Dear Dad: Can We Just Go Back to the IHOP Days and Park It?


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Dear Dad,

We share the same sense of humor. We share the same love of early morning breakfasts in a local soda shop. We share the same love of drives through the country, coffee in hand. And let’s be honest, I go with you for errands because you are way more likely to randomly stop off at Dunkin Donuts than Mom is. Sorry, Mom. We share the same fiery temper. We share the same heart–that one that loves deeply and then breaks, no, shatters with every strike. We share that dimple on the right corner of our mouths–the one that flashes in mischief when we think we’re being funny.

And we share that same love of the pen.

I’ve held these words in my mind for about three weeks now and it’s time they flow onto paper. Because you need to know: I broke down that day.

And we BOTH know I’m not about that life.

It was in the first days of May just before my college graduation. Right before the car. Right after years and years of consistency, living in this house with these people. In the mornings we rush out and face the day. In the afternoons we call each other. In the evenings we eat and try to get Mom to calm down about the dishes.

Three hours of sleep wasn’t unusual for a Wednesday and I was running on it as best I could. You picked me up after you finished work and we drove home. You turned on the mower and began to work on the yard while I sat on my butt. Two classes on a Wednesday PLUS chapel? Hardest life ever. As I was luxuriously sitting on my butt, my phone rang.

It’s funny how one simple text can make you go into a panic:

Abby: Did you get your [yearbook] yet?

Me: No…I thought it closed at like 8.

Abby: They close at 4…

It was 3:26ish and school is 20ish minutes away. This was CODE FREAKING RED.

I ran outside and called for you to stop the mower, “I need your keys! I have to go get my yearbook from school and they close in 30 minutes!”

This was apparently a very big deal.

You handed over the keys and told me to be careful, but something in your eyes screamed worry. I didn’t have time to think about being worried, but I felt awful for some reason. I hopped into the car and peeled out of the driveway, peering into the rear-view mirror long enough to see you come and stand at the corner of the driveway like you wanted to say something. But I didn’t stop. I just kept driving.

Seeing your face in my rear-view mirror is enough to completely break my heart.

But, more than that…it seemed too soon. How did we get to the days where I’m looking back at you? I asked for them. Begged for them. But now that they’re here. . .I’ve found they’re not really what I wanted after all. That’s a shock, huh?

I thought about that scene all the way to Bob Jones, crying over the steering wheel as I pulled onto campus. It had hit me at last: I have to adult now, but all I want to do is stay just a little bit longer.

For you? I’d wear those awful velvet, laced-collar dresses to go back and stay in the IHOP and “Butterfly Kisses” days.

And for the record? Thank you for those days. You made an impact on a six-year-old girl with a love for clown-themed pancakes.

Dear Mom: Thank You For Staying.


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Dear Mom,

There aren’t many words to say to you about how much you mean to me. . .because you mean everything. I’m the girl who watches The Land Before Time and cries when Littlefoot’s mom dies because she sounds like you. It’s so completely pathetic, but it speaks volumes of the type of person you are. Grandma Johnson has said, “Laurie has a heart of gold,” and she’s spot-on. I can’t imagine the pain you’ve endured because you don’t really dwell on it. You just wake up and do what needs to be done.

And here I am, crying because I don’t know the deep-rooted purposes of my life–because what I’m doing isn’t big enough. Isn’t meaningful enough.

But you. You wake up and go to work, smile and laugh, pay bills, think about us, and come home…to take care of us. You just do the next thing. And so much is done alone with no one but us and Dad to talk to. You feel like no one sees you, but I see you. And I admire you. I wish I could be as structured as you; I wish I could be as strong as you. You’ve taught me –more than anyone–to hang on and not let go.

It seems that the majority of your journey started in 1999. Dad’s job transferred him to Summerville, SC and nothing turned out as we thought it would. For six months, Summerville was beach trips and brownies in the late evenings. But then our world was turned on its head and we came back to Greenville to start over. After that, nothing was the same. We spent several months in your mother’s basement after being evicted from our home. We lived in a camper. You took us to Michigan to live with your dad for a summer while Dad tried to get his feet on the ground. Then we lived in an apartment for three years. Dad went from job to job, you went back to work, and the three of us dodged babysitters. Through it all, we always were given apple orchard trips in the fall and magical Christmases. Because of you. We were pranked on April 1st and taken to free movies in the summertime. And you laughed at our antics. You read to us. You sang in that singsong voice of yours’. And you fought like crazy to make our lives beautiful.

And when I fell in the house–because Lord knows I’m a klutz–I would cry, “I’m all right!” And you would respond, “No one cares!” And laugh and laugh and laugh.

Thank you, Mom. Thank you for staying. And thank you for believing we were worth the sacrifice. THAT REMAINS TO BE SEEN. . .but thank you. You didn’t have to. You had too much light–too much life to battle so much darkness. You were too classy–too smart to raise three bratty Russell children. But you did–we weren’t easy teenagers. We had too much emotion. Too much insecurity. Too much darkness. But you took what you were given and did your best. LORD KNOWS, Mom.

All that to say. . .I love you.

Dear Abby: I Would Stay.


1969290_10204292799185000_2217352103199256187_nDear Abby,

I wish I knew how to take thousands of memories, thousands of laughs, thousands of expressions and convert them into words. These strokes of lines are so technical, so pointed that it’s difficult to fully express a moment without going back to it altogether and experiencing it all over again. But these technical strokes, paired with imagination, are powerful. I hope it’s enough. It has to be.

I’m finding myself mourning my moments. They were packaged up so beautifully and handed to me: College Years. And they flew by, Abs. They grew wings and I could barely catch glimpses of them as they flew. These moments broke me down and built me up. They taught me so much, but confused me at the same time. They took me somewhere, but I don’t feel as if I’ve gone anywhere. They’re flying contradictions, soaring through time and changing things. Changing me.

And, Abby, they’ll change you too. And I wish I could stick around to see it all happen. Stupid graduation. 😉

You were always the little sister. You were always Anthony’s evil accomplice. You were always whiny and bratty, honestly! But it’s amazed me as I’ve watched you grow up, especially in such rough circumstances. You took everything life handed to you and made it funny. You observed what happened in our circles and decided to be better. To be different. To be understanding. To be light-hearted and kind. God is working so clearly in your life, Abs.

And you’ll struggle. I promise it will come, but don’t let those times discourage you or make you think less of yourself. I would never say to be arrogant, but never forget who you are in God’s eyes: Loved. Worthy. Beautiful.

So much will happen over these next three years and you’ll hear, “Don’t ever change, Abby.” Challenge that with: Never stop becoming who you were made to be. Change. Grow. Improve. If you don’t change and grow into the person you were intended to be, you will never learn how to fly–you will never see what you can do. And I want you to see what you have to offer this crazy world. I want you to feel so loved that it motivates you to fight for a cause that’s bigger than you. I want you to feel hope like you’ve never felt before.

If I could stay with you at Bob Jones University, Abby. . .I would do it in a heartbeat. I would do it all again just to stay with you. I want to hold onto this season, but I know that greater things are ahead for both of us. But I’ve loved laughing with you, sistah. You made my senior year beautiful and fun. Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER give up on this college thing. This is so important. YOU are so important. And the lives your life will touch are. . .invaluable.

And, honestly? The best way I can sum this all up is in this: DO YO THANG, CHICKEN WANG.

So just remember that.

And also, I love you.

-Mandie