The “Year of Alabama:” A recap

(Fair warning: longest post ever. I’m talking like, mini novel. Full permission to bail out now if you’d like.)

Happy New Year friends. I absolutely love this time of year because everyone is so reflective. Cue all of the “what I’ve learned” and “cheers to 2015” social media posts that have been flooding our feeds…but honestly, I can’t get enough of them. I love observing what people have learned about themselves over the past year, the experiences they’ve had, and how they are better people because of it all.

Really, everything that we go through in this life, good or bad, serves a purpose higher than ourselves. All of these things make us who we are. Change is good. As humans we’re made to change and evolve and get better with each day that passes by. So keep the posts coming, people. Your shared experiences help others live a better story by allowing us to observe what you’ve learned.

Speaking of learning and changing…

By now most of you have heard that Jon and I are making the move back to Michigan. We’re so pumped, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t come with some bittersweetness. I mean…the people we’ve met, the places we’ve gone, the things we’ve done…if we hadn’t ventured down South, none of that would have been possible.

It’s crazy to think that this time last year we were about a month into our journey here in Alabama. Jon had really been back and forth from Alabama to Michigan for a few months, but I didn’t officially make the move until last December.  I had no idea who I was going to meet, how I was going to get involved, and what it was really going to be like here. I’m a pretty adventurous gal and I love trying to new things…but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little overwhelmed.

(PS: overwhelmed is the adult, mature word for “totally freaking out.”)

As a person who has some pretty deep roots and connections in Grand Rapids, I was moving to a city where I literally knew nobody. And meeting new friends is like being back in the dating game. AKA: awkward, thrilling and terrifying all at the same time.

Real talk; it ended up being such a blessing. It was a breath of fresh air… a new beginning.   Looking back, I’m absolutely blown away at how God navigated us through 2015. I want to remember this and reflect back on it as often as I can, because I learned this year more than ever that at all times He is with us, even when I can’t see it or don’t know what’s going to happen next. I believe the religious folks call this phenomenon “faith.”

In one social media “2015 Shoutout” (as I like to call it), a gal talked about how she had challenged herself at the beginning of the year to write down each day how and where she saw God move in her life. It didn’t have to be a huge long novel…it could be one sentence. She said that as she looked back at the end of the year, she was totally baffled at the work He had been doing, little by little, day in and day out.

I like that. I think that’s a solid resolution and something I’d like to try for 2016.

It got me thinking, though. God really showed up in the “Year of Alabama,” as I’ve so lovingly dubbed this experience. The recap below is really just my way of documenting some of my experiences to look back on later… but I wanted to share them with you all anyway.

Travel. 

I think I spent more time in airports in one year than I have my entire life combined. I mean, I’m no stranger to travel and airports, but it seemed for a while there like I was hopping on a plane to go somewhere once a month. And driving… so much driving… ALL THE DRIVING. The ol’ Saturn held strong for a full year and now she just has to make it back to the Great White North before I’ll consider her “mission accomplished.” 2015 brought me to some fantastic places:

  • Grand Rapids (I lost count how many times – everyone decided to get married and have babies in 2015)
  • Disney World (twice)
  • Vegas (twice)
  • Dallas
  • Nashville
  • Atlanta
  • New Orleans
  • Windsor (Canada)
  • St Petersburg, FL
  • Pensacola FL
  • Vicksburg, MS
  • Monroeville, AL
  • Huntsville, AL
  • Mobile, AL
  • Lafayette, AL
  • Tupelo, MS

I feel like I’m forgetting some, but that’s the bulk of the list. I had the opportunity to see and experience things I otherwise probably wouldn’t have (minus Disney…because…well, I love Disney). I’m in awe at how every destination was so different and diverse. It was incredible. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to explore these different cities and the traveling mercies we were given.

Relationships.

God showed up BIG here. Once I got past the awkward “get to know me, get to know you” stage, I found some amazingly legit folks to surround myself with. From work to road trips to bicycle brigades to movies to sporting events to brewery tours to haunted houses to Mardi Gras to Young Life, etc….we cooked up some awesome experiences along the way. It’s going to be hard to leave these people. Most of them have funny accents and they like football way more than normal humans should, but I love them.

This will definitely be one of the hardest parts about heading home.

Church.

Now, this isn’t something I was expecting when I moved down here. It’s funny, where I’m from in West Michigan, we are often referred to as the Bible Belt. Down here in the South, Birmingham is also referred to as part of the Bible Belt. When I first moved down here I pictured only two types of churches: ultra conservative Baptist churches and massive mega churches. Well, I’m happy to report that both of them exist here (as do many other denominations and types of churches …forgive my ignorance, Alabama). I found a home in one of them.

Church of the Highlands was the first, and actually the only, church that Jon and I visited and attended while we lived Alabama.We had planned to “shop around” when we moved here, but a coworker of ours introduced us and we were blown away during our first visit. COH became our church home immediately. Huge church? Uhh yea…we’re talking 12+ campuses across Alabama…but absolutely incredible. I’ve never been in a place where I could so easily and readily feel God’s presence. The people and the mission of church are out of this world.  It was one of the first things I was most excited to tell my parents about when they asked how things were going down here.

It’s also the first place I’ve ever lifted my hands up when worshipping (we just didn’t do that growing up) and the first place that really moved me to start a prayer life outside of just praying before meals, big games, college exams that I desperately needed to pass, at Bible study, or for the healing of a friend or family member.

I love my church back in Grand Rapids, but COH will always have a special place in my heart. Luckily, I can still watch Pastor Chris online on Sundays:)

Family.

I’m a family girl, it’s no secret. God has blessed me richly with a large blended group of hooligans that I love.  Moving away from that was tough. But I’m sure I’m not the first person to say that you grow a whole new appreciation for your family when you no longer have the luxury of seeing them anytime you’d like. This was probably the most difficult part of being in Alabama. Every other part of being down South was exciting, new, and something I looked forward to. But being away from my family was not any of these things.

Missing Sunday dinners, days at the lake, Saturday morning breakfasts, camping, going out for cocktails, having game nights… these are things you sometimes take for granted until you can’t do them anymore.  I hated that I couldn’t be there for those moments and that when we did come home, it was like a sprint to see everyone before we headed back South.

Thank goodness for technology, social media and parents and siblings that came to visit. Being pen pals just wouldn’t have cut it.

Friends.

The same things about family could be said here for my friends. I must say though, it was fun getting all old school and sending letters and cards to each other via snail mail on the regular. We did become pen pals of sorts, which is a little more acceptable with your friends, I think. (My parents would not have appreciated my only communication with them being in letter form.)

When I’d come home for a quick trip back to GR and only had a small window of time that I could actually hang, I was shocked at how most of them just made it work and would rearrange plans if they could in order to be there. Most of them have little ones at home too, so the fact that they made it work was a huge blessing. I’m lucky to call these women my closest gal pals. God reminded me weekly of the importance of maintaining strong relationships with those you love. The way these girls went out of their way to strengthen and maintain our friendship was just the coolest thing. A few even came to visit me here in the deep South!

Work.

I didn’t have huge expectations when I first moved down here. I wanted to take some time to find the “right” thing. Did I want to find a great job? Absolutely. I needed it both for my sanity and to help propel my skills and career forward. I wanted to find good work, a place where I could challenge myself, gain experience and make a positive difference. If we’re being honest, I really didn’t think that would lead me back to working for Advance Digital (the parent company that owns both Mlive.com and Al.com), but that’s where God led me. When I first started there, it was a great gig, parts of it similar to things I had done in the past.  I was mainly working with the marketing team on various projects and on one major advertising account that AMG had just signed on, creating content for them.

Little did I know that it would turn into running and managing a content marketing channel, sitting in on sales meetings, putting together strategies, pitching solutions, educating sales teams and becoming a manager. If you would have told me that that’s what I was getting myself into when I first moved down here… I would have politely said, “Ehhh….no. You should probably find someone else. Good luck and good day.”

But it was so awesome. I figured it out as I went and had some incredible mentorship. I learned invaluable things about myself, what I’m good at (and what I’m definitely not good at), made mistakes, asked a lot of dumb questions, and learned that it’s ok to not know everything and not have all of the answers. In fact, people appreciate humility and realness more than anything. After all, we’re all just trying to learn and get better together. And I had the pleasure of working with some really freaking smart people. #AMGWins – yes we have our own hashtag and I love it. I love my AMG family and I’m going to miss them like crazy.

Reflection.

When you don’t know many people in a city, you have plenty of time to sit back and ponder things. Reflection is important. I was so busy before that I never really had a chance to do this.

It’s not like I sat around for hours pondering the meaning of life…just little minutes/moments at a time. But seriously, having time to sit back and enjoy life and not move at 1,000 miles per hour is a pretty amazing thing.  You actually have the opportunity to soak it all in every once in awhile and just really grasp the ordinary everyday blessings in your life.

Iron Tribe.

You didn’t really think I’d leave this out, did you? Come on…it just wouldn’t be a complete “Year of Alabama” if I didn’t talk about the Tribe!

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Jon and I love us some Iron Tribe and will talk about it to anyone who will listen. In fact, someone at work asked me today what I thought Jon missed more now that he was in Michigan already…me, or Iron Tribe? Uhh…the fact that that’s even a question is hilarious to me. But I guess that’s a testament to what it meant to us! In fact, we’ve even thought about opening our own ITF someday. (Does anyone have a 400k they’d like to invest in our business?)

We joined in June under totally random circumstances and fell in love with the place. It was a God thing for sure that we found it. It really was a way for us to get plugged into the Birmingham community.  (Here comes the shameless plug…) The gym is amazing; the people, the atmosphere, the workouts, the accountability, the laughs. Everything about it drew us in. The coolest part is that as a business, they intertwine their core values with their faith. It truly is an inspiring organization. It’s definitely made an impact on my and Jon’s lives.

Alright, shameless plug is now over… continue on.

Marriage.

This is a biggie. God has a great sense of humor.

When Jon and I were talking about the possibility of moving to Alabama we thought to ourselves… “Hey, we’ve only been married for about 5 months…wouldn’t it be cool if we moved across the country where we don’t know anybody?” Which was followed up with, “Yea, that’s an awesome idea!”

Facepalm.

Let’s just say that it was a huge blessing in disguise.We’ve been able to experience some really cool things together here. And we got to know each other quiiiiiite well, pretty quickly.

For example, I learned that there is a very specific way to throw trash away as to make sure that the garbage can doesn’t fill up so quickly. Oh, I also learned that I’m “really bad” at organizing the dishwasher. I think the terms “worst dishwasher putter-inner ever” were used. (Which, if it’s trash and it’s going into a garbage can, why does it have to be put in a certain way? And if you’re washing dirty dishes…who cares how they go into the dishwasher? They all get washed anyway! But I digress…)

In the end, I think this helped our marriage grow leaps and bounds in our first year. Some people will tell you that your first of marriage is the hardest, and I wholeheartedly believe that it can be that. If we weren’t physically off on our own little island where we had no choice but to talk things out and learn how to really communicate, I think that some of the bumps that we hit along the way could have been much harder to work through.

Honestly though, it’s been so fun. Sometimes we laugh later at the things we were upset about because they can be so ridiculous. Plus, we’ve agreed that I’m right, most of the time. Happy wife, happy life…. am I right, ladies? Maybe that’s just in my head, but either way… JG’s the bomb.com and I love that I get to do life with him – OCD tendencies and all. (He doesn’t read these, so it’s ok if I say that.)

Looking back on the “Year of Alabama,” without our dependence on God’s plan, this could have been a really interesting/hard year. It’s hard to give up control and we struggle with it on the regular…but it’s been proven time and time again that He has His hand on everything and every situation.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Alabama, you were great. Thanks for the lessons, laughs and the life giving experiences. We’ll be back to visit soon!

 

 

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Glass half full kinda gal. Coffee. CrossFit. Conversations. Copywriting. Coaching. Cheering people on in life.

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