Use Your Noggin

laughing in the sun

(engagement photo 2007)

On July 26, 2014, it will be one year since Andrew passed away.  It feels like it’s taken me the past year just to wrap my mind around what happened.  He fought hard for ten, long months. At the time, ten months felt like several years, but now, looking back, it seems like a whirlwind.

Lately, I have been having the most vivid dreams about being with Andrew when he died. I’m a naturally empathetic person, but lately my empathy has been through the roof. I’ve been so sensitive and fragile, lately.  One of the things that broke my heart this past week was when Ellie saw a guy on a bicycle as I was driving her to school. When she saw the man, she got so excited, but within seconds she let out a sigh and said, “Oh, I thought that was daddy.” She then said, “I wish Daddy could come down so he could see Dallas.” She assured me he would really like Dallas.  It’s moments like these that remind me of the seriousness of our loss. A little girl lost her daddy and I lost my husband.

Even though I’m experiencing more sadness these days, there are still so many moments of hope and pure joy. Andrew’s attitude about life and his example of how to truly live in the middle of dying shapes the way I view everything. In a way, he saved me from living a life filled with fear. I saw how he approached his fear of death; he accepted death by fully soaking up the moments he had and using those moments to give back to others and to leave a legacy of love. Knowing now that our days are numbered and that life is quite possibly shorter than we think, I feel more inclined now than ever to live my life with purpose.

This next week, in honor of Andrew’s life, I want to share stories about him that have challenged me, made me laugh and inspired me.  My hope is that they do all those same things for you.

One way Andrew challenged me was through encouraging me to use my brain.  I’ve always been extremely trusting of what others had to say and never saw a reason to question things.  Andrew, on the other hand, questioned everything. At the time, it drove me completely crazy. But now, I am so grateful he taught me to have awareness, to not just believe what others say, but to question and test it for myself.  The first place this really came up for me was in church. Up until I met Andrew, I pretty much took whatever the pastor said as truth.  Andrew, on the other hand, would listen, dissect and test the sermons.  We had many long discussions after church about why a given statement contradicted another, and we would usually end those conversations without any answers. But getting answers wasn’t the point; the point was that we didn’t want to be ignorant and to accept without thinking was ignorance in our book.

As time went on and we had hundreds of these conversations, I started to see life from a different perspective. I started to value having my own personal opinions based on things I had thought through. Andrew’s mind and his ability to process a lot of information quickly was one of the gifts that made him so intriguing. I valued his opinion because I knew he truly thought through everything. I still have a tendency to be lazy intellectually, mostly because the vast amount of information is often overwhelming. And to be honest, I’m not always that interested in the subject matter. But, to this day, I try and remember what Andrew taught me about valuing my own opinions by thinking through the words of others. In a way, this process made me more open minded and allowed me to see other points of view. It has also enabled me to connect with more people.

As much as all of Andrew’s thinking took me on one heck-of-a roller coaster ride, I will remain forever grateful for what he taught me: the principal of learning to think for myself and how to value my well, thought-through opinions. I hope that you will be challenged and encouraged, as I was through my time with Andrew, to think for yourself and value your own personal and wonderful thoughts, Much Love!

 

 

 

 

Here Comes The Bride

Here comes the bride photo

On October 20, 2007, I was married in the chapel at Denton Bible Church (the church I grew up in). It was a beautiful day and a beautiful wedding.  We were surrounded by so much love.  The years flew by and like many marriages, ours was filled with ups and downs. To this day, I would say that nothing has challenged me and stretched me more than marriage, with the exception of being a mother.

Three years into my marriage we found out we were having a baby. A few months into my pregnancy we got an invitation to a wedding from a dear friend I cheered with in college. The Houston wedding was close to Andrew’s family in South Texas so we thought we’d make a weekend out of it by going to the wedding and then spending some time with Andrew’s parents since we didn’t get to see them much. It did cross my mind that Rafael might be at the wedding, because I knew that he was law school roommates with the groom.  Andrew did not love going to weddings, but I convinced him to go by telling him that we would leave early to head to see his family, which was still a good two-hour drive from the wedding.

After the wedding was over, I went to the foyer where many of my old squad members were standing. We were hugging and catching up when all of the sudden I saw Rafael walking towards us. I darted to the bathroom to try and avoid what I thought would be an awkward situation.  After standing in the bathroom for a few minutes, I realized I had to come out at some point, and when I did, Rafael was standing there talking to Andrew. I said a quick hello and to this day I can remember the look in Rafael’s eyes. It was a look of admiration, but also sadness at the same time.  They wrapped up their conversation and I grabbed Andrew’s hand and we headed towards the car.

A year later I was eating dinner with a dear friend from college. She would always fill me in on how everyone from the spirit squad’s were doing. I was shocked when she mentioned that Rafael’s brother passed away in a freak accident.  She told me about how she believed the experience had changed his life and caused him doubt in his faith. When I heard about Rafael doubting his faith, my heart sunk. I was heartbroken for him because of the loss of his brother and for the loss of his faith. For some reason, I felt that if anyone could talk to Rafael about his faith it was me.  Back in college we talked a lot about our faith, had similar conversion experiences, and had a passion to love people like Christ loved people.

The evening I found out about Rafael’s loss, I asked Andrew if I could try and find Rafael on Facebook and send him a message. I asked Andrew if I could tell him we were sorry for his loss and that we could understand struggling with one’s faith. I also wanted to tell him that we were there for him.  Andrew agreed and I sent Rafael a message. I felt that if anyone could relate to Rafael’s faith struggle it was Andrew because although he was a man of faith he had seasons of doubt and tons of questions that weighed on him.  Maybe it was the fact that Rafael’s brother had died a year earlier and he hadn’t heard from us then, maybe it was that he still had feelings for me—I don’t know.  What I do know is that Rafael’s response had a cold feeling to it, though I could tell it meant something to him that we reached out.

Six months later, I would be able to relate on a much deeper level to losing someone you love.  My life was taking a turn towards the unexpected. The life I once knew was about to change forever.

My Biggest Regret

“One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” Paul Coelho

 

In the Spring of 2006, almost all my focus was on playing football and studying hard. As some of you may know, playing college sports is like having a full-time job. Couple that with attending school full time and you’ve got yourself a recipe for exhaustion and stress. But even though I was being tested both physically and emotionally by being a college athlete, I had never been happier.

Nonetheless, Bailey was still on my mind. By that point, I knew she was dating Andrew, but I didn’t know whether the relationship was progressing. In all honesty, I didn’t think the relationship would last. Nothing against Andrew, I just felt at that time that Bailey was the “one” for me and that no matter which path we decided to go down, we’d end up together in the end.

As you can imagine, when your locker is two lockers down from your teammate, you tend to see them quite a bit. At first, I was worried that I would hear something about Andrew and Bailey’s relationship that I didn’t want to hear (e.g., stories about their first kiss, dates, etc.), but that fear soon faded. Though Andrew did talk about his relationship with Bailey to other teammates, I chose to stay focused on football, my studies, and my faith. After all, the way I saw it, Andrew had made his feelings known and therefore deserved to be Bailey’s boyfriend at that time. For the entire time Andrew and I were on the football team together, I only ever saw Andrew as a teammate and not as an adversary. After all, Andrew had never wronged/disrespected me in any way, he simply followed his heart.

The Spring Game rolled around in about April or May 2006 and I finally had the opportunity to showcase what I believed I could contribute to the team on the field. I played well and I think the coaches were pleased. After the game, my mom and several friends came onto the field to say hi and congratulate me. That’s when I felt a slight tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Pres (Bailey’s brother). Also, standing next to Pres was Jim (Bailey’s dad). I had met them the semester before through Bailey, and I guess they had kept up with my transition onto the football team. Pres had the biggest smile that day and I could tell he was excited to be on the field. I did my best to encourage Pres, asking him about his life, how school was going, etc. I thanked Jim for coming out and for bringing Pres. Shortly after getting back to the locker room, I saw Andrew giving Pres a tour of our facilities. Again, I took the time to say hi and spent a few moments with Pres. Though I assumed Bailey was at the Spring Game, I did not see her that day.

The Spring Game came and went and before I knew it, the semester was over. However, shortly before the semester ended, I interviewed to be a counselor at Kanakuk Kamps (a Christian sports camp). I was hired and showed up to Welcome Week at the end of May (the week before camp actually starts, where staff shows up to get camp ready).  I had heard that Bailey was maybe going to be there, but I wasn’t sure. So, when I saw her the first day of Welcome Week, I was excited! By this point, the semester had ended and I was taking a break from football while at camp. All of a sudden, those strong feelings I had for Bailey the semester before resurfaced and were stronger than ever. To make matters worse, my one-year commitment was over and I no longer had a reason to keep my true feelings from Bailey.

By this point, Bailey had been dating Andrew for six months, which in college terms, equated to a really, really long time. If I had a window of opportunity with Bailey, it had long been shut, and there was no other way into her heart but to break some glass. Though I saw Bailey around the camp grounds from time to time, we didn’t really have an opportunity to talk much. So, one day on a field trip into Branson, Bailey and I were on the same bus and sitting in adjacent seats. I remember the day being hot and the windows in the big yellow bus were all down. I knew that if I was ever going to tell Bailey how I felt, this was it, this was my opportunity. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I began to tell Bailey that I “kind of” had feelings for her the semester before. To this day, I can’t figure out why, but I didn’t tell her that I was madly in love with her or that I thought she was “the one.” I guess I was scared of rejection, scared that she would be creeped out by my “soul mate” theory. So, I down played it. I remember her seeming upset that I was just now coming clean with my feelings. Then, with the same demeanor I had told her I just wanted to be friends six months earlier, she looked in my eyes and said: “It’s too late.” I don’t remember how the conversation ended, but my choice to keep my feelings to myself six months earlier turned into my biggest regret.

I took what Bailey said serious. To me, it was over and it was time to start moving on. Regardless of my feelings for Bailey, I told myself that my window of opportunity had slammed shut never to be opened again. I dated a couple of people the following year, but nothing too serious. I remember hearing that Bailey and Andrew had gotten engaged—seemed like that was the worst day of my life, but I was wrong. The worst day was the day Andrew and Bailey were married. I remember checking Facebook constantly that evening, knowing that I would see wedding photos pop up any minute. Sure enough, late that night the first wedding photo popped up and I knew my dream of marrying Bailey was dead. It was tough to accept, but I was no home wrecker. In my mind, Andrew had won the race and regardless of my feelings, I had to lay the idea of Bailey to rest. So I did…

Post written by Rafael Rodriguez

I still get sad

Ellie and her daddy

I know some of you may not be happy that I’m interrupting the ”love” story, but I wanted to share some insights from this weekend.  Most every holiday this past year I’ve been a little down.  I’m not the type who can just automatically cry when I’m sad. It takes a lot for me to connect to my emotions enough to produce tears.  On Sunday, I was feeling a little down thinking about Andrew’s dad and how hard that day must have been for him.  I was also sad thinking about Ellie and what she lost. I couldn’t get to the point of tears, but I knew I needed a release.

Later that evening, I was watching the NBA finals and that’s when I was finally able to release my sadness.  Andrew loved the Spurs! When we would watch the games he would tell me about Coach Pop and his players and what he thought made the Spurs so great! I’ve always been a Mavs fan (seeing as I grew up in Dallas), but I’m not gonna lie the Spurs won me over. I remember watching the games with Andrew and his dad. They would yell at the players when they messed up, jump with excitement when they did something good, and I would laugh at them the entire time.  The whole experience was filled with life and energy!

Watching the Championship game on Sunday, made me feel like Andrew was in the room with me. I knew exactly how he would respond, how excited he would be and for the first time in a long time I felt connected to Andrew as my best friend. I don’t take moments like these lightly, because for me they are few and far between. It hit me that there is not another Andrew Heard on this earth and I was reminded that he is not coming back.

As I was looking at the TV screen, Raffy asked me if I was ok. I turned and looked at him and he asked me if I was missing Andy. I told him yes. Even though I’m moving on in life I still get sad.  I was also worried about hurting Raffy’s feelings, but I knew I had to get the tears out. He came over to my chair and hugged me tightly and let me cry. He told me he was sorry that I lost my best friend. He encouraged me to feel sadness and to release it. Then he distracted Ellie so I could have some time to myself to cry.  It was a beautiful moment and made me so grateful for this man who can understand and empathize with my pain (you will see why he is able to relate so well in later blog posts).

Sometimes when I do cry the tears come from such a deep place that it becomes overwhelming. It shocks me that I have so much pain inside my heart. Writing has been extremely therapeutic.  A lot of people may be afraid to put their emotions out there for others to read, but for me it feels natural and liberating.  I think this is because when I read books or blogs where the author is honest and raw I immediately connect. It gives me so much hope to know that I’m not alone, because someone else has experienced similar thoughts and feelings. Sometimes feeling connected to someone else is all the motivation I need to keep going.  If you relate in anyway with something that I’ve written today; I hope you are encouraged by the fact that you are not alone. Keep pressing forward! Love and Blessings.

It’s too late…

Months passed quickly as they do when you’re in a new relationship. My days were filled with getting to know Andrew in between our busy schedules; he was playing football/going to seminary and I was cheering and studying business.  On our first date, I found myself driving to pick Andrew up because his car battery died.  Needless to say, he was a little embarrassed.  I learned very quickly that Andrew was no handy man as he spent 30 minutes in his garage looking for a tool that was attached to the top of the tool he was using. That night, we ended up at Walmart to buy a new car battery; that’s where Andrew said he fell in love with me. He later gave me a poem he wrote about how he fell in love with me.

poem from Roo

explaination of poem from Roo

I remember hearing that Rafael made the football team and the whole squad was so excited and proud of him. I remember the spring football game in 2006 in which both Rafael and Andrew played. After the game, I ran over to Andrew to congratulate him and when we looked for my dad and little brother who came to see Andrew play, we saw them talking to Rafael.  Andrew didn’t seem too pleased with that. I remember later that evening Andrew made a comment about how Rafael was “chatting it up” with my little brother, Pres , while Andrew showed Pres around the locker room.  Rafael and I never spoke at that game: I’m not even sure he saw me.  It would be another couple of months before we would see each other again.

football player and cheerleader

Six months into my dating relationship with Andrew, our conversations about our future were getting more intense.  We were falling in love and Andrew was sad that I was leaving for the entire summer.  That summer I was planning on working at Kanakuk Kamps (the world’s largest Christian sports camp) as a camp counselor.  Little did I know, an old “friend”, was planning on working there, too.  I arrived at Work Week (which is the week before camp officially starts and just the counselors meet to prepare the camp) and to my surprise I saw a familiar face—it was Rafael. I told him I had no idea he was working at Kanakuk and specifically at K-2.  I was a little nervous to see him because of how things ended, but at the same time, I figured he had moved on. So I did my best not to act awkward.

camp 2006

(me and some of the campers at Kanakuk K-2 in 2006)

One night at camp, the staff put on a talent show for the campers. I thought to myself it would be a cool idea to show the campers, up close and personal, what it’s like to partner stunt, so I asked Rafael if he wanted to stunt with me as our talent for the kids. He agreed and we teamed up as we had done so many times before. He threw me in the air, we did a couple of tumbling passes and everyone loved it.  It was fun. That was about the extent of my interaction with Raffy that week.

The following week some of the staff loaded onto a bus and headed into Branson, MO for a field trip.  As fate would have it, or maybe Rafael planed it that way, Rafael was sitting by himself in a seat right behind mine. That’s when he struck up a conversation I was not expecting.  I don’t remember the details, but I remember him telling me something along the lines of how he had feelings for me and never shared them with me, but wished he had. He said that he still had feelings for me and not being honest about his feelings six months earlier was one of his biggest regrets.  When I heard those words come out of his mouth, I was speechless. I felt helpless and at the same time, I was so uncomfortable.  I felt as though he had me cornered and there was nowhere I could go.  At that time, I was in a full-blown relationship with Andrew; what did Rafael expect me to do, to say? How could he expect me to respond? In that moment, I remember also feeling anger towards Rafael. I was angry because I had given him the opportunity to express himself six-months earlier and he didn’t take it.  I told him I didn’t know he felt that way and informed him of what he already knew- I was in a serious, committed relationship with Andrew. At the end of that conversation I remember telling him “it’s too late.”

During camp, none of the staff used the internet, cell phones, etc. Of course, on our days off, which happened about once a week, we could travel into town where we had access to technology.  On my next days off, I called Andrew and told him about the incident with Rafael.  As you can imagine, he was not a happy camper and I didn’t blame him. From Andrew’s perspective, Rafael’s conversation was disrespectful of mine and Andrew’s relationship. I agreed. From that point forward, I did my best to steer clear of Rafael, mostly out of respect for my relationship with Andrew. But at the same time, I didn’t want to look into Rafael’s eyes; I knew all I would see was the love he had for me.

On the bus ride, where Rafael finally shared his heart, I did not admit that I ever liked him or that I secretly wished, six months earlier, he would have just told me his true feelings so that I could tell him mine. My reason for not divulging that information was because, in my eyes, that door was closed, never to be opened again. Or so I thought…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Court Press

 rc3 football

(Baylor v. Kansas, circa 2006)

I heard through the grapevine that Bailey had decided to take another guy (Andrew) to her formal and it broke my heart. I didn’t know Andrew at the time, but Bailey told me he was on the football team and was in seminary. I thought to myself, “Oh great, this guy already has a leg up on me; not only is he on the football team, he’s a Bible scholar.” I remember asking her about her first date with Andrew, though I don’t remember what she said. All I remember is that I told her to be careful. What I was really trying to say was “Don’t fall in love with this guy; I’ll be done with my commitment in a short six months.”

Christmas break rolled around at the end of 2005 and I was going to spend the break back out in West Texas (a.k.a God’ Country). Bailey and I were still talking then, but on a less frequent basis. I asked her if we could write letters back and forth to each other while we were away during Christmas break. She obliged and I wrote her a letter as soon as I got home. She wrote one back and we exchanged a few more during the month of December. During the break, I also undertook the task of making her a video, documenting all of our trips that Fall to football games, etc. That darn video took me weeks to finish. I remember one of my best friends, Brad, asking when I was going to put the video down and enjoy the Christmas break. I think I told him 100 times “I’m almost done.” Truth is, I couldn’t think about anything else but Bailey McKissack at that time.

I sent the video to her and she got it on or around Christmas day. On Christmas day, she called me and I was excited to hear her voice. She said that she watched the video and that it was the best gift anyone had ever given her.  My hope was that the video, the effort I put into the video, would send her the message that she meant more to me than she thought. What I didn’t know at the time was that Andrew was also applying a full-court press and was trying to send her the same message. Only difference was, had hadn’t made the same commitment I had and he was being honest about his feelings for Bay. I didn’t know that he sent her dozens of flowers and asked her to be his girlfriend, also on Christmas day. Christmas day came and went and within a few days I was back in Waco for a Baylor basketball game.

I remember being excited that I was going to see Bailey; I was hoping we could chat and get a few laughs in. But, to my surprise, she acted different towards me. She was a little cold and standoffish. We chatted a bit and before you knew it, the game was over. We went our separate ways and that night I got a call from my mom. She told me that I had received a letter from Bailey. She asked me if I wanted her to mail it to me. I was so eager to hear what Bailey had written that I told my mom to just go ahead and open the letter and read it over the phone. As she began to read the letter, her voice slowed as she read the part about Andrew asking Bailey to be his girlfriend. You could hear the heartbreak in my mother’s voice as she read the next few lines. Though I don’t remember exactly what Bailey wrote, the gist was that Andrew had asked her to be his girlfriend and she said yes. That being said, she thought the dynamic of our relationship had to change. She didn’t think we should write letters or talk on the phone anymore. Needless to say, I was heartbroken.

After I got off the phone with my mom, I called Bailey and told her I received her letter. I think I asked her why she didn’t tell me in person at the basketball game, and she responded that she thought I already knew. I told her that I could tell she was acting cold and that it all made sense. I told her not to worry, that I would respect her’s and Andrew’s relationship. And I did.

Football tryouts were a few days later. I tried out and made the team, so it only made sense that I quit the cheer squad. My first day on the football team, I showed up and realized shortly thereafter that my locker was two lockers down from Andrew’s. I thought to myself, “Oh great, now I’m going to have to hear this guy talk about his relationship with Bay all the time.” I remember meeting Andrew for the first time, as he showed up for practice. He was polite and introduced himself. He said, “Hey, I’m Andrew. You’re Bailey’s friend, right?” I said I was and that I had heard great things about him. We put on our shoulder pads, laced up our cleats, grabbed our helmets and went to practice. As fate would have it, Andrew was a receiver and I was a defensive back (the position responsible for guarding the receivers). I would not talk to or see Bailey for another six months…

So there is this other guy…

FPOR

(Andrew(on the far left) and his football buddies. First picture I ever saw of Andrew pre-blind date 2005)

The first time I met Andrew Heard was at one of his intramural basketball games.  Up to this point, I had only seen a picture of him. I walked in the gym and saw a guy jump out of bounds and yell a profanity; I thought he was Andrew and my first thought was “great first impression” (so judgy, I know). Half way through the game, I found out that wasn’t Andrew (he loved to tease me about how I thought he was another guy).  He lost the game that night and I was curious to see if he would be in a bad mood because of the loss, but to my relief he was not.  A few days later, we went on a double date with the friends who set us up.  I remember him being serious and intellectual. I also remember feeling like I needed a dictionary to look up some of the massive words he was using. I felt extremely intimidated by his intellect.  In the middle of dinner, I found out that it was his birthday.  I’m not going to lie and say it was love at first sight because I don’t think it was that way for either of us. Quite honestly, I didn’t think he was interested in me at all.  By that time, my friend had already told him I was going to ask him to my sorority function, so of course at the end of the night I asked him and he told me he would have to check his schedule and a second later said yes.

 

The next time I would see Andrew was on my 20th birthday at Christmas in Salado. My second impression of Andrew was much better than the first.  He was an incredible country western dancer and taught me some fun moves.  Then on the drive home, our conversation really hooked me. He told me about how he had cancer when he was 18 and how he just finished his first book about it. He also told me how he wanted to be a pastor so he could help people understand God better.  I had never met anyone who had gone through so much in their life at such a young age.  The fact that he was driven and had writen a book was fascinating to me. I loved that he was so smart. When I saw him, I saw a man and not a boy. That was the beginning of my intrigue with Andrew.

Salado first date

 (Me and Andrew in Salado taking our first picture together in Dec. 2005)

Rafael and I were still friends during this time and I remember telling him about Andrew and how well the date went. Rafael listened and was kind, and in the end told me to be careful.  It was right before Christmas break, and before I left, Raffy asked me if he and I could write letters to each other over the break. I agreed.  Also, right before school let out for Christmas break, Andrew called me and invited me to coffee. I decided to write a list of Bible questions for him to field because I thought it was amazing to know a Bible scholar (he later made fun of me for what he called “the interview”). At the end of our discussion, I completely offended Andrew by equating him, as a seminary student, to the Pharisees in the Bible. Luckily he thought it was more funny than offensive. Before I left for break, Andrew gave me the manuscript to his first book, “Your Best Life Later.”  I couldn’t wait to read it and learn everything I could about this fascinating person.

 

Over Christmas break I was reading Andrew’s book, which made me feel like I knew him way more than I did, because I was able to somewhat read his life story. We were also talking on the phone every night. Even though we were doing those things, I didn’t think Andrew was as into me as I would soon find out he was. Meanwhile Raffy and I were writing friendly letters back and forth pretty consistently, but on Christmas day all of that would change forever.

 

On Christmas morning, I opened a package from Rafael and it was something he had been working on all Christmas break.  To this day, it is one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received (I still have it)!  It was a video full of pictures, accompanied by music, of every game we traveled to that year in football and every special event we had with cheer.  He made sure to put in some of the songs that both him and I would listen to over and over that season.  At the end of the video, he wrote me a letter saying that I was always a friend that he would be there for. I called him and told him thank you so much for the video. I also told Andrew about the video and how amazing it was. That same day I received 3 dozen red roses from Andrew (he swore it was supposed to be 4 dozen) and a letter asking me to be his official girlfriend.  Honestly, I was kind of surprised that he asked me, because I was not confident that he liked me enough to make it exclusive.  I told him yes and then immediately wrote a letter to Rafael saying that I had to cut communication because I was now in a relationship.

 

I left home early during Christmas break and went back to Waco like I did every year to cheer at the basketball games.  I was nervous to see Rafael because of the letter I sent him.  He greeted me with a huge smile and seemed so happy to see me and he was so playful. I thought to myself that he took me shutting down communication really well.  Later that night I got a call from Raffy and he was not happy.  He told me when he got home he had a missed call from his mom. When he called her back, she told him he had received one more letter from me and asked him if he wanted her to read it to him. He agreed.  I don’t exactly remember how our conversation went but I know he still didn’t tell me how he felt about me, which was frustrating because obviously I knew he felt something to be that upset. He quit cheer the next day, walked onto the football team later that month, and that was the beginning of a long period of silence between us.

80s

(80’s cheer event. I’m in the crazy pants and look who is holding my feet!)

So there’s this girl…

photo

(Bailey and I partner stunting at the Baylor v. Oklahoma game in 2005)

It was a hot and humid day in August 2005 when I first stepped foot on campus at Baylor University. I was a junior by that time, but my first two years of college were spent at Midland College in Midland, Texas. My reason for choosing to attend Baylor was clear at the time–I wanted a faith-based education and Baylor seemed like the right fit. By the time I arrived at Baylor, I hadn’t played football in three years. That’s because I injured my back after my junior year of high school. It was devastating at the time because I had always dreamed of playing college football. But upon the recommendation of an orthopedic surgeon not to play, those dreams were crushed.

Though my dreams were crushed, they never died; playing college football was something I could never let go of. Maybe it was because I had grown up watching my older brother play and always wanted to be just like him. Maybe it was because I had experienced success in the sport. All I know is that after three years of not playing, I made up my mind that I was going to resurrect my dream and just go for it (which has pretty much been my approach to life in general).

So, the semester before I arrived at Baylor, I began preparing to walk onto the football team. Part of that preparation involved weight training in order to get into playing shape.  It was in the weight room at Midland College that I first encountered cheerleading.

Cheerleading

The Midland College coed cheer squad was lifting weights one day while I was in the gym and before you know it, members of the squad were prodding me to “come try out.” My first thought was, “There’s no way in [you-know-what].” But, as they began to practice partner stunting (i.e., throwing girls in the air and sometimes holding their feet in one hand), I became increasingly intrigued. Mostly my competitive side wanted to know if I could toss those girls in the air with the same ease as the other guys. Noticing my intrigue, they asked if I wanted to try partner stunting. Unlike my earlier apprehensiveness to “trying out,” I did want to try partner stunting. So I did and loved it.

Before I knew it, I was tossing girls in the air and spent the next few weeks learning new stunts. I would try out and join the squad my last semester at Midland College. But, in my mind, my last day at Midland College would also be my last day as a cheerleader. After all, I was a football player and the two just didn’t seem to coexist.

The Commitment

After my last semester at Midland College, the summer before I arrived at Baylor, I made a commitment to myself and to God that I would not date for an entire year. The reason for my commitment at the time was that I wanted to focus on my studies and also deepen my relationship with God. That commitment, as you’ll see below, would be seriously tested and ultimately cause much heartache.

Baylor University

My first week at Baylor was extremely exciting and I immediately fell in love with the campus, my professors, and my classmates. Though I didn’t know exactly when the walk-on tryouts would be, I assumed there would be some sort of campus-wide announcement.

By the time the second week of school rolled around, no announcement had been made and I began to get anxious fearing I would miss the tryouts. So, I asked a member of the football program when the tryouts were scheduled. I was devastated when they told me the tryouts had already taken place, the first week of school.

Because of the sudden and unexpected turn of events, I decided to tryout for the Baylor Yell Leaders (Baylor’s coed cheer squad). Utilizing everything I had learned the semester before at Midland College, I tried out and made the team.

In early September 2005, I showed up for the first day of yell leader practice. As I was being introduced to the squad, out of nowhere this bright-eyed, bushy-tailed cheerleader popped up in front of me and extended her hand. She said: “Hi, my name’s Bailey McKissack! Welcome to the team!” I remember thinking Bailey had a great smile and a good handshake. But other than that, at that time, she was just another member of the team.

However, over the course of the next several weeks, Bailey began to really stand out. I loved the way she encouraged everyone and how she made each member of the team feel special. It also didn’t hurt that she could do two full twists while doing a back flip–her athletic ability was hot!

We spent the next couple of months seeing each other multiple times a week for practice and traveling across the Country to support the football team. During this time, I fell madly in love with Bailey McKissack. I remember laying in bed one day and thinking out loud to myself, “I’m going to marry this girl.” I was that smitten with her. But though I had these strong feelings, I never told Bailey how I felt for fear that it would violate my commitment to myself and to God. That decision, too, would cause much strife and much heartache. Though I never told Bailey how I felt, I tried to single her out and spend as much one-on-one time with her as possible, whether at practice or away at a football game.

On one occasion, while we were at a team dinner, the question was presented (probably by me) about soul mates, specifically whether we believed in them. I couldn’t wait for her answer. I guess I was secretly hoping she would say she believed in them while at the same time giving me a wink. I couldn’t have been more off the mark.

Instead, as Bay wrote above, she told everyone she didn’t believe in soul mates, but instead believed there were many people it could work with. As you can imagine, as in love as I was, I was heartbroken by her response. I think I spent the rest of dinner trying to convince her that soul mates existed. I even stooped as low as to argue that the Bible supported their existence and if she didn’t believe in them, she didn’t really believe in the Bible (I think I gave some weak Adam and Even analogy). I’m embarrassed now at how desperate I must have seemed. But I think it helps illustrate how head-over-heels I was for this girl. I think I was so upset that she didn’t believe in soul mates because, at the time, I believed she was mine. Later that night, we ended up sitting outside our hotel room talking for hours, though we never reached an agreement on the soul mate issue. Seems like I told everyone I knew I was crazy about Bailey, I just never told her. I told my parents, my friends, and I think the team figured it out on their own.

In November 2005, I was pledging a fraternity and needed a date to a fraternity event, so I invited Bailey as a “friend.” I think by inviting her as “just a friend,” I believed I could somehow avoid breaking my commitment not to date (as if God isn’t smarter than that). She said she would go with me on one condition. My heart starting racing in fear, because even though I had invited her as “just a friend,” I was hoping she wouldn’t say something like, “The condition is you have to promise there’s nothing to this and we’re just friends.” But she said nothing to that affect. Instead, she said, “I’ll go with you to your fraternity event, but you have to be my date to my sorority event.” Her sorority event was a country-western dancing event that was to be held that December. As you can imagine, I was beyond excited. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure I tried to play it off like I would go but that it was no big deal (typical guy, I know).

A few weeks before her event, and after she had already gone with me to mine, my feelings for Bailey were at an all time high. I think part of the reason they were is because I was starting to feel as though she was reciprocating those feelings. And, as you all read above, she was. I guess that’s why she called me one night in late November to talk.

The Talk

My cell phone rang that night and when I saw it was Bailey calling, I immediately picked up. In typical Bailey fashion, she didn’t beat around the bush and said there was something she wanted to discuss. Hoping she was calling to tell me that she liked me, I sat on the other end eagerly awaiting the moment. She started off by saying how much she enjoyed my friendship, but that something had been on her heart for a while. She told me that members of our team were telling her that I liked her and that I was giving her special attention, etc. She said that she was confused because she, too, was feeling as though I was seeking her out. She wanted to know if there were any feelings there, or as I had said so many times before, “just want[ed] to be friends.” The way I saw it, in that moment, I had two options: (1) I could confess my feelings for her and throw my commitment out the window; or (2) I could be a man of my word and stick to my commitment. As I’m sure you all know, I chose option # 2. I told Bailey I just wanted to be friends and never told her about my commitment to God. The reason I didn’t tell her about the commitment is because I didn’t want to publicize my personal commitments to God as if to announce “Look at me, look how holy I am.” And as foolish as this may sound, I believed in my heart that no matter what, no matter if I said I just wanted to be friends, we would end up together. After that, our conversation ended.

Later that night, I got an email from Bailey telling me that her feelings for me had grown and that because I just wanted to be friends, she didn’t think it was a good idea for us to go to her sorority event together. Though I was heartbroken, I was dead-set on keeping my commitment and also dead-set in my belief that I would end up with her no matter what. As you all read above, she found a date and they were married a year and a half later–his name was Andrew Heard.

So there’s this guy…

Image

(Rafael and I at a Yell Leader Christmas party, circa 2005)

Hi Friends!

If you’ve checked Facebook lately, you all probably know by now that I have some exciting news—I’m dating a guy named Rafael and he’s pretty special! I’ve been looking forward to sharing our story with you because we’ve known each other for almost eight years, but only recently reconnected. I’ve also been looking forward to sharing this part of my journey with you all in hopes that you all, too, would be inspired to live your lives to the fullest!

Rafael and I have some history, so I’m going to tell our story through several blog posts (which will include several guest entries from Rafael).  Before I go any further, I want to thank you all so much for your love, support and celebration of my relationship with Rafael. It just means so much that you all care and are happy for me. I hope you all are inspired and encouraged as you walk with Rafael and I for the next several weeks.

 I met Rafael at Baylor in the Fall of 2005 (my junior year) when he joined our coed cheer squad after recently transferring to Baylor from Midland College.  He had just missed the football tryouts and was buying time until the next tryout came along. Thankfully he decided to come toss some pretty girls around. I remember thinking he came out of nowhere.  What I first noticed about him was his big bright smile and his glass-half-full mentality.  I remember traveling across the Country with the squad to football games and just having a blast with him.  Around Rafael, I felt comfortable being the real me. The part of me that I didn’t always show  others, the kind of goofy side where I talk in accents and do Disney Channel facials.  It was just easy and fun to be around Rafael. We would also have serious conversations, and we were both very intentional about our faith in God and our devotion to Christ. Looking back, life was a little brighter with him around.

At this particular time in my life I was not looking to be in a relationship and honestly wasn’t thinking about Rafael that way. I saw him as a friend that I really enjoyed being around. I started talking about him in my journal entries early that Fall. This was the first entry I ever wrote about him:

“There is this godly guy on our squad named Ralf and he is an answer to prayers. He has stepped up as a spiritual leader on the squad and it is amazing. Thank you for Ralf Lord. Please lead and guide him as he leads this squad.”

Slowly but surely he worked his way into my heart. I remember the first time I thought he may have feelings for me. We were on a road trip for a football game and we got into a discussion at dinner about whether we believed in soul mates or whether we just choose someone to marry and make that work. I was on team “choose someone” and Raffy was on team “soul mate.” I took my position mostly because I remember having a Bible teacher in high school suggest that there wasn’t just one person out there for us but that we pick one and make it work. Because I respected that teacher, I had adopted that view for myself.  I remember how upset Raffy got because I didn’t believe in soul mates, and for the first time I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, I think he thinks I’m his soul mate.” I couldn’t understand why else my position would bother him so much. From that point on, I noticed little things he did to single me out to make me feel special.

One time he invited me to go to a fraternity function with him for a fraternity he was pledging at the time. Looking back, I couldn’t tell that he liked me because the way he asked was really laid back, like he just needed someone to go with him and since we were friends it made the most sense. Here is my journal entry from after that event:

“Last night I went with Ralf to a formal coffee. It was a lot of fun. God I pray that you would bless, keep and encourage Ralf as he pledges.”

After going to his fraternity function, I thought to myself how nice it was to have a friend to take to functions. Along those same lines, I invited him to my sorority’s country-western dancing event.  A few weeks before that event, I started hearing from squad members that Raffy liked me. I began to get frustrated because even though I could sense his affection, he never came out and just said it. I remember talking to him on the phone around that time and asking him if he liked me or not. I asked him to be honest because people were telling me one thing but he was telling me something different. He maintained his position that he just liked me as a friend. Frustrated with him, I abruptly ended the conversation and drove myself to the Baylor Marina where I cried my eyes out (which was not typical for me). It shocked me that I cared so much. My affection for him had crept up on me because, up until this point, I didn’t realize I had any romantic feelings for him.  When I got home that night, I wrote him an email and un-invited him to my sorority function. I told him I thought it was best that we didn’t go together (a little dramatic, I know). Little did I know how that email and the events that followed would forever change my life.

By that time, my sorority event was around the corner and it was the one event I loved going to the most.  I wasn’t about to miss it. So I asked a girl I cheered with if she would introduce me to the guy she had been trying to set me up with for months–his name was Andrew Heard…

Your Voice

Costa Rica babes

Hi Everyone!

It has been a busy few months filled with all things exciting and adventurous!  I’ve been traveling the country sharing my story with various groups as well as taking some time for myself.  I recently got back from Costa Rica on a women’s retreat.  I decided this trip was going to be my present to myself for coming through a difficult couple of years.

 

My former life coach (Christine Hassler) led the Costa Rica retreat. Fourteen women from all over the country (and one from Canada) attended the event.  We stayed at a beautiful retreat center in the Jungle overlooking the ocean.  I literally woke up to the sounds of monkeys in the trees outside of my bungalow.  We had a private chef that cooked all of our vegetables from a garden.  The juices were fresh from the plants on the trees.  It was delicious. During the week we did yoga, boxing, hiking, zip lining and surfing.  I enjoyed how active we were the entire time and how healthy we ate.  I also loved being around like-minded women who had similar interests in personal development.

surf babes

boxing babes

 

Another great part of the trip was the life-coaching sessions.  I loved that no one really knew my story and I was just free to release any pent up emotions without anyone knowing me.  It also made me feel comfortable that other women were doing the same.  What came up mostly for me during my coaching sessions was the feeling that I had to be strong for everyone else and feeling like if I wasn’t so strong I wouldn’t be as inspiring to others.  What I learned was that by showing my moments of weakness I actually related more with others, which in return made others feel more inspired.

 

A couple of the great tools I took away from the retreat was practicing yoga and meditation.  Andrew always connected to God through meditation and tried to teach me, but I could never quite my mind long enough to get something out of it.  I’ve never really gotten into yoga either, but for some reason on this trip I was finally able to connect to it more then ever before.  In the past I’ve had a difficult time staying still and not talking for long amounts of time. It just makes me feel uncomfortable.  For the first time, I was able to sit in my discomfort and just be.  After pushing through the awkward silence I was able to find a peace inside myself.  I then started craving connecting to that place.  In that inner place I felt I was most myself and I could identify what mattered most to me.

 

Sometimes I get so lost in all the voices around me that I can’t identify my own voice.  Then I make decisions based on the loudest voice I hear and it doesn’t feel right because it is the voice of what others think is best for me. I’ve done this for so long that it’s become a habit. Taking this Costa Rica trip felt like the first step to connecting to my inner voice.  So what I’ve taken away from the trip is the practice of yoga or meditation in order to be silent and connect with my inner voice.  I’ve found once I start making decisions based on what I feel I’m supposed to do versus what everyone else says I should do then I own my decisions and my confidence grows ten fold and the self trust begins to build deposits.

 

Not sure if you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t connect to your own voice and discouraged because you were making decisions for everyone else instead of what you knew to be true for you. If you can relate I encourage you to take some time this week to stop, breathe, connect with your inner voice, acknowledge that your voice matters and then make some decisions this week from that place.  I would love to hear some comments below on what choices you made and how it made you feel to honor your voice. I love you all so very much. I have a lot of exciting things to fill you in on so stay tuned. Love and Blessings.

beach babes

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