Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Greatest Love of All: A Tribute

First, let's all take a few moments to listen to the queen singing her beautiful heart out.

If you don't have that song in your iTunes, you're doing life wrong. 

Anyway, you might be a little confused about the Whitney reference. Unfortunately, you're probably going to be confused until you get to the end of this long post. So read on, friends! (I kinda want a name for my blog followers. Like Momastery's monkees… Let's think on that, shall we?)

I'm gonna have to Tarantino this one because apparently people have been telling my mother they think I have a knife to my throat. I have posted some vague misery-induced Facebook posts in the last week and a half, and for that I apologize. I have no knife to my throat, but I'm not doing great. I'm better today than I was last week.

My sister (ate) Shelby is on a plane back to New Jersey right now. Yes, everything is fine with her family. Everyone is fine physically. I am fine, except for the fact that half of my heart is flying across oceans away from me right now. When we hugged a tearful goodbye in the airport this morning, a flight attendant asked, "friends? Sisters?" 

"Sisters," I responded definitively.

Nine months ago, I was headed to the "discernment" event for the Young Adult Volunteer program. In case you don't speak Christianese (I'm really jealous if you don't), discernment is basically spending time deciding what God's call in your life is. This is the time where we would interview with the international site coordinators and ultimately choose (mutually) the country we wanted to live in for a year. Pretty big stuff.

I got off the plane in Louisville, found some bearded men, Chaco-ed men and women, and one redheaded Afro-woman named Shelby. I soon learned that she was from New Jersey, went to Clemson, and was a Kappa Delta, all three of which immediately removed her from my list of possible friends. 

Fortunately, we had more in common than those three very significant dissonances. We were literally wearing matching bracelets (inadvertently of course) that were made in Costa Rica (a place neither of us had been, but wanted to go to). Soon we realized we were both applying for spots in Peru and the Philippines. In other settings…like applying for a job… this would mean that she was my competition. But when you're doing the "discerning" thing, it's more about what is right for you- not about competition.

We hit it off and were even staying across the hall from one another at the conference center. Apparently, Louisville in March is cold (what??), and the cold makes my skin dry. Approximately 3 hours after meeting Shelby, I marched across the hall in a towel and asked her to put lotion on my back for me. "Um…okay?" she said. We have been inseparable ever since. 

This was shortly after the lotion incident. Can't you just tell we were meant to be?
The discernment event was only three days, but it felt like a lifetime and 5 minutes all at the same time. Shelby and I were literally inseparable. People asked us if we'd known each other beforehand, to which we probably should have just said yes. It certainly seemed like it. Our connection was instant.

She made this collage for me cause she's like REALLY sweet.

We interviewed with the same sites- only a few hours apart from one another- and soon realized we both really wanted the Philippines. The site coordinators were AMAZING, and they had programs we both loved. We felt like we could both do any one of the positions there, whereas in other sites- we felt drawn to one particular job, not just the place.

The day we were waiting to find out our placements was the longest day of my entire life. Shelby and I spent the day eating cookies and freaking out. And being weird, as seen above.

It was late at night (it seemed like 1 am, but I think it was about 8 pm) when we finally got our letters. Shelby and I prayed before opening them. I still remember how sweaty her hands were, praying with mine. There was a weird mood in the room among all of the YAVs waiting to find out where they'd be living for the next year. Some left the room quietly, some ripped their envelopes open immediately, some cried, and some squealed. Shelby and I squealed. We went into a corner of the room, took deep breaths, and opened our letters. PHILIPPINES!!!!!!! I cried. I'm a crier. But squeal squeal squeal squeal squeal omg squeal my new BFF is going to LIVE WITH ME IN THE PHILIPPINES FOR A YEAR SQUEAL SQUEAL call mom squeal omg squeal.

This was the last day of discernment, right before we headed home.
Our goodbyes included lots of tears (mostly on my behalf- I'm the crier in our relationship), multiple "last" hugs, and a promise from Shelby that she would come to my graduation in May. 

I have spent my life hearing the expression "Charleston invitation" which is kind of what I thought her promise to come to my graduation was. One of those things you say when you're swept up with emotions and a high from knowing you just made a huge step to change your life.

I was wrong. A couple months went by and she insisted she was coming to my graduation. I was excited, but still didn't REALLY believe it. But then, just a few days before May 3rd, she showed up in my bed around midnight-thirty after having driven 13 hours to be with me. I was sleeping, of course, but recognized the opportunity as an important selfie moment. Behold: 

We're, like, really pretty.

The next week was a crazy blur. I showed Shelby around big ole' BFT, celebrated my graduation with her, introduced her to my friends and family (which she instantly became a part of), and showed her how we party in the 843.

This is my all-time favorite picture of us. Taken shortly before she convinced me to go to the beach (AND GET IN THE WATER) on a cold, cloudy May day. 

Introducing her to La Ha was obviously a priority. I don't know why it's different than other cheap Mexican restaurants in the world, BUT IT IS! Maybe it's the ambiance. Damn I miss that place.

We bonded, snuggled, drank, didn't wear pants, and argued. She is SO messy and I am SO OCD. She is sassy and well, I am the queen of sass. She is sarcastic, smart, hilarious, weird, etc. Basically our similarities sometimes make us want to chop each other's heads off. I liken this to having a sister. She has two, so she knows the deal. I, on the other hand, am an only child and have never had a sister. I frequently refer to my little Blake as my sister, but I think that is more of a protective/motherly/ cool older sister relationship. Shelby and I have the bickering drive each other crazy kind of sisterhood.

We learned this even more in early August, when I went to stay with her in her beautiful hometown of Princeton, New Jersey. Like her visit to Beaufort, she showed me around and I instantly became a member of her family. 

Welcome to the dirty Jerz!

She's also really ladylike and pretty.

She even took this country girl to "The City," where I instantly lost any cool points by squealing over things like sitting on the Met steps drinking Starbucks. She was patient with me during this embarrassing time.
We're especially pretty when we're hung over, don't you think?

Not only did I have one new sister, but now I have 3! Bickering included. They are the best.
Obviously when we got to the Philippines, our bond deepened further. I mean, how often do you get to travel across the world with your best friend and soulmate? We argued some more (duh), but really just enjoyed getting to experience new and exciting things together. 

We swam with HUGE sea turtles, struggled to learn a new language, tried new foods, saw new things, felt new struggles, learned together, cried together, missed home together, faked smiles together. The list goes on. Experiences like this change you. Even in just two months.

We visited Magellan's Cross. We were very reverent.

We served together.

I got to witness her first time on a carabao, which will forever remain in my brain as one of the funniest/ best moments of my entire life.

And of course, we partied together. 

And then, last Wednesday, she sent me a message telling me she was thinking about going home. Flabbergasted, I asked if she wanted me to come to Dumaguete. I live about 3 hours up the mountain in Mabinay by myself- she and our friend Mallory live in the "big city." She said "don't tempt me." So I threw some stuff in a bag and got on the bus.

I really thought this was something we could talk about over a few beers and feel better about in a week or two. Like my friend Margaret said of herself in her last editorial post, I am of the belief that my thoughts are more interesting/ special than anyone else's. Naturally, I was certain that my years of wisdom and thoughtful words would change her mind. 

"Everybody is going through a hard time right now." 

"It's not easy to live in a foreign country! I've been super depressed lately too."

"Shelby, you're being stupid. You haven't even thought this through."

"Shelby, I'm going to punch you in the face. You are NOT going home."

"You can make it two weeks until our retreat. You really can."

"I'll stay with you every moment if you need me."

"I love you, but I really think you are going to regret this."

Nothing worked. The last week and a half has been tense, anxiety-ridden, and exhausting. Trying to convince her to stay was like telling a toddler they can't eat candy. Or telling a teenager you simply will not buy them a new North Face jacket because no they do not need another one just because the popular girls all have them. I was not going to win this battle. Obviously, I didn't. At some point, I relented. I couldn't tell you when it was. I was just too tired of arguing. It has been excellent birth control, but exhausting for my spirit. Once I relented, she soon got her plane ticket, which made everybody a little relieved. Shelby knew she was going home, and we knew that while we hadn't "won," it would all be over soon. 

We ended up really enjoying her last few days in the Philippines. I made her do things you can only do in the Philippines, and we had a blast. She showed me around where she worked. We prayed a lot. We drank a lot.  We talked a lot. We "discerned" a lot. We ate a LOT.

This morning was heart wrenching. Watching my other half walk through security to get on a plane crushed my soul. It actually physically hurt. I have been crying on and off all day.

But I had to let go. I had to let her go. It was the hardest thing I think I've ever done, and obviously I fought it tooth and nail. But she's gone now, and the only thing left to do is really let go. 

The one thing that makes me feel better about letting go is that she is doing this for her. I know that if she had stayed, she would have been doing it for others. It's not that she was unhappy here, she just felt deeply pulled to go home. She loves the Philippines and I know it will hold a special place in her heart forever. It just wasn't the right time. It just wasn't right. And sometimes, no matter how perfect something may seem from the outside, you just have to trust other people's gut and trust that they really do know what is best for themselves. While Shelby and I are eerily similar, we are not one in the same. I am not in her head and while I may think I know what's best for her, it is really all up to her.

She needs to learn to love herself. She needs to take care of herself before she can take care of others. And maybe I need to learn to love myself without her. Alone. Just me. 

On the way to the airport this morning, I told her I was glad it was just me and her going. She said what I was too choked up to say: "it's always been me and you."

And it has. It has always been me and her. But before Shelby, before March, I signed up to do this because of me and God. I am here because I love God. God got me here, and I'm here to serve Him. God brought me Shelby, and He took her away. And now it's just me and Him. We've got some talking to do.

I am usually too stubborn and self-absorbed to admit when Shelby teaches me something. But this time, I can. I realized that Shelby taught me a very important lesson. No matter how deep a friendship, a love, a relationship, etc., it is all temporary. We really do need to learn to love ourselves first. ALL of us. We keep giving and giving and giving and we pour so much of ourselves out we rarely find time to pour into ourselves, and this is a fatal error. 

I mean that literally. Not caring for yourself; your soul, your spirit, your body… can be fatal. Shelby and I both struggle with the big "D" Depression. Even if that's not something you've ever related to, you still need to pour into yourself. You need to do what makes you happy. You need to do what is in YOUR gut. What you KNOW is right. Even if your best friend wants to punch you in the face because of it.

If something doesn't make you happy, FIX IT. If you're not happy at your job, find a new one. If you're not happy in your relationship, GET OUT OF IT. Or work actively to make it better. But sometimes no matter how hard you fight and try to mend things, they just don't fit. And you have to trust yourself with these things. Sometimes our mommies, best friends, even our pastors…just don't know what's best for you. You do. Trust yourself.

I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadows.
If I fail, if I succeed, at least I'll live as I believe.
No matter what they take from me, they can't take away my dignity…
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me,
I've found the greatest love of all inside of me.
The greatest love of all is easy to achieve,
Learning to love yourself- it is the greatest love of all. 

Shelby Nicole, I am so proud of you for admitting your weakness. I am so proud of you for fighting me on this. I'm so proud of you for using your voice to fight for yourself. Please keep doing this. Don't lose sight. Don't lose hope. You are headed home to an amazing family (I know this because they are my family too) and leaving behind a family here who loves you unconditionally. I know you are with me in spirit in everything I do, and I know your heart hurts to leave us too. But I'm so proud of you for putting YOUR heart first. Thank you for teaching me to do this for myself. Thank you for the doors you're opening up for me through this, and thank you for giving me the voice to express my weaknesses too. Thank you for showing me what being a sister is really about, and thank you for making me learn to love myself without you. I will miss you every moment.

Thanks for the memories, sister. You light up my world. Keep shining that light bright.
And always remember… 

Friends (I really want a name for y'all!!!!!), there may be some changes coming my way. Will you pray with me about them? Sorry I've been/ am being so sketchy about details lately. Just help me "discern" what's right for me at this time. Don't worry, I'm not going home. Just need to make sure I am really doing what I came here to do. I'd love your help and support. As usual, if you don't do the praying thing, just think happy thoughts/ send juju/ ask me what's going on and talk to me about it. 

I'm trying to learn to love myself.

What does that look like for you? What's your self-care? What are your warning signs that you are headed down a bad path? How do you stop them? Let's help each other.


  1. Abbi, thanks. Your words are very encouraging to me in a time of loss of a dear friend at home. I needed to hear your encouragement about letting go. Sometimes God has so much for us that we need to come to him with open, empty hands to take it. If we hold too tightly to something in a closed fist we can't take all of his blessings. If your hands are full, you have to set something down to take another gift--that's not saying you have to give up something forever, just to set it down, or let someone else carry it for you. We're praying for your self care, your discernment, your loss, and your gain in Boston

  2. Love you Shelby and I'm so glad you are taking charge of your own life. As we say at the Boston house: "Follow your heart." Your heart will never lead you astray.

    Abby, what can I say to you? You are one tough, sassy, smart lady and its awesome to watch you grow even though we are across the world from one another. This post has given me inspiration to change some things in my life. Nothing big, mostly little things... I need to remember that things don't always have to happen to you but you can make things happen FOR you. Does that make sense?


  3. I needed this reminder about loving yourself. I think those of us who choose to spend a year of our life serving often are the ones most likely to neglect ourselves for the sake of others. This post is an excellent reminder that we cannot truly know how to love without first loving the person God created us to be. Thanks for your courage and heart. Sending love from Tucson!