A locker, a keeper, a carrier.

Some days I catch myself thinking of her, eighteen and at her high school graduation rehearsal, learning in a sea of classmates that her father has died. Suddenly and unexpectedly.

She must have felt like her life was just beginning. And then, not anymore.

It must have felt like nothing mattered. Like her life was ending too.

Some days I think of myself learning similar news. At 8 or 13 or 22.

How grief sneaks up on you and even though the wave has already crashed, the news already broken, it can take days for the rumble of the wake to shake your legs and pull you down.

I think about those three days of disbelief in 2003. How on Day 4, the floodgates opened. How I couldn’t close them back up. How hard it was to push push push that door closed, the water streaming in.

Those are crossroads moments. Some of us catch them and some of us point as they drive past. Some of us lock them up tight and some throw them to the wind.

I was always a locker. A keeper. A carrier.

And though it might feel heavy at times, mostly I like it. Mostly it reminds me why I do what I do. Why I am who I am.

At sixteen I was messaging this guy back and forth on AIM, and I remember him saying, “you’re a very emotional person.” I don’t remember what prompted it or if anything did at all, but it’s stuck with me.

When bad news comes and the clouds roll in, it might seem harder. But then it’s the reason we feel so much for the people and things we lose.

All those moments that add up to a life well worth it. Because they mattered to someone like me. Or you. Or him or her or them.

6 Money-Saving/Rebate Apps I Love

I don’t know about you, but I’m at that age in my life where I want my money to stretch to meet all my goals and needs. And every so often, I’ll talk to someone and realize it’s not just me. It seems like it’s everyone around me. And maybe it’s just because it’s December, but it seems like it’s more apparent right now than it has been before.

We want to save for a fun vacation or weekend getaway, save for retirement, save for the big life purchases, save for wedding expenses or babies. We need to pay off student loans and car loans and mortgages. We need to pay rent. We want to treat ourselves once in awhile. And maybe even test out the investment world.

I’m constantly leaning on apps and websites to help me, and sometimes I’ll be in conversation with someone and mention one of these below. So I thought I’d do a quick roundup of some apps and sites that I absolutely love that help me automate saving, or get a little back for the purchases I’m already making, or get me points toward future purchases. This is definitely not an ad, but a few of them have good referral codes so you get a bonus for signing up that way, so I’ll include those below. Some of them will also give me something if you sign up.

Get Upside – Before you shop for gas or groceries or takeout, you can go to this app, open it up, and see if you can claim an offer for cash back from a local gas station or grocery store or restaurant. Mostly I’ve used it for gas. You can cash out and have it go to your Paypal account. I’ve gotten as much as $0.20/gallon off the price just by using this. You also get “upside credit” which can be used for $3 off a car wash, for example, or a percent off an in-store purchase like food at the attached convenience store. Use code “KALEIGH227” for an extra 20 cents per gallon cash back on your first gas purchase.

Ibotta – This might be my absolute favorite. You get rebates for items you buy (mostly groceries and health/beauty products and alcohol). James LOVES it for beer because you get like $3 or $5 back on a case of beer. If you drink wine or liquor, the rebates are really good for those too. Like GetUpside, you have to search by the store you’re going to and then select a rebate based on what you’re planning to buy. Use code “jejvgqh” for an instant $10 bonus. You can cash out to Paypal once you hit $20. They’re doing a lot of deals where you get a 10% back on shopping via your phone too. Like 5% cash back on Target purchases, for example.

Qapital – Hannah Brencher Sheats raved about this to her Instagram followers back in the summer so I checked it out and I’m hooked – full credit to Hannah. You basically create basic rules that trigger the app to pull small amounts of money from your checking account into a separate goal account – so I used it to try and slowly save for Christmas, for example. You could do this for vacations, to save a little more towards your mortgage or student or car loan, etc. For example, I set it to round all my purchases from my credit cards to the nearest $2 and to also send $5 if I walk more than 2 miles per day. You can have as many goals and as many rules as you want. You can also set certain rules for certain goal accounts. I love the idea of using it for extra mortgage payments or other loans. Use this link for $5 when you create your first goal.

Checkout 51 – Same concept as Ibotta. Just another place to look for rebates before you go shopping.

Shopkick – This one’s hard for me to remember to do, but if you open the app before entering a store, you get “kicks” for that store if they have a “kicks” deal that day. Target’s usually got a 30 kicks deal. You can also get points for purchases at various stores and for scanning items (not even buying them). It’s an easy way to get points toward gift cards without even making a purchase. I have enough for a $10 gift card for Target and I didn’t even make a purchase to get there. Use “SHOP621802” to get 250 kicks for your first walk-in to an eligible store (as long as it’s within 7 days of you downloading the app). You have to have Location Services on your iPhone when you’re using this app.

MyPoints – This one’s not an app (it’s a website) but I love it. Casey, my college roommate, introduced me to it in 2008 and I’ve been using it ever since. You get emails with bonus points for clicking through or for making a purchase (XX points per dollar). Just go to their site and log in and then search for the retailer and click through to it to buy and get points per dollar. You can also do surveys to earn points. Then you redeem points for gift cards. I’ve earned a bunch of $10 Target cards over the years just by doing surveys or clicking on the email links. They also offer coupon codes and grocery coupons.

“He would have loved you.”

We lost my grandpa suddenly, five years ago today. My husband James never met him.

“He would have loved you.”

I tell him that sometimes. When we’re watching baseball, when he’s curled up quietly reading a book, when he starts singing made-up songs, when he peels open a banana, when he falls asleep in the armchair watching something he really loves.

I tell him that because it’s easier than saying, “I wish he had had the chance. I wish he had known you. I wish he had just one shared moment with you in my mom’s dimmed kitchen after dinner, hands wrapped around mugs on the table, quietly conversing about the world.”

My husband, he doesn’t know what he missed. How can you love someone you never met? If he’d come into my life a year earlier, he would’ve maybe had the chance. Maybe.

And so I look at it with a grateful heart. Less than 9 months after my grandpa died, this blonde-haired blue-eyed Italian-Irish boy parked outside the Cheesecake Factory and walked me inside. He reminded me about the love of baseball, the agony of 9 innings, of hard years and sticking with your team. He taught me that quiet can mean thoughtful. That words can be measured.

My grandfather lived three blocks from my aunt’s house. He showed up every day. In his actions and on their doorstep. He taught me what it means to give yourself to your family. And then, something changed, and he didn’t anymore. But we don’t remember him that way. We remember how he was for most of his life, how he loved his grandkids, the simple man he was.

I remember that cold first day of December, sitting on my knees with the kids, looking up at that video playing. Photo after photo. Song after song. When you’re the first grandkid, you see yourself over and over in those eulogy videos.

I cried the loudest in that room packed with people I hadn’t seen in years. In those photos, I could see all the time I’d had with him, all the things we’d done together, and how in the end it never felt like enough. You’re never ready for it to be over.

And so my husband shows me that sometimes God knows you’re hurting and He hands you a little piece of someone else. You catch yourself looking at your husband and remembering with sweetness what you once had, aching at the same time because you know they would’ve shared something special together.

You remember that quiet small actions matter. Love matters. Family matters. Showing up matters. On your doorstep or in your phone logs. However you can. However they need.

Lessons Learned While Lost

When James and I were in Atlanta in May, we ran into a homeless woman. We were pacing back and forth along Peachtree Street, scanning the storefronts for the Marta station sign. We doubled back two or three times before she saw us, heads ducked over a phone screen, trying to navigate our way.

She asked if she could help us find something. And then we were off, her and I chatting away up front, James trailing behind, slinging out water bottles and necessities in a bag on his back. She asked me where we were from, how we ended up coming to Atlanta. She told me about his bright blue eyes and smiled.

We were just steps from the escalators leading down when she shared her own story—how she’d lost her apartment two months ago, how she was trying to stay positive and how her son was embarrassed about her persistence, but could we spare some money for her breakfast?

I didn’t have any cash—we were going hiking—so I apologized. She looked me in the eyes, asking if I’d buy something, if I could just get her a bagel or something to tide her over, so of course I said yes.

When we left, down a second escalator, her arms full with a hot breakfast of grits and eggs and meat, I felt good. James, though, wasn’t sure about her.

Where we live, the streets are stocked with homeless people. My father-in-law swore once he knew one of the men, that he went home each night, changed out of the ragged clothes, and slept in a warm bed with his family.

The whole ride down the escalator, onto the platform, into the train car, on the tracks, I told him it didn’t matter, really, but of course she was homeless. She asked for breakfast, for God’s sake. She would’ve moved on if I didn’t have cash.

She had so much warmth about her, a wide smile, a genuine tone. I was happy to help her. I was happy to believe that something good had come from that morning.

“Two months,” I told him. “That’s not long enough to have found a whole new job and gotten back on your feet. She needs all the strength and energy she can get and that breakfast could be what she needs to get herself up—mentally and physically—so she can get a job. My kindness might have meant the world to her today.”

He’s still not convinced, but for me, it felt so good. Because when you’re standing in front of the world, telling your story, afraid to admit that it might not be going as planned, it takes all kinds of courage to ask for help. And when you’re standing on the other side of that conversation, looking into the eyes of a stranger with a kind heart, it shakes you. It stays with you.

The problem of poverty becomes real. It becomes a woman in a white tee shirt with black sneakers. It becomes her fast clip and warm smile and appreciation over and over as you pay for her meal. It becomes the itch inside you when you wonder how she’s going to make it through tomorrow, when her stomach starts to empty and she’s not having any luck finding a job and she’s hoping someone might give her a chance.

It’s hard to ignore. It’s something we shouldn’t ignore.