Share your life with the people you love.

After our first year living above the Mason Dixon line I learned that making friends there required a different approach than making friends in the South. In the South even if someone isn’t interested in making new friends, if you invite them to hang out they’ll not only say yes, but will most likely offer to host. In the North if someone isn’t looking for new friends they’ll find a kind, but unmistakable way to say, "no thanks." The first time it happened to me I was flabbergasted. The third time I was enlightened.

There have been times in my life where I genuinely didn’t have the bandwidth to explore a new friendship and yet if I or we were invited to a dinner or an event we were obligated to say yes. Otherwise, it would be rude. Because making up excuses or passively avoiding follow-through or faking enjoyment for the sake of avoiding hurt feelings was far less rude. So the Southern way had taught me to believe.

Enter enlightenment.

After seven years living in the Midwest I not only adapted to, but adopted the “Northern way” of making friends. It’s far more efficient and once you’re invited into someone’s home you can pretty much bet you’re going to be lifelong friends.

We’ve now been back in Tennessee for two years and yet our friendships made during our seven years in Ohio have proven my theory that when a friendship is made it’s for life.

Last week one of those friends, Lisa, texted me saying she wanted to visit soon. I was working on homeschool stuff and sitting in front of my planner. It was a Thursday and Corey was working through the weekend. “What about this weekend?” I replied.

The following day she and her three kids pulled into our driveway and the following day, after a very lazy morning spent over coffee and avocado toast, we headed to the mountains for the day to swim in the cold mountain water, eat the best ice cream in all the land and hang out of the sunroof in search of bears. (We saw one!)

There are two types of people in this world: The “Here I am!” types and the “There you are!” types. Lisa is a "There you are!" friend. She always leaves me feeling refreshed when our time together is over.

Being with her this past weekend reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the book Bittersweet:

Share your life with the people you love, even if it means saving up for a ticket and going without a few things for a while to make it work. If you let the routine steamroll your life, you’ll wake up one day, isolated and weary, and wonder what happened to all those old friends. You’ll wonder why all you share is Christmas cards, and why life feels bone-dry. We were made to live connected and close. You can try to go it alone because you don’t have time or because your house is too messy to have people over, or because making new friends is like the worst part of dating. But halfway through a hard day or a hard week, you’ll realize in a flash that you’re breathtaking lonely, and that the Christmas cards aren’t much company. So walk across the street, or drive across town, or fly across the country, but don’t let really intimate loving friendships become the last item on a long to-do list.
— Shauna Niequest

It never (ever ever) seems convenient to travel to keep connections strong with the people I love, but when I greet a Monday morning tired from a weekend spent opening my home to friends or driving far away to share air with someone I love I never regret it (ever ever).

Showing up and leaning in.

There's something that happens when two people experience a tragedy together. When both hearts are shattered into a million little pieces and the world no longer looks as it once did before.

As I get older and I experience peripherally what happens to couples when tragedy hits my respect and appreciation for my mom and dad deepens. 

When their third child and last -- due to complications and a mandatory hysterectomy -- breathed his last tragedy arrived unannounced and uninvited. All that was left behind was me and my older sister, an empty crib, shattered hearts that had to be pieced back together and an option to do it together or separate.

I now know that choosing to stay together as they both battled grief in their own unique ways is not something that is common. Yet they did. Every day they showed up and leaned in.

Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in.

For us girls, yes, but for each other as well. No longer showing up for each other was very possibly something that looked like the easy way out many days, but ultimately wasn't a road they chose to take. My parents never have been the type to take the easy way out.

I would choose infertility over losing a child every day, but regardless my own walk with grief has left me doing the only thing I have been shown to do: Show up and lean in. 

Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in.

I often wonder if it's my parents' combined personality types or the way their younger parenting years were marked by death that led them to raise us with such freedom. When I was growing up the outdoors were for exploring barefoot, beds were made for jumping on and washing your hands before grabbing a handful of grapes on your way back outside was optional. We lived with dogs and birds and a duck. I could successfully beat grown men at shooting pool when I was just ten years old. When we drove to our lodge in Western North Carolina my sister and I would "sit" in the back of dad's truck on a mattress. (It's a two and a half hour drive.) I learned young what the true feeling of adventure feels like - like your upper stomach is doing a somersault. It's my most favorite feeling ever and one that I consistently seek for myself and my girls still to this day.

I was raised believing that life was made for letting loose, seeking out reasons to laugh from the gut and exploring anything new.

Every day I continue this quest. If we're not actively on our way to our next adventure you can bet I'm daydreaming of one.

And for this reason I am most happy we returned to East Tennessee where the Smokies are a peaceful 45-minute drive away. Without planning I can clean up breakfast and decide on a whim that the mountains are calling. I throw loads of food in a cooler, grab bathing suits and towels and tell the girls we're heading to the mountains.

We always first find water and seek out fish and crawdads, bees and butterflies and river otters. We head to the campsite's shop for the best ice cream ever made (it's far more about the nostalgia than the taste, but still...) and then explore Cade's Cove seatbelt'less with arms and heads out the windows. We touch and we smell and we see different things every time we go.

Cell reception is lost upon arrival and perspective always regained.

I guess in a lot of ways our lives as a family of four has been branded by grief as well. With both of their births goodbyes were necessary and far more tears were shed in the beginning than smiles.

But I've learned that grief has this really wild way of changing people. I know for everyone it's a bit different, but for me the girls' births brought my life full-circle in a lot of ways. Life lost. Life gained. And the proof that we are but mortals with one, precious and wild life. 

Maybe it's my innate personality, maybe it's the mark my brother left on my life, maybe it's the way I was raised or maybe it's all of the above. There are all sorts of things I don't know, but what I do know is that this Earth is painfully beautiful and deserving of being noticed. Cold water felt, bees noticed, wind appreciated, sunroofs used for gaining a better view, and afternoons made for napping after tiring mornings spent exploring. Showing up and leaning in. Together.