Life is weird and unexpected and crazy and difficult and wonderful and confusing and chaotic and interesting all at once.
And it’s beautiful—so, so incredibly beautiful.
I own a planner, but sometimes I don’t know why I even bother with it. Sure, it helps to remind me of appointments and plans I have, but it also gets filled with too many tasks that shouldn’t necessarily be added to my already-almost-overflowing plate. I often feel like those unaccomplished things on my list are staring back at me, mocking me with words that make me feel like I’ve failed. Like I’m not doing enough. Like I’m not giving enough of myself. Like I’m not trying hard enough. Like I’m not succeeding enough. Like I’m, simply put, just plain not enough.
And even though I know those thoughts are all lies, every once in a while, I let myself believe them.
I wrote a book (which I can’t wait to share with you VERY soon), and it’s filled with constant reminders that you are enough—that you are valued, and you are loved, and you matter. And all of these things are true about myself, too. So why do I let these feelings of running a never-ending race in which I’m doomed to cross the finish line in dead last get to me so much?
I blame it on being human and having emotions.
I sat across from my dear friend and mentor Cristy earlier this week and poured my heart out with these feelings to her. I tend to bottle my emotions, so they all come out at once when I least expect them to, and the tiniest thing generally sets them off. She sat there with me and listened and spoke truth into me and reminded me of my value and in Whom I find that value. She encouraged me to take time later that day to rest—to do nothing and to be OK with that.
As a teacher, I’m a fan of spring break, because we truly do need rest more than we realize. I took some time that afternoon to lie in the sun by the pool and bask in its warmth. I turned on sounds of ocean waves to take me back to my days in California when I would sit on my favorite lifeguard tower or the sand and stare out at the ocean (I miss you with my whole heart, SoCal) and did something I hadn’t let myself do in far too long: I relaxed and did nothing. It felt so nice.
After a while, I decided to dip my toes in the water, and my reaction would have made you think that I was attempting the polar plunge in sub-freezing temperatures. It felt crazy cold! For some reason, though, I wanted more of that. I’ve been trying to increase my running mileage and speed lately, so my legs have been taking a beating. Even though I hate ice baths with everything in my being, I thought it might be good for me to suffer through one. I stared at the water, letting it challenge me to a dare. I went and sat on the side of the pool and dangled my legs into the coldness, the water only coming up to about the middle of my calves.
I don’t like the cold. At all. I don’t think that it’s a good idea for people to experience it, but some insist on being fans of things like snow and skiing and using the air conditioner. I don’t get it. As I looked down at that water, though, I knew that I was going in it soon. I didn’t want to, but I needed to—for reasons beyond a simple ice bath. Before I could talk myself out of it, I slid into the water until my legs were completely submerged. And even though I acted like I was a passenger on the Titanic who suddenly found herself in the middle of the icy Atlantic Ocean with no door that was clearly big enough for two people to float on, I survived.
I needed that victory.
I only lasted about seven minutes, but I did it. To me, that moment felt bigger than being able to highlight items off of my to-do list. While I was in there, I read from a book that sweet Cristy had given me earlier that morning, and there was a truth in there that I needed to be reminded of in this season fo my life: He will never put me where He cannot sustain me.
On Wednesday, I went with two other teachers and 13 kids to D.C. for a film competition. I felt like I was running on fumes, but I knew that I needed to be there. It was only a few hours after we arrived that the organization in charge of the contest notified everyone that it had made the decision to cancel it entirely. After communication with our district, it was decided that we would all come home as soon as we could get a flight back. We ended up being in D.C. for barely 24 hours, and it felt like one of the longest days that the earth ever rotated around the sun. All of us were tired and confused and frustrated that the organization waited until everyone had arrived to make that decision, but one thought kept resonating in my mind and heart.
He will never put me where He cannot sustain me.
Life won’t go as we planned all of the time—probably even most of the time. But I know that that’s a good thing. If everything panned out the way I wanted it to, I’d be much more of a mess than I am most days. The reality of my life can’t always match what’s written in my planner, and I feel like I’m in a continual pattern of learning to embrace that. I want the days when I end up jumping into cold water. I want the days when trips have plot twists, but you end up making some hilarious memories on an unexpected journey. I want the days when my heart feels emotions that it didn’t predict it would feel. I want the days when I can sit in the sun with no concept of a schedule. I want the days when I remember what it was like to be a carefree kid again and have zero worries in the entire world. I want the days when the storms blow in, and I am stuck on my sofa with nothing to do but nap.
And I forever and always want the days when God reminds me of his immeasurable love and grace and sufficiency in ways I never imagined.
I hope that you don’t have to question whether or not you’re enough in any area of your life. And I hope that, if for some reason you do, you are immediately reminded of just how much you are valued. None of our days will be perfect, and that’s OK. Sometimes it’s best to embrace the mess for what it is and replace your frustrations and anxieties with joy and gratitude in the small victories.
Because those seemingly small victories are often much more significant than you realize.
There’s something about being pursued that sets our hearts on fire.
And not being pursued seems to wash away that flame far too quickly.
My sweet niece Olivia loves to be chased. When we go play at the park, she’ll suddenly say “come and get me, Nat” before taking off running as fast as she can. She’ll constantly look back to make sure that I’m following her, and then she’ll reach a point where she simply stops running, starts giggling, and waits for me to come pick her up and say “I got you!”
At 3 years old, she’s proving what most of us want in life: to be pursued.
I’m a huge proponent of women’s equality, and I don’t believe in traditional dating standards in which men must always be the ones to ask women out and court them. I think that it’s a two-way street: Women should be expressing their interests in the men they fancy, and men should be doing the same for the women who catch their eyes. After all, women aren’t the only ones who want to feel like they’re wanted. If you don’t believe me, check out Bumble, the dating app in which girls have to make the first moves. There are plenty of men on that app who want to feel wanted.
There are a multitude of ways to pursue people, and it doesn’t occur exclusively in romantic relationships. The way we interact with our friends and family members are forms of pursuit—how often are we calling and texting to check in and see how they’re doing, and how often are we spending time with them to grow those relationships and show the people in our lives that we care?
You can also pursue strangers, even if you may never see them again. It’s OK to show people that they are valued, regardless of whether or not you know them. A couple of weeks ago, I had a horrible fall while I was running, and the left side of my face took a beating from the concrete. I had a black eye, and my cheekbone was super bloody and swollen the first day and still puffy and bruised up for most of the week. It still isn’t fully healed, but it definitely looks better now. When I was out in public the day after it happened, though, I could feel people awkwardly staring but trying not to stare, and I knew why: I looked like I was in an abusive relationship.
While that’s not the case, there was a part of me that wanted someone to check on me just to make sure that I was OK—that I wasn’t letting someone take advantage of me. (As a side note, if anyone ever tried to lay a hand on me, I would kick his a$*.) Sure, that would be a pretty uncomfortable conversation to have with someone you don’t know, but you could go about it in a less intrusive way and simply ask how the person is doing or say something heartfelt rather than staring and then looking away and then staring again but avoiding eye contact at all costs.
Sometimes it’s better to do something awkward than to do nothing at all.
The thing about being pursued is that it makes you feel cared for—truly cared for—by someone in your life. I think that many of our friendships that don’t last end up fading away not because of anything that happens but because of what doesn’t happen.
We stop pursuing each other.
I think back to a number of high school and college friendships that fizzled out that way. That’s a part of life, and there’s nothing wrong with not keeping in touch with every single individual who has ever been a friend or someone significant to you at some point. But the reason is generally because you and that other person stop making an effort to call, text, or get together.
Then there are the relationships that you want to preserve or grow, and it hurts much more when you feel like you’re the only one pursuing the other. When I was living in California, even though I tried to make sure that all of my Texas friendships were maintained, that didn’t happen, and it hurt my heart. Even after moving back, those relationships aren’t what they used to be, and I try not to think about it too often, because it’s become clear that there isn’t necessarily a reciprocated desire with each individual to keep those friendships alive.
And, of course, there are the relationships that you want to become much more than friendships, and it wrings and wrecks your heart when they don’t. I feel like I’ve spent most of my life chasing guys who don’t want to chase me back. It’s like playing a one-sided game of tag, but you’re never the one running with that contagiously joyous but anxious feeling coursing through your veins. Instead, it’s a feeling of hope deferred that causes you to believe things about yourself and about your life that aren’t true. I’m done with those feelings, though. My value isn’t found there.
I encourage you to pursue your people. We don’t know how much time we have on this earth, and I know that I’d rather continue to check in with people than to wake up one day and not even have the option of doing so with someone who truly mattered to me. Whether it’s our friends, family members, or strangers, we don’t always know what’s going on with the people in our lives, and they might be battling things we can’t even imagine. A simple call or text—even the smallest act of pursuit—could be a spark that brightens a person’s week or helps someone make it through one more day.
Life may not be a giant game of tag, but many of us are like Olivia, looking back over our shoulders to see if we’re being pursued in the ways we hope. Sometimes I get so caught up in all of the people I’m not seeing that I overlook the only One I need to see.
But Jesus never stops pursuing me.
No matter how bleak things look or how alone you feel, know that He will never leave you and will never give up on you. He’s the ultimate pursuer. If some of your friendships fade, or the guy who stole your heart isn’t running after you to give you his, or the people at the grocery store don’t ask you about your face, it’s OK. He still cares more than we could ever imagine—and that makes you pretty darn special.
After all, it’s more than kind of a big deal to be pursued by the King.
The holiday season is filled with plenty of busyness, gifting, joyful music, and emotions.
And those emotions can often feel like more than our hearts can handle.
I’ve been single for exactly every holiday that has ever existed, so I know a thing or two about getting through the month of December without a Clark to my Ellen. There’s just something about the Christmas season that helps to remind a single gal that she’s single—maybe it’s the endless songs mentioning mistletoe or the carriage rides with couples and families cuddled up under blankets together or the matching family pajamas on GIANT display at Target or the endless commercials with people in love giving each other Lexuses with big bows on them or the Hallmark movies with perfect endings or the chill in the air that feels colder when you’re alone or the—I could keep going, but I don’t want to.
I know that I’m not the only person who breathes who is single right now, so this isn’t a pity party, but I’ve come up with a short list of ways to get past the holiday blues that might creep up on you when you’re trying to be all holly and jolly and whatnot.
Take that carriage ride on your own, and enjoy every second of it — I actually had full intentions of doing this one year, but when I found out the price of how much it costs, that plan was shot. So, if you’re a cheapo like I am, you can do what I did and, instead, just drive super slowly in your own car with the windows down so that you can get a similar feel. Plus, you can blast your heat at the same time so that you’re really not that cold. And cruising in your car by yourself is super unromantic, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out like you would if you were in a carriage ride alone. (But the solo carriage ride thing is still cool, too.)
Watch Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York — Unlike the Hallmark movies, there’s exactly zero romance involved in these classics. Plus, not only are they hilarious, but they are also about a young boy who kicks a$* on his own, so maybe they’ll provide you a little inspiration and encouragement at the same time.
Buy a Bath & Body Works Wallflower to make your home smell like Christmas cookies — You can also buy a candle, but I find that the Wallflowers are easier and last longer. Plus, they’re cheaper. Either way, the intoxicating scent is pretty much guaranteed to bring you a little extra peace.
Watch a Dallas Cowboys game — You’ll be so upset with how they play that you’ll forget all about being single during the holidays.
Remind yourself that being single means that you have one less gift to purchase — Hey, you might as well focus on a financial advantage of this situation.
Take a few minutes to watch this video in its entirety — You’re welcome.
Do all of the things you love to do, and spend time with your people — This is the most important one. You don’t have to be part of a pair to be part of a family. It might be tougher than you prefer, but you don’t have to let your lack of something take away from your joy of what you already have.
The holiday season can be a heart-wrenching time for some people for a variety of reasons, regardless of their relationship statuses. Hug your people a little extra—you don’t always know what’s going on in their hearts, and they may need those hugs more than you’ll ever know.
If you’re feeling more single than ever this year, know that YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS. You may not feel loved and adored by anyone trying to meet you under the mistletoe, but you are loved and adored by the One who is the reason we celebrate the Christmas holiday in the first place.
And that’s sure as heck a reason to be joyous in a potentially tough time of the year.
Some things claim to be permanent but actually aren’t—yes, even those trusted Sharpies can fail us.
But leave it to a Disney character to remind us of the one thing that will never falter.
A little more than a week ago, the radiator in my car decided to die, and there was a moment I thought I might actually die when smoke started coming out of the front of my car, and I was certain it was about to explode with me in it. The one good thing that came out of this was that I got to drive a BMW SUV for a while for the price of an economy car rental. I definitely like when things work out like that. I’m not really a fancy person, but you give me heated seats and all of these ridiculous and superfluous features (but especially the heated seats), and I’m hooked. I offered my RAV4 to the rental place to trade straight up, but no deal.
Later that evening, my friend Cali and I went to dinner and then decided to drive out to a fun bar/restaurant about 20 or 30 minutes away. I mean, we got to ride in heated seats the whole time and cruise in a car that neither of us can afford (#teachersalary), so why not? We sat down at a table for four, and it wasn’t long before a woman came our way and asked if she could take one of our extra chairs. A short time later, a man came over and asked the same thing for the other extra chair. We hadn’t been there that long—how did they know we didn’t have people coming to join us?
When you’re single, whether they intend to do so or not, people have a way of reminding you that you aren’t actually saving a chair for anyone.
Like probably many people, I love the holiday season. The smells are wonderful, and there’s this unseen but completely felt transition that takes place in society—people are generally more thankful, more giving, more thoughtful, and more available than during other times in the year. Maybe that’s why there’s that song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Go figure.
At the same time, though, it can also be a rather difficult time for some individuals. In a way, it’s a constant reminder for people who are single or alone. I love Target with my whole heart, but the GIANT DISPLAY of family matching pajamas is kind of a slap in the face when you have no one to match with you.
My sister and I went to see Frozen 2 the other night (highly recommend), and once again, that Olaf charmed his way even deeper into my heart. He has such a remarkably beautiful outlook on life. I won’t give away too much of the movie, but the sweet little snowman says something that has a way of ingraining itself in your mind and heart because it’s so genuine and so true: “Hey, Anna—I just thought of one thing that’s permanent: love.”
Olaf gets it.
The pumpkin spice latte and peppermint mochas will fade as the seasons change. The decorations will be taken down. The snow will melt (except for Olaf, obviously). The generosity, sadly, might become less generous. The family togetherness might lessen. The radio stations will go back to playing their standard tunes. The airlines will see a slight decline in mass travel for a while. The overall magical feeling that the holiday season brings will dwindle. So many more things will fade, but love will not.
Because love is permanent.
I know that I’ve never actually been in a relationship, but I do know what love is and what love does. I also know that it’s not reserved solely for romance. It’s not meant for one day or one month or one season or one year or one whatever—it’s forever and always.
When I look at my family, the truth of permanent love makes much more sense to me. We’re imperfect people who have been through quite a bit together, but we’ve never once thought about giving up on each other. When you truly love people, you don’t turn your back on them. You fight their fights with them, you let them cry their tears to you, you celebrate their victories with them, and you help them up and remind them of who they are when they feel like they simply can’t keep going. That’s what love does.
Because love is permanent.
I don’t need to get down about Target not making holiday PJs specifically for singles or about people taking chairs from my table when they make their own assumptions. I’ve got my people. Sure, I may hope for a permanent love with my own Ryan Reynolds-esque guy, but I’m going to let myself sit in the joy of knowing that a quirky little snowman has reminded me of something that I need to not only continue to remind myself every day but also continue to remind those around me by the way I live.
The goals we attain won’t last forever. Our looks and talents will fade. The struggles we face will eventually end. Money and awards and trophies won’t carry over into eternity. And so many other things we feel and endure and earn are fleeting. But love? That stuff’s permanent.
Just ask the snowman who is made of nothing but love and survives all of the elements.
I love when football teams go for two-point conversions.
Sure, you could get the easy extra point, but why not get two the hard way, instead?
I went to Chicago over the weekend, where it was much colder than what I define as freezing in Texas—and the locals tried to tell me that it was a good thing I came when it had warmed up. The high was 35, people. Where’s the warm in that?
When I went running Saturday morning, it was 30 degrees with some wet streets from the melted snow. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to pay a lot more attention to each step I took, because there were random patches of ice all over the place. I had come prepared with my ski mittens and warm clothes, so the run actually ended up being pretty nice.
As I was making my way back to my hotel, I ran past two bundled-up men walking to a bus stop, and one of them offered me a bit of encouragement: “Go for it, girl!” I really appreciate when people cheer each other on, whether it’s in sports or simply life in general, so I’m very grateful for that man.
And he reminded me how I want to continue to live.
I probably wouldn’t make a great head football coach. There’s a lot of strategy in the game that I would likely want to throw out the window when it came to fourth-down situations. I would want to go for it as often as possible, putting complete trust in my players to get the job done. (Although, according to this article, it looks like some coaches are embracing my beliefs.)
I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m fascinated by public transportation. Like, I freaking love it. I became a user of the “L” train (which I’ve wanted to ride ever since I saw this classic Oscar-worthy movie) while I was in Chicago, and I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: I felt pretty darn cool riding that thing. I felt so city. I can’t wait to go to New York City one day and spend some time on the subway.
I had downloaded an app that tracks the “L” and tells you when one of the trains will arrive at whatever station you specify. I was on my way to the station near my hotel and getting closer, but Google Maps said that I was six minutes away, while the train app was telling me that the next train would arrive in four minutes. No bueno. I had somewhere I needed to be and didn’t want to be late, but I felt a little defeated. But then I thought of the man I saw on my run.
Go for it, girl.
I started running, which was challenging in all of my layers and the boots I was wearing at the time. As you know, boots are made for walking, not running. I darted to a ticket kiosk as soon as I got to the station and quickly punched all of 14 thousand necessary buttons to charge my card. I grabbed the ticket and dashed through the gates toward the escalator, which just happened to be broken—OF COURSE IT WAS. I hustled up the stagnate metal steps, and just as I made it to the top, the trains doors were closing (it had arrived a minute early).
It was time for my movie moment.
I yelled “NOOOOOO, WAIT!!!!” as I ran toward the train, and I guess the driver must have seen me and felt a little gracious, because the doors suddenly opened as I made somewhat of a dramatic entrance and found an open seat. It was a nice moment that made me smile.
There are plenty of risks in life and too many setbacks and obstacles to count to go along with them, but there are often greater reasons to go after what you know in your heart you’re meant to go after.
It might be 4th and inches or 4th and long—sometimes you simple need to go for it. Submit the application. Send the text. Register for the race. Go talk to that cutie across the room. Book the trip. Sign up for the class. Address the issue. Audition for the production. Go on the date. Sing out loud. Say what’s on your heart. Dance. Ask the question. Tell your fears “no,” and do the thing you know you’re meant to do.
Go for it.
I spent far too many years being hesitant and thinking that I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough or whatever enough to take big risks. I can say with complete certainty that life is much more enjoyable when you’re confident enough to know that, even if things don’t pan out the way you hoped they would, at least you were brave enough to try.
Don’t let fear hold you back from anything. Look it straight in the face, and say “not today, not any day.” Then go for it, my friend. You’ll likely be glad you did.
And you just might find that you’re much more capable of doing the hard things than you ever imagined.
The comparisons trap is way too easy to fall into, and it sneaks up on you pretty quickly. I’ve always heard that it’s the thief of joy—which is certainly true—but one thing I’ve noticed lately is that can also be a thief of your identity.
Last week, we had PSAT testing at our school, which means teachers serve as test proctors and are often supervising in rooms that aren’t theirs. I was in an English teacher’s classroom, and I began glancing around her room at all of the fun and creative decorations and assignments she had posted on the walls. There were intricate borders and charming fonts everywhere, and the entire room was like an invitation to escape to fictitious literary places and situations. I began to think about my classroom and its lack of visual appeal.
Her classroom looks so much better than mine.
And then I let my mind continue to go down that dangerous path. I noticed her calendar on the white board and how she had every class for the month written out for the students to see what was on the docket. I read the assignments and her essential question and even started comparing those to mine—you know, the ones I create for a completely different subject with completely different state standards and learning objectives.
OMG, I’m not a good teacher. At all.
Oy vey. I had to stop thinking in that moment, so I started doodling. As I was drawing and writing my name like I was back in high school myself, it occurred to me that it’s rather easy to let yourself slip into negative thoughts that make you think less of yourself. The comparisons you make with others aren’t simply stealing your joy—they’re stealing your confidence in being you.
And I’m not OK with that.
I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not always going to be the very best at everything. I know that I lack talent in many areas. After all, I’ve been asked to leave multiple music and gymnastics classes because of my inabilities. As a teacher, I know that there will be other teachers who outshine me, but I’m not in this profession to be known for my cute classroom or for creating the most exceptional assignments possible—I’m in it solely for the kids. Yes, creative projects will definitely help them, but so will simply being there for them and always putting forth my best efforts to be the best teacher I can be for them.
And that best teacher within me might not necessarily have a classroom that looks like an aisle in Hobby Lobby or the home page of Pinterest.
Despite my recent moment of panic of being horrible at my profession, I’m pretty comfortable with and affirmed in who I am. It hasn’t always been that way, though. I can think back to far too many occasions that I let comparisons steal who I was. The girls I knew growing up were always prettier than I was, causing me to think that there wasn’t anything beautiful about me. In fact, one reason I’ve always assumed guys won’t be interested in me is because I constantly had the thought of “there are so many other girls who are much more attractive than I am,” and I didn’t look a thing like them.
What I wasn’t focusing on, though, is that I didn’t look like them because I looked like me.
Am I always going to like what I see looking in the mirror back at me? No, probably not. But I think that we often don’t appreciate our reflections or how we look in pictures as much because we’re comparing ourselves to how other people look or how we think we should look. I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I feel like that’s not entirely healthy.
We aren’t all supposed to look the same way. We aren’t supposed to talk the same. We aren’t supposed to teach the same. We aren’t supposed to sing the same and think the same and play the same and write the same and dance the same and cook the same and make our beds the same and dress the same and walk the same and act the same and date the same and do all of the things the same.
We’re humans, not robots.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is currently sidelined with a thumb injury, so backup Teddy Bridgewater has had to try to fill the 12-time Pro Bowler’s shoes. Brees has multiple NFL records to his name and plenty of awards (including a Super Bowl MVP) to go along with them. Try replacing that leader of a pro team and not being constantly compared to him. I don’t know Bridgewater, so I have no idea what goes through his mind or what he thinks of himself, but I do know that he’s winning games. He’s playing football the way he knows how to play it, and he’s leading his team to victories that many people probably didn’t expect when they learned that Brees would be out for six to eight weeks.
But just because Bridgewater isn’t Brees doesn’t mean he’s inadequate.
You’re not going to be like other people in a lot of ways, and that’s not a bad thing. The more we learn to embrace our unique differences and individual qualities that make us who we are and to stop comparing ourselves to others, the more comfortable we will learn to be with ourselves, and the more we will be able to love others for the people they are.
And the more we will be able to love ourselves for the peculiar treasures we are, too.
I get that comparisons are going to happen in life, and I won’t be able to escape all of them. It’s what people do. But I do get to make the choice of whether or not I constantly compare myself to other people or to what I wish I were and whether or not I let comparisons from others help me decide what I think of myself.
I’m not a perfect teacher, I’m not a perfect sister, I’m not a perfect daughter, I’m not a perfect aunt, I won’t be a perfect girlfriend or wife (but, fellas, I will make a darn good one for sure), I’m not a perfect writer, I’m not a perfect follower of Jesus, I’m not a perfect friend, and I’m not a perfect so many other things. But that’s OK. I’m trying. And, even though I don’t really support participation medals or ribbons, I’m proud of myself for being myself when the world often tries to tell me to be someone else.
I hope that you don’t let comparisons steal your identity or your joy or anything else for that matter. I hope that you know how loved and valued you are and how much you matter just as you are. You’re not like them because you’re like you.
And that’s a beautiful reality.
Let’s be perfectly honest—sometimes life is just plain rough, and it’s challenging to find reasons to be thankful. At times, it feels like you’re either sinking in quicksand or going through a never-ending storm that doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. Your heart hurts, your brain hurts, and all of the emotions are making your body actually physically hurt.
You might often hear people talk about the different seasons of life—seasons of change, seasons of joy, seasons of pain, seasons of sorrow, seasons of financial troubles, seasons of success, seasons of being alone. So.many.seasons. But what about those perpetual seasons that don’t seem to want to change from one to the next?
I’m a pretty joyous person, and I try to help others to have fun in most situations, but I also know what it’s like to have a heavy heart and feel like no one truly understands the pain you’re going through. It’s sometimes difficult to focus on the reasons you have to be thankful because you’re consumed by the reasons you have to struggle. While I think it’s important to acknowledge the bad things in your life and to feel the emotions resulting from them (I’m actually still learning how to do this), I also think it’s healthy to find bits of gratitude, especially when you’re going through the darker points in life.
Years ago, I started wearing pink on Wednesdays. Sure, it was originally inspired by Mean Girls, but I later learned that pink is the color of gratitude, and now I treat that day as my weekly day of thanks. Three of my dear friends in California and I email our reasons to be grateful every Wednesday, and it’s a tradition I’ve come to love. No matter what messes we’re facing, we each find a list of things for which we’re thankful and share our bits of joy with one another.
Lately, just in my own life to myself, I’ve been trying to find those gratitude tidbits more and more on a daily basis. I’ve been in one of those tough seasons recently (or, more accurately, one that just hasn’t ever ended), and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to throw a pity party for and with only myself. But when I push those thoughts away and then, instead, focus them on the reasons I have to be grateful, my heart’s emotions shift, and the desire to feel sorry for myself disappears. Rather than thinking about what I wish were different, I think about what’s so wonderful as it is.
And joy takes over.
In the Bible, Paul reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances, not just the good ones. No matter what you believe, I think this is a wise way to live. It’s definitely not always easy, but it’s good. There are challenging situations that many of us haven’t ever been through, and it’s always easier to say something than actually to do it, but I truly believe that you can always find a reason to be grateful, no matter what you’re facing.
Last week, I absentmindedly left my classroom in a hurry during my conference period so that I could go to the bathroom and get back before the bell rang. In doing so, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to see my finger get caught in part of this strange rolling contraption thing on the door latch (a horrible description, obviously), but I sure felt it. For the first few seconds after it happened, I couldn’t look down—I was sure that the top part of my finger wasn’t there anymore. When I finally got the courage to let my eyes stray that way, I saw plenty of blood and a finger that was somehow still intact.
I have an extremely high pain tolerance—I once went almost an entire day with a 9-millimeter kidney stone (most of them are 3 or 4 millimeters) traveling through my body before I went to the ER. In this moment, though, I wanted to let myself cry. I didn’t, but I really wanted to. My whole hand was shaking, and I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. As I’m writing this, it makes me sound pretty wimpy, but I feel like I could quote Monica in this case: “You can’t say that! You don’t know! I mean, I thought I was going to pass out from the pain.” I actually also thought that I was going to have to get my finger amputated (I’m clearly not one to dramatize a situation), but thankfully no one had to pee on me to get rid of the pain.
I wrapped a paper towel around my finger to try to stop the blood, but I’m not sure that I should have been squeezing something that had just been smashed as hard as it was. At that point, I only had like three minutes until the bell, so I just walked with my wrapped-up finger back to the classroom, purposely avoiding eye contact with the door that had just tried to kill a piece of me.
I had a bunch of students entering into my classroom who were relying on me to be there for them, and I didn’t have time to focus on the pain and the fact that I still haven’t learned to slow down in life. Instead, I decided I was going to be grateful that I still had my finger. And you know what? I put a Spiderman Band-Aid on that mess, and everything was fine. Sure, I didn’t sleep that night because my finger was throbbing, and the nurse told me the next day that I needed to go to the doctor to have them drill a small hole in my finger to drain the hematoma that had become my new worst enemy (I never made time to go—oops), but I was grateful, and I’m convinced that it helped to minimize the pain.
Yes, I realize that a finger that survived getting caught in a door contraption that I still can’t accurately describe well is rather minimal compared to many much more difficult situations that people face on a daily basis, but comparisons often minimize more than they should, including how we view ourselves. Regardless of how big or small our troubles are, though, I still believe that there are always bits of gratitude that we can find to help us make it through the rain (sing it, Mariah, my ultimate soul sista).
The broken hearts try to break every piece of us. The dark times try to steal every ounce of our joy. The setbacks try to keep us from rising back up. The illnesses try to tell us that there’s no hope. The losses try to convince us that there are no wins in sight. The mistakes try to keep us from believing in grace. And so many more tough situations try to stop us from being thankful.
The key word is try—we don’t have to let those things win.
We don’t all live in an episode of Full House in which all of our problems will be resolved in less than 30 minutes when the “this is a valuable life lesson” music starts to play. Our situations won’t always pan out as we hope, but even in the midst of the worst storm you’ve ever been in—even when the torrential rain gets more powerful and daunting by the second—your heart can still find reasons to smile.
When I was in the hospital for five days or whatever it was for one of my many stays (thanks, kidneys), I remember being hooked up to IVs and on so many hardcore pain meds that still didn’t get rid of all of my pain but probably made me send some questionable text messages to people and feeling absolutely miserable—not just physically but also emotionally. But then my sweet friend Jayna showed up with a box of Wheat Thins, a coloring book, and a pink phone charger, and my whole outlook on everything changed. In that moment, I was thankful for her genuine heart and the thoughtfulness of her gifts that only a true friend would know that I would appreciate dearly. Sitting there with hair that I hadn’t washed in about nine days, morphine and dilaudid pumping through my veins, and a body that couldn’t even move half of an inch without excruciating pain, I sat in thankfulness.
I hope that you’re able to find reasons for gratitude when it seems like you can’t. If nothing else, it might help you get through those difficult times, even if in a very small way.
And give you a new reason to wear pink on Wednesdays.
There’s a song that tells us that “life’s a dance you learn as you go,” and I’ve always known that it’s full of truth.
Yet I’m just now letting it all sink in—you know, more than 20 years later.
Two of my precious forever friends and I went to a park Saturday morning to catch up and also to take a picture on the Friends couch. When we arrived, we saw a handful of people dancing on the stage used for local performances and, as we later discovered, apparently Saturday morning yoga, as well.
I was immediately intrigued.
I started walking faster, excited for the possibility of dancing with some new friends (they weren’t aware of these upcoming friendships just yet), but I was slightly disappointed when I found out that it was an exclusive group. I spoke with a man who wasn’t dancing but looked like he was part of the in-crowd, and he told me that it was a professional dance group that travels around the country to teach dance to kids. The dancers were there this particular morning to shoot a promo video, and it wasn’t exactly open to the public (e.g., a feisty redhead who loves people and loves to dance).
I asked him if we could all dance together when they were finished recording, but he didn’t seem as enthusiastic about that idea as I had hoped. When the group had a small break a couple of minutes later, though, I asked all of the dancers if we could dance together just for a bit, and before I knew it, we were going at it free style.
And that’s the only way I know how to dance—with no rules or structure or expectations of any kind.
That moment of dancing with complete strangers who all have their own unique stories while my sweet friends watched and cheered me on was exactly what I needed that morning. I’ve had more on my plate lately than I likely should, and I’ve felt bogged down. I’ve also been dealing with some things in my heart that have been rather heavy on my emotions, as well. You know, life stuff. It’s tough sometimes. But being able to let go of everything for a few carefree moments felt like that moment when you’re swimming and have been holding your breath too long underwater and finally make it to the surface and breathe in fresh air that’s full of more life than you can explain.
I don’t do organized dancing well. I’m not a fan of knowing what move I’m going to do next or trying to think too hard about what steps I’m supposed to take. It’s too stressful, and it’s not me. I’d rather just go with my own flow and surprise myself. (However, not everyone supports that, and I once was kicked off of a dance floor at a very strict line dancing place in California because I wasn’t doing the line dance going on at the time.)
So why can’t more areas of my life be like my dancing—absolutely no idea what’s coming next but with no worries about not knowing?
Life is always going to throw unexpected things at us, and it’s OK not to know what’s on the next page of your story. I used to read the last page of a book first so that I knew how it ended. I hated surprises. But in the past few years, my life has been filled with more transitions than I ever thought possible, and I’ve come to (almost) love the element of surprise that each new day holds. Sure, sometimes it’s truly frightening, but it’s mostly intriguing and beautiful.
Are there some mysteries in my life right now for which I wish I could go and read the last pages to make sure that everything turns out OK? Absolutely. But I’m not supposed to know that yet.
I’m not Marty McFly, and I don’t roam around with a genius named Doc who has a DeLorean that can take me to the past or the future, so there’s really no way for me to know what’s going to happen next. And I’m finally OK with that. I don’t read the last page of a book first anymore, because it’s going to end the same way whether I know what’s going to happen or not. It’s more important to focus on the story that leads up to that ending—after all, it’s all of the stuff in between that helps make the story what it is.
Our stories are uniquely ours, and we don’t always need to know what’s going to happen next year or next month or next week or tomorrow or even within the next couple of minutes. It’s OK to live in the unknown and dance without any structure whatsoever, even if it means you get kicked off of a dance floor every now and then.
Because your story will often end up better than you ever could have planned it, anyway.
I consider myself a pretty intelligent gal, but there are certainly times when I don’t necessarily use my intellect to its full capacity.
Cue my everyday life the past few weeks.
I recently bought one of those wallflower things from Bath & Body Works—you plug it into the wall, and then you add this little bottle of scented goodness to the contraption, and it makes places smell fantastic. I probably described that slightly poorly, but it’s 2019, so here are links to the wallflower and to my most recent scent of choice.
I was rather excited for my plan of making my apartment smell like a pumpkin cupcake on the reg, so I plugged it in as soon as I got home and went about my hectic life. When I got home from work the next day, I couldn’t help but notice that it wasn’t as pungent as I’d hoped, and I looked and noticed that the bottle was completely empty.
Huh? That’s odd. Was there a strange odor in my place that sucked up all of the good-smelling stuff?
Obviously that’s a silly assumption, and my apartment doesn’t smell bad, so it didn’t make sense. Plus, I don’t even know if that’s how science works. It’s not my thing. But I just left it as it was and told myself that I’d buy another refill bottle the following weekend when I actually had a few minutes to go back to Bath & Body Works.
When I returned home from hanging out with my nieces the following Sunday with my beloved fragrance in tow, I repeated the same steps from the previous week of plugging it in. I got to work on a few things on my computer while watching football and then got up to get something from my kitchen. As I did, I glanced at the wallflower and saw that the bottle was empty again.
What in tarnation?!
And then it hit me: The bottle was upside down. The directions had specifically warned against that. Insert the palm-to-face emoji girl. That was me in that moment.
I was slightly frustrated at the fact that I had wasted two perfectly good bottles that would have filled my entire apartment with a scent that would tease you into thinking you were actually about to eat pumpkin cupcakes simply because I hadn’t followed instructions properly.
Isn’t this something I try to instill in my students on a daily basis?
I think one of the reasons I made the mistake—not once but twice—was because I wasn’t truly paying attention. I was too busy focusing on all of the other things I needed to do and also thought that I knew exactly what I was doing in setting up the wallflower. It’s honestly not an extravagant scientific process. You seriously just plug the thing into the wall and screw the small bottle full of heavenly aroma in there.
I also wasn’t paying much attention this past Sunday when I was at my parents’ house. I still get a lot of mail sent to their house (it’s all junk, so thankfully the mailers haven’t found out where I really live), and my dad won’t throw it away for me because he says it’s against the law. I gave you permission, man. But that doesn’t fly with him, so I had a huge stack of stuff to trash. I went through it, ripping all of it up and putting it in a trash bag that my mom had brought over by where I was sitting. (Yes, there was enough of it to warrant its own trash bag.) The Cowboys game was on, though, so I was paying much more attention to the television than what I was actually doing.
After I was finished going through the pile of what ended up being all trash, my dad took it out with the rest of the garbage and set it outside near their alley for pickup. When it was time for me to go over to my brother’s house for my weekly hangout time with my besties (my angel nieces), I couldn’t find my phone. I remembered that I had brought it in their house with me, so I knew that it wasn’t in my car. It wasn’t in my purse. It wasn’t in the chair where I had been sitting watching the game. My mom jokingly asked if I had accidentally thrown it away with all of the mail.
She didn’t think I was serious when I said I probably did, so she called my phone. We heard nothing. I searched around again, and she called it again. Still nothing. We laughed together as we walked to their driveway about to go dig through trash, and I made a comment about how I’ve had to dive into a dumpster once, so this wasn’t new to me. She’s also had to go into a dumpster before to retrieve something, so she said it must run in the family.
That’s something to be proud of, people.
When we got out there and started lifting up the multiple trash bags, she called my phone again. Sure enough, I heard Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” blaring through the stench of plastic and garbage that had been sitting in the Texas heat—much less soothing than a pumpkin cupcake. My dad had put the trash bag with all of the mail in it inside of another trash bag with food and whatnot, and that bag was beneath a bag of everything that was in their cat’s litter box.
This is my life, friends.
We finally got to the bag that had my phone in it, and I dug it out. I know people are going to ask me this, so the answer is yes, I did wash my hands. It’s like when people asked me if I showered after jumping into the dumpster. I know I don’t wash my hair very often, but I’m not a complete savage. And, once again, just like with the wallflower situation, when it came to getting rid of all of that mail, I was in such a rush and thought I knew exactly what I was doing and what the best plan was when I should have been paying more attention and remaining in the moment.
Oh. Hey, life.
There are many times when I think my plan is the best plan, and I end up being wrong. Those situations make it necessary for me to reference one of my favorite Key and Peele lines: “Whereas I was not incorrect, they did not mean what I thought they meant.” I was just talking with a friend the other day about how it’s always funny to look back at what we thought would be best for us at certain times in our lives, only later to realize that it truly was much better to leave every plan in God’s hands and let Him take care of the way everything works out.
I’m 34 years old and more single than Steve Urkel. That definitely wasn’t part of my plan years ago. I mean, I should have been in love and loved back for years at this point. But I also wouldn’t be the person I am today if that had happened. For some reason or another, I’ve been meant to be single for this long. Sure, I hope to have my lobster come into my life soon, but I also have to trust that, if that’s even meant to happen, it will happen when it’s supposed to and not simply when I think it should.
After all, I don’t want other areas of my life to end up like an upside down pumpkin cupcake wallflower that doesn’t serve the purpose that it should of making the world a much more pleasant place or a phone ringing the iconic “Love Story” from the bottom of a nasty trash bag.