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.

When you unashamedly live your best life

When you’re little, you think most heroes need capes and have special superpowers that give them abilities to save the world and whatnot or are people who have left significant marks in history.

At some point, though, you realize that heroes are actually often everyday people who don’t necessarily achieve monumental feats.

I’ve worked at my new job for a little more than two months now, and I truly love it. The work is incredibly interesting and challenges me in a good way, and my coworkers have already become like family to me, whether they like it or not.

Here’s a rock in that “garden.” Also, meet my new pink jellies. Hello, 80s.

I also really love the building where we work, particularly this sculpture garden right outside. I’m not really interested in artsy stuff, and there aren’t really many sculptures (they’re just rocks and triangle things), and it’s not an actual garden (it’s mainly concrete with a little man-made stream thing and some cacti), but it’s a cool area. I think it’s kind of famous, too, because there are often professional photo shoots (I saw some models there last week) and music videos going on below us as we work, and it seems to be a popular tourist attraction. I sometimes use my lunch breaks to sit on the cozy chairs and read because it’s a busy but peaceful area.

And it’s apparently also a great place to work on your tan.

I first saw Reesa (or maybe it’s Risa) a few weeks ago, and I immediately respected her. She was wearing a tank top and some black denim shorts—not exactly the attire of everyone else who works in the surrounding buildings—and she looked like she knew exactly what she was doing as she strode toward the cozy chairs from our neighboring building with big headphones on and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude written on her face.

I watched in fascination as she pulled one of the chairs out from under one of the umbrella-shaded areas directly into the middle of the sunshine. She sat down and stretched out, kicked off her shoes, closed her eyes, and blocked out everything and everyone around her. She was tanning in the middle of the day at work, and she didn’t give a rat’s a$* about what anyone thought about her.

I loved her.

I continued to see her do the same thing on a daily basis, sometimes even tanning in her dress (hiking it up a bit, of course), moving her tank sleeves completely off her shoulders, or eating peanut butter straight from the jar. She was living her best life, and other people’s opinion’s of her (and, trust me, there are plenty—people in both buildings watch her, seem shocked, and talk about her later) mean absolutely nothing.

One day last week, I decided that I needed to talk to her. I wanted her to know how much I admire her. I consider myself someone who does what she wants and doesn’t place much value on what people think of her, but this was an entirely new level—and I’m inspired.

I walked downstairs with my coworker who was going to get a soda from the cafe next door, and I veered off to go talk to this woman who seemed like she wanted to talk to zero people. She had her eyes closed and headphones on, was in her standard tank/shorts ensemble, and was clearly in “do not disturb” mode.

So, naturally, I tapped her on the arm.

I introduced myself and essentially told her that she is my hero, and we had a really nice conversation. I learned a lot about my new friend, and she had been having a bad day and was glad to have someone say something positive to her. I also learned that she never used to take lunch breaks—like, ever—and so her husband told her that she should spend some time out in the sun every day that she could during the summer, and she was taking him up on that.

Pick any song of hers to listen to, and your ears and heart will thank you.

We really don’t know anything about one another until we actually make efforts to get to know each other. I left that conversation feeling uplifted. Reesa gets it. We don’t have to try to impress other people, and sometimes we simply need to do what’s best for us, even if that means being judged by others. Honestly, who really cares what they think?

Years ago, Colbie Caillat came out with “Try” a song that is raw and honest and reminds us that we don’t have to see ourselves how we think others see us. It’s not about other people liking us—it’s about us liking ourselves for who we are. I remember playing this for some of my high school girls when I was a teacher, and I wish every human in the world would listen to this song and let the lyrics resound in their hearts. (P.S. I was able to meet Colbie on Saturday night when I was out with some friends, and she is just as beautiful in person and even more so on the inside.)

I hope that Reesa continues to get her sunshine every day, and I hope that she continues to care zero amount about what people think of her. I also hope that more people will live life like she does—boldly and with complete confidence in who she is and what she’s doing.

We should really try less to impress others and try more to love them.

I’ve accepted that I will never be an Olympian

I’ve been pretty consumed with the Olympics for the past couple of weeks.

And now I’m not sure what to do with myself for the next four years.

I love watching the Olympics—and I do mean love. I typically enjoy watching any and all sports, but there’s something about these competitions that happen only once every four years that draws me in more than most other things. Maybe part of the reason is the specialness that it does happen less often, but I think the main aspect that truly appeals to me is the passion.

Because I’m a huge fan of the occasional dramatic flair.

It’s Michael Phelps looking like a Greek god after a redemption gold medal race. It’s the Final Five dominating every other country (What the heck happened to the days of Romanian glory?!). It’s Allyson Felix proving she’s a boss. It’s the women’s 4x100m relay running all by themselves in front of an entire stadium to say, “Oh hey. We do belong in the finals. Thanks.” It’s Galen Rupp capturing the bronze in only his second marathon ever, losing to a Kenyan and an Ethiopian (go figure). It’s this—the spirit of what all of this is really about in the grander picture. It’s Kerri Walsh Jennings still being proud after winning bronze in her first loss at the Olympics as she became the most decorated beach volleyball player in Olympics history. It’s Katie Ledecky saying, “Hey, world. I’m just here to win everything,” yet not actually saying those words and doing it so humbly. It’s Usain Bolt turning to smile and laugh at his buddy during the 200m semifinals—and still winning (oh, and then going on to win everything by a lot). It’s Mo Farah falling in the 10K only to get back up and take the gold as if the mishap never occurred. It’s the excitement in pretty much every swimming and running event.

Basically, it’s almost every single Olympics moment (well, minus the whole Ryan Lochte mess).

I always wish I could be there in those moments and experience them, too. However, as I sat and watched the Ukrainian rhythmic gymnasts kick major a$* on a performance to Madonna’s “Vogue” (solid choice, ladies), it hit me very clearly: I will never be an Olympian.

And somehow I think I’m OK with that.

GG equestrian
Sometimes you medal at the Global Games in the two-person equestrian.

We had our office “Global Games” last week, and I realized there are many things in life in which I could never go pro—pool noodle javelin and cup stacking are two of those things. It’s a harsh reality to face, but it occurred to me that we have the opportunity to be sort of like Olympic athletes every single day. The training looks a little different, and there surely isn’t as much fanfare, but the passion and purpose are still there.

We frequently have chances to strive more toward our goals—whatever they may be—and push others to do the same, as well. There’s something that’s vastly different than the actual games, though. Rather than trying to defeat others along the way, we need to love them. People don’t need insults. People don’t need accolades (even if they are welcomed most of the time). People don’t need to have failures rubbed in their faces. People don’t need teasing. People don’t need us to add to their pain. People don’t even need medals.

But people do need love.

I know there are things in life that are important to us: success, happiness, work, the feeling of winning, proving others wrong, status, where we are, what crowds we’re part of and so many other pieces of our lives that we highly value.

But people trump them all.

You won’t be rated by international judges, you won’t place above or below others, you won’t have to out-kick people to prove yourself, and you won’t be disqualified if you screw up (thanks, grace). You do, however, get the choice of whether or not you want to have teammates help you along the way or go solo the entire time.

And that whole gold, silver and bronze medal thing will look different, but that’s OK—what you win will last longer and be more important than medals that just sit there all day and can’t even carry on conversations with you. For a number of reasons, people and love are so much better than medals.

And knowing that is practically the same as standing on any Olympic podium.

There’s a reason we aren’t dinosaurs

I don’t think I ever could have been a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Those guys didn’t seem to have many friends.

I really like people. We’re all so different and unique, and I enjoy getting to know different things about different individuals that help make them exactly who they are. And I like when people know me—really know me—and care about the quirks that make me who I am.

The more we get to know people and genuinely appreciate them for who they are, the more we’re able to be able to be there for them when they really need us. Whenever I’m feeling down, my sister can pretty much always manage to make me feel better—and sometimes it’s simply by sending me a funny cat picture or the foofy dog picture because she knows those things will make me laugh and help cheer me up, even if it’s only for a brief moment.

I think it’s not only important for us to get to know people but to let people get to know us, as well. When we keep everything so guarded, life is a lot less fun. I did this for a period in college, and it was pretty miserable. I quickly discovered that it’s much better to let the right people in your life, because they’ll be the ones to prove to you how much every moment we experience truly matters.

Cue last Friday. Last week was a bit (and way more than a bit) stressful at work. Our entire department was looking forward to the three-day weekend, and I’m pretty sure we were also beyond happy for the jeans day we had on Friday. They’re pretty rare at our company, and somehow they simply make things better.

Friday was also my one-year anniversary, which seemed so weird to me. It’s strange to think that I’ve already been there an entire year and been out of the classroom for this long now. I don’t ever question or regret my decision to leave teaching, but I sometimes wonder if I’m still making as much of an impact in my new career as I did for my students. It’s not that I think the work I do now is not meaningful, but sometimes it’s more difficult to see. Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of really smart people at my company, and I’m still learning about the industry—even an entire year later—which is often frustrating.

I had joked with some of the guys in another department that I expected cookies for my one-year anniversary, yet there weren’t any. There were quite a few other people who had anniversaries on the same day, and let’s just say that one year of work doesn’t quite compare to the time they’ve all been in their roles. I knew it was silly, but I also look for any reason to celebrate anything with cookies.

And then my people surprised me.

unicorn magnet

My friend Amanda asked me to come open something for her—I’m the resident bottle/bag/whatever opener because of my obvious brute strength—and so I untied the grocery bag that was knotted up. Then she told me to look in it. (I don’t why, but I had an immediate paranoia moment that something amphibian hopper-related was going to be in there, even though I don’t think she would ever do that to me.) When I took out what was in the bag, I was reminded of how great people are and how much true relationships matter in life. There were cookies, which means there were smiles. She had also made a magnet that says, “You’re freaking magical! Happy 1 year!” There is a unicorn on it, and she had a lot of my favorite people sign it.

It’s the most beautiful magnet in the world.

It made my day go from “meh” to “yay,” and it made that long and stressful week just a little dot compared to what really matters: people. Every single person has a story and is different in his or her own way. We all have certain things that cheer us up when we’re down, get us excited, make us frustrated, make us laugh, make us cry, make our hearts beat uncontrollably, scare the crap out of us, and do a number of other things to our lives and emotions.

And people should know this stuff about us.

There’s an episode of The Office in which Jim and Pam are playing a prank on Dwight when he is trying to beat the computer system in sales. But he suddenly becomes defeated in another aspect of his life when Angela—the woman he loves—tells Pam she wants to be set up with another man. So Pam, who has been sending him messages as the computer, IMs him to say that Dwight beat the computer and ends with, “You are the superior being.” It was exactly what Dwight needed to give him a little boost, and Pam knew that because Pam knew Dwight.

Life isn’t meant to be spent alone and in secret. While we don’t necessarily have to be open books with every single person we encounter, it’s important to find those people who will love and appreciate us for who we are—the ones who know us and are known by us.

Maybe that’s why we don’t have T-rex arms—that poor sap couldn’t even hug other dinosaurs.

Redefining the American Dream

Life has a way of slapping our faces sometimes when we need it most.

Especially when we need to be reminded to love people.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of being entertained by the conversation of some teenagers I overheard while I was on the sidelines of a soccer game. One girl talked about not going to school and, instead, pursuing her acting career and learning about production by way of experience in the real world. A few minutes later, she was talking about her most recent breakup and joking about how she had completely lost her personality when she was with the guy who had broken her heart. Do not let that happen, ladies. (Or fellas.) I really wanted to step in and say something at that point, but I bit my tongue and let them chat.

But one of the other girls said something that got me thinking. She mentioned some of her hopes for her future and said she didn’t want to chase the typical American Dream. (Bless her. I don’t think she really knows what the American Dream is, because she followed by talking about things that sounded a bit in line with the American Dream.) Whenever I think of the American Dream, I think of The Great Gatsby—I first heard the term when one of my high school English teachers was introducing the book to us before we began reading it. The concept conjures up images of success and elegance and achieving the desires one has chased for years. The Library of Congress has a handful of notions of what the American Dream means to people.

I know that people want the opportunity to find prosperity, but why does that have to be the central focus of an entire nation? Why must there be so much emphasis on what we can’t take with us when we leave here?

When I was in middle school (probably the worst stage of life EVER), I likely would have sought the Gatsby American Dream. I cared a lot about Tommy Hilfiger and Doc Martens back then, and I’m pretty sure I was still aspiring to be a famous actress when I grew up. (I’ll keep you updated on how that pans out.) Somewhere along the way, though, my view on life changed, and I honestly don’t place much value on the achievements we’re so free to pursue. I mean, I want to do the things I do well, and I’ll admit that being successful at something feels good, but I wish that weren’t the main focus so much of the time.

I wish the American Dream were something different.

Pursue people over things.

I wish the American Dream focused more on peoplenot people gaining more things but on people giving more love. I realize how Pollyanna cheesy this sounds, but it’s my dream, so I can do what I want. I know I’m not the best example, as I sure don’t always show love to people like I should, but I don’t think it would be a bad idea to make the American Dream simply be this: Love people. Maybe it would help us treat each other better if we were constantly seeking that outcome. It’s certainly not always easy, but I think it would help diminish a lot of the stress and self-esteem issues we feel that are related to our jobs and social statuses.

On the anniversary of 9/11, ESPN airs the story of the “Man in the Red Bandana,” which is a story of Welles Crowther, an equities trader who became a hero during the September 11 attacks. He sacrificed his own life in order to ensure the safety of others that day. He didn’t care about status or possessions or what his future may holdhe cared about people that day. He showed genuine love to people that day. I think Welles Crowther chased the real American Dream.

I hope one day we can redefine the American Dream so that it is others-focused rather than self-focused. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it doesn’t matter what your title is; it doesn’t matter how big your home is; it doesn’t matter how often or where you travel; it doesn’t matter what brands you wear; it doesn’t matter how many Facebook friends or Instagram followers you have.

What matters is how much you love.

And it’s an American Dream you can make come true as soon as you make the decision to do so.

The greatest adventure

Life can be so full of busy schedules and specific agendas that we often forget things that should trump what’s in our daily planners.

Like people.

I love adventures, but I am not the world’s biggest traveler. In fact, I’ve never actually left the country. I don’t even own a passport. But, to me, life has never really been about the places I’ve traveled but more about the experiences I’ve had.

And it’s the people who makes those experiences happen.

I had a conversation with a very wise individual last week, and he said something that really stuck with me: “The greatest adventure in life is people.” Preach, brother. In our day-to-day happenings, we encounter so many different people. Some are good friends, some are acquaintances, some we don’t even know. Some we will never even try to get to know—but everyone is worth getting to know.

I love love. I’ve declared it before, and I will continue to do so. But my view of what love truly is—what love does—has changed so much over the years. I realize that it’s not just the fairy tale stuff I learned about when I was younger. It’s not just two people getting butterflies in their stomachs or kissing passionately in the pouring rain. It’s so much more. I don’t think I can accurately box love up in some definition using a bunch of different words. It’s too special for that. But, it’s something you can see in people. You can see it in the way they live and the way they treat people—the way they love people.

It’s not easy to like everyone. There are some people whom you might not get along with or whose company you simply don’t enjoy. But you can still love them. Love involves sacrifice for the sake of others. Last time I checked, Jesus died for people who weren’t exactly his besties—but He loved them, anyway. That’s just how love works: it’s blind to caring about only oneself but instead cares for others.

The time for love is always

Genuinely cares.

Every single person on this earth deserves love. Who are we to take that away from each other? I know I want to be loved for me and never feel like I have to try to be or act a certain way to win others over. And I’m never going to do that. No one should. We were all uniquely made as the people we are for a reason. I’m overly punctual, hate numbers in increments of five, can’t hear a Taylor Swift song without singing (and maybe dancing), definitely don’t wash my hair every day, have to write things down so they don’t get overlooked in my chaotic schedule, bring my own Wheat Thins to restaurants and twitch when I see bad grammar. Not everyone is like me, and not everyone should be like me.

But our differences should never be a barrier for love—rather, they should be an invitation for love.

The way we treat people matters, because they matter. All of them. I don’t expect everyone to join hands and form a circle around the entire planet while singing some joyous song in perfect harmony. It would be beautiful, though, to see love prevail over the hatred we continue to witness in society. It doesn’t help anyone who is a target of hate, and it certainly doesn’t help those individuals who are not choosing love. I know we won’t all be flippin’ our fins in glee like Ariel did when she was overflowing with love for Prince Eric, but it’s a better image than Ursula growing to the size of a gargantuan and making the entire sea and sky become darkened with evil.

But I think we know how that movie ended. Love can conquer more than we can ever imagine. Jesus proved that long ago and continues to prove it every single day. Paul once reminded the Corinthians of a truth I think we all need to be reminded of. Maybe it will help us treat people better and even live our lives a bit differently if we remember it more often: love never fails.

The greatest adventure in life is people. We need to get to know people. We need to love people.

It’s an adventure that will bring you more than any sightseeing and tourist attractions ever could.