Because we’re all uniquely beautiful

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

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

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

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

OMG, Nat. Seriously?

Cristy is a walking heart full of love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what I mean? They’re gorgeous.

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

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

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

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

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

And that includes you, my friend.

Because your heart is stronger than what people think of you

More and more in life, I’m starting to realize that people try to define who we are for us.

And more and more in life, I’m trying to remind others just how not OK that is.

I was at the grocery store one day last week, and there was a man in front of me who was very loud. That’s not necessarily always a bad thing—it was simply drawing attention to him, though. So, naturally, I started listening to what he was saying.

He was telling the cashier (don’t get me started on this store not having self-checkout) how he is filled with joy. I thought that was good to hear, but then my positive attitude toward this man was quickly diminished.

He went on to say that he’s not from around here (join the club, bro) and that everyone in this area is “so nasty.” (Umm, excuse me?) He said that, at his church back home, everyone is filled with joy, and you’ll never see someone not praising Jesus for life. Then he kept going on about how he carries joy with him everywhere, but the “people around here don’t know what joy is—they’re nasty.”

Sir, I think you need to get to know people before deciding you know them.

I was about to say something when he turned to me and said, “See, she doesn’t have joy. Nasty!”

Mr. Joy, you don’t know my heart.

He turned and bolted out the door before I could even say a thing to him. It’s probably for the best—I’m not sure I had a ton of nice things to say in that moment.

You can judge me, but you can’t define who I am. I’m enough in Christ. The end.

I wasn’t upset about the fact that the man called me nasty—he can think whatever he wants about me—but I didn’t like that he was going around calling an entire county nasty simply because not everyone here lives their lives the exact same way he does. I don’t want to judge him for his words or actions, but I do pray that he realizes how powerful love is and how people need love more than they need to be called nasty. There are some tremendous people with beautiful hearts here and everywhere throughout the entire world, and there are also people who might be a little more rough around the edges. Let’s not judge them; let’s love them, instead.

The next day at work, some of my coworkers were having a conversation and joking around, and one of the guys said that it’s pretty bad if you’re older than 30 and still not married, “especially if you’re a woman.”

Say what?

I was not able to remain silent in this moment, so I invited myself into their convo. He didn’t realize that I was listening (or that I was older than 30), so then he started trying to backtrack and win me over by saying that I look younger than 30.

First of all, thank you for saying that. Second, let’s talk about what you just said.

Mr. Chatty Coworker, you don’t know my heart.

It’s challenging enough sometimes knowing myself that I’m in my 30s and haven’t been in an actual relationship, so I don’t really need people reminding me and claiming that it’s basically pathetic to be my age and still this single. I go through seasons of being OK with it and seasons of feeling lonely. I feel like I just transitioned out of that lonely one into one that’s more comfortable, so maybe the enemy was trying to make me feel discontent again—who knows?

Regardless, I can’t let people’s words and opinions of me change what I think or say about myself. And I hope that you won’t let other people’s words and opinions of you change what you think or say about yourself. They cannot define who you are—unless you let them.

We don’t know what everyone else is struggling with or what storms they might be facing in their lives. Instead of judging others or assuming you know them, perhaps give them a little grace, or even take the time to get to know them. You might find that your attitude toward a person can change when you actually take time to learn more about him or her with a heart perspective.

We’re not all going to live our lives the same way, and that’s a good thing. People don’t have to express joy the same way you do. People don’t have to have the same relationship timelines that you do. People don’t have to spend the same amount of time at their jobs or in their hobbies as you do. People don’t have to like all of the same movies or foods or pastimes or whatever as you.

And you don’t have to be like everyone else, either. It’s important to be genuine, to be real. People can’t know the real you and your heart if you aren’t being who you actually are. If they judge you for being you, then so be it. Your identity shouldn’t be the result of what someone else thinks it should be. That goes for all types of relationships—with strangers who know nothing about you, with family members who know everything about you, with your friends who are your ride-or-die lifers, with acquaintances, with people you might look at as enemies, and with the person whom you love or are dating.

Be authentically you—it’s harder for people to know your heart if you don’t truly know it yourself.

Finding little pieces of joy

Lately I’ve been trying to find the less-evident things in life that make me happy.

You know, like fruit punch Jolly Ranchers.

The month of November reminds us that we need to be thankful. In reality, it would be great if we could express our gratitude about more things in life much more often than only one month out of the year. It’s probably really good for our well-beings. I’m no doctor or psychologist, but I’m pretty sure that’s accurate.

I’m thankful for Tie, my koala given to me in elementary school by my best friend. (Yes, I’m 32 and still have a stuffed animal. It’s cool.)

I honestly think it’s important to remind yourself that there are wonderful aspects of life that often arrive without huge grandeur or obviousness. I’m not the best about doing this. Sometimes I let the big things in my life—both positive and negative—overshadow what my focus should really be on: little pieces of joy.

Thanksgiving is this Thursday, and many of us are likely going to gather around tables and express our gratitude for family and health and homes and so many other wonderful facets of our lives. And that’s good. We should do that. But I want to take a moment right now to mention some of the other blessings in life that I really love but often overlook in terms of giving thanks. I’ve compiled a short list of thank-you notes to shine spotlights on those important bits of greatness.

SportsCenter—Truthfully, I don’t know what I would do without you, SC. Sadly, I cannot always watch every single game played in every single sport, but you make that OK. You let me know what happened, and you make me smile by bringing in some pretty witty anchors to deliver it all (I’m looking at you, Neil and Stan). I start my morning with you, and I end my day with you. Thank you.

The treadmill—Let’s be honest: Most of the time, I say that I don’t like you. But that’s not very kind of me, because you really do come in handy when it’s lightning outside or on those very rare days when it ices in the winter months. Where would I run on those days if it weren’t for you? Through the halls of my apartment complex? No. That would wake up my neighbors. But you don’t wake up my neighbors, and that’s an admirable quality. Thank you.

My personal space heater—The office feels like what I imagine living in an actual refrigerator would feel like. It’s almost like the episode of “I Love Lucy” when she gets trapped in a freezer. (There is zero exaggeration here.) But you change that. You make it close to 80 degrees all of the time at my desk. Without you, I would probably have lips bluer than those of Kate Winslet when she’s telling Leo DiCaprio that she’ll never let go. You’re an actual life saver. Thank you.

The Musers—Fellas, my drive to work in the morning could be so boring, but it’s the opposite. Your observations and fake interviews always make my mornings full of laughter and happiness. I never thought I would be entertained by something like a pretend station mouse with a high-pitched giggle (or admit to it), but for some reason I am. Please never stop talking. Thank you.

Scarves—I hate cold weather. I normally don’t like to use the word “hate,” but I mean it in every sense of the word right now. I hate it. But you help provide me warmth. I cannot effectively tell you how much you mean to me, but you are part of the reason I survive the colder air. You come in so many colors and styles, and you match with anything (because anything matches if you wear it with confidence). Thank you.

Genuine people—You know what it means to be honest and care about how you treat others. You say you’re going to do something, and you actually follow through with it. Others appreciate that. Hearts matter to you, because people matter to you. Thank you.

When I was a teacher, I used to take my favorite class outside every once in a while on nice days, and we would sit in a circle and go around and share highs and lows of our weeks. I was really thankful during those moments, and I think the kids were, too. It forced us all to find at least one good thing going on in our lives to share for the highs, and it felt good.

Because being thankful feels good.

Life is hard. There’s no way around that. There’s a saying about learning to dance in the rain, and maybe being grateful for the “little” (I think they’re actually really big) things in life is doing just that. Maybe it will help during the tough times to remind others how thankful you are for them—because they matter. And you matter. And being grateful matters.

Because, to me, thankfulness is another way to spread love that’s so badly needed in this world.

A missing shoe isn’t so bad

True happiness doesn’t come from things we pile up in our lives.

Even if you think you’ve found the perfect shoes.

I was running a bit early to church yesterday morning, so I decided to stop at Kohl’s. I had a coupon and bonus discount code that both expired after the weekend, and I really wanted some Keds. No, it’s not the 1990s anymore. Judge all you want.

I found a pair that called my name: they were pink with sea foam green (the best color ever) designs all over them, and some of those designs happened to be cats. Win. Plus, they were on the uber-clearance wall and were the last pair of that kind. I was pretty disappointed when I saw they were size 10 until I noticed another shoe buried underneath some of the other marked down ones. It was an 8–perfect! I sifted through the surrounding shoes but couldn’t find the other one. I called one of the employees over to help me, and we checked basically every box in the area with no success. Who takes just one shoe?

I was running out of time and told the sweet lady helping me that I could stop by after service. She took down my name and number and said she would call and leave me a message if she found the other shoe. Sadly, I didn’t have a voicemail when I checked my phone after church, so I called just to check. She had found another shoe in size 8, but they were both two left shoes, so she said someone must have accidentally bought two right shoes. (I certainly can’t endure that again.) She checked the database to see if any other stores in the area had the shoes, but it came back unsuccessful. Drat.

Later in the day, I ended up stopping at another Kohl’s that was on my way home (well, sort of), because I still needed to use my discounts, and I was hopeful that the database had been incorrect. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Rather, I had to settle for a pretty plain pair of Keds. Granted, they’re solid black, so they are pretty darn awesome, but they don’t have the sea foam green pineapples and cats, which is more than slightly disappointing. It’s possible that it once crossed my mind that I could buy both left shoes and try to mold one to my right foot. I don’t think it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.kedzzzz

Then it hit me how silly I was being. Because, at the end of the day, shoes are not going to determine my happiness.

I started thinking about how many times I had let such trivial things help decide my mood–whether it’s materialistic purchases, my performance in a race, how much money is in my bank account, or how awful humid weather makes my hair look (I know, shallow)–and I reminded myself that true joy can’t be found in those things. It just can’t.

I believe we were put on this earth for one reason: to know Jesus and make Him known to others–and we do this by loving people. And that’s the foundation for real happiness.

If I don’t get a pair of shoes I really want, it’s really not that big of a deal–I can rock another pair just as well; if I don’t run as fast as I want, I can shake it off and use it as motivation for the next race; if I don’t score as high as I want on FreeCell, I’m pretty sure I will get over it pretty quickly; if I get a broken heart from someone I really wanted to love me, perhaps it will lead me to write a book that will impact others; if Lindsay Lohan didn’t win queen at the Spring Fling in Mean Girls, it would not be the end of the world–as she proved, a crown is nothing but something that breaks as easily as plastic; if you don’t get what you want, the result doesn’t have to be utter despair.

If I somehow become rich and could actually afford to buy whatever I wanted from Anthropologie, it wouldn’t make me happy–I can’t take those things with me; if you’re crowned Homecoming Queen or Prom Queen in high school, no one really cares about that in the real world; if you were a really good football player back in the day, it won’t make you truly happy simply living in the glory days (cue Uncle Rico); if the man of your dreams finally asks you out on a date, it won’t make all of your other problems go away and make life instantly perfect; if your team wins the World Series, you can scream for joy in the moment, but eventually that moment will end, and you will once again have to face everything in your own world; if you get everything you want, the result won’t be eternal happiness.

That emotion can only be found in love–the love from the One who wants to see you genuinely happy.

Had I found that other size 8 shoe for the right foot, I’m sure it would have made me happy, at least temporarily. But it’s a happiness that doesn’t last. It’s as fleeting as a shoe separated from its counterpart.

But once you find joy, real joy, you won’t have to search for a missing part–it’s something so full and complete that your heart will instantly know you have all you need in the love that has filled it.