I’m pullin’ a LeBron

Life has a way of being funny at times.

And not always in the “haha” kind of way.

When I was a teenager, I reached a point where all I wanted was to get away. I had lived in the same town my entire life, and I figured the best thing for me was to leave and go far, far away. You remember when you were a teenager, and anything was a HUGE deal, and there was drama with everything? My life was no exception.

When it was time to start applying to colleges, I started off only looking at out-of-state schools. I wanted nothing more than to leave Texas (I know—such a horrible idea). At one point, I was even only looking at schools in the Northeast. (Side note: I HATE cold weather.) My mom kept telling me that I should stay in Texas, and that just made me want to leave even more. I planned a sporadic trip to Virginia—spending nearly every penny I had earned working at the Smoothie Factory—to visit UVA. When my mom found out, she bought a ticket and tagged along. I hated admitting it at the time, but I was really glad she came with me.

Let your heart feel at home

I ended up applying to Texas A&M and UT, and it’s a good thing I did, because at some point I realized going to school far away wasn’t really what I want to do. I didn’t want to be that far away from my family and from the comforts of home. I flipped a coin between the two schools, and I ended up at A&M. I’ll save my extensive college story for another day, but I ended up going to four different schools (two of them two different times), and I finished off those stressful four years at SMU. For the last year or so of college, I lived at home with my parents—in that same hometown I had tried so hard to get away from. At the time, I wasn’t happy about that. I still didn’t want to be there.

After college, I moved away as soon as I got my first job. There were two brief stints during those eight years when I had to live with my parents again because of either a job transition or a moving transition. I felt weird being back. Some of my friends had started families and moved back to the town, but I couldn’t understand why. Why would anyone want to live in the same place she grew up? It made no sense to me.

My current lease ends in December, and I’ve been looking in a few areas trying to find a new place to live. It’s been a rather exhausting process. I want to feel safe, but I also want somewhere where I feel like I belong—somewhere that feels like home. Lately I had been feeling a longing to go back to where I grew up. I miss the sense of community there is there. When I told my sister, who is my voice of reason on so many things in life, her answer was so simple: do it.

Even though I tried for so long to get away from it, I really love my hometown. I love how much people come together to help and support one another. I love that I don’t feel like I have to run with pepper spray. I love that practically the entire city gathers in the stadium on Friday nights for football games. I love running into people I know when I go to Tom Thumb. I love being able to find parking spaces wherever I go. I love the parks system and how hard the city works to keep those parks nice. I love that my parents still live there. I love how friendly people are. I love that it simply makes me feel good to be there.

There’s no shame in going home. Sometimes people go out in life to new places and discover they were meant to be in those places. Others find they belong in the places that originally started their journeys. LeBron James left Cleveland to live it up in Miami—South Beach, bringin’ the heat—for a bit. But, ultimately, he realized the place he really wanted to be was back home. And he wasn’t ashamed or afraid to admit it. Aside from the whole NBA fame thing, LeBron and I have a lot in common: I just want to be home.

It’s important in life to do the things you do for the reasons you know to be right. Who cares what other people think? If you know you’re supposed to do something, you need to do it. If you know God is calling you toward something, someone or somewhere, the time to act is now. You don’t ever have to be afraid to do something with Him by your side.

And He will always welcome you home.

Where you belong

Every once in a while in life, you might find yourself full of uncertainties of where you’re supposed to be.

It’s during these times I quote a movie about a beauty pageant contestant.

When I was in high school, my sister and I really loved quoting a line from the movie Beautiful. The movie itself wasn’t bad, but I’m pretty sure we liked just this one line more than we liked the actual movie. It stars Minnie Driver as Mona, a woman who spends her life caring about not much more than beauty pageants. There’s a part in which this cute little girl named Vanessa (who is actually Mona’s daughter, but Mona can’t let anyone know that, otherwise she couldn’t compete in pageants) begins connecting a few dots and looks Mona in the eyes and says, “I just want to know where I belong.

It hits you right in the heart.

I think it’s easy for a lot of us to feel like Vanessa sometimes. Life can be so big, and we are so small, and suddenly you can find yourself spinning around and around and not sure where to go or where you best fit in. It can be exciting, frustrating and downright frightening all at once.

I had a tremendous problem with this in college. I went to four different colleges in four years. I started at Texas A&M, transferred to UNT for a semester, transferred back to A&M for a year, transferred to SMU for a semester, transferred to TCU for a semester (worst semester of my life) and then transferred back to SMU for all of my senior year. It.was.draining. College was rough for me, and other than when I was at A&M, I never truly felt like I was a part of any of the schools. I frequently found myself saying, I just want to know where I belong.

I remember when the end of last school year was approaching, and I was looking for a new job, I had no idea what the future held. I didn’t know what my next step was supposed to be. I had no answers when people asked me what I was going to do instead of teach. I had no answers for myself when I wondered the very same thing. I had the constant thought, I just want to know where I belong.

My lease for my apartment is up in December, and for a variety of reasons, I’m not planning to renew again. The problem is, though, that I have no idea where I’m going to live. I want to feel safe—the kind of safe that doesn’t require undercover cops to “hide” each morning in gas station parking lots near you because the crime in the area has gotten so bad. I want to be able to go running each morning and not have to pray for protection the entire way until I can at least get on the other side of the highway. But I also need something affordable. And it seems the safer places are always pricier.  I also don’t want to be so far away from people that it’s hard to connect. It’s been somewhat of a discouraging task. I just want to know where I belong.

To add to that, I’ve been struggling with a decision involving where I want to go to church. I’ve been at my church for almost 10 years—with a brief year or so period that I went elsewhere—and I really love it, yet I still don’t feel like I’m truly part of it. I show up every Sunday, and I see some familiar faces, but I don’t feel like many people actually know me there. I’ve tried different ways of getting involved, but I don’t want to hear anymore that I need to join the young adults group (I’m 30, not 24) or the singles group (I don’t come to church to talk about being single, to hang out with people exactly like me or to pick up a man). I’ve attended another church the past two weeks and am trying to discern if it’s where I’m supposed to be. I want to feel like part of a church community—to feel like I belong. I just want to know where I belong.

Even if you’re in a child’s car seat, just be you

The more I wonder this about a number of things, though, the more I hear this truth repeating in my head: It’s not where you are—it’s who you are. Sure, the place you are or the people you are around often impact you in big ways, but they don’t have to change who you are. Wherever it is you’re called to—whether it’s a new church, a new school, a new job, a new neighborhood, a new relationship, a new community of friends, a new place you find yourself hanging out at a lot—is a place where you are also called to be yourself.

It can be challenging when you’re trying to figure out where you belong, but it’s also comforting to know you don’t have to be anyone other than you—the you you were created to be regardless of where you are or what your circumstances may be. Wherever I’m living at the end of the year, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever church community I’m a part of, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever friend circles I form throughout my life, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever (if any) man sweeps me off my feet and wins my heart forever, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever happens anywhere and everywhere, I’ll be Natalie there.

Because He made me Natalie, and the only place I truly need to be concerned about belonging is in His arms, and everything else will fall into place as it should. With Him, everything makes sense when nothing makes sense.

And I know just where I belong.

Haters gonna hate–but they shouldn’t

Many times in life, things are not always what they seem.

We know this truth, yet I don’t think we really know it sometimes.

Last week, my dear friend Maddie sent me an “article” on the snobbiest cities in Texas, and my hometown happened to top the list. Before even reading it, I got slightly defensive. Sure, I’m from a place that has grown a lot over the years and now has very nice houses and probably a great deal of wealth, but I honestly never considered it to be a place that was filled with snobbery. In fact, if you even spent a small margin of significant time there, you would see it’s quite the opposite.

Because Coppell knows the meaning of the word community.

Mads is awesome

It’s the type of place where the entire town is at the high school football games on Friday nights. It’s the type of place where almost everybody knows almost everybody. It’s the type of place where kids grow up together and form lifelong relationships. It’s the type of place where you can go to the grocery store and spend way more time there than you planned, because you ran into someone you know and ended up having a quality, deep conversation. It’s the type of place where your neighbors look out for you and take care of your pets when you go out of town. It’s the type of place where people are not above putting up their own Christmas lights. It’s the type of place where it’s perfectly acceptable for women to show up at places around town in sweats and no makeup. It’s the type of place where people will ban together when they lose someone in the community. It’s the type of place where selflessness and love are revealed daily. It’s the type of place that many people move back to after they’ve finished college and started families of their own. It’s the type of place that welcomes new people and makes them feel like they’ve been part of the community all along.

But it is not the type of place that is snobby.

Just because a city has nice homes and a lot of successful individuals doesn’t make it a place full of people who think they are better than others. I lived in the same city for my entire childhood, and my family was actually not one of the wealthier ones. We lived in a fairly small house (especially compared to the ones that continued to be built as we grew up), and money was often hard to come by for us. But, in all of my years, I cannot think of one instance where people in Coppell made me feel like less of a person for that. Not once. Instead, they simply loved and respected me and treated my family like they would treat anyone else.

Then I read the description of what makes this place snobby, and I was a bit confused. The first thing was the educational success–the percentage of individuals who go on to earn college degrees was an actual “snob” qualification. A couple of other identifications were the price of homes and the average household income.

Can we please stop first to define what snobby actually means? It’s when people act as if they are better than others. It’s the attitudes of people that make them seem snobby–it cannot be based solely on what they have and don’t have. You can be living in a box and be snobbier than someone living in a castle. If you saw this article and didn’t know a thing about the cities listed, you would have completely skewed perceptions of them without ever getting to know the truth.

Maddie also made a great point: you could read just a piece of this and misinterpret it, much like people often take Bible verses completely out of context. Not all church leaders are going to be men (yes, I went there); not all women who wear braids are going to be prostitutes (times change, people); and not all people with expensive houses are going to be snobs. You can’t just pull a verse from the Bible and apply it somewhere as you see fit if you’re not even examining it in the context in which it was written. You can’t just take a person and define that individual based on the circumstances in which he or she grew up.

Why do we continually judge people? Why must we still stereotype and lump people into groups by which we define them? Would it really be that awful if we just loved one another? It’s not a perfect world by any means, and we will never be perfect people (I’m as flawed as they come), but we can make things so much better if we just lived with our hearts and not with our minds more often.

Before you say things about people you don’t know, go spend time with them. Learn about them. Love them. You just may find that, in many ways, they really aren’t that different from you. Are there snobby people in this world? Yes. Do some of them even live in my hometown? Surely. But that certainly doesn’t make the entire place snobby. If I could tell every single person in this world one thing, it would be this: You are valued. You are loved. And you matter. It’s not about where you come from or how much you have. It’s about you being you.

And the heart is more revealing than any outside factor you’ll ever see.