When faith trumps fear

I got a tattoo the other day, this one in my handwriting, that says a mantra that I try to live by in every aspect of my life.

“Be brave.”

I’m not going to lie—when I first moved out to California, I was certain that it was a one-year thing and that I would move back to Dallas as soon as my lease was up. I longed for the familiarity of Texas and all of my people, and I thought where I was in California was merely going to be a brief stint in my life that I could simply chalk up as “one of those adventures I just had to have.”

And God probably smiled down at me knowingly, thinking that it wouldn’t be too long before I realized that, once again, His plan was different—and better.

I’ve grown to love where I am and love the community I’ve become a part of there. I’ve gotten involved in quite a bit, and it’s definitely helped me to get to know people and build relationships. Besides, you can’t really beat being able to go to the ocean pretty much whenever you want. I honestly think this place has helped to heal my soul and the broken heart that seemed like it would never end.

Just look at her. I CAN’T EVEN.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things I miss about the world I left last fall. My second precious niece was recently born, and I was thrilled to take a trip back to Texas to meet sweet Evelyn (“Evie”) and spend some time with my family. Before I go any further, let me rave about HOW FREAKING ADORABLE SHE IS! This isn’t a biased opinion by any means. She is seriously tied for cutest human alive (with my other niece, Olivia, of course).

As soon as I landed, I went over to my brother’s and sister-in-law’s house (they had just gotten home from the hospital), and they let me spend time over there every single day I was in town. I usually FaceTime with my brother and Olivia once a week, but it was so nice actually to be with them and read with Olivia and play games and practice saying words and give her snuggles and go to the park and do all of the things that aunts can do. I was also so grateful to be able to hold little Evie and talk to her as if she actually knows everything I’m saying.

There’s something about being an aunt that brings joy to a person’s heart. I remember when Olivia was a baby, I used to go over there once a week to hang out with her, and I would talk to her about everything going on in my life. It was during a time when that aforementioned heartache was just beginning, and she helped me through so much pain. She listened, she sympathized (at least I’m going to say that’s what it was), she cried for me (we’ll also say that’s why she was crying and not because of colic), she let me cry, and she was just there for me. She’s my little best friend, and I was so scared that moving so many miles away would change that.

Even though being back in my old middle school is always weird, I’d go anywhere with this gem.

I was also afraid that being so far away from my sister (my adult best friend) would challenge our relationship, but it hasn’t. I stayed with her and her husband while I was in town, and that walking heart of a woman let me borrow her car for the entire time I was there, no questions about it. I was able to spend so much time with her going to dinner, watching Mulan and She’s All That and The Office while relaxing on her sofa, cheering on her soccer team that she coaches (she’s the best middle school girls coach around), and watching the play version of Legally Blonde performed by a bunch of eighth-grade students. My sister is the best.

The truth is, though, that distance doesn’t have to ruin a relationship—at all. And even though it hurts to be so far from certain people, I know that I’m right where I need to be.

I love seeing Olivia interact with my brother, and I’m sure Evie will be the same. Olivia lights up whenever she sees him, says “daddy” or “dada” as often as possible, clings to him at times, and trusts him more than anything. And he loves her more than life itself. That man would move mountains for that little girl, and his love is genuine and obvious. I was sitting and watching them together the other day, and I couldn’t help but wonder why I don’t always have that childlike faith and trust in God, the Father whose love is so much greater than any human’s could ever be. Instead, I tend to think that my own ways and plans are better and would suit my life perfectly.

And I’m usually wrong.

Homies 4 lyfe

More so lately, it’s become truly apparent just how much I needed to be exactly where I am in California at this exact time. Whether it’s because I need certain surroundings or people in my life or they need me, it’s all part of a plan that I couldn’t have put together more perfectly if I had plotted it for years. He had this in store for me and knew all along what’s best, and I honestly wish that I had been more trusting. It’s something I’m working on currently.

My life might not look anything like I thought it would years ago, but that’s because it’s not supposed to. Sure, I’m still the most single person you’ll ever meet, but that’s because God has something or someone else in store for me, and I simply have to trust Him as much as Olivia trusts my brother. I have to believe that He wants the best for me because He loves me more than life itself. He would move mountains for me, and His love is genuine and obvious—even when I don’t always act like I know that’s true.

Right now, I post pictures with my friends, my nieces, my sister, my other family members, sometimes even strangers, and I often post pictures by myself. There will hopefully be a day that I become minorly annoying by posting pictures with the man I’ve been praying for all along. Until then, I’m going to let my faith and my heart grow in ways I’ve never imagined, trusting like I’ve never trusted.

And, for me, maybe that’s part of what being brave is all about.

We all have our own marathons

Life can spin you around like you’re on a tire swing until you finally get so dizzy and fall off.

But then you still have to stand back up and walk away.

Unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with kidney stone issues for quite some time now. It’s pretty annoying. Last Thursday, I found myself in the ER because one of those renegade stones left my kidney, and it was a pain I really couldn’t bear. I’m not good at describing pain, so I’ll use the comparison a doctor once gave me when I asked him why it hurts so badly: It’s like one of those stickers you find in the grass (apparently also called grass burrs) going down a super thin tube that it’s too big for and clawing and stretching it as it goes.

Basically, it makes you want to die.

Even though I had signed up to race the Cowtown half marathon, I had known for a while that I wouldn’t be able to run it. My sister was signed up for the full, so I told her I would run the last part of it with her, because those are tough miles to endure—both mentally and physically—and it’s nice to have someone run them with you. But after Thursday, I wasn’t even completely sure I was going to be able to. To be honest, though, I’d do anything for my sister, so maybe I was actually running with her regardless.

I was rather drained on Friday and groggy from the meds and whatnot, so I spent pretty much the entire day on my sofa. After all, my boss had banned me from coming to work by sending me a text that said, “You are not allowed at the office.” (I’m actually thankful he did, though, because I was pretty useless all day.) I didn’t do much on Saturday other than go to church with my friend Bonnie and babysit my sweet niece. I felt I had rested enough and would be fine by Sunday.

I’m standing next to greatness. (She’s still wondering why they make you walk so far to get a finisher’s shirt.)

It’s a different feeling being on the other side of cheering at a race, but I really enjoyed being able to go to different locations with my brother-in-law to cheer on my sister. I could seriously talk for days about how proud I am of her—being able to see her accomplish something she’s been working toward for months made me happier than any race I could have run that day. The marathon is no joke, though, and I knew those last miles were going to be a battle.

When I joined her somewhere between miles 20 and 21, she had the look on her face that a lot of people who decide to run marathons get—the one that says “WHY THE HELL DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!” She told me she was going to die. It’s kind of challenging to motivate someone at the end of a marathon. On the one hand, you want to help her achieve her goal, but on the other hand, she probably wants to kill you for saying the things you’re saying to her when you haven’t been running for multiple hours already.

What I realized while running with my sister Sunday was that I needed her during those miles just as much as she needed me—because she reminded me what it means to fight when you aren’t sure you want to fight anymore.

Life is kind of like a marathon in a lot of ways. Or maybe it’s a lot of different marathons. Either way, it can be a true struggle at times, and there are moments when you want to give up on situations or on people when you really need to keep fighting. You need to keep believing. You need to keep hoping. You need to keep running. (And, yes, I did once tell her to “just keep swimming” like Dory.) Part of me wanted to cry when she told me, “I listened to everything you said. I pushed hard up the hills,” and then when I got to see her battle the last few hills of the race.

She was hurting so much, but she wasn’t about to give up—because she knew it was worth every single bit of pain, every single tear, every single curse word, every single mile, every single bead of sweat, and every single moment of exhaustion.

My sister is two years younger than I am, but I look up to her in so many ways. She’s taught me so much about life and how to trust and how to love, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have her by my side for the 30 years she’s been alive. Even when I think I’m supposed to be helping her, she’s actually helping me more than she’ll ever know.

At one point in the race, she said to me, “Nat, I’m falling apart.” I told her that she wasn’t, but I know exactly how she felt. Whether it’s a marathon or kidney stones or relationship stuff or work or financial troubles or family matters or a multitude of other things, it can be easy to start to feel like you’re falling apart in so many ways. It can also be easy to throw in the towel in those moments.

But those are the times you have to find the fight within and believe you can survive—I personally like to sing Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” or my homegirl Mariah Carey’s “Through the Rain.”

When my sister crossed the finish line, I couldn’t help but throw my arms around her. She did it. She trained for months, she fought through the pain, and she crossed that line with the kind of grit that I hope I can have in all areas of my life. You should have seen the look on her face and the way she immediately started fighting even harder when we saw and heard my mom right before the finish line. And then she saw my dad and her husband and dug even more deeply.

Because genuine love really helps people during their toughest moments.

Everyone needs a Steffie Robyn

The other day when I was sitting outside, I saw a slug on the ground, and my first thought was, “Man, I would never want to be you.”

And I meant it—I may not know much about the bug kingdom, but I do know I’ve never seen a pack of slugs traveling together.

Looking at that slug made me really thankful for the people I have in my life and the fact that I don’t have to sliver through this journey alone. I know I talk about my sister a lot, but you would, too, if she were your sister. Trust me.

Life certainly isn’t always easy, and there are moments when I all I want to do is beat the crap out of a piñata. I mean, you get to take out your frustrations on something, and then you get candy afterward. It’s a good situation. But sometimes there aren’t piñatas anywhere around, and there’s no candy, either.

My buddy forever

Last Friday was a day I thought I needed candy and a piñata, but it turns out there was something I needed more than anything: my sister. It had been a tough week, and Friday was the capitulation of my strength. I had to go to my parents’ house after work to pick something up, and my sister was over there. She could tell I needed her without me even saying a thing, and we sat in my old room while she scratched my back and listened to me. She was simply there for me when I needed her most. And even though my problems didn’t vanish, I felt better knowing she’s always willing to trudge through the messes with me and be right there with me when I’m an absolute mess myself.

I remember one time when we were young and home alone on somewhat of a dreary day. We heard a strange creepy noise coming from one of the closets in our house, but neither of us actually wanted to open the closet door. So we did what any logical girl would do: We grabbed golf clubs and went and sat on our front porch. This was the obvious solution for two reasons: 1. If you’re ever in danger inside your home, it makes perfect sense to go wait on the front porch. 2. The best weapon of defense against anyone or anything making a noise in your closet is a golf club. But honestly, after a while, I wasn’t even the least bit scared of what was possibly in the closet. I felt better knowing my sister was right there with me, armed with a driver, ready to face anything right alongside me.

When my sister was born, I was so excited for little Steffie Robyn, as I called her. Since she came into my life almost 30 years ago, there have been so many adventures—and all of them have been worth every second. There’s been laughter. There have been tears. There’s been joy. There’s been anger. There have been pleasant times. There have been fights. There’s been patience. There’s been frustration. There have been so many things—but there’s always been love, and there’s always been trust.

I can’t think of what life would have been like without her here with me, nor do I even want to imagine a world like that. She makes everywhere a better place to be. When you’re sad, she’ll scratch your back and make you laugh. When you need encouragement, she’ll give you the best pep talk you’ve ever received. When you’re angry, she’ll soften you up so quickly and make you forget why you were even mad in the first place. When there’s tension between people, she’ll create peace. She sees the beauty in people that others often overlook, and she brings it to light. She reminds people that they are loved and that they matter.

I know not everyone has siblings, and I know not everyone who has siblings gets along with them. But I hope that you have your own Steffie Robyn—that person who is always there for you, no matter what, and will continue to be there for you, even when you’re at your worst or going through the roughest of the rough patches. We need those people.

After all, we’re not slugs.

Forever and always

On this day 29 years ago, I gained a best friend I should have treated better during our younger days.

Because she is the greatest thing that ever happened to the 90s.

My sister’s first car was one of the coolest rides I wasn’t able to drive (because I will likely never be able to master the art of driving a standard). It was a black Jeep Wrangler that we affectionately called the BK (Big Killa). I loved when we went places together in that car. Riding in the BK made a person feel like a Hollywood star (or maybe it just made us feel that way—whatever).

I will never forget one afternoon, my sister and I were cruising around our town with the top down and the sun beating down on us. We were belting our hearts out—most likely to the stellar Michelle Branch—when out of nowhere, it started pouring. I’m not talking an exaggeration of a little downfall. I’m talking POURING. The sun was still out, and the top was still down. Needless to say, we were soaked. As a girl who is pretty shallow about her hair, this would normally not be an ideal situation for me. But, to be honest, in this instance I really didn’t care much—because of my sister. She was laughing, and I started laughing. It only rained for a couple of minutes, and then we were just two girls who were sopping wet and driving around town singing. And so sopping.

My sister is one of those people who makes the rain more enjoyable.

forever and always collage

The Runt is 29 today. If you had asked me 29 years ago just how much that little girl would have impacted my life, my 2-year-old self would simply have no idea. I never would have admitted this when we were little kids, but she has always been my best friend. Even when we fought like crazy at times, I never could stay mad at her. She just makes you feel better simply by being around her.

Back in February, I had been thinking about something for a while, so I texted my sister to see if she had ever thought about getting a tattoo. The next thing I knew, the following Sunday we were on our way to a tattoo place and getting inked. I got the word “forever,” and she got “always,” both in Greek. I don’t care how cheesy it sounds, but we’re sisters forever and always, always and forever. Plus, it was one more special thing we did together, and it’s kind of permanent, so it was a pretty solid sisterly bonding activity.

There have been tattoos; there have been arguments; there has been laughter; there has been crying; there has been silliness; there have been deep discussions; there has been sitting on the front porch with golf clubs when we were home alone and thought we heard something in the closet; there have been pep talks; and there’s still so much more to come.

I think back to that Jeep story a lot and smile every single time. There have been quite a few rain storms in my life, and my sister has been there for every single one. She was the one who left work in the middle of the day (it’s harder to do than you might think when you’re a teacher) and rushed to the hospital to be with me when I had kidney stones earlier this year. She’s always the one to tell me guys are stupid (or other mean adjectives) when they don’t like me. She was the one to run in with me and cross the finish line with me at my second marathon when I was in an obvious amount of pain. She is the one I call when I am on the verge of tears and need my sister to tell me it’s OK to cry.

I know you might not have a sister. You might not have a brother. You might not be close with your siblings. But I hope that you have someone in your life who makes the rain storms better. I don’t believe we were meant to be hermits and go through life alone. We have people around us for a reason. Hold on to the gems—the ones who know you and truly care about you.

They are the ones who are forever and always.