Fairy Tales

When you know that you’re fully known

It’s nice to be able to go new places and meet new people.

But it’s also really refreshing to go places where you know people who make you feel known, too.

When I initially moved back to Dallas, I figured things would be pretty simple—I’d immediately feel right at home, and everything would be great. I wasn’t expecting all of the challenges I would face and how tough it would be to feel known again.

No, I don’t for one second regret moving back. It’s where I’m meant to be, and I’m confident in that. I’m forever grateful for the time I was able to live in Orange County, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But I will admit that, other than the ocean and the people I met there, I truly miss the feeling of being fully known.

When I moved to California, I knew zero humans. As soon as I met people, I would ask them to go to coffee with me—and I don’t even like coffee. I was desperate for community, and I was willing to do whatever I could to get to know as many people as possible so that my new home would actually feel like a welcoming place.

Like most people in this world, I didn’t want to feel like a complete outsider.

It wasn’t long before I had found a church home and got as plugged in as I could. I served in the high school ministry. I served on the welcoming team. I served in the women’s ministry and eventually led a bible study. I joined a life group and then led it for a season. I knew people at my church and within my community, and they knew me.

And being known is a beautiful feeling.

It’s not easy to feel like you’re starting all over. Yet again. I guess I assumed that, because I’m from Dallas and have spent most of my life here, it wouldn’t be a huge adjustment moving back after being gone for only a little more than a year and a half. I also guess there’s a reason why that saying about assuming things exists.

I’m attending a different church than the one before I moved, and I’ve started to get connected there. But, like with anything else in this life, it takes time. I’m on a serve team that allows me to meet new people every Sunday, which has been tremendously helpful, but it’s also been weird not already knowing everyone and being a go-to person for others when they need help with something. It’s certainly a transition going to a place where no one knows your background or what your heart’s desires are.

I don’t mean to sound whiny—I’m truly grateful for where I am and the opportunities that I’ve been given. But I’m also giving myself permission to acknowledge that any big life changes bring a number of different challenges with them. They create seasons of struggle at times, and it’s OK to admit that you’re going through some rough stuff when you’re in the midst of it. And I’m in the midst of it.

I think we all have the intrinsic desire to be known by people—for them to know our likes and dislikes, our quirks, our faults, our strengths, what makes us laugh, and a bunch of other little and big things that make us the unique individuals we are. It’s one reason why the show Cheers was so successful and why the theme song is one so many of us sing with happy hearts.

Because we really do want to be where everybody knows our names.

I’m single. If you know me (or if you don’t, probably), this is not news to you. I was talking with a friend recently about relationships and how, although I will accept if I’m meant to be single forever, it would be nice to be in love and find my lobster. I love how people in relationships truly and deeply know each other. I’m not big on games at wedding showers, but I do get a kick out of the videos people make in which the groom is on camera answering some questions the way he thinks the bride will answer, and then she answers them in real time, and the video plays to see if he was right. (I did a somewhat poor job of explaining that, so hopefully you know what I’m trying to describe.) The videos are usually super cute and funny, but it’s also rather endearing to think that two people can know so many things about one another that other people often don’t.

It’s two people who are known by one another and love each other in spite of all of their combined imperfections—and it’s beautiful.

I love nicknames. They’re personal and often have backstories to them. Even if they don’t, they’re usually only used between people who know one another well enough not to use formal names. (I tend to give people nicknames almost right off the bat, so just assume we’re immediate BFFs if I call you something else very soon after we meet.) I like my name, but when people call me Nat or NatMer or Nattles or Nattie or Nat Nat, I get really happy, and I think it’s because, in those moments, I feel known and loved.

Sweet Fritzy. I don’t think I’ve ever called her by her first name.

It’s truly a beautiful thing when someone—whether it’s a significant other, a family member, a friend, or another meaningful person in your life—knows you completely and still loves you relentlessly. Because that’s the way God loves us. I know that I’m always fully known and fully loved by Him, and it’s a knowledge and a love that surpass any that I could find on this earth.

And that’s what I have to keep reminding myself and what I hope you will remind yourself, as well. There will certainly be times in life when we feel like we’re on the outside looking in and like we aren’t seen. But we are. You are seen. I am seen. And we’re so dearly loved that it’s pretty ridiculous.

I’m thankful that God gives us humans for us to love and to show us His love, even though ours is a more imperfect version. I hope that, regardless of what type of season you’re in right now, you know that you’re valued and loved as you are and that you matter dearly.

And I hope that you’re able to go often where everybody knows your name.

Because storms can destruct your plans but not your spirit

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that you can’t always trust weather apps.

Especially when Texas storms are involved.

On Sunday afternoon, after spending some time with my sweet nieces, I met my parents at their country club to hang out at the pool. They had just finished golfing, and the 95-degree weather called for some cooling off.

I don’t know exactly how one human can be so precious, but she is.

When I left my brother’s house, though, I noticed that it wasn’t as sunny as it was when I had gotten there, and the sky looked rather ominous to the left (which I’m pretty sure was the north or northeast or something in that general direction).

Shortly after arriving at the pool, I schooled my dad in a game of P.I.G. (I love pools with basketball hoops) and then went to sit with my mom for a bit while she ate lunch. The sky kept getting darker, and my hopes to bask in the sun that day were completely shot. We were chatting for a bit and then decided that we should probably leave soon because the wind was starting to pick up rather quickly.

I put some shorts on over my suit but then decided that I wanted to take the swimsuit bottoms off because they were still pretty wet. So I covered my towel over me and was going to attempt a clandestine operation without even having to take off my shorts completely. However, that situation was quickly interrupted when the wind suddenly started blowing everything, including the couch cushions off of the outside furniture where I was sitting. Everyone started fleeing toward the covered area by the entrance, so I had to wrap my towel around me and join them.

And I hoped with each step that my towel was secured enough and wouldn’t blow up until I was able to stop and make sure that I was completely decent.

We don’t mind storms, but give us all of the animal crackers, please.

I told my parents I was going to drive home, but when I got in my car, it started swaying back and forth, so I ran back to where they were, and we all huddled behind the back of the building until we were ushered into the tennis shop. At one point, a giant table umbrella started blowing toward the cars, and I ran to stop it before it got too far. I’m only including this because I felt incredibly strong lifting that thing up and securing it in a closed-off area. You can compare me to Hercules if you’d like.

We hung out in the tennis shop for a little bit with the lifeguards and animal crackers (the shop has little dispensers of them, which I now think should be a thing everywhere) until we thought it was safe enough to leave. Right when I got to my car, the rain started pouring—I’m really glad it waited, because I had just washed my hair on Saturday, and I didn’t plan on washing it again probably until the following Saturday (judge all you want). As I was driving home, I thought about my expectations for the day versus what had actually happened and how easily and quickly my plans had been altered.

Oh. Hello, life.

It’s definitely not the first time that’s happened, and I know that it won’t be the last—it seems like there are quite a few moments when I have to call an audible and change up what I originally had planned. And, if we’re being honest, most of the time, it’s not even by choice.

When I was a little girl and then a high schooler and then a college gal and then a young woman in my 20s, I always had hopes that each next year would be the year that I would meet my person and fall in love forever. Throughout that span, there have been a few times I thought that had happened. Obviously I was wrong. Because, each time, there was always some big wind that swept in and ruined the plans I had in my heart that I thought were the right ones. They weren’t, though. Just like, for whatever reason, we weren’t meant to spend the entire afternoon at that pool on Sunday, I wasn’t meant to end up with those guys who had charmed their way into my heart.

One thing that can be so frustrating about storms is that they are incredibly powerful and daunting while they’re happening, and they cause you stress because sometimes you don’t know what exactly to do—you simply have to act in the moment and try to get to safety as soon as possible. You often have to wait them out, and they might even leave behind some damages that take significant amounts of time to repair.

I love these tiny tots, even when they’re trying to steal my watch.

The weather in Texas is odd at times. Shortly after that crazy storm that caused a construction crane to fall into an apartment complex (such a sad situation), knocked a billboard sign down onto some parked cars, and left multiple neighborhoods without power, the sun was shining. If you were simply an onlooker, if it weren’t for the tree limbs in the middle of the roads and what seemed like the majority of stoplights being out, you might never know just how bad the storm was or even that it actually happened.

Much like we don’t always know what personal storms people have faced merely by looking at them.

Our plans won’t always happen as we hoped—whether we like it or not, storms will pass through, and we’ll need to change our courses of action. Maybe you didn’t get the job. Maybe you didn’t end up with the person you wanted to love you forever. Maybe you’re facing some daunting health issues. Maybe you’re experiencing a financial hardship. Maybe you trained really hard for something and got injured before you even got to compete. Maybe you lost a championship in the final second after leading the majority of the game. Maybe you lost all of your possessions in a natural disaster. Maybe you worked your entire young adult life toward a certain career only to realize that it’s not something you truly enjoy like you imagined you would.

There are a million more maybes, all of which could spin your world out of control and leave you feeling all alone and unsure of what to do next. Feeling isolated in life’s storms can be pretty scary, especially when they appear to be never-ending. But I hope you know and believe with all of your heart that you’re never completely alone and that you’re braver than you realize you are.

Storms certainly have the power to change our plans and even possibly cause some destruction in our lives, but they don’t have the power to change who we are and how strongly we fight if we don’t let them.

Because numbers don’t determine your worth

There are a lot of numbers in our lives, and we often put too much emphasis on how much value those figures truly have.

Even in Yelp ratings.

One day recently while I was at my pool, I overheard two young women next to me chatting. I had forgotten my headphones, so I really had no choice but to listen to them as I silently read my book. Their conversation drew me in because it baffled me. They kept saying numbers in relation to people, and then I realized they were talking about people’s ratings.

At first, I thought they were rating guys they knew, and I felt like I was listening to a conversation on a sitcom or something, but I thought the numbers they were giving were extremely low, so maybe they were expecting everyone to look like Ryan Reynolds. Then they said something about Yelp, though, so I figured maybe people have ratings on Yelp like they do on Uber. I’m honestly still not sure exactly what they were talking about because they paused that topic to take a selfie for Snapchat, and then their conversation transitioned to their Snapchat streaks (whatever those are—I’m not well-versed in that app).

Listening to them made me think about how much numbers try to define our lives.

I wrote a book that I’m trying to get published, and I recently spoke with a literary agent who seemed interested in helping me get connected with a publisher. I sent her information regarding my book and some sample chapters, and she said she was very impressed. Then she asked for how many Instagram followers I have, and she was not so impressed. In fact, she told me to reach back out to her when I had built up my platform a bit more and had closer to 20,000 followers.

Well that was a sucker punch to the gut.

I’m cool with not having 20,000 followers as long as I have my sis.

This whole numbers thing starts pretty much from the moments we enter the world—we’re given Social Security numbers to identify us, and the numbers just keep coming from there. We have student and employee ID numbers that often seem to replace our names. Then there are our heights. Our weights. Our grades and test scores and class rankings. Our credit scores. Our salaries. Our likes. Our number of followers.

So.many.numbers. It can be exhausting.

When I was running more competitively and racing almost monthly, I cared about numbers more than I like to admit. I stressed over my mileage, my splits during speed work, my paces on tempo and even easy runs (which made my easy runs not so easy), my overall place in each race, what my PRs were, and what my time was each time I crossed that finish line. It was almost (or completely) obsessive how much I cared about those numbers more than I did actually allowing myself to enjoy doing something I truly love.

I understand that numbers have significance. At the end of the game, the number of points or runs or goals matters in determining the winner. The time on the clock matters in declaring who ran or swam the fastest. And there are a heck of a lot of other numbers that matter for various reasons, especially in sports.

But, while those numbers mean different things, they don’t define us, and they certainly don’t determine how much we matter.

Just wondering where my own version of Ryan Reynolds is.

If you know me or have been reading my blog for a while, you know that the number of boyfriends I’ve had doesn’t need any actual hands to count, and the number of dates I’ve been on isn’t much higher. When I was in high school and college and even in my 20s, I let those nonexistent numbers make me believe things about myself that weren’t true. Just like I did with some of my race results, I let them make me believe that I wasn’t good enough. In running, it meant that I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t fast enough. In dating (or not dating, rather), it meant that I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t pretty enough or experienced enough or big-boobed enough or whatever enough for the guys I was interested in at the time.

And I hate that even numbers have the power to put that “not enough” mentality inside our minds and change the way we view ourselves and our worth.

Friendship isn’t measured in numbers.

Numbers are always going to be there telling us how much we make and owe and weigh, how our posts are doing on social media, how many points we scored, how fast or slowly we finish whatever feats we’re trying to accomplish—I could keep going, because there are a number of numbers out there. But no matter how much worth those numbers hold in our lives and in the lives of those around us, those numbers can’t determine our worth if we don’t let them.

I hope that you don’t let the numbers in your life define who you are or change the way you see yourself. Some entities may only know you as a nine-digit number, but God knows and calls you by name and cares about every single thing about you. You don’t have to stress and worry about all of the numbers trying to tell you who you are or what you are or aren’t. In the end, those numbers honestly don’t mean anything of value.

Because you’re worth infinitely more than any number that exists out there.

When “safe” isn’t always the answer

It’s easy to be content and trust for the best to happen when you feel safe.

But it’s in those moments when we’re called to be brave that we become who we were always meant to be.

Oh, my heart.

Saturday was the perfect day to stay inside. It was storming pretty badly for most of the late morning and afternoon, and I think we were under a tornado watch. I had invited myself over to hang out with my pretend mother-in-law, Darla (my brother’s mother-in-law who has quickly become one of my besties), and my precious nieces, and I was not sad when I ended up staying there most of the day since it was too nasty outside for me to want to walk outside to my car and drive home.

How is it possible for one human to be this adorable?

I’m not one to be scared of weather. I actually sometimes enjoy thunderstorms—as long as I’m inside somewhere curled up on a couch. And that’s exactly what I got to do Saturday as I snuggled with my nieces and chatted about anything and everything with sweet Darla. The girls didn’t seem to be fazed by the occasional roar of thunder or the fairly constant pounding rain, and I think it’s because they felt completely safe—they were in a place free of danger with two women who would literally do absolutely anything for them.

So what was there to fear?

I think that’s an easier attitude to have when you’re a little kid, though. You don’t pay much attention to the storms or the chances of bad things happening because they aren’t actually there, and you don’t tend to worry as much about things that are merely possibilities when you’re in your safe place. Sure, there might be monsters under your bed when you’re all alone in the dark, but suddenly everything is just fine when your mom or dad comes in the room and flips on the switch. You’re safe again, and worries disappear.

I remember one time when I needed a good cry, and I went and sat/laid on the floor of my closet and wallowed for a while. Mind you, I lived in an apartment all by myself, so zero people would have seen me crying. But there was something about that space that just felt safe—that made me feel like it was OK to let out all of my feelings and allow my face to turn into a red splotchy tear-stained disaster. So I stayed in there until I was finished with my sobfest and ready to face the world again. (And by “face the world,” I obviously mean just move from my closet to the couch to watch basketball.)

Braving the NKOTB crowds. The real hero was the air hockey table.

I thought about that time again on Saturday when I walked to my car when the rain had let up. It felt really peaceful out, and I didn’t have to worry about getting my hair all nasty or my clothes soaked. I was in a safe place. As I started to drive home, though, another torrential downpour began, and there were moments when I couldn’t actually see the road, which probably should have been pretty concerning. But the moment I pulled into my parking garage, I was shielded from the storm, and I knew that I didn’t have to worry about anything. It seems like a pretty sturdy structure. Could it be destroyed? Sure. But it feels pretty safe to me.

So what is there to fear?

Bad things happen in life. That’s pretty inevitable. But there are also amazing things that happen every single day—from the smallest pieces of joy to the most monumental miracles you couldn’t even imagine. Why focus on the storms and the dangers and the “what ifs” and the possible rejections and the risks and the chances of failure and all of the other junk that might or might not happen when we could be focusing on the here and now right in front of us and taking those chances we need to take, even if they don’t necessarily feel “safe” to us?

Nothing about this situation is safe.

While paying attention to your safety is obviously important in many areas of your life, a lot of the time it’s better to remember what C.S. Lewis said about Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

It won’t always feel safe to do the things we need to do that other people might even see as crazy, but I trust that the One who calls me to do those crazy things is there with me every single step of the way.

And I feel completely safe with Him—because I know that He’s good.

Because your life is not a cookie-cutter creation

Your life likely looks completely different than those around you and maybe even completely different than you thought it would years ago.

It’s crazy to me that she doesn’t even realize how much she’s capable of achieving.

And you can trust that that’s probably a good thing.

I went to the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center School of Nursing graduation on Friday to see one of my girls graduate and receive her BSN degree. This young woman has been through quite a bit since I’ve known her when she was a freshman in high school, and she has handled every single trial and heartache with such grace and tenacity. I’m so proud of the person she’s become and can’t wait to see how she continues to change the world.

As I was sitting there listening to all of the accomplishments of various individuals in the program and thinking about how impactful nurses are, I had a brief thought of near regret enter my mind: Maybe I should have been a nurse. While I love helping people and supporting and encouraging them, I don’t think it’s exactly the career for me. That’s a lot of pressure to keep people alive—after all, I can barely keep myself alive.

I was having a conversation with someone on Saturday, and we were talking about various things about us and how we got to where we are now, and I said something I wasn’t really expecting to hear myself say: I wish I had kept playing soccer. I don’t like having regrets, but it’s one thing that I admit that I’d like to change about my past.

On Sunday, I went to my sister’s indoor soccer game, and for the second time that weekend, I wondered what my life would have been like if I had stuck with soccer. I was always pretty good at it growing up but then quit to focus on other sports in high school. I think there’s a little part of me, though, that has always wondered what might have been. What if I had continued to play? Where would I be now? The obvious answer is on the cover of a Wheaties box and inspiring girls across the world.

More realistically, it might have simply changed my college experience and where I went if I had decided/been good enough to play at that level.

I can “what if” until I’m blue in the face. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t pursue soccer, and I’ll never know what would have happened if I did. Or if I became a nurse. Or a million other possibilities of things I could have done. My life would be completely different in a number of ways, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Besides, I’m in the now and need to live and be fully present in the now—not in the past or the future or a place and time that don’t actually exist.

Update: I’m not on the U.S. women’s national team.

We all make so many decisions on a daily basis—some seemingly small, others more monumental. But even those small decisions can be life-altering. Every single choice we make helps us get to the next steps on our journeys, and I think it’s so wonderful how unique and different all of our stories are. I’m fairly useless in the kitchen, but I do know that people who bake cookies and cupcakes are able to use special tools to make all of their desserts look alike, especially for occasions like bridal and baby showers and other festive celebrations. I think it’s really neat that God doesn’t do that when he creates people—He makes each person so special in his or her own way with a story that is completely different from every other human’s on the planet.

And I honestly believe that it’s really great that we often have no idea what’s in store for us.

I used to hate surprises. Like, truly hate them. I always used to read the last page of a book before I would even consider beginning it because I wanted to make sure that I was going to like the way it ended. I played it far too safely in so many areas of my life because risks meant unpredictable outcomes. Somewhere along the lines, though, I realized that not knowing where each choice I make and action I take are going to lead is so much better—for both my heart and my mind.

With the exception of Back to the Future (although that one did give me a little anxiety), I’m not a huge fan of movies about time travel or people switching places and messing with other people’s lives (I don’t like any version of Freaky Friday), mainly because I don’t like the idea of people being able to alter their pasts to change their presents. I know that many of us would like to be able to change the situations in which we find ourselves, but the struggles and storms are necessary to get us to the better places we need to be and to shape us into the individuals we were always meant to be.

It’s OK if your life didn’t turn out to be the way you thought it would. I don’t know all of the reasons why we have to go through the things we have to go through in life, but I do know that there’s purpose in everything—in every joy, every sorrow, every celebration, every season of mourning, every hope fulfilled, every broken heart, every success, every failure. Everything.

I’m not a nurse or a professional soccer player or a Grammy-winning singer (that was a pipe dream—I have zero musical talent) or an actress or a SportsCenter anchor or an Olympic athlete (I was so bad at gymnastics that they asked me to leave, and my sprinting career died when I realized that I’m not actually fast) or married to my lobster (thanks, Friends).

And I’m thankful for that.

My life is far from perfect—there have been some really tough mountains I’ve had to climb and moments that I’d rather forget than remember. But if Miley Cyrus taught me anything worth learning in life, it’s that it’s all about the climb.

We can’t actually hop in DeLoreans and go alter our pasts in hopes of changing our current situations, but we can use those times to learn and grow and guide our future decisions and actions.

And we can trust that everything that’s happened in our lives thus far is all part of the perfect plans for the unique and special journeys that become our own beautiful stories.

Because comfortable isn’t always for you

If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that letting yourself step away from what’s comfortable often allows you to become stronger and more capable of being fearless.

Even when it involves shoving cake in your face in front of a bunch of people with iPhones while you’re celebrating a birthday you’ll likely never remember.

Post-cake cuddles. Also, how is she already 1?!

My sweet niece Evie turned 1 today, so we celebrated with a big party for her over the weekend. She’s such a joyous little angel, and it was wonderful to be able to get together with family and friends to watch her do an actual face dive straight into her precious tiny cake.

She wasn’t so sure about that cake at first, though, so she was hesitant to eat it. But she really loves food, so maybe it was because she was surrounded by a bunch of people singing to her. I’m not sure I’d be super thrilled about eating cake in front of a crowd when I wasn’t wearing a shirt, either. My brother helped her out by taking a little bite first to show her that everything was safe, and then she trusted him to feed her some, too. It wasn’t long before she was sticking her hands in there and eating the heck out of that cake.

As we stood around her and watched for a while, almost everyone with his or her phone out taking pictures and videos (it’s now hitting me how much we put kids through—and, the more adorable you are, the worse it is), I held my older niece, Olivia, so that she could see more of the action better. She kept reaching her hand out, and I asked her if she wanted cake. When she nodded yes, I tried to put her down so that she could walk up there, and she used a death grip to cling to my neck and told me that she didn’t want to go down.

I never knew how fun balloons were until Olivia came into my life.

A few minutes later, we had déjà vu all over again. I couldn’t help but wonder what made her so fearful. I asked her why she didn’t want down to go get cake, and she didn’t answer me but, instead, just buried her head in my shoulder and clung even more tightly.

I get it, sweet pea. I get scared sometimes, too.

Both of my nieces reminded me of just how huge of a role faith plays in our lives. Evie was unsure of the cake until my brother went before her and showed her that it was good. She trusts him. Olivia, who is a wild child of a free spirit but sometimes gets slightly shy when lots of people are around, wasn’t keen on the idea of going up on what looked more like a stage than a backyard porch step to eat some of a cake that her younger sister was skeptical of after the paparazzi of onlookers had just sung some strange song directed at Evie. It was safer to stay in my arms and let me get my upper body workout for the month. She trusts me.

Has there ever been something that you truly wanted to do but were afraid to take the risk because there was too much unknown involved? I’ve been there far too many times, especially when those risks involved my heart. I’ll never forget a moment I had years ago to say something bold that I let slip away faster than a future NFL Hall of Famer running the 40-yard dash at the Combine. I had feelings for a guy who was supposedly just my friend, and he had just said something that made me think there was an inkling of a chance that he could possibly feel the same way. We stared at one another for a long three-ish seconds that any romcom would have written perfectly, and I did the only thing I thought I was capable of doing: I looked down and then away.

I wasted a perfectly good opportunity to be brave because I let fear think that it has more power than it actually does.

This one also teaches me a lot about faith and not always letting yourself be comfortable.

Olivia and Evie are just little kids, so it’s perfectly understandable that they are still learning how to be brave. But I hope that I can set a good example for both of them—I’m not that same fearful girl who looks down and away. But they also continue to teach me every day what it means to have constant and complete faith.

The world and the situations we face aren’t always going to be just how we want them to be. There’s going to be hurt. There’s going to be pain. There will fear and anxiety and heartache and challenges and setbacks and so many other things that make us want to curl up in little balls and stay right where we are so that we feel completely safe and comfortable.

But comfortable doesn’t help us grow. Comfortable doesn’t challenge us. Comfortable doesn’t allow us to become the bold women and men we were always meant to be. Comfortable doesn’t help us to run full throttle toward our dreams. Comfortable doesn’t let us take the chances that we need to take and make the changes that we need to make.

And comfortable doesn’t do much other than hold us back from all of the great things our hearts have yet to encounter.

You’re never too young for lip gloss.

I know that it’s easy to cling tightly to what we know and not do what we need to do to grow and change and be brave. But what I’ve found is that it’s far better to cling tightly to the God you may not be able to see but Who is still always there and intentionally walk straight into the fear that’s in front of you. You might fall along the way. You might fail. You might end up with a completely different outcome than you ever imagined. But, whatever happens, I can tell you with certainty that it’s worth it—it’s worth it to take the risk instead of looking back years later and wishing that you had. Remind yourself now that YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS, and please believe it with your whole heart.

Because you matter enough to challenge what’s comfortable and trust a God who will never leave you or let you down.

When you stop asking “why me?”

As little kids, we constantly ask why many things are the way they are.

Whether we realize it or not, though, we don’t truly change that habit when we’re adults.

Last Friday was not the best day of my life. When I woke up, my right eye was bothering me and had some weird goop coming out of it. Since I moved back to Texas a month ago, I’ve been having weird allergy issues that I didn’t have before I was in California. I figured those allergies were now getting to my eyes, so I put my contacts in and went running. The right eye was leaking weird stuff most of the run, but I thought it would be best to ignore it—I didn’t have time to deal with it.

I briefly glanced in the mirror after I showered and got dressed for work, and I couldn’t decide which looked worse: my hair that I hadn’t washed in seven or eight days (I know—gross) or the eye that was still goopy and getting redder by the second. It also hurt, and if I’m being honest, I had a slight irrational fear that it was simply going to fall out. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t Google how much glass eyes cost. I started thinking of Captain Ron and all of the jokes I could make, but then the fun stopped when I got into my car.

The battery was dead. Perfect.

I stopped the first cute guy I saw in my parking garage (JK—he was actually the first person I saw, but he was for sure a good-looking fella) and asked him if he had jumper cables, but he did not. He came over to look at my car and told me what I already knew: “Yeah, it sounds like the battery.” No kidding, Sherlock. I called Triple A and then had to go get a new battery. By the time I finally made it to work SUPER LATE, I had forgotten that I still had an eye filled with puss and pain until I went into the restroom and saw myself in the mirror. One of my coworkers said it looked like I had pink eye, so then I was sent to work from home since it spreads rather easily.

Pink eye is an evil beast. Also, the picture doesn’t do it justice.

I stopped by an urgent care on the way home, and the doctor there gave me the official diagnosis and a prescription for some antibiotic drops. Here’s one of the big problems with pink eye: It’s highly contagious and shows no mercy on its victims. Because I didn’t know I had it for most of the morning, I hadn’t been careful not to touch my left eye after rubbing my right. It wasn’t long before that same nasty goop was filling up my left eye, as well. By the end of the day, I had two disgusting eyes competing for the title of most painful and obnoxious. I hate you, pink eye. And I mean that. (Also, I didn’t think this was a thing adults get. I’m 34, not 7.)

When I woke up on Saturday morning, for a brief moment, I thought I had gone completely blind. I started trying to figure out how I was going to live the rest of my life with no sight. When my dramatic reaction ended, it took me probably six minutes or so to be able to get my eyes completely open. They were so crusted and dried shut that I’m surprised that I still have any lashes left. I went to look in the mirror, and the shallow part of me almost burst into tears.

You know the scene in Hitch when Will Smith has an allergic reaction, and his whole face swells up and becomes deformed? That’s basically what I saw when I looked at my reflection. My eyes were so completely swollen that I wasn’t recognizable. I didn’t even look like a real human. Thankfully, my eyes were also too swollen and nasty for me to be able to muster up any tears, so I just stared at myself for a few seconds in disbelief until I decided that I needed to go running. I figured that would help the swelling go down.

I essentially had to quarantine myself for most of the weekend, which was slightly depressing (but, as my sister pointed out, considering my lack of rest in the last few weeks, probably a little needed). I slept quite a bit and caught up on laundry—mainly because I needed to decontaminate everything that had come in contact in some form or another with my poisonous eyes.

As I was sitting at home and admittedly moping a bit, I remember making a comment when I was talking out loud to myself about how I felt like Job from Scripture. DRAMA QUEEN MOMENT. I had to stop myself—are you freaking serious, Natalie? He had A LOT more to deal with than I did. Sure, I had pink eye and a dead battery (that was replaced) and a few other things going on that seem like they’re constant plagues in my life, but I was nowhere near as distraught as that man was.

And then I remembered my promise to myself to steer clear of the “why me?” mindset.

I have “Be brave.” tattooed on my arm because sometimes I need the reminder. It isn’t always easy.

When we face situations we don’t want to face and go through the tough things that we really don’t ever want to go through, it doesn’t do much good to sit around and ask ourselves the one question we typically want to know: “Why me?” The truth is that you may never know why what happens to you has to happen to you. Or maybe you won’t know until way later in life. But the why shouldn’t make a difference, because you’re going through it regardless, my friend.

Instead of asking why, ask yourself how—how much faith are you willing to place in a God who will never let you down? Ask yourself what—what are you going to do to be brave and fight the battle you’re facing? Ask yourself who—who do you want to be: the fearful or the fearless?

You don’t necessarily get to choose what happens to you, but you do get to choose how you respond to what you face in life. Whether it’s a dead car battery or pink eye or a much more serious illness or a broken heart or a loss or a shattered hope or an injury or a number of other things that put you in situations in which you never want to find yourself, you get to choose whether you do nothing but ask why or ask the bigger questions that you’re ultimately going to have to answer yourself.

I certainly don’t know why many things are the way they are, but I do know one thing: We were always meant to be brave.

Because we’re all uniquely beautiful

It’s my goal in life to love others well and to remind them of how valued and beautiful and loved they are and how much they matter.

And apparently I still need to do a better job of reminding myself of those truths, as well.

I helped my sweet friend/mentor Cristy with her daughter’s graduation party over the weekend, and it was such a joy and honor to be included in all of the festivities for a girl I used to babysit many years ago who has become a beautiful young woman with a world of incredible possibilities ahead of her. The weather was pretty ideal (the party was outside), and I always love seeing people come together to celebrate and support and encourage one another.

At one point, I was chatting with Cristy and one of her friends, and one of them made a comment about how gorgeous all of the high school girls there were, which was completely true. And then I said something without even thinking: “They truly are. I was never that pretty when I was their age!”

OMG, Nat. Seriously?

Cristy is a walking heart full of love.

There are many reasons why God put Cristy in my life almost 20 years ago, and I believe that one of them is because she constantly speaks truth and encouragement into my heart. She immediately reminded me that she knew me back then and that what I just said wasn’t true. I probably never would have believed that back then, but what the heck had prompted me to think and say such a thing now—you know, when I’m supposed to be much more confident and assured of my unique beauty in God’s eyes?

The next day, someone I had just met used the word beautiful to describe me, and I had another weird moment of a negative thought: I must be in deceiving lighting. Oy vey. I’ve come a long way from the girl who thought she was ugly because guys weren’t asking her out, and now certainly isn’t the time to start sliding back down that heaping pile of poisonous quicksand.

No, Olivia, a fork is not actually a brush.

Later that day, I was running through the grass and driving around in a golf cart with my niece Olivia, and I started thinking about how much I hope and pray for her to grow up to be a confident and bold woman who knows exactly who she is and Whose she is and just how beautiful she is in Him.

And, as her aunt, that’s something I need and want to model for her every.single.day.

That doesn’t mean that I go around proclaiming that I belong on the cover of People’s “Most Beautiful” issue, but it does mean that I can walk in beauty with the assurance that I am who God says I am—His child. His daughter. His unique creation. His redeemed. His beloved. His. I don’t have to live in fear or shame or guilt or worry or doubt or insecurity or anything else that makes me think that I’m anything less than the person He created me to be.

Because I am free in Him to believe and know with all of my heart that I am beautiful as He created me—even with all of the things about me that might be seen as imperfections.

When I look at all of the women in my life, especially those in my immediate family, I can tell you right now that each one of them is incredibly beautiful in a number of ways. My mom has always shown me what it means to be confident in yourself, and never once did she say anything negative about my appearance or her appearance while I was growing up. (And that hasn’t changed. Almost two years ago, when I was on my way to my niece’s 1-year-old birthday party the day after I had been released from the hospital after one of my kidney surgeries, I had texted my mom that I shouldn’t be allowed in public because I was still puffy/bloated from all of the IV fluids that had been pumped in me, and she responded with this: “You are always beautiful! As the song goes, ‘You are amazing just the way you are.’”)

See what I mean? They’re gorgeous.

Then there’s my sister—I could go on and on about how beautiful she is inside and out. She looks and acts a lot like my mom, and she’s taught me a great deal about always trying to find the good in people. I also have my cousin Rachel and my Aunt Vickie (I consider them immediate family); my sister-in-law, Katie; my pretend mother-in-law, Darla (she’s my brother’s mother-in-law, but I’ve adopted her as my own, too, because she’s just so wonderful); and my nieces, Olivia and Evie, who have stolen my heart forever and I hope will always believe that they’re precious creations.

And I think pretty much every woman I know is beyond beautiful. But why is it so easy to affirm others in that regard and not ourselves? I don’t ever want to be like middle school or high school or even early and mid-20s Natalie, who always looked in the mirror with at least a little bit of disappointment. Now when I look in the mirror and have any negative thoughts, I give myself little pep talks. Just the other day, I had to say to myself, “Well, it’s been eight days since you’ve washed your hair, but it doesn’t look that awful, so at least you’ve got that going for you.”

I don’t like cliché and trite expressions, but I support the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” one because it reminds me that God created me the way I am on purpose and sees me as beautiful. He sees you that way, too. Isn’t that wild and wonderful? The same One who created the entire universe and everything in it sees you as remarkably and uniquely beautiful. Who are we to think otherwise?

The next time you look in the mirror and see flaws, try to turn them into precious traits that only you have that mean something special. Those gray hairs? They’re strands of experience and wisdom. That pimple smack dab in the middle of your forehead? It’s keeping you humble and also might be further proof that you are, indeed, part unicorn. That skin that you think is a bit too extra? It’s more protection for your bones and can be turned into muscle whenever you feel like it. Those wrinkles around your mouth and eyes? They’re evidence of years of joy and laughter and frequent smiling.

All of those things are beautiful because they’re part of you, and you are beautiful. Believe that. Embrace it. Live it. Even though One Direction says you not knowing that you’re beautiful is what makes you beautiful, I think what actually makes you beautiful is knowing that beauty is in every single person and loving all people for the unique individuals they are.

And that includes you, my friend.

Because hope gives you strength

I’ve learned a significant amount about hope in recent years and have realized something that doesn’t make me feel guilty when I don’t pump iron as often as I should.

Hope makes us stronger.

Green (I call some people by last names or nicknames only) and Val are two of my sweet friends who have been with me through a lot over the years. I knew Green was going to be one of my besties when she offered me a ride home from a work event during my first few weeks at the company where we worked together for a couple of years and let me ask her a million personal questions about her life that she probably wasn’t expecting to talk about on such a short trip with someone she barely knew. But she’s always been one of those people who gets me and never makes me feel like I’m doing life all wrong.

I met Val through Green the day after a really tough moment in my life, and it wasn’t long before the three of us were the proud owners of Rangers season tickets with each other. Nothing brings people together quite like the dedication to fandom of your favorite sports teams.

But it wasn’t just a baseball season that we experienced together—it’s been multiple seasons of life. They both walked with me through a broken heart that I thought would never end and that put me in a bad place. I don’t like to think about how much it affected my mood and what I thought of myself, and I really don’t like the way it affected the type of friend and sister I was. While I can’t change the past, I can certainly change the way I respond to pain and rejection.

The Lord’s taught me a lot about who He is and who I am in Him since then.

He also taught me more than I could have imagined about hope. There’s hope in darkness and in those times when we have fallen and aren’t sure if we’ll ever be able to rise again. It’s that hope that fuels a fire within us and causes us to be brave when we want to give in to our fears. That causes us to believe when no one else believes. That causes us to keep moving forward when our minds try to tell us that it’s not possible. That causes us to stand and fight when hiding is the easier option.

We aren’t good at selfies, so this seemed like a better idea.

Green is getting married in the next year, and the three of us got the VAN, as we call ourselves (for Val, Amanda, and Natalie, obviously) back together some some old fashioned bridesmaids-dress-shopping fun. Val and I tried on maybe seven or eight dresses, all of which had completely different fits and looks on both of us. At one point, I looked in the mirror and then around me at all of the women trying on bridal gowns and prom dresses, and I was reminded about how different we all are—and I don’t mean in appearances alone.

We all go through completely different ups and downs and take journeys and paths that aren’t the same as those of others. We often face moments when we’re in such rough places that we aren’t even sure if things will ever get better. It seems as if the storms won’t ever end. Hope seems so distant that you aren’t sure if you’ll ever let it in your life again.

Dear friend, please turn on Mariah’s “I Can Make It through the Rain,” and please believe each lyric she belts.

Take Tiger Woods. The guy’s been through quite a bit since he entered the spotlight and captured America’s heart so many years ago. He had a very public and disappointing fall from grace, and he’s had persistent injuries with his back and knee since then. I can imagine that there were times when he felt hopeless and when he could have given up. But he didn’t. And then that final put on the 18th hole of the Master’s happened on Sunday, and he won his fifth prized green jacket. It was a beautiful moment as he hugged his son and then mom and the daughter as the crowd chanted “Tiger.”

It was living proof that hope is full of power—it gives you faith, it gives you strength, and it gives you the belief that those crazy things that maybe only you think are possible really aren’t so crazy at all.

You do you, girl.

Your past is behind you, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next year or next month or next week or even in the next hour. The best thing you can do is to live as boldly and as completely as you can in the very moment you’ve been given right here and right now. It might not be where you want to be, but it also doesn’t mean that you’re going to be there forever. There’s tremendous beauty in hope, and the more you cling to it, the more you will realize just how strong you can be—because He equips us in spite of our failures and weaknesses.

I’ve never won a major on the PGA Tour (although I was a two-time golf city champion back in the day, and it’s not important to point out that I won both years by default because I was the only girl), but I know what it feels like to finally have a big breakthrough after spending far too much time in the Land of Sorrows and Broken Hearts, where it feels like you’re the sole resident. I know what it’s like to have to spend time away from something you love so much so that you can heal and grow and learn and foster hope. I know what it’s like to cry more tears than you knew the eyes could handle, not knowing if you’ll ever be able to stop. And I know what it’s like to train myself on patience, taking small steps each day toward the bigger goal you’re chasing.

You don’t have to have it all together. None of us actually does. You’re likely going to face setbacks at different times, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure or won’t ever see your dreams come true—it simply means that your story has some unexpected chapters to make it more interesting and to build your character. As one of my favorite sports media professionals Sam Ponder said, “Here’s to another season of learning that the imperfection and messiness of life [are] where joy and gratefulness grow.” Amen, sister.

So let the hope surface, and let it grow, my friend—and you, too, will one day be able to fist pump for being brave enough to believe in what once seemed impossible.

When you’re fearless in what you want

Once again, I’ve been reminded about the importance of being brave in every aspect of life.

And, once again, a young child brought it to my attention.

“I want a hug.”

My precious niece Olivia had a cold last week, so I worked from my brother’s house for a couple of days to help take care of her. She’s a little older than 2 1/2 now, and she’s gotten really good at saying what she wants. More than once, she came up to me and said “I want a hug” and then climbed up into my lap.

My heart soared, and I melted.

Olivia knew what she wanted to comfort her when she wasn’t feeling well, and she made it known. She wasn’t afraid to be open and honest, and she does that with everything that she wants. Like when I was eating Wheat Thins and some granola and a banana, I heard that little angelic voice say “I want some.”

I started thinking about it later and wondering why it’s so simple for little kids to be so sure and assertive with the things they want and need, yet we struggle to be as open about it when we get older. Sure, there are certainly things that kids declare they want that aren’t theirs to have (no, Olivia, this is not your phone), but I still commend them for being so bold.

They are actual angels.

When you’re that young, you hear the word “no” a lot more than you ever want, but you don’t really think much of it. It’s just another “no” that you eventually forget about (even if there is an ensuing hissy fit that follows for a little bit) before the next time that you pursue your interests. You don’t overanalyze why you were rejected or let it make you feel like you’re not good enough—you simply move on and continue with your life. There might be tears, and you might need to take a moment for some uncontrollable wallowing, but you don’t let such a minor setback get you down for too long.

Why is it so much more difficult for us to go boldly after the desires of our hearts when we get older? Why do we let fears hold us back from saying what we want? Sure, just like kids, we can’t have everything we think we need, but there are certainly times when we simply need to suck it up and chase the things that set our hearts on fire.

I can think of far too many times in my life when I should have been more like Olivia—when I should have said what was in my heart instead of shying away from declaring words that never actually made it into the air for anyone to hear. But that was years ago, and I’m way past done being the girl who’s too afraid.

As my girl Jess said in New Girl, “What’s wrong with a girl that’s fearless?”

Minus her choice of pronoun, I’m completely with Jess. There’s nothing wrong with a girl who chooses to be brave.

I wanted a pic with Dirk, so I asked to borrow a stranger’s cutout.

Brave enough to chase her dreams.
Brave enough to speak what’s on her heart.
Brave enough to love without reservation.
Brave enough to walk with her head held high.
Brave enough to say “yes” when she means it.
Brave enough to say “no” when she means it.
Brave enough to look fear in the face and say “not today.”

I hope that Olivia grows up to be an even braver woman than she is now and never lets fear keep her from taking chances that she knows she needs to take. And I hope that you don’t, either. No, you can’t always get what you want, but it’s often better to take the risk than to sit back and be far too content with what’s merely comfortable. Do you want the job? Apply for it. Do you want the raise? Ask for it. Do you want to get to know the guy at the gym you always see and think is cute? Ask him out. Do you finally want to say “I love you” out loud? Let the words leave your mouth. Do you want to dance your heart out? Get out on that dance floor, and let loose. You do you, sister, and don’t worry about what other people think or say about you.

Because there’s nothing wrong with a girl who’s fearless.