It is my belief that there should be a word that combines gratitude and inspiration. (“gratspiration” is my suggestion, if any of you know someone employed by Merriam-Webster) If someone inspires me, gratitude becomes an instant reaction. Also, when genuine gratitude is felt towards someone…I’m talking deep, stop-your-heart gratitude…the actions or words that brought that emotion about probably summoned some sort of inspiration in your mind and soul. The dictionary definition of inspiration is “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions”. It’s a simple phrase, but one that carries so much intensity. We all are who we are, and very rarely can any of us be changed. Or moved, as the definition says.
The reason I bring up inspiration today is because this blog is about the four women I have asked to be my bridesmaids. Even my silly, made-up word gratspiration doesn’t do these women justice; in fact, I am positive there isn’t a single word made up by anyone that can adequately express the way they have influenced, altered, and positively impacted my life. These four ladies are the true definition of best friends, and while they have all expressed their own gratitude to me for choosing them, I want everyone to know that I am the one honored to have them stand beside me when Wes and I get married.
There is no woman more independent, powerful, and gracious in the world than Rachel Herrick. I met her when I moved home from Boone (the first time) and started working at Tripps. Rachel was the ultra-cool, ultra-popular bartender in the restaurant, and I tried all my subtle tricks to get into her friends circle. Everyone loved her, and everyone wanted to be close to her…Rachel has always had this incredible ability to make anyone around her feel better about themselves. For reasons unknown, she accepted me, as uncool as I was, and our friendship has never, ever stopped growing. Just yesterday, Rachel and I laughed hysterically, remembering how young and free we were when we lived in Asheville, going to bars and clubs on a fairly consistent basis. When I moved to Greensboro, Rachel orchestrated a Christmas party for all of us that had moved, and every single girl, no matter how far we lived away, showed up. To this day, I remember that party as one of the best I ever attended. After Rachel graduated, she so selflessly worked for AmeriCorps and the YWCA for years, whole-heartedly giving herself and her efforts to help others. Five years ago, Rachel had a baby girl, and has done such an exceptional job raising Maggie. And two years ago, Rachel made the decision, on her own, to pick up her life, and Maggie’s life, and move to Boone to go to grad school at ASU. As I’ve told her a thousand times, this is the main reason I decided to come to Boone as well. I had been trying to figure out a way to make everything work for me to come up here, live on my own, and finish my degree, and had all but given up on the idea when I never could determine how to make finances work. One sleepless night, I had a revelation: If Rachel is confident enough to move to Boone, find a school for Maggie, figure out how to make money to live, and be enrolled in school full time, then I want to try too! Besides, if Rachel is in Boone, there is nothing I could be faced with that she wouldn’t be able to help me with. The rest is history. Rachel and I have seen each other through the last two years of classes, jobs, daycares, no money (which means a lot of VERY cheap wine), and she finished her degree (one semester before me!), obtaining a diploma that shows nothing but straight As. Earlier, when I mentioned that she makes everyone feel better, I left out the best part: Rachel has never ceased to make HERSELF better. She has never stopped learning, never stopped growing, and most importantly, has never stopped inspiring. I love this girl with all my heart, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
I met Jennifer Blanton the same time I met Rachel, in my first couple months of working at the Tripps in Asheville. I think it took us ten minutes to realize we would be instant friends, which led to almost two years of being inseparable. When I accepted the management job and had to move to Greensboro, Jennifer was the person I called every single day to tell her about my great new job, but also about my lack of friends and abundant loneliness.
In the country song “Find out Who Your Friends Are,” the chorus goes like this:
Somebody’s gonna drop everything
Run out and crank up their car
Hit the gas, get there fast
Never stop to think ‘what’s in it for me?’ or ‘it’s way too far’
They just show on up with their big old heart
You find out who your friends are
In the one thousand times I have heard this song, there hasn’t been a single one when Jennifer hasn’t come into my mind. The week before my first Christmas in Greensboro, I was driving to my apartment late one night after work when my car broke down. I didn’t have a single phone number of anyone I worked with, and I didn’t know anyone else. I called Jennifer, crying and panicking, and she told me to wrap up as much as I could, and she would be there in an hour. And she was. This was a past-midnight trip, right before Christmas, in the freezing cold…but my best friend knew I needed her, and she showed up. It was less than a month later that Jennifer moved to Greensboro and started working at another restaurant. She needed something new, and I needed a friend. It was perfect timing. Jennifer has been through her share of hard times, but has been rewarded with an incredible husband and a beautiful new house. She, like Rachel, also went back to school for nursing, and is making terrific grades as well. Jennifer has always been so great to keep in touch, no matter what was going on in either of our lives, and we have always stayed close because of her efforts. We’ve gone through so many good, bad, hilarious, and ugly times together, and I’ll spare you all the stories, but I am so grateful for all the memories I share with this special woman.
I have heard that many long-standing friendships usually start with a grudge or rivalry of some sort. In the case of my friendship with Karen Hill, that is definitely the case. We were softball rivals when we first met, and it wasn’t until we had classes together in 7th grade that we became friends. Between my sister and my best friend Karen, I surrounded myself with girls that were better athletes than I was, but we always had the best times playing on all the same teams. Karen’s birthday is only 6 days before mine, and we were usually at some softball or basketball tournament the week of our birthdays, so joint celebrations were common. Before I wrote Karen a letter asking her to be my bridesmaid, I read everything she’d written in our high school yearbooks. (Quick side note here: if you want a good laugh, go back and read what your best friends wrote to you in your yearbooks. You’re welcome.) Reading her stories and jokes brought back so many memories I shared with her! All the silly details of our boyfriends and/or crushes were shared with each other first, and oh-so-frequently. I can also embarrassingly admit that there may have been one or two drive-bys of crushes’ houses… Sigh. We really were silly high school girls. We were two of the four freshmen girls picked for varsity basketball, and had to suffer through two horrendous years before it got better. When Karen turned 16 and got a car, she came to pick me up first, and we drove around town, thinking we were the coolest, luckiest girls on the planet. Our senior year was different than years past; we lost touch and were not as close as we had always been. That changed, however, once we got to college. It took us a little over a year, but once Karen and I reconnected, we spent the next two years joined at the hip. When I look back over my first college experience, the best memories I have involve Karen and our friendship. Our junior year came with the tragic death of Karen’s father, and I remember not knowing how we would survive that time. The grieving was so intense, and all of Karen’s friends did whatever we could think of to help her through it all. Somehow, after a significant amount of time, Karen came out unscathed, still as sweet, caring and loving as she had always been. That’s the thing with Karen. She, like most people, has faced difficult times, and has encountered difficult people, but UNLIKE most people, has never let the hard times and bad people change who she is. Karen loves her family and her friends as tirelessly as anyone I have ever met, and that makes those of us in those categories exceptionally lucky. Karen now has a precious newborn son, and my heart swells when I think of how blessed little Ben is to have my very first best friend as his mother.
I wrote about the first three bridesmaids without a moment’s hesitation, but now that I’m to my sister’s part, I keep staring at the screen. Where do I begin? How can I possibly talk about how Ali has inspired me? I actually don’t know if it IS possible, but I will try. Bear with me.
Members of my family love to tell the story about how intensely Ali and I would fight when we were kids. In fact, it wasn’t until she was a freshman in high school that we could (almost) tolerate each other. That’s a surprising fact for most people that know us to learn; all of our adult friendships and relationships have known nothing except how close Ali and I have always been. In high school, because of our mutual need to get out of the house, we would get in the car and drive around for hours. It’s hard to believe that there are enough roads in Candler to drive around for hours, but Ali always found them. The day my family moved me into ASU for my freshman year, I was so excited I couldn’t stand it…until I hugged Ali goodbye. That’s when the tears came. Over the next two years, there were a lot of visits, both in Boone and Asheville, and then I pressured her to come to App with me! I was here for three more years, and lived with Ali for two of them (although it might as well have been three). I eventually moved back to Asheville, and Ali had one more year here to finish her degree. After she graduated, she moved back to Asheville, but I was Greensboro-bound at that point. Over the next six years, we rarely went longer than a month without seeing each other. There were Vegas trips, Boston trips, Braves series, and so many other vacations that we took together. After Ali was diagnosed with cancer, the vacations stopped, but the visits did not. I drove to Asheville every week, trying to be there with her as much as possible. Watching your younger sister suffer through a cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, and eventually radiation is something I would wish upon no one. As I mentioned in the blog post about my dad, the cancer era is a dark, scary time that I try every day to forget. But, as silly as it may sound, there were good parts too. Ali was so sick, and in so much pain, that laughing was very uncommon around our house. In the rare moments that Ali did laugh however, I remember thinking there was no happier sound in the history of the world. Not knowing how bad the cancer was, or could be, I was determined to never leave Ali’s side when I was home, and never took a second for granted. I was with her when the doctor first mentioned an oncologist appointment, and I was with her when we got the first results showing no more cancer cells. The years in between those two days were a blur, and I’m glad they’re over. Ali spent her first cancer-free Christmas in Salt Lake City with our grandparents, and as the days passed, getting closer and closer to the holiday, Ali and I both grew more and more sad, realizing we had never spent a Christmas apart. Luckily, I had been planning a trip to SLC to surprise her, and in one of the most special, emotional moments of my life, Ali’s reaction to seeing me come through the front door had everyone in the room in tears. As I write this, I think of the things about Ali that are so opposite from me: she rarely laughs or smiles, and even more rarely shows emotion. But, because of that, when you can make her smile, or laugh, or cry, it makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. That’s how Ali is with friends too. She has very few close friends, but if you’re one of them, Ali has a way to make you feel pretty special.
After Wes proposed, he told me of all the challenges he’d faced pulling the day together, but emphasized that he couldn’t have done it without Ali. She’d gotten all of my family and Asheville friends together, and had coordinated everyone’s schedule so that they all could be there. In my mind, it comes full circle that Wes needed Ali’s help to plan the proposal, and I will need Ali’s help to plan the wedding. I’ve needed Ali’s help many times in my life, and have relied on her probably more than I should have. But, she’s always been there. She’s always helped, whether it’s been financially, or emotionally, or just to provide a joke at the right moment. Ali Mertens, the cancer-fighting, sarcastic, hilarious, beautiful girl that I’ve been blessed to have as a sister, will be the gorgeous girl in red standing right beside me, holding my bouquet, smiling (and maybe crying?) when I marry the man I love, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(If you made it this far), thank you for reading. I am so lucky to have four wonderful women who are so special to me honor me by being in my wedding, and I appreciate the opportunity to tell the world just how incredible they are.