Because storms can destruct your plans but not your spirit

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that you can’t always trust weather apps.

Especially when Texas storms are involved.

On Sunday afternoon, after spending some time with my sweet nieces, I met my parents at their country club to hang out at the pool. They had just finished golfing, and the 95-degree weather called for some cooling off.

I don’t know exactly how one human can be so precious, but she is.

When I left my brother’s house, though, I noticed that it wasn’t as sunny as it was when I had gotten there, and the sky looked rather ominous to the left (which I’m pretty sure was the north or northeast or something in that general direction).

Shortly after arriving at the pool, I schooled my dad in a game of P.I.G. (I love pools with basketball hoops) and then went to sit with my mom for a bit while she ate lunch. The sky kept getting darker, and my hopes to bask in the sun that day were completely shot. We were chatting for a bit and then decided that we should probably leave soon because the wind was starting to pick up rather quickly.

I put some shorts on over my suit but then decided that I wanted to take the swimsuit bottoms off because they were still pretty wet. So I covered my towel over me and was going to attempt a clandestine operation without even having to take off my shorts completely. However, that situation was quickly interrupted when the wind suddenly started blowing everything, including the couch cushions off of the outside furniture where I was sitting. Everyone started fleeing toward the covered area by the entrance, so I had to wrap my towel around me and join them.

And I hoped with each step that my towel was secured enough and wouldn’t blow up until I was able to stop and make sure that I was completely decent.

We don’t mind storms, but give us all of the animal crackers, please.

I told my parents I was going to drive home, but when I got in my car, it started swaying back and forth, so I ran back to where they were, and we all huddled behind the back of the building until we were ushered into the tennis shop. At one point, a giant table umbrella started blowing toward the cars, and I ran to stop it before it got too far. I’m only including this because I felt incredibly strong lifting that thing up and securing it in a closed-off area. You can compare me to Hercules if you’d like.

We hung out in the tennis shop for a little bit with the lifeguards and animal crackers (the shop has little dispensers of them, which I now think should be a thing everywhere) until we thought it was safe enough to leave. Right when I got to my car, the rain started pouring—I’m really glad it waited, because I had just washed my hair on Saturday, and I didn’t plan on washing it again probably until the following Saturday (judge all you want). As I was driving home, I thought about my expectations for the day versus what had actually happened and how easily and quickly my plans had been altered.

Oh. Hello, life.

It’s definitely not the first time that’s happened, and I know that it won’t be the last—it seems like there are quite a few moments when I have to call an audible and change up what I originally had planned. And, if we’re being honest, most of the time, it’s not even by choice.

When I was a little girl and then a high schooler and then a college gal and then a young woman in my 20s, I always had hopes that each next year would be the year that I would meet my person and fall in love forever. Throughout that span, there have been a few times I thought that had happened. Obviously I was wrong. Because, each time, there was always some big wind that swept in and ruined the plans I had in my heart that I thought were the right ones. They weren’t, though. Just like, for whatever reason, we weren’t meant to spend the entire afternoon at that pool on Sunday, I wasn’t meant to end up with those guys who had charmed their way into my heart.

One thing that can be so frustrating about storms is that they are incredibly powerful and daunting while they’re happening, and they cause you stress because sometimes you don’t know what exactly to do—you simply have to act in the moment and try to get to safety as soon as possible. You often have to wait them out, and they might even leave behind some damages that take significant amounts of time to repair.

I love these tiny tots, even when they’re trying to steal my watch.

The weather in Texas is odd at times. Shortly after that crazy storm that caused a construction crane to fall into an apartment complex (such a sad situation), knocked a billboard sign down onto some parked cars, and left multiple neighborhoods without power, the sun was shining. If you were simply an onlooker, if it weren’t for the tree limbs in the middle of the roads and what seemed like the majority of stoplights being out, you might never know just how bad the storm was or even that it actually happened.

Much like we don’t always know what personal storms people have faced merely by looking at them.

Our plans won’t always happen as we hoped—whether we like it or not, storms will pass through, and we’ll need to change our courses of action. Maybe you didn’t get the job. Maybe you didn’t end up with the person you wanted to love you forever. Maybe you’re facing some daunting health issues. Maybe you’re experiencing a financial hardship. Maybe you trained really hard for something and got injured before you even got to compete. Maybe you lost a championship in the final second after leading the majority of the game. Maybe you lost all of your possessions in a natural disaster. Maybe you worked your entire young adult life toward a certain career only to realize that it’s not something you truly enjoy like you imagined you would.

There are a million more maybes, all of which could spin your world out of control and leave you feeling all alone and unsure of what to do next. Feeling isolated in life’s storms can be pretty scary, especially when they appear to be never-ending. But I hope you know and believe with all of your heart that you’re never completely alone and that you’re braver than you realize you are.

Storms certainly have the power to change our plans and even possibly cause some destruction in our lives, but they don’t have the power to change who we are and how strongly we fight if we don’t let them.

When you stop asking “why me?”

As little kids, we constantly ask why many things are the way they are.

Whether we realize it or not, though, we don’t truly change that habit when we’re adults.

Last Friday was not the best day of my life. When I woke up, my right eye was bothering me and had some weird goop coming out of it. Since I moved back to Texas a month ago, I’ve been having weird allergy issues that I didn’t have before I was in California. I figured those allergies were now getting to my eyes, so I put my contacts in and went running. The right eye was leaking weird stuff most of the run, but I thought it would be best to ignore it—I didn’t have time to deal with it.

I briefly glanced in the mirror after I showered and got dressed for work, and I couldn’t decide which looked worse: my hair that I hadn’t washed in seven or eight days (I know—gross) or the eye that was still goopy and getting redder by the second. It also hurt, and if I’m being honest, I had a slight irrational fear that it was simply going to fall out. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t Google how much glass eyes cost. I started thinking of Captain Ron and all of the jokes I could make, but then the fun stopped when I got into my car.

The battery was dead. Perfect.

I stopped the first cute guy I saw in my parking garage (JK—he was actually the first person I saw, but he was for sure a good-looking fella) and asked him if he had jumper cables, but he did not. He came over to look at my car and told me what I already knew: “Yeah, it sounds like the battery.” No kidding, Sherlock. I called Triple A and then had to go get a new battery. By the time I finally made it to work SUPER LATE, I had forgotten that I still had an eye filled with puss and pain until I went into the restroom and saw myself in the mirror. One of my coworkers said it looked like I had pink eye, so then I was sent to work from home since it spreads rather easily.

Pink eye is an evil beast. Also, the picture doesn’t do it justice.

I stopped by an urgent care on the way home, and the doctor there gave me the official diagnosis and a prescription for some antibiotic drops. Here’s one of the big problems with pink eye: It’s highly contagious and shows no mercy on its victims. Because I didn’t know I had it for most of the morning, I hadn’t been careful not to touch my left eye after rubbing my right. It wasn’t long before that same nasty goop was filling up my left eye, as well. By the end of the day, I had two disgusting eyes competing for the title of most painful and obnoxious. I hate you, pink eye. And I mean that. (Also, I didn’t think this was a thing adults get. I’m 34, not 7.)

When I woke up on Saturday morning, for a brief moment, I thought I had gone completely blind. I started trying to figure out how I was going to live the rest of my life with no sight. When my dramatic reaction ended, it took me probably six minutes or so to be able to get my eyes completely open. They were so crusted and dried shut that I’m surprised that I still have any lashes left. I went to look in the mirror, and the shallow part of me almost burst into tears.

You know the scene in Hitch when Will Smith has an allergic reaction, and his whole face swells up and becomes deformed? That’s basically what I saw when I looked at my reflection. My eyes were so completely swollen that I wasn’t recognizable. I didn’t even look like a real human. Thankfully, my eyes were also too swollen and nasty for me to be able to muster up any tears, so I just stared at myself for a few seconds in disbelief until I decided that I needed to go running. I figured that would help the swelling go down.

I essentially had to quarantine myself for most of the weekend, which was slightly depressing (but, as my sister pointed out, considering my lack of rest in the last few weeks, probably a little needed). I slept quite a bit and caught up on laundry—mainly because I needed to decontaminate everything that had come in contact in some form or another with my poisonous eyes.

As I was sitting at home and admittedly moping a bit, I remember making a comment when I was talking out loud to myself about how I felt like Job from Scripture. DRAMA QUEEN MOMENT. I had to stop myself—are you freaking serious, Natalie? He had A LOT more to deal with than I did. Sure, I had pink eye and a dead battery (that was replaced) and a few other things going on that seem like they’re constant plagues in my life, but I was nowhere near as distraught as that man was.

And then I remembered my promise to myself to steer clear of the “why me?” mindset.

I have “Be brave.” tattooed on my arm because sometimes I need the reminder. It isn’t always easy.

When we face situations we don’t want to face and go through the tough things that we really don’t ever want to go through, it doesn’t do much good to sit around and ask ourselves the one question we typically want to know: “Why me?” The truth is that you may never know why what happens to you has to happen to you. Or maybe you won’t know until way later in life. But the why shouldn’t make a difference, because you’re going through it regardless, my friend.

Instead of asking why, ask yourself how—how much faith are you willing to place in a God who will never let you down? Ask yourself what—what are you going to do to be brave and fight the battle you’re facing? Ask yourself who—who do you want to be: the fearful or the fearless?

You don’t necessarily get to choose what happens to you, but you do get to choose how you respond to what you face in life. Whether it’s a dead car battery or pink eye or a much more serious illness or a broken heart or a loss or a shattered hope or an injury or a number of other things that put you in situations in which you never want to find yourself, you get to choose whether you do nothing but ask why or ask the bigger questions that you’re ultimately going to have to answer yourself.

I certainly don’t know why many things are the way they are, but I do know one thing: We were always meant to be brave.

Because worrying shouldn’t replace joy

Worrying and stress try to take the place of joy and fun, and that’s just not right.

Especially when bikes hanging off of cars are involved.

When I first moved to California, I bought a beach cruiser at Walmart. I know that it’s not good to get attached to material things, but I love that bike. It’s the perfect seafoam green color, and it just makes me incredibly happy when I ride it.

For my move back to Dallas, I packed most of my bigger items (and by “most” I mean all two big things I actually own—my bed and my love seat) and a few other possessions in one of those cube things that you load yourself before the movers pick it up to transport it to your destination for you. The day that it was picked up, something hit me while I was at work: Shast! I forgot to pack my bike in there.

I almost cried.

This bike and I have a lot of memories together.

I was trying not to stress, but moving across the country (again) brings with it some anxieties that you try really hard to avoid but sometimes fail. The fact that I forgot to pack something that definitely wasn’t going to fit in my car—I have too many clothes, and I admit it—started giving me heart palpitations. How was I supposed to get my bike to Dallas from Orange County?! I immediately consulted the Google.

I researched the costs and logistics of shipping a bike, but most of them involved taking the bike apart in some capacity. Again, this is a $99 beach cruise from Walmart—it didn’t work that way. If you take off that front wheel, you lose that bike forever. I ended up buying a bike rack for my car and told myself that the spare tire on the back of it wouldn’t be an issue.

Sometimes it’s best to ignore reality for as long as possible, right?

My friend JP helped me attach the bike rack to my car and the bike to the rack, but there was definite concern from both of us with the soundness of it all. The spare tire simply complicated things and made it look and feel not as secure as I would have preferred. But I needed and wanted to get home, and I wanted to take that bike with me, so I was going to give it a go and hope and pray that it wouldn’t suddenly become unattached and fly off and hurt someone else on the road while I was driving.

My sweet sister made that long journey home with me just like she had made it out there with me—she helped send me out on that adventure and was now helping to bring me home. She’s the actual best. And she, too, had some slight concerns about my beach cruiser and the likelihood that it would make it the full 20–21 hours back to Dallas.

When I picked her up from the airport in Orange County late on Wednesday, we immediately drove down to San Diego to stay in a hotel for the night so that we didn’t have to share an air mattress and because a hotel down there was slightly more affordable than one in the O.C. and was along the way on the route I had decided we’d take back. We didn’t get too far before I became overly paranoid and had to stop at a gas station to check the security of the bike. Steph got out of the car to help inspect it with me and to try to tighten all of the straps. We decided that it seemed as tied down as it could get, and we’d trust that it would survive.

Perhaps you can see why I was a little concerned.

It was comical with that thing on the back. The parking situation at the hotel in San Diego was laughable, and I don’t know how larger vehicles are able to stay there with the tiny aisle between the two rows of cars and the packed-together spots that look like they can only fit MINI Coopers and smaller. Steph had to get out to guide me so that I wouldn’t hit another car, especially with the bike protruding out pretty majorly on the right side, and what should have been an easy turn became at least an 18-point maneuver. It was almost like the pivot scene from Friends but in a car.

The good news is that the bike made it the entire trip back to Dallas, and no one was injured or died. The bad news is that I wasn’t as relaxed as I should have been for a good portion of the trip, and I checked the security of that thing during every single stop we made. Sure, I reached a certain point when I stopped thinking about it and simply trusted that everything would be OK, but it took me a while to get there. I was worrying about something that I had no control over at that point, and my worries tended to magnify when I noticed any slack in the straps or tilting/shifting of the bike rack. In all honesty, the thing was super secure and wasn’t going anywhere, but it was tough not to check it in my rearview mirror probably more times than I’ve ever looked that way in the more than nine years that I’ve been driving this car.

Yet I didn’t worry about something that likely should have been a bigger concern—you know, like running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

Road trip warriors at it again.

There was a stretch of desert that we went through that didn’t have a gas station for a pretty long time. I had checked before when I mapped out the trip to make sure that we wouldn’t encounter such situations, but it happened nonetheless. We were as far past empty as you can get, and my gas was burning much more quickly because of all that was in and on the car (apparently losing fuel at a faster rate that way is a thing—freaking science). At one point, I didn’t know if the gas pedal was actually working or if it was just my mind playing tricks on me that it was more difficult to push down and wasn’t really giving much oomph. Steph was getting pretty concerned, and I would have felt awful if she had given up her time and energy to travel across the country yet again with me only for us to run out of gas in a desert area full of mystery—not necessarily the good kind—and the words “no service” in the top left corners of our phones.

I remember saying a little prayer right then and there, and I felt a calmness that everything was going to be alright. Even if we had to walk to get gas (which I was confident we wouldn’t have to do), we would be fine. And guess what? We made it. We filled up with more gas than my tank can actually take, so that was special. I tried to be better about monitoring the gas the rest of the trip, but Steph ended up being the one to make sure to check with me every so often to see how we were doing in that department. I love that gal.

So why was I so worried about that bike?

I thought about it later and realized that I do this quite often in different areas of my life—I let myself get anxious about things that won’t get any better or any worse by my worrying. Some situations leave me trusting God completely, while others seem like they’d be better if I had a brown paper bag to breathe in and out of repeatedly. But what I need to remember is that, regardless of what happens, and even when things don’t go the way I want and hope them to, He’s still there, and He’s still good.

And nothing will ever change that.

We’re all going to find ourselves in moments when we have to choose between stressing out about things we can’t control or living fully in the present and enjoying every second of life that we can. It certainly isn’t always easy—there are plenty of scary and daunting situations people face every single day—but it’s absolutely possible.

Having fears and doubts doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. But releasing those fears and doubts and letting yourself trust that there’s nothing that’s too big for God to handle makes you brave. Last May, I got “Be brave.” tattooed on my right inner forearm as a reminder that I want to live a life full of taking chances and chasing dreams and pursuing passions and speaking what’s on my heart and letting myself love in big ways and not ever letting fear keep me from doing anything I know I’m called to do—and doing it all with the complete faith that there’s a God who loves me more than I can ever comprehend.

Home.

My sister and I made it safely back to Dallas with no issues. We drove the long stretch to Midland the first day and stayed with me sweet cousin Rachel and her family for the night, and then we woke up and drove the remaining four or five hours home. Every single moving stress I had before and during that entire process is in the past. I’m back and settled in now, and everything feels right. And, as usual, the anxiety I felt was for naught.

The truth is that we don’t actually know what’s going to happen tomorrow or even in the next few seconds. Life is beautifully unpredictable, and that’s how it should be—because that’s how faith comes in to play. I hope that you never let fear cause you to miss out on the joy of the present, and I hope that you know that, no matter what happens in life, you’re valued and loved just as you are.

And I hope that you’re brave enough to believe that you’re worth that kind of love.

When you don’t let your singleness define you

As I continue to get older and grow more and more single (is that possible??), I’m beginning to learn more about what it means to love and be loved, regardless of my relationship status.

Because my singleness does not define me.

I’m in my final week in the O.C., which is exciting and sad and weird all in one. I’m beyond happy to move back to Dallas and be reunited with my family and people who have stuck with me through years of joy and pain and all of life’s celebrations and trials. At the same time, though, it’s bittersweet to be closing this chapter of my life that has honestly transformed my heart in more ways than I could have imagined.

Got a gorgeous hike in with sweet Arinda

My friend Arinda makes a vision board every year, and I became interested in making one of my own after hearing her talk about it and her reason behind making one at the start of each new year. On the final weekend in December, I went over to her house, and we sat together cutting out magazine pictures and words that pertain to my life and the goals and hopes and dreams I have for myself. She always picks a word to be her key focus, and there was only one that popped into my head and wouldn’t go away.

Freedom.

We cut out the individual letters for that word, and it has its special place on my board. I covered the rest of it with the images and words we had found, and it’s my new visual representation of who I am and what I’m anticipating for 2019. (As a side note, the only board I could find was this canvas-material thing with bows and some little girl on it that I found at Target in the kids section. I did my best to cover it up, but you can definitely see bits of it through my collage of stuff. Life, you know?)

We are enough.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how fitting the word freedom is for my life right now. I genuinely believe that God called me out to California on purpose and with specific intention, and I believe that one reason was to be set free—free from anxiety, free from the pain of a broken heart, free from fear, and fear from the notion that I’m not enough.

I’m going back to Dallas stronger than I was when I left. I don’t say that to be boastful or to boost your opinion of me, because it honestly has nothing to do with me or with anything I did on my own. I say it because it was all part of God’s plan for me.

I’m as single as they come, and that’s always been something that’s been a little difficult for me. It’s tough to see nearly everyone around me falling in love and starting families while I’m still sending in RSVPs for one and never being able to drive in the HOV lane legally and twirling on the dance floor on my own during the slow songs. For far too long, I let my singleness define what I thought of myself, and I let it be something that diminished my opinion of who I was. I let it convince me that I simply wasn’t enough—not pretty enough, not funny enough, not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not whatever enough.

But “not enough” is a lie.

These girls are going to change the world.

I found freedom from that nonsense during this last more than year and a half. My singleness allowed me to come out here on my own. My singleness allowed me to ask people to be my friends and spend time with me without worrying about messing with someone else’s schedule. My singleness allowed me feel more alone than I ever had and realize that the only One I need is with me all of the time everywhere I go. My singleness allowed me to invite myself places without thinking twice. My singleness allowed me to lead other single and unmarried women and encourage them and pray with them for their future husbands. My singleness allowed me to drop what I was doing and be there for a group of high school girls when they needed me most.

And my singleness allowed me to experience the freedom from the fear and pain that my singleness has brought me for far too many years.

Lifers.

Sometimes we need to take journeys we weren’t expecting to grow and learn lessons that we never knew we needed to learn. We may even be fortunate enough to make some lasting friendships along the way, and I’m so grateful for the lifelong relationships I formed in California. I know in my heart that the distance of miles and miles in between the different states won’t tarnish these friendships. I know that some friendships are only meant to last for certain seasons of our lives, but I didn’t make many of those out here—I’m more of a lifer.

I think one reason that I was able to form such friendships is because I’m letting myself be completely real and open and honest with people more than I ever have. I’m more comfortable being me, even around guys I have feelings for or think are attractive. Heck, I even sent a message on Instagram to my friend’s dentist because he’s a hottie, and she said he was single and that we might be a good match for each other. He never replied, but I’m cool with that.

There’s freedom in finally being OK with the rejections that used to hurt me.

I love Kerry and Nick (and precious Eva!!) with my whole heart.

When you break a bone, it often returns to a stronger state than it was as a result of the calcium that built up during the healing process. I left Dallas with a broken heart that I thought would never be whole again, but I’m returning home with a heart so mended and capable of much more that it ever has been because of the love that built up around it and in it during this healing process.

Life is often unpredictable and will lead you to places you weren’t planning to go. And those are often journeys that you need to go on by yourself in order to discover that you’re never alone as you think you are. Your relationship status doesn’t define you, and don’t ever be afraid to do anything simply because there isn’t someone else with you to make the journey. It might be the adventure you need to help you become who you were always meant to be.

And you’re certainly worth taking the chance to find out.

When doing the brave thing means going home

We’re often called to step outside of our comfort zones, which sometimes means physically moving to entirely new places without knowing how long we’ll be there.

And then sometimes we’re called back home.

When I moved out to California a little more than a year and a half ago, I had no idea what was in store for me. I simply knew that God was calling me out here, and I didn’t know what else to do but to trust that He had something planned that I didn’t know about yet but would soon find out. There were certainly moments of doubt and fears and uncertainties when I first got out here, but He constantly reminded me that He was in control, and I didn’t need to worry about anything. More than once, I heard His voice assure me of a truth that has always been true but became much more real in my life since leaving Dallas.

Trust Me—I’ve never once failed you, and I won’t start letting you down now.

I mean, how could I not love it here?

Truth be told, I’ve loved my time in Orange County. The beach is my place of peace, and there’s so much nature surrounding you and so many wonderful things to do outside (I LOVE hiking and walks on the boardwalk). Sure, the culture is much different than what I was always accustomed to in Dallas, but it’s good to be exposed to lifestyles that aren’t the same as ours. But even after making some lifelong friends and trying to make California feel more like an actual home, it’s never felt that way. Despite people welcoming me into their lives (and me sometimes inviting myself in), I’ve still always felt like an outsider. I tried to convince myself that I could live here forever, but I think somewhere in my heart was always the longing to be back in Dallas with my family and all of my people.

Back in November, I started feeling pretty homesick. I remembered that same feeling the year before, so I told myself that it was just the holiday season stirring up some emotions, and I simply needed to get through the next couple of months to feel normal again. But I think that I knew deep down that there was more to it than that. There was an ache for my family that I had never felt so strongly, and there was a tugging at my heart telling me to go back home.

Home—where we’ve always been told is where are hearts are.

I did the only thing that made sense to me: I prayed. And then I reached out to some of my trusted prayer warriors so that they could pray alongside me, as well. I still didn’t feel a complete peace about anything yet, though. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t want to let emotions cause me to make a decision that didn’t need to be made yet. Uprooting my life in California and moving back across the country wasn’t exactly a simple thing that I could undo if I thought it was the wrong choice, so I wanted to make sure that those feelings were valid and meant something more.

I’ll never forget the morning when everything became completely clear to me. I was at work and had too much on my mind at the time. I felt overly conflicted and stressed, and I silently cried out to the only One who could help me.

“God, I need You to tell me what to do. When You called me out to California, You made it completely clear that it’s what I was supposed to do. I need You to do that again. I need You to let me know if I’m supposed to go back to Dallas now or if I’m just feeling a bunch of emotions. Please just show me exactly what You want me to do.”

Less than two hours later, I was reading Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst (a book I highly recommend, by the way) at lunch, when everything became so entirely real and true, and all of the haze and confusion from the past few weeks disappeared. There’s a part in the book when Lysa is trying to talk herself into jumping from a pole in one of those obstacle things in which you’re harnessed in and attempting to grab a bar hanging in the air after your leap. Her feet weren’t moving, so her friend Bob Goff (also another amazing author) came alongside her and finally said the thing that gave her the courage she had been trying to find all along: “You’re absolutely loved. Whenever you’re ready, jump.”

As soon as I read that line, I once again heard that voice that has guided me and comforted me through so much already: There’s your answer, my sweet girl. It’s time.

There was suddenly a quietness that came over me, and I breathed out all of the anxieties that had been haunting me for those past few weeks. If I’m being perfectly honest, though, there was also a little bit of fear inside of me. It wasn’t fear about having to start over yet again or leaving behind some pretty incredible people and a beautiful place of sunshine and beach days. Rather, it was a fear of failure. Did moving home mean that I wasn’t capable of living in a world of the unknown all by myself? Had I let myself down? Was it childish and wimpy to move home just because I missed my people and my place?

But then I had to stop. And breathe. And thank God again. And trust Him. I hadn’t failed. I had done the hard thing, and I had lived through it. I had enjoyed it. I had grown and learned and gained community and healed and led others and become humbled and discovered truths I had never known.

Like LeAnn Rimes, I’m staring out into the great unknown.

So much has happened in my life since I moved out to California, and I started to reflect on how God had worked in my heart and changed it in tremendous ways. As I sat in church a few weekends after that moment of clarity, I began wondering why it is I had been out here for the time I was, and then I heard that calming voice again: I’ve been training and equipping you, and now you’re ready. I don’t know exactly what that means for what’s ahead of me, but I do know that I’m excited (or “stoked,” as some of my Cali people say). I know what it looks like to be brave, and I want to live that way every chance I get.

There are a great deal of unknowns right now, and that’s OK. I didn’t meet the man who will be my forever guy while I was out here (sorry for those of you who were hoping for that), and my career future is definitely still a mystery (especially since I’m walking away from a job I love and some truly incredible coworkers), but I know and trust that He knows what He’s doing. It’s going to be tough to leave my people here, and I have no clue what the future holds, but I know Who holds it, and I’m thankful that He’s taking me back to Texas to be closer to Mare and Skipper and Steffie Robyn and Broski and Teddy and Katie and Livs and Evie and so many others.

We all have different paths and journeys we take in life, and they won’t all look the same. They shouldn’t. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy said the following: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” I don’t completely agree with that, though. I think that sometimes you have to allow yourself to step outside of your comfort zone to learn and grow and become the person you were always meant to be. It might lead you right back to your backyard, but at least you stepped out to somewhere new and allowed yourself to be braver than you thought you could be.

Dorothy was right about the “no place like home” thing, though.

Because you’re perfectly capable of making your own decisions

We’re all faced with more choices that we can count every day, whether they are life-changing decisions or simply options of whether or not to click all of the buttons to finalize that Amazon purchase.

But our individual choices all have one thing in common: They’re ours to make.

When I was a teacher, I truly loved my job, but it wasn’t because of the curriculum I wrote or the lesson plans I created or the grading I did—it was because I got to see students learn in their own unique ways and apply what they had learned in real-world situations. Yes, it made me genuinely happy when they improved their skills in the classroom, but it brought my heart even more joy when they were able to experience and benefit from the lessons they learned about life.

The truth is that we all learn differently, and we all need to go through different things and create different solutions that maybe wouldn’t be used by everyone around us. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think that sometimes you need to do what makes the most sense to you, even if others think you’re crazy or going about a situation entirely the wrong way.

There’s not always just one way.

Perks of trips to Texas: runs with my precious Jenger.

Over the weekend, I was in Texas with my family, and I came across a predicament of sorts. I had been at my sister’s house and was sitting on her couch and working on my computer while she took a little nap. I had a blanket wrapped around my legs because I’m apparently not a normal mammal and am very cold-blooded, but then my mom called me to ask me to go over to my parents’ house, so I got up and left. As I was driving over there, I noticed that my black leggings were covered in linty fuzz stuff from the blanket.

Side note: I agree with Gina Linetti’s suggestion that we always speak in emojis—I would insert the eye-rolling one or the face-to-palm girl right now.

I figured that my parents wouldn’t have a lint roller (they didn’t), so I asked if I could use some tape, instead. I began putting strips of masking tape all up and down my legs, and both of my parents questioned my tactic. My dad said that I simply needed to blot my pants with one strip of tape, while my mom suggested rolling tape into a ball and then rolling that down my legs. I didn’t like either of their ideas, so I opted for my own path on that one. (I’m pretty sure I owe my dad a new roll of tape now, though.)

Here’s the thing: My way wasn’t either of their ways, but it worked, and I was happy with my choice.

See? It’s effective and quite stylish.

Sure, my way might have cost more tape and taken longer, but that’s OK. I needed to do things my way in that situation—I needed to be reminded that it’s good to listen to your own heart and to be confident with your choices. Sometimes you’ll be right, and sometimes you’ll be wrong. Either way, you’ll have gained an experience that kept you in the moment and helped you to grow in one way or another.

I realize that there are much more serious things we all face in life other than fuzz on your favorite pants. There are both big and small decisions we have to make on a daily basis—do you take that job, send that text, run that red light, answer that call, move to that new place, order that shirt, order the burger or the wrap, accept that offer, wear this outfit or that one, watch that movie, attend that conference, buy those tickets, talk to that guy? SO MANY DECISIONS.

And they’re your decisions to make.

I’ve been trying more so lately not to let too many people’s opinions sway my judgment. While I don’t care what people think about me, I occasionally ask their thoughts regarding what I should do in certain situations more often than I should or would even prefer. While it’s sometimes good to seek wise counsel on certain matters, it’s also important to be able to do what you think you should do—because that’s who you are. So be you, and do the things you would advise yourself or someone else to do.

We made the decision to karaoke. It was clearly a very wise choice.

I think that it’s also important not to judge other people for the decisions they make or who they are as individuals. We’re certainly not going to agree with everyone, and we’re going to see people handle their situations differently than we would handle them if we were in their positions. But we’re not, and those aren’t are calls to make. We need to be able to find the balance of when our opinions are needed and when they’re not—because we often give our opinions simply because we think we know more than we do or are more capable than others when, in actuality, we need to stop telling others how to live their lives.

Don’t be afraid to make decisions, whether big or small. They’re definitely not always fun to make, but they’re part of learning and growing and becoming who you are. And don’t stress too much about what other people will think of your decisions—focus on what you think of your decisions.

Because some of the best decisions are made when you let your heart lead the way.

When you realize that you’re worth fighting for yourself

If you ever were to ask me where a lot of my inspiration comes from, I’d tell you that it’s quite often from little kids.

They’re such geniuses and probably don’t even know it.

I was in Texas over the weekend for a visit with family and some friends I haven’t been able to see in a while. Much of my time was spent with my nieces—those two little girls have captured my heart more than I thought anyone ever could.

Olivia was excited to show off her food.

I babysat Olivia and Evie on Saturday night so that my brother and sister-in-law could have a nice date night out together. The girls and I watched football (we won’t discuss the outcome of the Cowboys game right now—it’s still too soon), and after Olivia saw me eating Wheat Thins with my dinner, she later grabbed the box and ate them while we were watching the game. I’ve clearly taught her well. Prior to the disaster that occurred at LA Memorial Coliseum that night, Olivia (who is almost 2 1/2) was playing with everything in site while Evie (a little more than 8 months) sat and watched in glee and occasionally attempted to crawl toward something—she’s SOOOO close to crawling!

At one point, Olivia was standing on the fireplace ledge and then squatted down. I’ve always told her to be careful whenever she gets up there (it’s not high from the ground at all, but she’s also still a tiny human), but that night, she looked over at me and said “I be careful. No get hurt. Dangerous.” It was as precious as you might imagine, and I told her that she was right.

Besties for life

The next morning, I was over at my brother’s and sister-in-law’s house again, and Olivia showed off her new talent (that I wasn’t expecting) of jumping off of the couch into my arms. Unlike the night before, there was zero hesitation—she got up on that couch and went for it, regardless of whether or not I was ready for her. I think she knew I would catch her, no matter what, so there was no fear there. There was security and comfort, which helped to increase her level of confidence. On Saturday night, though, she didn’t have me right there in front of her, and she knew what might happen if she tried to jump on her own.

If I were standing on that ledge, of course I would jump. Yes, it would probably technically be more of simply a step off, but still—there wouldn’t be any holding back or worrying about getting hurt. I’m confident that nothing would be likely to happen.

I started thinking about that while I was on my flight home Sunday afternoon and realized that those childlike tendencies don’t necessarily leave us when we become adults. We still seem to be able to jump when we know that there’s complete security, but we’re a lot more hesitant when we’re unsure of the outcomes ahead.

If I’m being perfectly honest, though, that’s not how I always want to live. Sure, there are certainly times when you shouldn’t just jump at something without thinking or considering the consequences and potential outcomes, but there are many times when it’s better (even if it is incredibly scary) to take chances and step into the unknown. For me, when I have those strong tuggings at my heart that are pushing me to do something that frightens the Capri Sun out of me—especially when I’m being taken out of my comfort zone—I try to remind myself that I’m not actually jumping off of a fireplace ledge onto the hardwood floor like a 2-year-old.

Because I do have Someone there who will catch me.

That doesn’t mean that every chance I take is going to end like I want it to end. I’ve had plenty of failures and broken hearts to remind me of that. But it does mean that, even when those setbacks and heartaches happen after making a risky jump, I know that I’m still going to be OK. Those things can’t defeat me, and I don’t need to let them try. My God is a lot stronger than that.

This girl has been through it all with me.

During middle school, high school, college, and even some of my 20s, I was the girl standing on the fireplace ledge who was afraid to jump. Unlike in Olivia’s case, though, there wasn’t any real physical danger for me—it was simply the risk of getting my heart hurt. I think my fear stemmed from the fact that a broken heart, for me, hurts far worse than any physical pain I could ever face (and I’ve endured quite a bit of physical pain). You know what, though? I’ve survived each heartache I’ve had, and I truly believe that I’m stronger because of it. I think that the trials we face in life have ways of building us and growing us in ways we might never have thought possible. We’re usually not grateful for them while we’re going through them, but hopefully we can look back at those times and know that they were part of our journeys—part of the paths we needed to take to get us to where we are today and help us to become the individuals we have become.

I hated the color of my rental car. Naturally, my dad wanted to take my pic in front of it.

I don’t know where you are in your life today. Maybe you’re standing on that fireplace ledge with more reservations than you can count. Or maybe you’re on that sofa and about to take a leap of faith. I’m rooting for it to be the latter, because I’m rooting for you.

You’re worth taking chances and doing the things that might make you a little queasy. You’re worth letting your heart feel deeply and love intentionally. You’re worth pursuing the passions that set your heart into motion. You’re worth running full force ahead toward your dreams. You’re worth the investment of time and energy. You’re worth being loved.

And you’re worth fighting for yourself.

Because anything worth doing is difficult at first

I love when people remind me of truths that I need to hear right when I need to hear them.

Even when those people aren’t even actually talking to me.

Hey. Let’s hang out.

When I was in Texas last week for Thanksgiving, I went to this huge lights display at the Rangers ballpark (I refuse to call it Globe Life) with my aunt and uncle and my cousins and their boys. While we were standing in line for ice skating, a woman and her daughter walked by, and I only caught one line of their conversation (something the mom said to the little girl)—but it was all I needed to hear.

Anything worth doing is difficult at first.

I have no idea what the context was, and I honestly don’t care. That kind of statement could be said anytime and anywhere and still be chalked full of nothing but truth.

I started thinking about all of the things I’ve done in my life that have been worth the risks or the pain they caused. Moving to California is obviously up top on that list—I endured some of the most challenging few months of my life as I tried to adjust to living in a brand new place with no familiar faces and suppress all of my tears the entire time (though I failed pretty badly at that in a few unforgettable moments).

One difficult thing about living in Cali is being so far away from this one.

Running and racing are also pretty high up there. There’s a crap-ton of training that goes into getting yourself ready enough to toe that start line with confidence, and the miles and workouts along the way certainly aren’t always walks in the park (like, literally, you can’t walk through training if you want to win).

Honestly, though, I think some of the things that have been the most difficult but worth more than I ever could have imagined are the chances I’ve taken that didn’t end the way that I wanted them to end—because they’ve helped me to become the person I strive to be.

A little more than two years ago, I poured my heart out to someone who had been toying with my emotions for far too long. He clearly didn’t care about me the way I cared about him, and he was able to walk far, far away from the situation while I stayed behind and tried to clean up the shattered pieces of my heart without letting the tears that wanted to leave my eyes get the best of me. My heart had never hurt so much, and I didn’t know what to do with all of the emotions that I wasn’t used to letting anyone see.

And this one.

If I had to rewind time, I’d still tell him all over again, though.

I don’t know when I’ll meet my forever guy or if I ever will, but I do know that I’m not willing to sit back and watch chances pass me by. It took a lot of years and a lot of pain to get to this point, but I know now that I’m worth the risk of letting my heart lead and trusting that, no matter what happens, my identity is not found in any man, and my worth does not depend on whether or not he chooses me out of every other girl in the entire world.

Because I’ve already been chosen by the only One who will never let me down.

I started a book that asks you to pray for your future husband for an entire month—31 days of praying for a man you’ve never met before. It was weird for me at first and, if I’m being perfectly truthful, a bit discouraging. You see, I’ve always had complete and unhesitant faith in everything I pray for with the exception of one thing: someone actually loving me and wanting to spend the rest of his life loving me. I’m not trying to throw a pity party—it’s simply something I’ve struggled with for years that I’m praying through often.

This is Carly, one of my favorite college volleyball players ever. She’s amazing and is learning more and more each day what it means to be brave.

My identity is in Christ, and it is certainly possible for me to be fully known and fully loved (especially because I already am). God has a plan for me, and it’s a plan that I need to trust and pray about without any doubt or reservations. As my sweet almost mother-in-law (well, she’s my brother’s mother-in-law, but I’ve adopted her, too, because I love her so much) reminds me, “it’s up to Him to decide if what you ask for lines up with what you need. But never be afraid to ask for it all. He loves for us to come BOLDLY to Him.”

I’ve been trying to live boldly in every aspect of my life, so why should prayer be any exception? Why should I not be praying for someone to love me and then praying for that actual man? Reflecting upon that has really helped me through this devotional book. The first few prayers were pretty weak—I was basically asking God just to let me think that it’s possible for me to be loved but that I was still struggling. My prayers have changed now, though. Instead, I’m asking boldly for God to bring a man in my life who can walk through the rest of it with me.

Someone who knows everything about me and still loves me. Someone who wants to celebrate my victories with me. Someone who wants to comfort me after the losses. Someone who wants to be known by me. Someone who lets me love him for who he is and is perfectly comfortable being his true self around me at all times. Someone who makes me laugh and appreciates my quirks. Someone who loves that I eat Wheat Thins at every meal and doesn’t get embarrassed when I bust them out at a public restaurant. Someone who carries ketchup packets with him for the times when we’re at a Mexican restaurant, and I’ve run out or forgotten mine for my quesadillas. Someone who will watch sports with me. Someone who will pray with me and worship with me.

Someone who will give me his heart and not give mine back to me in thousands of tiny pieces.

It may not happen exactly as I hope, and it may not happen at all, but I’m still going to pray boldly for it. It may have caused me heartache along the way, and there may be more to come, but that’s a risk that I’m willing to take.

So take those chances. Chase those dreams. Know that YOU ARE WORTH THE FIGHT. Let yourself believe that those things are possible, even when they seem like they aren’t.

Because anything worth doing is difficult at first.

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.

Because sometimes your plans aren’t as great as you think they are

Life often leads you down unexpected roads that leave you wondering how and why you got to where you are.

And sometimes you’re dressed as a strawberry while you’re on those alternate paths.

Over the weekend, all I wanted to do was rest. I had been sick for a few days and was zapped of most of my energy, so the thought of doing nothing but watching football and baseball sounded like perfection. And I obviously needed sunshine and the ocean to cure me.

When I headed for the beach Saturday, the sun was out, and the weather was pretty ideal. By the time I got to the beach about seven minutes later, though, it was overcast and kind of chilly, and there was a foggy marine layer hanging in the air. (My hair and I are not fans of the marine layer—at all.) I don’t understand how the atmosphere can be so drastically different a few miles apart, but it’s a thing out here.

I still laid my towel in the sand, put in my headphones, and stretched out as if I actually had a chance of soaking up some rays. Here’s something that you need to know about me: I hate—and I do mean hate—being cold. If I had been Jack, I absolutely would have made Rose scoot over to give me room on that freaking door that could easily fit two people.

It was in the 60s, and I wanted a blanket wrapped around me. I had not planned for a frigid and gray day at my place of peace. Why was I only in my swimsuit? Why was I not covering myself with my clothes or towel? I can’t explain my actions and inactions, but for some reason, I simply remained as I was and let the sounds of the waves drown out all of my discomfort as I fell asleep for a much-needed nap. It wasn’t quite the way I had planned it, but it was still oddly good.

I woke up feeling refreshed (but still cold) and gathered my things to go home so that I could change and go to my friend JP’s volleyball game (she coaches at a college nearby). I had a Halloween event that evening and still had no idea what I was going to be, though I was leaning toward Ariel because my friend has a mermaid dress that she said I could borrow. I also wanted to be Ms. Frizzle or Rainbow Bright or Strawberry Shortcake, but I didn’t have any outfits for those people. To keep things simple, maybe next year I should just be nothing. Or three-hole-punch Jim.

I’m a strawberry. Duh.

After JP and her team won their match, I went to Party City for inspiration. As I was walking down the superheroes and My Little Pony costumes aisle, it hit me like Peter La Fleur pegged White Goodman while blindfolded to win the championship: I should be a strawberry. So I bought some red stuff and paid a visit to Target (my personal simultaneous haven and danger zone) to complete the ensemble. It wasn’t the original plan, but I’d argue that it turned out better. I didn’t even stay at the party very long, but at least it had a strawberry there briefly.

My beach day didn’t go as I had intended, and there were parts of it that weren’t very enjoyable, but it ended up being a time of escape and rejuvenation that I needed. And my costume certainly didn’t turn out as planned, but I wound up being a food-related item for the third year in a row (I was a peppermint milkshake last year and a yellow Skittle the year before) and liking my costume. With everything that’s been happening lately and the heaviness in my heart I’ve felt recently, I think that I needed some reminders that life doesn’t always pan out as you hoped or planned, and that’s OK.

And it’s often for the better.

I turned 34 earlier this month, which basically means that I need to stretch before everything, my desired bedtime will continue to get earlier, saying “no” to things I don’t want to do and events I don’t want to attend is a piece of cake, and I’ll sometimes pull muscles during my sleep (I swear this happened recently). I’m exactly nowhere where I thought I would be in life at this point. I thought that I would for sure be married to my forever guy by now, my career would be something entirely different, and I’d be living happily in Dallas.

In reality, I’m as single as the last piece of gum in the pack, I’m working a job I never would have expected but surprisingly absolutely love, and I live in what has become my favorite place on earth but that is nowhere near the great state of Texas. I have to trust that all of those things have been planned out with specific purpose by Someone who truly cares about me and has more than I could ever imagine in store for me. The guys I wanted to date, the relationships I wanted to happen, the words I wanted to hear, and the love I wanted to feel didn’t happen because they weren’t supposed to happen. It didn’t make sense to me then, and some of it still doesn’t make sense to me now, but I do know that I’m going to continue to believe that it’s all part of the story of my life that’s going to be better than one I could ever write.

My sister-in-law sent me one of my favorite songs by Lauren Daigle the other day, and the lyrics were a needed reminder that I have to repeat to myself often.

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

The hopes in your heart won’t always happen like you want them to, but that doesn’t mean that you should give those hopes up. Let them soar, but also be ready to go on a much different path than you ever expected with more twists and turns than you think your heart can handle.

Because some of the most magnificent stories are ones that you never see coming.