Because journeys trump dashed expectations

Sometimes our hopes that turn into expectations don’t quite live up to the hype we give them.

And that’s actually not always a bad thing.

It’s been such a joy to see their love story unfold.

I spent the holiday weekend in Northern California for a wedding and was able to explore San Francisco for a bit before I went up to Wine Country. While I lived in Orange County for more than a year and a half, I never made it up to the Bay Area during that time. I had always heard about how fascinating it is, so I was excited to experience it.

My sweet friend Tara had given me a few ideas of things to do, one of which was to visit Coit Tower, where you’re able to see the entire city in a 360-view from up top. I made the trek up there and was enjoying seeing all of the different people on the streets as my made my way to my destination. One thing I kept thinking was that people who live there must have really great quads—those hills are no joke.

When I finally made it to Coit Tower, I wasn’t exactly expecting there to be a line or a fee. Clearly I was living in some type of fantasy land—the line wrapped around three different corners, and I learned it was going to cost me $9 to step into the elevator. I decided to go ahead and pay and wait because I was really curious to see how amazing the views were. I kept thinking about this quote from the Hannah Montana movie: “Life’s a climb, but the view is great.”

I had been standing in line for a while and was probably still about 15 or 20 minutes away from being able to go on the elevator when an employee began walking down the line asking for a single rider. FINALLY, ANOTHER PERK OF BEING SINGLE! I quickly let him know I was riding solo, so he took me to the front of the line to squeeze on the elevator with a group of three people and a few other couples. The man controlling the elevator began telling us a little about Coit Tower and expectations for when we got to the top. If I ever need a hype man, he’ll be one of my top candidates. He made everything sound amazing.

When the elevator opened, I began climbing the last set of stairs to get to the top. My heart filled with anticipation that I can’t really explain—I think that there had been so much build up that I was expecting something more magnificent than I could even imagine. I took the last step to the top, and I tried not to let the disappointment take over.

This is it?

It was only $9 and time you’ll never get back, Nat. It’s fine. You’re fine. Everything’s fine.

Nice $9 views

Sure, the views were beautiful, but the whole experience wasn’t as glorious as I thought it would be. I walked around the tiny loop, snapped some pics, stared out into the water we were overlooking, and then moseyed back down the stairs to the elevator.

As I began the trek back to my car, I gave myself a pep talk to try to make sure that I didn’t spend my whole walk disappointed with what had just happened. I know that I have high expectations for many things in life, and it’s certainly a letdown when one of them doesn’t pan out as I originally hoped, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth the work to get there.

I thought about how much I had enjoyed the walk there—the sights, the people, the brief conversations I had with strangers, the artwork along the walls and sidewalks, the hills (it’s a love-hate thing), the weather, the ability to walk in the beautiful sunshine without sweating like a haus, the stories behind each unique door I passed. All of it.

No, not everything is going to be as we expect it to be, but that doesn’t mean that the journeys we take to get to those desires we have are wasted. I didn’t waste time in that line—I invested in conversations with other people and gave my mind and body some time to escape from all of the pressures and worries I’ve been dealing with lately (I have a lot on my plate right now). I didn’t waste money to ride an elevator and see a city from above—I invested in other people’s careers and in a city that provides a number of amenities for a countless amount of people every single day (I actually have no idea where the money goes, but that’s what I’m choosing to believe).

This is where people were taking couple pics together, so I figured I needed one, too. Of me.

Even though I’ve been as single as a dollar bill for basically my entire life, I have high expectations for what I’m looking for in my lobster. And I truly believe that it won’t end up being like my Coit Tower experience. At the same time, I want to make sure that I’m appreciating this journey along the way. I don’t want to waste my singleness by wishing that I weren’t single. I mean, I got to cut in line in front of a bunch of people because they’re all in relationships or traveling with other people, and I’m not. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

We all walk different paths and are able to go through different experiences in life. They don’t happen by accident, and we are where we are on purpose and with purpose—I fully believe that. So why not try to enjoy the moments we’re given without constantly focusing on what’s ahead? It’s great to have hopes and expectations and to imagine what those fulfilled hopes will be like, but it’s even better to be fully present and to let yourself enjoy every breath that you’re given.

Yes and amen.

Sure, “life’s a climb, but the view is great,” but it’s that climb and all that you endure through it that help you become the person you were always meant to be.

Just ask Hannah Montana.

Because your battery life is important, too

I don’t always pay enough attention to the battery life of my phone.

And it turns out that I also don’t always pay enough attention to my own battery life.

I recently ventured out to Atlanta for a work trip and had quite an interesting experience. Living in Dallas and then Orange County and then back in Dallas, I don’t typically use public transportation much—or ever, really. I had to use the bus system once when I was in Portland, and I ended up getting a ride back to my hotel from a stranger because I struggled to get on the right bus in the first place and then missed the stop at which I was supposed to change buses on the way to the convention I was attending, so the ride with the stranger seemed like a better option. I also let another stranger from the convention take me to the airport the next day.

I lived and wasn’t kidnapped, so it’s fine.

This isn’t from Atlanta, but it’s from the day before, so it’s relevant. Plus, I love these gals with my whole heart.

If you’re not from Atlanta or haven’t ever been there, you might not have heard of the MARTA, but it’s a train (I think they might have buses, too) that starts at the airport and has a bunch of stops to different places with multiple lines. To someone more familiar with public transportation, I’m sure this sounds like no big deal, but I’ve taken the DART train in Dallas maybe once in my entire life, and the bus I took when I was at Texas A&M went from a stop near my apartment to campus, so it was fairly simple.

I don’t know my way around the Atlanta airport, so it took me a sufficient amount of time and many questions to people I didn’t know to find out where exactly the MARTA stop was. My plan was to take the train all the way to the end of the line and then take an Uber the remaining six miles or whatever it was to my hotel. It seemed like a smart idea at some point in time.

And then real life happened.

When I got off of the plane, my phone was at 44 percent battery. That seemed sufficient enough. I purposely didn’t use my phone much on the 40-minute (or something like that) train ride, but somehow it was at 6 percent when I got to the final station. I immediately opened the Uber app to arrange for my ride, and it said the driver was only a few minutes away. But apparently getting to the pickup location at the station was more complex than the driver expected, and he got lost. He called me to let me know that he was trying to get to me but that it might be better to get a different Uber.

Not an option—I was at 1 percent battery at that point.

I prefer traveling with my sister. The MARTA adventure would have been more fun with her.

I knew that I didn’t have time to call for another Uber, so I asked him please not to cancel the trip and still to come pick me up. I left the app open to follow him and make sure that he was still on his way (and also so that I could know when he arrived), but I was pretty nervous that the phone would die at any second.

I felt really helpless. I was in a big city I know nothing about, and I couldn’t even consult the Google for anything because my phone would for sure die if I opened anything else.

In what I still deem as a miracle, my phone survived until the Uber arrived. As soon as I got in the car, though, it died. I threw up all of the praise hands to Jesus to thank Him for me not having to resort to asking a stranger at the station take me to my hotel, because I was pretty sure that there were some people in the area who likely weren’t as trustworthy as I would hope that they would be.

I realized something about myself—I was more concerned about the battery life in my phone than I’ve ever been about the battery life in my own life. When my phone got down to 1 percent, I wanted to give the phone as much rest as possible so that it didn’t expend all of its energy. But when I get down to 1 percent, I don’t always allow myself the rest that I should.

It’s easy to get going so fast and take on so much that we forget to take care of ourselves. It’s common to love others as much as we can but then not love ourselves enough. I know that I’m often guilty of this. But the percentage left in my phone isn’t as important as the percentage left in me.

These are my people.

Thankfully, I did get to take a vacation with my parents and sister and spend some time at the beach in Florida. We used to come here a lot when I was a little kid, and I came again about five years ago. It’s nice to be back. It’s a different beach and lifestyle than I got accustomed to in California, but it’s still peaceful and relaxing.

I’m excited for when I get back home, too. There are so many changes that have been going on in my life in the last couple of years—and especially in the last couple of months—but it will be nice to be back in the classroom and get back to a sense of normalcy.

I love people—and I mean that. I think it’s truly important to be there for people and to make sure that they feel valued and loved. But I’m also learning (yet again) that it’s absolutely essential to make sure that you feel valued and loved by yourself, as well.

I guess all of the reminders about getting enough sleep at night are actually pretty legit. After all, you don’t want to be struggling and feeling like you’re constantly operating at 1 percent.

And you want to make sure that you’re fully charged when you get to where you need to be.

When you’re waiting on fireworks

While I’m not a huge fan of waiting until 9:30 p.m. for fireworks shows to begin, I endure it once a year.

Because they’re worth the wait.

The Fourth of July is one of my absolute favorite holidays. For starters, it’s in July, which might be my favorite month. I love summer and the beach, and I feel like July is a month that epitomizes both of those things.

Who doesn’t love an impromptu parade photoshoot?

And I really love fireworks. Maybe it’s the hopeful romantic in me, but there’s something about ready fireworks shooting up into the air and going off at just the right time to light up the sky in uniquely beautiful ways that makes my heart soar. I always picture the scene in The Sandlot when the boys are playing a night pickup game together on the beloved holiday, and they all pause—completely captivated—to look up at the remarkable fireworks show going on in the sky above as Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful” plays in the background.

I also always think back to a night almost 20 years ago (how am I so old already??) when I was on a family vacation in Florida. We had gone on a trip with some of our extended family members in early July. On the night of the 4th, as we were waiting on the beach for the fireworks show to begin, I wandered off from the rest of the group for a little bit and walked along the shore, wrapped in my own thoughts.

I was just a young teenager at the time, but I was already feeling the pains of rejection that I had no idea would stick with me for far too many years. A lot of my friends had boyfriends or a handful of guys who were interested in them, and I could rarely even muster up the courage to speak to the guys I had crushes on back then. Walking on the beach alone that night felt lonely—and not simply because I was literally all by myself.

I hope this precious gem always knows how loved and valued she is.

I came to know Jesus the summer before I went into high school, so I was still learning what it meant to live a life of faith. (Heck, it’s been 21 years, and I think I’m still learning what that means every single day.) That night on the beach, I’ll never forget the prayer I prayed: God, please don’t ever let me give my heart away too soon. I want to wait for the right guy You have for me, wherever he may be. Even if that means my first kiss isn’t until it’s with my future husband—maybe that’d be for the best, anyway—I want to wait. I pray for his heart right now, and I pray that You would keep working in mine. And I pray that one day I’ll be able to watch fireworks with him on the beach. Amen.

Bless my heart. I had no idea what kind of waiting was in store for me.

I remember that prayer so well because I’ve thought back to it so many times since the words left my heart and my mouth. The fireworks started as soon as the “amen” popped out of my lips, and I knew with every ounce of my innocent heart that God had His own fireworks show prepared for my life.

I’d be lying if I said that this whole waiting process has been breezy and enjoyable. In fact, many days, it’s the opposite. But I think back to that moment when I was a teenager on the beach, and I’m confident that I was meant to say that prayer because God knew that there would be a great amount of waiting involved for me. I even get a little sad that my first kiss wasn’t with the last man I’ll ever kiss (well, unless I never kiss anyone again), because that’s what my young heart truly wanted.

I don’t know how much more waiting I’ll have to endure until I fall in love with the man who will love me back forever. If we go solely off of my success on dating apps and in-person interactions lately, it’s an indefinite amount of time. But I know that God often makes things happen in the blink of an eye. I don’t think it necessarily has to be “when you least expect it,” because I think there’s value in having expectations, but I do think it often happens how you least expect it—at least that’s what I’m hoping, anyway.

I’ll forever love California, but this right here is why I moved back to Texas.

This Fourth of July, I ran with my sister, then went to a city parade with my family, then over to my brother’s for some burgers and swimming with the fam, and then to watch fireworks with some dear friends. As I looked up at the beautiful sky that evening, surrounded by two couples, I couldn’t help but have a heart full of gratitude. No, I still didn’t have my man to watch fireworks on the beach with me like I prayed for so many years ago, but I have more love in my life than I ever imagined possible. And I really do have an answered prayer—I prayed that I would wait for the right guy for me, and I have.

I recently finished reading Everybody, Always by Bob Goff and was once again reminded of how big and powerful love is with or without romance ever involved. (If you haven’t read this book, get it ASAP. While you’re at it, get Love Does, as well. They’re both life-changing reads, and I’m not exaggerating.) In this time of waiting, I’ve been given a countless amount of opportunities to love others, and I want to make sure that I’m not passing these up because I’m too busy focusing on what I don’t have. If we constantly focus on what we think we’re missing in life, we’re actually going to miss out on a lot more because we won’t see what’s actually in front of us.

My ride or die—forever and always

I don’t know when I’ll find my lobster, but I’m OK with that. There’s a lot of good that can happen in the waiting and a lot of beautiful heart transformation that can take place during that time. The girl who prayed that trusting prayer years ago on a memorable July night in Florida has gone through quite a bit to get to where she is now and has learned the tremendous value that can come from independence and singleness. I wasn’t meant to walk the same paths as my friends and follow the same timelines of their lives—that’s part of the beauty in the uniqueness of all of our journeys.

If you’re like me and in the waiting zone for something in life, know that you’re right where you need to be. I have to hope and believe that all of the waiting isn’t for naught. I’m trusting that you’ll make it through all of the pain and the tough times to get to that beautiful finish line of endurance to your heart’s desire.

And it will be a freaking fantastic fireworks show that you’ll know forever and always was worth the wait.

Because we all have our own unique ways of healing

The healing process is an interesting thing because it looks completely different for everyone.

Especially when it’s your heart that needs mending.

I adore every second with my nieces. They’re the actual most precious humans alive, and I can’t be convinced otherwise. Olivia, who is almost 3, is getting smarter and smarter each time I see her, and I swear that her vocabulary increases 13-fold every week.

Highlight of my week every week

That little angel has been teaching me so many things about life since the day she entered this world. When she was born, I was going through one of the most difficult periods of my life and wasn’t very good about dealing with all of the emotions I felt. I was hurt and betrayed and felt so many more things that I couldn’t quite process. She had colic, so I would hold her in my arms while she wailed, and I would tell her everything that was on my heart. I told myself that the tears she couldn’t help but cry were partially shed for me, since I wasn’t able to let me own fall.

In the moments when we were together and the colic wasn’t as bad, she would quietly listen to all that I had to say, and I like to think that she was giving me some pretty solid words of comfort and affirmation in her head. I heard ya, girl.

Now that she’s older, she’s able to feel people’s pain for them and shows a genuine concern when she thinks someone is hurting. When I was spending time with them on Saturday, Olivia saw a Band-Aid on my knee and said that she needed one, too. I was changing Evie’s diaper and said I’d get her one as soon as I was finished. Olivia then jumped on a pillow and yelled “owie!” and grabbed her knee and said again that she needed a Band-Aid.

We went through about seven different Band-Aids because she kept changing her mind on whether she wanted Dory or Nemo, and she wasn’t happy with me that those were the only options in my purse. I told her that my Wonder Woman ones were at home, and Avengers were in my work desk, but she eventually was happy with Dory. It’s funny, though, because her knee “wound” must have transferred to her arm, because that’s where the Band-Aid ended up after she had removed three or four from her knee.

Just over here putting Band-Aids on legs with no owies to stop tears

At one point, Evie started crying, so Olivia took her used Band-Aid and put it on Evie’s leg, saying “Sugar needs one—she’s sad.” OH, MY HEART. I love the innocent simplicity of her logic: Someone is hurting, and there’s an easy way to make the pain go away. There’s no overthinking anything or worrying about if you’re actually going to be OK. Instead, you just put a Band-Aid over the pain, and it somehow makes it feel better.

I wish that it were always that easy.

I wouldn’t describe myself as being good at dealing with pain. In fact, my strategy is usually to ignore it. I once ran a half marathon on a fractured hip because I didn’t want to acknowledge an injury. I also went an entire day at work with a giant kidney stone trying to travel through my body because I figured that the pain would go away if I ignored it long enough. It didn’t work, and I ended up having two surgeries because that stone was too big and got stuck and created some issues.

I tend to do the same with emotional pain—I ignore it as long as possible until I can’t anymore. It’s not really the best idea, because I usually end up not letting myself cry when I should, so all of my emotions bottle up, and then I turn into Niagara Falls when my tear ducts can’t contain the tears anymore. As much as I don’t like to admit it, I’m pretty sure that it’s not healthy.

Healing looks different for everyone, and there’s really no set timetable for how long it takes each person. You may have a broken bone that takes nine weeks to heal, while someone else’s only takes six. Your broken heart may feel like it’s never going to mend, while your friend was able to bounce back pretty quickly after a breakup. You may need to throw rocks at a building when you’re going through heartache, while your friend might need to lie on the couch and wallow.

When I was a young kid, I had a horrible wipeout when I got going too fast while riding a steep downhill and hit a divot in the sidewalk. I still have a bad scar from it, and I remember there being a lot of blood. I honestly don’t remember a ton about the pain, but I do remember that my mom made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and suddenly everything was OK. It’s like there was a powerful healing love in that sandwich that made the hurting disappear.

When I moved to California, for me, healing meant sitting on a lifeguard tower and staring out at the ocean. It’s where I felt the most peace. It’s where I felt the Lord’s presence most strongly and was reminded of just how big and powerful His love and grace are. It’s where I was reminded of the vast expanse of the ocean and how small I am in comparison to it, yet how significant I still am to the God who created the ocean and everything in it—and the same God who also created me.

It’s kind of like those moments of solitude on Tower 13 were giant Band-Aids for my heart.

I’ve learned that comparisons are usually not healthy. Whether you’re comparing yourself to other people or to yourself from years ago, you’re likely going to create your own feelings of inadequacy by doing so. But you are who you are on purpose and with purpose, and you’ve taken the journey you have with intention, as well—including the pain you’ve faced and the healing you’ve gone through to be rid of it.

Surrounding yourself with good people helps, too.

I wish that Olivia’s tactics were always effective and that putting a Band-Aid on your leg or arm would make all of your pain go away. Whatever your healing looks like—whether it’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or paying money to go break things in a giant rooms (very therapeutic) or eating ice cream in your pajamas or a number of other activities you can do to take your mind off of what you don’t want to think about—it’s unique to you and what you need. Don’t feel like you have to do things the way someone else did, and don’t worry if it takes longer than you thought or hoped it would. You’ll get there eventually, and hopefully you’ll remember what made you heal more than you’ll remember the pain itself.

And you’ll likely be grateful that you went through everything you did to get to where you are now.

Because dating apps have taken over

If you’re not currently in the dating world, I applaud you.

Because it’s a rough place to be.

Honestly, I don’t know if I can even consider where I am as “in the dating world” since I’m not actually going on any dates with anyone. I did, however, decide to try the life of a dating app girl again, and I can tell you that it’s just as unenjoyable as I remember.

This is how dating apps make me feel.

I’m not trying to be a negative Natalie, because there are surely a number of positive reasons to use the apps, and I know many people who have met their husbands and future husbands this way, but the amount of success I have experienced is currently sitting at a number less than zero, and I’m beginning to lose all hope in humanity.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I hate that ghosting is a thing. Like, why is it OK to lead a person on and then disappear? And it’s incredibly easy to do on these apps with people you don’t even know yet. I was talking to one guy in the app who suggested that we should meet. He seemed like a nice guy and messaged me the next day asking me how my day was. I replied and then never heard from him again. Most of the stories I have are pretty similar: We’re having conversations, make unconfirmed plans to get together, and then nothing.

If you’re not interested in someone, that’s perfectly fine—everyone is not for everyone. But I feel like it’s better to be honest than to leave people wondering what in tarnation just happened.

I miss Monique. Cali seems far sometimes.

I was chatting with my sweet friend Monique recently, and we were sharing our frustrations with the current reality we face (and, yes, we are completely aware that it’s a first-world problem and that there are much more pressing concerns that people have on a daily basis). She mentioned that she doesn’t think it’s too much to ask to want a guy who will text her back in a timely manner and then said something that was funny and so true: You don’t even have to give my dad any goats!

Seriously, fellas. You have it a lot easier than some of your bros back in the day.

I think one of the most important things to remember—whether you’re using dating apps or miraculously meeting people the more old-fashioned way—is that your worth is not determined by someone else’s opinion of you. It can be easy to start questioning yourself for multiple little things: Do I not look good in any of the pictures I chose? Did I not say something clever enough on my profile? Was that a stupid response? Why did he match with me and not respond at all? Why did he stop talking to me? Why aren’t any guys interested in me?

And so many more—these are only a handful of the ones I’ve heard more than once. If you met your person online or through an app, I commend you for your perseverance. I’ve all but thrown in the towel and joined a convent, but there are qualifications I don’t meet that prevent me from becoming a nun.

For those of you single gems out there, I don’t have much quality advice to offer you regarding how to meet your lobster. I even messaged a guy I don’t know on Instagram to tell him that he’s cute, and that went nowhere. So I’m clearly no expert.

I’m just happy to be here.

But I would encourage you not to lose hope. Sometimes you have to go through a lot of crud to get to the good stuff. You might get your heart broken. You might get your feelings hurt. You might hear more than one pie-crust promise. You might experience frustration and confusion and discouragement. You might spend more than one Saturday night watching Modern Family reruns while eating Gushers on your couch. You might legitimately research the requirements to become a nun. You might go through a heart-wrenching time and expend more energy than you ever wanted and ask the question “WHY?” more times than you can count.

And you might just discover that you’re a heck of a lot stronger than you ever knew.

It’s great if you want a relationship—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having that desire. I’m right there with you. But know that it won’t ever complete you, no matter what Jerry Maguire says. Your sufficiency and your identity can’t be found in other people. Whether you meet someone on a dating app or in person or not at all doesn’t change who you are and how valued and loved you are.

Because it’s a value and love that can only come from the One who would never swipe left or even think about ghosting you.

When you know that you’re fully known

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And being known is a beautiful feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.