Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Moving Forward: Life is what you make it

2013 was an interesting year for me.  Interesting is probably not the most descriptive word for it, but in complete and total honesty, "interesting" is the only word I've got.

Some truly challenging experiences took place in 2013, and though it's hard to forget some of those challenges, I can honestly say that 2013 surprised me with some absolutely incredible experiences for which I am very thankful for.

Three of my BEST friends married their sweethearts, and I was able to be with them as all of their dreams came true- reminding me of course, that heartbreak only means we are human... and I just need to trust that I, too, will find my soulmate someday.  My little brother graduated from college and got a tremendous job opportunity!  I challenged myself to run 75 miles in 30 days and accomplished my goal on day 30 when I ran 13 miles total (my longest run to date)!  My gymnastics team won their second consecutive National Championship!  Watching those girls realize their potential and knowing that I had a small part in them achieving their goals makes every second of every hour I put into that gym 200% worth it.  I can't even put into words the amount of pride I had in that moment, and every moment since.  My job at Whitewater became a full-time position.  My GymHawks club has grown tremendously and is reaching almost 200 kids per session.  I am so honored and blessed that I had the opportunity to create this program, and I thank God everyday for the kids that have been brought into my life because of it.  I also bought my first car in 2013, and though I purchased it in November... the "2014 model" made me feel even more like a grown up!  I also joined a wonderful church this year and in doing so have met some of the kindest and most wonderful people that I feel so privileged to know.  And I got a tattoo in remembrance of the sweet little gymnast who went to be with Jesus, and touched my heart so.  Psalm 121 will always mean more to me than I will ever be able to explain.

I think one of the most prominent things that stands out to me in 2013 was how much I learned about myself.  I learned how to cope with grief and how to help others do the same.  I found a courage in writing that I never dreamed I had within me.  I learned how to open up to someone, and how to fall gracefully when a dream falls out of reach.  I learned that forgiveness isn't always a reflex emotion for me... though I always considered myself an extremely forgiving person, this was something I struggled with this year.  Faith is a funny thing, because it's so easy to have it when things are going well, yet so hard to believe in it when life seems to push you down.  God helped me navigate through these challenges, and though I'd like to say I've got it figured out... I know I still have a lot to learn.  And most importantly,  this year I learned that life goes on... and it is up to us to decide HOW it goes on.

Our circumstances do not define us, and the people who walk in and out of our lives do not define us.  WE DEFINE OURSELVES...  so as you look back on 2013, wave goodbye to it and look forward.  2014 is a new year and a new chance to be who you want to be.  Make choices that will impact your life they way you want your life to be impacted.  Believe that you have the power to make a difference in your own life, because that is exactly what you have.

Happy 2014 y'all! Here's to endless possibilities!

Love True,

Monday, December 16, 2013

Love Who You Love

As I was running around like a crazy person on Friday, still exhausted from my epic State Meet weekend, feeling drained and hung over (due to a lack of sleep)... I had a moment of complete clarity.  I hadn't had one in weeks... feeling like the chalk from the gym had just settled into a permanent fog in my brain.  I was coaching my collegiate girls on beam and one of our seniors was doing her routine.  We were doing pressure sets, so everyone on our event was watching.  The song on the radio was Rascal Flatt's "Love Who You Love," and I couldn't help but smile.  It was one of those moments where nothing matters.

I was exhausted, but I didn't know it then.
I was hungry, but my stomach didn't growl.
I was missing my family, but I felt perfectly content.
There were dishes to do and laundry to fold when I got home, and yet I was at ease.

As life's frustrations had momentarily stepped out of my mind, my heart was completely overfilled with joy.  Here I was, standing in the gym that shaped me into the person I am, helping the next generation of collegiate athletes to reach their potential.  The energy was high and I felt electric, like I was in EXACTLY the right place in that moment.

So often, particularly in the rush that is this time of year, we lose sight of the little things- Like the pure joy that can be felt by sharing something you love with the people you love.  My advice for today... don't take anything or anyone for granted.  LOVE WHO YOU LOVE, AND SAY THAT YOU DO!

Love True-

I should have stolen every moment
Now there's a page
With not enough on it
Where we belong
I guess I'll never understand it
Why do we take it all for granted
Until it's gone
'Cause then it's gone

Love who you love
With all that you have
And don't waste the time
That flies so fast
Love who you love
And say that you do
Hold on as tight as they'll let you
Love who you love

Give all you've got
Like it's your last day
Your heart and soul
Before it's too late
And pull them in so close
Enough that they can feel it
With every single breath that 
You're breathing
Breathe it in again and again

Love who you love
With all that you have
And don't waste the time
That flies so fast
Love who you love
And say that you do
Hold on as tight as they'll let you
Love who you love

Hold on, hold on

Yeah, love who you love
Say that you do -- yeah

Love who you love
With all that you have
And don't waste the time
That flies so fast
Love who you love
And say that you do
Hold on as tight as they'll let you
Love who you love

Yeah, love
Love who you love
Say that you do
Hold on, keep on holdin' on -- yeah
Yeah, with every single breath
You're breathing

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What the @$*%???

Eating lunch at the office... because, let's face it, I rarely leave my work environment... I sometimes peruse the Twittisphere, check up on Facebook, or snap chat with my friends from all over the country. Yesterday was one of those days.  I was catching up on social media when all of a sudden, I came across a tweet from a sweet friend I met through Team True Beauty.  Brooke, is my cyber friend, and though we have never physically met, we share a bond through our devotion to writing and our passion for promoting eating disorder awareness and dispel the media's beliefs that zero is in fact a size.

Brooke's tweet was a link to an article, a disgusting, misogynistic article titled, "5 Reasons to Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder" - Yep. That's right.  Someone had to audacity to write out five reasons why he has enjoyed dating girls with an eating disorder... sick, twisted, and selfish reasons why his perverse mind thinks that this illness is a benefit to him both monetarily and sexually.  Here are his five asinine reasons- and my unfiltered initial responses to them (okay, so I filtered it a little bit):

1. Her obsession over her body will improve her overall looks.
-Because sunken cheeks, greyed skin, yellow teeth and a permanent frown help her to feel beautiful. Really? Pull your head out of your ass. 

2. She costs less money.
-Seriously, douchebag, you're going there?  Not every person with an eating disorder orders water for dinner at a restaurant.  Most people try their damn-est to act normal in public... even though it sometimes kills them on the inside.  

3. She is fragile and vulnerable.
-So are you. Clearly, you are hurting in some way and enjoy demeaning someone else's mental illness instead of facing your own demons.  

4. She probably has money of her own. 
-No, eating disorders are not white collar-female-exclusive.  Get over yourself. Just because she is sick, doesn't mean she is rich, or will buy you presents to keep you happy.  Sick, dude... sick.  

5. She's better in bed.
-"Crazy girls are better in the sack"- this doesn't even deserve a response.  Crazy... you know what's really crazy... the fact that people are actually reading the trash you post on line.  I wonder if any of the guys who read your blog, actually have significant others that can stand to be around them- I know that if I caught my husband or boyfriend taking your words seriously, he would find an express train right out of my life.  Sorry, buddy- no chick is ever going to fall for your bull shit.  

So those were my initial responses to his words.  To be honest, I struggled a little bit with a few additional four letter words tossed around here and there.  I love the freedom I feel when I am blogging, though I cannot imagine using my blog to spread a horrifying message in this way.  I spent about a day being absolutely outraged by this article, and then I realized that a man of this intelligence level, someone who runs his ignorant mouth about a disease he clearly knows nothing about, absolutely does NOT deserve one bit of my time or frustration.  He is not worth it.  Not one bit.  So, after I click the "publish" button on this blog post, I will think of him no more.  I will not get upset by him or his words and I will continue to promote a healthy body image to my athletes, and spread the wonderful words of Team True Beauty in the same ways I always have.  People like this do not deserve the attention they get, so though I have given him his 15 seconds of fame on my blog, I hope he can understand that there is such a thing as "bad press."- As a matter of fact, I think he's earned himself quite a bit of it.

So, here's to sharing a positive message of self-worth and self-respect with our girls... help them to believe they are beautiful, and to OWN their own skin... because that, my friends, is what MY blog is all about.

Love True-


Monday, November 4, 2013

Made in America

My parents were high school sweethearts.  I mean, my parents are high school sweethearts.  I grew up knowing that love was the most important thing in the world, and that honesty and trueness to one another can be a beautiful thing.

I feel the number of lasting high school sweethearts in this world is dwindling.  It's sad to me, because I have seen this kind of love and I know the power of this kind of love.  A love that starts with complete innocence and wonder... it is the stuff that dreams are made of, the kind of love we all long for.

Last week, I had the privilege of standing by one of my best friends as she married her high school sweetheart.  Their love was just as true and innocent as it was 10 years ago... when he was too afraid to put his arm around her on the couch during their first date.  ;)  -- sorry, Mike!

Flash back 9 years...

It was spring, and I had waited until the last minute to decide I would be attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for college in the fall.  I was planning to try collegiate gymnastics.  After two ACL reconstructions, I had no idea if I could hack it in college gymnastics.  I had no idea what was expected of me, and I had no idea if my body could handle it... but I couldn't wonder about it either.  I needed to know for sure.

Freshman Year at UWW. After we
received our competition leotards.
So, Whitewater it was.  I had made my decision to travel 2 hours North of my little bubble and give it my best shot.  One day, as I was working on homework, I got a phone call from a girl named Angel.  She was also planning on trying out for the gymnastics team, and wanted to know if I'd like to be her roommate.  We talked for a grand total of about 2 and a half minutes... and decided... what the hell? Let's be roommates!  I remember my mom asking me afterwards, "That's it??  Just like that, you're roommates?"  And I said, "Well, it's either Angel, or a random... at least I've heard her voice!"

And so it began... a friendship that would quickly turn into one of the tightest bonds I have ever known.  Very quickly we latched on to one another.  Angel introduced me to scary movies... and a social life, while I was there to remind her that we did have homework to do every once in a while.  She taught me a lot about life... and while I didn't have a very successful dating life in college, I had the lucky circumstance of watching her develop hers.  She and Mike went through hell and back together... LITERALLY...

Mike came to college with us, then went home, then went to bootcamp, then came home, then went to Iraq, then finally came home.  Seriously... he went to hell and back.

I've seen them together and I've seen them apart.  And I can honestly say that they are much better together... :)

I have watched them become parents and overcome one obstacle after another.  They are incredible parents, by the way.

I have been on the giving end of advice to both, and on the receiving end of advice from both... and I
can honestly say, I've been so blessed to have them by my side and on my side... and also to let me know when my side is a little off.

I guess what I am trying to say is that Angel and Mike are some pretty wonderful people, some amazing friends, and some inspiring parents.

Their wedding day was remarkable.  A beautiful, October day, with gorgeous fall leaves (thank you, Jesus) and the sun shining bright.  I have so many tremendous memories from that day... but I'm going to share just a few of my favorites.

Our 7am hair and make up call was definitely early, but the girls in red found a way to make it a blast.  Angel, Ashley and I had some fun taking selfies in front of the mirror, proving that we will never get over our college quirks, and that the roommate bond is way tighter than anyone gives it credit for!

I couldn't see Angel as she emerged to walk down the aisle.  I could, however, see Mike's face as he saw his bride at the end of the walk.  The look on his face, that grin... is something I will never forget.  I could literally see his future flash before his eyes... and it looked good.

Watching Angel's dad, Greg, give her away was also priceless.  As I expected, he was bawling... handing over his only daughter, his beautiful princess, to the man of her dreams was a moment I know he had been anxiously waiting for.  Mike has been a part of the Simonini family for years, but the beauty in this moment, watching the little girl become a wife, was truly touching.
Celebrating my beautiful friend on
the day her dreams came true! 

The rest of the ceremony, the photo ops, the dinner, the speeches, the singing (yes... we sing at Simonini events), the dancing were amazing.  Angel and Mike were simply glowing, and Dylan was having a ball celebrating his mom and dad.  But it was the last song that final knocked me over with emotion.

As Mike has spent a great deal of the last few years of his life in the Marine Corps, you can imagine the amount of patriotism that was buzzing about the room.  Decked out in his Dress Blues, the groom was the perfect image of the Corps.  When we knew it was the last song, the entire group on the dance floor huddled around this couple, showering them with love.  The DJ played "Made in America" by Toby Keith, and I lost it.

Standing there, with one of my best friends, her high school sweetheart - a US Marine- and their beautiful little boy, I couldn't help but think... This is what life is all about.  This is what it means to be blessed.  This is what it means to be loved.  This is what it means to live the American Dream.

Congratulations to my forever friend, my wonderful roommate, teammate and sister.  I love you more than I can say, and I am so happy you have found your "Happily Ever After."

Love True-
Angel, Mike and their beautiful son, Dylan.  Congratulations, Campese Family! <3

"He loves his wife and she’s that wife
That decorates on the Fourth of July
But says 'Every day's Independence Day'
She's golden rule, teaches school,
Some folks say it isn't cool
But she says the Pledge of Allegiance anyway.

He's got the red, white, and blue flyin' high on the farm
Semper Fi tattooed on his left arm
Spend a little more in the store for a tag in the back that says ‘USA’
He won't buy nothin' that he can't fix,
With WD40 and a Craftsman wrench
He ain't prejudiced, he's just made in America

Born in the Heartland, raised up a family
Of King James and Uncle Sam

He's got the red, white, and blue flyin' high on the farm
Semper Fi tattooed on his left arm
Spend a little more in the store for a tag in the back that says ‘USA’
He won't buy nothin' that he can't fix,
With WD40 and a Craftsman wrench
He ain't prejudiced, he's just made in America" <3 ya, Mikey! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

365 Days

My favorite picture of Avery, stolen from
Bridget's Facebook, is so beautiful. 
365 days.

It's been 365 days since our God Girl went home.
It feels like yesterday when I got the text message.  It was a Thursday, I was sitting in my 11am class.  There was a presenter giving a lecture to the 140 students that I taught each Thursday.  All the text said was, "I just sent you a terrible email."  It was from one of my GymHawks moms.  I didn't know what to make of it, so I checked my email on my phone.  The email contained a link to a newspaper article and the statement, "word is, they were coming home from gymnastics."  Confused, I clicked on the link to the article, and immediately, my world started spinning.

11 year old---Dies----Car Accident------Delavan Girl--------Hwy 89

Those words flashed through my brain like a strobe light.  AVERY.  I knew it.  Immediately, my heart stopped beating.  At least it may as well have.  I left my class mid presentation.  I couldn't breathe.  I walked to the next building over on campus, I think it took me 6 seconds to scale two flights of stairs and a 600 foot corridor.  I walked in to our registration office and (not very nicely) demanded that they bring up all Delavan residents enrolled in gymnastics on their computer.  There were three names on the list... only one fit the profile described in the article... Avery.

Her "gymnast of the month"picture
from the GymHawks Newsletter in
October 2011.
I left quickly, unable to cry, still unable to breathe, and walked back to my class.  I slipped back in the door and sat down at the back of the lecture hall, still to the world, just me and my racing mind.  I texted my boss, who has never been just a "boss" to me, she has been a coach, a mentor and a friend-- I forwarded her the email and told her what I had heard, and again, I snuck out of my classroom to pace the hallway.

The rest of the day was a blur.  There was a luncheon for athletics, (which happened to be today as well), and I remember sitting there, completely numb.  I don't remember who was there, I don't remember what was said, I just remember staring in to space.  I couldn't eat, I still couldn't breathe and I sure as hell couldn't focus on anything but seeing those blue eyes again.

We had calls in to the Whitewater police, the county police and teachers in the Delavan school district.  No one could tell me the words I knew were coming, but dreaded to hear.

Finally, a friend at the Delavan High School texted me back, and listed the names of the girls she had heard were in the car.  There it was in plain text on my phone... "Avery McCarthy."

I praise God, that my friend snapped
 this picture of us together at camp
in 2012.  She was one of the hardest
working gymnasts I've ever coached.
I don't remember the events that followed.  I went to practice with my kids... left the gym more than once to catch my breath... and sent them home to their parents.  I don't remember the collegiate practice that day.  I don't remember coming home, or going to bed, or getting up the next morning.  I don't remember leaving for the Dells (we had a team trip that weekend) or driving the 2 hours up to the Dells.   Somehow, I just arrived there.

The first thing I remember is arriving at the Wilderness resort.  I got out of my car and walked into the hotel.  I walked around the water park, the arcade, and the bar.  I seriously considered getting a drink, but thought it might ease the tears I had so forcefully been holding back.

I settled for coffee.  I sat with my cup in the lobby of the hotel, and I remember hating all of the happy families that were walking by.  With their goofy floaties, pool toys and long tickets from the arcade games, their happy faces just seemed so wrong.  Didn't they know that my heart was breaking, didn't they know about this perfect little family whose world just crumbled?  Apparently they didn't... and it frustrated me incessantly that they were able to hold their children tight, while Bridget would never hold her baby girl again.

It wasn't fair.

And then, she called me.  That sweet, ridiculously sarcastic, and all around wonderful human being, called me.  Me.  I felt (in that moment, and still to this day) so unworthy that she would call me to tell me that on the way home from gymnastics last night, Avery and Jadrian were in an accident, and "Avery didn't make it"- didn't make it... those words will be forever burned into my ears.  Not, Avery "didn't make it" to school on time, or Avery "didn't make it" to the concert she wanted to go to. No... Avery just "didn't make it."

I remember bits and pieces of that conversation, and I remember I didn't cry.  I remember thinking, Dear Lord, please watch over this wonderful Mama going through the most unimaginable pain.  And then I remember hanging up with her.  I immediately rose from my chair in the hotel lobby and made my way for the door.  It was probably only 25-30 feet from where I stood, and yet I could NOT get out of there fast enough.  I hit the cold, October air and it was like an ocean of tears washed over me.  As I ran to my car I couldn't fathom what was happening.  My brain ceased to function and all I could do was sit in the car and drown in the tears that refused to stop falling.


Avery has inspired many of my GymHawks to reach out to
the community.  Here they are with Bridget at a fundraiser
raising money for Averyday Ministries.  
Flash forward 364 days...

That little ribbon means
the world to me. It hasn't
missed a meet.
Avery is with me every single day.  I am always carrying that little girl with the bright blue eyes, and crazy curly permed hair who loved gymnastics... and Jesus, with me... AVERYday.  You see, Avery taught me so much about life, and about myself.  I've always been a dreamer, I see the best in people and have always had a hard time dealing with life's realities.  Losing Avery helped me to grow up. (and not in a bad way... the most perfect way possible)  I still don't feel old enough to comprehend the true enormity of loss, but Avery is guiding me through that.  Learning more about Avery, (through her mom's beautifully written blog) has helped me to reaffirm my faith in Christ (something I lost sight of as I was going through the darkness of my eating disorder).  I'm probably one of hundreds who have fallen on their knees and given themselves up to Jesus in the past year because of Avery's devotion.  The more we learn about her, the more we want to emulate her and the way that she lived her inspiring, yet short life.  I can't even tell you how often we speak of her at GymHawks.  When one of my girls is struggling, (particularly on bars) I always tell them to have faith because Avery is watching out for them... Avery's best event was bars.  Almost instantly, these little girls go from being afraid to radiating confidence knowing that they have an angel looking out for them.   The purple ribbon I got at her funeral comes with me to every competition and the little girls ask me frequently if they can rub it... like its their lucky rabbit's foot or something.

There is not a day that goes by where I don't think of Avery, or her mom, or her BEAUTIFUL big sister Jadrian.  They have welcomed me into their life, and I pray that they know how much that it means to me.  They will forever be in my heart, and this day... no matter how many years go by... will always be with me.

Carrying our God Girl with me &
every day she helps me grow in my faith.
"I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my
help come from? My help comes from the Lord,
 the maker of Heaven and Earth."
 Psalm 121  
I wish, with every fiber of my being, that I could be there for the balloon release tomorrow.  My heart aches knowing what the event symbolizes, and I know there are several other members of the UW-Whitewater Gymnastics family who wish the could be there as well.  I'll be sending my own message up to Avery tomorrow... and pray like crazy that she knows how much I miss her, and how her wonderful heart is living here each and every day because of what she taught us.  Averyday I give thanks for knowing her, because she has made me a better coach, a better sister, a better daughter, a better friend and a better Christian.

Thank you, God Girl, for your continued guidance and never ending comfort.  I know you are with us each and Avery day... ;) I promise, we are doing our best to live in your example.

Love True-

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Life That's Good

I love music.  Beautiful words strung together with a melody that can melt your soul is simply the perfect medicine for a rough day... or month.

Sometimes life gets hard and complicated and the stresses consume me.  I'm not the type to shake it off and roll on.  Believe me... I wish I were.  Funny thing is, many people don't know this about me.  Sometimes it feels like every little task or minor stressor is hanging like a charm bracelet- a very LARGE, and heavy charm bracelet- around my neck, just pulling me down.  For those who know me well, they can often tell when I start to reach a breaking point.  I get short tempered, I stop sleeping at night and I'm not nice (to those who know me well).  To those who don't know me well... I just seem like Al.

The past month of my life has been hard.  I'm a people pleaser to the core, and when I upset someone... and I do mean ANYONE, I turn in to mush.  Seriously, folks, if I knew the neighbors hamster had ill feelings toward me, I'd probably need a Xanax.

Through the craziness of the last month and the emotional roller coaster that I have very un-willingly stepped on, I have had a few moments of clarity.  As I sat at home tonight trying to get caught up on the pile of work that I can never seem to make a dent in, I had the TV show Nashville on in the background (DVR'd of course, because I watch everything late as HELL).  As the episode came to a resolution the two youngest characters (the Stella sisters... who are AMAZING) began to sing.  Lennon and Maisy Stella caught my undivided attention as they sang these words:

Sitting here tonight
By the fire light
It reminds me
I already have more than I should

I don't need fame
No one to know my name
At the end of the day
Lord I pray 
I have a life thats good.

Two arms around me
Heaven to ground me 
and a family that always calls me home

Four wheels to get there 
Enough love to share
And a sweet sweet sweet song

At the end of the day
Lord i pray
I have a life that's good.

Sometimes I'm hard on me
When dreams don't come easy
I wanna look back and say
I did all that I could

At the end of the day
Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

Two arms around me 
Heaven to ground me
and a family that always calls me home
Four wheels to get there
enough love to share
and a sweet sweet sweet song

At the end of the day
Lord I pray
I Have a life that's good

At the end of the day
Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

After hearing the song, I immediately bought it on iTunes, listened to it 5 times and started to write.  You see, I've been a little bit blocked with working as much as I have, and trying to sort through the things going on in my brain. When I'm stressed I don't sleep well, and when I don't sleep well, I don't work well, and when I don't work well, I get even more stressed... and so the cycle continues.  Tonight, that song reminded me of all of the wonderful things I have in my life; the people I have been blessed with, the opportunities I have been given, the athletes I have the privilege of working with, the fact that I am alive and able to go to work every day...

Those are all gifts to my life.  My life is good.  And though sometimes it seems like it is too much, it does me well to remember that God would not bring me to it, if He didn't believe I could get through it."  It's not always easy to remember that, especially in the day to day... but it's true.  And I thank God for that song that came at just the right moment tonight.  That song, did me a whole lot of healing... and I pray that it can help heal you too. 

Love True-

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Psalm 121

"I lift my eyes to the hills-
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
The maker of Heaven and Earth.

He will not let your foot slip-
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, He who watches over Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you-
The Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm-
He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going,
both now and forevermore. "

These words mean so much to me now.  So much so, that in April, I had the verse "Psalm 121" with a cross tattooed in white across my wrist.  Not many people know it is there.  In fact, I think that the majority of people I know have never even seen it.  But I know it is there.  It is a constant reminder of the little girl who led me to Jesus.  The little girl who taught me what it means to trust and what it truly means to love.  Avery would have turned 12 today... just one day before I turn 27.  We used to chat about our birthdays and compare our presents (her's were usually epic- like a perm in her hair or a whole day with her mom)  I've known a lot of people in my life who have had October 5th as a birthday, and I always felt a little special place in my heart for those "almost birthday twins."  I'm not sure why.  Avery was no exception.

Tonight I get to celebrate Avery's birthday and her life in extraordinary fashion.  Her beautiful, wonderful, amazing mother is throwing a birthday bash to top all birthday bashes!  It will be an amazing celebration of Avery's life and generosity, and will kick off The 19 Days!  For the 19 days between Avery's birthday and the anniversary of her death, her mother is asking that we all participate in 19 Random Acts of Kindness.  Give a hug, send a letter, or let someone go first in the check out line... what ever you can do to spread cheer and happiness.  Avery wanted to make the world a better place, so we're going to try to do that, one smile at a time.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Angel!  We miss you down here!

Love True,

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Words to live by...

Most of you who know me, or who read my blog frequently know the name Avery. The name of a beloved little girl who went to be with Jesus almost 11 months ago.  A name you may not be familiar with is, Bridget.  Bridget is Avery's mom.  

This morning, I came across these words on Bridget's Facebook status:

"There is so much in this world I need to learn, but this is what I DO know: Life is not a guarantee. You're not promised longevity and you're not promised perfect days for always. Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it's awful. Sometimes it makes you want to scream and yell and rant and rage. But, honey, it's up to YOU to decide if you want to spend whatever time you have here being angry and ticked off. And it's up to YOU to decide to keep on walking away from that dark place over on towards the fields of light and happiness, no matter how long that trek is gonna take you."

Now, if you know Bridget, you know she is a highly intelligent, uber funny, and amazingly witty person who writes from her heart on a daily basis.  You also know, that she loves so deeply and with so much passion that simply looking at her can make you want to give hugs to every random stranger you meet.  

If you know Bridget, you know that she is ambitious in her goals, and in helping others reach theirs.  It's also evident that she is hell bent on making this world a better place.  

If you know Bridget, you know she has suffered an unbearable loss, and has done everything she can to pick up the pieces of all the broken hearts around her.  

If you know Bridget, you know she is an AMAZING mom.  She leads by example, lets her kids make mistakes and teaches them the importance and the value of knowing that every person was placed on this Earth for a reason.  

If you know Bridget, you know that she is a faithful friend.  She will go above and beyond the call of duty to help someone out, to give a voice to their cause, or to simply offer advice- still working on the chainsaws, B ;-)

If you know Bridget, you know she is strong; Stronger than any person should ever have to be.  She is so strong, in fact, that she was strong for everyone else through her hardest time... and continues to be strong in more ways than I could ever count.  

If you know Bridget, you know that she loves God, that she trusts Him, and allows Him to lead her through this life, that oftentimes makes no sense at all. 

She is the crazy, witty, wild, hilarious, heartfelt, passionate and INSPIRING voice that keeps Avery's heart alive.  --and I am blessed to know her.  

If you know Bridget, you will undoubtably agree with everything I have just written... If you don't know Bridget,

Now you do.  

Love True-

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mandisa- "Overcomer"

I woke up this morning, started a pot of coffee and turned on "Good Morning America" just like I do every weekday.  It's been a ritual of mine for the better part of two years.  I've decided, there is no better way to get my news, and certainly no better way to start my day.  The news anchors on GMA are incredibly uplifting, even when the topic is hard to discuss.

My favorite anchor is, of course, Miss Robin Roberts.  She is, without a doubt, one of the strongest and most inspiring faces on television.  Her genuine personality and the heart that she has shared with the world is truly remarkable... and the perfect example of the kind of person I want to be.

Robin has had to fight for her life more than once, and she has allowed the nation and the world to be a part of her journey.  Her perseverance and her will to overcome her illnesses are so moving, I can barely find the words to describe her impact on me.

Gospel Singer, Mandisa, just released a new song and music video that features Robin, along with other incredibly inspiring individuals who have truly overcome an obstacle some would say is too big to overcome (among those featured are figure skater Scott Hamilton and US Senator Gabby Giffords).

Since seeing the world premier of the video this morning, I have had the song on repeat.  The words are so relatable, no matter what your circumstances.  As an athlete, there were so many times when I thought I would not be able to go on.

When injuries plagued my body and the pain was so great I couldn't fall asleep at night, or hearing the news that I needed another knee surgery, I needed to hear that I would overcome this.

When the bone in my foot shattered into 4 pieces, I needed to know I would still have a chance.

When I just couldn't stay on the beam, or couldn't make that skill on bars and thought it would never get easier, I needed to know that hard work would persevere.

When my heart was in pieces because I was losing a fight with an eating disorder, I heard the voice that said you are strong enough.

And when we lost our Angel, Avery, and it seemed like the sun would NEVER come out again, He made sure it did.

You see, as Mandisa says so eloquently in her song, "There's nothing He can't do!"

When I was hurting and holding on to the smallest bit of hope that things would work out... they did.  My knee healed, (very well I might add) and I was able to do college gymnastics.  My foot healed, my shoulder healed and I got that second chance I needed to accomplish more of my goals.  Because of this, I was able to stay on as a coach and witness the team I love dearly achieve more dreams and more goals year after year.  If that wasn't the greater plan, I don't know what is.  ;)

During that horribly dark time where I thought I might not get better because I was so sick I couldn't support my body weight (very necessary as a gymnast), He hand selected some of the most wonderful people I have ever met to help me through.  I firmly believe that that support system is the reason I am the person I am.  Robin Roberts says, "Make your Mess, your Message."  --One of the most beautiful statements I have ever heard.  People sometimes wonder why I've been so open about my struggles, and well, it's because I don't want anyone else to go through what I went through.  So my MESS will become my MESSAGE.  To my friends at Team True Beauty... you'll always have me by your side because I am a firm believer in your wonderful mission.

No matter what you may be going through, there is always hope.  Life might knock you down here and there, but He would never hand you something you can't handle.  It might be a test, it might be a road block, but if you simply get up each day and make the most of the situation you're in, you will be an OVERCOMER.

Mandisa- "Overcomer" Video on Good Morning America
Robin Roberts receiving the 2013 ESPY Arthur Ashe Award for Courage

"You're an overcomer
Stay in the fight 'til the final round.
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
You're an overcomer."

Love True-

Monday, September 2, 2013

You Lead, I'll Follow

Recent events in my life have led me to a rather challenging place.  I've been overwhelmed by a few changes in my life, some unbelievably wonderful changes, and some changes I could have lived without.  I feel like I've been on a scale, teetering between being excessively happy about the new opportunities in my life, and incredibly lost regarding other situations.

I know what that sounds like... and you're right, it was awful... for about 2 days.  I spent the better part of 48 hours in limbo, trying to decide my next move.  Because I could have gone either way.  I could have said, "Screw it," and just fallen into misery.  And a couple of years ago... I might have done that.  Hell... 6 months ago, I probably would have done that.  I decided that was not the best option.

Instead I prayed.  I prayed a lot.  

I talked to God and asked him to lead me down the right path.  I prayed for support and understanding, and I pleaded for guidance.  I also thanked Him for all of the gracious things He has done for me, and for bringing some incredibly wonderful people into my life.

You see... I have the best mom in the world.  Don't argue with me.  I'll win any war someone will wage with me.  She is the best... period.  Along with Rhonda's "epic-ness" I have some pretty great friends.  Friends who called to talk when I couldn't string a sentence together.  Friends who texted me to check up, friends who snap chatted a silly face in order to solicit a smile,  or tweeted to encourage my strength.  I had friends who gave advice and friends who just listened.  New friends, and old friends came to my side and through it all I felt Him.  He was handing me these wonderful people who were nothing but supportive and encouraging.

There is a Jamie Grace song that literally changed the way I was looking at my situation.

"You lead, I'll follow, Your hands hold my tomorrow,
Your grip, Your grace, You know the way,
You guide me tenderly,
When you lead, I'll follow,
Just light the way and I'll go,
Cause I know what you got for me is more than I can see,
So lead me on, on, on and on"

These words helped me to realize that it doesn't matter what life throws your way.  God wouldn't hand you something you can't handle.  He wouldn't place me in a situation that he didn't believe me capable of conquering.  He has a plan, and though sometimes it is hard to see, you can't loose faith.  

In my time of wandering, he placed all of the right people in my path.  Those people were there to guide me to this place of content.  I will be okay.  My life is great, and I know that these wonderful opportunities were not meant to be overshadowed.  He is leading... and I will simply relax and follow.

Love True-

By and By

My oldest friend got married last weekend... in storybook fashion.  Picture this:

A Gazebo on the beach,
Overlooking the beautiful lake,
Mountains in the background
...and a timelessly beautiful bride walking down the aisle towards her Prince Charming.

It was perfect.

In the 23 years that I have known her, I have never seen her as happy as she was that day.  And I couldn't possibly be happier for her.

Kendra and Kyle have been best friends since we were seniors in High School.  To age myself... that is in fact 9 years this fall.  So, for the better part of a decade, these two shared everything.  They loved, they laughed, they fought, they cried, and through it all... they had each other.  No matter what their love endured... it was always going to be Kendra and Kyle.
Kendra was stunning, and the ceremony was almost as beautiful as she was.  It was literally a perfect day on Lake Lure.  The sun never stopped shining, and the wedding guests never stopped dancing (after a few cocktails of course).

It was truly a blessing to witness this magical event.  To see these two high school sweethearts realize their dream of "forever" was beyond amazing.  (Not to mention it was a heck of a weekend vacation) ;-P

It was one of the most intimate and romantic weddings I have ever been to.  The guest list was that of 53 of their closest friends and family members.   This meant that I had 3 of my other best friends at my disposal for 2 full days as well!  The time spent with my high school soul mates is never long enough, yet never wasted.  It's as if the eight years and 5 states spanning 2 time zones has done nothing to diminish our friendship-- and can I just tell you what a blessing that is?!  Kendra and Kyle's wedding song was a beautiful song by Brett Dennen, called "By and By."  There is a line in it... that though it was perfect for Kendra and Kyle, I selfishly take to heart as describing my relationship with these beautiful ladies, "I don't know if I'd survive without a friend like you in my life."

Having spent the last 23 years with Kendra as my friend, and knowing Kyle now for almost 10 years, I know that this is just the beginning of their happiness.  They have both worked so hard to be where they are today, and I am so incredibly proud of both of them!

So I will raise my glass of wine (because all writers toast while they blog), and wish them a long and blissful life together.  May your journey together be a long and incredibly happy one!  I love you both, more than words can say!!!

Love True-

Saturday, August 3, 2013

See You Again

The last three weeks of my life have been both physically and mentally exhausting, completely overwhelming and yet, incredibly rewarding.  I have met some incredible coaches, been reunited with old friends and had the opportunity to coach some wonderful young ladies.  All the while I was missing her.

Her beautiful smile, infectious laugh and witty sense of humor was absent this year.  Her bible wasn't in any of the desk drawers at the dorm, and she wasn't sitting at the foot of my bed during the night that it stormed, talking about nothing... trying to keep her mind off the thunder.

Walking to the gym in Avery's light.
We had our first camp without our God Girl... and it would hit me at the most random moments.  Something a little girl said to me, someone walking into the gym wearing an AveryDay T-shirt, or that little girl who wanted to do cartwheel after cartwheel on the beam until it was perfect.  Those moments were the hardest.  I couldn't take any pictures during the first two weeks.  I kept thinking about the pictures that were taken last year at camp, and how She wasn't going to be in them this year.  It broke my heart.  All these little kids, that had been here last year, laughing with her, tumbling with her, ordering pizza and throwing pie in their coaches' faces...  they got to do it again this year... and She was missing out.

I signed little girl's t-shirts and took pictures for their parents and all the while I had this smile in the back of my mind.  Her smile.  Avery's smile.  It was there the whole time.  In every child that came to camp there was a little bit of Avery's heart.  I saw her in the little girl who was homesick, in the little girl who lost her tooth and got a note from the Whitewater tooth fairy.  She was there with the child who continuously thanked me for the corrections I offered her and in the perfect sunlight that shone as we were walking to the gym one evening.

Feeling her love as I said,"See
you later," to my little Leilani.
Avery didn't miss camp at all.  She was there every second of every day... just in a different way than she had been there in the past.  She helped me get out of bed every morning when I was feeling exhausted and sore, and she helped me console the little girl who got hurt.  She was with the child who threw up in the middle of the night and she comforted me as I said, "see you later" to one of my little GymHawks whose family moved away.

You see, I've resorted to, "see you later" because I refuse to say goodbye to another child.  And I've decided that I'm going to go right ahead and take back the "goodbye" I said to Avery back in October.  Because it's never really, "Goodbye," is it?  I will see her again.  I know that, and I trust that.  I believe that with every fiber of my being.

There's a new Carrie Underwood song that I love... and it makes me think of Avery Johanna and that sparkling smile of hers every time I hear it.  Her beautiful heart is found in every little gymnast I teach, and I will continue to work hard at my faith because she taught me to.  My life has been enriched in every way because of what I have learned from that sweet Angel, and though I missed her dearly at camp this summer, I know she was there with each and every one of us.  She will always be in my heart, "I will carry [her] with me," until I see her again.

Love True,
Last year at camp.  With our God Girl, before her journey to Heaven.
The last day of camp I took this picture of my girls,
knowing that one special young lady was watching over them.

Carrie Underwood- "See You Again"

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ever After

After a strange injury kept me on the couch for the majority of my day and movies were my only option  to distract me from the pain... I found myself lost in one of the most romantic love stories I have ever discovered.

The movie, Ever After, is a realistic version of the story of Cinderella: a plain servant who, with the help of a fairy god mother, falls in love with the prince, and lives happily ever after.

"How on Earth is Cinderella realistic?" you may ask.  Well, my friends... just remove the fairy god mother and substitute her with Leonardo DaVinci-- and you've got a renaissance rendition of the classic fairy tale.

Okay, maybe REALISTIC isn't the word I am looking for.

Anyway, lying here relishing in the romance that is the story of Danielle and Henry, I got to dreaming about real life fairy tales.  You know, the sappy crap you see in movies.  Don't tell me you haven't daydreamed about it yourself.  That scene where the star crossed lovers that have endured twelve different obstacles and completely lost faith in their love finally reconnect in tear jerking fashion.  Yep.  We all want that.  Trouble is.  Fairy tales are just that-- Fairy Tales.

I think that's why I love this movie so much.  No... Leonardo DaVinci is not going to waltz through my door to the rescue and send me on my way to the man of my dreams.  But it's the way the story is told that gives me hope, and keeps my heart beating enthusiastically.

A woman who struggles with who she is, is sound in her convictions, loyal to those that she loves and tolerant of those who treat her poorly finds someone who finally gives her life meaning.  He rescues her from a life that has been cruel, and she in turn, does the same for him.

The story is told from the perspective of the great-great-granddaughter of Cinderella, who ends the film with a line that struck me to the core:

"And while Cinderella and her Prince did live happily ever after, the point, Gentlemen, is that they lived."

What a beautiful statement about love, happiness and life.  There is no such thing as a perfect love story, and there is so much weight to the idea of measuring your life by how you live it.  Love deeply, smile widely, laugh frequently... and you will live well always.

Love True,


Sunday, July 28, 2013

How Forever Feels

There’s a Kenny Chesney song that has a line in it, “I wanna know how forever feels.”  Though it is a relatively silly song (with a good message), I do, in fact, long to have that life long satisfaction of loving.  Knowing that you have spent the better part of your life with someone who chose you to love unconditionally, someone who could not live their life without you, someone who gives your life incredible depth and meaning.  Oh how wonderful that would be. 

My Grandparents just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this weekend.  It was truly wonderful to see how happy they were.  While attending a special church mass just for them, the priest referred to them as “the wedding couple” which of course, made everyone giddy.  They cut a cake together as they did 60 years ago, surrounded by the product of their love- all of their children and grandchildren. 

When I look at my grandparents, I can only pray that their love radiates down to all of their kids and grandkids.  That their dedication to one another and years spent loving each other (and all of us) is good luck and great karma for the rest of us!  Granted, I know we all make our own luck in life… but perhaps their good example will rub off, because, “I wanna know how forever feels.” J

And though I know that 60 years isn't exactly forever, it can be considered an amazing lifetime!

Congrats on 60 blissful years, Grandma and Grandpa Annala!  All my love~

Love True,