Another thankful year full of love, but this one is extra sweet

Walking on the beach, the love of my whole heart and soul tells me he has to ask me something.

And getting on one knee, Seth says: “Will you marry me?”

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Thankful for our family who captured this moment from the dunes. So sneaky!

Yes. forever yes, I say, shocked just as much at the size of the diamond as the fact he wants me to spend forever with him, and the fact our families are hiding and slowly emerging from the dunes.

I’m the happiest ever — I get another family to love with Sherri, Woody, Beck and Zoee, plus more, and move into a whole new chapter of life.

* * *

My sister walks across the stage at the University of Alabama, gaining a degree in food and nutrition. She’s on her way — and I’m the happiest and proudest big sister.

She did it. And now she’s one step closer to becoming a dietitian, making our society healthier one piece of advice at a time.

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The cutest Bama grad.

* * *

Seth and my brother Jason bond over the fire pit at my brother’s new home — they’ve basically been bros since they met.

They talk and bond over football and golf and loving God and their walks with the big guy upstairs.

And I sit back and think about how thankful I am for Seth and Jason’s relationship and openness to talk and be honest and vulnerable.

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They aren’t too manly to have a few fruity cocktails on a rooftop bar.

 

* * *

My parents gift us with a trip to Dominican Republic — one of our family’s best trips with laughs and pool time and lots of food and too many Mamajuanas.

It’s Seth’s first time out of the country and all of the Strong children’s first trip to Dominican, and a perfect time to spend together.

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Turn up.

* * *

As we sit around our family supper tables this year, I can’t help but think of what I’m most thankful for: love.

It’s not just because I’m recently engaged. Or just because I’m in the midst of wedding planning. Or just because it’s what you’re supposed to say on Thanksgiving.

It’s because I have a hell-of-a-great family surrounding me, loving me, supporting me. It’s because I’m so thankful for who is surrounding me, who will be with Seth and I on our special day in less than 160 days — all people who have played parts in my life to make me into the person who I am today.

And it’s mostly because the Lord tells us how special love is in Corinthians: And now these three remain — faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Love is my favorite, but I’m also thankful for how life has played out this year, smoothly and just like God planned. And my Duchess and Chiba, Miller Lite, good health, cosmetologists who fix your hair after you think you can do it on your own, Mexican food, pizza, football weekends with Seth, allergy medicine that’s saved my life from spending most of my daily time in a very old building, and the after-school writing club I lead at a local charter school.

Cheers to another Thanksgiving, and here’s to another year full of people and things to be thankful for.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. -Psalm 100:4

 

Oh, how thankful I am for all the mean girls

We rush into the nastiest bathroom at Waccamaw High School.

I’m furious because they laughed at me. The means girls — my friend group — they laughed as I stood up to them for talking about my friend behind her back.

The whole incident is a blur. I hope it’ll come back to me later.

I’m past the point of tears. But my friend — still crying.

A teacher follows us into the bathroom because we stormed off from the mean girls’ table, visibly upset.

I tell her what happened.

I tell her I finally did it. My ninth-grade, unsure-of-who-I-am-yet self just stood up to the mean girls at the lunch table where I used to sit — the table my friend and I stopped sitting at a week ago with the girls who we thought were our friends.

“F*ck ‘em,” the teacher tells us.

I’m 14. And I don’t hear that word much. But I knew what she meant.

Behind those two screw-what-they-say words, I knew the teacher was telling us we are worthy of a friend group who respects us, who is honest with us and didn’t have to talk badly about us. We are worthy of being in a friend group that wasn’t a constant competition to be part of.

The hardest part — that friend who I stood up for went back to the friend group months later, and I never talked to her again.

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The group of my middle school friends who I became close with after I started running cross country. This photo of us with squinty eyes was taken after a Saturday charity race in 2008.

Girls can be mean. Really mean. We all can be.

It took me until after college to realize I had points in my life when I had been a mean girl sometimes, too.

But it didn’t take me long to realize those mean girls weren’t the type of friends I wanted.

And it didn’t take me long to realize there are mean girls everywhere, no matter how old you get.

***

It wasn’t the first time one of the girls from a certain sorority at my college had pushed me while walking past at Pub House, the bar that was torn down and now where a shiny Starbucks sits.

But it was the last time I let it happen without saying anything, taking action.

So I take to Facebook — what else would a girl who wants to call people out do?

I write about being tired of that sorority bullying my friends and that hate never wins. And I use the sorority’s name in the post, too.

The funniest part — I’m a legacy of that sorority.

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My three college roommates and I stuck together, especially junior and senior years. We’re still close and get together at least once a year to celebrate all our our birthdays, which fall within two months. Shannon, Madeline, me and Casey at our favorite spot — El Cancun restaurant.

A few days later, I’m contacted by the dean’s office.

I freak out because I’m about to graduate and part of me worries these girls have come up with this elaborate story to get me in trouble.

I walk into the dean’s office, my heart beating.

But I had nothing to worry about — it was the best conversation I could’ve hoped for.

It’s like she said without flat out saying that she understood my side.

I could tell she knew it was silly, high school-like drama — drama I knew I was too old for.

She didn’t want me leaving the university, graduating in bad spirits.

And I didn’t.

Great things happened to me before I graduated, things two years later I started to realize happened to reassure me the mean girls were calling me a whore just to be mean and pushing me around to belittle me.

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I presented my undergraduate research on discrimination against women in the workplace at SOURCE in 2016. The research was a project in one of my favorite classes — multimedia reporting of public issues.

I presented my undergraduate research project at a conference — a project on discrimination against women in the workplace. And I won my first ever award — the Terry Plumb Journalism Award for general reporting after covering a range of topics during my internship at The Herald in Rock Hill.

The great things were a push of encouragement, a you’ve-got-this reminder as I went into my first job as a journalist.

***

Now having shared the two worst bullying incidents I’ve been through, and if you mean gals have even read this far or at all, I’d like to thank all of the mean girls.

Thank you for making me strong enough to push through the hurt of your meanness.

Thank you for bullying me so in turn I could be my own advocate, telling myself and encouraging myself that all you said bad about me wasn’t true.

Thank you for being the subject in this it-was-hell-but-it-gets-better blog — a blog I hope will touch others who have struggled with the same things.

Thank you for doubting me because it feels so great to prove you wrong.

And most of all, thank you to my ex-friend group who abandoned me in ninth grade because you taught me how to be an independent, real, down-to-earth person. You all taught me what kind of friends I do want and what kind of friends I don’t want. You taught me to be a person who understands what really is key to making a quality life — humility, understanding and listening others’ brokenness, accepting people as they come.

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A big laugh at our old “neighbs” house. We always brought the moose blanket along.