Because hope gives you strength

I’ve learned a significant amount about hope in recent years and have realized something that doesn’t make me feel guilty when I don’t pump iron as often as I should.

Hope makes us stronger.

Green (I call some people by last names or nicknames only) and Val are two of my sweet friends who have been with me through a lot over the years. I knew Green was going to be one of my besties when she offered me a ride home from a work event during my first few weeks at the company where we worked together for a couple of years and let me ask her a million personal questions about her life that she probably wasn’t expecting to talk about on such a short trip with someone she barely knew. But she’s always been one of those people who gets me and never makes me feel like I’m doing life all wrong.

I met Val through Green the day after a really tough moment in my life, and it wasn’t long before the three of us were the proud owners of Rangers season tickets with each other. Nothing brings people together quite like the dedication to fandom of your favorite sports teams.

But it wasn’t just a baseball season that we experienced together—it’s been multiple seasons of life. They both walked with me through a broken heart that I thought would never end and that put me in a bad place. I don’t like to think about how much it affected my mood and what I thought of myself, and I really don’t like the way it affected the type of friend and sister I was. While I can’t change the past, I can certainly change the way I respond to pain and rejection.

The Lord’s taught me a lot about who He is and who I am in Him since then.

He also taught me more than I could have imagined about hope. There’s hope in darkness and in those times when we have fallen and aren’t sure if we’ll ever be able to rise again. It’s that hope that fuels a fire within us and causes us to be brave when we want to give in to our fears. That causes us to believe when no one else believes. That causes us to keep moving forward when our minds try to tell us that it’s not possible. That causes us to stand and fight when hiding is the easier option.

We aren’t good at selfies, so this seemed like a better idea.

Green is getting married in the next year, and the three of us got the VAN, as we call ourselves (for Val, Amanda, and Natalie, obviously) back together some some old fashioned bridesmaids-dress-shopping fun. Val and I tried on maybe seven or eight dresses, all of which had completely different fits and looks on both of us. At one point, I looked in the mirror and then around me at all of the women trying on bridal gowns and prom dresses, and I was reminded about how different we all are—and I don’t mean in appearances alone.

We all go through completely different ups and downs and take journeys and paths that aren’t the same as those of others. We often face moments when we’re in such rough places that we aren’t even sure if things will ever get better. It seems as if the storms won’t ever end. Hope seems so distant that you aren’t sure if you’ll ever let it in your life again.

Dear friend, please turn on Mariah’s “I Can Make It through the Rain,” and please believe each lyric she belts.

Take Tiger Woods. The guy’s been through quite a bit since he entered the spotlight and captured America’s heart so many years ago. He had a very public and disappointing fall from grace, and he’s had persistent injuries with his back and knee since then. I can imagine that there were times when he felt hopeless and when he could have given up. But he didn’t. And then that final put on the 18th hole of the Master’s happened on Sunday, and he won his fifth prized green jacket. It was a beautiful moment as he hugged his son and then mom and the daughter as the crowd chanted “Tiger.”

It was living proof that hope is full of power—it gives you faith, it gives you strength, and it gives you the belief that those crazy things that maybe only you think are possible really aren’t so crazy at all.

You do you, girl.

Your past is behind you, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next year or next month or next week or even in the next hour. The best thing you can do is to live as boldly and as completely as you can in the very moment you’ve been given right here and right now. It might not be where you want to be, but it also doesn’t mean that you’re going to be there forever. There’s tremendous beauty in hope, and the more you cling to it, the more you will realize just how strong you can be—because He equips us in spite of our failures and weaknesses.

I’ve never won a major on the PGA Tour (although I was a two-time golf city champion back in the day, and it’s not important to point out that I won both years by default because I was the only girl), but I know what it feels like to finally have a big breakthrough after spending far too much time in the Land of Sorrows and Broken Hearts, where it feels like you’re the sole resident. I know what it’s like to have to spend time away from something you love so much so that you can heal and grow and learn and foster hope. I know what it’s like to cry more tears than you knew the eyes could handle, not knowing if you’ll ever be able to stop. And I know what it’s like to train myself on patience, taking small steps each day toward the bigger goal you’re chasing.

You don’t have to have it all together. None of us actually does. You’re likely going to face setbacks at different times, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure or won’t ever see your dreams come true—it simply means that your story has some unexpected chapters to make it more interesting and to build your character. As one of my favorite sports media professionals Sam Ponder said, “Here’s to another season of learning that the imperfection and messiness of life [are] where joy and gratefulness grow.” Amen, sister.

So let the hope surface, and let it grow, my friend—and you, too, will one day be able to fist pump for being brave enough to believe in what once seemed impossible.

Because choosing love is worth the risk

There are supposedly five love languages (in case you’re wondering, or even if you’re not, mine is quality time), but there’s one that’s missing from the list.

Sports—sports are my true love language.

On more than one occasion, I’ve sat in the exact same spot for nearly 12 straight hours (minus some bathroom breaks here and there) watching college football. I’ve painted my entire body blue (also on more than one occasion) to show my fandom and win a spirit contest at Dallas Mavericks games. And now that I can watch basically any sport on my phone in any location, my life has changed significantly.

There are so many exciting moments in all sports, especially in college football. If you watched the West Virginia-Texas game a couple of weekends ago, you know exactly what I’m talking about. West Virginia was down 41-34 with the clock ticking down at the end of the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers scored and then had a choice—kick the extra point to send the game into overtime or go for the two-point conversion and win the whole thing right then and there. The commentators mentioned that the West Virginia coach is a bit of a risk taker in those types of situations and thought he’d go for it. Sure enough, they were right—Coach Holgorsen called for the two-point play.

A man after my own heart.

Those West Virginia players walked away with that 42-41 win because they had trusted their coach and his plan. He knew their abilities, and he knew that he had prepared them for that moment. I love seeing moments like that as they’re happening (unless it’s against my team, of course). They’re reminders that life is full of opportunities that we can either seize or let pass us by far too quickly.

I honestly have more moments of kicking the extra point instead of going for the two points than I’d like to admit. I can think back to exact instances when I wish I would have said something that I didn’t or do something differently than I did. It serves me absolutely no value to dwell on those missed chances, but they do motivate me to take more risks in my present.

The sign speaks for itself.

I think one of the greatest risks of all is loving people. Whether it’s giving your heart away to the one who makes it beat out of control or giving your heart to show others that they matter and that you care, there are significant risks involved. There’s the risk of that love being unrequited. There’s the risk of that love being questioned and frowned upon by society. There’s the risk of that love being given to individuals who have been labeled as undeserving.

Here’s the thing, though: No matter what the risks are, everyone needs love.

One day recently when I was at the beach, I was watching the waves come in when I noticed a man and woman and their precious daughter. The little girl was playing in the water with her dad and begging her mom to come join them. I watched as the mom barely let the water touch her toes before telling the sweet pig-tailed cutie that it was freezing. (The Pacific Ocean is very cold, especially this time of year. For some reason, kids never seem to notice things like temperatures.)

But then the little girl said “Please, will you, Mom? It will be so fun!” The woman had a sudden change of heart, went for the two-point conversion, and dashed out into the icicles—because she knew that the risk of freezing was nothing compared to the memories she was making with her daughter and husband and the joy they were all experiencing together. She chose love, and it was worth it.

Sure, not every risk you take will end the way you want it to. Sometimes you’ll go for that two-point conversion and walk away empty-handed. But sometimes you won’t. Like those West Virginia Mountaineers, maybe you simply need to trust the ultimate Coach and His plan. And maybe that means you choose love with the complete confidence that it’s worth it.

Don’t settle for the extra point when you know that you’re capable of getting two.

When beach volleyball reminds you to be brave

More and more each day, I discover just how imperfect I actually am, and it can be rather humbling (and sometimes upsetting).

Especially when sports are involved.

I played volleyball in middle school so that I didn’t have to be in the offseason class during our athletic period. I didn’t pursue it in high school because, well, it was pretty clear that I didn’t have much of a future in it.

When I was a senior in high school, though, my friends and I played in a sand volleyball tournament as part of a fundraiser event. I’m pretty sure that was the last time I played any form of volleyball, and that was 15 years ago. (Side note: I AM OLD. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN??!)

I probably just soared in the air and spiked one really hard.

I’m mentoring a college volleyball player who is taking part in an internship out here this summer, and all of the young women in the internship program and the leaders of the organization play volleyball at the beach on Sunday afternoons. Sure, beach volleyball is slightly different than the indoor game they’re used to, but they’re college athletes, so they’re very skilled and seemed to adjust pretty easily. I was one of two people there who wasn’t formerly or isn’t currently a competitive volleyball player or coach.

So that was special.

I sat and chatted with another gal while most everyone else warmed up. I was definitely impressed with what I was seeing, and I suddenly felt very inadequate. My abilities on those sandy courts didn’t quite match up with theirs—I would have felt much more comfortable if we were playing basketball or going running, instead. But we weren’t. We were there to play volleyball, so that was the reality I faced.

They play two-on-two drills the whole time in which the winners stay on the court, so it’s pretty obvious when you’re the one who messes up. I finally decided that it was time for me to jump in there. I mean, why not? It’s better to get out there and try the tough things than to sit on the sidelines and watch others enjoy life without you. No, I hadn’t warmed up, but I figured that I did that 15 years ago, so I should be good.

You know what happened? I had a really great time. I also discovered that Kerri Walsh Jennings and I don’t have much in common. That’s fine, though. Visors aren’t my thing.

This is something I’m more comfortable doing—cruising on my bike with my people.

I think that there are many intimidating situations in life when you can just ask yourself a simple question: Why not? And if the answer isn’t an actual death of or harm to you or anyone else, then it’s probably OK to go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? Embarrassment? People will forget. Decreased self-esteem? Getting out there and being brave should help with that. Banishment from all of society? Not likely. Whether you flop or fly, it won’t change who you are as a person at all.

Please remind me of this when I find another fella who strikes my fancy.

It can be downright scary sometimes to let someone know how you feel or to show even a slight amount of interest when you have zero idea of how homeboy will feel in return. But I guess it’s kind of like stepping onto the sand volleyball court when you feel like you don’t really belong there—it’s all about taking chances and letting yourself be brave when you get the opportunity. You might get rejected, and you might find yourself spending yet another weekend evening with no one but the fellas on TNT’s Inside the NBA or the fictional characters in your favorite Netflix or Hulu show, but even those realities don’t change who you are.

Don’t let fears hold you back from letting yourself enjoy some of the more exciting moments in life, whether they involve sports or opening your heart to someone. To quote the great Hilary Duff, “if you lose a moment, you might lose a lot. So, why not? Why not?”

You’re worth the risk to take a chance and see what happens.

Do you usually take chances, or are you more hesitant?

When you feel like you’re part of something

I think sports not only teach you so much about yourself but also a tremendous amount about life.

Especially when you’re part of a team.

I started playing soccer at a very young age, and while I originally joined because I wanted the Gatorade at halftime, I eventually grew to love the game itself and and everything about it. As I continued through my childhood and adolescence, I played a lot of sports, so I got used to that whole team aspect, and that’s also how I made a lot of my friends.

As an adult, I haven’t played on as many teams, especially as a runner—it’s obviously much more of an individual sport. I’ve run a handful of relays, which are always fun, but there’s something special about going through an entire season (or multiple seasons and years) with a group of individuals all working together and and supporting one another and cheering for each other and becoming more like a family.

At my last job, my company had its own bowling league, and two years in a row, I was a proud member (and team captain) of the Spare Bears. I loved that team—even when some of the members complained about the T-shirts we made the first season. We all still wore them (at least for a few weeks). Even though we weren’t that bad, the ridiculous scoring system left us in last place both years. I don’t like losing AT ALL, but you know what? We had fun, and we made a lot of really great memories as a team. We made it through those losses together, and we even gave each other high fives each week, despite whatever the screen said.

Because we were a team.

I miss the Spare Bears. I miss a lot of things about my life back in Dallas, which I expected would happen. Last week, I decided I needed to join a coed beach flag football league to fill the void of not being on a team and to be able to play a fun sport again and make some new friends. Before I had any time to think of reasons why it wasn’t a good idea, I had registered as a free agent, which meant I would be placed on any team that needed me.

This obviously isn’t our entire team, but I needed a pic, and they seemed photogenic.

My first game was Sunday, and I’m really glad I decided to join. I didn’t know a single person out there, but I immediately felt like part of the group, and it was nice to get some high fives when I almost had an interception and made a few other defensive plays to break up passes and grab flags (I’m telling you—I would be a great strong safety in the NFL). We all even hung out for a little bit after the game at a place down from the pier, and I’m also going to go to a trivia night this week that a couple of them attend weekly—I’m pretty excited about that!

I realize I’ve only played in one game, but it already feels comforting to be part of a team. There’s something really good about groups like this: They’re not only found in sports. Whether it’s our families or coworkers or communities or other solid circles of friends who become family to you, we can be part of so many different teams in life—those people who walk with you through every season and are there for you every step of the way. They cheer for you whether you’re killing it in life or getting your a$* kicked. And they help you up when you fall down, making sure you know that you’re strong enough to get up and keep going. They mourn with you after losses, and they celebrate with you after victories. It doesn’t matter if you’re at your worst or at your best—they’re still there.

I bought a sofa the other day (well, it’s really a loveseat, but I didn’t want something really big). I’ve been watching television while sitting on a blowup mattress, and that lifestyle is getting old and uncomfortable, so it was time for something else. When I told the guy who sold it to me that I thought the loveseat was a better option than the full-sized sofa for me, he said this: “Yeah, it’s the perfect size for someone who’s alone.”


Of course, he then started to backtrack and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed.” I should have told him about all of my people. No, I don’t live with anyone; no, I don’t have a boyfriend; no, I don’t have a husband or a date to anything or someone to watch the sunsets on my lifeguard tower with me; no, I don’t have a pet; and, no, I don’t have a lot of other things. To him, that might make me alone, but I don’t think that’s the way I want to look at it. Sure, it may feel that way sometimes, but all I need to do is think about my teams and the teammates who have been by side for years, and my spirits are lifted. I hope you have those people in your life, and I hope you keep finding more.

Because sharing those precious moments in life with the people you love is even sweeter than Gatorade at halftime.

The essential follow through

Sometimes we do things without really thinking, and they just become habits.

Especially in sports.

I’ve played sports my entire life, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the term “follow through.” In basketball, you have to follow through when you shoot; in baseball, you’re supposed to follow through with your swing after you make contact with the ball and when you throw the ball; in golf, you follow through with your swing, as well; in volleyball, you don’t just serve the ball and stop your arm motion once you hit it—you follow through with that serve; in tennis, you swing your racket and follow through as you hit it over the net; in soccer, you follow through with your kicks by continuing your leg motion; quarterbacks have to follow through with their throwing arms in their efforts to hit their receivers; and I’m sure there are many more examples to go along with these.

Simply put, the “follow through” in sports is essential in order for physical actions to be executed properly and to the fullest potential. I’m sure there is some science behind it, but I’m not really interested in that. (Side note: I read an article on the MIT School of Engineering website that argued the follow through is not needed in golf. I’m curious to see how this professor does on the fairways.) From everything I have been taught in life, though, I just know that following through is necessary.

Follow through on punches
Follow through on punches

And this goes beyond sports.

I can think of many times in life when people have said things to me and never followed through with those things, and I know I have done the same to others, as well. “Hey, let’s go grab a cup of coffee soon.” “We should do dinner next week.” “We definitely need to get together and catch up!” “Let me get your number so we can hang out soon.” Yet, those things don’t always happen. It’s like we just get caught up in the moment and, whether we have intentions actually to do these things or not, we make suggestions or promises that we don’t keep.

But there are hearts involved in these situations, not just sports science.

What if you ran into an old friend who said y’all should get together and then never followed through with catching up with you? What if one of your close friends made plans with you and then didn’t follow through and make time for you? What if a guy told he was going to call you and didn’t follow through with doing so? What if you went to a church and filled out the “Get to Know You” card, but no one followed through with actually reaching out to you to get to know you? How would it make you feel if you were on the receiving end of these things? Or, even further, what if you were the one not following through with examples such as these?

How are real-life relationships supposed to be successful if we are constantly not following through with things we say we will do?

If you doubt my claims on the importance of following through in sports, according to a coach who posted on an Internet forum—and it’s on the Internet, so it obviously must be complete truth—a follow through (though he spells it “thru,” the cool way) in basketball reminds players of proper shooting form, because the ball will always go in the direction in which the hand sends it. Therefore, he says it helps with shooting accuracy. Similarly, I think it can be argued that our own follow throughs can help show us if we are living as genuinely as we should be. If you have no follow through whatsoever, then your form probably could use some adjustments. I think it all boils down to something simple: Mean what you say, and say what you mean.

Again, we are all imperfect and are sure to mess up on following through with things. Truth be told, life happens and often distracts us from some of our original intentions. However, I think we could all be better about trying to live intentionally and not just say things we don’t mean. Sure, it was funny in FRIENDS when Chandler couldn’t not say, “I’ll give you a call sometime” to Rachel’s boss, though he blatantly said he wasn’t actually going to do so, but something like that really isn’t very humorous in real life—especially if you’re in the shoes of the boss.

In sports, improving the follow through takes practice, which takes time. But you make time for the things you want to make time for in life.

Even if it seems no one around you really cares much about the follow through, just know that there is Someone who follows through with everything He ever promises.

And His shot is one that hits nothing but net every single time.