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 believe that crazy things aren’t so crazy

I love the honesty and genuineness that kids bring to pretty much any situation.

Even when their truthfulness stings.

I was asked to help out in the children’s ministry at church on Sunday morning, which I definitely didn’t mind. I lead a group of high school girls and sometimes speak for the junior high kids, so I figured I might as well work with the younger ones at some point, too. I love kids, so I knew it would be fun.

And apparently truth-telling, as well.

I was making bracelets with two sweet girls named Aubree and Riley and asking them questions about their lives. They liked saying how old they are, so more than once, Riley told me that she’s 7, and Aubree reminded me that she’s 8. When Riley asked me how old I am, I told her, and she replied with something that stung a little, mainly because I wasn’t expecting it.

“You’re older than my parents.”

Oy. When I used to babysit and teach swim lessons and work at a daycare center, the parents were always older than I was. It’s weird now working with kids who could easily be my kids or whose parents could be my younger siblings—or are even young enough that they could be my former students. (It’s crazy to think that some of my former students are in their late 20s or have already hit the big 3-0.)

Aubree then told me her parents’ ages—34 and 35, so at least I’m not completely ancient yet—and asked me if I have kids. I said no and that I wasn’t married, which was followed by what those precious little unfiltered mouths always seem to ask.

Aubs: Why aren’t you married?
Me: Just hasn’t happened yet.
Aubs: You should find a husband.
Me: Thanks for the advice. I’ll get right on that.

I believe in being yourself at all times, even if that means stopping to take pictures like this.

Honestly, I love the way kids’ minds work. They don’t necessarily always factor in logistics or reality—they simply believe that essentially anything is possible. I mean, take Jack, for instance. When I asked the kindergarteners and first graders what they want to be when they grow up, he said that he wants to be a “donut seller” and charge $20 per donut so that he can be rich. That’s ambition. That’s hope. That’s a dream. Granted, it’s not practical, and his likelihood of success with that price isn’t great, but he doesn’t care. Right now, to him, anything is possible, regardless of any outside factors.

What happens as we get older that makes us think that things are less likely to happen for us and to us? What is it that kids have that we don’t that allows them to let their hopes soar so high that they’re those high-in-the-sky-apple-pie hopes? Why do we lose that childlike faith as our age number ticks up a notch each year?

Here’s the thing, though: We don’t have to lose that kind of faith.

I haven’t accomplished all of the things in life that I’ve set out to accomplish. There are some goals I have that are floating out there that I still want so badly to become part of my story. For whatever reason, though, they aren’t yet. But that doesn’t mean that they never will be.

For Jack and Aubree and so many more of those kids, it’s so simple—you want something, and you’re going to make it happen. There are no doubts. There are no fears. There are no hesitations. There are no questions or anxieties or discouragements or logistics or factors or anything that we eventually start to use as determinations of whether or not the desires we have are practical enough or not.

For those believing kids, nothing matters but the fact that they know that something is possible, and that’s that.

It’s not too late to make your dreams realities. It’s not too late to set new goals. It’s not too late to become the person you’ve always wanted to be. If you want to be like Jack and be a donut seller and charge a ridiculous amount, you do you (and good luck to you).

Your story is just that—yours. You aren’t required to justify or make excuses or apologies to anyone else for being the person you are. So be you. Go after the desires of your heart. Love people in big ways without caring about what you’ll get in return.

And never let go of that childlike faith that once let you live more boldly than you ever knew you could.

Because anything worth doing is difficult at first

I love when people remind me of truths that I need to hear right when I need to hear them.

Even when those people aren’t even actually talking to me.

Hey. Let’s hang out.

When I was in Texas last week for Thanksgiving, I went to this huge lights display at the Rangers ballpark (I refuse to call it Globe Life) with my aunt and uncle and my cousins and their boys. While we were standing in line for ice skating, a woman and her daughter walked by, and I only caught one line of their conversation (something the mom said to the little girl)—but it was all I needed to hear.

Anything worth doing is difficult at first.

I have no idea what the context was, and I honestly don’t care. That kind of statement could be said anytime and anywhere and still be chalked full of nothing but truth.

I started thinking about all of the things I’ve done in my life that have been worth the risks or the pain they caused. Moving to California is obviously up top on that list—I endured some of the most challenging few months of my life as I tried to adjust to living in a brand new place with no familiar faces and suppress all of my tears the entire time (though I failed pretty badly at that in a few unforgettable moments).

One difficult thing about living in Cali is being so far away from this one.

Running and racing are also pretty high up there. There’s a crap-ton of training that goes into getting yourself ready enough to toe that start line with confidence, and the miles and workouts along the way certainly aren’t always walks in the park (like, literally, you can’t walk through training if you want to win).

Honestly, though, I think some of the things that have been the most difficult but worth more than I ever could have imagined are the chances I’ve taken that didn’t end the way that I wanted them to end—because they’ve helped me to become the person I strive to be.

A little more than two years ago, I poured my heart out to someone who had been toying with my emotions for far too long. He clearly didn’t care about me the way I cared about him, and he was able to walk far, far away from the situation while I stayed behind and tried to clean up the shattered pieces of my heart without letting the tears that wanted to leave my eyes get the best of me. My heart had never hurt so much, and I didn’t know what to do with all of the emotions that I wasn’t used to letting anyone see.

And this one.

If I had to rewind time, I’d still tell him all over again, though.

I don’t know when I’ll meet my forever guy or if I ever will, but I do know that I’m not willing to sit back and watch chances pass me by. It took a lot of years and a lot of pain to get to this point, but I know now that I’m worth the risk of letting my heart lead and trusting that, no matter what happens, my identity is not found in any man, and my worth does not depend on whether or not he chooses me out of every other girl in the entire world.

Because I’ve already been chosen by the only One who will never let me down.

I started a book that asks you to pray for your future husband for an entire month—31 days of praying for a man you’ve never met before. It was weird for me at first and, if I’m being perfectly truthful, a bit discouraging. You see, I’ve always had complete and unhesitant faith in everything I pray for with the exception of one thing: someone actually loving me and wanting to spend the rest of his life loving me. I’m not trying to throw a pity party—it’s simply something I’ve struggled with for years that I’m praying through often.

This is Carly, one of my favorite college volleyball players ever. She’s amazing and is learning more and more each day what it means to be brave.

My identity is in Christ, and it is certainly possible for me to be fully known and fully loved (especially because I already am). God has a plan for me, and it’s a plan that I need to trust and pray about without any doubt or reservations. As my sweet almost mother-in-law (well, she’s my brother’s mother-in-law, but I’ve adopted her, too, because I love her so much) reminds me, “it’s up to Him to decide if what you ask for lines up with what you need. But never be afraid to ask for it all. He loves for us to come BOLDLY to Him.”

I’ve been trying to live boldly in every aspect of my life, so why should prayer be any exception? Why should I not be praying for someone to love me and then praying for that actual man? Reflecting upon that has really helped me through this devotional book. The first few prayers were pretty weak—I was basically asking God just to let me think that it’s possible for me to be loved but that I was still struggling. My prayers have changed now, though. Instead, I’m asking boldly for God to bring a man in my life who can walk through the rest of it with me.

Someone who knows everything about me and still loves me. Someone who wants to celebrate my victories with me. Someone who wants to comfort me after the losses. Someone who wants to be known by me. Someone who lets me love him for who he is and is perfectly comfortable being his true self around me at all times. Someone who makes me laugh and appreciates my quirks. Someone who loves that I eat Wheat Thins at every meal and doesn’t get embarrassed when I bust them out at a public restaurant. Someone who carries ketchup packets with him for the times when we’re at a Mexican restaurant, and I’ve run out or forgotten mine for my quesadillas. Someone who will watch sports with me. Someone who will pray with me and worship with me.

Someone who will give me his heart and not give mine back to me in thousands of tiny pieces.

It may not happen exactly as I hope, and it may not happen at all, but I’m still going to pray boldly for it. It may have caused me heartache along the way, and there may be more to come, but that’s a risk that I’m willing to take.

So take those chances. Chase those dreams. Know that YOU ARE WORTH THE FIGHT. Let yourself believe that those things are possible, even when they seem like they aren’t.

Because anything worth doing is difficult at first.

Living unconditionally

Sometimes I say things to people that I really need to say to myself.

It’s so frustrating.

The other day in conversation, my friend Amanda and I were offering tidbits of advice to our friend Laz. He began firing back with phrases that began with “What if this?” and “What if that?” Finally I said to him, “Stop thinking so conditionally,” at which point Amanda reminded me that perhaps I should be saying that same thing to myself.

I hate those kinds of true statements.

I started thinking about that later, and she’s right. Sometimes I really do live in the conditional tense. Whether it’s worrying about things that may or may not ever happen or justifying actions or inactions, sometimes I let simple possibilities dictate how I live. And that is not what I want by any means.

Because that’s not a bold way of living.

I used to be really bad about conditionals, especially when it came to guys. What if I try to talk to him, but he doesn’t want to talk to me? If I say hello to him, then he could find out I have a crush on him. If I don’t go on a date before I graduate college, then I am never getting married. (Yes, if you’re wondering, I do realize how ridiculous I am at times.)theWORLDisWAITING

Now I just don’t care.

But, I’ve noticed other areas of my life in which conditional living often occurs. What if I take this risk, and something bad happens? If my foot isn’t better soon, I will probably never race again. What if I don’t accomplish every task written in my planner today? But I think it’s time to throw the conditional out the window.

To love unconditionally means to love without limits or stipulations. If I truly let love direct the way I live my life, then it should be an unconditional love and, thus, an unconditional way of living. (And, yes, I do realize I just used a conditional statement there.) I want to live without limits or stipulations.

When you constantly live in the conditional, you’re much less likely to take risks, which could mean  missing out on so many good things. I mean, so what if a little rejection happens in your life? It’s often those big chances you take that make you become the person you’re meant to be, regardless of whether or not those chances end up the way you originally desired. It’s worth it.

One day last week, one of my classes was being really bad, and the students were not saying nice things to one another. We were in the middle of an assignment, but I suddenly had a decision to make. At first, I thought, What if they don’t finish this assignment? But then I realized how little that mattered in the grand scheme of things. They didn’t need an academic lesson right then–they needed some life lessons and character growth.

So we sat in a circle at the front of the classroom like elementary children.

I made everyone go around the circle and say one nice thing about the person to the left. At first the kids groaned, but by the end they all seemed happy and had enjoyed sharing with one another. And, honestly, I wasn’t concerned that we hadn’t finished the previous assignment. What we had done was much more important and had more lasting value.

I like the idea of getting rid of the “if” mindset. We don’t know what’s going to happen in any future moment, so there’s no need to try to predict it or worry about it. Instead of thinking about all that could or could not happen, why not just go for it?

Fly or fall, the risk is worth it.

Fearless takeoff

Sometimes it’s really challenging to love your enemies.

You know, like birds.

The other day I was leaving God’s gift to those in need of retail therapy (I’m obviously talking about Target), and I spotted a bird creeping around near my car. First of all, I don’t like birds. Secondly, I really don’t like birds anywhere close to my car. I don’t feel the need to explain why. I figured the useless creature would fly away as I was approaching, but it didn’t appear to be thinking about its takeoff at all.

I became mildly annoyed, because I was nervous I would run it over if it didn’t move. And, even though I detest birds, I certainly don’t want to be the cause of one’s death. Especially in a Target parking lot. So, I put my bags in my car and then started trying to shoo the bird into the air. Some people started to look at me funny as I bent down chasing this bird–who insisted on hopping around on its feet to escape me rather than using the wings of flight it had been given–as I repeated, “Fly away, bird! Go to your home in the sky!”

I don’t think this bird comprehended English. He must have flown in from another country.

I got close enough to the bird that I looked into its eyes (though very briefly). While I was expecting to be looking into some demonic force (Have I mentioned how much I hate birds?), I instead saw what, to me, looked like an intense fear. I don’t think the bird was afraid of me in that moment–I think he was afraid to fly away. He didn’t look hurt or like he wasn’t capable of flying. He simply looked fearful.

As I stood up, a bird that looked like that bird’s ugly twin landed beside him. I believe they had some type of conversation in their native tongue, and then they both flew off. Together. So perhaps the pesky creature just needed someone to come alongside him and fly away with him to give him some courage. Either way, the mere presence of another bird helped him realize his wings did, indeed, function properly.

It’s kind of funny that this happened when it did, because I’m currently finishing up a book by Annie F. Downs called Let’s All Be Brave that has been encouraging me lately to live out the motto I’ve been trying to follow for the past few years: BE BOLD. There’s a quote from the book that really stood out to me: “We don’t screw up by saying yes to the wrong things; we screw up by letting all the floats in the parade pass us by and never jumping on one of them for a ride to the end.”

When I read that, it really made me think about all of the times in my life I’ve had the chance to jump on some really cool floats but passed up the opportunities out of the fear of not knowing what would happen. Or thinking I already knew what would happen and not liking the possibility. Whether it was because of fear of rejection or fear of failing or any other thing that would make me feel like I wasn’t good enough or successful enough, I simply didn’t jump.COLOR

I never told my crushes in high school or college or ever after that (well, except that one time two years ago) how I felt about them, and I’ve also never had a date or a boyfriend. I’m not saying those guys would have even felt the same way, but I’ll never know. I left a really great college, because I was afraid of the changes taking place within my major–and I think I was also afraid of the fact that I was actually truly starting to enjoy a school I had always wanted to dislike. And I ended up having a horrible college experience after leaving there. (I hate having regrets, because I know everything happens for a purpose, but to this day it is one thing I wish I had done differently in life.)

But I’m not afraid anymore.

I don’t want to be like that bird in the parking lot. I want to be able to fly without waiting for someone else to fly first. Sure, sometimes we need others to come alongside us and offer encouragement, but I don’t want that fear to be in my eyes. I’d rather be willing to use the wings I’ve been given. I want to jump on floats in parades and not worry about the fact that I have no idea where they might lead or if they’re even the right floats. I just want to trust that God knows what He’s doing and will get me to where I need to be.

Even if that means risking comfort or my heart.

I don’t live in a castle, I don’t have a prince, my carriage doesn’t pick me up each morning, I barely know what a white-picket fence looks like, I’ve never been to a ball, and animals don’t sing with me as I go about my work throughout the day. And that’s fine by me. A fairytale doesn’t have to be what we were always taught it was supposed to look like–you’re allowed to make your own and live it out how you see fit. Aside from the prince (well, not an actual prince), I don’t want any of those things, anyway. But what I do want is to know that I am being bold in all I do. To quote Hans Christian Andersen, “Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale.”

All of the “no” answers you face in life will make that one “yes” you finally hear so much better; all of the losses will make the first win taste so much sweeter; all of the failures will make your success feel even more well-earned; all of the rainy days you face will make the ones with sunshine seem so much brighter.

So use your wings–after all, you don’t want to be like that incompetent bird in the Target parking lot.