Blog Posts

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.

Because worrying shouldn’t replace joy

Worrying and stress try to take the place of joy and fun, and that’s just not right.

Especially when bikes hanging off of cars are involved.

When I first moved to California, I bought a beach cruiser at Walmart. I know that it’s not good to get attached to material things, but I love that bike. It’s the perfect seafoam green color, and it just makes me incredibly happy when I ride it.

For my move back to Dallas, I packed most of my bigger items (and by “most” I mean all two big things I actually own—my bed and my love seat) and a few other possessions in one of those cube things that you load yourself before the movers pick it up to transport it to your destination for you. The day that it was picked up, something hit me while I was at work: Shast! I forgot to pack my bike in there.

I almost cried.

This bike and I have a lot of memories together.

I was trying not to stress, but moving across the country (again) brings with it some anxieties that you try really hard to avoid but sometimes fail. The fact that I forgot to pack something that definitely wasn’t going to fit in my car—I have too many clothes, and I admit it—started giving me heart palpitations. How was I supposed to get my bike to Dallas from Orange County?! I immediately consulted the Google.

I researched the costs and logistics of shipping a bike, but most of them involved taking the bike apart in some capacity. Again, this is a $99 beach cruise from Walmart—it didn’t work that way. If you take off that front wheel, you lose that bike forever. I ended up buying a bike rack for my car and told myself that the spare tire on the back of it wouldn’t be an issue.

Sometimes it’s best to ignore reality for as long as possible, right?

My friend JP helped me attach the bike rack to my car and the bike to the rack, but there was definite concern from both of us with the soundness of it all. The spare tire simply complicated things and made it look and feel not as secure as I would have preferred. But I needed and wanted to get home, and I wanted to take that bike with me, so I was going to give it a go and hope and pray that it wouldn’t suddenly become unattached and fly off and hurt someone else on the road while I was driving.

My sweet sister made that long journey home with me just like she had made it out there with me—she helped send me out on that adventure and was now helping to bring me home. She’s the actual best. And she, too, had some slight concerns about my beach cruiser and the likelihood that it would make it the full 20–21 hours back to Dallas.

When I picked her up from the airport in Orange County late on Wednesday, we immediately drove down to San Diego to stay in a hotel for the night so that we didn’t have to share an air mattress and because a hotel down there was slightly more affordable than one in the O.C. and was along the way on the route I had decided we’d take back. We didn’t get too far before I became overly paranoid and had to stop at a gas station to check the security of the bike. Steph got out of the car to help inspect it with me and to try to tighten all of the straps. We decided that it seemed as tied down as it could get, and we’d trust that it would survive.

Perhaps you can see why I was a little concerned.

It was comical with that thing on the back. The parking situation at the hotel in San Diego was laughable, and I don’t know how larger vehicles are able to stay there with the tiny aisle between the two rows of cars and the packed-together spots that look like they can only fit MINI Coopers and smaller. Steph had to get out to guide me so that I wouldn’t hit another car, especially with the bike protruding out pretty majorly on the right side, and what should have been an easy turn became at least an 18-point maneuver. It was almost like the pivot scene from Friends but in a car.

The good news is that the bike made it the entire trip back to Dallas, and no one was injured or died. The bad news is that I wasn’t as relaxed as I should have been for a good portion of the trip, and I checked the security of that thing during every single stop we made. Sure, I reached a certain point when I stopped thinking about it and simply trusted that everything would be OK, but it took me a while to get there. I was worrying about something that I had no control over at that point, and my worries tended to magnify when I noticed any slack in the straps or tilting/shifting of the bike rack. In all honesty, the thing was super secure and wasn’t going anywhere, but it was tough not to check it in my rearview mirror probably more times than I’ve ever looked that way in the more than nine years that I’ve been driving this car.

Yet I didn’t worry about something that likely should have been a bigger concern—you know, like running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

Road trip warriors at it again.

There was a stretch of desert that we went through that didn’t have a gas station for a pretty long time. I had checked before when I mapped out the trip to make sure that we wouldn’t encounter such situations, but it happened nonetheless. We were as far past empty as you can get, and my gas was burning much more quickly because of all that was in and on the car (apparently losing fuel at a faster rate that way is a thing—freaking science). At one point, I didn’t know if the gas pedal was actually working or if it was just my mind playing tricks on me that it was more difficult to push down and wasn’t really giving much oomph. Steph was getting pretty concerned, and I would have felt awful if she had given up her time and energy to travel across the country yet again with me only for us to run out of gas in a desert area full of mystery—not necessarily the good kind—and the words “no service” in the top left corners of our phones.

I remember saying a little prayer right then and there, and I felt a calmness that everything was going to be alright. Even if we had to walk to get gas (which I was confident we wouldn’t have to do), we would be fine. And guess what? We made it. We filled up with more gas than my tank can actually take, so that was special. I tried to be better about monitoring the gas the rest of the trip, but Steph ended up being the one to make sure to check with me every so often to see how we were doing in that department. I love that gal.

So why was I so worried about that bike?

I thought about it later and realized that I do this quite often in different areas of my life—I let myself get anxious about things that won’t get any better or any worse by my worrying. Some situations leave me trusting God completely, while others seem like they’d be better if I had a brown paper bag to breathe in and out of repeatedly. But what I need to remember is that, regardless of what happens, and even when things don’t go the way I want and hope them to, He’s still there, and He’s still good.

And nothing will ever change that.

We’re all going to find ourselves in moments when we have to choose between stressing out about things we can’t control or living fully in the present and enjoying every second of life that we can. It certainly isn’t always easy—there are plenty of scary and daunting situations people face every single day—but it’s absolutely possible.

Having fears and doubts doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. But releasing those fears and doubts and letting yourself trust that there’s nothing that’s too big for God to handle makes you brave. Last May, I got “Be brave.” tattooed on my right inner forearm as a reminder that I want to live a life full of taking chances and chasing dreams and pursuing passions and speaking what’s on my heart and letting myself love in big ways and not ever letting fear keep me from doing anything I know I’m called to do—and doing it all with the complete faith that there’s a God who loves me more than I can ever comprehend.

Home.

My sister and I made it safely back to Dallas with no issues. We drove the long stretch to Midland the first day and stayed with me sweet cousin Rachel and her family for the night, and then we woke up and drove the remaining four or five hours home. Every single moving stress I had before and during that entire process is in the past. I’m back and settled in now, and everything feels right. And, as usual, the anxiety I felt was for naught.

The truth is that we don’t actually know what’s going to happen tomorrow or even in the next few seconds. Life is beautifully unpredictable, and that’s how it should be—because that’s how faith comes in to play. I hope that you never let fear cause you to miss out on the joy of the present, and I hope that you know that, no matter what happens in life, you’re valued and loved just as you are.

And I hope that you’re brave enough to believe that you’re worth that kind of love.

When you don’t let your singleness define you

As I continue to get older and grow more and more single (is that possible??), I’m beginning to learn more about what it means to love and be loved, regardless of my relationship status.

Because my singleness does not define me.

I’m in my final week in the O.C., which is exciting and sad and weird all in one. I’m beyond happy to move back to Dallas and be reunited with my family and people who have stuck with me through years of joy and pain and all of life’s celebrations and trials. At the same time, though, it’s bittersweet to be closing this chapter of my life that has honestly transformed my heart in more ways than I could have imagined.

Got a gorgeous hike in with sweet Arinda

My friend Arinda makes a vision board every year, and I became interested in making one of my own after hearing her talk about it and her reason behind making one at the start of each new year. On the final weekend in December, I went over to her house, and we sat together cutting out magazine pictures and words that pertain to my life and the goals and hopes and dreams I have for myself. She always picks a word to be her key focus, and there was only one that popped into my head and wouldn’t go away.

Freedom.

We cut out the individual letters for that word, and it has its special place on my board. I covered the rest of it with the images and words we had found, and it’s my new visual representation of who I am and what I’m anticipating for 2019. (As a side note, the only board I could find was this canvas-material thing with bows and some little girl on it that I found at Target in the kids section. I did my best to cover it up, but you can definitely see bits of it through my collage of stuff. Life, you know?)

We are enough.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how fitting the word freedom is for my life right now. I genuinely believe that God called me out to California on purpose and with specific intention, and I believe that one reason was to be set free—free from anxiety, free from the pain of a broken heart, free from fear, and fear from the notion that I’m not enough.

I’m going back to Dallas stronger than I was when I left. I don’t say that to be boastful or to boost your opinion of me, because it honestly has nothing to do with me or with anything I did on my own. I say it because it was all part of God’s plan for me.

I’m as single as they come, and that’s always been something that’s been a little difficult for me. It’s tough to see nearly everyone around me falling in love and starting families while I’m still sending in RSVPs for one and never being able to drive in the HOV lane legally and twirling on the dance floor on my own during the slow songs. For far too long, I let my singleness define what I thought of myself, and I let it be something that diminished my opinion of who I was. I let it convince me that I simply wasn’t enough—not pretty enough, not funny enough, not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not whatever enough.

But “not enough” is a lie.

These girls are going to change the world.

I found freedom from that nonsense during this last more than year and a half. My singleness allowed me to come out here on my own. My singleness allowed me to ask people to be my friends and spend time with me without worrying about messing with someone else’s schedule. My singleness allowed me feel more alone than I ever had and realize that the only One I need is with me all of the time everywhere I go. My singleness allowed me to invite myself places without thinking twice. My singleness allowed me to lead other single and unmarried women and encourage them and pray with them for their future husbands. My singleness allowed me to drop what I was doing and be there for a group of high school girls when they needed me most.

And my singleness allowed me to experience the freedom from the fear and pain that my singleness has brought me for far too many years.

Lifers.

Sometimes we need to take journeys we weren’t expecting to grow and learn lessons that we never knew we needed to learn. We may even be fortunate enough to make some lasting friendships along the way, and I’m so grateful for the lifelong relationships I formed in California. I know in my heart that the distance of miles and miles in between the different states won’t tarnish these friendships. I know that some friendships are only meant to last for certain seasons of our lives, but I didn’t make many of those out here—I’m more of a lifer.

I think one reason that I was able to form such friendships is because I’m letting myself be completely real and open and honest with people more than I ever have. I’m more comfortable being me, even around guys I have feelings for or think are attractive. Heck, I even sent a message on Instagram to my friend’s dentist because he’s a hottie, and she said he was single and that we might be a good match for each other. He never replied, but I’m cool with that.

There’s freedom in finally being OK with the rejections that used to hurt me.

I love Kerry and Nick (and precious Eva!!) with my whole heart.

When you break a bone, it often returns to a stronger state than it was as a result of the calcium that built up during the healing process. I left Dallas with a broken heart that I thought would never be whole again, but I’m returning home with a heart so mended and capable of much more that it ever has been because of the love that built up around it and in it during this healing process.

Life is often unpredictable and will lead you to places you weren’t planning to go. And those are often journeys that you need to go on by yourself in order to discover that you’re never alone as you think you are. Your relationship status doesn’t define you, and don’t ever be afraid to do anything simply because there isn’t someone else with you to make the journey. It might be the adventure you need to help you become who you were always meant to be.

And you’re certainly worth taking the chance to find out.

Because life can be chaotic and peaceful all at once

Life can get chaotic and doesn’t always pan out the way we thought it would, which can sometimes feel downright disappointing.

But the changes of plans are often for our own good and lead to much more than we could have imagined.

One day last week, my coworker Martin told my friend Megan and me that there were cookies downstairs in the lobby of our building. Because of my deep love for cookies (I might be my own special version of the Cookie Monster), I wasted no time in making Megan and Martin rush down there with me so that we could all enjoy some sweet treats together. I was really excited about those cookies. I even grabbed a paper towel to bring back some extra loot.

When we reached the first level and exited the elevator, though, we found a completely empty lobby. Martin swore that there had just been an entire tray full of cookies, but there were zilch in sight—not even a single human was in the area. As we turned to go back upstairs with empty stomachs (well, except for Martin, since he had already gotten to devour his fair share of cookies), we spotted it sitting on top of the concierge stand: an empty tray with nothing but scattered cookie crumbs so tiny that they would probably even be passed up by ants.

That paper towel is too empty.

Needless to say, Megan and I were highly disappointed. Martin had gotten our hopes pretty sky high, but we walked away from the situation with unsatisfied cravings and sullen hearts.

Later on, I began thinking about how expectations can sometimes turn out differently than what we originally hoped, but it doesn’t always end with us holding empty paper towels and staring at cookie-less trays. There are so many areas of life that we can’t control, but we can control how we react to the situations we encounter and how we adapt to the adversities and unexpected path diversions on which we find ourselves.

I recently went to one of my favorite spots in Orange County: The Wedge. It’s a place in Newport Beach that’s on the far end of Balboa Peninsula where the waves are typically more ginormous than most other areas. I love walking a nice distance out onto the jetty and staring out into the ocean as the waves come crashing against the rocks and the shore.

It’s chaotic and peaceful all at once.

As I was walking out onto the jetty, I had to be very cautious of where my feet were landing and on which rock I was choosing to step next. It’s a jaggedy surface, and slipping and falling would be a very disastrous and painful situation. After I sat out there for a while and then made my way back toward the shoreline, I realized that I probably wasn’t taking the exact same path I took out there—I hadn’t memorized which rocks had been my go-tos, and I didn’t have a plan of any sort. I was simply jumping from one rock to the next with the hope that it was the right decision. There was no overanalysis or great deal of thought put into any of it. But I liked it that way.

Because it was chaotic and peaceful all at once.

Since I’ve been out in California, my life—in particularly, my heart—has changed in tremendous ways. The path I took to get out here and the reasons I was led out here aren’t necessarily the same path and reasons that are taking me back home. But, just like when I moved out here more than a year and a half ago, I don’t know what God has in store for me. I just know that He’s calling me to do something, and I want to follow His calling. At times, that looks and feels like jumping to different rocks without knowing exactly which one is the next one but simply leaping to it as I get there. My life feels like it’s all over the place right now, and half of the time I have no idea what day of the week it is, but that’s OK.

Because life can be chaotic and peaceful all at once.

This is the face of a girl who has no idea what’s next.

There are many unanswered questions that I have and that other people have asked me. I’ve let go of the anxiety, though, because I know that this isn’t a cookies-all-gone situation. Yes, I have some pretty lofty expectations for my future and goals and dreams I want to achieve, but I believe with all of my heart that the same God who has never let me down won’t fail me now. That doesn’t mean that I’ll always get everything I want to go my way, but it does mean that He has a plan for me that I’m going to trust and follow—I want my dreams to align with what He has in store for me.

We’re going to face major letdowns and dashed hopes that hurt the heart. We’re going to experience failures. We’re going to go on journeys that we might have never seen ourselves taking and encounter unknowns that make us uncomfortable. But one thing I’ve learned over the last year or so is that sometimes the only way to grow and achieve great things is to become completely uncomfortable.

Don’t be afraid to take chances and let your heart make the decision to leap to the next rock without overthinking it. Don’t be afraid to love in big ways and take risks on people—people are worth love and worth risks. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and do the things that you know in your heart are right for you to do.

And don’t be afraid to live your life with passion and spunk as you walk into the unknown with complete confidence in who you are.

When doing the brave thing means going home

We’re often called to step outside of our comfort zones, which sometimes means physically moving to entirely new places without knowing how long we’ll be there.

And then sometimes we’re called back home.

When I moved out to California a little more than a year and a half ago, I had no idea what was in store for me. I simply knew that God was calling me out here, and I didn’t know what else to do but to trust that He had something planned that I didn’t know about yet but would soon find out. There were certainly moments of doubt and fears and uncertainties when I first got out here, but He constantly reminded me that He was in control, and I didn’t need to worry about anything. More than once, I heard His voice assure me of a truth that has always been true but became much more real in my life since leaving Dallas.

Trust Me—I’ve never once failed you, and I won’t start letting you down now.

I mean, how could I not love it here?

Truth be told, I’ve loved my time in Orange County. The beach is my place of peace, and there’s so much nature surrounding you and so many wonderful things to do outside (I LOVE hiking and walks on the boardwalk). Sure, the culture is much different than what I was always accustomed to in Dallas, but it’s good to be exposed to lifestyles that aren’t the same as ours. But even after making some lifelong friends and trying to make California feel more like an actual home, it’s never felt that way. Despite people welcoming me into their lives (and me sometimes inviting myself in), I’ve still always felt like an outsider. I tried to convince myself that I could live here forever, but I think somewhere in my heart was always the longing to be back in Dallas with my family and all of my people.

Back in November, I started feeling pretty homesick. I remembered that same feeling the year before, so I told myself that it was just the holiday season stirring up some emotions, and I simply needed to get through the next couple of months to feel normal again. But I think that I knew deep down that there was more to it than that. There was an ache for my family that I had never felt so strongly, and there was a tugging at my heart telling me to go back home.

Home—where we’ve always been told is where are hearts are.

I did the only thing that made sense to me: I prayed. And then I reached out to some of my trusted prayer warriors so that they could pray alongside me, as well. I still didn’t feel a complete peace about anything yet, though. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t want to let emotions cause me to make a decision that didn’t need to be made yet. Uprooting my life in California and moving back across the country wasn’t exactly a simple thing that I could undo if I thought it was the wrong choice, so I wanted to make sure that those feelings were valid and meant something more.

I’ll never forget the morning when everything became completely clear to me. I was at work and had too much on my mind at the time. I felt overly conflicted and stressed, and I silently cried out to the only One who could help me.

“God, I need You to tell me what to do. When You called me out to California, You made it completely clear that it’s what I was supposed to do. I need You to do that again. I need You to let me know if I’m supposed to go back to Dallas now or if I’m just feeling a bunch of emotions. Please just show me exactly what You want me to do.”

Less than two hours later, I was reading Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst (a book I highly recommend, by the way) at lunch, when everything became so entirely real and true, and all of the haze and confusion from the past few weeks disappeared. There’s a part in the book when Lysa is trying to talk herself into jumping from a pole in one of those obstacle things in which you’re harnessed in and attempting to grab a bar hanging in the air after your leap. Her feet weren’t moving, so her friend Bob Goff (also another amazing author) came alongside her and finally said the thing that gave her the courage she had been trying to find all along: “You’re absolutely loved. Whenever you’re ready, jump.”

As soon as I read that line, I once again heard that voice that has guided me and comforted me through so much already: There’s your answer, my sweet girl. It’s time.

There was suddenly a quietness that came over me, and I breathed out all of the anxieties that had been haunting me for those past few weeks. If I’m being perfectly honest, though, there was also a little bit of fear inside of me. It wasn’t fear about having to start over yet again or leaving behind some pretty incredible people and a beautiful place of sunshine and beach days. Rather, it was a fear of failure. Did moving home mean that I wasn’t capable of living in a world of the unknown all by myself? Had I let myself down? Was it childish and wimpy to move home just because I missed my people and my place?

But then I had to stop. And breathe. And thank God again. And trust Him. I hadn’t failed. I had done the hard thing, and I had lived through it. I had enjoyed it. I had grown and learned and gained community and healed and led others and become humbled and discovered truths I had never known.

Like LeAnn Rimes, I’m staring out into the great unknown.

So much has happened in my life since I moved out to California, and I started to reflect on how God had worked in my heart and changed it in tremendous ways. As I sat in church a few weekends after that moment of clarity, I began wondering why it is I had been out here for the time I was, and then I heard that calming voice again: I’ve been training and equipping you, and now you’re ready. I don’t know exactly what that means for what’s ahead of me, but I do know that I’m excited (or “stoked,” as some of my Cali people say). I know what it looks like to be brave, and I want to live that way every chance I get.

There are a great deal of unknowns right now, and that’s OK. I didn’t meet the man who will be my forever guy while I was out here (sorry for those of you who were hoping for that), and my career future is definitely still a mystery (especially since I’m walking away from a job I love and some truly incredible coworkers), but I know and trust that He knows what He’s doing. It’s going to be tough to leave my people here, and I have no clue what the future holds, but I know Who holds it, and I’m thankful that He’s taking me back to Texas to be closer to Mare and Skipper and Steffie Robyn and Broski and Teddy and Katie and Livs and Evie and so many others.

We all have different paths and journeys we take in life, and they won’t all look the same. They shouldn’t. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy said the following: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” I don’t completely agree with that, though. I think that sometimes you have to allow yourself to step outside of your comfort zone to learn and grow and become the person you were always meant to be. It might lead you right back to your backyard, but at least you stepped out to somewhere new and allowed yourself to be braver than you thought you could be.

Dorothy was right about the “no place like home” thing, though.