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

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.

When you’re comfortable being the real you

I think it’s important for people not to be afraid to be different from those around them.

Because our differences make us unique.

My brother was in San Diego last week for a work conference, so I drove down there Monday night to have dinner with him. It’s very rare that any of my family members are in California, so I didn’t mind making the trek on a work night.

When I got to his hotel (which was where the conference was, as well), he was at a networking event. I got tired of waiting in the lobby, so I decided to find out where he was exactly. I befriended some women who were at the check-in table, and one of them led me out to the terrace where the event was. After making my way about halfway around the area, I spotted him chatting with a few people and didn’t want to interrupt. I had two options: I could stand around by myself and pretend to be looking at something interesting on my phone, or I could go talk to some of these people who probably didn’t want to talk about the things I wanted to discuss with them (you know, like the non-work-related stuff).

I obviously chose the latter.

Maybe my lack of lanyard with a nametag was a dead giveaway that I was an outsider.

I joined in a conversation with Nader and Randy, two older gentlemen who were very interested in their roles in the healthcare industry. After I asked a bunch of questions about their personal lives, they asked me what I do for a living. I had a brief moment when I thought about fibbing a little and playing the part of someone in their line of work who belonged at the conference, but then I remembered that I don’t like lying and that I’ve learned that it’s always better to be yourself in every situation ever.

I told them that I’m a proposal writer and was going to leave it at that, but they wanted to know more. I said I write for an infrastructure company, and they assumed it was hospital-related. I clarified and let them know that it was construction and infrastructure. Their facial expressions said exactly what I knew both of them wanted to say to me in that moment: What the hell are you doing here? So I smiled and then made Randy, who now lives in the Midwest, tell me all about his years of living in Texas.

I hated middle school, and looking back on those years makes me dislike almost everything about the person I was back then. I was selfish and constantly trying to be someone I wasn’t. I think that I was so insecure about who I really was that I was completely afraid to be me. I’ve accepted who I am, and while it’s healthy to grow and make changes in your life that are needed in order to better your life and your character, I also think that it’s important to be comfortable being you—no matter how messy and imperfect that person is.

Each sunset is unique and wonderful—just like all of us.

You don’t have to be afraid to be you. If you’re always acting like someone you’re not, then people will never really know the real you. For me, I want to know people fully and be fully known myself. I know that being open can place you in a rather vulnerable position, and there are certainly times to be a bit more guarded, but I think there’s value in letting people know the real you—the one we don’t necessarily see on Instagram. It can also help them to be more comfortable being more open with you, as well.

It doesn’t mean that everyone will expect you to be completely real with them, and they might not know how to respond at times. Take the woman in the bathroom at my work last week. She works in the company next to mine, and I’ve seen her in there before, but she’s not one of the ones I’ve gotten to know very well (I’ve had a lunch with some of them and text a few of them pretty regularly). Two of my buddies who work with me had just jokingly insulted me, and I was not acting dramatic about it at all. When I walked into the bathroom, the exchange below occurred.

Me: Hi! How’s it going?
Bathroom buddy: I’m good. How are you?
Me: Hurt and betrayed (again, not said in an overly dramatic voice by any means).
BB: (stares at me confused for a few seconds and then turns and walks out).

Neither of us was expecting what had just happened. I had to shrug it off. I’m not for everyone—and that’s OK. You probably won’t be for everyone, either. But, if you pretend to be someone else, that person also won’t be for everyone, so you might as well just stick with the original you.

You were made to be you on purpose. You’re where you are right now for a reason. The experiences you’ve had—both good and bad, wonderful and trying—haven’t been for nothing. Don’t hide behind a pretty life filter. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, even if that means that you’re quite different from everyone around you.

Because different can be truly beautiful.

When you feel unpretty

Sometimes I wish there weren’t mirrors constantly around us to let us assess our looks so easily.

Because they sure can make a person feel unpretty.

It’s fairly easy to feel unattractive in this world, and this has been true for a long time—even before the many Instagram filters available to achieve that perfect pic. The feeling of being unpretty can become even more magnified when that whole dating thing is involved.

I’ll never forget one of the first times I truly felt ugly. It was at a middle school dance when I was in the sixth grade. I was standing with one of my best friends (who is gorgeous, by the way), and a guy came up to ask her to dance. She told him she’d only dance with him if his friend danced with me (definitely not my idea), so he went back to get his buddy, who happened to be one of the cutest guys in our entire class. The image that ensued can never be erased from my memory: The boy who wanted to dance with my friend was literally dragging his friend across the floor to dance with me. Homeboy clearly wanted to be anywhere other than swaying back and forth to some great 90s song with me, and it was seriously such an uncomfortable few minutes of my life. He barely spoke to me and kept looking around so that we hardly made any eye contact.

When the song ended, I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. Suddenly my hair was too frizzy, my face was too pale, and there were so many other imperfections that I hadn’t noticed as much before as I did in that moment. And then a thought bombarded my mind and wouldn’t leave: I wasn’t pretty enough for boys to like me.

And I believed it.

To be completely honest, ever since that middle school dance, I’ve struggled with believing that guys will ever be interested in me. There have been guys I’ve liked whom I’ve spent a lot of time with, and I know they like my personality and hanging out with me, but they never feel the same way. For me, there’s always only been one explanation for it, and it goes back to that dance. When my friends started dating, having boyfriends and then eventually getting married, I stayed single, and I really believed part of the reason was because they all have that beauty that I seem to lack. If I ever wanted to find a man, it was going to have to be someone who just really likes my personality.

Band-Aids can’t fix everything.

My most recent heartache resurfaced some of these destructive feelings, and it turns out you can feel just as jilted as an adult as you can as a middle schooler when you’re in some of your most awkward and emotional years of your life. It’s frustrating because I’m pretty confident in most areas of my life, but this is certainly not one of them.

There’s a Bethany Dillon song called “Beautiful” that I think pretty accurately describes how many of us can feel at times.

I want to be beautiful
Make you stand in awe
Look inside my heart
And be amazed
I want to hear you say
Who I am is quite enough
Just want to be worthy of love
And beautiful

But reading those lyrics and listening to the song carefully makes me realize that the beauty I’m seeking someone to see in me really isn’t just what I see in the mirror. It’s that “look inside my heart and be amazed” part that really hits home. That’s what I want. And as far as “worthy of love” goes, well, don’t we all need love? Aren’t we all enough as we are? If someone makes you feel like you aren’t enough, then perhaps that person isn’t right for you at all.

I understand that we aren’t always meant to be with the people for whom we fall. Not everyone is going to be attracted to us—and that’s OK. Different people are drawn to different people. It’s important to remember, though, that you’re beautiful to the Someone who loves you more than anyone else ever can.

At least they don’t care what I look like. They still loved me back when I had bangs. Bangs were NOT a good look for me.

There’s a sign I have hanging in my place that says “,” and it’s a great reminder that it’s best to be yourself and not try to change who you are to live up to what others think is pretty. I wish I could go back and tell my middle school self this so that I didn’t spend so many years thinking I would never be pretty enough for anyone. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to let others make her believe that she isn’t good enough as she is. I want all people to know that about themselves.

Because you are the most beautiful you there is.

A beautiful day, indeed

I’ve learned how important it is not to take people for granted.

Especially family.

I know I have talked about how wonderful my mom is before, but today is her birthday, so I’m doing it again–and I’m not sorry about it.

One thing I’ve realized about my mom is that she is one of the reasons I love love so much, because she is a true model of what real love is and what real love does. I didn’t always pay attention like I should as a kid, because I was too busy worrying about the things I thought were the most important things in the world. And, sadly, none of those things even matter anymore.

Happy birthday, Mom!

When we were growing up, my mom worked at a preschool for many years. At one point, we only had one family car, and so my mom rode her bike to work almost every single day. During those years, she worked some part-time jobs, too, all to ensure that we could take part in all of the activities we wanted to and have everything we needed without having to worry about not being able to afford them. Then she went back to school and not only earned her bachelor’s degree but got a master’s, as well. (After I started teaching, I went back and took night classes to get my master’s. I cannot even imagine doing that while also having to take care of three kids and be a wife. I have no idea how she did that–and never once complained.) I will always remember the smile on her face when she walked across that graduation stage, and I think her joy was found more in her family being there rather than a diploma she was receiving.

She’s now a kindergarten teacher, and I truly believe it takes a very special person to be able to do that job every day. And my mom is the perfect person for it. Her patience is something I strive to achieve in my own life but usually fail. I mean, I’ve never seen her be mean to anyone. Ever. She just really gets what life is about, and she never lets pride get in the way of treating people kindly.

I’ll never forget when I was a sophomore in college and had to go to the hospital for pancreatitis. I didn’t let my roommate call my parents until I knew it was something serious, and I think she ended up calling them when I was drugged up with IV pain meds and not aware of anything that was going on around me. Before I knew it, my mom and sister were suddenly in my room at 2 a.m. or some ridiculous time like that. They had driven the three hours late at night simply because they cared. My sister ended up catching a ride home with a family friend the next day, because she had to go back to school, but my mom stayed with me for all four or five days that I was there. She always made sure the nurses were in my room the instant I needed them, and she even slept on some tiny, uncomfortable chair the first couple of nights until the hospital provided a bed for her. But she wasn’t even worried about any of that, because I don’t think she even knows how to put herself before anyone else–she always thinks of others first. Always.

I know moms often make sacrifices for their kids, but there were so many, and she never once acted like she was inconvenienced. And when she forgives, she forgives completely and never ever brings up the wrongs again. She also has so much strength and determination and never believes when people tell her something can’t be done–she’s full of too much hope for that.

She’s also taught me so much about staying young at heart. She’s the type of person who will climb trees with you, go on froyo dates with you, skydive with you (she did so with my brother), watch Gilmore Girls or One Tree Hill with you, dance with you (she owns the dance floor), be part of the Boot Scarf Club with you, take selfies with you, and wave dive in the ocean with you like you’re little kids. She loves to enjoy life with the people she loves–and her genuine joy is contagious.

I could go on and on about this woman and her beautiful heart. There are so many things about her that I try to make sure are reflected in me. She makes it look so easy, though. How is it that in the 30 years I’ve been on this earth I’ve never heard her say one bad thing about anyone? It’s because she always lets love win.

And, on her birthday, I can’t help but quote this woman and mean it will all of my heart: “It’s a beautiful day!”

Don’t say goodbye to Sandra Dee

One thing I love about people is that we are all so different.

I just wish more people didn’t feel like being different is a bad thing. Because it isn’t. At all.

The movie Grease was on television the other night, and the Rangers weren’t playing so I decided to watch it. Now, I’m certainly not trying to ruin what I guess is considered a “classic musical” for anyone, but I couldn’t help but wonder why so many people love this movie as much as they do. Sure, the songs are rather catchy, but I don’t understand how this movie is considered a love story.

I know it’s just a movie, but the whole concept made me a little upset as I let it all soak in. Throughout the entire story, Danny constantly seems ashamed of being with a “good girl,” because he has the reputation of being one of the “bad boys.” Toward the end of the movie, Sandy sits alone on that concrete slant area (I’m sure there is some technical term for whatever it is) and watches Danny win the car race, and then she sings to herself:

Look at me; there has to be

Something more than what they see

Wholesome and pure, oh so scared and unsure

A poor man’s Sandra Dee

Sandy, you must start anew

Don’t you know what you must do?

Hold your head high; take a deep breath, and sigh

Goodbye to Sandra Dee

I hate that song.

There’s nothing wrong with being wholesome and pure, and it makes me sad that Sandy thinks she has to change who she is so that someone will love her. We know what happens next: Sandy shows up to the graduation carnival dressed in a bunch of tight leather and smoking a cigarette. Then, all of a sudden, Danny is perfectly comfortable chasing her around and not afraid of what his friends think of him anymore.beYOUtiful

Funny how that worked out.

Sadly, even though this is “just a movie,” it reflects what many people feel they have to do to make others love them. They aren’t willing to be themselves and, instead, change the ways they talk or act or dress or think all to impress people. But, if you have to become someone you’re not in order for someone to love you, then it isn’t real love.

As someone who works with high school kiddos on a daily basis, I’ve seen countless instances of young girls leaving behind innocence completely so that they can “fit in” better and catch the attention of whatever guys they’re eyeing at the time. And most of those relationships–if they even amount to that–don’t end up lasting.

If I can offer any amount of encouragement to anyone out there, it’s be comfortable being you. You were wonderfully made as you are for a reason. And there is Someone who will always love you just as you are–you don’t have to try to be someone you aren’t.

If you love singing out loud in the car, don’t stop that; if you love eating ketchup on your macaroni and cheese, don’t hesitate to pour it on there (no matter where you are); if you like to wear your hair curly, don’t constantly straighten it just because some cute guy once complimented how great it looked; if high heels make your feet hurt, then don’t wear them; if you like heels but are afraid people will think you’re too tall, walk in them with pride; if you have a hobby you really enjoy (like origami or wood carving), don’t feel like you have to hide it or give it up for someone; if you like following rules, don’t start breaking them so that you seem so cool.

If someone loves you–actually loves you–then he needs to love all of you just as you are. Love should not be conditional, and you should not have to wear tight leather and smash a cigarette on the ground in your sassy shoes in order to capture a fella’s heart.

So don’t say goodbye to Sandra Dee.