‘Tis the season-to give, to love, to hold on tight.

My dear friend and cousin has recently revealed that she is using her blogging efforts to raise awareness and money for a different cause each day until Christmas. A very clever way to celebrate the 12 day  countdown to the holiday (well, now its 10). My cousin is nothing if she isn’t clever– so inspired by her company’s collective efforts raising money for a local charity that she wanted to pay it forward in her own way.

Because all of that giving for all of that need got cousin feeling so incredibly blessed to have a healthy, smart and fabulously blonde family who loves her, a job that pays her to do something she does well, and a house in the middle of the mid-west that provides her enough room to have members of her extended family play Guitar Hero and sleep in the basement for days on end and go reasonably unnoticed.

So she decided to take her company’s lead and use her talents to see if little ‘ol her could make a difference somehow, reaching out to her friends and family via the fabulous world wide web to spread the word about charities and causes that mean something to her.

And damned if, within the first two days, she hasn’t raised some money for these great causes…

Which got me thinking a few things:

1. I am related to a pretty amazing woman and I had good taste when I decided to look up to her. She was a really enticing role model in that twinkling Rodeo Queen sash, sparkly shirt and crown.

Here she is teaching me to read...she probably put me in that dazzling dress too.

2. This world is full of wonderfully generous and fantastically talented and giving people. And because of the little invention known as the internet, I get to know some of these people–even the ones I’m not related to–and you amaze me every day

(Insert super hot photo of you)

3. What if?

Because my life is not without its challenges, but it is pretty damn good. And because I have chosen to share details (mouse incidents, cow poop, bad outfits and all) over this thing my momma calls “the interweb,”  I have been lucky enough to be reminded by you (who I’m not even related to), that yes indeed, it’s a wonderful world. A wonderful, wide, beautiful world full of laughing, naughty and angelic children, Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes, stunning sunsets and families who really know love, wonderfully witty sarcasm that I truly appreciate and people who share in my passions and can relate to a life spent doing something you believe in.

And so we open our laptops and turn on our desktop computers and from our offices, coffee shops, living rooms, and bedrooms we learn each other’s names, marvel at backyards across the country and oceans, laugh at shared embarrassing moments, ooh and ahh over home decor and delicious recipes, listen to troubles and hear the call to give.

And thanks to all of this sharing, all of the feedback I have received, all of the warm wishes and good vibes, my eyes have opened up wider to the life I lead, enticing me to live it better, smile a bit wider, be more appreciative.

Because, yes indeed my backyard is breathtaking.

Yes sir the pug is cute (although he does resemble the Grinch, even without his Santa suit).

Yes ma’m my family reminds you of the Grizwalds, but that’s ok cause it makes for good material.

And yes indeed life is good.

So here comes that inevitable question that sneaks up on everyone in the middle of a life that’s going pretty well thank you very much.

“What if?”

What if it wasn’t.

What if the world gave me lemons and no sugar for lemonade?  What if I took a wrong turn down the road less traveled and it lead me to regrets and disappointments and mistakes that I could not take back–bad memories I could not shake.

What if my parents didn’t love me enough to dress me like this?

What if this was something I only found on postcards in gift shops I traveled through instead of what I see when I look out my window in the mid afternoon?

What if my family hadn’t sacrificed, struggled, pushed and loved enough to make this our home….

…opening the door for me to make it mine?

What if I didn’t have friends, ridiculous friend, who indulge my need to act like a five year old every once and a while, standing by with a giant rainbow umbrella in case it rains (or we get sprayed by the hose)?

What if he did not fall in love with me at age 14 and continue to hound me for my hand until I gave in…

…what if it didn’t become the best decision of my life?

And what if the best decision of my life didn’t happen upon an advertisement in a gas station and then promptly call the number to have this delivered to our door?

And what if I had nothing to make my face look like this while laughter comes booming out of my lungs?

Who would I be then?

Where would I be if all of the moments I found myself in, all of the decisions and heartbreak and happy times and kisses didn’t align to bring me to this point of planning and enjoying a life I’m not so sure I’ve done anything to deserve?

I don’t know. But more than likely I’d be fine…maybe vacuuming the floor in a suburb somewhere living with a man who wears a tie to work instead of a neckerchief (because I’m convinced if I lived in a suburb I would vacuum more), or in an apartment in a city with a couple goldfish, happy and content with the hustle and bustle , or on the road with my guitar…

…but maybe not.

See, that’s the thing about life that baffles me every day…there is no way to know what our lives would be if we broke a heart instead of made it ours forever, chose the east instead of the west, the job instead of the wedding, home instead of leaving, children instead of  travel, a pug instead of a goldfish…well, I take that back…I pretty much know  how that would turn out…it’s hard to get a goldfish to wear a Santa suit.

Anyway,  it doesn’t really matter does it? We could play that game all day, but it won’t get us anywhere. The only thing we can do in this world as living, breathing people, is to be grateful and take care of one another. To be kinder than necessary. To hug a little harder. Smile a little more. Reach out.

Because if the people you meet everyday are lucky enough to have a roof over their head, they go home each night to fight their own battles, live with their own regrets, miss someone so much it hurts, and  hold on tight to the things they love, even if they don’t make sense, just like you and me.

So thanks cousin. Thanks for reminding me this season, while I’m sitting under the enormous Christmas tree plucking glitter out of my hair, to breathe in this life I love and then give back to a world that has held me so close as a lucky one.

Because I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. No one does.

All we have is each other…

…and this very moment to be good. To do good.

And hold on tight.

Visit shantastic.blogspot.com to keep up on cousin’s charity suggestions and spread the word.

Or give, if you feel so inclined.

Thanks for reading and thanks for making my world a little wider, my days a little brighter.