The day my life changed forever all thanks to my amazing fourth grade teacher listening to God
The bible study I invited Kara to
My favorite book of all time.
One of my very best friends, Bree.
One of my happy places.
The Three Musketeers. My best friends.
One of my last special moments with Kara.
The beginning of mine and Kara’s friendship.
My little mini and I were about to board a plane together to visit out aunt in LA.
My goofy, kind-hearted, artistic best friend Molly
My beautiful mom
The person that knows me better than myself, My grandma.
A painting I painted to reflect what my relationship with Jesus means to me.
Chapter 1: Baby Dahl
“I don’t think I want to name her Abigail. I know that was the plan, but I am second guessing it,” Mike, my dad, said.
“What? What are you talking about? We have been calling her Abigail for months,” Melissa, my mom, said.
“I was thinking that maybe she will be talkative (It’s ironic because as a kid, I never shut up.) and people might call her gabby Abby. I don’t want people making fun of her or calling her that,” he said.
“Michael, I really don’t care what we name her. I am about to have this baby! I just want you to get me to the freaking hospital!” she yelled.
On August 26th, 1998 in the afternoon, I plowed into the world screeching, affirming my dad that his questioning of my name was valid. After taking one look at me, my dad knew the name for me. Etched across my birth certificate was ink that formed “Julia Abigail Lynn Dahl.” My name had reasoning within each element of it much like there are many elements that describe me. I have four names because on my mom’s side of the family it is a tradition; everyone has two middle names. Abigail shifted to my middle name as my dad no longer believed it was worthy of my first. Lynn came from my mom as it was her middle name along with my grandmother’s and my great grandmother’s. The relevance of my first name holds the deepest place within my heart. My first name started with a phone call.
“Hey Grandma. Our baby girl was born. She is beautiful and Missy thinks she looks just like me,” my dad said.
“Oh how wonderful! I cannot wait to meet that precious little thing,” she replied sweetly.
“Grandma, I need to tell you something,” my dad said, barely capable of containing his excitement.
“What is it sweetie?” she said immediately concerned.
“I want to tell you her name. It is not Abigail anymore. It is Julia. We are naming her after you,” he said choking down tears.
My sweet, old great grandmother cried many tears of joy so much so that my dad says he thought she might have a heart attack. Her name is Julia May Dahl. I have the honor and privilege of sharing the same first and last name as her. Our name is not the only thing we share as we share the same mannerisms and qualities too. She began collecting porcelain dolls the moment she married into the name Dahl. Her collection grew into my closet as she decided it was necessary that I collect porcelain dolls as well. My favorite moments with her are playing Euchre, listening to her sing her birthday song, and our special moment each time I would leave. Since I could talk we shared a moment before I stumbled out of her door. She would give me a kiss in which I thought was disgusting. I would immediately wipe it off; that only made her giggle and imitate me. After we finished wiping our mouths, we would race to see who could say the words “See ya later alligator-After while crocodile!” first.
Chapter 2: My Super Hero
My family lived in a two story house next door to my great grandparents house for years. As a child, I enjoyed Elmo, Disney Princesses, dancing, and riding on my dad’s motorcycle with him. When I think of my early years of childhood, it is hard to narrow down moments that meant the most to me. My mom cared for me most when I was younger as my dad worked most of the time. Whenever he worked for long periods of time, he would bring me home a new Barbie doll. I loved my mom just like most children did, but my dad and I had a special bond early on. I was a daddy’s girl no doubt. The moments he was not working, he would put an XXXL belt around the two of us, hop on his motorcycle, and we would cruise around the neighborhood. Gripping onto his shirt with the wind whipping through my hair somehow became the moments I felt the most safe. It does not make sense because most people would think a motorcycle is dangerous, but I was with my “Big Daddy.” That is what I used to call him because in my eyes he was my hero. I remember playing anything from hair dresser to bride and groom. I married my dad more times than I can count and I “did” his hair. I put quotation marks around did because my dad shaved his head bald; there wasn’t any hair for me to technically do. That was the beginning of my budding imagination. It only grew from there.
Along with my dad, I loved my grandma. She was the person I could do absolutely anything with and have the time of my life. I would stay the night at her house every weekend and even weeks at a time in the summer. I made many memories at her house. She has always known me better than I have known myself.
Around the age of five my parents sat me down and told me that they had some amazing news. I thought we were going to Chuck E Cheese, but it turns out the news was much different.
“You are going to be a big sister!” they exclaimed in unison.
I thought that meant my life was over, but it actually was only beginning. My brother was born on September 2, 2004. I was proud as I bypassed all my family in the hospital waiting room because I had the privilege of meeting him first. I leaped into the room, looked past my parents, and admired the little life that gave me the title of big sister.
Chapter 3: Toy Cars
“Luke, what is your favorite thing about your big sister?” my aunt Shaina asked.
“Pissing her!” he shouted proudly. Everyone chuckled because the people at the surrounding tables gawked at us. They could not believe a small child would say such a thing, but we all knew what he meant; He loved giving kisses. While that moment was sweet and reflects his kind heart, it could misguide someone to think that was all he was, sweet. That would, quite honestly, be a lie. As a child, he was a hellion. My aunt asked me the same question, “Julia, what is your favorite part about your brother?”
“When he is sleeping” I responded without hesitation. I loved him with my whole heart, but in his toddler years, he took the term “all boy” to the extreme. He had more energy than anyone I had ever met and even though he drove me crazy, he was always my sweet baby brother. Everyday after school I got off the bus and he would be standing at the glass door jumping up and down. Before I could even take step inside he would bombard me in a hug followed by, what I thought at the time, was the worst thing ever.
“Sissy, will you play cars with me?” he said. I hated cars. I hated how every time I had a friend over or wanted to do something, I had to play cars with him in the playroom for at least an hour. I resented him for it. My dad always said that one day I would be sad because he wouldn’t want to play cars with me anymore. I hate admitting when my dad is right because he seems to think he is always right, but in this case, he was. My brother is twelve now and he is more interested in texting his girlfriend than playing toy cars. One thing I never get sick and tired of is going to his games. He plays multiple sports and their is nothing better than chanting on the sidelines for that kid. Most of my weekends growing up consisted of it. As much as my little brother has grown up, he will always be the little boy that would stand at the glass door, waiting to play cars with me. He is my best friend and whether he knows it or not, he is never going to get rid of me. I will always be his big sister.
Over time, Luke was not the only reason I had the title of sister. My cousin came to live with us after certain circumstances. I quickly morphed into a mother hen for her. She followed me around like my little duckling. I enjoyed her company more than she enjoyed mine. She taught me responsibility among other things. She also taught me to laugh amidst difficult circumstances. After lots of time with me, she molded into a mini me and I would be lying if I said I did not love it. My favorite moments are taking her to a bookstore, cuddling with her during a storm, and singing songs with her while I gave her a bath. She gave me a glimpse of motherhood and for that I am thankful.
Chapter 4: The Teddy Bear
“I cannot take this anymore! I am moving out,” my mom screamed. The words stunned me to a halt at the top of the stairs. The screaming echoed throughout the house as my heart fell to the floor. Frozen solid, I could not move another step up the stairs. The screaming and yelling continued to travel through the closed bedroom door steps away.
I silently thanked God my little brother chose to play outside with the neighbors at this particular time. The nightmare that I believed never to happen to my family began to unfold before my eyes. Families, my family, needed to stay under the same roof together. While listening to them continue to make plans to demolish everything I knew as normal, tears poured down my face blinding my vision. I stumbled into my room, closing the door both literally and figuratively on my view of my perfect family.
Tension that could be cut with a knife loomed through our house as a couple weeks passed. My dad and brother prepared to leave for an annual father son camping trip. While my mom helped my brother pack some last minute toys in his bag, my dad pulled me aside.
“Listen Julia. I want to tell you that I think your mom and I might get through this season we are in. I truly believe everything will be okay and return back to normal eventually,” he reassured me with a half grin. Relief and excitement consumed every inch of my body; the only thought running through my head being my prayers are answered. As my brother bounded down the steps toward the car, my dad kissed me goodbye. I was so excited to hear that our family would most likely stay together that I even hugged my annoying, smelly brother. He shoved me away but I did not care. My family’s future was positive after all.
As they pulled away, my mom walked out. She sighed as we watched them turn the corner. Something about the dark gray sky that lurked above and the sound of my mom’s sigh told me that my dad’s words were not truth but only hope. My mom looked at me the way she always does when she has something important to say.
“Julia, I have a surprise for you,” she said. It was only then that I noticed the glint of something in her hand. She slowly unclasped her hand revealing a set of shiny, silver keys. My heart went into my throat.
“I want to show you the apartment I just signed the lease for,” she said with a smile.
Moving day arrived much quicker than I could ever wish. Parked out front, the large moving van began to enable my mom’s ability to move as her belongings were filled into its space. The empty, bare walls replaced the walls filled with family photos and smiles; the house I normally called home felt like a stranger’s. I watched as she packed away the last of the boxes filled with her belongings as well as mine and my brother’s. I felt the damp grass between my fingers as I picked each blade, attempting to distract myself from the sorrow on my dad’s face. Standing in the garage, he stared straight ahead with emotions that resembled a shattered mirror.
As my mom climbed into the truck, I stood. The slam of the truck door startled my dad from his gaze. Heading back into the house, he glanced at the truck then went inside. Suddenly, as the truck rumbled to life, I recalled a similar moment six years ago. I was teased for playing with my teddy bear because I was “too old.” The next morning, I glanced at the Teddy Bear in the trash can. I had not only thrown away the teddy bear but also my innocence; I was no longer able to be a child ignorant of the bad. As I watched the truck pull away from view, a tear gliding down my face, I realized that much like that teddy bear, divorce had the same impact.
Chapter 5: The Light In the Midst of Darkness
Going through the divorce was one of the more difficult points in my life. It wrecked everything I knew, but that gave room for new things to grow. During my fourth grade year, I had a teacher who noticed my admiration for writing. She took a special interest in me like no other teacher had. One day, she handed me a pamphlet and said give this to your mom. I would love to see you there. I looked down at the pamphlet that said “Stones Crossing Church.” That pamphlet was the flashlight I needed to navigate my way through the obstacles I had no idea I was going to face in the future.
After many failed attempts to get my family to go visit the church, I finally persuaded them to give in. The experience was unlike anything I had ever been apart of and I knew that I belonged there. On the other hand, my family did not have the same feelings. Over the years I found rides to church from everyone to the elders to my best friend I made in Sunday school. It was a priority to me regardless of if my parents thought the same. It was a break from the depressing atmosphere my home had grasped since the divorce. Stones Crossing quickly became my favorite place. After a year of attending, I decided that God had a plan for me and I was ready to put my full trust in Him. I asked my fourth grade teacher to baptize me. While crying tears of joy, she said yes. My family was against the idea, but as I mentioned earlier, that never stopped me. God had a plan and I knew that this was the next step towards Him.
My faith grew, but I never dreamed it would reach the point it did my freshmen year. Matt Richardson, my youth pastor, believed in me in ways I never dreamed of believing in myself. Circumstances at home had gone from dim to dark, yet I had an immense amount of indescribable joy. The summer before my freshmen year, I attended a summer camp called CIY. It changed my outlook on everything. It guided me toward this guy named Jesus and I wanted to share with everyone I knew how awesome He was. I wore my faith proudly and I could not wait to speak to anyone that would listen until God called me to the one person that intimidated me most.
Chapter 6: The Call
No way. There was no way I was going to talk to the one girl that was mean to me in eighth grade. God, you are crazy if you think she wants to hear about you. I know she will just look at me and laugh if I try to talk to her. She is opinionated and intimidating.
I remember having that conversation in my head with God multiple times for weeks while sitting in World Geography. He was calling me to something I was sure was bigger than me. I was convinced I was incapable of it. He is laughing in Heaven now.
“Um, hi Kara. I know that we aren’t exactly friends, but I just wanted to say that I have noticed you seem sad lately….and…well I am here for you if you need anything” I mumbled.
“Uh…thanks” she said, completely caught off guard. I knew the feeling. God caught me off guard with this calling too. That conversation led to another and then another until I knew it was the day.
“Kara, I was wondering if you would go to bible study with me?” I asked attempting to sound confident.
“Ha! No.” She replied immediately. I did not give up. Actually, I did not give up for four months. I asked her every time we had World Geography class until one day she broke.
“Okay. If I go one time, will you shut up?” she practically yelled.
“YES!” I screeched. I could not hardly believe it. That following week she attending the bible study with me. Against her will, she fell in love. The next day, she asked me to meet her at the public library. I agreed, thinking that we would just study together, but she had other ideas. Instead, she poured her heart out to me about everything from her feelings of hopelessness rooted in her problems with her dad to her suicide attempts. As a freshmen in high school, I had no idea how to respond, so I hugged her. While embracing each other, she asked if I would lead her in a prayer to ask God into her heart. A few months later, God blessed me with the opportunity to baptize her with her mom at Stones Crossing. Shortly, after she made a nonprofit organization called Project Hope that helped girls, like her, who struggled with mental illness. She inspired me and became one of my very best friends. During our junior year, I finally understood the true reasoning behind why God called me to her. She died in surgery to remove a blood clot in her lung. It was the most devastating moment in my life, yet I felt as if it was also the moment that grew me the most. I learned more about myself in those couple months than any other but I also learned that I no longer needed to question God. He knew what he was doing and because I listened to Him, I am able to find comfort in knowing that she is in Heaven and I can see her one day.
[Here is a link to the video of Kara’s baptism…. Kara’s Video]
Chapter 7: Behind My Mask
While I had confidence in God, I did not have confidence in myself. Kara’s death caused more than an immense amount of grief in my life. It forced me to acknowledge that I had problems I had been shoving deep within myself. It caused me to lift off the mask and look at who I truly was. I labeled myself as a strong Christian that shared Jesus with people; that was my mask. Her death forced the mask off as it was the last thing that pushed me off the ledge. I finally acknowledged that my relationship with God was strained; it was a weeping flower just waiting to be watered. I had spent so much time pouring water on all the other flowers that I had forgot to water myself. I also came to terms and finally accepted what I had attempted to so long to convince myself otherwise: I have anxiety. With anxiety comes great obstacles that I have been attempting to conquer by shoving everything away. By facing my anxiety, I was able to accept my anxiety. Accepting my anxiety, allowed me to be able to find other things that helped me through it. Those things uncovered my interests and passions. Kara unlocked a part of me I still am not sure I would have unlocked without her.
Chapter 8: Looking Towards What Gave me Comfort
Within the past two years, I have come to terms with who I feel I am and how to accept myself. Even though my dad would have preferred an athletic cheerleader for a daughter, he received a nerd who loves to read, write, paint, and perform spoken word. Those four things have become my outlet. They allow me to never shove down what I am feeling like I did before but rather empty them out. They weed out the bad that is taking up the nutrients from the water I now purposefully fill myself with. I still have many circumstances that are not the best, but now I am able to allow myself to panic for a brief time then let it go. After letting it go, I can go laugh with my best friends Lauren, Katelyn, Sydney, Bree, or Molly. I can wander a bookstore and wonder about each of the adventures I could take just by opening a cover. I can sit in a Starbucks coffee shop, enjoying the heavenly taste of coffee or tea while passionately diving into my academics. I can attend my guitar lessons and learn to play better at guitar. I can think about my memories of travel to Florida, Nashville, California, and Texas. I can look forward to the traveling I will one day take. I can look forward to a career in education where maybe one day I can impact a child like my fourth grade teacher did for me. I am no longer consumed with the idea of “I can’t” but the idea of “I can.”
I want to continue the legacy of my beautiful great grandmother that I share the same name with. I want to make her proud of what I do in the world. Even though she is still alive today, she is battling Alzeihmers. She does not always remember that I am the other Julia or recognize who I am, but she does remember one thing. She remembers each time I embrace her in a hug before I leave to shout “See ya later alligator! After while crocodile!”