Because the holiday season can be tough

I love almost everything about Christmas—the scents that permeate throughout the air, the general feeling of love spreading everywhere, the beautiful lights bringing life to homes and streets, and the togetherness that becomes so integral.

But that togetherness aspect can also cause a lot of pain—especially when you don’t have it.

My sweet friend Monique shared a quote with me the other day (I’m not actually sure where she got it—Pinterest, maybe—and I didn’t even ask. I just thought it was really good and one of those things I needed to hear in the moment in which I was at the time.

Sometimes it takes learning how to be perfectly lonely just so God can show you what being perfectly loved feels like. Never doubt the season He has your life in.

Quite honestly, the holidays are the best (and by “best,” I obviously mean “worst”) time for a single gal to feel lonely. You look around, and almost everyone you know is coupled off and enjoying holiday festivities together. The Hallmark Christmas movies all end perfectly for the women who suddenly fall in love and realize that they’ve found their lobsters. The TV commercials all feature families or people in love doing all of the things together. Target puts out an entire section called “MATCHING FAMILY PAJAMAS” and not “MATCHING SINGLE GIRL PAJAMAS” or a simple “MATCHING PAJAMAS.” (I love you with my entire heart, Target, but I cannot thank you for that stake to my heart right now.)

This will be the first Christmas that I’ve ever been away from my family. Sure, a handful of people I know out here have offered to have me join in on their gatherings—which is so thoughtful, and I’m incredibly thankful—but being a part of other people’s traditions and celebrations together won’t be the same (and might even be slightly uncomfortable if they do gift exchanges as I sit there and watch it all or scroll through Instagram), even though my family doesn’t actually do anything super special.

I already feel the pains of missing out on my niece Evie’s first Christmas and precious time with my niece Olivia as she celebrates her third Christmas. And watching The Grinch or Christmas Vacation or any of the Pitch Perfects or really any movie with my sister. And my parents having a stocking ready for me as my mom reminds me that Santa comes to their house every year and that he was confused that I don’t live there anymore, so he left my stocking there so that my parents could give it to me. (I’m 34, Mare. I’ve known for years.) And simply being there.

I know that I’m not alone in all of the feelings of being alone during this season. There are many people out there who either don’t have families or aren’t close with their families or aren’t able to be with their families for the holidays this year. Yes, it’s tough. But I have to remind myself that I CAN DO HARD THINGS. You can, too—whether that means getting through the holidays alone or getting through the holidays with your people. We are in this holiday season and in the different seasons of our lives for reasons we might not know right now. We just need to remember that we are where we need to be.

When I first moved to California more than a year ago, I felt very alone. I knew zero people, and I basically begged anyone I met to be my friend. I invited so many people to go to coffee, and I hate coffee. You know what, though? Since I moved out here, I’ve experienced more love than I think I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

Time and time again, God has reminded me of who He is and who I am in Him. He’s reminded me that I am loved. He’s reminded me that I am valued. He’s reminded me that I matter. And He’s surrounded me with so many incredible people who have poured into me and invited me (or let me invite myself) into their lives. I truly believe that that’s one of the reasons He called me out here—to remind me of how absolutely loved I am as His daughter. He knew exactly how and where this needed to happen. I questioned it at first, but as usual, He showed me that it’s always best just to trust Him from the get-go.

Years ago, I started sending out Christmas cards to my people. I LOVE Christmas cards and began getting more of them as my friends all started getting married and creating families. (Side note: This may sound mean, but pics of crying babies in Santa’s lap are some of my personal faves, so always feel free to send those my way. I can see why they’re crying—you put them in these men’s laps who are complete strangers and have what they might see as scary beards and then expect them to smile. No, thank you.) I decided that me not having a husband and dogs or kids wasn’t going to stop me from making cards, too. It’s become one of my favorite annual traditions, and I get excited about coming up with new ideas for what to put on my cards each year.

Because you can’t let unfulfilled hopes stop you from living your best life.

Every season of your life isn’t going to be perfect or even remotely good. You will go through some that feel like unending winters full of blizzards and snow (I hate snow and anything that makes me cold) and horrid temperatures and all of the things that feel dark and uncomfortable. But then you’ll have seasons that feel like beautiful spring and summer afternoons that you could bask in forever. Regardless of what season you face, just know that you are still loved through each one, and YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS.

You can make it through a lonely holiday season. You can make it through being single when everyone around you is not. You can make it through a prolonged winter. You can make it through the rain. (I just really wanted to say that last one because Mariah is my homegirl and because it is also fitting.)

I hope that you remember during this season that you’re loved just as you are and that you’re never as alone as you feel.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

Who is someone in your life (and maybe it’s even you) who could use some encouragement in this holiday season?

When you believe that crazy things aren’t so crazy

I love the honesty and genuineness that kids bring to pretty much any situation.

Even when their truthfulness stings.

I was asked to help out in the children’s ministry at church on Sunday morning, which I definitely didn’t mind. I lead a group of high school girls and sometimes speak for the junior high kids, so I figured I might as well work with the younger ones at some point, too. I love kids, so I knew it would be fun.

And apparently truth-telling, as well.

I was making bracelets with two sweet girls named Aubree and Riley and asking them questions about their lives. They liked saying how old they are, so more than once, Riley told me that she’s 7, and Aubree reminded me that she’s 8. When Riley asked me how old I am, I told her, and she replied with something that stung a little, mainly because I wasn’t expecting it.

“You’re older than my parents.”

Oy. When I used to babysit and teach swim lessons and work at a daycare center, the parents were always older than I was. It’s weird now working with kids who could easily be my kids or whose parents could be my younger siblings—or are even young enough that they could be my former students. (It’s crazy to think that some of my former students are in their late 20s or have already hit the big 3-0.)

Aubree then told me her parents’ ages—34 and 35, so at least I’m not completely ancient yet—and asked me if I have kids. I said no and that I wasn’t married, which was followed by what those precious little unfiltered mouths always seem to ask.

Aubs: Why aren’t you married?
Me: Just hasn’t happened yet.
Aubs: You should find a husband.
Me: Thanks for the advice. I’ll get right on that.

I believe in being yourself at all times, even if that means stopping to take pictures like this.

Honestly, I love the way kids’ minds work. They don’t necessarily always factor in logistics or reality—they simply believe that essentially anything is possible. I mean, take Jack, for instance. When I asked the kindergarteners and first graders what they want to be when they grow up, he said that he wants to be a “donut seller” and charge $20 per donut so that he can be rich. That’s ambition. That’s hope. That’s a dream. Granted, it’s not practical, and his likelihood of success with that price isn’t great, but he doesn’t care. Right now, to him, anything is possible, regardless of any outside factors.

What happens as we get older that makes us think that things are less likely to happen for us and to us? What is it that kids have that we don’t that allows them to let their hopes soar so high that they’re those high-in-the-sky-apple-pie hopes? Why do we lose that childlike faith as our age number ticks up a notch each year?

Here’s the thing, though: We don’t have to lose that kind of faith.

I haven’t accomplished all of the things in life that I’ve set out to accomplish. There are some goals I have that are floating out there that I still want so badly to become part of my story. For whatever reason, though, they aren’t yet. But that doesn’t mean that they never will be.

For Jack and Aubree and so many more of those kids, it’s so simple—you want something, and you’re going to make it happen. There are no doubts. There are no fears. There are no hesitations. There are no questions or anxieties or discouragements or logistics or factors or anything that we eventually start to use as determinations of whether or not the desires we have are practical enough or not.

For those believing kids, nothing matters but the fact that they know that something is possible, and that’s that.

It’s not too late to make your dreams realities. It’s not too late to set new goals. It’s not too late to become the person you’ve always wanted to be. If you want to be like Jack and be a donut seller and charge a ridiculous amount, you do you (and good luck to you).

Your story is just that—yours. You aren’t required to justify or make excuses or apologies to anyone else for being the person you are. So be you. Go after the desires of your heart. Love people in big ways without caring about what you’ll get in return.

And never let go of that childlike faith that once let you live more boldly than you ever knew you could.

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.

When your pink hammer isn’t enough

Whether we like it or not, we’re not going to be right about what we think are the best options and solutions in our lives all of the time.

Even if the best option is a hammer with a pink handle.

I went on my first mission trip to Mexico over the weekend to help build some additions to a church down there. Everyone who went had received an email earlier in the week with reminders and whatnot, and the email included a tidbit about bringing a hammer if you have one. I got really excited about that part because I have the perfect pink-handled hammer.

Or so I thought.

As you can see, the hammers are quite different.

When we got to the worksite, I stepped out with my hammer all ready to go. Pastor Daniel, who is responsible for the building of more than 30 churches in the Tijuana area, chuckled and asked me what I was going to use my hammer for that day. When I told him it was to build the rest of the church, he laughed again and told me (in nicer words) that my hammer would be pretty useless.

Gasp!

I tried to convince him that my brute strength was all I really needed, but he still seemed pretty amused and skeptical and said that it would be better to go with one of the hammers they had there, but the choice was mine to make.

So glad that this gem of a friend was there with me. (Also, she’s a BA on the job site FOR SURE.)

As it turns out, that Pastor Daniel is a pretty smart guy. My hammer was barely bigger than the nails we were pounding, and it was very ineffective in that situation. I tried the pink hammer once and hit and hit and hit, and nothing really happened. But when I used the more powerful hammer on the exact same nail, there was a drastic difference in the outcome.

It’s never fun to be wrong.

I think that it’s easy to get caught up in the things that we think are best for us to the point where we have a bit of tunnel vision. I’m guilty of it—especially when it comes to guys. I always think I know for sure which ones are perfect for me, but I’ve clearly been wrong each time. Sometimes it’s ended in a guy I truly care about breaking my heart, and sometimes it’s ended in seeing a new crush walking hand-in-hand with someone who’s not me.

Years ago, I was convinced that this one fella was the right one for me (spoiler alert: he wasn’t). I had this idea in my head of what I thought he was really like—or maybe it was what I thought he should be like—but he wasn’t actually the guy I hoped he was. Instead of acknowledging and accepting the fact that he wasn’t my lobster, I kept using my pink-handled hammer tactic and tried, anyway. I remember one time I asked him if he wanted to go to a football game, and he told me that he had to clean his place. On a Friday night. As an adult with no mandatory chores.

That’s a worse excuse than “I have to wash my hair.”

And that’s only one example. There are far too many of those—times when I knew guys weren’t the guys I was meant to be with forever (or at all), yet I still tried to make it happen. I ignored the signs and red flags and, instead, kept hoping and praying that each one would be the one who would finally love me forever. I kept letting false hopes and hollow prayers take the place of what should have been patient endurance and trust that God will bring the right man into my life when He deems it best.

All because I was so convinced that the hammer with the pink handle was the best option.

I know that God’s plan for my life is so much better than anything I could ever imagine or create myself, so I don’t know why I don’t always live like that’s true. I keep taking these silly pink-handled hammers that look really good to me and trying to build big buildings on my own. You’d think that I would know better by now.

I certainly can’t guarantee that I won’t opt for the wrong choice of a hammer again (mess of a human over here), but I am going to make more concerted efforts to practice that whole patience thing that’s part of that other whole faith thing.

And maybe the next situation I face in which I could opt for a hammer with a pink handle when it’s the less effective option, I can look back in reflection and say, “nailed it!”

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 you’re comfortable being the real you

I think it’s important for people not to be afraid to be different from those around them.

Because our differences make us unique.

My brother was in San Diego last week for a work conference, so I drove down there Monday night to have dinner with him. It’s very rare that any of my family members are in California, so I didn’t mind making the trek on a work night.

When I got to his hotel (which was where the conference was, as well), he was at a networking event. I got tired of waiting in the lobby, so I decided to find out where he was exactly. I befriended some women who were at the check-in table, and one of them led me out to the terrace where the event was. After making my way about halfway around the area, I spotted him chatting with a few people and didn’t want to interrupt. I had two options: I could stand around by myself and pretend to be looking at something interesting on my phone, or I could go talk to some of these people who probably didn’t want to talk about the things I wanted to discuss with them (you know, like the non-work-related stuff).

I obviously chose the latter.

Maybe my lack of lanyard with a nametag was a dead giveaway that I was an outsider.

I joined in a conversation with Nader and Randy, two older gentlemen who were very interested in their roles in the healthcare industry. After I asked a bunch of questions about their personal lives, they asked me what I do for a living. I had a brief moment when I thought about fibbing a little and playing the part of someone in their line of work who belonged at the conference, but then I remembered that I don’t like lying and that I’ve learned that it’s always better to be yourself in every situation ever.

I told them that I’m a proposal writer and was going to leave it at that, but they wanted to know more. I said I write for an infrastructure company, and they assumed it was hospital-related. I clarified and let them know that it was construction and infrastructure. Their facial expressions said exactly what I knew both of them wanted to say to me in that moment: What the hell are you doing here? So I smiled and then made Randy, who now lives in the Midwest, tell me all about his years of living in Texas.

I hated middle school, and looking back on those years makes me dislike almost everything about the person I was back then. I was selfish and constantly trying to be someone I wasn’t. I think that I was so insecure about who I really was that I was completely afraid to be me. I’ve accepted who I am, and while it’s healthy to grow and make changes in your life that are needed in order to better your life and your character, I also think that it’s important to be comfortable being you—no matter how messy and imperfect that person is.

Each sunset is unique and wonderful—just like all of us.

You don’t have to be afraid to be you. If you’re always acting like someone you’re not, then people will never really know the real you. For me, I want to know people fully and be fully known myself. I know that being open can place you in a rather vulnerable position, and there are certainly times to be a bit more guarded, but I think there’s value in letting people know the real you—the one we don’t necessarily see on Instagram. It can also help them to be more comfortable being more open with you, as well.

It doesn’t mean that everyone will expect you to be completely real with them, and they might not know how to respond at times. Take the woman in the bathroom at my work last week. She works in the company next to mine, and I’ve seen her in there before, but she’s not one of the ones I’ve gotten to know very well (I’ve had a lunch with some of them and text a few of them pretty regularly). Two of my buddies who work with me had just jokingly insulted me, and I was not acting dramatic about it at all. When I walked into the bathroom, the exchange below occurred.

Me: Hi! How’s it going?
Bathroom buddy: I’m good. How are you?
Me: Hurt and betrayed (again, not said in an overly dramatic voice by any means).
BB: (stares at me confused for a few seconds and then turns and walks out).

Neither of us was expecting what had just happened. I had to shrug it off. I’m not for everyone—and that’s OK. You probably won’t be for everyone, either. But, if you pretend to be someone else, that person also won’t be for everyone, so you might as well just stick with the original you.

You were made to be you on purpose. You’re where you are right now for a reason. The experiences you’ve had—both good and bad, wonderful and trying—haven’t been for nothing. Don’t hide behind a pretty life filter. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, even if that means that you’re quite different from everyone around you.

Because different can be truly beautiful.

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.

When tough times lead to a heart that feels hashtag blessed

There are certain talents I have that aren’t very applicable to my actual life.

You know, like being able to sing the alphabet backward faster than I can sing it forward.

As I was sitting and staring out at the ocean (one of my all-time favorite pastimes) the other day, I was thinking about how thankful I am that God brought me out to California. Of all of the places in the world He could have called me, it’s here—this place of wonder that brings me peace, energy, and the occasional dorsal fin sighting.

My New Kids on the Block shirt and I really love it out here.

In all honesty, I never saw such a big and risky move coming and wouldn’t have done it if the plans I had wanted to happen and prayed for constantly actually came true. I didn’t understand at the time why God wasn’t doing what I wanted Him to do, but it’s very clear to me now that He had something entirely different—and entirely better—for me planned. And I’m also appreciative that the whole “pack up your life and move to California” thing came on so quickly and took me by complete surprise.

Because I needed to endure the tough times I faced without knowing what was ahead.

On that same day that I was down by the water and reflecting on those bits of gratitude, there was a car show going on at that beach at the same time. I had noticed it when I got there (I mean, it was pretty hard to miss), but I had no intention of checking out the cars. I was just there to soak up some sunshine and watch the waves. When I left, I stopped at the basketball court area where the car show was to dust the sand off of my feet before putting on my sandals. I was sort of in the way of a guy trying to get pictures of a car at what appeared to be some artsy angles, and then he started talking to me.

Guy fascinated by cars: Did you get in the water?
Me: No way. It’s too cold.
GFBC: But it’s so hot and nice out today.
Me (still amazed by what people out here consider “hot”): Yeah, but the water is still like 4 degrees.
GFBC: Well, did you check out the cars?
Me: No, I’m only here for the ocean. (You know, the ocean that I don’t actually get in.)
GFBC: But they’re right here, and how often do you get a car show like this?
Me: I see cars all the time. I drive one.
GFBC: But how often do you see cars on the beach like this? And these are classics!
Me: I’m not that interested in cars. I just like when they work.
GFBC: I don’t know how to respond to that.
Me: Welp, see you later. Enjoy your day!

It turns out that we’re all thankful for different things.

This is my friend Monique, who invited me to a BBQ with no actual BBQ. I need to educate these people on what such an event entails.

What I didn’t explain to that guy that day was why the beach is so significant in my life—that it’s been a constant reminder of God’s love for me. That I stare out at the vast, expansive ocean and am reminded that I am valued. That I am loved. That I matter. It’s the beautiful destination of a journey that I haven’t always been so thankful to endure but that I’m incredibly grateful for now.

For him, maybe cars have something to do with everything he’s faced in life. Or maybe he just really likes them. I probably should have asked him. Regardless, he has a reason to find happiness from a car show on the beach.

I had a conversation the other day with my friend JP, and she was talking about working toward goals with the end already in mind. She mentioned how, in order to make it to that place you want to reach, you have to take all of the steps in between to get there. As she put it, “you can’t go from A to Z without going through all of the other letters in the alphabet.”

Ohhhhh OK. That’s a gooooooood word, sister.

JP is right—you can’t just snap your fingers and end up where you want to be. We’re not all Sabrina the Teenage Witch. And you’re not always going to know what letters B through Y have in store for you before you get to Z. You simply have to keep going with the hope and faith that you will eventually get to where you need to be. It’s going to hurt sometimes, but getting to that ultimate place your heart desires will be worth the pain you face. For me, it involved heartache and rejection. It involved doubt. It involved fear. It involved insecurities and anxiety. It involved more tears than I ever even knew I was capable of crying.

This sums up how I feel.

But it all resulted in joy and a shift in my heart that changed my life forever.

Not every day is going to be wonderful. People are going to disappoint you. Your sports teams are going to let you down (I’m looking at all three of you, Mavs, Cowboys, and Rangers). Pain is going to inflict itself upon you when you least expect it. Don’t let those troubles stop you, though. Whether she realized it or not, JP quoted the great Dory when she said “I don’t know, maybe the only thing to do right now is to just keep swimming.” I encourage you to do the same—just keep swimming.

Through the pain. Through the broken hearts. Through the doubts. Through the fears. Through the disappointments. Through the tears. Through every bad thing that ever comes your way. Just keep swimming.

And trust that your heart will one day be thankful for the hardships it had to endure.

Because you don’t always need Google Maps

There are certain pieces of technology that I honestly don’t know how I lived without many moons ago.

Especially Google Maps.

I have to admit that I’m not always the most directionally savvy person. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten significantly better over the years, but I think that a lot of that has to do with getting lost while running (you can learn your way around roads pretty easily if you get turned around in them a few times) and the prevalence of Google Maps (which is truly a Godsend).

Lately, though, I’ve relied on Google Maps less and less. I’ve lived in Orange County for a little more than a year now, and I can finally navigate my way around the area without using Siri’s voice (or whoever’s voice talks on Google Maps) for guidance. If you’re thinking that I should have been able to do that sooner than a year or so in, well I challenge you to move out here on your own and magically know which route is best and fastest and will get you exactly where you need to go at the time you need to be there. If you’re able to do that, please be my best friend, and I will learn your ways.

It felt nice to finish the proposal. Plus, I knew froyo was in my future.

Last week, I was in Salt Lake City for most of the week for work, and I’m certainly not very familiar with the area (except for where the nearest Chick-fil-A and froyo place were from the hotel). On our final day there, my coworker and I had some time to kill before we needed to be at the airport, so I just started driving us around the area in our rental car (after we got froyo, of course) so that we could enjoy all of the scenery that we hadn’t gotten to see while we were holed up in a conference room all week without much exposure to daylight. (It was rainy and kind of miserable outside, so we weren’t really missing out on much, anyway.)

I wasn’t using Google Maps for any of this—I was simply driving wherever I thought looked interesting. At some point, though, I said aloud that it would be really cool if I eventually got us to the airport without any help from the voice on the phone. Sure, there were road signs for me to follow, but it was still something that was going to be a bit more challenging than usual.

I’m proud to admit that I not only got us to the airport, but I also got us to the rental car return place without any use of Google Maps. ALL OF THE EMOJI PRAISE HANDS!

The following night, my good friend Amanda and I drove down to San Diego to see a John Crist comedy show—he’s hilarious, by the way—and something interesting happened on the drive back to the OC. First of all, it started pouring rain IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. We aren’t used to that out here. But the actual interesting event on that drive was the highway patrol car that pulled out in front of us and started swerving back and forth across all of the lanes. Apparently this is a thing.

Thankfully, Amanda knew what was happening, because I had zero clue. The cops do this to slow down traffic either simply to prevent congestion or to protect the cars from something up ahead, such as a wreck or stalled vehicle. The whole time it’s happening, you’re required to stay behind the patrol car and not pass it until its flashing lights are off and it’s driving normally in one lane again. Even though it’s super confusing and frustrating, it’s actually for the safety of everyone.

And, as Amanda pointed out, sometimes you simply need to be slowed down in life in order to avoid something that could be a bit detrimental for you.

Amanda’s really wise. I hop in donation bins. It’s a balanced friendship.

There are many occasions when it’s really good to be able to do things all by yourself—like make it to the airport rental car place without Google Maps or carry all of your groceries from your car in one trip (I have this down to an art). Independence is a good quality. But there are times when that independence isn’t necessarily going to benefit you, especially if you’re stubborn about it (like I can often be), and you need people like the highway patrol officers to help you slow down a bit to keep you from potential harm.

I tend to go pretty hard in sports and in life, and it’s only been recently that I’ve realized (well, with the help of Amanda bringing it to my attention) just how rarely I consider my well-being or put it before much of anything else. It’s definitely one of those self-improvement areas I need to work on some more. After all, flag football usually shouldn’t be a sport in which you get more than one concussion.

I love people, and I love reminding them that they matter and are valued and loved. But shouldn’t I be treating myself the same way? If I’m called to love others as I love myself but am not actually showing myself the love and grace I aim to extend to others, that’s not a good thing. Whether physically or at the heart level, it’s important to take care of yourself.

I guess sometimes it’s OK—and probably actually more than OK—to slow down a little and even to let someone else remind you to slow down. You might not always require Google Maps to get you where you need to be, but you might need a little extra help to ensure that you get there in one piece, even if that means that it takes a little longer than you anticipated.

Because you’re worth the extra time, and you’re worth the extra love and grace that you can give yourself.

When you let your heart feel

I can’t always explain the feelings in my heart and the things it leads me to do, but I do know that I trust it.

And that I need to let it express those feelings more more.

I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but there are definitely times when I don’t really do that whole “thinking” thing. The other night, I was at a restaurant and using one of those old-school ketchup bottles that you have to hit to get the actual ketchup out. After I did, some ketchup kind of dripped out on the side of the mouth of the bottle, and I licked it off. Yes, I licked a restaurant’s ketchup bottle. I wasn’t thinking—I just did it. By the time I realized what I was doing, it was far too late.

There are quite a few areas of my life in which I don’t really let my brain be in charge. I’m more of the heart-thinker type. When I know in my heart that I’m supposed to do something, I typically don’t give it much thought—I just do it.

Nike has clearly gotten the best of me.

I’m sure that important heart thoughts are going on here.

While I use my heart for a lot of decisions and whatnot, I don’t always do the best job of letting it feel and express all of the emotions that it needs to. I’m a bottler in that regard. I’m not big on tears (I cry maybe two or three times a year), but when I do cry, it’s a disaster. I’ve usually been storing away all of the tears I suppressed in moments when I probably should have cried but pushed away the waterfall of emotions, instead. It’s not a good situation.

Last Tuesday, I thought that it was a normal day, but it was apparently actually a day for the waterworks. I think it had been since January or February, so I guess it was time. As usual when this happens, I was not expecting it—it just happened. We had a night of prayer and worship at my church, and my heart started to feel heavy on the drive over there. When I got inside, I began to notice that my eyes and their rusty tear ducts were weakening. I warned my friend Amanda that I felt like I was on the verge of crying but that I thought I would be able to hold it back.

Samsonite—I was way off.

I was holding it together until we started singing “Do It Again,” a song I really love. The first three lines played, and I lost it.

Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet

I think the weight of the truth and power behind those lyrics hit me hard. I immediately bolted out of the room and into a corner in an empty hallway so that I could sit on the ground and commence what became ugly, convulsive sobbing. I couldn’t stop. I tried. I failed. The tears had started, and they weren’t letting up anytime soon. I finally gave up even trying to stop and just let the crying and all of the feelings consume all of me. It was exhausting.

By the time the song ended, that sweet Amanda was sitting on the floor next to me with her arm wrapped around me. She didn’t need to say anything for a while—she just let me let out the emotions that had been in hiding for too long. Then she prayed with me, and we chatted a little before rejoining everyone else.

I just really like this picture of Amanda and me. There’s a lot going on in our expressions.

Later that week, I was running and thinking about a lot of different things, particularly how quickly life happens and how every single event and moment we face has purpose for the places we’re supposed to go, the things we’re supposed to do, and the people we’re supposed to be. I reflected on a rather painful time a couple of years ago that deeply impacted me. And then I did something I’ve never actually done before: I thought about every single emotion I felt during that time and even after, and I let myself actually feel those things. I didn’t cry or stop running or have any outward showing of anything—I simply let my heart do what it does best.

I let my heart think for me.

We all have different ways of processing and expressing our emotions, and I’m not expecting a monumental change for me anytime soon. I’m not perfect by any means (after all, I did lick a ketchup bottle that’s the property of a restaurant where people other than just me eat), and I’m honestly still trying to figure out this whole “life” thing. But one thing I realized on that run was that, while I may not normally know how to deal with my emotions, there’s one thing that my heart feels that I know what to do with: love. It’s not simply an emotion or action—it’s so much more that I’m not even sure there’s an accurate word to describe exactly what it is.

But I do know that we’re all capable of it.

Maybe you’re like me and don’t cry very often. Or maybe you’re the type of person who cries merely from hearing the theme song of This Is Us. And I’m sure that there’s a balance in there somewhere, too. Regardless, I know that it’s OK to let yourself feel. It’s OK to let yourself cry. (Yes, this is a slight pep talk to myself, too.) It’s OK to hurt and laugh and mourn and rejoice and ache and smile and let every other feeling be one that you acknowledge in a healthy way, even if that includes throwing rocks at a building or breaking plates and hitting things with a baseball bat at a place called The Anger Room. But, most of all, it’s OK to let your heart love.

Because that’s the most important heart thing of them all.