Don’t ask why—just love people

I think we go through much of our lives with too many questions and not enough answers to satisfy us—especially when the question why is involved.

And now that’s our reality more than ever.

When I was a freshman in high school, I broke my right hand while playing basketball with some guys at the local YMCA. Basketball season was just about to start, and I had been busting my tail for months trying to get ready for it, so that was a pretty big disappointment for my teenage heart. On top of that, I’m right-handed.

I’ve always wanted to be ambidextrous, so I figured it would be a good thing for me to get lots of practice using my left hand for everything (the cast turned my right hand into a claw or paw of sorts, so it was essentially useless to me). I never realized how much I used both hands in so many normally easy tasks until I couldn’t use both of them, and those tasks became much more challenging.

Have you ever tried putting a fitted sheet on your bed while using only your non-dominant hand? Don’t. I remember getting extremely frustrated while trying to make that thing stay in place in each corner and feeling my body temperature actually rise in irritation when I couldn’t do it. My mom came in my room and offered to help, but I wouldn’t let her. Eventually I got it on there, but it took longer than it should have and required way too much effort.

Trying to dry my hair was also a joke. So was geometry. We had a test that required us to draw 3D shapes—something I could barely do with my dominate hand. I’ll never forget what my teacher said to me when I went up to her desk in the middle of the test to tell her that I was struggling with drawing shapes that looked anything like they were supposed to: “Life’s tough sometimes, huh? You’re just going to have to deal with it.”

And she was right. I may not have appreciated her words (or her tone) in the moment, but I went back to my desk and decided that I was still going to ace that test and show her that I could, indeed, deal with the tough things. I still think about that moment sometimes when I face difficult situations in life, so regardless of whether or not her words of inspiration would cause her to receive phone calls from upset parents if she said them to students in this day and age, they’ve had a lasting impact on me.

I currently only have pictures with my dog. Thanks, COVID.

We’re likely all going through some challenges right now, and they don’t necessarily look the same for everyone. Some people are struggling with job losses or too much time with family or too much time in solitude or frustrations of having to work virtually or fears of having to show up to work each day or losing loved ones or battling racism and injustices or actually contracting the coronavirus or anxieties about the unknowns of the future or a number of so many other things that have absolutely zilch to do with the pandemic. I get it. It’s rough out there right now.

I don’t mean this to sound insensitive by any means, but my geometry teacher was right—we simply have to deal with the tough stuff that life throws our way. It’s definitely not easy. There are way too many uncertainties, and it feels like we receive new or contradicting information almost daily. As a teacher, I hated the way that the school year had to end in May, and I didn’t think that things would still be this bad when it was time for us to start up again in the fall. Yet here we are, just a few weeks away from what is supposed to be the first day of school, and it seems like we’re only hearing that conditions are getting worse by the moment.

It’s easy to sit back and ask why. Why is all of this happening? Why isn’t it going away? Why can’t life be normal again? For the love, WHY?

But we don’t have the answers right now—and we may never.

It’s almost like we’re all trying to put fitted sheets on our beds while using only one hand or draw 3D geometric figures with a hand that can barely hold a pencil correctly. It’s frustrating and sometimes leaves us feeling hopeless and defeated. I truly believe that we’ll get it done, though.

I don’t have all of the answers for the things going on in our world right now. Actually, I really don’t have many answers for many things at all. What I do have is hope. What I do have is trust. What I do have is belief. Most importantly, what I do have—and what we all have—is love.

The other day, I was thinking about how far I’ve come. I don’t say that statement to be boastful, but I used to be a pansy when I was younger, so I consider where I am today a pretty big achievement. By pansy, I mean that I could barely utter a coherent sentence to a guy if I had a crush on him. I wrote about many of these situations in my book, Anything Matches If You Wear It with Confidence, so if you’ve read it, you know that they were all pretty ridiculous. I mean, I hid in a science classroom to avoid saying hi to a guy in the hallway, I couldn’t make eye contact with my crush in detention, I basically ran away when a guy told me that we should talk about “the big elephant in the room” when he found out that I had feelings for him, and the list goes on for longer than I would like to admit.

What I’ve learned, though, is that it’s often much better to be do the things that you’re afraid to do. It’s OK to be afraid, but it’s also OK to be brave in the face of your fears. There are a number of things to be afraid of out there, but there are also a number of times to be brave in those moments when you face them.

We’re all going through our own things, whether there’s a pandemic going on or not. We all have different timelines and responses and reactions and emotions and processes and strengths and weaknesses and personalities and dynamics and so many other things about us that make us who we are. We don’t know everyone’s mind and heart, so it’s probably a good idea that we should have a little grace with each other. It’s the right thing; it’s the brave thing.

When in doubt about what to do or say, just love people—it’s the only answer that makes sense anymore.

It’s only halftime of 2020

When Barbara Walters was played on repeat saying “this is 2020” when the clock struck midnight to the new year, I’m not sure that anyone actually knew that this is what 2020 would be.

Needless to say, it’s been a weird year so far.

When our school got out for spring break, I didn’t think it would be the last time I would see my students for the year. I realize that’s an obvious statement and true for pretty much ever teacher everywhere. But still.

At the beginning of the break, COVID-19 had started to make more headlines in the U.S., and I began to wonder if my trip to D.C. was going to be canceled. Two other teachers and I were supposed to take 13 or so students there for a competition, and it suddenly didn’t sound like the greatest idea. I didn’t know much about the coronavirus yet, but I didn’t think going to a popular place for a large gathering was wise, based on what little I knew.

But on the morning of Wednesday, March 11—the same day the NBA decided to suspend its season—we found ourselves on a plane bound for D.C.

FaceTime became the new way to see my fam.

There was a strange feeling in the air as we were walking through the city to get to our hotel and then go to some museums. I can’t explain it well, but everything just felt different. Not too long after we landed, though, the organization hosting the contest notified us that the decision was made to cancel the whole thing. I would have preferred that decision had been made a few days prior, but there was nothing we could do about it at that point, other than figure out when and how we were going to get home.

The next day, we were back on a plane, almost exactly 24 hours after we had arrived. As you already know, life got really weird after that. The word “unprecedented” has been used a countless amount of times in the news, and “normal” isn’t even a thing anymore. There immediately seemed to be quite the mix of feelings and emotions from everyone—confusion, fear, anxiety, skepticism, frustration, anger, sorrow, loneliness, disappointment, distrust, hope. I could keep going, but it’s a really long list.

There are quite a few unknowns about the pandemic, and I think it would be pretty tough to be a leader or scientist or medical professional during all of this. It’s turned life upside down in many ways, and it seems that none of us actually knows what’s going on.

On top of that, a lot of the injustices and racism in our nation have been exposed more lately, and people are standing up for the rights they deserve. It’s heartbreaking that there’s still so much hatred and racism in a country that’s supposed to have freedom for everyone and that people are so often treated differently—and even die, in some cases—because of the color of their skin.

It’s not a time to ignore reality or pretend that things are better than they actually are. It’s not a time to overlook truth and put on blinders. It’s not a time to sit back in silence and watch as Black men and women continue to be treated unfairly and subjected to racist thoughts, words, and actions. It’s not a time for our history to continue to be our present.

It’s time for change.

I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media lately talking about how awful this year has been thus far. It’s hard to argue with them. It’s been pretty bad. But I love sports, so I’m going to look at what we’ve gone through up until now as a bad first half. What we need now is a comeback and a kick-a$* second half. It’s going to take much more than an inspirational locker room halftime speech, though.

We’re going to need more love and more heart than we’ve ever seen.

Let’s not write 2020 off just yet and start wishing for 2021 to get here sooner. When the Dallas Mavs won the NBA championship in 2011, they overcame multiple second-half deficits throughout their playoff run. Jason Terry said “if there’s time on that clock, there’s still time for us.”

There’s still time on that 2020 clock, people—there’s still time for us.

And even though I hate bringing this up because I really don’t like the New England Patriots, let’s not forget Super Bowl LI. The Patriots were down 28-3 in the second half and then scored 25 unanswered points against the Atlanta Falcons to send the game into overtime before winning the whole thing. Annoying. But respectable.

It’s our turn to be those pesky comeback kids.

There were a lot more teachers and administrators in this pic, but we were all socially distanced.

I don’t think it will be easy by any means. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s certainly going to require a great deal of dedication and persistence. There are some things that we cannot control, but we can control the ways we react and respond to the situations we face. And then there are things we absolutely can control, including the ways we treat people and the ways we love people and the ways we show support and respect for one another. It’s honestly not that difficult to be kind. I promise.

We’re almost halfway through 2020, so let’s go ahead and start that comeback now. The second half likely won’t be perfect, but not much ever is. We can at least try, though. We can fight for justice. We can fight for love. We can stand up for human rights. We can wear masks in public to protect ourselves and those around us. We can learn more about history and truth that weren’t necessarily taught to us. We can change our minds and hearts. We can believe. We can hope. We can trust.

There’s still time on that 2020 clock, people—there’s still time for us.

A Letter of Concern

Dear Donald (not sure if you go by Don),

I don’t know you personally, and even though I don’t agree with much of what you say and do, I’m not making an effort to judge you in any way. This letter has nothing to do with political stances of any sort, either. But you’re the nation’s leader right now, so I simply have some things that I would like to say, and I doubt that we will have a sit-down conversation anytime soon.

I understand that you’re in a rather difficult position in our current state. The world—particularly the United States—is quite a mess right now, and it seems like situations keep getting worse. I can’t imagine how tough it is to be a leader at the moment, but I’m guessing that you and many other individuals at their respective helms are experiencing significant amounts of stress and anxiety.

However, I don’t believe that a global pandemic is our biggest problem.

I’m a high school teacher, and I teach students of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, family histories, and whatever other diversity classifications you want to list. I love each and every single one of them with my whole heart. I’m not saying that because I have to—I don’t have to. I’m saying it because it’s true.

Sometimes my kids act up in class or play on their phones while I’m trying to teach or watch YouTube videos when they’re supposed to be completing their assignments or do a number of other things that they’re not supposed to be doing. Sometimes they say things that don’t make me smile. But on those days and in those moments, I remind myself that I don’t know every single thing those students are going through. Even though I get to know them as best I can, and they learn to trust and confide in me, they don’t always tell me every single struggle they face. As a leader for them, though, it’s important for me to respond with grace and love.

Because each and every single student in that room matters.

America is much bigger than my classroom, and there are certainly many more people in it. Regardless of differences and similarities, every single person in this world matters.

There’s a sign I made that I glued to the wall of my classroom that says something I remind my students of as often as possible: You are valued. You are loved. And you matter. While I want them to learn the material I teach them for the actual class, if they walk away knowing nothing else, I want them to know those truths that are declared on that sign.

And I want them to believe that about all people and treat others in the same way.

There’s a lot of hate in this world, and it leads to corruption and lies and murder and mistreatment of people and injustices and too many other horrible things to name. I don’t understand it. It seems like it takes a lot more effort to be hateful than it does to love people.

I can’t think of a single person who needs hate—but I can think of about 7-something billion people who need love. We’re all dealing with our own junk, and we all need love. Leading with love doesn’t make a person weak. If anything, it makes him or her brave.

Every school day, the pledge of allegiance is recited over our intercom. I know that you are already familiar with this pledge, but I’d like to stress the last part of it: “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

“Indivisible” means not able to be separated. Are we truly living as a united nation with no divisibility? It doesn’t feel like we are. Is there actually “liberty and justice for all”? I think we have plenty of evidence that there is not. Why are we having our students recite something that we can’t even live out as a nation?

It’s time for people to stop hating other people. What good does it do to cause people pain and anger and to harm and kill others who have families and loved ones who are left to grieve? People matter. Our actions matter. The ways we treat one another matter. The decisions you make and the words you say as a leader of this nation matter. Isn’t it time to start encouraging others to love one another and to model that for them?

The last thing I want to remind you of, Don, is what I remind my students of as often as possible: You are valued. You are loved. And you matter.

Because we want to be pursued

There’s something about being pursued that sets our hearts on fire.

And not being pursued seems to wash away that flame far too quickly.

My sweet niece Olivia loves to be chased. When we go play at the park, she’ll suddenly say “come and get me, Nat” before taking off running as fast as she can. She’ll constantly look back to make sure that I’m following her, and then she’ll reach a point where she simply stops running, starts giggling, and waits for me to come pick her up and say “I got you!”

At 3 years old, she’s proving what most of us want in life: to be pursued.

I’m a huge proponent of women’s equality, and I don’t believe in traditional dating standards in which men must always be the ones to ask women out and court them. I think that it’s a two-way street: Women should be expressing their interests in the men they fancy, and men should be doing the same for the women who catch their eyes. After all, women aren’t the only ones who want to feel like they’re wanted. If you don’t believe me, check out Bumble, the dating app in which girls have to make the first moves. There are plenty of men on that app who want to feel wanted.

There are a multitude of ways to pursue people, and it doesn’t occur exclusively in romantic relationships. The way we interact with our friends and family members are forms of pursuit—how often are we calling and texting to check in and see how they’re doing, and how often are we spending time with them to grow those relationships and show the people in our lives that we care?

Abused by nothing but the concrete

You can also pursue strangers, even if you may never see them again. It’s OK to show people that they are valued, regardless of whether or not you know them. A couple of weeks ago, I had a horrible fall while I was running, and the left side of my face took a beating from the concrete. I had a black eye, and my cheekbone was super bloody and swollen the first day and still puffy and bruised up for most of the week. It still isn’t fully healed, but it definitely looks better now. When I was out in public the day after it happened, though, I could feel people awkwardly staring but trying not to stare, and I knew why: I looked like I was in an abusive relationship.

While that’s not the case, there was a part of me that wanted someone to check on me just to make sure that I was OK—that I wasn’t letting someone take advantage of me. (As a side note, if anyone ever tried to lay a hand on me, I would kick his a$*.) Sure, that would be a pretty uncomfortable conversation to have with someone you don’t know, but you could go about it in a less intrusive way and simply ask how the person is doing or say something heartfelt rather than staring and then looking away and then staring again but avoiding eye contact at all costs.

Sometimes it’s better to do something awkward than to do nothing at all.

From Redhawks to Eagles. My friendship with sweet Kimbo is forever.

The thing about being pursued is that it makes you feel cared for—truly cared for—by someone in your life. I think that many of our friendships that don’t last end up fading away not because of anything that happens but because of what doesn’t happen.

We stop pursuing each other.

I think back to a number of high school and college friendships that fizzled out that way. That’s a part of life, and there’s nothing wrong with not keeping in touch with every single individual who has ever been a friend or someone significant to you at some point. But the reason is generally because you and that other person stop making an effort to call, text, or get together.

FOREVER FRIENDS at a Dashboard Confessional concert ON A SCHOOL NIGHT

Then there are the relationships that you want to preserve or grow, and it hurts much more when you feel like you’re the only one pursuing the other. When I was living in California, even though I tried to make sure that all of my Texas friendships were maintained, that didn’t happen, and it hurt my heart. Even after moving back, those relationships aren’t what they used to be, and I try not to think about it too often, because it’s become clear that there isn’t necessarily a reciprocated desire with each individual to keep those friendships alive.

And, of course, there are the relationships that you want to become much more than friendships, and it wrings and wrecks your heart when they don’t. I feel like I’ve spent most of my life chasing guys who don’t want to chase me back. It’s like playing a one-sided game of tag, but you’re never the one running with that contagiously joyous but anxious feeling coursing through your veins. Instead, it’s a feeling of hope deferred that causes you to believe things about yourself and about your life that aren’t true. I’m done with those feelings, though. My value isn’t found there.

I encourage you to pursue your people. We don’t know how much time we have on this earth, and I know that I’d rather continue to check in with people than to wake up one day and not even have the option of doing so with someone who truly mattered to me. Whether it’s our friends, family members, or strangers, we don’t always know what’s going on with the people in our lives, and they might be battling things we can’t even imagine. A simple call or text—even the smallest act of pursuit—could be a spark that brightens a person’s week or helps someone make it through one more day.

What else do you need at a bachelorette party?

Life may not be a giant game of tag, but many of us are like Olivia, looking back over our shoulders to see if we’re being pursued in the ways we hope. Sometimes I get so caught up in all of the people I’m not seeing that I overlook the only One I need to see.

But Jesus never stops pursuing me.

No matter how bleak things look or how alone you feel, know that He will never leave you and will never give up on you. He’s the ultimate pursuer. If some of your friendships fade, or the guy who stole your heart isn’t running after you to give you his, or the people at the grocery store don’t ask you about your face, it’s OK. He still cares more than we could ever imagine—and that makes you pretty darn special.

After all, it’s more than kind of a big deal to be pursued by the King.

When your heart needs a holiday from the holidays

The holiday season is filled with plenty of busyness, gifting, joyful music, and emotions.

And those emotions can often feel like more than our hearts can handle.

When you’re single and ask strangers at a park to take a picture of you for your Christmas card

I’ve been single for exactly every holiday that has ever existed, so I know a thing or two about getting through the month of December without a Clark to my Ellen. There’s just something about the Christmas season that helps to remind a single gal that she’s single—maybe it’s the endless songs mentioning mistletoe or the carriage rides with couples and families cuddled up under blankets together or the matching family pajamas on GIANT display at Target or the endless commercials with people in love giving each other Lexuses with big bows on them or the Hallmark movies with perfect endings or the chill in the air that feels colder when you’re alone or the—I could keep going, but I don’t want to.

I know that I’m not the only person who breathes who is single right now, so this isn’t a pity party, but I’ve come up with a short list of ways to get past the holiday blues that might creep up on you when you’re trying to be all holly and jolly and whatnot.

Take that carriage ride on your own, and enjoy every second of it — I actually had full intentions of doing this one year, but when I found out the price of how much it costs, that plan was shot. So, if you’re a cheapo like I am, you can do what I did and, instead, just drive super slowly in your own car with the windows down so that you can get a similar feel. Plus, you can blast your heat at the same time so that you’re really not that cold. And cruising in your car by yourself is super unromantic, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out like you would if you were in a carriage ride alone. (But the solo carriage ride thing is still cool, too.)

Watch Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York Unlike the Hallmark movies, there’s exactly zero romance involved in these classics. Plus, not only are they hilarious, but they are also about a young boy who kicks a$* on his own, so maybe they’ll provide you a little inspiration and encouragement at the same time.

Buy a Bath & Body Works Wallflower to make your home smell like Christmas cookies You can also buy a candle, but I find that the Wallflowers are easier and last longer. Plus, they’re cheaper. Either way, the intoxicating scent is pretty much guaranteed to bring you a little extra peace.

Watch a Dallas Cowboys game — You’ll be so upset with how they play that you’ll forget all about being single during the holidays.

Remind yourself that being single means that you have one less gift to purchase — Hey, you might as well focus on a financial advantage of this situation.

Take a few minutes to watch this video in its entirety — You’re welcome.

Do all of the things you love to do, and spend time with your people — This is the most important one. You don’t have to be part of a pair to be part of a family. It might be tougher than you prefer, but you don’t have to let your lack of something take away from your joy of what you already have.

My sister always reminds me that I’m welcome. Always and forever. Forever and always.

The holiday season can be a heart-wrenching time for some people for a variety of reasons, regardless of their relationship statuses. Hug your people a little extra—you don’t always know what’s going on in their hearts, and they may need those hugs more than you’ll ever know.

If you’re feeling more single than ever this year, know that YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS. You may not feel loved and adored by anyone trying to meet you under the mistletoe, but you are loved and adored by the One who is the reason we celebrate the Christmas holiday in the first place.

And that’s sure as heck a reason to be joyous in a potentially tough time of the year.

Because love is permanent

Some things claim to be permanent but actually aren’t—yes, even those trusted Sharpies can fail us.

But leave it to a Disney character to remind us of the one thing that will never falter.

A little more than a week ago, the radiator in my car decided to die, and there was a moment I thought I might actually die when smoke started coming out of the front of my car, and I was certain it was about to explode with me in it. The one good thing that came out of this was that I got to drive a BMW SUV for a while for the price of an economy car rental. I definitely like when things work out like that. I’m not really a fancy person, but you give me heated seats and all of these ridiculous and superfluous features (but especially the heated seats), and I’m hooked. I offered my RAV4 to the rental place to trade straight up, but no deal.

Sure, take our chairs.

Later that evening, my friend Cali and I went to dinner and then decided to drive out to a fun bar/restaurant about 20 or 30 minutes away. I mean, we got to ride in heated seats the whole time and cruise in a car that neither of us can afford (#teachersalary), so why not? We sat down at a table for four, and it wasn’t long before a woman came our way and asked if she could take one of our extra chairs. A short time later, a man came over and asked the same thing for the other extra chair. We hadn’t been there that long—how did they know we didn’t have people coming to join us?

When you’re single, whether they intend to do so or not, people have a way of reminding you that you aren’t actually saving a chair for anyone.

Like probably many people, I love the holiday season. The smells are wonderful, and there’s this unseen but completely felt transition that takes place in society—people are generally more thankful, more giving, more thoughtful, and more available than during other times in the year. Maybe that’s why there’s that song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Go figure.

At the same time, though, it can also be a rather difficult time for some individuals. In a way, it’s a constant reminder for people who are single or alone. I love Target with my whole heart, but the GIANT DISPLAY of family matching pajamas is kind of a slap in the face when you have no one to match with you.

Two hip 30-somethings who love Disney movies

My sister and I went to see Frozen 2 the other night (highly recommend), and once again, that Olaf charmed his way even deeper into my heart. He has such a remarkably beautiful outlook on life. I won’t give away too much of the movie, but the sweet little snowman says something that has a way of ingraining itself in your mind and heart because it’s so genuine and so true: “Hey, Anna—I just thought of one thing that’s permanent: love.”

Olaf gets it.

The pumpkin spice latte and peppermint mochas will fade as the seasons change. The decorations will be taken down. The snow will melt (except for Olaf, obviously). The generosity, sadly, might become less generous. The family togetherness might lessen. The radio stations will go back to playing their standard tunes. The airlines will see a slight decline in mass travel for a while. The overall magical feeling that the holiday season brings will dwindle. So many more things will fade, but love will not.

Because love is permanent.

Angels

I know that I’ve never actually been in a relationship, but I do know what love is and what love does. I also know that it’s not reserved solely for romance. It’s not meant for one day or one month or one season or one year or one whatever—it’s forever and always.

When I look at my family, the truth of permanent love makes much more sense to me. We’re imperfect people who have been through quite a bit together, but we’ve never once thought about giving up on each other. When you truly love people, you don’t turn your back on them. You fight their fights with them, you let them cry their tears to you, you celebrate their victories with them, and you help them up and remind them of who they are when they feel like they simply can’t keep going. That’s what love does.

Because love is permanent.

I don’t need to get down about Target not making holiday PJs specifically for singles or about people taking chairs from my table when they make their own assumptions. I’ve got my people. Sure, I may hope for a permanent love with my own Ryan Reynolds-esque guy, but I’m going to let myself sit in the joy of knowing that a quirky little snowman has reminded me of something that I need to not only continue to remind myself every day but also continue to remind those around me by the way I live.

Apparently I needed more momentum.

The goals we attain won’t last forever. Our looks and talents will fade. The struggles we face will eventually end. Money and awards and trophies won’t carry over into eternity. And so many other things we feel and endure and earn are fleeting. But love? That stuff’s permanent.

Just ask the snowman who is made of nothing but love and survives all of the elements.

When you go for it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go for it, girl.

I heart Lake Michigan.

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

It was time for my movie moment.

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

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

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

Go for it.

Trying to be a good role model for these angels

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

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

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

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 life resembles a carefree dance

There’s a song that tells us that “life’s a dance you learn as you go,” and I’ve always known that it’s full of truth.

Yet I’m just now letting it all sink in—you know, more than 20 years later.

Cue “I’ll Be There for You”

Two of my precious forever friends and I went to a park Saturday morning to catch up and also to take a picture on the Friends couch. When we arrived, we saw a handful of people dancing on the stage used for local performances and, as we later discovered, apparently Saturday morning yoga, as well.

I was immediately intrigued.

I started walking faster, excited for the possibility of dancing with some new friends (they weren’t aware of these upcoming friendships just yet), but I was slightly disappointed when I found out that it was an exclusive group. I spoke with a man who wasn’t dancing but looked like he was part of the in-crowd, and he told me that it was a professional dance group that travels around the country to teach dance to kids. The dancers were there this particular morning to shoot a promo video, and it wasn’t exactly open to the public (e.g., a feisty redhead who loves people and loves to dance).

I asked him if we could all dance together when they were finished recording, but he didn’t seem as enthusiastic about that idea as I had hoped. When the group had a small break a couple of minutes later, though, I asked all of the dancers if we could dance together just for a bit, and before I knew it, we were going at it free style.

And that’s the only way I know how to dance—with no rules or structure or expectations of any kind.

That moment of dancing with complete strangers who all have their own unique stories while my sweet friends watched and cheered me on was exactly what I needed that morning. I’ve had more on my plate lately than I likely should, and I’ve felt bogged down. I’ve also been dealing with some things in my heart that have been rather heavy on my emotions, as well. You know, life stuff. It’s tough sometimes. But being able to let go of everything for a few carefree moments felt like that moment when you’re swimming and have been holding your breath too long underwater and finally make it to the surface and breathe in fresh air that’s full of more life than you can explain.

I don’t do organized dancing well. I’m not a fan of knowing what move I’m going to do next or trying to think too hard about what steps I’m supposed to take. It’s too stressful, and it’s not me. I’d rather just go with my own flow and surprise myself. (However, not everyone supports that, and I once was kicked off of a dance floor at a very strict line dancing place in California because I wasn’t doing the line dance going on at the time.)

So why can’t more areas of my life be like my dancing—absolutely no idea what’s coming next but with no worries about not knowing?

We’re trying not to be too shocked by the dinosaurs around every corner in Jurassic World.

Life is always going to throw unexpected things at us, and it’s OK not to know what’s on the next page of your story. I used to read the last page of a book first so that I knew how it ended. I hated surprises. But in the past few years, my life has been filled with more transitions than I ever thought possible, and I’ve come to (almost) love the element of surprise that each new day holds. Sure, sometimes it’s truly frightening, but it’s mostly intriguing and beautiful.

Are there some mysteries in my life right now for which I wish I could go and read the last pages to make sure that everything turns out OK? Absolutely. But I’m not supposed to know that yet.

I’m not Marty McFly, and I don’t roam around with a genius named Doc who has a DeLorean that can take me to the past or the future, so there’s really no way for me to know what’s going to happen next. And I’m finally OK with that. I don’t read the last page of a book first anymore, because it’s going to end the same way whether I know what’s going to happen or not. It’s more important to focus on the story that leads up to that ending—after all, it’s all of the stuff in between that helps make the story what it is.

Our stories are uniquely ours, and we don’t always need to know what’s going to happen next year or next month or next week or tomorrow or even within the next couple of minutes. It’s OK to live in the unknown and dance without any structure whatsoever, even if it means you get kicked off of a dance floor every now and then.

Because your story will often end up better than you ever could have planned it, anyway.

Because it’s OK if your plan fails

I consider myself a pretty intelligent gal, but there are certainly times when I don’t necessarily use my intellect to its full capacity.

Cue my everyday life the past few weeks.

I recently bought one of those wallflower things from Bath & Body Works—you plug it into the wall, and then you add this little bottle of scented goodness to the contraption, and it makes places smell fantastic. I probably described that slightly poorly, but it’s 2019, so here are links to the wallflower and to my most recent scent of choice.

When I was in Florida this summer, I tried to plan the perfect cannonball just like I tried to plan a perfectly scented apartment. Neither worked out.

I was rather excited for my plan of making my apartment smell like a pumpkin cupcake on the reg, so I plugged it in as soon as I got home and went about my hectic life. When I got home from work the next day, I couldn’t help but notice that it wasn’t as pungent as I’d hoped, and I looked and noticed that the bottle was completely empty.

Huh? That’s odd. Was there a strange odor in my place that sucked up all of the good-smelling stuff?

Obviously that’s a silly assumption, and my apartment doesn’t smell bad, so it didn’t make sense. Plus, I don’t even know if that’s how science works. It’s not my thing. But I just left it as it was and told myself that I’d buy another refill bottle the following weekend when I actually had a few minutes to go back to Bath & Body Works.

When I returned home from hanging out with my nieces the following Sunday with my beloved fragrance in tow, I repeated the same steps from the previous week of plugging it in. I got to work on a few things on my computer while watching football and then got up to get something from my kitchen. As I did, I glanced at the wallflower and saw that the bottle was empty again.

What in tarnation?!

And then it hit me: The bottle was upside down. The directions had specifically warned against that. Insert the palm-to-face emoji girl. That was me in that moment.

I was slightly frustrated at the fact that I had wasted two perfectly good bottles that would have filled my entire apartment with a scent that would tease you into thinking you were actually about to eat pumpkin cupcakes simply because I hadn’t followed instructions properly.

Isn’t this something I try to instill in my students on a daily basis?

I think one of the reasons I made the mistake—not once but twice—was because I wasn’t truly paying attention. I was too busy focusing on all of the other things I needed to do and also thought that I knew exactly what I was doing in setting up the wallflower. It’s honestly not an extravagant scientific process. You seriously just plug the thing into the wall and screw the small bottle full of heavenly aroma in there.

I also wasn’t paying much attention this past Sunday when I was at my parents’ house. I still get a lot of mail sent to their house (it’s all junk, so thankfully the mailers haven’t found out where I really live), and my dad won’t throw it away for me because he says it’s against the law. I gave you permission, man. But that doesn’t fly with him, so I had a huge stack of stuff to trash. I went through it, ripping all of it up and putting it in a trash bag that my mom had brought over by where I was sitting. (Yes, there was enough of it to warrant its own trash bag.) The Cowboys game was on, though, so I was paying much more attention to the television than what I was actually doing.

I love how entertained my mom is by this.

After I was finished going through the pile of what ended up being all trash, my dad took it out with the rest of the garbage and set it outside near their alley for pickup. When it was time for me to go over to my brother’s house for my weekly hangout time with my besties (my angel nieces), I couldn’t find my phone. I remembered that I had brought it in their house with me, so I knew that it wasn’t in my car. It wasn’t in my purse. It wasn’t in the chair where I had been sitting watching the game. My mom jokingly asked if I had accidentally thrown it away with all of the mail.

Crap.

She didn’t think I was serious when I said I probably did, so she called my phone. We heard nothing. I searched around again, and she called it again. Still nothing. We laughed together as we walked to their driveway about to go dig through trash, and I made a comment about how I’ve had to dive into a dumpster once, so this wasn’t new to me. She’s also had to go into a dumpster before to retrieve something, so she said it must run in the family.

That’s something to be proud of, people.

When we got out there and started lifting up the multiple trash bags, she called my phone again. Sure enough, I heard Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” blaring through the stench of plastic and garbage that had been sitting in the Texas heat—much less soothing than a pumpkin cupcake. My dad had put the trash bag with all of the mail in it inside of another trash bag with food and whatnot, and that bag was beneath a bag of everything that was in their cat’s litter box.

This is my life, friends.

Just a typical Sunday of digging through trash trying to find my phone

We finally got to the bag that had my phone in it, and I dug it out. I know people are going to ask me this, so the answer is yes, I did wash my hands. It’s like when people asked me if I showered after jumping into the dumpster. I know I don’t wash my hair very often, but I’m not a complete savage. And, once again, just like with the wallflower situation, when it came to getting rid of all of that mail, I was in such a rush and thought I knew exactly what I was doing and what the best plan was when I should have been paying more attention and remaining in the moment.

Oh. Hey, life.

There are many times when I think my plan is the best plan, and I end up being wrong. Those situations make it necessary for me to reference one of my favorite Key and Peele lines: “Whereas I was not incorrect, they did not mean what I thought they meant.” I was just talking with a friend the other day about how it’s always funny to look back at what we thought would be best for us at certain times in our lives, only later to realize that it truly was much better to leave every plan in God’s hands and let Him take care of the way everything works out.

I’m 34 years old and more single than Steve Urkel. That definitely wasn’t part of my plan years ago. I mean, I should have been in love and loved back for years at this point. But I also wouldn’t be the person I am today if that had happened. For some reason or another, I’ve been meant to be single for this long. Sure, I hope to have my lobster come into my life soon, but I also have to trust that, if that’s even meant to happen, it will happen when it’s supposed to and not simply when I think it should.

After all, I don’t want other areas of my life to end up like an upside down pumpkin cupcake wallflower that doesn’t serve the purpose that it should of making the world a much more pleasant place or a phone ringing the iconic “Love Story” from the bottom of a nasty trash bag.