How do I begin? What thoughts would be worthy enough to string together the family, the moments, the many hours spent watching the world from the balcony of apartment 307?

Maybe there are none, really.

I moved to Washington in search of one thing: a higher quality of life. Which I had no idea would come to surface in a thousand, beautifully small and sometimes big ways.

“Let’s stop and have a picnic at Burney Falls,” I told my mom excitedly, as she and I drove from Carson City, NV to Vancouver, WA.

“What’s Burney Falls?” she asked.

“I don’t want to give it away,” I said, looking at her sideways, and scheming like I always do when it comes to new adventures that I can’t wait to share with those I love.

We made it to Burney and the waterfall that flows there is one of the more grander things I’ve seen. It cascades gracefully over massive boulders and moss-covered trees. It felt like we should have been somewhere much more tropical than the high sierra. I loved seeing the look on my mom’s face when we turned the corner of the trail and the falls opened up for us.

Those are the moments I absolutely crave. The moments of wonder I get to help instill. I love sharing awe with others because I know it draws us closer. They are seeing and feeling the very joys of my heart and soul. They are witnessing me in my most true element. I wish there was a way to transport someone like my mom to every moment I felt awestruck. Maybe then, I will fully live into who I am meant to be. I’ve discovered that the only way I can do this is through my words when I can’t take them with me.

So here it goes, a brief glimpse into the moments of rawest awe, purest joy, incredible loneliness, first-time despair, and even truest love. So much of it happened my first year in Washington.

I found comfort in myself -- in who I am becoming, and knowing without a doubt in my mind that I would not want to be anyone else. One of the first times this struck was when I was sitting with Jan. She saw me through every last high and low this year even when I didn’t want her too. We were hiking Dog Mountain together, in desperate need of sunshine and fresh air. We were also in search of wildflowers. We clawed our way to the top, eyes peeled for flashes of color. I turned around to say something to Jan, when suddenly they appeared.

A never-ending field of the brightest yellow unfolded before us. Small patches of purple lupine dotted the sea of sunshine. We paused and I pointed and both of us lost our minds. We proceeded to sit together above the field and ate plantain chips and mashed dates. I almost let the thought escape with the wind, but I held onto it for as long as I could: This is me. This woman sitting in the flowers like honeybee, munching on snacks, laughing so hard my tummy hurt, sweaty from the climb, but incredibly blessed to share it with Jan.

Yeah, this is me and I would not want to be anyone else.

Jan is someone who I was afraid to let fully in. It had been YEARS since I had a close friend like her. It scared me at first, her seeing all of these sides of me that were in the middle of so much change. None of the pieces fit how I wanted them to yet, the direction I was headed wasn’t clear, I probably alarmed her with my aloofness and bouts of passiveness. But she’s still here. We’re still here. I didn’t scare her off with any of that. In fact, she’s probably the only one here who truly remembers who I used to be. And that in itself used to be enough for me to worry. But Jan is like sunshine, the shock of joy when I need it most because I have discovered I am not always able to cultivate it on my own. She floods my whole being with the truest form of love and loyalty.  She is someone who recognized my pain in all its forms and has never asked me to explain it.

We were driving home from a weekend trip to Seattle. It was December and both of us were feeling the pull of home with the holidays looming in the distance.

“Do you wanna get a Christmas tree?” Jan asked me, as I drove.

“Right now?” I turned down the trap rap that Jan liked, which I still don’t understand.

“There’s a tree farm a few more miles down the road. We should stop!”

And so we did. It was 9 pm and the tree farm we found was someone’s actual house with the farm taking up a larger part of their front yard. I remember pulling up and thought we would get kidnapped, but Jan diffused my anxiety, like she’s always been able to and before we knew it, we had a mini tree in the back seat of my car.

The rest of the night consisted of decorating my apartment with cheap stockings and tinsel bought at Fred Meyer, switching on the fake fireplace, and Jan and I curled up with blankets and tea. It was so simple and I anticipated the new traditions we’d all make as grownish adults.

I thought moving to Washington meant a lot of things. But a part of me I did not think it would mean lifelong friends. That was a disparity I thought I’d already dealt with.

“I’ll wait for you at the bottom!” Cam said before I could protest that this slope was way too steep. It was February and the Mount Hood became the best way to combat the dreary winter months I’d known would sneak up on me.

I bit the bullet and bought my first ski set-up, which out of all the major purchases I’ve had to make since moving (a decent bed being one of them) the skis have been my favorite.

Every weekend for about three months, I found myself in the passenger seat of Cam’s car, headed for the snow. I’d try to delicately place my new skis on top of the haphazard mess that was the back seat. I usually was not awake yet and Cam always gave me a little silence before we’d start the normal banter. I’d sip my coffee and he would purposefully change the music once I was in the car because he knew what I liked, which I always have found so endearing.

Eventually, I’d wipe most of the sleep from my eyes and turn to him.

“How was your week?!” That was always enough to launch us into some of the most profound conversations I’ve had. It became clear that we didn’t need much prompting to find each other out. He is someone I was also reluctant to let in at first, but again, someone whose capacity for joy floored me. His need for growth and his willingness to sit with me in the hard spots was also astounding. I felt like I’d already known him most of my life, which was something I knew I needed to pay attention to.  Never has anyone forced me to grow like he has. Never pushing or shoving me to be anyone, but myself. He was someone I was also afraid I would scare with my crazy, but he’s still here. We’re still here. I realized recently, while eating tacos at our favorite spot, that friends like Cam are of the highest quality --- once-in-a-lifetime kind of friends.

It has taken putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes blindly, not knowing or caring what I was getting myself into. Only knowing that I desperately needed to grow. I think everyone should have the chance to be thrown into their own situation of organized chaos. Living by myself has been a lot like that.

I had coffee today with an old friend from high school, both of us on similar paths of discovery. It’s incredible to me how you remember someone a certain way, only to realize that they’ve had to grow, just like you.

If I’ve learned anything my first year in Washington, it’s that you need teammates. You need those friends who will knock on your door and make sure you’re okay without any explanation. Those friends who you can tell your wildest dreams to and feel like those dreams can be made real. The friends who you realize you will probably spend the next significant milestones, holidays, hard days, and everything-in-between days with. Friends like Jan and Cam.

I’ve learned my capacity for growth and joy is boundless, no matter my circumstances or attitude. I am here to fill my own cup, to ask for help when I need it, and be the maker of my own happiness. I am here to let people in, and to trust a God who never ceases to surprise me with new plans. With every sunset I’ve watched from my balcony of apartment 307, I am here to make a beautiful life for myself that I can’t wait to keep living.

I am now sitting on that same balcony and watching the same sun go down, turning the sky orange and pink. The cat is asleep at my side, just waiting for me to put down the computer so he can curl up in my lap. My walls are becoming more bare as I prepare to find a new place to call home within these next few weeks. My running clothes are laid out for tomorrow’s practice. The breeze is warm and my heart is full.

If this is what it  looks like to be content with me, then heck, my only dream is to keep growing.

Big love to you, Washington. You’ve kicked my butt seven ways to next Tuesday, but man, you sure know how to make me feel loved and whole again.