Finding Happily Ever After

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A person can be defined by many aspects; a job, a family, a hobby, even physical appearance. All of these attributes can generally be found on the cover of our individual life books. If not, they are easily redeemable within our foreword or introduction. Many readers choose a novel by its appearance, introduction, or recommendations of others. These descriptions help us decide whether that book is desirable and we allow these attributes to captivate, entertain, and inspire.

Within the core of every good story is something deeper than that surface level description. We come to loathe the antagonist and praise the protagonist. Suspense grows within our own gut only to find a beautiful conflict resolution at the conclusion. We find striking satisfaction in happily ever after.

Like many readers, it is crucial for me to read a book from cover to cover. Each page should be read left to right, and oscillating sections or omitting stanzas is not permissible. Often times we encourage ourselves to do the same with people. We look at the cover and grab all of the commendable pieces in our initial introduction. Sadly, as soon as that person expresses their emotions, experiences, or grief before we have been well endowed with a decent plot, we quickly shut the book in fear. Suddenly, we cannot visualize this story with the happily ever after conclusion.

As a child my story was unique yet charming. I was the middle child of five, and the only girl. My older brothers were sixteen and nineteen years older than me, and my little brothers were three years younger. Our father was a pastor of a small country church, and our mother was best known for her wonderful home-cooked meals. Our family was slightly poor, yet humble, and I never felt as though I needed anything more. Through my childhood there were many times that my parents grieved but they never pressed the burden on me. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was able to get a true sense of some of their pains. They had an unwavering ability to keep moving forward to the next plot twist.

When my younger brother Levi was born, the doctor explained to my parents that he would never live a normal life due to his Down syndrome diagnosis. I was too young to remember my parents’ pain in the loss of opportunity for Levi. But after his birth they moved forward and adopted another boy with the same disability, Eric. Eric was a bit of a handful. In addition to Down syndrome, he was additionally filled with ADHD, RAD, and a sad history. My parents tried to make lemonade out of the disability diagnoses, but they had little knowledge on the amount of zing that Eric packed.

Other grief moments made the glue to our family frame. My dad lost his job as a pastor and my grandfather passed away shortly after. At age seven I still had little understanding these losses, but my dad always lived by the motto of keep on keeping on. His persistent hope always allowed me to trust that everything was going to be ok.

As I grew older my family continued to play an important role in my life. I loved spending time with my younger brothers, teaching them and teasing them. But my older brother Gabe was who I adored. With the sixteen years between us, he was just diving into the prime parts of life. He started dating, he went to college, and he got married. Through all of these life decisions, he included me, his annoying baby sister. He gave the same advice any parent would give, but it always sounded better coming from him.

On October 21st, 2006, Gabe was killed in a car accident. The dual emotions of disbelief and anger fueled my body. I looked at my dad. My dad was the problem solver, the fear snatcher. This time, my dad’s ability to keep on keeping on was gone. My brother lost his life, my dad lost his hope, and I lost my faith.

While reading a textbook for one of my MSW classes, I found an important passage, “Perhaps we must speak of death in order to understand fully what it means to be in the presence of grief. And to speak of death is to enter the realm of the supreme mystery, that of the unanswerable questions.” (Hooyman and Kramer, 2008, pg. 5) But humanity strives to comprehend every answer to whatever extent possible, and to seek understanding is equally substantial in our grieving process. I dove deep into my brother’s past longing to find for a reason why divine intervention, fate, or karma might have ended my brother’s story as it did. Through family stories, pictures, and memories I could only discover that Gabe was either genuinely good, or he had an extreme ability to mask that he was not.

As the daughter of a pastor, my life was surrounded by the notion that there was a God, and he was loving and just. As I continued to search for a reason for my brother’s death the idea of a God was plausible to me but not in a way that I wanted. When searching for a rational reason for the demise of a good person, it’s easy to place a seemingly irrational variable in the picture to solve the question. The idea of a God, though not proven nor disproven, suddenly places a divine control over everything. But why would I want to believe in something that not only did not intervene in the death of my brother, but actually could have caused his death purposely? That picture is not loving nor just, but rather shows an analogy of a victim constantly running back to her controlling abuser.

For the years following my brother’s death, I ran from the idea of a God. The grief of Gabe’s death followed me but I was able to mask that pain in self-harm, counseling, and prescription drugs. Over time, I began to see more clearly, and I even welcomed the idea of a God back into my life. Though angry, I started to open my mind and read Gabe’s story more intently. I thought back to Gabe’s funeral. It was in the chapel at Cedarville University where he was a computer science technician. That chapel was filled with more people that day than my dad’s little country church would see in a month. Gabe had made an impact on so many people in thirty years. He died a good man, and he left with no conflict of his own to solve. He was young, but he discovered happily ever after. I realized then that it was never Gabe’s story that upset me; it was the end of his book that simply opened a new chapter in mine.

There are no facts or statistics that I can sho
w that prove the existence of a God. Whether God is real or not, the idea of Him gave me hope. It is a simple way for me to cling to an idea that I will see Gabe again. I may be the author of my own story, but God is my publisher, my agent, and my mentor.

Just as Gabe’s death began a new chapter in the middle of my book, many individuals come to us within the core of their story. Conflict roars and their agony overcomes us. I also think about Gabe and his unwavering ability to guide me through life. Even in his death I would try to do everything to help others as he did; because Gabe strived to help others as Jesus did. But it is important to think back to our own story so we can be inspired by the hope we once found. We cannot predict the future and we do not know what anyone’s book truly holds within the next chapters. We cannot write the novel of each person we meet, but we can work as a helpful traveler along their road. We can inspire each author to keep going, constantly building the hopeful road to happily ever after.

Don’t Accept Me, Expect Me

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One Red Fish Surrounded By Blue Fish.

I did it once. I gave in to my disability. I was struggling in college: juggling a double major, a part-time job, a sorority, and track season was right around the corner. My schedule was a breeze when going through manic mode. But when dealing with the low side of bi-polar, the battle was uphill and the finish line looked a lot farther than the 400m sprint I was used to training for.  So I gave in.

It was the end of my 8 am class and I went to my professor. It was just a general education course and I was only a semester away from graduation. I did what I had never done for any class. I told the professor about my disability. I chalked it up for all it was worth. I explained that I was dealing with med changes and my schedule was full. None of it was really a lie.

I don’t regret telling my professor that I have bi-polar disorder, but I do regret why I told him. I was looking for a way out; a way to make the day easier. The class didn’t really matter. It was just a nuisance class I had to take to graduate. I wanted an easy A and I knew that by gaining a little sympathy it would be possible.

Just to be clear, the one perk of having a disability is to use sympathy for our advantage. But taking that one gesture toward sympathy sets us two steps back in our abilities. That day when I told the professor about my disability, I was screaming for the professor to accept me for my differences. What he really did was even better; he expected me for being the same.

It’s not difficult to spin into the acceptance trend. Short or tall, red or blue, we want people to take us how we are. But when it comes to rising up to a challenge, we can be quick to remind others of our faults and excuse ourselves from rising to the top. We are no longer expected and we sink ourselves back down to the minority that is comfortable and safe.

As we gear up for the back to school season, I want to encourage all parents and teachers to not provide students with a letter of acceptance, but with an impression of expectance. There are many times that we say as novices that “we can’t” when the fact is that “we won’t”. When we decide that we won’t do something because our disabilities hold us back, then we will never really reach our full potential.

I got an A in that class. Though I told the professor about my disability for the wrong reasons, he was gracious in letting me take my time to learn in a way that was right for me. I didn’t go to class every day, but I studied, and I felt as though I earned the A.

How We Learned Happiness

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IMG_0994While growing up in a household with two brothers with Down syndrome there has always been one comment that digs under my skin. There are some comments I can let go, like, Wow. Your life must be so difficult. Or, Bless you for your patience. Yes, these too get to me. Because I don’t feel like my brothers have made my life difficult, and patience is not my duty. When these comments arise I grin a little and brush it off like hair on my sleeve.

Above all of these statements is this: People with disabilities are always so happy. Why does this get under my skin? Because there isn’t an always for everyone and everything. See, the statements above, I can see where people might get those impressions. There are times that life is difficult. There are times that I have had to learn patience. Those times felt like happiness felt as far as the East is from the West.

2016-02-21 21.41.37When our brother died in 2006 Eric sobbed. He felt the grief of losing someone close like a normal person. But at the viewing Levi didn’t shed a tear. At the funeral, Levi didn’t clear his throat or sniffle. Neither of my brothers had joy, but they expressed the pain in far different ways.

When our brother died, I thought I had to be the strong one. When I saw our dad cry for the first time in my life, I knew that I had to step up and fight for joy again. I tried so hard to stay strong that I eventually developed depression and I was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

So what is my point? Everyone handles grief differently. Levi ignored the pain. Eric accepted the pain. I fought the pain. You might say it defines whether or not we fight, flight, or freeze in adversity. Whatever any psychological study might entail, all three of us have struggled with disabilities. All three of us have experienced less than joy. And, all three of us have conquered agony.

You see, when you say people with disabilities are always so happy, you infer that we are not able to comprehend pain. We must be happy because we don’t understand stress, adversity, or grief. Honestly, I speak for all of us that carry a disability and say that we understand those things better than those that don’t have a disability. For centuries we have been alienated, mocked, and condemned for simply living.

Maybe there is some truth to people with disabilities being happy. It’s not because we don’t understand, but because we know what it is like to feel both pain and joy. We have faced the worst, so we can conquer the best.

A New Year’s Offer

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eric and leviChristmas is a beautiful time of year. For many is brings joy. For others it can be very difficult. But nothing in life is flawless. Even grievances add to the pristine and raw splendor that Christmas brings.

For many
of us, it’s a celebration of religion or collaboration with family and friends. While these are all the most important aspects of the holiday, one of my favorite parts is the giving of gifts. Now, before you stop reading because I sound materialistic, I want you to consider this: when you are given a gift, you are expected to accept it. For a homeless man it may be a meal. For a young lady it might be an engagement ring. Maybe it’s a silly white elephant gift. Maybe it’s homemade and packed deeply with nostalgia. Whether we cherish it or re-gift it, we have a chance to say thank you to someone for showing physically that they care.

Thanksgiving gives us a chance to say that we are grateful. Christmas gives us to chance to show that we are thankful. New Years can be equally beautiful because it brings hope. On Thanksgiving we muster up something that keeps life worth living. On Christmas we might not be able to give
or receive a gift. But the New Year helps us remember to say that maybe this new year will be better.

For the New Year, we don’t give gifts. But this coming year I would like you to consider taking an offer. An offering doesn’t have to be accepted as a gift does. It gives you the chance to say no. Why? Because gifts are meant for your enjoyment. Offers on the other hand lend the idea of a duty of you.

For this New Year I want to make an offer to you to accept. Not to just accept
the offer, but accept the offer of acceptance.

I told you that Holidays are beautiful because they aren’t flawless. People are the same way. As a sister to three siblings with disabilities, as an aunt to two nephews with autism, as a woman that struggles daily with Bipolar disorder, I am an advocate that imperfection is beautiful. I can say that more times than not it’s easier to admit that with humility than with pride.

For some our differences are inevitable, for others they are controversial. But without enduring hardships, without conflict, we cannot find resolution.

For this New Year, my wish is that you will accept the offer to accept others. My resolution is to enable you to find freedom in this acceptance. This offer may not be easy to endure, but the hope that will be gained is the gift of a lifetime.

Called

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IMG_1268In the last couple of weeks, an unusual number of people have congratulated me on my success of running a business. They tell me how much they admire my heart, my mission, my ambition.

Whenever presented with this, the inside of me cringes. My stomach flips. I cross my legs like I have to pee. I swallow the giant knot relentlessly wallowing up in my throat, and I quickly try to murmur a humble, thank you. I honestly hope I appear very professional when answering, but inside I feel like a one legged chicken trying to get to the other side of the statement.

I’m sure there’s a great many articles in Forbes on how to be a great business professional. How to overcome the anxiety and be the greatest leader in my industry. Build a strong sense of pride and you will always be respected, or, never let anyone know you’re scared to death to run a business.

First I want to say, if you ever have congratulated me on my success, I don’t want you to feel badly. You did absolutely nothing wrong. If anything, you were just trying to help. The fact of the matter is, I don’t feel like I deserve the credit.

Yes this is the point where I have to say, I would not be where I am without God. I realize this is the point where many of you will stop reading this. She’s just another oh-so-holy Christian that flaunts Jesus. I know that mindset, because I’ve been there.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that I lost a brother about seven years ago. The day he died, I decided God died too. I walked away because He let me down. The truth is, even though I left God, He never left me. My business exists because I almost didn’t, and God always has. I went back.

Many times people ask, why a coffee shop? My business response is: It was a good fit; Coffee is the number two import to the United States and I had good connections for production. My true motivation: Eric and Levi; Coffee is a simple yet creative opportunity for my brothers to create a quality of life for themselves.

It’s all about which type of leader you want to be. A leader that makes a point, or a leader that makes a difference. My analytical mind has me constantly wandering through the numbers—we should do this because it will effect this in an optimal way. But what about risky decisions? There can be so many outlying variables that even the most flamboyant person would get a little weary in the outcome.

That’s when God steps in. He said, “So you want to open a coffee shop?” Magically, a building was presented to our family. Mystically, someone was selling every item we needed in a bundle for a very accommodating price. Paranormally, all the funds aligned for me to open the doors of my business directly out of college. Some call me lucky, others say blessed. I say, called.

So why do I get so uncomfortable? Because I wear a title of Founder and CEO, but I’m really just a catalyst. It is a constant battle inside me. My worldly mind is filled with pride, and my heart is filled with humility. I have a vision to make this business as successful as possible. My mind tells me the idea of being rich and famous is intriguing. My heart tells me that I need to provide as many jobs to people that might not otherwise gain the opportunity. Both sides make sense. Maybe both methods are possible. But I know that I have been called to make a difference, not a point.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.—Galatians 6:9

The Vow

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This weekend I got the opportunity to speak at the Ohio Sibs Convention—an organization that supports both individuals with disabilities and their siblings. I came to an odd conclusion. I will without doubt, be the sole care provider for my brothers and possibly my sister one day. I had thought about it before. It would just be like old times, spending every moment with my best friends. But this time it really hit me.

I’m guessing it’s a similar feeling to that of a forced marriage, only with the opposite perks. A prince marries his princess, and they spend their lives in continued luxury, forcing themselves to build a relationship in order to maintain the esteemed family bloodline. They have everything they need but do they truly love each other?

Then I look from my side. I automatically have more mouths to feed, I might be giving up future expeditions with my potential spouse, or, what if I don’t even find a spouse because I’m seen as the intimidating packaged deal? After considering that there is one thing I know I will always have: unconditional love from my biggest companions. We lose societal advantages but we know how to survive together.

Both sides come across as selfish. If the prince or princess does not love the other then they are not pitied. Why should they be? Everything is handed to them from birth. Even a luxurious wedding. Or me, expressing the hard truths of raising my adult siblings. It is societally wrong to consider my own future solely, and complain about a family obligation.

The prince and princess are born to fill very expensive, uncomfortable shoes. I was born to fill the middle class supportive shoes while aiding in the tying, strapping, and zipping of the shoes of my siblings. Some may dream to toe-in the shoes of a princess, others may dare to lace my shoes onto their feet. But the ultimate Orthopedist made those shoes for us only. They will never fit anyone quite like they fit us.

Which has more worth, Luxury or Love?

To be frank, this is the point when I could narrate a multitude of parables and proverbs of why choosing love over wealth is what is right and what is just. On the other hand, the Holocaust, the murder of Jesus, and slavery of African Americans were all built on the foundation of it’s the right thing to do.

I am making a vow that I will be the future provider for my brothers. I will not do it because it’s the right thing to do. I will do it because I want to. I don’t need to taste wealth or fame to know that the relationship with my brothers is worth so much more. And I need my siblings as much as they need me.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them how can the love of God be that person? 1 John 3:16-17

Becoming Somebody

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“Not long ago and not far away, a Nobody named Ordinary lived in the Land of Familiar.”—Bruce Wilkinson, The Dream Giver

How many times have you felt like Ordinary? You wake up every morning to the nagging chirp of your alarm, you throw on your average clothes. You go to work, file the same papers, eat the same lunch, and drink the same coffee out of the familiar mug with an ordinary logo imprinted on it. Sometimes we don’t even realize our lifestyle because it’s just a habit; it’s comfortable. But what if you step out of that box?

For me, I grew up outside of the box. I’m the left handed girl that always bumps your elbow at the dinner table. I’m part of the quirky family that walks around with all the special needs kids. I’m the girl that majored in two completely different subjects (music and business). I’m not saying these things to be negative. They are part of what makes me not a nobody—but I still had to piece together how to become a somebody.

When I was born, The Dream Giver gave me The Big Plan. It was what He wants me to do with my life. He knew who I would be, that I would need my younger brothers, and a right brained mind that likes logic and creativity. (Not to sound cliché, but everything does happen for a reason.) After twenty-two years, I found my dream. Ok, yes I’m young. (But don’t think it was easy for me! Three college major switches, a fifth year of tuition and a pretty penny to match in school loans—that just tips the surface.) But I want to be like the Dream Giver. I want to help others recognize their dreams. My dream—to help anyone, but particularly people with disabilities find their dreams.

On the other side of familiar, it’s scary. There are giants that get in your way, coaxing you to give up on your irrational life plan. There are times the road seems bare, with no resources to help you to your dream. Worst, you step farther and farther from familiar, each step deeper into the unknown leaving you stripped of all confidence that you will ever make your dream a reality. Is your dream really worth it.

While reading about ordinary I have discovered that by the power of the Dream Giver, everyone is implanted with a vision. It wasn’t just Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Sam Walton, or Vince Lombardi. We are all born with a passion, but we don’t all take the road to fulfill it.

Think for a minute. If someone handed you a million dollars, what would you do? What have you always been good at? What needs do you care about most? Who do you admire most? What makes you feel fulfilled? Even if you haven’t discovered it yet, there is something in you that matches these questions. You have to ask yourself, “What legacy do I want to leave?”

In just a couple weeks I open the doors to my dream, literally. The doors to The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse, a workplace opportunity for adults with disabilities, will be open for everyone to see. Throughout the process I’ve had giants standing in my way, road blocks, everything. There was a point where I questioned, is this really worth it? I could just use my business major and get a normal desk job, and for once be a normal person! But I can stand in the shop, make a latte, and look into the eyes of my little brothers, and I know, this is what I was born to do. This is the big plan!

I’m the left-handed music and business graduate with the quirky family. But I’m also the girl who has a big plan to fulfill. I’m a somebody. You are too.

And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” –Daniel 8:16

Wilkinson, Bruce, David Kopp, and Heather Harpham Kopp. The Dream Giver. Sisters, Or.: Multnomah, 2003. Print.

To Eric and Levi: I Give You My Dream

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To my zany, quirky, sassy, spitfire, loving, caring little brothers, Eric and Levi,

First I want to say that, from the moment I met both of you, I knew you were special. Not in the way that the world saw you, but in your character, your smile, and your ability to light up a room. You are my best friends and my inspiration. And from the moment that Gabe went to be with Jesus, you were my protection. You gave the best hugs, and you always listened. You knew the same hurt, and we took the road together.

I remember when we were young (I was around eight and you were both five), I asked our older brother Gabe to build me a bus. I remember getting chuckles from mom, dad, and Gabe, but I was serious. They all asked me, “For what?”. It was for you. I wanted to have a bus to start a school that was designed for you.

As I grew older, I stuck with this dream. In seventh grade, I wrote a paper expressing what I wanted to be when I was older—a special needs teacher, I wrote. I saw your passions, your struggles, your happiness, and I knew that being smothered in your presence was my biggest dream.

I kept this dream into my college years and I studied to become a special needs teacher. But about two years in, I got tired. The concepts I learned, the classrooms I saw, that was not where you were. I stopped pursuing that dream. In the third year, God put me on a new road—business. I could see how God had helped mom and dad start Downsize Farm. Under His hand, they made a place for you. A place where you would have opportunity, friendships, challenges, and adventures.

I remember reading your IEPs once. Eric, yours said that you wanted to be a trash-man. Levi, yours was to work at Walmart. Is that what you want to be? If that is your dream then I want you to go for it! But if not, I am making something for you—a coffee shop. (I know you don’t like coffee, but we will have hot chocolate too!) I am designing a place where you can not only work, but be the strongest, and coolest employees a business has ever seen. I want to teach you what I have learned. I want you to be able to use all of your abilities to the fullest, and be able to show them off to every person that walks into our building. Most importantly, it is my eternal dream to create and fulfill the dreams that you have.

On May 21st I will open a coffeehouse. I know you think coffee is gross, but if you join this road with me I will show you something. Every bean in that coffee has a purpose. Some beans are big, some beans are small. Some are dark, some are light—but they all create a beautiful mixture to jumpstart the day. On this Earth you could say we are all like little beans. We run around, doing daily tasks, and fulfilling our flavored lives. But God put every one of us here to do something special. I hope that by fulfilling this dream, I am following God’s vision by helping you create your own dreams.

Will you, my red and blue power rangers, take on this mission with me?

Love,

Your crazy, quirky, hopeful, inspired, pink power ranger big sister, Bobbi Myrhee

Miranda and the “In Crowd”

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This summer we added another addition to our family. Miranda, one of the sweetest clients at our farm moved in with us this June.  But behind this stunning 21 year old is a long list of hardships. From the demise of her father at a young age, to her step father’s death this summer, she has built a heart of steel that still continues to flourish with inner beauty. She is not bitter, and she fills her surroundings with love.

One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 4:2. It reads:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

In this chapter of Ephesians, Paul is explaining about how we should act, though Christ is no longer on Earth as our example. The passage is saying that though Jesus isn’t here, we, as followers of Christ can still show Jesus’ legacy through our own lives. Though I try and exhibit Christ in my daily life, I don’t always give 100%. And this is where Miranda steps in.

Like I said, Miranda has not had an easy life. But she is not bitter. In fact she is a prime example of the verse in Ephesians:

Miranda is humble: Our day program is a lot like high school in some ways. Though everyone has their quirks, the clients make their own rankings of who is smarter or more talented in different areas. Truth be told, Miranda is far above average for our day program, but she doesn’t brag about it.  She can read and write, she is creative, and she is even learning to drive. And though all of these things place her at the top of the desirable list for the “in crowd”, she continues to be friends with everyone. She has a willingness to help in any way that she can, and she doesn’t need to be praised.

Miranda is gentle: I’ve seen this more and more since Miranda has come to live with us. I think one of the biggest examples is how she works with Eric and Levi. She is conscious about their feelings and she has become one of their friends. One day this summer one of the girls at the farm was flirting with Levi, and they decided that they were dating. Miranda texted me right away. She told me she didn’t want Levi to get hurt, because this girl was also dating two other guys at the farm (again, high school). She didn’t know how to tell him, and she didn’t want to lose a friendship with the other girl either. I talked to my mom, and I’m not entirely sure how but the issue cleared. I had jokingly told Miranda to tell the girl, “be careful, you don’t want to hurt the boss’s son!”

Miranda is patient: I’d say Miranda’s patience shines most clearly with Randi. Randi, my other sister, absolutely adores her. Every time I see Randi all she can do is talk about Miranda. She tries to dress like her and act like her. Randi would spend every second with Miranda if she could. And Miranda adores her just as much.

Miranda is loving: Miranda had dated a guy at the farm for a while. But when he made a bad decision their relationship ended abruptly. Yes Miranda was upset, but unlike other girls, Miranda didn’t sulk and she didn’t try and find a new guy to fill her void. She continued to be her. Now maybe she has learned that things you love, leave. But she doesn’t dwell on it. She still loves life, and she still shows love to everyone around her.

I think every person that God puts in my life helps me learn something. The verse in Ephesians is one of my favorites because I can put it on my daily to-do list. I can’t always say I’m humble or patient. And though Miranda may not meet these goals everyday either, she certainly keeps me in check. See in all of the daily drama of life, the bible says we are in this world but we are not called to be of it. At the farm you may look around and say Miranda is in the “in crowd”, but she is not in the “of crowd”. She doesn’t have to have all the boys. She doesn’t have to prove she is the best. Miranda constantly shows that your beauty is not your image; it is your character.