When going to a concert by yourself is normal

I love seeing other people passionately pursue their hopes and dreams.

Especially when they’re doing so in the name of love.

Santa Barbara is gorgeous, especially when standing on the wharf.

Last week, I drove up to Santa Barbara to go to the Kelsea Ballerini concert by myself. My friend was originally supposed to go with me, but life happens, and she wasn’t able to. I’ve gone to concerts by myself, so it wasn’t that big of a deal—and at least I knew beforehand that I was going solo (I’ve been stood up at two different concerts)—but I still might have had a small pity party for myself. I mean, it was slightly depressing to see most people there with their friends or boyfriends or moms or dads or even grandparents (I sat next to Joyce, who was there with her husband and their two granddaughters).

The concert was at a pretty small venue, and my seat was a lot closer than I thought. Right after the opening act, the security guys were talking in a little huddle, and then a woman and her daughter, who was in a wheelchair, were relocated to the aisle right next to me because they couldn’t see a thing from where their seats were. The mom, Sarah, had made a sign for her daughter, Shelby, to hold saying that it was Shelby’s first concert and that she loves Kelsea. Sarah kept raising the sign during each song, hoping and hoping more strongly that Kelsea would see it.

At one point, KB was about to sing a somewhat slower song and was talking to the crowd a bit, even acknowledging some of the signs. Sarah was jumping up and down, and those of us around her were trying to get the singer’s attention, too. We were off to the side, so she didn’t see us. But then one of the security guys saw what was going on and let Sarah wheel Shelby to the front row. She took it even a step further and wheeled her all the way to right in front of Kelsea and started talking to her. Kelsea ignored the music behind her and listened intently to Sarah as Shelby met her hero.

When they came back to their spot, Shelby was over-the-moon excited! Sarah had mentioned to me before that her daughter often gets overlooked, but Sarah did everything she could that night to make sure that wasn’t the case. After the next song, Kelsea Ballerini gave sweet Shelby the jacket she wore for that number and then said over the microphone that she wanted them to stay after the show so that she could talk to them more. Shelby was clearly having the best night of her life, and Sarah was in tears. Many people around us were crying, as well. She is a mom who fights for her daughter and does everything she can to make her feel loved and valued.

It was absolutely one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

I love seeing love in action. I loved seeing Sarah love her daughter big enough to get an award-winning performer’s attention in the middle of her concert. I loved seeing Kelsea Ballerini love big enough to stop in the middle of her show and make a 13-year-old girl’s hopes come true. I love being reminded of how big God loves me by taking away my feelings of being alone by letting me witness such big love in such an unexpected place.

I needed a pre-concert pic on the wharf, of course.

That’s the thing about big love—it’s real, and it’s powerful. It wouldn’t stand you up at a concert. It wouldn’t commit to going with you to one of your best friend’s wedding and then bail on you. It wouldn’t commit to going with you to your sister’s wedding and then bail on you. It doesn’t make you feel inadequate. Big, real love fights for you and lets you know that you’re enough.

Because, friend, you are enough.

I know that I may not have had things work out as I wished they would when it comes to the guys I’ve had feelings for, but I also know that I have a God who is on my side and who fights for me. Did I recently have a guy basically say “hard pass” when he found out I don’t drink? Sure. Is my heart still not completely mended from the guy who shattered it a while back after making me believe he really cared for me? Absolutely. And did the guy who gave me my first kiss years ago eventually make me cry? You bet he did.

But none of those things means there’s something wrong with me.

The nonprofit organization my friend Ashley and I are working on is meant to spark boldness in young women to walk with confidence, and I need to model that every day, too—especially when it comes to how I view myself in terms of being able to be loved.

I hope that you fight for love. I hope that you see big love in action. I hope that you let yourself love in big ways.

And I hope that you always remember that you are worth fighting for and worthy of big love.

Because sometimes you reel in a bat ray for a fisherman

Some days are filled with unexpected surprises.

Like catching a bat ray and then setting it free.

My friend Ashley and I had been planning a day road trip for a few weeks because she and her husband are moving to Nebraska this weekend (I DO NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT), and we needed an adventure. We had originally planned to go to a castle tour and some of the areas nearby it, but when I woke up Saturday morning, a four-hour drive (or longer) didn’t seem like the best idea. For some reason, while I was running, I thought that Santa Barbara sounded so much better.

I hope you find a friend like Ashley. She’s a true gem. Also, please notice that freaking awesome glistening wave.

When she picked me up that morning, I ran my idea by her, and she seemed relieved. It turns out that she had also been thinking that we should nix the castle thing. It was SO gorgeous outside, so we agreed that making the shorter trek up to Santa Barbara was the way to go.

If you’ve never been to Santa Barbara, you should consider changing that. It’s truly beautiful and has so many quaint areas. As soon as we got there, we got food (because priorities), and then we hopped on the trolley with the friendly driver Jim to take us down to the wharf. I had never been on a wharf, but it was fascinating. We took some pics (duh) and then walked to the end and sat to relax and stare out at the water. After a few minutes, we heard a commotion behind us, so we walked over to see what all of the fuss was.

One of the guys fishing had apparently gotten a hold of something big, but whatever it was wasn’t going down without a fight. Some people speculated that it was a thresher shark, and the fisherman began walking along the edge of the pier to follow the huge creature’s path. I followed him with my phone because I had started taking videos of the whole scene—you never know when something really exciting might happen—and the rather large crowd that had formed started following, as well. The fisherman finally saw that it was a bat ray, handed the pole to his friend, and went to get a net or something. The friend then turned to me, and the following conversation ensued.

Enthusiastic guy: “You wanna fight it?”
Me (thinking he was joking around): “Absolutely, I do.”
EG: “You really want to fight it?”
Me (realizing I had never “fought” marine wildlife and thinking maybe “fight” didn’t mean an actual fight): “Are you serious?”
EG: “Yeah! Come on, little woman!”
Me: “Little woman? Give me that pole.”

I wish I had an actual picture of the bat ray, but I don’t.

The next few moments of my life were ridiculous and awesome all at once. I had told homeboy that my name is Natalie and that he needed to stop calling me names that are synonyms for “small.” He then kept yelling “Come on, Natalie! Yeah, Nat! Woohoohoo!” I kept reeling and reeling, and finally I got that thing above the water. Fisherman Perry rushed over with a huge net and got the ray inside of it when I reeled it high enough. It took a couple of minutes, but everyone in the crowd watched as he took the hook out of the bat ray and untangled the little fella from the net before tossing him back in the water. He and his pal then gave me public recognition in front of all of those gathered in the area, and I’m sure I bowed or flexed my muscles or something.

And I can now say that I’ve received applause from strangers on a wharf for my brute strength.

When you make that trip to Santa Barbara, please climb this tree.

Saturday turned out to be a day I never expected, but it was just what I needed. I honestly had no idea what I was doing reeling in that bat ray. I don’t fish often (or ever), and I was pretty sure that, with my luck, I was going to somehow fall off of that dock because there weren’t any bars or barriers to stop a person from going overboard—and, let’s be honest, my track record doesn’t exactly exude balance and poise.

The whole experience was different, and it was exciting.

Life doesn’t always go the way we think or plan it will. If it did, I’d be watching the Winter Olympics every night with the man I love instead of by myself with a bag of candy. I love the quote “when something goes wrong in your life, just yell ‘PLOT TWIST,” and move on” (the Internet tells me Molly Weis said this one, so we’ll believe it) because it reminds me to adapt to the unexpected things that come my way instead of being afraid of them. So, if someone hands you a fishing pole and tells you to reel in some large creature you’ve never heard of, don’t be afraid to give it a try.

And you might find that you’re capable of more than you thought you were.