Olivia’s 8th Grade Formal

If you know me, then you know who Miss Olivia is in my life. However, the quickest version for those who don’t is that she is the granddaughter of my godmother. Regardless, she is family, and I had the privilege of taking this sweet girl’s photos for her 8th grade formal at Locust Grove Middle School. Although this is sort of an atypical blog post, please enjoy this photo blog of this wonderful evening.

To Olivia—I loved capturing the details and moments of your day. I hope you love these photos as much as I did taking them!

Xoxo, Marlee


The Proposal

Kody and I met a little over four years ago in January of 2014. He was working at Gold’s Gym Eagle’s Landing, and I had decided to try out a class at the gym with my mom. My mom and I worked out together, and then after, she ordered a smoothie from the front counter. Kody made it for her. We quickly started talking with one another as my mom talked with the class instructor, making small talk. We somehow landed on a conversation about books we were reading. I was reading Cold Tangerines, and he was reading Jesus > Religion. We said we would keep in touch, and then I left.

As soon as I got out of the door, my mom looked at me and said, “He’s hot.” I followed with, “I know. No way he’s single.” “You never know,” she said. The next couple of days, I drove to the gym to see if Kody was working so that he could sign me up, but he wasn’t. Eventually, I gave up and signed up for a membership anyway. I still went back every single day hoping he’d be there. When he still wasn’t there over a week after meeting that first time, I had lost all hope. I thought he had quit.

Saturday morning, my mom asked me to come to a workout class with her at 10 a.m. I do not get up for anyone on a Saturday morning, but I thought I’d give it one last shot to see Kody. We got to the gym, and he was nowhere to be found. I was so disappointed. After the class, we walked out of the room, and to my complete surprise, Kody was there. My eyes lit up just like a typical 17-year-old girl. My mom immediately said, “I’ll order a smoothie.”

Kody and I talked, and he apologized for not letting me know he was going to be gone the last week on a cruise. (Yeah, that would have been helpful. I’ve only been coming here every day the last week looking for you…I thought.) The gym was really busy, so he wrote his name on a sticky note and told me to “look him up on Facebook.” What?? I think he was just nervous. We left, I looked him up, I added him a few hours later, and he messaged me immediately.

For the next few hours we messaged consistently until he finally gave me his number…thank goodness. Then, we texted consistently, and by the next week, we were going out on our first date. This guy had me smitten from the very beginning.

We began dating shortly after we met, February 12, 2014 to be exact. He knew from the get go that I would be moving to Athens, Georgia to start college at the University of Georgia during the fall of 2014 after we began dating, but we fell for each quickly and fell hard, so we were determined to make the relationship work. We were both certain fairly early that we wanted to marry one another, but we knew logistically, I would need to finish college first. So, we began our four years of dating

Fast forward to the fall of 2017, and marriage was a topic that was quite often talked about amongst friends, family, and with one another. It was on the horizon and so was an engagement. I had expressed to Kody and ideal timeline in which I would like for us to be engaged, but I knew that it might not be completely feasible.

Fast forward to the winter of 2018, and you could call me “Miss Antsy Pants.” I’m sure that’s putting it nicely. I was beginning to get really concerned. Are we going to be engaged? Our four year anniversary is approaching. We would like to be married in the fall. We need time to plan a wedding. Where is this ring?

If Kody knew anything, he knew that I wanted to be surprised, but I was getting very certain that at this point, there was no way he could surprise me. I had our weekend plans for the next months memorized, and every time I said them aloud, I came up with every reason as to why he couldn’t propose that weekend.

My friends also had me convinced he was never going to propose which made it worse at the time (obviously better now…they knew exactly what they were doing). You can only imagine the amount of conversations we had that went something like this. Me: “Kody is never going to propose.” Them: “I can’t believe it. He hasn’t said ANYTHING to me. I would at least give you a little something to go by.” Me: “I’m getting nervous.” Them: “If he doesn’t do it by X time, then we will have a chat with him.” They were good…real good. Of course, they would have never actually told me anything. Why would they?

To give you a bit of some background details—this past January, Kody was brought on as an exercise specialist at Chick-fil-A Corporate in Atlanta, Georgia, and his first business trip, that just so happened to fall during our four year anniversary, was approaching.

I was trying to be incredibly supportive of him and this opportunity. I knew how excited he was, but I was so, so bummed. I knew no matter how long it was going to take him to propose, this was still going to be our last dating anniversary to ever celebrate together. Our anniversary is also two days before Valentine’s Day, so normally, we don’t celebrate both, but I thought in this instance we could at least celebrate one or the other. Nope, he would be gone for both.

And, I still didn’t have a ring. I was totally disappointed by the whole thing. He was supposed to leave for his trip Saturday, February 10. I decided to stay in Athens that weekend, and earlier in the week, one of my best friends, Olivia, asked me to go to lunch with her on that Saturday after she “volunteered for a 5k her work was hosting.” The 5k was a lie to get me to believe she needed to go to bed early the night before. Really, she just need to help set things up for the next day. She informed me that she would be “dressing cute,” which was not an out of the ordinary Liv thing to say.

On Saturday, I woke up to a text from Kody letting me know he was headed to the airport. I got another text saying he made it to the airport and still another saying he boarded his flight. As soon as he landed around 11, he called me, and we talked as I was getting ready for lunch. He said he was catching the shuttle to the hotel and would be working as soon as he got to the conference center and wouldn’t be able to talk to me until that night. I wished him good luck, and we hung up.

Liv picked me up for lunch, and on the way, I started asking questions about “this fake race.” How many people registered? What was the course like? How much was the registration fee? My curiosity and journalism instinct takes over in my friendships, and I had apparently never even realized.

She proceeded to say that the race cost $60.00, and I thought this was so expensive. “Wow, that’s a lot for a 5k,” I said. “Yeah, well we marketed to people from the country club, so they had extra money to donate,” she said completely on the spot. And on in our conversation we went, me thinking nothing of it.

We had a delicious lunch, talking about all sorts of things. She asked if Kody made it to Florida okay and if he was excited, and I told her we had just talked that morning. Toward the end of our meal, she pulled out a card addressed to me in Kody’s handwriting. Immediately, she said, “Do not get your hopes up. This is not what you think.”

I was confused because of course I would have been thinking proposal, but she was so sure, and I trusted her. She would be the one to know. The last thing I wanted was to be let down even more. I was already missing Kody. I said to myself, “Dang Kody, this would be cool.” But, I looked at Olivia and said, “Too bad he’s in Florida,” to which she confidently agreed.

The note was an apology letter that he would be missing our anniversary and that he wanted me to have a fun day with my best friends to get my mind off of it and to prepare to celebrate our anniversary when he got back. I was so excited that he had been so thoughtful!

She said we had to leave to get to the next place, and when we arrived at a boutique next door, one of my other best friends and roommate of three years, Christina, was standing right there, card in hand. I was ecstatic!

I opened it up it, and I was told by Kody to use the $60.00 inside and the help of my best friends to pick out the perfect outfit for our anniversary. We started shopping and weren’t having much luck. Eventually, we made it to Red Dress Boutique, and we landed on a blue skirt, one that I had been eyeing for a while. They both said I had to get it! We paired it with a shirt and a necklace, and then, I was handed card number three.

I was told to go get my nails done and to “not chew them off this time.” “I want them to look great for our anniversary dinner next weekend,” Kody wrote. At this point, I still was not clued in to the fact that I was only a few hours shy of being engaged. I knew Kody was in Orlando, and every card alluded to celebrating our anniversary the following weekend. And Liv had already told me not to get worked up. She didn’t want me disappointed.

At the nail salon, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What if I have a ring on this finger later today?” But I never told Liv or Christina because I knew I would just sound crazy. I didn’t want to leave that wonderful day upset. After getting a great manicure, we snapped a selfie, and they told me that was it! I was so happy—what a fun afternoon I had just had, just what Kody had ordered.

When we got to the car, Christina pulled out a fourth note. “I thought you said we were done,” I said. “We like to keep you on your toes,” she said.

I opened it. “Change of plans. Go put on that outfit now,” Kody wrote. And there was where my mind began to shift. Olivia rushed me to the car, and I started crying happy tears, but I was also more confused than I’ve been in my entire life.

“Is this happening?,” I asked her. She never told me yes. She just told me I could be happy. In the car, I said at least 12 times some variation of, “But Kody is in Florida. Kody is in Orlando. He’s in Florida, right? I don’t understand.” I was a broken record.

We parked in the south deck on UGA’s campus, and Christina and Olivia lead me into the bathroom of the Georgia Center & Hotel. Christina had gone into my room after I had left for lunch and grabbed every possible shoe, bra, and underwear combination she could think of based on what potential outfit I might buy.

Together, my best friends retouched my hair and makeup, helped me pick out the perfect shoes and jewelry, and got me ready for one of the most exciting moments of my life.

After I was ready, Olivia hugged me bye and left me in great hands, and I followed Christina to the car. “What are you thinking?,” she asked me. “I don’t know what to think. I know what’s going to happen, but how? Kody’s in Florida.”

Y’all—I was STILL FOOLED. I had myself and Kody had me so convinced that until I saw him in the flesh he was hundreds of miles away. No, we don’t have “find my friends,” so I really didn’t know. I wasn’t sure if he was going to propose on a videocam or if he was going to teleport to Athens, but I just KNEW he wasn’t in Athens, and no one was convincing me otherwise.

He had truly done his job of surprising me, and he had done it dang well.

Christina drove me to the entrance of the Founder’s Memorial Garden at UGA, told me she loved me, and out of the car I got. I followed the pink rose petals up the steps. No Kody.

Instead, there was a letter that read, “OPEN ME.”

Inside, the envelope revealed a three page letter Kody had written to my dad. My dad passed away three years ago, just a year into Kody and I’s relationship. My dad and I had a very rocky relationship toward the end of his life due to the fact that he was an alcoholic, so Kody had met him a few times, but we did not see my dad often. Unfortunately, he never got to ask my dad for his permission to marry his one child, his only daughter.

I had always hoped Kody would incorporate my dad into this day since he would not be able to physically be here, but I could have never imagined this. I read the most heartfelt sincere letter. I thought I was reading a real conversation between my dad and Kody. Cue all the tears. He asked my dad for my hand in marriage, and he promised to always honor me and also my dad’s legacy in our family. He signed it, “Your future Son-In-Law, Kody.”

After I read the letter, there was a laptop set up with a button that said, “Press the spacebar and watch the video.” And to my genuine surprise, everyone had known, and everyone had known for a while. A video played with messages recorded from all of our friends and family congratulating us on this day and this time. It was so special because it felt like everyone was there celebrating us, but I knew the proposal itself would still be an intimate moment between Kody and I. Cue all the happy tears.

At the very end of the video, Kody appeared on the screen. He said, “Hey babe, the day is finally here. Shut your laptop, and meet me at the bottom of the stairs. I love you.” It was then that I saw him there, and I knew he wasn’t in Florida. Boy, did he have me caught off guard.

I hugged and kissed and pinched him to make sure he was real, and he lead me to the center of the roses. He got down on one knee and said some romantic stuff that I cannot remember to this day. They always tell you that you won’t remember what he actually says to you in that moment. It’s true. I know it was amazing though, and I know I said yes. He put the most beautiful ring on my finger, and the most special moment in my life had just happened right in front of me, to me! I was in the most beautiful state of disbelief. He had truly pulled it off. He is amazing.

About five minutes after that special moment, Kody motioned, and my mom came running up the stairs. She had watched the entire thing start to finish from her car across the street! We celebrated and took pictures together and reveled in this special, special time.

Then, we got in the car, and Kody drove me a little out of town to a house he had rented where some of the very same friends and family were all there waiting on us. We celebrated some more!

This was the most perfect day planned by Kody. He truly knew how to make me feel so special and show me how loved I am and we are. I replay this day over and over in my head. Thank you to everyone who was a part of our day and who has been a part of our journey thus far! And of course, thank you Kody for every little thing you put into this proposal. You truly are so special, and I am so blessed!

Xoxo, Marlee

P.S. Thank you Sydney Lord for the beautiful photos, so we will always remember this amazing day!

P.P.S. You can also view our story on How He Asked where it was published!

Nap time

Hello again! For me, this summer came, and it went, and here we are.

Overall, I spent this summer disengaged (from certain things at least). For three whole months, I didn’t have to think about anything related to academics, so for three whole months my laptop remained mostly closed (except for all that time I spent binge watching Parenthood (such a good show by the way…you should really check it out!)

I think that many times “disengaged” takes on a negative conation; however, I don’t feel that it was all that negative for me. It meant that this summer I did a lot of “nothing” (for once) in my day to day, and I’m pretty okay with that. Yes, I had an internship, a very valuable one that I learned a lot from, but aside from my part time work there, I mostly watched TV, met up with friends, went on dates with Kody, worked out, and spent lots of time with my sweet, sweet Grandma and Pawpaw.

It was a nice season and change of pace that I know I will not get back for a long time (maybe ever).

Now, I am back in Athens, and I’m a week and a half into senior year. I have more responsibilities, but I want to make sure that I continue to keep in mind the importance of caring for myself.

Here is one way I have found that I like to do that: napping!

They all say that everything changes once you get into the working world, so I kept this in mind during my last “real” summer, and I’m going to continue to keep it in mind through my final year as a student.

When you’re a working adult, be it a business person, a full-time parent, a teacher, a police officer, etc., you don’t have much time for naps…so I hear.

It’s not that I have a ton of time for them now either, but when I do, I find that they are very refreshing.

For whatever reason, these first weeks being back have worn me out. I haven’t been doing much, and I don’t have many assignments, yet I’m still so tired, and I’m afraid the tired train has only just begun.

I’m not sure if my exhaustion is a result of going from a semi-work schedule to no set schedule again, if it is the underlying stress that comes with the start of a new school year, or if my body is just plain tired.

Either way, I am going to take advantage of the opportunities here and there for nap time. Whether I have 10 minutes or 1 hour, I’m going to rest my eyes and pay myself back for all those naps I refused to take in kindergarten (they gave us free nap time, and I purposely kept myself awake…what was I possibly thinking?) And, I won’t beat myself up about it.

These times won’t last forever. May 2018 is going to come fast, and then I’m going to be a real life adult. To my fellow college students, I urge you to take advantage of any free nap time you have now, and to those working adults who I aspire to be one day, if you do find yourself with a little extra time on your hands, don’t be afraid to use it to rest your eyes. They will thank you later!

Xoxo, Marlee

This one’s for the moms!

Hello internet world! It’s good to share with you again. Good news…I made it through my hardest semester of college yet, and I’m a senior at the University of Georgia! Can I get an amen? Now, I’m home for the summer.

In the process of applying for an internship this summer, I submitted the following piece as a writing sample. Fast forward to now—I’m an intern! This piece, though, is still relevant, especially after just celebrating Mother’s Day. So, I wanted to share it with y’all!

Even though it is dedicated to all the moms out there, I wrote it specifically with one in mind—my wonderful, crazy, joyful, special mom! Whether you’re a mom-to-be, a new mom, an old mom, or some type of mom in between, I hope these words will speak to you. 

Happy Belated Mother’s Day!

Xoxo, Marlee

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What Your Child Will Really Notice

When you consider all that must be done as a mother, it can be overwhelming. Be reassured that some things can slide, and your child will undoubtedly remember what was most important.

The moment you bring your child home from the hospital, you are prone to wonder if s/he is going to notice all that you will do. How am I doing in this new career as a mom? Am I truly making an impact? Are my victories outweighing my failures?

Here’s what I can say with enormous confidence. From me, a 21-year-old with an amazing mom, to you: I can assure you that what I have noticed are the most meaningful moments. I am more grateful than I’ve admitted through the years, but if I can one day nurture, support, and love my children the way my mom has for me, then I will have made it. I promise you that your child will notice the acts of love over the details. You’re already killing it. You really are.

If you need some reassurance to get you through the next 18 years, these examples will show you what we, children, truly notice and the things you can give yourself a bit more freedom to let slide.

1.  I remember the time I pleaded with my mom to wear my favorite shirt for picture day. She went out of her way to wash that one shirt. What I can’t tell you is the number of times my mom got behind on laundry. So, if you feel the weight of the clothes piling up, don’t fret.

2. I remember the numerous Saturdays my mom spent taking my friends and I to the movies or taking me with her to get our nails done. I can’t, however, recollect how many times she spent a Saturday cleaning. Advice for you: If your furniture is a tad dusty and your toilets need cleaning, it can wait a little while longer.

3. I remember feeling celebrated every birthday. I will never forget the huge smile that spread across my mom’s face each time I blew out my candles. Yet, I can’t recall if every decoration was perfectly hung or every goodie bag was perfectly filled. If you miscount, it’s okay.

4. I remember each time my mom rubbed my head as I fell asleep even when her eyes were drifting off as well. The number of 20-minute rests she took for herself along the way, I could not tell you. When you need a small dose of “me-time,” take it.

Try to not beat yourself up. I pledge my word to you that every tear wiped or note written is accounted for much more than every floor swept or towel folded. We love you, and we are grateful for the endless acts of selflessness. They mean the world to us, but you, you mean the universe.

Inhale. Exhale.

Before you continue reading any more into this post, I’d like to first instruct you to do something. It’s not hard. I’d like you to take a deep breath. Ready? One. Two. Three. Inhale. Exhale.

Now, let’s begin. Anybody else out there burnt out? Lately, I have been feeling rather drained. You may have wondered why I haven’t posted a blog in a while. The short answer is that in between school, life, assignments, school, reading, life, and did I mention school, I am tired. This semester has kind of taken it out of me.

I am learning so much in between my five classes and lots and lots of homework, and there is no doubt that I will come out of this semester with vastly more knowledge than I had just a few months ago.

But with everything that I have been doing, at times (most times), it feels like there is little room for me to even breathe. I have been exhausted, and there is no denying that I am in much need of a break.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Because I know that I am not alone. You may or may not be in college right now. But I am quite confident that for some of you out there school, work, kids, or other obligations are also wearing you down.

So what’s the good news? The first bit of news is that you do have time to breathe, whether you think so or not. You just did it two minutes ago. I want to remind you that you need to take time for yourself to breathe. Some days, this will literally look like a 30-second time slot where you force yourself to take a breath. But those 30 seconds are worth it, and you need to be reminded that amidst everything, you can breathe.

Secondly, if you will allow your eyes to lift themselves from negativity to positivity, you will begin to see the fruitfulness of this season. As I continue to push through the daily grind of being a college student, I reflect on the fact that no matter how busy, I am at a university where I am afforded so many opportunities to grow. There is fruit from this season. I will come out of it stronger, smarter, and more gracious. A shift in mindset will allow you to also see the fruit that is ahead of you.

Lastly, the good news is that you do not have to take yourself so seriously. You can give yourself time to have some fun and let loose. Just because everything seems to be swirling around you at 80 mph does not mean that you can’t give yourself a break. A car can only drive at 80 mph for so long until it will have to stop and refuel. You are no different. Take some time to refuel!

This past week, my uncle, cousin, and mom came to Athens for the day to visit me. I had a test the next day, but I allowed myself to enjoy the moment. I permitted myself the freedom to take them to two delicious Athens’ restaurants. I gave them a tour of North Campus. We rang the chapel bell, and we threw the frisbee.

I am not saying that I will take a free day to myself before every test from now on, but I do believe that in this moment, taking a break allowed me to perform better on my test. Spending time with my family rejuvenated me.

I am incredibly grateful for the university I attend. I am thankful for how it challenges me to be a better me. I am also grateful that it is a place that provides a space to rest. If you allow yourself to, you can find a few moments to rest wherever you are. As you continue to see the many challenges ahead of you ready to be conquered, recognize that you don’t have to wait until their completion to take a little time for you.

Now, as I wrap up a post that is long overdue, it is only fitting that we take one more moment to breathe together again. Ready? One. Two. Three. Inhale. Exhale.

Xoxo, Marlee

Be selfish.

This post is dedicated to Kody. Happy Birthday. I love you! –Mars.

Be selfish. It is not often that we hear this, but I believe there is a time to be selfish and a time to be selfless. It does not always have to be one or the other. So, when is a good time to be selfish? I say on your birthday.

Relish the opportunity that your birthday affords you to honor yourself.

Over the years, my birthdays were times that I truly recall as being some of my fondest memories. In considering these times, I have formulated a few tips I believe are key to having a successful birthday.

Have fun: It is your birthday after all, so you should have fun. Do something that you enjoy. Find a way to put a grin on your face, one that makes your cheeks hurt at the end of the day from smiling so big. You deserve a time to let loose and live in a joyous moment. Make sure that at the very least you are having fun.

Surround yourself with fun people: It is hard to have fun if you are not with fun people. Let your friends and family celebrate you because you deserve to be doted on. You are allowed to let people be catalysts for fun. Spend time with those who will advocate for you and help you enjoy your day.

Spend time reflecting: Set aside some moments to consider the milestone that it is to enter a new season of life, a new year of living. You are not guaranteed a single day, and you are surely not guaranteed a new year ahead. It is important to meditate on the defeats and victories and further examine what lies ahead as you walk into a new year.

Be positive: Birthdays are blessings. They are outpourings of grace. You are not owed an opportunity to see a new year, so the ability to celebrate a birthday should have you overflowing with positivity and thankfulness. Be excited that you have a new year to reach new potential. This is the beginning of a time to grow, learn, and engage in new opportunities.

There is a reason we tell people Happy Birthday. I have never wished someone a “sad” birthday. I hope that your birthdays will continue to be times that you associate with happiness. I pray your birthday will be a time where you feel special.

Do not be afraid to begin cherishing yourself. And at the very least, consider allowing your birthday to be a time where you celebrate yourself. Celebrate that you are a unique addition to this world simply because you were born.

Happy 9 days into the new year!

How is your New Year’s resolution going? Are you still successful, or have you already failed? Without stepping on anyone’s toes, let me offer a new perspective. Have you considered making a New Year’s resolution to not make a resolution?

I know this sounds contradictory, but let me explain. I love a fresh start just as much as the next person because beginnings are beautiful. For example, the birth of a baby, a wedding ceremony, or your first day of “fill in the blank” are exhilarating moments in time because newness is encouraging, and with it comes confidence.

However, as the newness fades and as our resolution fails, defeat settles. It makes its home within us, and it rarely leaves.

So this year, a mere nine days into 2017, let us make a resolution to not make a specific resolution—one that the vast majority of us will fail. Let’s resolve together to simply spend 2017 living!

You absolutely cannot fail at this resolution unless you die, and if you haven’t heard, there is a 100 percent mortality rate. I apologize if that sounded too morbid, but it is true. So, since we are all going to die at some point, let us spend our time here LIVING and LIVING well.

I recently re-watched the movie The Bucket List. First, let me say, this is an amazing movie, and everyone should watch it. Second, it is very profound, and there are several lines that I believe are valuable for each one of us to consider.

The plot follows two 70-year old men who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Carter and Edward. One conversation between the men is as follows:

“I always meant to go back, but 45 years goes by way too fast.”

“Like smoke through a key hole.”

Did you catch that? Time is moving. Life is moving. And it is not slowing down for a single one of us. So, why do we feel so sure that we will do “it” in the future? This “it” can be anything. But what if we never arrive at the future? Or worse, what if we do, and we reflect with sorrow and grief at all that we did not do?

We must decide to live now and live well.

Be bold. Travel. Skydive. Rock climb.

Be committed to the season before you. Visit your parents or grandparents in the nursing home. Surprise your kids with lunch at school. Indulge in a piece of cheesecake.

Partake in joyous moments so that in 45 years you are not reflecting on your life with the same sentiment, “I always meant to go back, but 45 years goes by way too fast.”

I wish all of you a heartfelt Happy New Year, and I pray that you choose to live fearlessly. I am confident that if you join me with this goal in mind, you will have a much harder time failing.

Xoxo, Marlee

Shop With A Bulldawg

“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all year.” –Charles Dickens

I truly believe this heartfelt sentiment will mean many things for many people, so in the following post, I am going to try to express how these words have touched me.

Three years in Athens have blessed me tremendously and truly given me the opportunity to fall in love. I have fallen in love with these people and this city, and it has just been a joyous season of life.

As a freshman, my roommate, Mallory Cobb, and I decided to sign up to volunteer for a nonprofit student organization called Shop With A Bulldawg (SWAB). This organization serves children living in poverty in the Athens-Clarke County community by giving them an opportunity to experience a joyful holiday.

Mallory and I chose to participate in SWAB’s Event Day, one Saturday in December where we would be paired with a child, and then, we would shop with him/her for Christmas presents.

We were stoked, we had a blast, and we made a pact that we would participate again together. Yesterday, Mallory and I partook in our third event day. It is humbling to know that each year we have helped alter the trajectory of a child’s Christmas in a positive manner.

I believe that SWAB has taught me two valuable lessons which exemplify the words of Charles Dickens that I included at the beginning of this post. These lessons symbolize what it means to honor and keep the spirit of Christmas in your heart all year.

  1. Actively participate in your community.

This truly will look different for every single person.

If you reside in a city, then you will be “receiving from that city.” Your children will be receiving an education. You may be receiving a paycheck. You will likely spend time at the city’s ball fields, churches, and local shops. In your years of living, you will receive abundantly.

Therefore, I believe it is imperative that we give back. Volunteer in a nonprofit organization, in your church, or in your child’s school. Pick up litter from the streets that line your neighborhood. Mentor another community member. Just do something.

The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving back, and giving back should not be confined to the month of December. I love being a part of a special day that is dedicated to giving back to the children of Athens, but these children desperately need to receive more than one Saturday. There are so, so many programs in Athens dedicated to tutoring and mentoring. I am thankful to participate in some of these programs as well because it is the other organizations that keep the spirit of Christmas alive even during April showers and May flowers.

  1. Recognize the importance of gift giving.

This topic can spark tension in our culture. How do you find a balance between focusing too little or too much on gift giving? Again, this is going to falter to everyone’s own discretion. Nonetheless, we must remember that giving gifts is important, and fun, and necessary!

Gift giving is done out of love and care. You give a gift to someone because you know them or you are getting to know them. You choose wisely based on their quirks, tastes, and specific styles. You give what you know they want but will not ask for. Or, you give as a means of meeting someone’s needs. Whatever the reason, you are a blessing.

A huge part of the American Christmas tradition is gift gifting. SWAB is centered around it. For this year’s event day, Mallory and I were paired with a fifth-grade student named Ty. We could meet her needs and wants by purchasing gifts! Her favorite gifts were new art supplies: a sketchpad, coloring book, and a large pack of colored pencils.

To keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year though, we must give ourselves permission to both give and receive gifts. It is the smallest token such as a birthday card, a souvenir, or flowers that exude affection.

By being active in our communities and participating in gift giving, we will do our part to keep Christmas alive all year. I am so thankful that a day dedicated to Christmas taught me that if I let it the Christmas spirit will remain alive for 365 days. And who can object to this?

Xoxo, Marlee

Why I am especially thankful for my extended family

How much time do you spend thinking about your extended family? Furthermore, how much time do you spend in contact with them? If you have tight relationships with your Great Uncle Jimmy and your fourth cousin Betty, then that is awesome. However, I do not think this is the case for most of us.

I just got home after spending a week with my extended family on my grandmother’s side in Danville, Virginia, and it was wonderful.

I’ll give you the quick backstory. My Grandma, Mary Mitchell Rippy, is one of seven children. Including herself, five of them are still living, and four of them still reside in their hometown of Danville. In her twenties, my Grandma moved to Atlanta with my Pawpaw, and together they raised their family here. In short, this is how I came to be.

Since we are the only part of the family in Georgia, we have taken many trips to Danville over the years to reunite with our family time and time again. This Thanksgiving, we took another trip. We typically go once every three or so years, and it is always such a sweet, sweet time.

Our most recent trip is what inspired this post, and I hope it will prompt you to reflect, even for a moment, upon your heritage.

It is quite humbling to take a moment to consider how specific actions are responsible for your very being, and if just one decision had been altered, you may not even exist. Woah.

This really hit home to me when my mom, Grandma, great aunt, and myself decided to drive to my Great Grandma and Grandpa Mitchell’s old home. I could not believe that I had never seen it after all of these years.

It may sound strange, but I would describe the experience as breathtaking. The house has been refinished, and it is currently for sale, but the minute we pulled up a large grin overtook my mom’s face.

“This is where I used to visit Grandma Mitchell. This back porch is where we sat and ate dinner. If you look through the window, you can see the stairs that lead to the room where we slept. We had so much fun here,” my mom said.

It was so neat to travel back in time in my mind to my mom being a young girl visiting her grandparents.

Other experiences throughout the week were equally as interesting. We visited my Great Uncle David and Great Aunt Hazel, my grandma’s brother and sister-in-law. They reside in the first house my great grandparents’ owned. Since then, David has refinished the entire home himself. We heard stories about how there was no bathroom and how he tore down a wall to build one. We walked through the rooms that all of the siblings slept in: four girls in one small room—I can only imagine.

Throughout the week, we looked at old photos. My facial features are nearly identical to those of my great grandma. It is no secret that I come from this family.

Although busy, a week spent visiting family can be quite joyful. It is neat to visit with my Great Aunt Charlie Mae, but it is kind of eerie to think, “What if my great grandparents would have stopped having children after her?” If this were the case, I would not be here.

I also considered other events down the line. What if my Grandma had chosen to stay in Danville like her siblings? She wouldn’t have met my Pawpaw, and she wouldn’t have had my mom who had me.

It is cool to listen to “stories from the old days,” look at pictures, and even visit places special to your family realizing that all of these are merely pieces that complete you. They are a part of your DNA.

I spent my Thanksgiving among over 30 members of my extended family, and I am thankful. I am thankful for the reminder that I am so small, but that because of people who have come before me, I am destined for big things.

Xoxo, Marlee

Guess Who Is

Priss, I would look over my shoulder. You never know who is there. Guess who is. Dad

Forever I will have this etched on my left shoulder as a way of honoring my dad.

My dad was sick for a long time. He was an alcoholic, and it was rough. It was rough to grow up as an only child, a little girl with a sick father. There were ups, and there were downs, and one day, I plan to write more in depth in reference to “my story.” For now, I am going to keep focused on this post: Guess Who Is.

My senior year of high school, I did the “senior things.” One of these included purchasing a “senior ad” in the yearbook. Most students have family members write a message to them to include on their page, and I excitedly followed this trend. I had my mom, my dad, and my grandparents write me separate notes to be included next to my picture.

My dad, his non-technology, no-computer-self, handwrote a letter in the only blue pen he ever wrote with on the same yellow legal pad that always sat on his desk, and he gave it to me.

At first read, the letter was a little weird. It was sloppy, and there were some grammatical errors. But it was the last few lines of the letter that threw me off the most. “I would look over my shoulder. You never know who is there.” He even signed it, “Guess who is—Dad.” Not “Love always,” or “I love you.” Why would he write this? He was there physically. I could call, and he would answer. It all seemed very obscure to me, and I did not really like it.

So, I tweaked his letter to fit my liking. I omitted a few lines (including the last two), corrected the grammar, and turned it in so that it would appear on my page the way I wanted.

That was that.

Our incredible yearbook was published. My page was everything I had dreamt of, and my wonderful uncle and his family even surprised me with a smaller separate page dedicated to me from them. I graduated, and life was swell.

Fast forward eight months

I am a freshman in college at the University of Georgia, and I receive a phone call at 4 o’clock in the morning that my dad has passed away. My world has changed. Forever.

I cried. I grieved. I mourned. We had a beautiful memorial service. I spoke at it, and I am so thankful that others were able to hear me speak from my heart. Life moved on, and slowly, I recovered. I thought about my dad often. Wonderful people came alongside me and supported me. I was dedicated and vowed to continue succeeding. Life was not the same. It will never be the same. But I adjusted and coped and grew exponentially as a person.

January 10, 2016: The first anniversary of his death

I had not read, much less thought about the note my dad wrote me since he wrote it in 2013. On this day, I asked my mom to find the letter for me. I read it, and it hit me. It fell into place. My dad had died, but he was not gone. He was there. He is here, and he is watching over me.

His letter had meaning. It was well thought out. It was intentional, and he wanted me to know that I would always have him looking over me and looking out for me. It was then that I knew I desired to make this permanent. I wanted a permanent reminder that my dad is here, and he is not going anywhere.

He never stopped loving me. He never stopped protecting me. And he never stopped being my dad.

He was sick, and unfortunately, that sickness lead to death. But this cannot change the fact that I am his daughter. He is a part of me, and now more than ever, he is truly a part of me.

The portion of the letter that is tattooed on my left shoulder is done completely in his handwriting. This time, I changed nothing. I love it! I l am proud to have this on my shoulder, and I am proud to honor my dad.

When I get an “A” on a test, when I graduate college, as I continue to fall in love, when I get married, when I have children, when I experience monumental moments in my life, my dad will be there. I do not have to wonder. I can look over my shoulder, and I no longer have to guess. I can know. My dad is with me.

Xoxo, Priss


P.S. These pictures were taken directly after, so the tattoo was not fully healed.