Why I believe all animals do go to heaven

The first true loss of a loved one I experienced was on February 25, 2004 when my precious baby, Princess (though rarely called that as we are big on nicknames in our family), suddenly had to be put to sleep at the young age of seven years old. It was one of the hardest things our family ever had to go through, and to make matters worse, my dad was deployed to the Middle East for four months the very next day. We were absolutely sickened by the loss of our beautiful animal we rescued from the wild in Clarksville, TN.

When we took her to the vet on that fateful afternoon, we said our goodbyes to the cat who was struggling for her life. I was out of control crying, petting her for the last time, as the vet and my parents all gathered around her one last time. “In a few minutes, you will close your eyes to sleep, and Jesus will come take you. He will take you home, sweetheart. Do not worry. You will be fine,” I told her, repeatedly.

“Say hello to our precious Jasmine,” my mother added. Jasmine was their baby that they had adopted before I was born, who had died of a seizure two days after his 13th birthday in 1999.

We were all crying as we watched her be taken to the back room where my parents joined the vet one last time. My sister and I waited in the waiting room, sobbing.

After we came home that afternoon, we were a grief-stricken family who could not even bare to look at her food and water dish, or even one of her many hairs she left behind on the carpet. I prayed out loud through my tears, “God, please tell me where she is. Please let me know if she is okay.”

The next day, I awoke to my find my mother sitting in the living room with her Bible and some coffee. She had tears streaming down her face and she said, “I’ve never done this before, but this morning, I randomly opened the Bible and at the top of the page, was this verse,” and she handed me the Bible, opened. Sure enough, there at the top was this:

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. -1 Corinthians 15:44, ASV

I looked at her wide-eyed as that verse stood strong at the top of that page. She told me, “Can you believe that? If it has an earthly body, it also has a spiritual body!” We both smiled through our tears, but still weren’t entirely convinced just by the one verse. Later that day, she told me that she had come across another verse as she began to research God’s view on animals some more.

Right before Genesis states that God created humans, it says that he created animals, both in the sea and on land as livestock.

God made every one of them. Then he looked at what he had done, and it was good. -Genesis 1:25, CEV

God created animals before He created humans on the sixth day, and He looked at those animals and saw it as none other than “good.” He gave them an earthly body, so that they may also have a spiritual body, and He saw their creation as a blessing to the earth. How wonderful to know that our God truly cares for our animals! And not just our domestic animals, but also our whales, lions, and fish!

Later on after we had discovered these two Biblical references relating to God’s creation of animals, my mother came to me holding a small book titled something along the lines of, “What Heaven is Like,” with colorful, water-colored painted illustrations and one-liners on each page on what the author believed heaven would be like. It was one of those small gift books available near the register at Barnes and Noble, or perhaps a book you’d consider as a stocking stuffer. Nothing too intense, but also not a child’s book. Just a simple account of what someone’s dreams of heaven. I read the book aloud next to my mother on the couch, crying as we turned each page, struggling through every sentence. Throughout the book, there was one constant illustration, though subtle on each page. It was of a young girl with light brown hair, holding a calico cat. Every page contained this illustration even if the words on that page weren’t conveying anything about animals, there was the little girl in the corner, or in the background, holding her calico cat. I smiled a little as we approached the last page and read the last line (I wish I knew what it was but I can’t remember), and we both looked at the girl with her cat again.

“That’s you, Taylor,” my mother said.

“And that’s her,” I replied, more tears starting to come down my cheeks.

“Wh… wh… when did you buy this?” I struggled to say, realizing what God had revealed to us for a third time.

“About six weeks ago,” she said. She never buys little books like that and never really buys books, period, because she’s a big library-goer for her source of reading.

I looked at her and said, “That’s it, she’s there, I know she’s there.” God had told me through these two verses and this beautiful book that our Princess was in the hands of our Lord, free from all illness, suffering, and destruction. She was fine, and she would be waiting for me at the gates of heaven when I arrived.

And you probably won’t believe me if I told you this, but after we closed that book, I don’t remember us crying anymore about her sudden death. We were comforted with an overwhelming peace that she was in the hands of the One who created her, and that made it all the better.


My Senior High Prom Experience, Part 2

Continued from part one. If you missed it, please redirect.

Before I get into some oh-so-exciting details of the actual prom night, let’s rewind a few weeks and explain, in my own words (from my very own Live Journal) what was happening. We’ll start with April 28, 2005. Two weeks before prom. Now, I am going to tell you that I cannot remember exactly what happened on this night, but I can say that I came home in tears around 11:00pm (my curfew, if you’d like to call it that) and wrote the following:

who the hell was i kidding?!
myself obviously. something’s changed. he doesn’t like me anymore. i am certain of it. his behavior tonight made it evident to me that he doesn’t want anything more to do with me. THANKS.

Now, fast forward to May 3, 2005. We are now a mere four days until prom. I once again, came home in tears around 11:00pm and wrote the following (which has been edited to suit PG audiences):


today, things hit rock bottom just as i predicted they would. i think this is a new record. this one lasted for about … one month and three weeks. i’ve been waiting for this slippery slope to start, and damn did it start last week. and wow, it hit rock bottom today and almost turned ugly but i walked away from it. i’ve had just about all i can take of this. really. right now i’d be JUST FINE if i never saw another guy again. i’m sick of their up and down insensitive bull crap, i’m sick of them acting like they want nothing to do with me, and i’m just sick of them period.

that’s it. i’m done.

Again, don’t ask me what happened because I cannot remember. This was the last I spoke of Ray in my journal before prom. And I remember, specifically, I worked a closing shift the night before prom at Panera, and I was sweeping the floor and talking to another girl co-worker about how I pretty much didn’t want to go to prom anymore and that things with Ray and I had gotten really bad, really fast. She said something to me that I still remember to this day: “Taylor, do not let him ruin your prom.” So I did just that. And you’d never know just how boiling mad I was inside by just glancing at the pictures.

Above is me outside on our beautiful lanai minutes before the chariot arrived. I had gotten my hair done and had the most perfect dress that I had tried on months before that I was able to track down thanks to The Other Courtney all the way in Potomac Mills in DC! (Oh and if you could not tell, I was not wearing a bra and I certainly did not need one!)

Away we go, inside of Ray’s precious, over-the-top, Mustang with a gigantic spoiler on the back. Note that I am (and probably he was too) laughing at both of my parents who were taking more pictures than at the first pitch at game one of the World Series. We drove to Kelli’s house, where a white limo with red ‘runway’ carpet awaited us. I still admire Kelli greatly for her confidence she displayed that day–she was the only one in our prom group who did not have a date. Yet she looked amazing!

Above is Kelli and me in the limo, on the way to the botanical gardens where we decided to take our group pictures. Ray was sitting on the other side of me, for that particular second. Little did I know that that second would be the only time he sat next to me in the limo. Later, I believe it was after dinner or even after pictures, he sat next to another girl in our group, who was my friend Tyler’s date. He proceeded to ride with his arm around her while I sat in the corner alone. Steam blowing from my ears? No way.

Above is our family photo. From the left we have Tiffany (Tyler’s date, a freshman in high school at the time), Tyler, myself, Ray, Jaime, Matt, Kelli, Chris (who had already graduated from high school the year prior), and his girlfriend Kelli. I was extremely pleased with how our pictures turned out and I would not trade that location for anything!

Above are the girls from our group on the dock outside of the restaurant we chose to eat at in downtown Tampa, Jackson’s. The sunset that evening was absolutely unreal, and we were thrilled we were able to capture it while so dressed up. Ray sat next to me at dinner, but was more interested in talking to Tiffany than he was talking to me at the table. Ignored by my own date at dinner? Never, ever.

The photo above can sum up our entire evening once we arrived at the dance. I remember when we arrived at the venue, the Italian Club in Ybor City, we walked up a set of stairs, and at the top was a boy I had liked since the beginning of senior year, but nothing had ever become of it, despite our apparent mutual interest in one another. His date, who was a freshman in college, snagged him as a prom date in early September 2004. She broke the “cardinal rule of prom asking” and asked someone else to their prom that was not her prom! Once we arrived into the ballroom, I honestly do not remember dancing with Ray at all except for maybe two songs that were slow songs. (And we all know they played more than two slow songs the entire night!) He was literally no where to be found, but I was told by others that he was with Tiffany for most of the night. That would mean that Tiffany’s date, Tyler, was left alone as well. Heartbreaking.

For many seniors, the actual dance portion of prom is just the beginning of the evening. People get hotel rooms, go to the beach, go to after-parties, and usually don’t come home until the next morning. This was the first and only night of my entire life that my parents literally told me, “I don’t care when you come home.” To this day, even when I go to their house at Christmas, they still have never muttered those same words to me. I could not tell you how happy I was to not have a curfew for the first time in my life. We got back in the limo around 11:30 or so, and I do not for one second remember sitting next to Ray. I do remember, vaguely, seeing Ray next to Tiffany in the limo as Tiffany lay her head on his shoulder. The steam was rising at this point and it was harder and harder to keep it inside of me. So, where does the limo take us after prom?


I remember vividly climbing out of the limo, Ray and Tiffany already way ahead of me, and some of the girls saying things to me, like, “we can’t believe what we’re seeing.” Neither could I, gals. We ordered ice cream at Sonic, and I sat at a different table than Ray, conveniently because he and Tiffany had already snagged another.

After the limo took us back to Kelli’s house, where everyone’s cars were, I was not going to be a bit surprised if Ray decided to go somewhere with Tiffany instead of me. It crossed my mind that I wondered how I would get home and if Kelli’s parents would have to take me. But Tiffany and Tyler jumped into his ’68 (I think?) Mustang and Ray and I jumped into his and we all went our separate ways. It was around 12:30 at this point, and I wasn’t ready to go home yet, but since the group had decided to split, I suppose we decided to each just do our own thing. Ray decided to drive us out to the “country” out by Fishhawk Ranch, which was a new development that was literally in the middle of nowhere. There are a lot of back country roads where he liked to take his Mustang “racing” late at night. We drove up to a new neighborhood off of one of the roads that was still under construction and he put the car in park and said, “OK, let’s make out.”

Now, pause the story for one second so I can say one thing: at this point in my life, I had still never kissed anyone. Okay, play the story again.

My thoughts were, “Oh my gosh, maybe he actually wants something to do with me now?” followed by a “oh no, please God do not let this be my first kiss…forced and awkward like this is.” We sat there, with the car running, not really saying much, and then a few minutes later, he puts the car in reverse and peels onto the country road surrounded by “Emo Field” on one side, and farm land on the other. He drove down these roads, zig-zagging all over, and said nothing to me. We were in silence for a good ten minutes or so, before we reached an intersection near civilization where he said, “Okay, want to go home now?”

He made a left turn and continued toward my house, and as we were turning off of this two lane road, he spoke again. “I’m going to miss you when you go to UCF next month.” My eyes darted back and fourth and I’m sure my mouth was at least partially opened. You’re going to miss me? I thought. Your actions have displayed the opposite in the last two weeks. I scrambled for words again and said, “Well, I’m having a going away party that you can come to,” and he didn’t really have much of a response to it other than, “maybe.” I also said something along the lines of, “I won’t be too far away.”

We pulled into my driveway and I still have the image burned into my head of what the clock read at that moment. 12:59. Seriously?! Prom night, my parents don’t give me a curfew, and I get home before 1:00am?! I told him thank you for the evening and got out of the car to punch the code into the keypad to open the garage door. Before the door was even halfway open, he was already gone. He didn’t walk me to the door and I don’t even remember if he so much as pulled into the driveway. I could not believe that the evening was finally over at such an un-Godly early hour.

My co-worker’s advice worked. I did not let him ruin my prom, despite his actions. This was my prom, and I was determined to have a good time. And girls that have yet to reach their senior year and have not yet experienced prom, all I have to say is this: it’s okay if you don’t have a date, and if you do, do not let him ruin your night. You will be so glad that you didn’t let a high school boy control your happiness.

My Senior High Prom Experience, inspired by ‘The Other Courtney’

This was me in my senior year of high school, when I believe I looked my best:

Would you believe me if, after seeing that picture, I told you that I have never, to this day, been asked to a dance (that would be homecomings and proms) in my life? Well, believe it. Because it’s true. No boy ever asked me to homecoming, no boy ever asked me to prom. The reason? Who knows. (Boys who knew me back then, please, enlighten me, because I would love to solve this mystery) But once prom season approached, I started panicking as I realized: I may not get asked to prom.

Sure enough, the months and weeks went by during my second half of my senior year and as of March 30, I still had not been asked to the dance set to take place on May 7. I can’t recall how I started talking to Ray, but we had taken a slightly-more-than-friends interest in each other during the second half of the year. Ray was, at the time, a junior at my high school and also attended the same church. He had always been popular with the girls, but for some reason, he started showing me attention and I responded. He had met my parents at church a few times and my mom was thrilled that “finally, a Christian boy was paying attention to me.” She threw out the suggestion that I ask to him to prom, and I laughed in her face. Me, a girl, ask a guy to prom? Ha. Then my friends reminded me that if I wanted to go with him, I would have to ask him because it was my prom, and I was the senior, not him. The unspoken rule of prom-asking states that someone who is not a senior cannot ask another senior to their prom. Therefore, it was in my hands. Excellent. I had hardly even been on a date at this point in my life, let alone did I have experience asking any boy anything. Tick tock. Time was running out.

Ray and I would usually walk out to the parking lot together after school. We’d talk about our days and he’d occasionally hold my hand and hug me goodbye. We hadn’t gone on any “dates” at this point, but I was waiting for the opportunity to ask him to prom before someone else took my chances of even going to prom away from me. After chickening out one Friday after school, I asked him if I could stop by his house after work (in my Panera get-up, of course) because we needed to talk and it couldn’t wait. (Excellent, I know) So, the story went down like this, as archived in my very own journal dated April 2, 2005:

wow um, so today … was quite a day. after blowing two chances i had clear in front of me … i finally did it. i asked a guy to prom. holy freaking cow dude, i’ve never been so nervous in my entire life. AHHHHHHHHHHHH! so it was by far the scariest thing i’ve done in my entire life. so we were sitting there, outside on the truck for a while talking about mindless stuff, and then he’s like, “soooo … you said you wanted to talk to me. what was it about?” and i was like, “oh. um. that. yes…” and i bit my lip b/c i couldn’t think of anything to say. that, and my stomach was FILLED with butterflies. i felt like i was gonna throw up dude, i saw it happening. so i just sat there … not saying anything, looking up at the tree tops … b/c i was so freaking nervous, my palms were like waterfalls, my mind was going in about ten different directions and i was scared out of my freaking skin. so finally i was like, “so…i don’t want to go to prom with kyle. i don’t like kyle … like that. i don’t want to go with him. and, it’s not like i ask guys to the prom everyday. and it’s not like i get asked to the prom everyday, sooo … i think that…” and he was like, “you want to go to the prom with me?” and i was like, “yes. will you go to prom with me?” and he was like, “yes, i will. i just have to ask my mom…” then my mouth dropped and i was like, “…do you think … she would say yes?” and he was like, “yeah, i’m pretty sure she will.” and BAM. the butterflies were gone. nervousness almost gone.

So I came home and did a face similar to this one:

Ray and I started seeing each other more, going out on some dates in his ridiculous, over-the-top, pimped-out silver Mustang. It was a fun car to ride in, but it was rather embarrassing sometimes that he insisted on backing in to every last parking space, including the first time we went to Steak-N-Shake. This continued for about a month or so, and then things between Ray and I started to go downhill. Little did I know what was in store for us, having prom just around the corner. I remember nearly calling off having him as my date, but I decided to stick it out since I had been the one to ask him, and we already had everything paid for–tickets, reservations, dresses, tuxes, hair appointments, and so fourth. But little did we know what was in store for us on that lovely evening…

Scoping out possible picture spots the morning of prom

…to be continued.

And I’ll fall face down, as Your glory shines around…

On Monday afternoon, I was doing my usual grazing among the field of jobs, sprinkling my resume around like one of those irrigation washes onto a farm. Soon, I started to feel a little depressed again, wondering if I would ever be able to bring home a paycheck again. I was about to shut off the computer, when I received a Google Talk instant message from a friend who recently returned from Europe. Honest truth: I didn’t feel like talking to anyone at that point, especially about her one year anniversary trip with her husband to a part of the world I’m dying to see! She said, “Hey Taylor.” Usually there’s an explanation point after my name when talking to her–this time, there was nothing. Right after, she says, “Did you hear about Fabian?”

Again, I’m thinking, “No, but let me guess, he’s engaged.” But right after I finished that thought, I knew that wasn’t the case. I told her that I hadn’t heard anything and she replied with, “He died last night.”

DIED?! WHAT?! No. I literally could feel the color draining from my face. My heart started to beat quicker, I could feel the sweat start to accumulate on my neck, I could feel the chunks starting to rise up my esophagus, and I could feel the pain begin to set in. Had our good friend, an ex-girlfriend of Fabian, found out about this? We both knew that if she had, she would be dead herself.

I got up from the couch and stumbled over to my bed, knowing that I was about to throw up my entire lunch, faint, or both. I couldn’t look at the computer, I couldn’t talk to anyone, all I could see myself doing was heaving over the toilet as I tried to exterminate this terrible feeling inside of me. I fell onto my bed and lay there for a few minutes, wiping my forehead of the sweat and praying out loud. “No God, no. Not Fabian,” I said. “Please Lord, help Kelli. Help his family…” and minutes later I was feeling slightly better, so I stumbled back over to the computer.

“I literally just thought I was going to puke,” I told my friend. She said she had been feeling sick herself and was of course in complete shock. Both of us knew Fabian through Kelli, who had dated him for a few months about two years ago. Fabian meant so much to Kelli and was such a big part of her life for so long, and we both knew that even though they weren’t together anymore, his death would strike Kelli like a bus side-swiping an innocent bystander. Neither of us knew at that point if she knew yet, assuming she was at work, but we did know that another friend had tried to contact her a few hours earlier to break the news. I decided that I was going to call her and leave her a voicemail, as we were sure they were stacking up while she was at work that day. I figured by the time she got to my message, she would have known, and I just wanted to let her know I was there for her if she needed me.

After about two rings, she answered. “HEY!” She said. We hadn’t talked or seen each other in a while and she sounded surprised to see a call from me. I knew at that exact moment when she answered that there was no way she knew what had happened to her once boyfriend.

“Oh my gosh… Did Kelly call you?” I asked.

“Yeah! She did! But I didn’t answer! And I forgot to call her back! What’s up?” She said.

“Um, well… uh,” I hesitated, having never done this before. “Are you by yourself?”

“Yeah…” she started to sound less-peppy and more, whats-going-on.

“Are you sitting down?” I said, thinking if she was driving or walking, she needed to pull over.

“Yes,” she said.

“I can’t believe I’m the one to say this. Oh my gosh. But, Lisa IM’d me earlier and told me that last night, Fabian died.” Did those words really just escape my mouth? Talk about an out-of-body experience. I think at that moment, both of us felt as if we had floated above our bodies and were looking down onto this conversation as if it were not real.

Her reaction was the same as mine. “WHAT.” She then asked me how, and I replied with an I-don’t-know response, because we still, to this day, do not know what happened to him.

I asked her if she was okay, and she said she was just shocked, but rejoicing that she knew without a doubt that Fabian was with Jesus. What a comforting thought, to know so soon about someone having  just heard of their death! I told her that I would come over to her house to be there for her if she needed me, so I drove over there expecting her to be sobbing uncontrollably. Miraculously, she wasn’t. She had shock all over her face, but also had extreme peace flooding over her.

I didn’t know Fabian all that well, just in passing as he was so important to Kelli for so long in her life. I remember before she started dating him, I was trying to coach her along to playing the “seemingly unavailable game.” (You know, acting like you’re extremely busy and you’re, well… hard to get) I won’t get into her relationship and feelings with Fabian as that is not my story to tell, but Fabian was around at events we’d all go to as a group. He came to my 22nd birthday party with Kelli, he was at Kelli’s birthday a few weeks later, and after they broke up and Kelli and I lived together, we still saw him around since we all shared some of the same friends.

Fabian was (to me, seemingly) a lot like me. Perhaps a male version of myself. He was a charmer, especially around women, he was slightly suave with his Colombian looks and accent, and he was charismatic. He was also sarcastic, blunt, and funny. It’s a weird thing that those of us have that are sarcastic by nature. When you know that someone else is sarcastic, like yourself, you know that you can be sarcastic with them and truthful about basically anything and they won’t take it the wrong way. The way that someone put it to me once was, “If you can dish it, then you can take it.” And that was exactly how I would describe the relationship I had with Fabian. He could certainly dish it out, so when it was my turn, I knew that he could take it. One of the last times I remember talking to him was one day when I walked into a Skype conversation with the two of them and she turned the computer toward me and Fabian and I chatted a bit. I remember him telling me, “Look at her rolling her eyes at that!” Whatever he had said, I inadvertently rolled my eyes at it and he thought it was hilarious. Whatever I dished out at that point is completely unknown to me to this day, but after I said goodbye to him, gave the computer back to Kelli, and walked out the door, my boyfriend was upset with me. “Taylor, you are so rude sometimes! Don’t say stuff like that!”

It was an, “oops, should have closed my mouth earlier” situations, but really, I had to explain to him the understanding that us sarcastic people have with one another. I can roll my eyes at what he says, even if I don’t realize it, and it’s not like he saw it as a sign of disrespect, but actually something funny. (If you’re sarcastic, you know what I’m talking about right now. If not, you probably think I am a huge bitch) Kelli told me later that day that Fabian had told her that he was very “intrigued” by me. I still wrote Fabian an apology note the next day and he responded quickly telling me that there was nothing I had to be sorry over whatsoever, and that my sarcasm/bluntness shows that I have “spice.”

Now, as I write this very piece, I am awe-struck in trying to believe my thoughts that Fabian is gone. If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you’ve probably noticed that death has always affected me in a weird way. For a while, I feared death every single day. Not that I was afraid of what was going to happen to me after, because that’s no question, but more of, how was I going to die? It was a huge fear in my life and somehow, I let go of that fear, but still feel as if my core is in deep pain whenever I hear of someone’s death, even if they were just someone I knew in passing. And now, I am feeling such sorrow and pain not so much for myself, but for Fabian’s family and close friends that are so much more affected than I am right now. I hurt for them, I feel pain for them, and I am praying for them. I am praying that they are comforted by knowing where he is right now. He is in the arms of our Creator! There is no better place.

When the pastor of our church in Tampa died tragically in 2008 in a plane crash, I was ridiculously affected to a point that I never thought was possible. I was hysterical for days and at his funeral, completely lost it. I was devastated, to say the least, and felt the most pain for his surviving wife, and the surviving five children. (One of his children was in the plane and died with him) But I was comforted immensely when I saw this verse come up:

Precious in the sight of the Lord are the death of His saints. (Psalm 116:15)

The Lord takes us home to be with Him for eternity when we die, and He sees that as precious. Not depressing, not horrible, not upset. Precious. He takes us home, He brings us to heaven to live forever, and that is none other than precious to Him!

I also remembered a song I first heard my senior year of high school by Matt Redman. It is truly what I picture happening the moment we die. And this is truly what I see happening to our dear Fabian on Sunday night, however he died, he was immediately welcomed into the courts of the King.

Welcomed in to the courts of the King
I’ve been ushered in to Your presence
Lord, I stand on Your merciful ground
Yet with every step tread with reverence
And I’ll fall face down
As Your glory shines around.

Though You bring grief Lord, I know that You WILL show compassion, for great is your unfailing love. And though we may be separated from Fabian for the rest of our lives here in earth, there is the hope, the promise, and the certainty that we WILL see him again!

Fabian and Kelli, 2009

Back to ‘Sweet Water’ Miami

I know it’s been almost two weeks since my last post, and I want everyone to know that I promise I was planning on doing a lot of blogging last week but… the beach, the pool, and the gym got in the way of my plans. However, I was able to interview, research, and write an article for my freelance job in record time while sitting on our ocean front patio that was, in fact, bigger than our hotel room.

This was my second visit to Miami (read about my first visit here) in my 23-years of living, this month marking my eighth anniversary of living in Florida. (Officially, I have now lived in Florida longer than anywhere else, four-fold!) My boyfriend got asked by his company to cover an operations position in the Miami office since a girl decided to take a vacation to the Greek Isles for two weeks. Of course, Ryan jumped at the opportunity and lucky for me, the jobless, I was able to go with him.

As you probably know, I am a serious sucker for all-things luxury. If I had the means to do it, I would be living “high on the hog” in every aspect of my life. (Some examples include penthouse condos, Christian Louboutins, and Chanel) I have been blessed to come across some amazing deals for five-star resorts in the last few years. (For Ryan’s birthday, I was able to take him to Naples and stay at the Ritz-Carlton for $115 a night!) And sadly, once you stay at a five-star resort, it is ridiculously hard to go back to even a mediocre four-star! Naturally, I told Ryan (jokingly) that I wanted us to stay at the Four Seasons in Miami since we had never stayed at one before and I’ve been bursting to try it. Of course, the rooms were upwards of $400 a night, so we quickly nixed that idea. However, one of my best friends just recently relocated to Miami from the Ritz-Carlton, St.Thomas, and her boyfriend is the Front Office Manager at the Eden Roc Renaissance Resort in Miami Beach. And that is where we stayed.

When we checked in, the front desk agent (whose name was also Taylor) said to us, “Wow, you got hooked up with this room. This is arguably one of our best rooms.” Ryan and I both said, “Cool!” and figured that like a lot of hotels, they probably say that to everyone who checks in. But when we got to the room, we soon realized she was not lying. WE GOT “HOOKED UP.” For a total of $84 a night, we were on a third floor, ocean front room with a gigantic patio that was extended further than even the penthouse rooms. We had a couch, a bed that felt like a cloud, a ceiling-rain shower, bathtub, and mini-fridge. Based on the prices for the basic rooms (with no balcony and a street view), which were $500 a night for the last two nights we stayed there, I am guessing this room usually goes for about $600 and this weekend (“Urban Weekend” evidently, ugh) probably was closer to $1000. And my unemployed self stayed there for $84, with Ryan, whose company paid for it all! (Side note: parking is also a mandatory valet fee of $35 a day. Never saw a bill for that either!) After six nights, when we checked out, our entire bill was $564.

I believe that no one could honestly say they don’t prefer luxury in their lives, but I also think that if you can pay less (or the same) for luxury as a Days Inn, Holiday Inn, or a luxury hotel that my family grew up with–The La Quinta, then it makes it completely worth it. Thank you again to Kelly and John for an amazing week!

The view from inside our room at the Eden Roc.

Standing on the edge of our balcony.

Where I spent a lot of my time--the infinity pool! I had never seen one in person.

Afternoons at the hotel bar--this drink was $20! Luckily Ryan's company gave us a 'per diem.'

Ryan and my sunburned self outside on the beach during one of our last nights.

The Life, The Beliefs, and the Thoughts of Osama bin Laden, Part 3

While babysitting on Tuesday night, I finished one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read, “Growing up bin Laden,” by Nawja and Omar bin Laden. I started out reading a sample of this book, thinking that the sample alone would satisfy my curiosity, but evidently it just made it worse. After caving and buying the book on my Nook, I read through it quicker than I read novels for high school and college. (Being forced to read something just makes me drag my feet, but if I read something because I want to, it has the opposite effect!)

While I was nearing the end of the book, the six year old paused his Wii game and said to me, “What are you reading anyway?”

I paused. What do I tell a child who is innocent to the death and destruction of the world? My eyes darted back and fourth.

“Well, what is it?!” he asked, flustered, holding the Wii control in one hand and the nun-chuck in the other.

“It’s about a father,” I scrambled to say. “Written by his wife and son.”

“Is that all? What about a father? That sounds boring.”

I secretly prayed that he would unpause his game and go back to fighting his Mario characters.

“Well, the father is not very nice,” I said.

“Who is this father anyway? What’s his name?” He asked.

I panicked for a response, again. I figured there was a 95% chance he probably has never heard of him, so I said it. “Osama bin Laden,” I said. He shrugged and un-paused the game.

I finished the book a few minutes later. While the book was written in 2009 and published in late 2010, it ends with Omar and Nawja leaving Afghanistan between September 7-9, 2001. Omar was warned by a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda before the U.S.S. Cole bombing that a “big event” was going to take place and that their lives were going to be at risk after it happened. (Not that their lives weren’t already at risk, but clearly he was referring to the 9/11 attacks being planned and knowing the retaliation that was going to occur)

Omar was the only one of Osama’s 17 or so children that started to question his father’s love for violence and as he puts it, “Jihad.” As he got older, he started planning his escape from his father’s training camps and compounds in Afghanistan. The children knew to not even look at their father in the eye when speaking to him (that is considered disrespectful in Muslim cultures), let alone talk back or question anything that he said or did to them. But not only did Omar look at his father in the eye, he also questioned him repeatedly until he answered him. “My father, how many people did you kill in the Afghanistan/Russia war? How many people? How many people did you kill?”

I do not believe that Osama bin Laden was born an evil person. He was once a charismatic, lovable, and smart person who in the least, had extreme Islamic views on the world. I do believe, however, that once the evil came into his heart and mind, that it multiplied to the point of him literally being happy to see destruction and death of Americans. (Omar said that when he saw his father’s reaction to the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and the bombing of the USS Cole, it was “the happiest he had ever seen his father.”) It was at that point in the book that I realized that this man had been overcome by evil from Satan, although he never saw it that way. He saw it as the right thing to do for Islam. He saw it as “good works” being done to better the world.

Evidently, toward the end of the story (so, roughly around 2000 or early 2001), bin Laden informed his sons that there was a “sign-up sheet” in a nearby mosque for boys to volunteer themselves to be suicide bombers. Osama bin Laden asked his sons to go to the mosque to add their names to the list. Omar was enraged as he watched his small brothers run toward the mosque. “How can you ask your own sons to volunteer themselves to die?”

Osama replied with something along the lines of, “I do not love my sons any more than I love other men of this country. You all are no different to me.”

I don’t understand what it is like to be a parent, as I am not yet one, nor do I know what it is like to lose a child as unfortunately some parents do have to go through for one reason or another. But I could never, ever imagine asking my own blood, my mini-me’s, the children I have created with the person I love, and have raised from birth, to become a suicide bomber, even if it was for my own religion. This was the second sign in this book that I truly saw his evil nature on a personal level. However, no matter his actions or requests toward his children, I still believe that they all loved their father, even after some of them fled from him in 2001. He was not always this way, and that is what saddens me. Just as the introduction to the book says, “People are not born terrorists. Nawja knows only the man, the West knows only the terrorist.”

Next up on my research regarding bin Laden: reading the newest book on my Nook, titled, “The Cell,” by John Miller, a former ABC News journalist who actually interviewed bin Laden face-to-face in 1998.

Lordy, Lordy! The Colonel is NOT 40!

Happy Birthday, Dad!

All I see are faces

It’s been 11 years since we decorated the small building of the 1/77th FA Battalion in Ft.Sill, OK. Black balloons, black streamers, and posters drawn by us hung in the hallways and the walls of the office of the commander. Though we didn’t know it at the time, in a little over a year, my love and appreciation for you would tested in a way I never thought was possible. I can truly say that hearing your voice answer the phone on that horrible day was a turning point in my relationship with you.

Though we’ve had our differences, to say the least, I know that God spared you for a reason. If He had taken you that day, just as he took many lives, I would not have been able to grow with you and fix our relationship to what it is now. Sure, we are not perfect now, you still lecture to me all the time, and we have our arguments, but I know how much you love me and believe in me. It is because of your love, encouragement, and support that I believed I had the smallest chance at graduate school, and so I applied. Though I did not get in, I was also sad to tell my biggest supporter who believed in my abilities more than I believed in myself that I did not obtain my ultimate goal. But today is not about me, it’s about you. We celebrate the birth of a man who became a West Point graduate, who served his country without one complaint for 27 years, and who literally had to chose from all who wanted him when looking for a job after military retirement. You are successful, smart, and an influence in my life. I love you, Dad. Have a wonderful day even though I am not there to share it with you! 

One of the first (documented) times we saw each other!

Love, TBT (also JJ, TJ)