That dreaded type question

There are some questions that are overused and should really not be asked.

Like ever.

I was having a conversation with someone the other day, and somehow (of course) the topic of my singleness came up. She asked a question I’ve been asked before and one that I always hate: “Well, what’s your type?” Did I mention I hate this question?

I don’t think there should be “a type” that I have to define to try to find someone who’s right for me. First off, I won’t be trying to find anyone. Second, if Mr. Right and I do happen to cross paths at some point, then I will know that he is Mr. Right. I won’t need to consult the “my type” list to make sure he meets all of the qualifications. Do I have standards? Absolutely—and they are non-negotiable. But I don’t like the idea of a “type.”

I love Tie
I need someone who can handle Tie and me

I think trying too much to define exactly what you’re looking for creates this ideal man that may or may not exist. Sure, there are qualities in a guy that I want (e.g. he has to love Jesus and be able to make me laugh), but I would rather meet someone and get to know him rather than someone else trying to help me out by setting me up with someone who is “my type.” You might immediately know someone is all wrong for you right off the bat, but you could still form a nice friendship with that person, if nothing else.

It’s possible that a lot my thoughts on this matter stem from my growing dislike of classifications. As much as I love all of those Buzzfeed quizzes, I’m tired of the labels of introvert and extrovert and whatever that word is for the in-between-vert. Just because you have some introverted tendencies doesn’t mean you are introverted all of the time or need to be labeled as such. We are probably all more in-between-verted that we let ourselves believe. We aren’t crayons, and we weren’t made to be—so we won’t always be coloring in blue or red or pink. We get to mix things up a little and not simply be labeled as one specific color.

And that’s a good thing.

So, to answer homegirl’s question, I don’t have a type. If I meet a guy who is wrong for me, I’ll know that at some point. If he’s right for me, I’ll know that at some point. But I won’t sit around and analyze whether or not he’s my type. I know the qualities I find attractive, and I know the ones I don’t. But I don’t need to list them and box people up. I know I’m very picky about things, but I have this fairy-tale-like idea in my head that if there is someone out there for me, then he’s by no means perfect but is perfect for me. He’s not a type—he’s just who he is. I want someone who will sweep me off my feet and show me what love is and what love does.

The thing is, I don’t want to be a type. I just want to be me. I don’t want to treat others like they are certain types. I just want them to be them. So just be you, and don’t try to be someone’s type.

Besides, there’s Someone who already loves you just as you, and it’s the greatest love you’ll ever know.

And He doesn’t have a type.

Family strong

Sometimes life has a way of reminding you just how strong a family bond can be when you least expect it.

Like when you’re on the dance floor.

My brother got married on Friday night, and I have to say it was probably the most fun wedding I’ve ever been to. And seeing as how I’ve been in 17 weddings and attended even more than that, I have a lot of experience in this area. But God did something to my heart at this wedding, and I was overcome with complete joy.

The week leading up to the wedding was long. I’m usually pretty tired by Friday and shoot for the earliest bedtime possible, so the 7:30 p.m. start time at a place more than an hour away wasn’t my ideal situation, but it wasn’t my wedding, so I wasn’t calling the shots. I was already pretty tired from sitting in traffic for an hour and a half on Thursday to drive out to the rehearsal dinner, but I popped in some Taylor Swift for the trek out to the venue Friday and tried to think positive thoughts. It was a happy day for my brother, and I was going to be there for him.

I got there early enough that I was able to take a short nap in my parents’ hotel room while they got ready, and I even got to watch the start of Coyote Ugly on TV. Gosh, I love that soundtrack. As I was sitting there and listening to their conversations and then my dad’s phone convo with the wedding photographer (a family friend who was apparently completely lost), I couldn’t help but smile at how much these two goobers make me laugh. They’re so quirky, yet they’re also so intentional and sincere in all they do. I honestly wish I had been more thankful of them when I was younger.

It was strange to see my brother get married, but it was also good to see the look of happiness on his face that evening. Some of his childhood friends were there, and it was heartwarming to see them all grown up and matured and with wives of their own. Growing up is so weird, but growing up is so good.

My mom was adorable on Friday. Of course she started crying when my brother walked her down the aisle, but she was the epitome of beauty and grace. And the look of joy on her face when she was dancing with him to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during their mother-son dance can’t be accurately described with mere words.

My dad was a true pal all night. He has a way of making friends with pretty much everyone he meets, and Friday was no exception. He was also a real buddy to me and kept me cracking up the entire evening.

My Uncle Bobcat is so caring and just as entertaining as my dad; my Aunt Vickie has a heart of gold and truly listens to you when you talk; my cousin Ryan is the sweetest gentleman you’ll ever meet; my cousin Rachel is the best friend you always wanted and someone who will forever stand by your side; my brother is one of the most determined people I know and reminded me on Friday night that he will always be there for me, no matter what; my sister is the most beautiful person (inside and out) who always knows how to make you smile; and her boyfriend, Theo, is a true gem and a real trooper for willingly spending so much time with our craziness.

my people
Every moment with them matters

These are my people.

Something hit me pretty hard on Friday, and it touched my heart in a way I can’t explain. I know not everyone has a great family situation, and I’m certainly not trying to boast in any way, but I became overwhelmed with one thought Friday night: my family is the best. Now, obviously that’s a very biased statement, and by no means are we near perfect (we can be about as dysfunctional as they come), but there’s a bond between us that can never be broken and never be shaken.

And it was completely obvious when we took over the dance floor.

As soon as the music started playing, my mom, dad, sister, aunt, uncle, two cousins, my sister’s boyfriend (I just consider him part of the Merrill clan at this point) and I were all out there having a blast just dancing with each other. At one point, my dad, uncle and cousin Ryan all did the gator. (If you are too young to know what that is, for the love, consult the Google.) We were all laughing almost to the point of tears. During one of the slow songs, I looked up at my parents dancing and looked around the room and thought, I don’t care if I never have a dance partner of my own. I have my people, and they have my heart.

When Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” started playing, you can bet the women in our family were out there belting and shaking. My sister and I took that whole “dance like no one is watching” saying extremely literally. My heart was full, and it was a perfect way to end the night. We’re family, and together we stand when the world stands against us. Together we ignore the haters. Together we are there for one another through every trial and every moment of joy. And together we dance.

As I made the long drive home that night, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I had to run a race the next morning on not a lot of sleep—I was praying and thanking the Lord for making my heart so full of love and for a family I wouldn’t trade for anything in the entire world. It can be easy at times to take family members for granted and get more frustrated with them than we do with many other people, but I hope I can show more appreciation to them more often. They’re truly Godsends, and the world is a better place with each of them in it.

Especially when gators are involved.

Redefining the American Dream

Life has a way of slapping our faces sometimes when we need it most.

Especially when we need to be reminded to love people.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of being entertained by the conversation of some teenagers I overheard while I was on the sidelines of a soccer game. One girl talked about not going to school and, instead, pursuing her acting career and learning about production by way of experience in the real world. A few minutes later, she was talking about her most recent breakup and joking about how she had completely lost her personality when she was with the guy who had broken her heart. Do not let that happen, ladies. (Or fellas.) I really wanted to step in and say something at that point, but I bit my tongue and let them chat.

But one of the other girls said something that got me thinking. She mentioned some of her hopes for her future and said she didn’t want to chase the typical American Dream. (Bless her. I don’t think she really knows what the American Dream is, because she followed by talking about things that sounded a bit in line with the American Dream.) Whenever I think of the American Dream, I think of The Great Gatsby—I first heard the term when one of my high school English teachers was introducing the book to us before we began reading it. The concept conjures up images of success and elegance and achieving the desires one has chased for years. The Library of Congress has a handful of notions of what the American Dream means to people.

I know that people want the opportunity to find prosperity, but why does that have to be the central focus of an entire nation? Why must there be so much emphasis on what we can’t take with us when we leave here?

When I was in middle school (probably the worst stage of life EVER), I likely would have sought the Gatsby American Dream. I cared a lot about Tommy Hilfiger and Doc Martens back then, and I’m pretty sure I was still aspiring to be a famous actress when I grew up. (I’ll keep you updated on how that pans out.) Somewhere along the way, though, my view on life changed, and I honestly don’t place much value on the achievements we’re so free to pursue. I mean, I want to do the things I do well, and I’ll admit that being successful at something feels good, but I wish that weren’t the main focus so much of the time.

I wish the American Dream were something different.

Pursue people over things.

I wish the American Dream focused more on peoplenot people gaining more things but on people giving more love. I realize how Pollyanna cheesy this sounds, but it’s my dream, so I can do what I want. I know I’m not the best example, as I sure don’t always show love to people like I should, but I don’t think it would be a bad idea to make the American Dream simply be this: Love people. Maybe it would help us treat each other better if we were constantly seeking that outcome. It’s certainly not always easy, but I think it would help diminish a lot of the stress and self-esteem issues we feel that are related to our jobs and social statuses.

On the anniversary of 9/11, ESPN airs the story of the “Man in the Red Bandana,” which is a story of Welles Crowther, an equities trader who became a hero during the September 11 attacks. He sacrificed his own life in order to ensure the safety of others that day. He didn’t care about status or possessions or what his future may holdhe cared about people that day. He showed genuine love to people that day. I think Welles Crowther chased the real American Dream.

I hope one day we can redefine the American Dream so that it is others-focused rather than self-focused. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it doesn’t matter what your title is; it doesn’t matter how big your home is; it doesn’t matter how often or where you travel; it doesn’t matter what brands you wear; it doesn’t matter how many Facebook friends or Instagram followers you have.

What matters is how much you love.

And it’s an American Dream you can make come true as soon as you make the decision to do so.

Where you belong

Every once in a while in life, you might find yourself full of uncertainties of where you’re supposed to be.

It’s during these times I quote a movie about a beauty pageant contestant.

When I was in high school, my sister and I really loved quoting a line from the movie Beautiful. The movie itself wasn’t bad, but I’m pretty sure we liked just this one line more than we liked the actual movie. It stars Minnie Driver as Mona, a woman who spends her life caring about not much more than beauty pageants. There’s a part in which this cute little girl named Vanessa (who is actually Mona’s daughter, but Mona can’t let anyone know that, otherwise she couldn’t compete in pageants) begins connecting a few dots and looks Mona in the eyes and says, “I just want to know where I belong.

It hits you right in the heart.

I think it’s easy for a lot of us to feel like Vanessa sometimes. Life can be so big, and we are so small, and suddenly you can find yourself spinning around and around and not sure where to go or where you best fit in. It can be exciting, frustrating and downright frightening all at once.

I had a tremendous problem with this in college. I went to four different colleges in four years. I started at Texas A&M, transferred to UNT for a semester, transferred back to A&M for a year, transferred to SMU for a semester, transferred to TCU for a semester (worst semester of my life) and then transferred back to SMU for all of my senior year. It.was.draining. College was rough for me, and other than when I was at A&M, I never truly felt like I was a part of any of the schools. I frequently found myself saying, I just want to know where I belong.

I remember when the end of last school year was approaching, and I was looking for a new job, I had no idea what the future held. I didn’t know what my next step was supposed to be. I had no answers when people asked me what I was going to do instead of teach. I had no answers for myself when I wondered the very same thing. I had the constant thought, I just want to know where I belong.

My lease for my apartment is up in December, and for a variety of reasons, I’m not planning to renew again. The problem is, though, that I have no idea where I’m going to live. I want to feel safe—the kind of safe that doesn’t require undercover cops to “hide” each morning in gas station parking lots near you because the crime in the area has gotten so bad. I want to be able to go running each morning and not have to pray for protection the entire way until I can at least get on the other side of the highway. But I also need something affordable. And it seems the safer places are always pricier.  I also don’t want to be so far away from people that it’s hard to connect. It’s been somewhat of a discouraging task. I just want to know where I belong.

To add to that, I’ve been struggling with a decision involving where I want to go to church. I’ve been at my church for almost 10 years—with a brief year or so period that I went elsewhere—and I really love it, yet I still don’t feel like I’m truly part of it. I show up every Sunday, and I see some familiar faces, but I don’t feel like many people actually know me there. I’ve tried different ways of getting involved, but I don’t want to hear anymore that I need to join the young adults group (I’m 30, not 24) or the singles group (I don’t come to church to talk about being single, to hang out with people exactly like me or to pick up a man). I’ve attended another church the past two weeks and am trying to discern if it’s where I’m supposed to be. I want to feel like part of a church community—to feel like I belong. I just want to know where I belong.

belong
Even if you’re in a child’s car seat, just be you

The more I wonder this about a number of things, though, the more I hear this truth repeating in my head: It’s not where you are—it’s who you are. Sure, the place you are or the people you are around often impact you in big ways, but they don’t have to change who you are. Wherever it is you’re called to—whether it’s a new church, a new school, a new job, a new neighborhood, a new relationship, a new community of friends, a new place you find yourself hanging out at a lot—is a place where you are also called to be yourself.

It can be challenging when you’re trying to figure out where you belong, but it’s also comforting to know you don’t have to be anyone other than you—the you you were created to be regardless of where you are or what your circumstances may be. Wherever I’m living at the end of the year, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever church community I’m a part of, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever friend circles I form throughout my life, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever (if any) man sweeps me off my feet and wins my heart forever, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever happens anywhere and everywhere, I’ll be Natalie there.

Because He made me Natalie, and the only place I truly need to be concerned about belonging is in His arms, and everything else will fall into place as it should. With Him, everything makes sense when nothing makes sense.

And I know just where I belong.