img_7075Allie Mendoza | World traveler, avid reader and dog-lover would be a few of the best words to describe Allie. With a heart for the nations, Allie studied theology at Oral Roberts University and is currently working on her Masters of Divinity with the dream of moving to Europe or Asia to do full-time missions with her husband Augustine, who she met at ORU. Recently married in May of 2016, she also just became a proud dog mom to Rory, a rescue Pit-Bull Boxer named after the best television show ever created – Doctor Who. She loves experiencing different cultures, reading classic literature, drinking coffee and watching any show made by BBC. Allie aspires to become a professor, write a book and to impact the world with the love of the Father.

img_4479-4Taylor Brooks | In the words of the Beach Boys, “I wish they all could be California Girls?” Well, this one is. Taylor was born, bred, and raised on the sunny beaches of the Golden Coast. And along with west coast sunsets, some of her passions also include family, traveling, old movies, deep conversations, and just about anything chocolate. With a diverse family heritage, she is continually captivated by other cultures, the complexity of people, and the inner workings of individual hearts and minds. Taylor moved to Oklahoma in 2011 to attend Oral Roberts University where she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and stayed to pursue a Masters in Christian Counseling. With the dream of bringing the gospel to the nations and being a messenger of hope to a broken world, she is passionately pursing life and enjoying every minute of it.

img_4487-2Jessi Sabatka | An adventurer and writer herself, Isabelle Eberhardt wrote, “Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” Jessi is an active and energetic individual, with an immense passion for life, people, medicine, and travel. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio by her Chicago-bred parents, she moved to Tulsa to pursue a bachelor’s of science in nursing. She currently works on a Trauma-Surgical ICU in Tulsa with plans to become a traveling nurse as she pursues her practitioner degree. Between shifts, Jessi enjoys hiking and backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, skiing in the Rockies, visiting her sister in downtown Chicago, and meeting friends scattered across the country. An avid researcher with a love for knowledge and all things coffee, she has a deep appreciation of literature, art, and music. A self-proclaimed, “optimistic-realist,” she enjoys profound conversations about life, philosophy, and politics. Yet, she ultimately seeks to change the world in service to God and others through global healthcare, education, and compassion.

fullsizerenderTay Lee | Accountant by day, runner by evening, professional eater all the time. Her Chinese American lineage allows her to use chopsticks with ease but her appetite for all things Italian stems from her New Jersey upbringing. ORU Graduate and CPA Pursuant, Taylor bursts with a love for coffee and tea, a proclivity toward start up companies and business professional fashion, and an obsession for ginger shots, Ben Rector, and cat videos (click here). Along with her yearnings for travel adventures, Jesus, and authentic friendships, she hopes her life through the written word will impact her fellow authors and friends around the world.

img_4491Vanessa Garcia | From a young age, Vanessa had a passion for science, education, and knowledge. Raised by her mother and grandparents, three scientists, she learned a quick appreciation for the study of nature, people, and medicine. She was born in the mountains of Quito, Ecuador and moved to America to pursue undergraduate studies in business and biochemistry. She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma, which has been instrumental in fostering her passion for social justice. Favorite hobbies of Vanessa include traveling the world with her husband, Trey; drinking way too much tea and coffee; eating ethnically diverse (and healthy) food; and watching a variety of foreign films. Vanessa has a strong compassion for underserved populations, both domestically and abroad, and dreams of one day returning to South America with her husband to develop communities through business, healthcare, and the love of Jesus.


Mix It Up: Spring Tunes

As the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, the days get longer and spring approaches, we start to wait in anticipation of warmer weather and sunshine. Being from California, I am not the least disappointed that winter seems to have been cut short this year. Oklahoma permits limited outdoor activity with cold winters (ok…not as cold as most states) and blazing hot summers (now this one is not an exaggeration), so every second of that perfect 75 degrees must be taken advantage of.

With the seasons changing, there is one thing that always seems to help with the ebb and flow of life and that, my friend, is music. In the words of Victor Hugo, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Now while most of the music I listen to does have words, the sentiment remains. Often time, music is a bridge connecting our thoughts and ideas to our hearts and emotions. When I’m at a loss for words, songs (instrumental or not) find a way to express what I’m feeling.

Music also contributes to one of our most basic needs – connection. Whether it’s connecting to another human being who understands what you’re going through or a time for you and your friends to dance around and be silly, music brings people together. As a Christian, it is easy to take advantage of service after service where worship is just another 20-minute ritual. But it’s during those special moments of worship, when one forgets about time and the to-do list, and just enjoys being with God. This is what music does: it helps us connect to our Savior.

So with music being such an integral part of life, I would like to share with you some of my favorites! And with spring at our fingertips, these are sure to brighten your days.

|| Spring Tunes ||

Brand NewBen Rector One of my favorite artists to listen to in practically any mood. He cares about his lyrics, but tends to be on the lighter side, which is good for a Cali girl like me. This is probably his most famous song, but you can’t go wrong with anything Ben.

No Matter Where you AreUs the Duo From their six-second vine videos to their first album in 2012, you cannot help but love these two. It was as if God created their voices for each other, and we are all so glad He did. To top it off, they have the cutest love story that is its own kind of fairy tale.

Steal My GirlHearts and Colors Yes, I did like 1D and may be currently obsessed with Nial Horan. And while their version of this song is fun to sing along with, this cover is a favorite. Enough chill for a relaxing drive and enough pop that it may get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. I stumbled upon this band the other day, and can’t wait to see what they release in the future.

Hearts Content Brandi Carlie I recently watched Safe Haven with some friends and was reminded of how much I loved the sound track. This song in particular is a personal favorite, but I encourage you to go download the album onto your Spotify for your next road trip or study sesh.

Something BeautifulTori Kelly My girl right here, now she knows how to brighten up a rainy day. Her pop/R&B embodies all things Cali and really makes you want to role down those windows and welcome that salty breeze. She paved her way into the industry and is making her mark while staying true to herself. All I want to know is when she is releasing another album!

Hope you enjoy these feel good artists! What are some of your favorites to welcome in the spring?

This Is Us


noun: A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household; a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage; the children of a person or couple; or all the descendants of a common ancestor.

If you were to google the definition of the word family this is what you would find. A basic description of what many people may consider what constitutes a family. However, many would agree that family is a term that has changed throughout history and continues to be an evolving concept today. It is even very common to hear individuals speak about their school family, work family, and church family. Do all families look alike? Of course not! Each family is unique and constantly changing.

Now that you see where this post is going, you may be thinking that I consciously stole the title above. And the answer is…absolutely.  Recently I started watching the newest NBC phenomenon, This is Us (3 Golden Globe nominations this year). A show that continues to exceed the expectations of its viewers with each episode pulling on the heart strings, capturing the essence of family dynamics, and portraying the unforgettable moments or harsh realities of life. But since this blog post is not being written for the purpose of being a spoiler or to just give it more praise than its awards have provided, I just want to take a second  to tell you if you haven’t watched it, it is most assuredly worth your time and tears (because if you’re anything like me, there will be lots of tears).

And so, because this is probably one of my favorite topics and due to my current obsession with Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore (obviously my favorites in the show); I thought it would be fun to introduce and share a little about my own family and all of our  loving, wild, dramatic, loud, exuberant, and loyal characters.

So without further ado…

The Brooks [Valdez] Family

When I was a child and someone would ask me about my ethnicity, I was often confused. Well I knew my dad was white and my mom spoke Spanish. So what did that make me? It wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized that I wasn’t just one ethnicity and I didn’t have to chose between my parents. I am a true result of the vast melting pot of the United States, with a family tree going back to stowaways on the Mayflower, a loud Spanish speaking family, and a weird mix of American/Mexican/Filipino food at our dinner table.

Having roots in a Hispanic culture, it is can be assumed that my family is large, loud, and full of traditions. Growing up with aunts, uncles, and cousins living close by it seemed there was always a birthday, event, or everyone just over for pozole night. My Ita (we called her this because when we were little we couldn’t say abuelita) was born in Tala Jalisco, Mexico and moved to the US in her early 20s where she met my Grandpa Andrew, a Filipino immigrant. They had five kids and worked in a farming community of a small beach town in California. Its hard to imagine what life would had been for my grandparents back in the day. Full of adventure and excitement, living out their dreams of living in the US and of all places, sunny California; but at the same time, facing the hardships and realities of being in a new culture where they barely could speak the one language they had in common. In addition to being many miles away from home, my grandparents did not have family or remain close with their families throughout their lives. So it was up to them (and my aunt and uncles) to form family traditions laden with the closeness they all desired. My grandpa Andrew passed away before I was born, but his Filipino recipes have remained in our odd mix of traditions.

My father’s parents were much of a different background, with stories dating back to the Civil War, Daniel Boon, and the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. My Grandma Gloria was the daughter of a family Doctor and worked hard her entire life to support her family. My Papa was a Korean War Veteran, awarded several purple hearts during his time of service. Now while I may not have grown up as close to my father’s side of the family, I do have many memories of spending time with my grandma and have always appreciated her support throughout many years of school events and sports games.

My mother is the youngest of five siblings and with a number of adventurous stories from her childhood that could have probably landed her her own sitcom. My dad, while having more stories about friends and the havoc they caused, also seemed to enjoy his carefree youth. After being begged to go out with my dad, only so her best friend could date his best friend, my mom and dad began a relationship that would lead to 36 years of marriage, three kids, and five grandchildren.

Like my Ita and mother, I too am the youngest in the family (And yes! Being the baby does have its perks). I grew up close to my cousins and can remember long summers, holidays, and weekends of building indoor forts with every blanket in the house, riding dirt bikes on the tracks near our house, being forced to preform in numerous musical and theatrical productions, building clubhouses with special passwords and rules, trips to the beach to feed the seals, themed vacations to the lake, and baking our own chocolate creations to sell around the neighborhood so we could afford the next Nintendo. These memories are the ones I cherish and I will always be thankful for being surrounded by family that loved and cared about one another.

Now all of these stories sound like I grew up in an excitingly perfect little bubble. And looking back, at many times I guess I did feel like this; but like everyone else, my family did not come without its fault and hardships. However, through all the years of sickness, tragic accidents, feuds, drama, or secrets, my family has also taught me the importance of love, forgiveness, grace, and that two is better than one.

Today, we are still not without our drama, but continue to remain close. With a constantly growing family, others seem to find it difficult to keep up with the marriages and births that happen at least once a year. The Lord has blessed my family and I am forever grateful for being a part of this weird mix of people that still celebrate Christmas morning (all 30 something of us) crammed into my Ita’s small living room drinking champurado, reading the Christmas Story (each one making their case why its not their year to read), and simply enjoying the loud, messy joy of family.

Thank you to those who have built the foundation, the Lord who has guided, and everyone who has cherished and valued this family.

The Beauty of Words

There is much beauty found in the times of silence. Mornings, just as the sun is rising, before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. The first snow, when it feels like a soft blanket was quietly placed over everything in the middle of the night. Standing at the top of a mountain and looking out to a horizon that appears to never end.

Just as the most appropriate time and place for silence can create such beauty, the right moment for words can bring life, healing, and inspiration. Just as moments of silence ought to be cherished more often, moments to speak ought to be utilized more wisely. It is the times that we speak that allow for an opportunity to share with others what may later be forgotten or neglected in silence.

“I like not only to be loved, but also to be told that I am loved. I am not sure that you are of the same mind. But the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. This is the world of light and speech, and I shall take leave to tell you that you are very dear.”
George Eliot

Lately, I have been becoming more aware of my impeccable ability to forget the little things, the small details in life and relationships that, often times, are so important. As you may think, if something is important enough, of course I will make it my personal responsibility to remember. However, if you were to ask me what it felt like the first time I rode a bike or my first night in a college dorm 3,000 miles away from home, I would honestly be at a loss. Not because these weren’t important or life altering moments, but because I did not take the initiative to make sure these memories were preserved.

And how can memories be preserved? What is the best way to insure the experiences we have, the people we encounter, and the lessons we learn are not lost in the five million other tasks we must complete throughout the day? The best way I can think is through stories, through words.

Over the past few years I have had the amazing privilege of building friendships and memories that I believe have the ability to last a lifetime. They have taught me more about the world, my purpose, faith, and myself. Now I am faced with the responsibility to ensure these moments are remembered and I believe one way this can be accomplished is through sharing my stories with you. While this blog does not have a singular purpose, one goal is to create a space to cherish friendship and memories. And so, I hope you enjoy the many adventures, passions, and dreams my friends and I have built together.

“Friendship…is the instrument by which God reveals

to each the beauties of others.”

-C.S. Lewis