When you’re thankful through all seasons

Let’s be perfectly honest—sometimes life is just plain rough, and it’s challenging to find reasons to be thankful. At times, it feels like you’re either sinking in quicksand or going through a never-ending storm that doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. Your heart hurts, your brain hurts, and all of the emotions are making your body actually physically hurt.

You might often hear people talk about the different seasons of life—seasons of change, seasons of joy, seasons of pain, seasons of sorrow, seasons of financial troubles, seasons of success, seasons of being alone. So.many.seasons. But what about those perpetual seasons that don’t seem to want to change from one to the next?

Pretending that fall is actually here

I’m a pretty joyous person, and I try to help others to have fun in most situations, but I also know what it’s like to have a heavy heart and feel like no one truly understands the pain you’re going through. It’s sometimes difficult to focus on the reasons you have to be thankful because you’re consumed by the reasons you have to struggle. While I think it’s important to acknowledge the bad things in your life and to feel the emotions resulting from them (I’m actually still learning how to do this), I also think it’s healthy to find bits of gratitude, especially when you’re going through the darker points in life.

Years ago, I started wearing pink on Wednesdays. Sure, it was originally inspired by Mean Girls, but I later learned that pink is the color of gratitude, and now I treat that day as my weekly day of thanks. Three of my dear friends in California and I email our reasons to be grateful every Wednesday, and it’s a tradition I’ve come to love. No matter what messes we’re facing, we each find a list of things for which we’re thankful and share our bits of joy with one another.

Lately, just in my own life to myself, I’ve been trying to find those gratitude tidbits more and more on a daily basis. I’ve been in one of those tough seasons recently (or, more accurately, one that just hasn’t ever ended), and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to throw a pity party for and with only myself. But when I push those thoughts away and then, instead, focus them on the reasons I have to be grateful, my heart’s emotions shift, and the desire to feel sorry for myself disappears. Rather than thinking about what I wish were different, I think about what’s so wonderful as it is.

And joy takes over.

Thankful that I got to spend some time with my forever friend over the weekend

In the Bible, Paul reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances, not just the good ones. No matter what you believe, I think this is a wise way to live. It’s definitely not always easy, but it’s good. There are challenging situations that many of us haven’t ever been through, and it’s always easier to say something than actually to do it, but I truly believe that you can always find a reason to be grateful, no matter what you’re facing.

Last week, I absentmindedly left my classroom in a hurry during my conference period so that I could go to the bathroom and get back before the bell rang. In doing so, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to see my finger get caught in part of this strange rolling contraption thing on the door latch (a horrible description, obviously), but I sure felt it. For the first few seconds after it happened, I couldn’t look down—I was sure that the top part of my finger wasn’t there anymore. When I finally got the courage to let my eyes stray that way, I saw plenty of blood and a finger that was somehow still intact.

I have an extremely high pain tolerance—I once went almost an entire day with a 9-millimeter kidney stone (most of them are 3 or 4 millimeters) traveling through my body before I went to the ER. In this moment, though, I wanted to let myself cry. I didn’t, but I really wanted to. My whole hand was shaking, and I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. As I’m writing this, it makes me sound pretty wimpy, but I feel like I could quote Monica in this case: “You can’t say that! You don’t know! I mean, I thought I was going to pass out from the pain.” I actually also thought that I was going to have to get my finger amputated (I’m clearly not one to dramatize a situation), but thankfully no one had to pee on me to get rid of the pain.

I wrapped a paper towel around my finger to try to stop the blood, but I’m not sure that I should have been squeezing something that had just been smashed as hard as it was. At that point, I only had like three minutes until the bell, so I just walked with my wrapped-up finger back to the classroom, purposely avoiding eye contact with the door that had just tried to kill a piece of me.

It’s my pointer finger. I’m not making a rude gesture.

I had a bunch of students entering into my classroom who were relying on me to be there for them, and I didn’t have time to focus on the pain and the fact that I still haven’t learned to slow down in life. Instead, I decided I was going to be grateful that I still had my finger. And you know what? I put a Spiderman Band-Aid on that mess, and everything was fine. Sure, I didn’t sleep that night because my finger was throbbing, and the nurse told me the next day that I needed to go to the doctor to have them drill a small hole in my finger to drain the hematoma that had become my new worst enemy (I never made time to go—oops), but I was grateful, and I’m convinced that it helped to minimize the pain.

Yes, I realize that a finger that survived getting caught in a door contraption that I still can’t accurately describe well is rather minimal compared to many much more difficult situations that people face on a daily basis, but comparisons often minimize more than they should, including how we view ourselves. Regardless of how big or small our troubles are, though, I still believe that there are always bits of gratitude that we can find to help us make it through the rain (sing it, Mariah, my ultimate soul sista).

The broken hearts try to break every piece of us. The dark times try to steal every ounce of our joy. The setbacks try to keep us from rising back up. The illnesses try to tell us that there’s no hope. The losses try to convince us that there are no wins in sight. The mistakes try to keep us from believing in grace. And so many more tough situations try to stop us from being thankful.

The key word is try—we don’t have to let those things win.

We don’t all live in an episode of Full House in which all of our problems will be resolved in less than 30 minutes when the “this is a valuable life lesson” music starts to play. Our situations won’t always pan out as we hope, but even in the midst of the worst storm you’ve ever been in—even when the torrential rain gets more powerful and daunting by the second—your heart can still find reasons to smile.

My precious JoJo (aka Jayna)

When I was in the hospital for five days or whatever it was for one of my many stays (thanks, kidneys), I remember being hooked up to IVs and on so many hardcore pain meds that still didn’t get rid of all of my pain but probably made me send some questionable text messages to people and feeling absolutely miserable—not just physically but also emotionally. But then my sweet friend Jayna showed up with a box of Wheat Thins, a coloring book, and a pink phone charger, and my whole outlook on everything changed. In that moment, I was thankful for her genuine heart and the thoughtfulness of her gifts that only a true friend would know that I would appreciate dearly. Sitting there with hair that I hadn’t washed in about nine days, morphine and dilaudid pumping through my veins, and a body that couldn’t even move half of an inch without excruciating pain, I sat in thankfulness.

I hope that you’re able to find reasons for gratitude when it seems like you can’t. If nothing else, it might help you get through those difficult times, even if in a very small way.

And give you a new reason to wear pink on Wednesdays.

When your heart finally overpowers your fears

The heart is the thing that keeps us alive—as long as it’s pumping, we’re good.

But it’s also the thing that can lead us and think for us.

It’s definitely not always easy to be vulnerable with people. In fact, it can straight up make you feel weak. When you offer the truthful thoughts in your heart to someone, you risk quite a few things: rejection, judgment, apathy, and insincerity, among others. But you also risk that person actually caring—genuinely caring.

What if we shared what’s in our hearts? What if we were completely honest and didn’t worry so much about what would happen if we shared true feelings? Would that really be such a bad thing?

She’s had my heart since Day 1

When my oldest niece was a precious little newborn, I was going through a pretty tough time. I haven’t always been the best about sharing my feelings, but it was really easy with her. I would hold her in my arms and tell her everything going on in my life and my heart, and I knew there was zero judgment or possibility that she would hurt me. If she started wailing, I knew it would be because she was crying with me and for me. Sure, she was just a tiny baby and couldn’t use actual words to respond to me, but it didn’t matter—I trusted her with my whole heart. She’s 3 now, and we still have those deep heart conversations. She just gets me.

I realize that it’s likely not wise to share every feeling with every single person you meet, but I still don’t believe that it’s wrong to be honest when people ask you how you are, even if don’t know them. And I know that we are to guard our hearts, but I think there’s a difference between protecting it from evil and completely shielding it from letting anyone in or sharing its hopes and passions and truths.

I think most of my pics are with them nowadays, and I’m good with that.

So why do we spend so much of our lives living in fear of what will happen if we share the things that are in our hearts? Yeah, we might experience heartache, we might have our hearts shattered to a thousand tiny little pieces, we might get hurt, we might cry, we might experience emotions that we weren’t expecting, and people might make fun of us. But people might love us back. People might return the feelings. People might show how much they care. People might share their hearts, too.

Whether a bad or good outcome happens, isn’t it better to take a chance than to spend your life constantly wondering what if and if only?

I spent far too many years hiding my feelings and not taking risks that I probably should have taken. I can think of more than one instance when I had the opportunity in a perfect moment to share my heart with someone, and, instead, I shied away and kept my words hidden in the depths of my heart. I look forward to the day when I can stand before the man who captures my heart and tell him that I love him with a real love that’s forever and always. That’s something I’ll want him to know, and I’m not going to let myself chicken out to tell him. That fearful girl isn’t here anymore.

One of my favorite episodes of The Office is “Casino Night” because it’s the first time that Jim declares his love for Pam. No, it doesn’t work out for him in that moment, and he walks away with a shattered heart. Had he not told her in that beautiful scene in the parking lot, though, she likely never would have called off her wedding with Roy and later shared all of her feelings with Jim after she ran across the coal fire pit at the beach.

Yes, I realize that not everyone ends up like Jim and Pam, but at least they can give some of us hope.

Just livin’ with my heart over here

I’ve learned that you have to stop caring what other people think if you want to be completely comfortable and confident being you. You’re not someone else’s opinion of you, so why even give another person the power to dictate your thoughts and actions?

Don’t be afraid to share what’s in your heart. You have the feelings you have for a reason, and you don’t have to keep them hidden away forever. It’s OK to be honest, and it’s OK to be brave. And it’s certainly OK to lead with the desires God places in your heart.

Because, like Selena Gomez wisely says, the heart wants what it wants.

Because we all have our own unique ways of healing

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

Especially when it’s your heart that needs mending.

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

Highlight of my week every week

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish that it were always that easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrounding yourself with good people helps, too.

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

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

Because hope gives you strength

I’ve learned a significant amount about hope in recent years and have realized something that doesn’t make me feel guilty when I don’t pump iron as often as I should.

Hope makes us stronger.

Green (I call some people by last names or nicknames only) and Val are two of my sweet friends who have been with me through a lot over the years. I knew Green was going to be one of my besties when she offered me a ride home from a work event during my first few weeks at the company where we worked together for a couple of years and let me ask her a million personal questions about her life that she probably wasn’t expecting to talk about on such a short trip with someone she barely knew. But she’s always been one of those people who gets me and never makes me feel like I’m doing life all wrong.

I met Val through Green the day after a really tough moment in my life, and it wasn’t long before the three of us were the proud owners of Rangers season tickets with each other. Nothing brings people together quite like the dedication to fandom of your favorite sports teams.

But it wasn’t just a baseball season that we experienced together—it’s been multiple seasons of life. They both walked with me through a broken heart that I thought would never end and that put me in a bad place. I don’t like to think about how much it affected my mood and what I thought of myself, and I really don’t like the way it affected the type of friend and sister I was. While I can’t change the past, I can certainly change the way I respond to pain and rejection.

The Lord’s taught me a lot about who He is and who I am in Him since then.

He also taught me more than I could have imagined about hope. There’s hope in darkness and in those times when we have fallen and aren’t sure if we’ll ever be able to rise again. It’s that hope that fuels a fire within us and causes us to be brave when we want to give in to our fears. That causes us to believe when no one else believes. That causes us to keep moving forward when our minds try to tell us that it’s not possible. That causes us to stand and fight when hiding is the easier option.

We aren’t good at selfies, so this seemed like a better idea.

Green is getting married in the next year, and the three of us got the VAN, as we call ourselves (for Val, Amanda, and Natalie, obviously) back together some some old fashioned bridesmaids-dress-shopping fun. Val and I tried on maybe seven or eight dresses, all of which had completely different fits and looks on both of us. At one point, I looked in the mirror and then around me at all of the women trying on bridal gowns and prom dresses, and I was reminded about how different we all are—and I don’t mean in appearances alone.

We all go through completely different ups and downs and take journeys and paths that aren’t the same as those of others. We often face moments when we’re in such rough places that we aren’t even sure if things will ever get better. It seems as if the storms won’t ever end. Hope seems so distant that you aren’t sure if you’ll ever let it in your life again.

Dear friend, please turn on Mariah’s “I Can Make It through the Rain,” and please believe each lyric she belts.

Take Tiger Woods. The guy’s been through quite a bit since he entered the spotlight and captured America’s heart so many years ago. He had a very public and disappointing fall from grace, and he’s had persistent injuries with his back and knee since then. I can imagine that there were times when he felt hopeless and when he could have given up. But he didn’t. And then that final put on the 18th hole of the Master’s happened on Sunday, and he won his fifth prized green jacket. It was a beautiful moment as he hugged his son and then mom and the daughter as the crowd chanted “Tiger.”

It was living proof that hope is full of power—it gives you faith, it gives you strength, and it gives you the belief that those crazy things that maybe only you think are possible really aren’t so crazy at all.

You do you, girl.

Your past is behind you, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next year or next month or next week or even in the next hour. The best thing you can do is to live as boldly and as completely as you can in the very moment you’ve been given right here and right now. It might not be where you want to be, but it also doesn’t mean that you’re going to be there forever. There’s tremendous beauty in hope, and the more you cling to it, the more you will realize just how strong you can be—because He equips us in spite of our failures and weaknesses.

I’ve never won a major on the PGA Tour (although I was a two-time golf city champion back in the day, and it’s not important to point out that I won both years by default because I was the only girl), but I know what it feels like to finally have a big breakthrough after spending far too much time in the Land of Sorrows and Broken Hearts, where it feels like you’re the sole resident. I know what it’s like to have to spend time away from something you love so much so that you can heal and grow and learn and foster hope. I know what it’s like to cry more tears than you knew the eyes could handle, not knowing if you’ll ever be able to stop. And I know what it’s like to train myself on patience, taking small steps each day toward the bigger goal you’re chasing.

You don’t have to have it all together. None of us actually does. You’re likely going to face setbacks at different times, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure or won’t ever see your dreams come true—it simply means that your story has some unexpected chapters to make it more interesting and to build your character. As one of my favorite sports media professionals Sam Ponder said, “Here’s to another season of learning that the imperfection and messiness of life [are] where joy and gratefulness grow.” Amen, sister.

So let the hope surface, and let it grow, my friend—and you, too, will one day be able to fist pump for being brave enough to believe in what once seemed impossible.

Because you’re worth living fully and taking chances

Time seems to go by really quickly, even when some of the days feel far too long.

Especially when you’re old(ish).

There’s some 10-year challenge that’s been trending on social media, so I’ve seen a lot of posts lately of split-screen pictures showing what people looked like back in 2009. While I didn’t jump on board that ship, it did get me thinking about how quickly 10 years go by. It doesn’t feel like I graduated college almost 12 years ago, but I did. It doesn’t even feel like I’ve been living in California for a year and a half, but I have.

I’m 34, and my favorite drink is Capri Sun.

I don’t remember thinking time was flying by when I was younger, but I was also too busy focusing on trying to grow up too fast. Some moments stick with us forever, and others become distant memories that we don’t recall as well as we might prefer. Some things we want to remember; others we wish we could forget. But each one of those moments has helped us to get to where we are right now and to become the people we are today.

I’m 34, and I often joke about the fact that I’m officially old. It’s like my body decided to start reminding me of my age when I hit 30—if you don’t stretch before breathing, everything’s going to hurt. The truth is, though, I’m really only older than I used to be, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m old. Maybe that whole “age is just a number” saying is true. Or there’s that one about only being as old as you feel. I’m not sure about that one sometimes, though, because that would make me 77 some days.

I often like to live like I’m still a kid. No, I can’t go completely rogue and ignore all of my responsibilities that are part of adulting, but I love the carefree attitudes of kids and the inherent ability they all seem to have to be able to find joy in almost any situation. I mean, my sweet niece Olivia was having crazy fun “dropping” (her word for throwing, apparently) toys behind her bed while we were FaceTiming over the weekend. When did stuff like that stop being so enjoyable for some of us?

These gems help keep me hip.

Another thing that I think we often lose as we get older is that special boldness to do and say what we want. Sure, there are some shy little kids who sometimes try to hide behind their parents’ legs, but even they usually start to come out of their shells after a few minutes of becoming familiar with their surroundings and the people there with them.

The other day, I was sitting on the shore, and there were a few little kids near me. One of those big ugly sea birds landed on the sand, and I didn’t really pay attention to it. I don’t like birds much. The kids, however, suddenly took off running straight toward the bird, laughing uncontrollably as they did. It was quite entertaining to watch—that bird wanted nothing to do with them, but they didn’t care at all. They were caught up in the moment and were enjoying every single second of it.

I realize that everything is much simpler when you’re that young and don’t fully understand much of the world around you. Yes, there are times in life that are full of struggle and pain and heartache and tears and so many feelings and stuff that feels like more than you can handle—and none of that should be ignored. It’s important to acknowledge reality and what you’re going through and the emotions that start to build up inside of you, but I think that it’s also good to live like a kid every once in a while and not focus on all of the “what ifs” and potential outcomes and, instead, just run straight toward what your heart desires.

What would that look like in your life? Would that mean chasing a dream that you’ve been afraid to pursue? Telling someone how you feel? Opening your heart to love? Taking a trip or journey that you’ve wanted to take but simply haven’t yet?

Me to a stranger: Will you take a picture of me flexing?

Why do we often overthink things without just doing them? It sometimes makes a lot more sense to run after the ugly sea bird without giving it a second thought. I know that I don’t want to look back at moments in my life and wonder what might have happened if I had simply been just a little bit braver—“If Only” isn’t the Hanson song that I want to describe my life. The years truly do go by so quickly, and I want to live them fully and without hesitation. I want to know that the wrinkles I’m eventually going to have are worth every single smile and every single laugh because I was able to enjoy the precious moments I’ve been able to experience.

I hope that the next time you compare pictures of yourself from years apart you see someone who has grown in tremendous ways yet still has that youthful belief that truly anything is possible. Because it is. I hope that you see someone who is bold and is confident in who you are. I hope that you see someone who knows that you’re enough and lives with the truth that you’re worth people’s time and love.

And I hope that you see someone who takes chances and doesn’t let moments pass by when they’re right there in front of you.

When you let your heart feel

I can’t always explain the feelings in my heart and the things it leads me to do, but I do know that I trust it.

And that I need to let it express those feelings more.

I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but there are definitely times when I don’t really do that whole “thinking” thing. The other night, I was at a restaurant and using one of those old-school ketchup bottles that you have to hit to get the actual ketchup out. After I did, some ketchup kind of dripped out on the side of the mouth of the bottle, and I licked it off. Yes, I licked a restaurant’s ketchup bottle. I wasn’t thinking—I just did it. By the time I realized what I was doing, it was far too late.

There are quite a few areas of my life in which I don’t really let my brain be in charge. I’m more of the heart-thinker type. When I know in my heart that I’m supposed to do something, I typically don’t give it much thought—I just do it.

Nike has clearly gotten the best of me.

I’m sure that important heart thoughts are going on here.

While I use my heart for a lot of decisions and whatnot, I don’t always do the best job of letting it feel and express all of the emotions that it needs to. I’m a bottler in that regard. I’m not big on tears (I cry maybe two or three times a year), but when I do cry, it’s a disaster. I’ve usually been storing away all of the tears I suppressed in moments when I probably should have cried but pushed away the waterfall of emotions, instead. It’s not a good situation.

Last Tuesday, I thought that it was a normal day, but it was apparently actually a day for the waterworks. I think it had been since January or February, so I guess it was time. As usual when this happens, I was not expecting it—it just happened. We had a night of prayer and worship at my church, and my heart started to feel heavy on the drive over there. When I got inside, I began to notice that my eyes and their rusty tear ducts were weakening. I warned my friend Amanda that I felt like I was on the verge of crying but that I thought I would be able to hold it back.

Samsonite—I was way off.

I was holding it together until we started singing “Do It Again,” a song I really love. The first three lines played, and I lost it.

Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet

I think the weight of the truth and power behind those lyrics hit me hard. I immediately bolted out of the room and into a corner in an empty hallway so that I could sit on the ground and commence what became ugly, convulsive sobbing. I couldn’t stop. I tried. I failed. The tears had started, and they weren’t letting up anytime soon. I finally gave up even trying to stop and just let the crying and all of the feelings consume all of me. It was exhausting.

By the time the song ended, that sweet Amanda was sitting on the floor next to me with her arm wrapped around me. She didn’t need to say anything for a while—she just let me let out the emotions that had been in hiding for too long. Then she prayed with me, and we chatted a little before rejoining everyone else.

I just really like this picture of Amanda and me. There’s a lot going on in our expressions.

Later that week, I was running and thinking about a lot of different things, particularly how quickly life happens and how every single event and moment we face has purpose for the places we’re supposed to go, the things we’re supposed to do, and the people we’re supposed to be. I reflected on a rather painful time a couple of years ago that deeply impacted me. And then I did something I’ve never actually done before: I thought about every single emotion I felt during that time and even after, and I let myself actually feel those things. I didn’t cry or stop running or have any outward showing of anything—I simply let my heart do what it does best.

I let my heart think for me.

We all have different ways of processing and expressing our emotions, and I’m not expecting a monumental change for me anytime soon. I’m not perfect by any means (after all, I did lick a ketchup bottle that’s the property of a restaurant where people other than just me eat), and I’m honestly still trying to figure out this whole “life” thing. But one thing I realized on that run was that, while I may not normally know how to deal with my emotions, there’s one thing that my heart feels that I know what to do with: love. It’s not simply an emotion or action—it’s so much more that I’m not even sure there’s an accurate word to describe exactly what it is.

But I do know that we’re all capable of it.

Maybe you’re like me and don’t cry very often. Or maybe you’re the type of person who cries merely from hearing the theme song of This Is Us. And I’m sure that there’s a balance in there somewhere, too. Regardless, I know that it’s OK to let yourself feel. It’s OK to let yourself cry. (Yes, this is a slight pep talk to myself, too.) It’s OK to hurt and laugh and mourn and rejoice and ache and smile and let every other feeling be one that you acknowledge in a healthy way, even if that includes throwing rocks at a building or breaking plates and hitting things with a baseball bat at a place called The Anger Room. But, most of all, it’s OK to let your heart love.

Because that’s the most important heart thing of them all.

When your heart needs a reminder

I think it’s important to be open and genuine, and sometimes that involves sharing your heart and being vulnerable when you might not want to.

Right now is one of those times for me.

I’m not going to lie—sometimes it’s really tough being single when you’re an adult. Even if it’s not necessarily true, it seems like every other human being around you is in a relationship and has his or her person to do life with and make memories together. And plenty of people you don’t even ask have their opinions regarding what you should or shouldn’t do to make sure that you don’t spend the rest of your life singing the catchy Farmers Only jingle.

It can be such a special status at times.

This hat is the greatest purchase I’ve made in a long time.

I’ve shared before that, while I’ve never actually had a boyfriend or even been in a relationship (or on what I consider to be a real date), I’ve had my heart broken. And I feel like I’m currently going through a never-ending heartache that I can’t seem to escape, no matter what I do. Unfortunately, there’s no timetable for mending a broken heart—we’re all so different, and we all handle our pain in different ways.

For me, I’ve always tried to deal with emotional pain the same way I deal with physical pain: I ignore it. I do this for as long as possible, and then I usually reach a point when I have to face the fact that the pain is actually there, and there’s no way to pretend it’s not there anymore—I simply have to acknowledge it.

It’s been almost two years since my heart was ripped out of my chest, thrown to the ground, smashed into thousands of tiny little pieces, and then stomped all over by the guy who walked away from it. I thought that I would be over it by now, and I honestly thought more recently that I was. But one day last week reminded me that I was once again just masking pain that was still prevalent. It still hurts, and I still miss him, which makes me feel foolish and pathetic.

But I also know that I’m neither foolish nor pathetic—I’m simply a girl who cares about a boy who doesn’t care about her. It’s not exactly the classic romance tale, but it’s my current reality.

One evening last week, I went to a panel discussion at a church that’s somewhat connected with mine, and the topic was about dating in today’s society. It was kind of difficult to take advice from the married couples up there (especially the ones who had been married for 20 years and more), and I wish they would have had more than one single person to share some insight, but I ended up having a rather enlightening moment on my own in the midst of it all.

As I was listening to some of the couples share their stories of how they met, I began to feel alone and a little sad. I haven’t cried in a while, and I have a feeling the waterworks are coming soon. (Part of that not acknowledging my emotional pain thing that I do means that I ignore moments when I want to cry, so I end up bottling up a crap-ton of emotions, and they typically come pouring out all at once when I least expect them to.) I did the only thing that ever makes sense to me when everything around me makes zero sense: I started praying.

God knows my heart, and I began unloading it in a prayer of brokenness, asking Him what I was supposed to do. I hate the online stuff—it’s not part of my story, and I know it. But I’m hurting, and I’m still sad about [homeboy’s name]. God, if I’m supposed to be single forever, can you please take away this desire in my heart? And, regardless, can you please take away my feelings for him? Am I ever going to meet my person? What do I do, Lord?

And then I heard this quiet, calming voice that has spoken truth to me so many times: Don’t you trust me? I’ve never let you down.

Talk about a sucker punch to the gut. This big and powerful God who has the entire world in His hands—the One who called me out to California and has provided for me in more ways than I could ever have imagined—truly cares about me and has a plan that is more perfect than anything that I could ever create. He’s never failed me, and He won’t start now. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to walk into the elevator at work tomorrow and meet the man of my dreams, but it does mean that, whether or not I do ended up falling in love with the one guy who picks me out of every other girl in the world, He’s got big plans for me.

God also gave me a Saturday morning run with my sweet cousin Rachel, who was in town last week. I’ve always looked up to her, and she’s always listened to my heart and provided encouragement. I hope you’re able to meet her one day. She’s freaking amazing.

And I do trust Him.

We sang two songs in church Sunday that both had lines about God never failing us and never letting us down. I think it was His way of reminding me (along with countless others who needed to hear it) that He is who He says He is, and He’s taking care of the things that cause me worry and anxiety—He’s funny like that.

I don’t know what you’re going through in life. Maybe you’re like me and wish that you could find love in a world that seems to be more challenging for the single folks every day. I hope that you don’t lose hope. I hope that you keep pressing on through the storms of heartache that try to knock you down. I hope that you know that you are worthy and enough with or without someone else standing by your side.

And I hope that you know that you are loved by the One who will love you more than anyone else in the entire world ever could.

Because it takes more than time to heal a heart

The great Selena Gomez once said that “the heart wants what it wants.”

And then sometimes the heart wants what it needs.

When I moved out to California last September, I had no idea how much I would come to love this place and all of the people in it. It took a little while, but it slowly and quickly (it’s weird to explain) became rather apparent that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

In the fall of 2017, I wasn’t having the best year. I had just had my third kidney surgery of the year after months and months of constant pain and discomfort, and to top it off, I was still trying to get through the worst broken heart I’ve ever had. To be perfectly honest, that heart thing was actually a lot worse than all of the kidney stuff.

When I realized that God was calling me to California, I was reluctant at first. I didn’t want to leave my people and the city I’d known and loved for my entire life. It felt comfortable and safe. When I finally accepted that this is what He wanted me to do, I tried to get excited for a new adventure. It all happened so quickly, and I didn’t have much time to get really sentimental about much. Shortly after I moved out here, though, I had plenty of time for that—and I gave in.

These girls are proof that the next generation is full of greatness.

I eventually told myself that God probably just brought me out here to heal my heart, and I would be able to return to Dallas in a year or less. While I do think that God knew exactly what He was doing bringing me out here—and perhaps healing really was part of it—that mindset that I had limited the scope of just how capable He is and how much more He wanted to give me.

People often say that “time heals all wounds,” and I’m sure that time has something to do with it, but I think that there are so many more factors that can help you forget about all of the pain that ensues when you’ve been hurt badly by someone you thought cared about you. When things like that happen, I think that God puts certain people in your life to help remind you that you are worth so much more than someone’s feelings (or lack thereof) for you.

We’re both thankful that “Jurassic World” isn’t a reality.

I lead a group of high school girls at my church, and last Friday night was a “red carpet” event that a few of them had planned together. They came up with the idea themselves and then spent months putting it together to make sure that everything went smoothly and was a nice welcome for the upcoming freshmen. I AM STILL SO FREAKING PROUD OF THEM! The entire night was a blast, and it brought so much joy to my heart to see how excited and happy they were. Toward the end of the night, I looked around the room and thought to myself “yeah, I’m going to be alright.”

That’s not to say that I won’t ever think about homeboy or won’t feel twinges of hurt if a memory pops into my heart, but it does mean that I’ve got plenty in my life to find joy in to help drown out any pain still lingering.

Celine has always reminded me that my heart will go on.

If you’re a living, breathing human, you’re likely going to face some type of heartache in life. If you don’t, well, you probably won’t ever have Nicholas Sparks write a novel reflecting your life. When it happens, know that there’s no specific timeline for how long it takes to heal—it’s different for everyone, and it may take you way longer than you thought it would. But, during that time, it’s important to let those people who would fight for you be there for you and let you cry or throw rocks or be goofy or do whatever when you need to—and who will do those things right alongside you just to make sure you’re doing what you need to heal. Those gems are keepers for sure.

We have limited time here on earth, but we sure do get a lot of opportunities to spend that time with people. Don’t be afraid to let them love you, and don’t be afraid to love them right back.

Your heart will thank you.

Because sometimes you fall down

Life is filled with ups and downs and moments when you have to pick yourself back up when times get tough.

Especially when you actually fall.

I’ve started running with a fun group of gals on Monday nights, and it’s become one of my favorite runs of the week because I actually get to run with other humans. For the past two weeks, I’ve run with my new friend Hilary, who is about as friendly as they come. She’s one of those people whom you meet and instantly know you were meant to be good friends.

Last week, though, I ran part of my Monday evening run solo while she ran with the precious 10-year-old (and by far the youngest of the crew) for a few miles. We planned on me turning around and then meeting back up with Hilary to finish the rest of our run together. It seems like a pretty reasonable plan, right? Plus, there’s not that much to running on a boardwalk other than following the path, so surely everything would be fine.

Let’s please remember the individual involved in this scenario—I have a way of ending up in ridiculous situations.

I turned around after a certain amount of time and headed toward where we started. When I was almost back, I saw Hilary running toward me, and we both threw our arms up in purposely exaggerated excitement. I signaled to her to question if we were turning around again to go the direction from which I had just come (the lighting is better that way), and I turned as she got to where I was. However, I wasn’t really paying attention to the ground below me—I rarely do when I run, which I realize isn’t always the smartest thing ever—so I didn’t notice the wet and sandy concrete that happened to be right where my feet were trying to turn the rest of me around.

I bit it. Hard.

Here’s a closeup for you.

It was like this slow-motion fall scene in a movie that I didn’t see coming, but it felt quite dramatic. As soon as it happened, I didn’t really want to look down because I knew it was going to be ugly, so I tried to keep running. Hilary suggested that we walk for just a second and maybe rinse off my leg, but I didn’t want to put water on it yet—it would sting. Like I typically do, I opted to ignore my pain and just keep running.

By the end of the run, I noticed just how much my leg stung and then looked down and saw how gross it was. When I got home, after I showered (and somehow avoided the water directly hitting my left leg), I made what might have been one of my poorest decisions of the day: I poured rubbing alcohol on my leg. Remember how I didn’t want water to touch it? Let me tell you something you probably already know. RUBBING ALCOHOL BURNS SO FREAKING MUCH ON AN OPEN WOUND.

The scrape hurt a bit (even though it doesn’t look so bad here), but it was still a fun run with Hillz!

I bandaged up my leg with all I had that night, which were some My Little Pony Band-Aids. I went to the grocery store the next day and used Avengers ones after that because they made me feel a little tougher. While My Little Pony characters are certainly bada$*es, there’s something about having Captain America and Black Widow on your bloody leg that says, “Hey. Don’t mess with me.”

Right after the fall happened, my leg hurt pretty badly, but the pain was minimized by having Hilary right there by my side. The rest of the run was filled with genuine conversation and a solid steady pace that I probably wouldn’t have gone after the fall if I had been by myself.

As I’ve mentioned before, moving to California has been challenging in a lot of ways. If I had moved here with someone, I think it would be a lot different. But I wasn’t supposed to move here with anyone, so it’s required me to make sure I find ways to surround myself with the right people who will be in my tribe. I could sit here and whine to you about how being single and living alone means that there was no one there to take care of my leg for me when I got home and how I really wish I had someone to hold my hand when life gets really rough—and part of me really wants to whine more about that in this moment—but there’s truly no point. That’s not in the cards for me right now, so I won’t complain any further.

What I will do is remind you that it’s important not to let the thoughts of the things you don’t have overshadow the wonderful things that are already in your life. There are going to be times when you’re doing great, and your actual life might be a direct reflection of an Instagram post, but then there are also going to be seasons when it seems like all you’re doing is falling down. Let the people around you help you up—let them remind you that it’s OK to acknowledge your pain and that you’re strong enough to keep going. Let them be those friends who run (or walk) alongside you and talk about all of the things in life, both good and bad, and what the hopes in your heart are.

Find those people, and never let them go.

Falling down isn’t the worst thing in the world. It hurts when it happens, and it might hurt for a little while after, too. And if the fall involves a broken heart, that “little while” might actually last a lot longer than you would prefer.

And that’s when you have to fight.

Please don’t stay down when you fall. You’ll miss out on so many great things if you do—you’ll miss out on running on the boardwalk with a friend or new career opportunities or exciting adventures or a man who will finally be the one you’ve been waiting to capture your heart forever and not break it. It’s OK to fall, as long as you get back up.

Besides, you might get to wear some really cool Band-Aids when you do.

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.