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.

Because love is better

When I was a teacher, my school’s motto was one I really loved: “Work hard. Be nice.”

I wish people everywhere had that motto.

Since the very first time I heard the song “Tim McGraw” on the country radio station, I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan. Over the years, her honest lyrics have gotten me through crushes gone wrong, guys not noticing me, moments of humiliation, trusting my heart, surviving the worst broken heart I’ve ever experienced, and a number of other situations and emotions that really only her words in the form of songs could make me feel like someone else knows the exact same feelings I was going through at the time.

“Teardrops on My Guitar” was my mantra more than once and played over and over on those nights I was alone when everyone else was out on dates (so, basically every night). I belted “You Belong with Me” (which is also one of my favorite music videos of all time) in front of my mirror on multiple occasions and in my heart every single time I walked by the guy who had captured it. “Fearless” is the tune I sing with the hope of one day being able to experience it as a reality with my perfect person (I really do want to dance in a storm in my best dress in the middle of a parking lot). “Love Story” has been my ring tone since 2008 (no, I’m not kidding), and I’ve performed it so many places (including at multiple weddings and on a boat) that it’s borderline ridiculous. “Red” accurately describes so many emotions a person can feel about another person all at once, and I relate to it so well. “All Too Well” is a beautifully sad story that I feel every single girl can listen to and think about her first love and first broken heart and feel a true sense of comfort.

I could go on and on about every song she’s ever written and how those lyrics have mattered in big ways.

And then I heard her new single “Look What You Made Me Do,” and I saw the music video premier, and there was one emotion I felt that overshadowed any others I might have drawn from the lyrics: sadness.

The song in itself isn’t sorrowful—it’s more vindictive than anything. But what makes me so sad is the cause of it. I don’t know Taylor Swift. I’ve never met her and have no idea what she’s really like without the cameras on her. I like to believe that she’s just as kind and fun and goofy and human as she seems. I like to believe all of the stories I hear about how giving and caring she is to all of her fans. Yes, I’m a fan, so of course I’m going to defend her, but I’m also going to defend what’s right and the way that people should and should not be treated.

I’m about to make what’s probably one of the world’s worst analogies, but I’m going to go with it. When I was in the seventh grade, I went on a ski trip for a long weekend, and it had been gloomy weather back in the Dallas area while I was away. When I came back, though, my face was super red and looked sunburned because I had gotten a really bad case of windburn on the mountains. I was in the worst stage in life ever (i.e., middle school), and I already thought I was super unpretty, so having to go to school with a face the perfect shade of Christmas was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do.

I really don’t care if someone calls me “tomato face” now, but it hurt in seventh grade.

Sure enough, my face didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, two of the more “popular” boys in my grade were in my science class, and they didn’t let me live it down. They kept asking me why my face was so red when there had been no sun in Dallas recently, and then they started calling me “tomato face.” Even after the windburn went away, the not-so-friendly nickname they gave me stuck, and that’s how they referred to me the rest of the year. I’ve mentioned before that I used to have really tough struggles with self-confidence when it came to guys—because I never thought I was pretty enough for them to like me—and being called “tomato face” all year by them sure didn’t help matters in that department much.

And this was merely commentary from two boys at one middle school, which is nothing compared to what celebrities experience, especially now with all of the access to social media. It’s so easy for people to insult others and make judgments, and I just don’t think it’s right, nor do I think it’s fair. I don’t care if that sounds whiny, but I’m so tired of people being so hateful. Haven’t we seen enough of that in life? I realize that people in the spotlight have to learn to deal with negative comments and the haters out there, but I don’t think that makes any form of hatred acceptable—especially when it makes a person feel like the woman she used to be is completely dead because of the reputation she’s been given.

I would hate for anyone to be called “tomato face” and feel hurt because of it, and I hate that so many worse things are said I about so many people all of the time. I saw it far too often when I taught high school, and it broke my heart every single time. I know we’re human and aren’t going to be nice every single second of our lives, and we’re certainly going to make mistakes, but I think it wouldn’t hurt if we all made more concerted efforts to care about other people and what our words and actions can do to them. And I know we’re all capable of it. I saw it every day when I taught high school—you can think whatever you want about teenagers, but some of them sure could teach a lot to adults out there. I saw them care for people. I saw them not let hate take over. I saw them love in big ways.

I don’t like that Taylor Swift feels the way she does, and I really don’t like that there are so many other individuals out there who often feel that way, too—whether they’re famous or not. I wish we could all feel like we’re not tomato faces. I wish that we could all know that it’s OK for us to be the people we are and not change because we feel judged. I wish we could all know something I told my students as often as I possibly could, because I fully believe it with all of my heart.

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

What if we didn’t judge people?

Life isn’t really one big stage on which we’re performing on a daily basis.

So we don’t actually need to worry about the crowd’s perception so much.

I’m not a gymnast. Even though I tried to be way back in the day, I didn’t get very far—I was horrible. So, honestly, it comes as no surprise to me that no one has ever asked me to judge international gymnastics competitions. I mean, what expertise do I possess to be qualified to judge others in this sport? Zero.

It’s interesting, though, how quickly we’re able to judge other people in so many other areas of life. I was talking to my friend Bonnie one day last week about a mean comment someone had said to me about my outfit. I usually don’t care what people think about what I’m wearing, but it was one of those days when I didn’t need any extra negativity, and this person made me feel like I didn’t even belong at work that day.

And then Bonnie said something so true: “The world would be a better place if people would stop judging.”

Amen, sister.

You know what this sign doesn’t say? “Judge people.”

For many of us, as we get older, we tend to care less and less about what people think of us in some areas of our lives—we’ll go to the grocery store in pajamas, and we’ll say things out loud in public that might have embarrassed us 10 years ago. But, even as adults, every once in a while, other people can still make us feel small.

When I was teaching high school, I remember so many instances when I had to remind my students that they should feel comfortable in their own skin and not worry about what other people thought or said about them. I would argue that most high schoolers are pretty concerned with judgments others make about them, but I would also argue that the concern doesn’t always vanish when you’re older.

For the most part, I couldn’t care less about people judging me. Life’s too short to worry about stuff like that. It’s been more of a struggle, though, when it comes to guys I’m interested in—because obviously their opinions matter. But I don’t think they should to the extent that I sometimes think they should. I can recall many situation in which I’ve been to shy or quiet when I really should have just been me.

Let’s flash back to college. I was really good friends with a guy I had a crush on, and we spent a significant amount of time together. I was pretty comfortable around him most of the time, but there were other times when I felt I couldn’t completely be myself and make my dumb jokes and comments or even sing out loud in the car. That’s not a good thing, and I later realized that.

Thankfully, down the road I became more comfortable with other guys I met, and I performed Taylor Swift on a boat and unexpectedly sang the same song at a wedding reception, both in front of fellas I liked. But I sometimes still have moments when I freeze up out of fear of what a guy will think of me. Every once in a while, it may take me about 14 minutes to hit send on one text because I’m having anxiety about what homeboy will think. Note to self: It’s just a text.

People are always going to judge us. It doesn’t mean it’s right, but it’s a reality. We don’t have to let their opinions impact the way we live, though. We are the people we are for reasons, and we don’t need to change simply because of what others might think about us. If you want to sing Whitney or Britney at karaoke, please belt it. If you want to veer away from tradition when planning your wedding, go for it. If you want to believe that leggings are pants, believe it, and wear them with pride. If you want to put ketchup instead of mustard on your hot dog, slather away. If you really like the shirt that your friend said she’d never wear in public, for the love, buy the freaking shirt. If you are sitting at the airport and realize you forgot to put on deodorant, but the bathroom is too far away, and the deodorant is right in your bag and would be easier to put on right where you are, you do what you need to do, regardless of the looks you receive.

Just be you.

Bonnie is right: The world would absolutely be a better place if people would stop judging. But it would also be better if we stopped caring so much about those judgments. I know I’m going to remind myself more to be me all of the time, even when it comes to some guy who strikes my fancy. After all, he should accept me for who I am—just like others should accept you for the person you are. And, to be honest, the people who truly care about you won’t make you feel like you’re not good enough as you are.

Because love is better than that.

Haters gonna hate–but they shouldn’t

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

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

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

Because Coppell knows the meaning of the word community.

Mads is awesome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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