When you go for it

I love when football teams go for two-point conversions.

Sure, you could get the easy extra point, but why not get two the hard way, instead?

I went to Chicago over the weekend, where it was much colder than what I define as freezing in Texas—and the locals tried to tell me that it was a good thing I came when it had warmed up. The high was 35, people. Where’s the warm in that?

Chicago is cool but so very cold. At least I got to see sweet Elle!

When I went running Saturday morning, it was 30 degrees with some wet streets from the melted snow. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to pay a lot more attention to each step I took, because there were random patches of ice all over the place. I had come prepared with my ski mittens and warm clothes, so the run actually ended up being pretty nice.

As I was making my way back to my hotel, I ran past two bundled-up men walking to a bus stop, and one of them offered me a bit of encouragement: “Go for it, girl!” I really appreciate when people cheer each other on, whether it’s in sports or simply life in general, so I’m very grateful for that man.

And he reminded me how I want to continue to live.

I probably wouldn’t make a great head football coach. There’s a lot of strategy in the game that I would likely want to throw out the window when it came to fourth-down situations. I would want to go for it as often as possible, putting complete trust in my players to get the job done. (Although, according to this article, it looks like some coaches are embracing my beliefs.)

I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m fascinated by public transportation. Like, I freaking love it. I became a user of the “L” train (which I’ve wanted to ride ever since I saw this classic Oscar-worthy movie) while I was in Chicago, and I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: I felt pretty darn cool riding that thing. I felt so city. I can’t wait to go to New York City one day and spend some time on the subway.

I had downloaded an app that tracks the “L” and tells you when one of the trains will arrive at whatever station you specify. I was on my way to the station near my hotel and getting closer, but Google Maps said that I was six minutes away, while the train app was telling me that the next train would arrive in four minutes. No bueno. I had somewhere I needed to be and didn’t want to be late, but I felt a little defeated. But then I thought of the man I saw on my run.

Go for it, girl.

I heart Lake Michigan.

I started running, which was challenging in all of my layers and the boots I was wearing at the time. As you know, boots are made for walking, not running. I darted to a ticket kiosk as soon as I got to the station and quickly punched all of 14 thousand necessary buttons to charge my card. I grabbed the ticket and dashed through the gates toward the escalator, which just happened to be broken—OF COURSE IT WAS. I hustled up the stagnate metal steps, and just as I made it to the top, the trains doors were closing (it had arrived a minute early).

It was time for my movie moment.

I yelled “NOOOOOO, WAIT!!!!” as I ran toward the train, and I guess the driver must have seen me and felt a little gracious, because the doors suddenly opened as I made somewhat of a dramatic entrance and found an open seat. It was a nice moment that made me smile.

There are plenty of risks in life and too many setbacks and obstacles to count to go along with them, but there are often greater reasons to go after what you know in your heart you’re meant to go after.

It might be 4th and inches or 4th and long—sometimes you simple need to go for it. Submit the application. Send the text. Register for the race. Go talk to that cutie across the room. Book the trip. Sign up for the class. Address the issue. Audition for the production. Go on the date. Sing out loud. Say what’s on your heart. Dance. Ask the question. Tell your fears “no,” and do the thing you know you’re meant to do.

Go for it.

Trying to be a good role model for these angels

I spent far too many years being hesitant and thinking that I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough or whatever enough to take big risks. I can say with complete certainty that life is much more enjoyable when you’re confident enough to know that, even if things don’t pan out the way you hoped they would, at least you were brave enough to try.

Don’t let fear hold you back from anything. Look it straight in the face, and say “not today, not any day.” Then go for it, my friend. You’ll likely be glad you did.

And you just might find that you’re much more capable of doing the hard things than you ever imagined.

Because we’re all uniquely beautiful

It’s my goal in life to love others well and to remind them of how valued and beautiful and loved they are and how much they matter.

And apparently I still need to do a better job of reminding myself of those truths, as well.

I helped my sweet friend/mentor Cristy with her daughter’s graduation party over the weekend, and it was such a joy and honor to be included in all of the festivities for a girl I used to babysit many years ago who has become a beautiful young woman with a world of incredible possibilities ahead of her. The weather was pretty ideal (the party was outside), and I always love seeing people come together to celebrate and support and encourage one another.

At one point, I was chatting with Cristy and one of her friends, and one of them made a comment about how gorgeous all of the high school girls there were, which was completely true. And then I said something without even thinking: “They truly are. I was never that pretty when I was their age!”

OMG, Nat. Seriously?

Cristy is a walking heart full of love.

There are many reasons why God put Cristy in my life almost 20 years ago, and I believe that one of them is because she constantly speaks truth and encouragement into my heart. She immediately reminded me that she knew me back then and that what I just said wasn’t true. I probably never would have believed that back then, but what the heck had prompted me to think and say such a thing now—you know, when I’m supposed to be much more confident and assured of my unique beauty in God’s eyes?

The next day, someone I had just met used the word beautiful to describe me, and I had another weird moment of a negative thought: I must be in deceiving lighting. Oy vey. I’ve come a long way from the girl who thought she was ugly because guys weren’t asking her out, and now certainly isn’t the time to start sliding back down that heaping pile of poisonous quicksand.

No, Olivia, a fork is not actually a brush.

Later that day, I was running through the grass and driving around in a golf cart with my niece Olivia, and I started thinking about how much I hope and pray for her to grow up to be a confident and bold woman who knows exactly who she is and Whose she is and just how beautiful she is in Him.

And, as her aunt, that’s something I need and want to model for her every.single.day.

That doesn’t mean that I go around proclaiming that I belong on the cover of People’s “Most Beautiful” issue, but it does mean that I can walk in beauty with the assurance that I am who God says I am—His child. His daughter. His unique creation. His redeemed. His beloved. His. I don’t have to live in fear or shame or guilt or worry or doubt or insecurity or anything else that makes me think that I’m anything less than the person He created me to be.

Because I am free in Him to believe and know with all of my heart that I am beautiful as He created me—even with all of the things about me that might be seen as imperfections.

When I look at all of the women in my life, especially those in my immediate family, I can tell you right now that each one of them is incredibly beautiful in a number of ways. My mom has always shown me what it means to be confident in yourself, and never once did she say anything negative about my appearance or her appearance while I was growing up. (And that hasn’t changed. Almost two years ago, when I was on my way to my niece’s 1-year-old birthday party the day after I had been released from the hospital after one of my kidney surgeries, I had texted my mom that I shouldn’t be allowed in public because I was still puffy/bloated from all of the IV fluids that had been pumped in me, and she responded with this: “You are always beautiful! As the song goes, ‘You are amazing just the way you are.’”)

See what I mean? They’re gorgeous.

Then there’s my sister—I could go on and on about how beautiful she is inside and out. She looks and acts a lot like my mom, and she’s taught me a great deal about always trying to find the good in people. I also have my cousin Rachel and my Aunt Vickie (I consider them immediate family); my sister-in-law, Katie; my pretend mother-in-law, Darla (she’s my brother’s mother-in-law, but I’ve adopted her as my own, too, because she’s just so wonderful); and my nieces, Olivia and Evie, who have stolen my heart forever and I hope will always believe that they’re precious creations.

And I think pretty much every woman I know is beyond beautiful. But why is it so easy to affirm others in that regard and not ourselves? I don’t ever want to be like middle school or high school or even early and mid-20s Natalie, who always looked in the mirror with at least a little bit of disappointment. Now when I look in the mirror and have any negative thoughts, I give myself little pep talks. Just the other day, I had to say to myself, “Well, it’s been eight days since you’ve washed your hair, but it doesn’t look that awful, so at least you’ve got that going for you.”

I don’t like cliché and trite expressions, but I support the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” one because it reminds me that God created me the way I am on purpose and sees me as beautiful. He sees you that way, too. Isn’t that wild and wonderful? The same One who created the entire universe and everything in it sees you as remarkably and uniquely beautiful. Who are we to think otherwise?

The next time you look in the mirror and see flaws, try to turn them into precious traits that only you have that mean something special. Those gray hairs? They’re strands of experience and wisdom. That pimple smack dab in the middle of your forehead? It’s keeping you humble and also might be further proof that you are, indeed, part unicorn. That skin that you think is a bit too extra? It’s more protection for your bones and can be turned into muscle whenever you feel like it. Those wrinkles around your mouth and eyes? They’re evidence of years of joy and laughter and frequent smiling.

All of those things are beautiful because they’re part of you, and you are beautiful. Believe that. Embrace it. Live it. Even though One Direction says you not knowing that you’re beautiful is what makes you beautiful, I think what actually makes you beautiful is knowing that beauty is in every single person and loving all people for the unique individuals they are.

And that includes you, my friend.

Because 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.

Because it’s nice to be thought of sometimes

Because I really love people and am fascinated by their stories and personalities, I sometimes I listen in on their conversations that don’t necessarily directly involve me.

Especially in elevators.

One day last week, I was on my way back up to the office after lunch, and the two women in the elevator with me were talking about a little note that her husband had written her and stuck in her purse that morning without her knowing it. It was simply a quick “Go kick today’s a$*. I love you!” note, but it seemed like a really sweet gesture to me. The woman’s friend agreed and said something that stuck with me.

It’s always nice to be thought of.

This is way old, but I love these sibs of mine.

As I stepped off of the elevator, that phrase resonated with me for a bit. She’s right—it’s truly comforting to know that someone out there is thinking of you and lets you know about it. I recently had something I had to face that gave me a bit of anxiety, and the morning of that day, both my brother and sister texted me to wish me luck and to let me know that they were thinking of me and love me. It touched my heart more than they likely knew, and it helped to ease some of my worries knowing that I had their love and support from afar.

As humans, we’re pretty sensitive creatures, so the opposite is true, as well: It can hurt when people don’t think of us or don’t reach out to show us that they care. Whether it’s our friends or family members or coworkers or those for whom we have deep feelings, the individuals in our lives can impact our moods and our hearts when it feels like they don’t truly care about us simply because they aren’t investing time and energy into showing us how much we mean to them.

I was so sad when Ashley moved to Nebraska, but I’m so thankful for our weekly phone dates.

I believe that you make time for the things that you want to make time for in life, and I think that’s why it means so much to me when people reach out and show that they care—because they’re taking time to remind you that they were thinking of you. They’re taking time to remind you that it’s nice to be thought of, and they want you to feel the joy from that. They’re taking time to stop whatever they’re doing to remind you that you’re loved.

And they’re taking time to invest in you.

I know that I sometimes need to be better about this. I try to check up on people as often as I can, but I want to make sure that I’m doing more to show them that they are thought of and that they matter. It’s such a big and crazy world, and it’s easy to feel like you’re lost in the shuffle and just yet another face in the crowd.

But please remember that you’re not just anyone or anything—you are unique you, and you are valued and loved, no matter how many people remind you that they’re thinking of you.

My sister gets me.

That’s certainly one thing that I’ve had to let myself focus more on over the years, because people are not always going to reciprocate my thoughts and feelings. There have been a number of guys who haven’t felt the way I feel about them, and they didn’t exactly remind me that they were thinking of me—probably because they weren’t. And that’s OK.

Yes, it’s always nice to be thought of, but it’s also not a requirement to my identity and sufficiency.

I hope that people remind you that they’re thinking of you, and I hope that it brings a smile to your face each time. But I also hope that you find joy and an immeasurable amount of smiles in the fact that you are already loved more than you’ll ever know.

I was running on the boardwalk recently, and this guy on a bike came alongside me and said “it’s a lot easier on a bike.” I kind of laughed and said “right, sometimes. I like a challenge. Also, you’re very attractive.” And then I picked up my pace and wove through the suddenly crowded sidewalk as he got a little trapped. (So I guess it’s not always easier on a bike, huh?) The fella didn’t chase after me, and I never saw him again.

I took this after running from the guy I called attractive.

After I did that, I laughed a little because I never would have been so candid like that years ago, which led me to reflect again on the notion of being thought of by people, specifically guys in my past. I normally didn’t immediately express my feelings of attraction for them, so my little confession to the biker prompted these thoughts of how I used to place way too much emphasis on what they thought of me and how often they would text me or talk to me or whatever.

As I kept running, I kept reminding myself that none of that actually matters, and it still won’t matter with any guy in the future. My worth isn’t in those guys or their levels of interest. Whether they think of me and let me know or not really isn’t that important. If they don’t care enough to show me, well, I think Ariana Grande said it best: “Thank u, next.”

And, while it’s always nice to be thought of, you’re enough as you are with or without those affirmations.

Because it’s what you believe about yourself that matters

Over the years—and it seems like even more so lately—I’ve learned that what I think about myself and believe about myself has much more value than other people’s opinions of me.

Especially guys’ opinions of me.

I talk quite a bit about how I have struggled in the past with my confidence when it comes to the fellas. It’s easy for me to be assured of myself in essentially every other area of life, but it’s another beast entirely when it comes to how I’ve tended to see myself in terms of being attractive to guys. There’s more than one reason for this, but the big one is because all of the previous rejections (and the indirect rejections) I’ve faced made me believe that I simply wasn’t enough for anyone.

It’s a complete lie, but some lies have a tendency to engrain themselves in our minds in painful ways.

Not too long ago, one of my friends gave me the number of a guy she thought would be a good match for me. While I would have preferred for him to have my number, instead, he apparently knew that his friend was giving me his number and that I’d be reaching out.

I thought about not texting him, but then I remembered that dignity is overrated, and I honestly had nothing to lose by sending a text to some guy I had never met. What ensued was one of the most boring conversations known to man. When I reached out, he replied and then sent a selfie so that I could “put a face with a name.” I thought that was a little interesting, but maybe it’s normal or something, so I sent him a picture of me with my nieces (and clarified that they were my nieces). After that, there was not much said at all. I get that it was kind of a weird situation, but he did know about me from his friend, and he easily could have kept the conversation going. He chose not to, though.

I then had a choice to make: I could get upset at the realization that he had seen my picture and decided that he wasn’t interested, or I could say “meh, oh well” and get on with my life.

Thankfully, I chose the latter. If this had been years ago, I probably would have gotten upset about homeboy not thinking that I’m pretty and started to feel uglier than I already believed myself to be. Sadly, it’s fairly easy to fall into that trap. But I’ve spent too much time trying to figure out why I’ve been single this long, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’d rather continue to trust that this ever-long season (or lifetime—whatever) of singleness is with purpose and that I’ll meet the man I’m supposed to love and be loved by forever when I’m supposed to meet him.

This just seemed like a good spot for a photo.

The past heartaches don’t have to have a grip on me if I don’t let them. What people think of you or don’t think of you can’t influence the way you think of yourself if you don’t let it. As the remarkably feisty Detective Rosa Diaz (if you’re not a Brooklyn Nine-Nine fan, please rethink your life decisions) once said, “you can’t let other people’s opinions get in the way of what you want, especially because other people suck.” While the second half of that quote might be a bit harsh, she makes a valid point about not allowing what other people think dictate the way you live.

I’ve mentioned before a guy who shattered my heart and made me feel more emotions than I knew I had and how he made me feel like I wasn’t enough in a lot of ways. And I let him. I let what he thought of me (or what I thought he thought of me) and his words and actions heavily influence the things I believed about myself.

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my cousin Rachel (whom I’ve mentioned I admire and respect in so many ways) at Thanksgiving almost two years ago. The broken heart was still very fresh, and I stood in front of her on the verge of tears in my aunt’s and uncle’s driveway and uttered four words that no woman should ever ask herself or anyone because of how some guy made her feel: “What’s wrong with me?” And I’ll never forget how, before wrapping her arms around me, Rachel made me look her in the eyes as she reminded me that nothing is wrong with me, and I should never let anyone else make me feel like there is.

I think of that moment often because I know that she’s right. It’s not what someone else thinks of me that’s important—it’s what I think and believe about myself that truly matters. If I don’t believe I’m worthy of love, that’s a much bigger issue than some guy thinking I’m not attractive enough to be his type.

Don’t let other people control your own view of yourself. You were made uniquely and purposely to be the person you are, and you don’t have to be ashamed of or defend yourself for being who you’re meant to be. I can tell you firsthand that it’s so freeing to be able to be comfortable with who you are rather than constantly trying to figure out what you need to change about yourself to be more acceptable. It’s a waste of your time and energy, and you’ll enjoy life so much more if you simply embrace who you are and invest that time and energy into pursuing your passions and loving others as they are.

The same way that you should be loved.

Why Elle Woods is one of my heroes

There are some people we admire in life who are fictional characters, but we hope with all hope that there really are real people like them out there.

You know, like Elle Woods.

I gave a presentation at work last week, and in it I mentioned that Elle Woods is someone who inspires me. I know Legally Blonde isn’t based on a true story, but I’d like to think that once upon a time some passionate young woman got into Harvard Law after her highly convincing video essay and well-deserved LSAT score that she celebrated with her Delta Nu sisters. It seems perfectly logical to me.

There are a number of reasons Elle brings inspiration to the world, and I think it’s important to examine some of these reasons.

She does what she does for her own reasons. Elle makes up her mind that she’s going to Harvard Law, and she doesn’t let anyone convince her otherwise. Even when her parents and her advisor discourage the idea, she doesn’t let anyone or anything divert her path. Then, when Brooke Taylor (who is on trial for murder) tells Elle her alibi in confidence, Elle keeps it to herself, despite others encouraging her to break that trust. And it ended up being the right decision to make. She a strong one, that Elle.

She truly cares for people. Elle loves helping others. When she sees her classmate David struggling and being laughed at when he’s trying to get a date with some ladies, Elle steps in and makes him look like the shiz. She also helps her manicure lady, Paulette, in her pursuit of the UPS guy and teaches an entire salon the “bend and snap”—which is, obviously, the surefire way to win a man’s heart.

harvard mug
I don’t even drink coffee, but I think I need this.

She doesn’t let people make her feel like a fool. Elle might not look and act like the “typical” Harvard student, but homegirl doesn’t care. She knows she earned the right to be where she is, and she doesn’t let other people bring her down with their doubts or judgments. One of my all-time favorite movie lines is when she’s talking to Warner, her ex-boyfriend who is shocked to see her, and he says, “You got into Harvard Law?” Her response: “What, like it’s hard?” She doesn’t even acknowledge his jab at her—she makes it clear that she’s a BA, and she knows it.

She believes in herself. Elle doesn’t always have the support of everyone around her, but she doesn’t need it. She gets into Harvard Law by believing she can and working toward it. She wins a trial because of her belief that she is capable—that and her knowledge of perms and haircare. She graduates at the top of her class because she never gives up on herself. Her strut alone exudes confidence and admiration. Warner may not have had faith in her, but her determination and strong spirit draws the attention of Emmett, who not only believes in her but also falls in love with her. She doesn’t even have to bend and snap for that one.

There are going to be times when it’s difficult to continue chasing our dreams, especially when others try to make us feel like less than we really are. There will be discouragement, there will be heartache, there will be obstacles, there will be mean people, there will be failures, and there will be so many other things that try to stand in the way of what we’re trying to do.

But we don’t have to let them.

If you know in your heart that there’s something you’re supposed to go after in life, it’s best to go for it. And you, too, might find yourself at a level of success many people didn’t think possible.

What, like it’s hard?

A Letter to Young Women

I’m not a very emotional person, but every once in a while, something really gets to me and makes me want to cry.

Like when high schoolers are trying to be adults too soon.

I was at Target the other day and overheard a conversation between two teenage girls that broke my heart a little bit. It made me want to write a letter to all young women. So I did.

Dear little beauty,

I know everything feels like such a big deal right now, but it actually is all a big deal—just in a different way than you think. It’s not that a Tweet without enough favorites will be the end of the world, but the decisions you make today might be bigger than you imagine.

big possibilites

Guys are wonderful. They really are. But they are also complete disasters. If one of them doesn’t like you back, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. It just means that picture-perfect idea of the two of you together really isn’t that perfect. It’s not meant to be. Eat some ice cream, and let it go.

I know we already decided that guys are wonderful (while simultaneously being disasters), but I promise they aren’t so wonderful that you need to give anything to them before you’re ready. I don’t feel the need to be more specific than that. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. And if you think you want to do something, really think about if you actually want to do it. You might find you don’t want to.

It’s not nice to make fun of people or to say bad things about them behind their backs (or to their faces). This might sound weird, but you will actually feel better about yourself and life in general when you are kind to people. There’s a peace that comes along with love.

Your parents are not gifts of torture to you. They might actually be really cool grownups. Yes, some people really are in bad family situations and don’t have parents who serve as the best role models and support systems, but if you’re lucky enough to have parents who care about you, it’s not required in the adolescent behavioral handbook (which, to my knowledge, doesn’t actually exist in print anywhere) that you act like you hate your parents. When you’re an adult and practically best friends with them (OMG—the thought is so terrifying!), you will be sad you wasted so many years trying to rebel against them when they were, in actuality, simply trying to do what was best for you.

I’m not going to go into a tremendous amount of detail on this, but drugs can kill you. Alcohol can also kill you. Most drugs are illegal. Underage drinking is illegal. Temporary escapes from reality just aren’t worth it.

I know this is a crazy thought, but your teachers actually care about you. I can say this with certainty because I was a teacher. And I deeply cared for my students. I still do. Every.single.one. Teachers don’t have the easiest gigs in the world, and you don’t know what battles of their own they have to face on a daily basis. They don’t want you to fail, and it will surprise you how stuff they instilled in you will pop up later in your life in beneficial ways. It’s heartwarming.

Sometimes it’s hard to find friends you can genuinely trust. Even as an adult, you meet people who aren’t necessarily the individuals you thought they were. But there are some who are gems—they’re the ones who stick with you through the toughest times in your life and the best times in your life. They’re the ones who don’t judge you or make you feel like you have to be someone you aren’t.

Here’s the bottom line: you’re special. You don’t have to be like other people. You don’t have to try so hard to fit in or stand out. You’re wonderful as you were made.

You are valued. You are loved. And you matter.

Life doesn’t magically become some utopia when you enter the real world and become an adult. There’s still gossip. There are still pressures. There are still guys who will break your heart. There are still guys whose hearts you will break. There are still friends who aren’t really good friends. There are still temptations and bad decisions.

But the sooner you realize your worth, the stronger you’ll be when you have to take on anything life hands you.

God didn’t make any mistakes when He created you, and you don’t have to change who you are to please other people. You can achieve so many things. You can dream big dreams and not let people shoot them down. You can be confident and not care what other people think or say about you.

It’s OK to be you. It’s OK to say “no” to people. It’s OK to hang out with your family. It’s OK to wait to date or kiss or be in a relationship. It’s OK not to rush through life. It’s OK to wear clothes that didn’t cost a lot of money. It’s OK to fail sometimes. It’s OK to forgive people who hurt you. It’s OK to ask for grace when you hurt others. It’s OK to show love to people you don’t think deserve it. It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to be brave.

And it’s OK to grow up in your own unique way.

I’m rooting for you—I know how you feel, sister.


Someone who understands

Nothing compares to you

I have to give major props to Sinéad O’Connor.

Homegirl knew what she was talking about.

Last week, one of my students was looking at a picture of a celebrity online, and she said, “Man, I can never get my hair to look like hers. Why does she have to be so pretty?” The girl next to her replied with, “I know–she’s perfect.”

And my heart broke.

As a high school teacher, I constantly hear young ladies say bad things about their own appearances and compare themselves to others. Then, when they do think they are looking their bests, they immediately take selfless and post to Instagram and Twitter to get as many “likes” as possible. Now, I’m not shaming the selfie completely, as I’ve certainly taken them with my friends, but I’m questioning the purpose.

When did it become so standard for people–particularly women–to size themselves up to other women and feel less-than-beautiful when they think they don’t measure up to a certain type of appearance? The thing is, we aren’t all supposed to look the same. We were each fearfully and wonderfully made (see Psalm 139:14), and it’s useless to think we should have to look like other people.

People should read this

I’ve mentioned before that I once tried to get rid of my freckles, but it was such a waste of time and energy. Truth be told, rather than focusing so much on trying to change some physical aspect of my body, I really should have been focusing more on my heart. The love that radiates and shines from within a person is much more powerful than anything on the outside.

And you shouldn’t feel like you have to change the way you look to impress others. They should love you as you are–and someone will truly appreciate those “flaws” you think you have. (Actually, there is Someone who already does.) I know my chest isn’t turning heads; my hair gets frizzy and full of static sometimes; I don’t have Beyoncé’s bootyliciousness; my freckles are still here; my nails are always short and are seemingly incapable of growing longer; my ears are really tiny; I have a chipped tooth from when a volleyball pole fell on my head; I have a scar above my right eye from when I went flying into the corner of a bench–and I’m sure there are many other things about me that could be “fixed.”

Because, as it turns out, I don’t look like Blake Lively, and Ryan Reynolds is not my main squeeze. (I know–shocking.) You know why I’m not like Blake Lively? Because I’m Natalie. She’s supposed to be Blake, and I’m supposed to be Natalie.

You are you for a reason, so be you. Just like Sinéad O’Connor sings, “Nothing compares, nothing compares, nothing compares to youuuuu.” (You might have thought I’d never get back to that point, so there you go. You’re welcome.) Stop comparing yourself to people you see plastered all over the Internet. Stop comparing your looks to those around you. Instead, compare your heart to what you want it to be. Are you loving enough? Are you living in grace? Are you compassionate to others?

Your sufficiency isn’t in how people respond to your body image. There’s a difference in being confident in the person you are and in needing others to validate that confidence. Social media can be great for many things, but it can be so detrimental in many other ways. When you look in the mirror, I hope you see beyond just the reflection looking back at you. That person you see is full of so much beauty and so much potential to impact the world in positive ways. And I hope you remember something so important and so true.

Nothing compares to you–and I hope you sing that loudly and proudly as you see that reflection every day.

Don’t say goodbye to Sandra Dee

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

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

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

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

Look at me; there has to be

Something more than what they see

Wholesome and pure, oh so scared and unsure

A poor man’s Sandra Dee

Sandy, you must start anew

Don’t you know what you must do?

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

Goodbye to Sandra Dee

I hate that song.

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

Funny how that worked out.

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

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

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

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

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

So don’t say goodbye to Sandra Dee.

The way of the grasshopper

I love when life throws you unexpected lessons or reminders when you need them the most.

Even if they have to come from some grasshoppers.

I was at a wedding this weekend (yes, another one), and it was outside at a peaceful ranch beyond the metroplex. The ceremony was outside, so obviously one can expect that there might be a few bugs in the area, but I don’t think everyone was anticipating the incredible amount of grasshoppers that were present on this particular evening. I’m talking plague numbers here. To be honest, they weren’t bothering me too much, but there was a collective paranoia in the air from most of the guests that the grasshoppers were going to land in unwanted places, and some people were even asking those around them to watch their backs (literally) in case any of the over-hyper insects went for the sneak attack.

As far as I know–though I have not done extensive research on this topic–grasshoppers aren’t actually directly harmful to humans. Sure, they can ruin people’s crops and can cost people a great deal of money by ruining the grazing lands, but I didn’t see any farmers at the wedding, so I’m fairly certain that was not the concern the attendees had on their minds as we waited for the wedding to get started. I think it’s mainly because the creatures are so gross-looking and can unpredictably hop anywhere at a moment’s notice. (Interesting side note: I read that if humans could jump like grasshoppers, it would be the equivalent of leaping the length of a football field. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a rather significant distance.) Simply put, the grasshoppers were scoffed at and unwanted.

But the thing I found most admirable is that the grasshoppers just didn’t care–they wanted to be at that wedding and with those people, and they were not going to let a few hand swats scare them away.

There are many times in life when we let the way people perceive us determine our actions. I remember when I was in the sixth grade, I purposely got multiple detentions, because I had a crush on a guy who spent pretty much every afternoon in the detention room. First of all, I am not a troublemaker and was probably considered more of a goody-goody, so it was silly of me to change who I was all so I could try to impress a guy. Secondly, I honestly have no explanation as to why I was so interested in someone who was always in trouble. Obviously that one didn’t work out, and I can’t say I’m sad about it.yes

I was not a grasshopper in those days, but over the years I became more comfortable being me, even if it means people will think I am weird.

I’d rather be strange than a stranger.

As most people who know me know, I’ve never dated anyone, so that leads many experts to give me advice whenever they see fit. I’ve had people suggest to me that I should wear makeup or set aside some of my quirks when I’m in public. I always carry Wheat Thins in my purse and eat them with my food at restaurants, and I can’t tell you how many times people have told me, “You know you can’t do that on a first date, right?” False. I can, and I will. If I didn’t, I would be acting like someone who would try to get a detention to impress a guy. It’s just not who I am.

Each person in this world is uniquely made. God made you the way you are for a special reason, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to act like you in any given situation. If you want to go groove to the music when the dance floor is empty, go and get the party started; if you need to go to the grocery store but look like you don’t own a brush because you’ve been cleaning all day, walk through those doors with confidence like you are the queen of produce; if you trip in the parking lot and fall flat on your face, stand up and keep walking, because everyone is going to fall at some point in life; if you want to order a Shirley Temple and a bowl of cherries at a nice restaurant, don’t hesitate; if you feel the need to sport an outfit with “clashing” colors, well, anything matches if you wear it with confidence; if you want to apply for a job or school you think would never accept you, give it a try–sometimes rejection happens, but sometimes it doesn’t; if you fall in love, tell that person–I have to quote Michelle Branch here: “It’s all so overrated not saying how you feel, so you end up watching chances fade and wondering what’s real”; if you want to be anyone in this world, you are your best option.

You will never know how many football fields you can leap if you don’t first boldly launch yourself into the air.

Go for it, young grasshopper.