Because comfortable isn’t always for you

If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that letting yourself step away from what’s comfortable often allows you to become stronger and more capable of being fearless.

Even when it involves shoving cake in your face in front of a bunch of people with iPhones while you’re celebrating a birthday you’ll likely never remember.

Post-cake cuddles. Also, how is she already 1?!

My sweet niece Evie turned 1 today, so we celebrated with a big party for her over the weekend. She’s such a joyous little angel, and it was wonderful to be able to get together with family and friends to watch her do an actual face dive straight into her precious tiny cake.

She wasn’t so sure about that cake at first, though, so she was hesitant to eat it. But she really loves food, so maybe it was because she was surrounded by a bunch of people singing to her. I’m not sure I’d be super thrilled about eating cake in front of a crowd when I wasn’t wearing a shirt, either. My brother helped her out by taking a little bite first to show her that everything was safe, and then she trusted him to feed her some, too. It wasn’t long before she was sticking her hands in there and eating the heck out of that cake.

As we stood around her and watched for a while, almost everyone with his or her phone out taking pictures and videos (it’s now hitting me how much we put kids through—and, the more adorable you are, the worse it is), I held my older niece, Olivia, so that she could see more of the action better. She kept reaching her hand out, and I asked her if she wanted cake. When she nodded yes, I tried to put her down so that she could walk up there, and she used a death grip to cling to my neck and told me that she didn’t want to go down.

I never knew how fun balloons were until Olivia came into my life.

A few minutes later, we had déjà vu all over again. I couldn’t help but wonder what made her so fearful. I asked her why she didn’t want down to go get cake, and she didn’t answer me but, instead, just buried her head in my shoulder and clung even more tightly.

I get it, sweet pea. I get scared sometimes, too.

Both of my nieces reminded me of just how huge of a role faith plays in our lives. Evie was unsure of the cake until my brother went before her and showed her that it was good. She trusts him. Olivia, who is a wild child of a free spirit but sometimes gets slightly shy when lots of people are around, wasn’t keen on the idea of going up on what looked more like a stage than a backyard porch step to eat some of a cake that her younger sister was skeptical of after the paparazzi of onlookers had just sung some strange song directed at Evie. It was safer to stay in my arms and let me get my upper body workout for the month. She trusts me.

Has there ever been something that you truly wanted to do but were afraid to take the risk because there was too much unknown involved? I’ve been there far too many times, especially when those risks involved my heart. I’ll never forget a moment I had years ago to say something bold that I let slip away faster than a future NFL Hall of Famer running the 40-yard dash at the Combine. I had feelings for a guy who was supposedly just my friend, and he had just said something that made me think there was an inkling of a chance that he could possibly feel the same way. We stared at one another for a long three-ish seconds that any romcom would have written perfectly, and I did the only thing I thought I was capable of doing: I looked down and then away.

I wasted a perfectly good opportunity to be brave because I let fear think that it has more power than it actually does.

This one also teaches me a lot about faith and not always letting yourself be comfortable.

Olivia and Evie are just little kids, so it’s perfectly understandable that they are still learning how to be brave. But I hope that I can set a good example for both of them—I’m not that same fearful girl who looks down and away. But they also continue to teach me every day what it means to have constant and complete faith.

The world and the situations we face aren’t always going to be just how we want them to be. There’s going to be hurt. There’s going to be pain. There will fear and anxiety and heartache and challenges and setbacks and so many other things that make us want to curl up in little balls and stay right where we are so that we feel completely safe and comfortable.

But comfortable doesn’t help us grow. Comfortable doesn’t challenge us. Comfortable doesn’t allow us to become the bold women and men we were always meant to be. Comfortable doesn’t help us to run full throttle toward our dreams. Comfortable doesn’t let us take the chances that we need to take and make the changes that we need to make.

And comfortable doesn’t do much other than hold us back from all of the great things our hearts have yet to encounter.

You’re never too young for lip gloss.

I know that it’s easy to cling tightly to what we know and not do what we need to do to grow and change and be brave. But what I’ve found is that it’s far better to cling tightly to the God you may not be able to see but Who is still always there and intentionally walk straight into the fear that’s in front of you. You might fall along the way. You might fail. You might end up with a completely different outcome than you ever imagined. But, whatever happens, I can tell you with certainty that it’s worth it—it’s worth it to take the risk instead of looking back years later and wishing that you had. Remind yourself now that YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS, and please believe it with your whole heart.

Because you matter enough to challenge what’s comfortable and trust a God who will never leave you or let you down.

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 let tunnel vision blind you

The ocean is so vast and incredible and filled with more species of sea animals than most of us could ever imagine.

Yet, for some reason, we often only allow ourselves to focus on one.

I went whale watching over the weekend, which is something I’ve wanted to do pretty much since I moved out here about a year and a half ago. I really wanted to see some dolphins, and I guess seeing whales would be kind of cool, too. I mean, they’re rather beastly creatures, and witnessing their grandeur up close sounded like an intimidatingly fascinating idea.

They’re my kind of people.

It’s been a bit cold in Southern California lately. I realize that there are so many other parts of the country suffering much chillier temperatures, but I’m not in the business of comparison—it’s cold here for what we’re accustomed to, so I’m going to stick with my statement. I knew that it was going to be even colder out on the water, so I did my best to bundle up and prepare for whatever was in store for me for the next few hours.

I’m glad that I wore four layers—they still weren’t enough, though. The spray from the ocean water made it even worse (remember the drink Ocean Spray?? Maybe someone who went on a whale watching excursion came up with that), and I’m so grateful that my friend Jose let me borrow his gloves toward the end of our time on the water. Regardless of how cold it felt out there, it was an adventure that I’m grateful I got to take. I was able to spend an afternoon with some wonderful people I get to have as friends in my life as we took part in a quest to find and see the beautiful phenomenon of giant ocean creatures in their natural habitat.

And I was reminded that we’re so often chasing after things that may or may not be meant for us to the point that we don’t pay attention to what’s actually right in front of us.

I never actually saw Dustin, but I heard his voice quite a bit. He was our tour guide, and I think he was driving the boat. I’m not actually sure. I just trusted that someone who knew what he or she was doing was behind the wheel (or the helm, for all of you nautical type). But Dustin was the one telling us about the differences between seals and sea lions and informing us where the whales were and our strategies for making sure that we would get to see them. There was even a drone sent out from the boat to get better shots and also to help us find the path the whales were taking.

I don’t see any whales, bro.

We never saw the whales up close. We saw them blowing air from the water from a distance, but I still haven’t seen a whale in real life. On the way to try to see them, though, we saw quite a few bottlenose dolphins—and my heart soared. I honestly cared more about seeing dolphins than whales, so it was a special moment having a front row seat as they swam right in front of the boat. I really wanted to see them jump out of the water—I’m a product of romcoms and happy endings, people, so I want the fairy tale fantasy stuff—but it didn’t happen. Still, it was a breathtaking few minutes of my life.

Dustin let us see the dolphins but then kind of brushed them aside to remind us that we needed to go farther out in the water to see the whales. I understand that the thing is called a whale watching tour, so it was important to stick to the task at hand. At the same time, though, we were missing some true greatness that was right before us because we were so focused on pursuing something that we would never actually obtain.

And it was in that moment that I realized that I’ve done that far too many times—I’ve chased the things that are fleeting and missed out on some beautiful opportunities that were directly in front of me.

I think that it’s important to go wholeheartedly after your dreams and remain determined to achieve your goals. However, I think it’s also important to acknowledge the wonderful chances you’re given along the way. Maybe you’re meant to reach what you’re striving for so passionately—but maybe you aren’t. You might be going after a whale when you’re actually meant to encounter dolphins, instead.

There will be trials you face along the way—whether it’s the spray of the ocean, the gusts of wind that knock your breath out of your lungs, the bad breath of the sea lions that makes you want to hurl (whether you took Dramamine or not), or the loss of circulation in your extremities (thanks a lot, Raynaud’s)—and those are times when you have to remind yourself why you’re there in the first place and that you can do hard things.

And it’s also when you need to remind yourself that there is beauty and wonder outside of your tunnel vision.

I saw the same amount of whales on my hike as on the tour.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of times when I allowed tunnel vision to take over and cloud my sight of everything else around me because I was chasing whales I’d never actually reach. And don’t you know that some of those whales were guys who caused me to ignore many dolphin guys around me? I did it frequently with running, too. I would focus solely on the big accomplishments and PRs so much that I would miss the little victories that didn’t happen on race day that I was gaining along the way.

I want to make sure that I’m more aware of the dolphins all around me and that I don’t simply focus on the whales that I may or may not ever see. It’s great to have goals, and I hope that you achieve all of yours, but it’s also beneficial to notice all of the greatness that surrounds you that may not be what you initially think is best for you.

Because sometimes you’ll set out on a quest for whales and not find what you think you’re looking for—but perhaps the dolphins you encounter were what you were meant to find all along.

When you realize that you’re worth fighting for yourself

If you ever were to ask me where a lot of my inspiration comes from, I’d tell you that it’s quite often from little kids.

They’re such geniuses and probably don’t even know it.

I was in Texas over the weekend for a visit with family and some friends I haven’t been able to see in a while. Much of my time was spent with my nieces—those two little girls have captured my heart more than I thought anyone ever could.

Olivia was excited to show off her food.

I babysat Olivia and Evie on Saturday night so that my brother and sister-in-law could have a nice date night out together. The girls and I watched football (we won’t discuss the outcome of the Cowboys game right now—it’s still too soon), and after Olivia saw me eating Wheat Thins with my dinner, she later grabbed the box and ate them while we were watching the game. I’ve clearly taught her well. Prior to the disaster that occurred at LA Memorial Coliseum that night, Olivia (who is almost 2 1/2) was playing with everything in site while Evie (a little more than 8 months) sat and watched in glee and occasionally attempted to crawl toward something—she’s SOOOO close to crawling!

At one point, Olivia was standing on the fireplace ledge and then squatted down. I’ve always told her to be careful whenever she gets up there (it’s not high from the ground at all, but she’s also still a tiny human), but that night, she looked over at me and said “I be careful. No get hurt. Dangerous.” It was as precious as you might imagine, and I told her that she was right.

Besties for life

The next morning, I was over at my brother’s and sister-in-law’s house again, and Olivia showed off her new talent (that I wasn’t expecting) of jumping off of the couch into my arms. Unlike the night before, there was zero hesitation—she got up on that couch and went for it, regardless of whether or not I was ready for her. I think she knew I would catch her, no matter what, so there was no fear there. There was security and comfort, which helped to increase her level of confidence. On Saturday night, though, she didn’t have me right there in front of her, and she knew what might happen if she tried to jump on her own.

If I were standing on that ledge, of course I would jump. Yes, it would probably technically be more of simply a step off, but still—there wouldn’t be any holding back or worrying about getting hurt. I’m confident that nothing would be likely to happen.

I started thinking about that while I was on my flight home Sunday afternoon and realized that those childlike tendencies don’t necessarily leave us when we become adults. We still seem to be able to jump when we know that there’s complete security, but we’re a lot more hesitant when we’re unsure of the outcomes ahead.

If I’m being perfectly honest, though, that’s not how I always want to live. Sure, there are certainly times when you shouldn’t just jump at something without thinking or considering the consequences and potential outcomes, but there are many times when it’s better (even if it is incredibly scary) to take chances and step into the unknown. For me, when I have those strong tuggings at my heart that are pushing me to do something that frightens the Capri Sun out of me—especially when I’m being taken out of my comfort zone—I try to remind myself that I’m not actually jumping off of a fireplace ledge onto the hardwood floor like a 2-year-old.

Because I do have Someone there who will catch me.

That doesn’t mean that every chance I take is going to end like I want it to end. I’ve had plenty of failures and broken hearts to remind me of that. But it does mean that, even when those setbacks and heartaches happen after making a risky jump, I know that I’m still going to be OK. Those things can’t defeat me, and I don’t need to let them try. My God is a lot stronger than that.

This girl has been through it all with me.

During middle school, high school, college, and even some of my 20s, I was the girl standing on the fireplace ledge who was afraid to jump. Unlike in Olivia’s case, though, there wasn’t any real physical danger for me—it was simply the risk of getting my heart hurt. I think my fear stemmed from the fact that a broken heart, for me, hurts far worse than any physical pain I could ever face (and I’ve endured quite a bit of physical pain). You know what, though? I’ve survived each heartache I’ve had, and I truly believe that I’m stronger because of it. I think that the trials we face in life have ways of building us and growing us in ways we might never have thought possible. We’re usually not grateful for them while we’re going through them, but hopefully we can look back at those times and know that they were part of our journeys—part of the paths we needed to take to get us to where we are today and help us to become the individuals we have become.

I hated the color of my rental car. Naturally, my dad wanted to take my pic in front of it.

I don’t know where you are in your life today. Maybe you’re standing on that fireplace ledge with more reservations than you can count. Or maybe you’re on that sofa and about to take a leap of faith. I’m rooting for it to be the latter, because I’m rooting for you.

You’re worth taking chances and doing the things that might make you a little queasy. You’re worth letting your heart feel deeply and love intentionally. You’re worth pursuing the passions that set your heart into motion. You’re worth running full force ahead toward your dreams. You’re worth the investment of time and energy. You’re worth being loved.

And you’re worth fighting for yourself.

When you believe that crazy things aren’t so crazy

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

Even when their truthfulness stings.

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

And apparently truth-telling, as well.

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

“You’re older than my parents.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because sometimes your plans aren’t as great as you think they are

Life often leads you down unexpected roads that leave you wondering how and why you got to where you are.

And sometimes you’re dressed as a strawberry while you’re on those alternate paths.

Over the weekend, all I wanted to do was rest. I had been sick for a few days and was zapped of most of my energy, so the thought of doing nothing but watching football and baseball sounded like perfection. And I obviously needed sunshine and the ocean to cure me.

When I headed for the beach Saturday, the sun was out, and the weather was pretty ideal. By the time I got to the beach about seven minutes later, though, it was overcast and kind of chilly, and there was a foggy marine layer hanging in the air. (My hair and I are not fans of the marine layer—at all.) I don’t understand how the atmosphere can be so drastically different a few miles apart, but it’s a thing out here.

I still laid my towel in the sand, put in my headphones, and stretched out as if I actually had a chance of soaking up some rays. Here’s something that you need to know about me: I hate—and I do mean hate—being cold. If I had been Jack, I absolutely would have made Rose scoot over to give me room on that freaking door that could easily fit two people.

It was in the 60s, and I wanted a blanket wrapped around me. I had not planned for a frigid and gray day at my place of peace. Why was I only in my swimsuit? Why was I not covering myself with my clothes or towel? I can’t explain my actions and inactions, but for some reason, I simply remained as I was and let the sounds of the waves drown out all of my discomfort as I fell asleep for a much-needed nap. It wasn’t quite the way I had planned it, but it was still oddly good.

I woke up feeling refreshed (but still cold) and gathered my things to go home so that I could change and go to my friend JP’s volleyball game (she coaches at a college nearby). I had a Halloween event that evening and still had no idea what I was going to be, though I was leaning toward Ariel because my friend has a mermaid dress that she said I could borrow. I also wanted to be Ms. Frizzle or Rainbow Bright or Strawberry Shortcake, but I didn’t have any outfits for those people. To keep things simple, maybe next year I should just be nothing. Or three-hole-punch Jim.

I’m a strawberry. Duh.

After JP and her team won their match, I went to Party City for inspiration. As I was walking down the superheroes and My Little Pony costumes aisle, it hit me like Peter La Fleur pegged White Goodman while blindfolded to win the championship: I should be a strawberry. So I bought some red stuff and paid a visit to Target (my personal simultaneous haven and danger zone) to complete the ensemble. It wasn’t the original plan, but I’d argue that it turned out better. I didn’t even stay at the party very long, but at least it had a strawberry there briefly.

My beach day didn’t go as I had intended, and there were parts of it that weren’t very enjoyable, but it ended up being a time of escape and rejuvenation that I needed. And my costume certainly didn’t turn out as planned, but I wound up being a food-related item for the third year in a row (I was a peppermint milkshake last year and a yellow Skittle the year before) and liking my costume. With everything that’s been happening lately and the heaviness in my heart I’ve felt recently, I think that I needed some reminders that life doesn’t always pan out as you hoped or planned, and that’s OK.

And it’s often for the better.

I turned 34 earlier this month, which basically means that I need to stretch before everything, my desired bedtime will continue to get earlier, saying “no” to things I don’t want to do and events I don’t want to attend is a piece of cake, and I’ll sometimes pull muscles during my sleep (I swear this happened recently). I’m exactly nowhere where I thought I would be in life at this point. I thought that I would for sure be married to my forever guy by now, my career would be something entirely different, and I’d be living happily in Dallas.

In reality, I’m as single as the last piece of gum in the pack, I’m working a job I never would have expected but surprisingly absolutely love, and I live in what has become my favorite place on earth but that is nowhere near the great state of Texas. I have to trust that all of those things have been planned out with specific purpose by Someone who truly cares about me and has more than I could ever imagine in store for me. The guys I wanted to date, the relationships I wanted to happen, the words I wanted to hear, and the love I wanted to feel didn’t happen because they weren’t supposed to happen. It didn’t make sense to me then, and some of it still doesn’t make sense to me now, but I do know that I’m going to continue to believe that it’s all part of the story of my life that’s going to be better than one I could ever write.

My sister-in-law sent me one of my favorite songs by Lauren Daigle the other day, and the lyrics were a needed reminder that I have to repeat to myself often.

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

The hopes in your heart won’t always happen like you want them to, but that doesn’t mean that you should give those hopes up. Let them soar, but also be ready to go on a much different path than you ever expected with more twists and turns than you think your heart can handle.

Because some of the most magnificent stories are ones that you never see coming.

When tough times lead to a heart that feels hashtag blessed

There are certain talents I have that aren’t very applicable to my actual life.

You know, like being able to sing the alphabet backward faster than I can sing it forward.

As I was sitting and staring out at the ocean (one of my all-time favorite pastimes) the other day, I was thinking about how thankful I am that God brought me out to California. Of all of the places in the world He could have called me, it’s here—this place of wonder that brings me peace, energy, and the occasional dorsal fin sighting.

My New Kids on the Block shirt and I really love it out here.

In all honesty, I never saw such a big and risky move coming and wouldn’t have done it if the plans I had wanted to happen and prayed for constantly actually came true. I didn’t understand at the time why God wasn’t doing what I wanted Him to do, but it’s very clear to me now that He had something entirely different—and entirely better—for me planned. And I’m also appreciative that the whole “pack up your life and move to California” thing came on so quickly and took me by complete surprise.

Because I needed to endure the tough times I faced without knowing what was ahead.

On that same day that I was down by the water and reflecting on those bits of gratitude, there was a car show going on at that beach at the same time. I had noticed it when I got there (I mean, it was pretty hard to miss), but I had no intention of checking out the cars. I was just there to soak up some sunshine and watch the waves. When I left, I stopped at the basketball court area where the car show was to dust the sand off of my feet before putting on my sandals. I was sort of in the way of a guy trying to get pictures of a car at what appeared to be some artsy angles, and then he started talking to me.

Guy fascinated by cars: Did you get in the water?
Me: No way. It’s too cold.
GFBC: But it’s so hot and nice out today.
Me (still amazed by what people out here consider “hot”): Yeah, but the water is still like 4 degrees.
GFBC: Well, did you check out the cars?
Me: No, I’m only here for the ocean. (You know, the ocean that I don’t actually get in.)
GFBC: But they’re right here, and how often do you get a car show like this?
Me: I see cars all the time. I drive one.
GFBC: But how often do you see cars on the beach like this? And these are classics!
Me: I’m not that interested in cars. I just like when they work.
GFBC: I don’t know how to respond to that.
Me: Welp, see you later. Enjoy your day!

It turns out that we’re all thankful for different things.

This is my friend Monique, who invited me to a BBQ with no actual BBQ. I need to educate these people on what such an event entails.

What I didn’t explain to that guy that day was why the beach is so significant in my life—that it’s been a constant reminder of God’s love for me. That I stare out at the vast, expansive ocean and am reminded that I am valued. That I am loved. That I matter. It’s the beautiful destination of a journey that I haven’t always been so thankful to endure but that I’m incredibly grateful for now.

For him, maybe cars have something to do with everything he’s faced in life. Or maybe he just really likes them. I probably should have asked him. Regardless, he has a reason to find happiness from a car show on the beach.

I had a conversation the other day with my friend JP, and she was talking about working toward goals with the end already in mind. She mentioned how, in order to make it to that place you want to reach, you have to take all of the steps in between to get there. As she put it, “you can’t go from A to Z without going through all of the other letters in the alphabet.”

Ohhhhh OK. That’s a gooooooood word, sister.

JP is right—you can’t just snap your fingers and end up where you want to be. We’re not all Sabrina the Teenage Witch. And you’re not always going to know what letters B through Y have in store for you before you get to Z. You simply have to keep going with the hope and faith that you will eventually get to where you need to be. It’s going to hurt sometimes, but getting to that ultimate place your heart desires will be worth the pain you face. For me, it involved heartache and rejection. It involved doubt. It involved fear. It involved insecurities and anxiety. It involved more tears than I ever even knew I was capable of crying.

This sums up how I feel.

But it all resulted in joy and a shift in my heart that changed my life forever.

Not every day is going to be wonderful. People are going to disappoint you. Your sports teams are going to let you down (I’m looking at all three of you, Mavs, Cowboys, and Rangers). Pain is going to inflict itself upon you when you least expect it. Don’t let those troubles stop you, though. Whether she realized it or not, JP quoted the great Dory when she said “I don’t know, maybe the only thing to do right now is to just keep swimming.” I encourage you to do the same—just keep swimming.

Through the pain. Through the broken hearts. Through the doubts. Through the fears. Through the disappointments. Through the tears. Through every bad thing that ever comes your way. Just keep swimming.

And trust that your heart will one day be thankful for the hardships it had to endure.

When faith trumps fear

I got a tattoo the other day, this one in my handwriting, that says a mantra that I try to live by in every aspect of my life.

“Be brave.”

I’m not going to lie—when I first moved out to California, I was certain that it was a one-year thing and that I would move back to Dallas as soon as my lease was up. I longed for the familiarity of Texas and all of my people, and I thought where I was in California was merely going to be a brief stint in my life that I could simply chalk up as “one of those adventures I just had to have.”

And God probably smiled down at me knowingly, thinking that it wouldn’t be too long before I realized that, once again, His plan was different—and better.

I’ve grown to love where I am and love the community I’ve become a part of there. I’ve gotten involved in quite a bit, and it’s definitely helped me to get to know people and build relationships. Besides, you can’t really beat being able to go to the ocean pretty much whenever you want. I honestly think this place has helped to heal my soul and the broken heart that seemed like it would never end.

Just look at her. I CAN’T EVEN.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things I miss about the world I left last fall. My second precious niece was recently born, and I was thrilled to take a trip back to Texas to meet sweet Evelyn (“Evie”) and spend some time with my family. Before I go any further, let me rave about HOW FREAKING ADORABLE SHE IS! This isn’t a biased opinion by any means. She is seriously tied for cutest human alive (with my other niece, Olivia, of course).

As soon as I landed, I went over to my brother’s and sister-in-law’s house (they had just gotten home from the hospital), and they let me spend time over there every single day I was in town. I usually FaceTime with my brother and Olivia once a week, but it was so nice actually to be with them and read with Olivia and play games and practice saying words and give her snuggles and go to the park and do all of the things that aunts can do. I was also so grateful to be able to hold little Evie and talk to her as if she actually knows everything I’m saying.

There’s something about being an aunt that brings joy to a person’s heart. I remember when Olivia was a baby, I used to go over there once a week to hang out with her, and I would talk to her about everything going on in my life. It was during a time when that aforementioned heartache was just beginning, and she helped me through so much pain. She listened, she sympathized (at least I’m going to say that’s what it was), she cried for me (we’ll also say that’s why she was crying and not because of colic), she let me cry, and she was just there for me. She’s my little best friend, and I was so scared that moving so many miles away would change that.

Even though being back in my old middle school is always weird, I’d go anywhere with this gem.

I was also afraid that being so far away from my sister (my adult best friend) would challenge our relationship, but it hasn’t. I stayed with her and her husband while I was in town, and that walking heart of a woman let me borrow her car for the entire time I was there, no questions about it. I was able to spend so much time with her going to dinner, watching Mulan and She’s All That and The Office while relaxing on her sofa, cheering on her soccer team that she coaches (she’s the best middle school girls coach around), and watching the play version of Legally Blonde performed by a bunch of eighth-grade students. My sister is the best.

The truth is, though, that distance doesn’t have to ruin a relationship—at all. And even though it hurts to be so far from certain people, I know that I’m right where I need to be.

I love seeing Olivia interact with my brother, and I’m sure Evie will be the same. Olivia lights up whenever she sees him, says “daddy” or “dada” as often as possible, clings to him at times, and trusts him more than anything. And he loves her more than life itself. That man would move mountains for that little girl, and his love is genuine and obvious. I was sitting and watching them together the other day, and I couldn’t help but wonder why I don’t always have that childlike faith and trust in God, the Father whose love is so much greater than any human’s could ever be. Instead, I tend to think that my own ways and plans are better and would suit my life perfectly.

And I’m usually wrong.

Homies 4 lyfe

More so lately, it’s become truly apparent just how much I needed to be exactly where I am in California at this exact time. Whether it’s because I need certain surroundings or people in my life or they need me, it’s all part of a plan that I couldn’t have put together more perfectly if I had plotted it for years. He had this in store for me and knew all along what’s best, and I honestly wish that I had been more trusting. It’s something I’m working on currently.

My life might not look anything like I thought it would years ago, but that’s because it’s not supposed to. Sure, I’m still the most single person you’ll ever meet, but that’s because God has something or someone else in store for me, and I simply have to trust Him as much as Olivia trusts my brother. I have to believe that He wants the best for me because He loves me more than life itself. He would move mountains for me, and His love is genuine and obvious—even when I don’t always act like I know that’s true.

Right now, I post pictures with my friends, my nieces, my sister, my other family members, sometimes even strangers, and I often post pictures by myself. There will hopefully be a day that I become minorly annoying by posting pictures with the man I’ve been praying for all along. Until then, I’m going to let my faith and my heart grow in ways I’ve never imagined, trusting like I’ve never trusted.

And, for me, maybe that’s part of what being brave is all about.

Encouragement from an Uber driver

Every once in a while, you need a stranger to tell you something to make you really believe it.

And sometimes that stranger is your Uber driver.

I recently met someone for dinner and was ready to leave almost immediately after we sat down. Sure, he is a really nice guy, and I can pretty much talk to a wall if I have to, but I simply didn’t want to be there. My mind was elsewhere, and I wanted to go home.

And of course I had to be the one to say, “I probably should get home soon.”

He asked me if I was sure that I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Yes, I was sure. I had taken an Uber there simply because I didn’t want to deal with the parking in the area, and he suggested that I ride in his Uber and that we could just drop me off first. I suggested “no.”

Thankfully, my Uber driver was practically there, so I didn’t have to wait long before hopping in the car and escaping that evening. That’s when I met Josh, a sage I wasn’t expecting. He asked me how I was doing, and I said I was sort of alright. Then he asked me why.

Josh, you just opened a can of worms, buddy.

I gave him a condensed version of my evening, followed by a very abridged explanation as to why my heart hurts and why I think it shouldn’t anymore. Then I asked him questions, and he told me how he met his girlfriend (whom he’s been dating for almost three years) and how special she is to him. And he told me that there’s a guy out there who thinks the same of me but doesn’t know it yet and that, when I meet him, I’ll know he’s the one.

And even though I had only known Josh for about four minutes, I believed him.

Right before I got out of the car, he turned around to shake my hand and told me it had been a pleasure chatting with me. Then he said, “Just keep the faith, Natalie. That’s the most important thing—you have to have faith.”

That’s a good word, bro.

And sometimes you hang solo.

I don’t know what the future holds. I know that I’m going through some tough stuff that I feel like I should be over by now, and I don’t understand why it still hurts, but it does. Honestly, I sometimes feel ridiculous that my heart doesn’t feel mended, but I can’t seem to change that right now. I have to believe that Josh is right, though: I need to have faith.

Faith that someday it won’t hurt anymore. Faith that things will happen as they should. Faith that I will be fine flying solo forever if that’s how things turn out. Faith that there’s really only One I need, anyway.

Sure, it’s difficult to be single sometimes, but I think I also need to remember how great it can be, too. I mean, there’s a lot of independence gained and a lot of times when you have to learn to be brave in situations when you really want someone there to hold your hand. And I get to choose what to eat for dinner every night and what will be watched on the TV, so that’s a plus.

Life often happens in ways we don’t want, but we still have to face those situations and choose how we respond. I hope I can take Josh’s words to heart and always respond by keeping the faith. Faith gives us hope, and faith is also a huge part of what love is all about.

I hope you’re able to meet someone who gives you hope, or I hope you’re that person who offers it to someone else. It’s nice when we can lift one another up and provide encouragement when it’s needed most.

Because that’s a love that can be shared with everyone.

Holding on tightly

It’s not uncommon for me to learn things from people who are younger than I am.

Even if one of those people is barely four months old.

pinky-hold
Iron grip

I hung out with my niece Saturday night while my brother and sister-in-law went to their company Christmas party. After a week filled with kidney stones (which were responsible for that back pain I was having last week) and frustrations, I was excited to have a fun night of hanging out with the most adorable human alive (not an exaggeration). I got there early enough so that I could watch Olivia while Chris and Katie got ready for the party, and we sat on the couch and watched the end of some movie with Goofy in it and then a little bit of the show Paw Patrol. We also talked about life, as we usually do—she’s such a great listener. At one point, she gripped my pinky and wouldn’t let go. She just kept holding it tightly as she continued in her fascination with the colors and animations on the screen.

MY HEART MELTED.

Later that night, the sweet little one started wailing when it was roughly time for her to eat. I was trying to get her to calm down while I got the formula ready for her, so I began singing (and clearly I have the voice of an angel). At first, I sang a random song about everything that popped into my head—it included references to the cold weather and the fact that jelly beans will never taste good, no matter how hard they try to be as wonderful as gummy bears. When I ran out of material, I resorted to LeAnn Rimes’ “The Light in Your Eyes,” which I’ve mentioned holds a special place in the hearts of my sister and me. (I’m not trying to be boastful, but there were ZERO TEARS the entire time I was singing. Just saying.)

When it was time for her to go to sleep, I took her to her new throne (I think it’s actually called a co-sleeper or something along those lines), and I laid there beside her to make sure she fell asleep. But then I ended up staying there the whole time because 1) I was super tired, and 2) she has a slight cold and raspy breathing because of it, and that made me super nervous, so I wanted to make sure she kept breathing while she was asleep.

olivia
We’re best friends.

While I was lying there, I thought about how easy it is for Olivia to trust me. Whether it is holding my finger during TV time, listening to my voice as I made her formula or knowing I was right beside her as she dozed off, she believes that she is safe in my care. She made it seem so simple: When someone cares for you, you let that person care for you.

I think we could all learn a lot from babies.

I know you can argue that it’s pretty easy to have faith that everything will be alright for you when you really have no choice. But those babies eventually become little kids who still trust that their parents and teachers and coaches and other people who care about them will do just that—truly care about them.

And then we grow up.

There are a lot of not-so-great aspects about being an adult—you know, like paying taxes and bills, working lots of hours on lots of days, and having to act like a grown up when you really want to go eat snow cones and sit on a hammock, instead—but it makes me sad that many adults won’t let any childlike tendencies into their lives. I still like to climb trees and dream things that probably aren’t likely and make homemade cards with crayons and markers and use stickers as often as possible.

But, like many other grownups, I struggle with that whole trust thing sometimes, too.

It’s hard to believe that others will come through for you when you’ve been let down so many times. It’s hard to believe that you’ll see the sunshine soon when the rain is constantly pouring down. It’s hard to believe that everything will be OK when it feels like there’s no hand to grasp. It’s hard to believe that the songs you’re hearing are from the heart.

And that’s why we need that faith like a child.

Life certainly isn’t always going to be easy. There will be tears. There will be pain. There will be confusion. There will be fears and frustrations and temptations and letdowns. There will be so many things that make us want to cry like babies who have no other way of letting others know they’re in need.

But there will also be beauty.

There’s actually a lot of good in this world—sometimes it’s really obvious, and other times we have to look for it a little bit. But it’s there. I’ll admit that it’s challenging to trust God and whatever it is He’s doing in our lives all of the time. I have to believe His plan is right, though. I look at the things around me, and I see so much He’s done in so many different lives and situations—even if I do often feel like I’m gripping his finger as tightly as possible just to remember He’s there.

But I know He is, and He’s even using a precious girl who’s only been around for four months to show me that. And I want to show that love and care to the people He’s placed in my life and be thankful for those who show me the same love and kindness in return.

Because, as Olivia has taught me, when someone cares for you, you let that person care for you.