. I will always look for you in my toughest moments and seek  your wisdom, whether that be through your words you left me with, the people you left behind here or just simply seeking you by myself in my soul.

“I love you more than the words of this letter can convey and more than you or I could even fathom.” I wrote that to you in our book and you best believe I still mean that. I’ll open our book and a bottle of wine for you tonight and know that my being and my soul will celebrate the person that you were and are and everything that I do is for you. Always and Forever, No Matter What. Oh yeah, and thanks for being you! I love you more.

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Al