When you weren’t expecting surgery

I know that life throws unexpected things at us sometimes, but there are certain unanticipated events I would prefer to avoid.

Like surgeries.

Last Wednesday, I had been feeling weird all day at work. I’ve had some kidney issues this year, but they’ve all been on my right side, and this pain was on my left. I thought it might be a kidney stone, but I also thought maybe I was just having really bad cramps or had eaten something that hurt my stomach. But there was also pain in my back, though I was trying to ignore it.

I went through the entire workday, but something simply felt off, and I was hurting pretty badly. My solution was to go home and go running. Listen, I don’t always make the wisest decisions in life, and this was probably one of the unwise ones. It turns out that, even though running often makes me feel better when I’m sad or even feeling a little sick, it’s not helpful for all of my ailments.

I got home and quickly showered so that I could go meet some friends for dinner. I was talking to my sister on the phone one the way, and she told me I probably shouldn’t go to dinner if I really wasn’t feeling well. I should have listened to her, but I didn’t. I showed up at one of my favorite taco places, but within three minutes, I left to go to the ER.

I’m becoming all too familiar with that place.

I was given lots of pain meds (after they only blew two of my veins that night), and then I went back for a CT scan. Surely enough, it was a kidney stone. The doctor told me it was a very large one and was the cause of the pain I had been feeling all day. But he said it was far enough along that it had almost run its course, so he sent me home with pain meds and another medication to help it pass. My sweet friend Bonnie had come to the hospital in case I needed a ride home, but apparently I was OK to drive, even after everything that had been pumping through my veins. She was a real trooper and followed me home and even stopped at two different pharmacies with me (we were misled to believe one was a 24-hour pharmacy, but it was not).

When I woke up the next morning, the pain was worse, and it was in the same spot. I was worried that somehow the stone was stuck. Bonnie called me to check on me, and thankfully she hadn’t left for work yet, because she ended up driving me back to the ER. The doctor there found that the stone was indeed an obstructive stone, which meant that it was so large that it had actually gotten stuck and was blocking stuff inside me, and I needed to have surgery to remove it. I told Bonnie to go to work since it was probably going to be a rather long day, and then my mom ended up coming to be with me. It was a rough day—none of the pain medicines they gave me were working, so they finally gave me what they said was the strongest medicine possible, and it sort of helped.

Bonnie and Michelle are keepers.

I was admitted to the hospital, but my surgery couldn’t be done until Friday, so I was basically just treated for pain all of Thursday and the majority of Friday. My mom stayed with me most of the day Thursday, and then my sister stopped by for a bit, and then Bonnie came back with my friend Michelle to help bring some smiles to my rather miserable situation.

I didn’t get much sleep that night, and I had to disconnect the heart rate monitor completely so that the machine would stop beeping at me. (I have a naturally low resting heart rate, but the nurses wouldn’t put it on a lower setting, so I told them I wasn’t going to wear it.)

Finally, the time for the surgery rolled around the next day (at which point I finally put on the hospital gown they gave me), and my mom and sister were both there at this point. Before taking me back to the operating room, the anesthesiologist gave me something that was supposed to relax me, but I don’t remember a thing after that until I woke up. I asked where my Wheat Thins were (priorities, people), and then I said I needed to talk to my sister and my mom. I briefly got to see them, and my sister told me the surgery was not successful.

Say what?

Apparently the stone was so large and in a difficult location that the doctor was unable to get it. He tried multiple times but told my mom and sister that if he had done anything more, he would have lacerated my ureter, which would have led to much worse complications and a much more extensive and invasive surgery to repair it. So, somehow he was able to push the stone back up into my kidney. I currently have a stent inside me that I have to wear for two weeks until I go see the doctor again for a different surgery that will hopefully get rid of everything.

But I didn’t have much time to react to any of that news—I was immediately taken away from my mom and sister because I wasn’t breathing right. They weren’t allowed to come back there with me, and the nurse kept telling me that I needed to breathe. I was still very woozy, but I thought I was breathing. She shoved breathing tubes up my nose and told me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, but I don’t think I did a very good job because she took those out and then put an oxygen mask over my face. It was kind of a scary 30 minutes or so of not knowing if I was actually breathing or not. According to the machine beeping at me and the nurse coaching me, I wasn’t.

When I finally returned to a normal state, I was able to see my family again, and I was taken back up to my hospital room. I really just wanted to get out of there so that I could make it to my niece’s first birthday party the next day. (Yes, I know going was overdoing it, but I couldn’t miss that party for anything in the world—not even surgery.) My precious sister and heart-of-gold mom had bought me a bear while I was in surgery (we named him Bow to go along with my koala named Tie), and my mom took care of me all night and checked on me so many times to make sure I was still breathing.

If I could not go through this again, that would be great.

I don’t like still being in pain, and I really don’t like that the surgery didn’t work and that I have to go back for another one. I don’t understand why any of this happened, and maybe I never will. But I do know that I am so thankful for my people. I don’t know what I would have done without my sister, my mom, Bonnie, Michelle, the caring doctors and nurses, and the multiple people who kept texting me to check on me.

We’re all going to face some crappy situations in life, but sometimes we need our people to help us through—and faith that everything is happening for some greater purpose and that we are going to survive those tough times.

Life sure can be ugly, but love makes it so much more beautiful than we could ever imagine.

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The story of my single life

Every once in a while, the reminder that I’m single slaps me in the face pretty hard.

Like when I’m trying to do a two-person job by myself.

I recently bought a new MacBook and decided to sell my iMac to the company Apple partners with for doing so. It sends you this gigantic box and all of the packaging materials you need to ship it back. The concept seemed simple enough—I had no idea how ridiculously complicated the packing system was, though.

I finally got everything deleted from my account on my old computer and reinstalled the operating system (a process that also tested my patience a little bit), and then I figured I was ready to follow the step-by-step instructions on the piece of paper that had come in the box. What I didn’t realize was that I was nowhere near ready for what was ahead of me.

Because I never thought a cardboard box could defeat me.

There was a huge piece of cardboard that had plastic wrapping attached to it, and you flatten the cardboard and slide the computer under the wrapping. You’re then supposed to pull the wrapping tightly around the bottom of the computer, which I did (sort of). Then, the geniuses who created this flawed system expect you to be able to fold two of the sides down. It looks super easy on that piece of paper.

But I’m not sure they factored in people trying to do this by themselves.

I don’t know that I can accurately describe why this was so flippin’ difficult, but it was. My wingspan is not long enough on its own to be able to fold both sides down at the same time, and after one was folded, it became physically impossible for me to get the other side down without the first one popping back up. I spent a solid 19 or so minutes trying to do this and am pretty sure I was sweating by the end of it. I also walked away with a few bruises from the computer when I was trying to maneuver the materials to try to defy physics and whatnot. I came close to ruining the cardboard contraption completely more than once.

I’m normally not a quitter, but I couldn’t take it anymore—I gave up and folded all of the sides up, even though doing so meant the computer wasn’t secured in there as tightly. To be honest, I was beyond the point of caring.

Then the fun of trying to make that fit into the big box began. Again, this was also probably a task more suitable for two people. It was simply too big for me to be able to hold it at a good angle and fit it in there, and I’m pretty sure it would have fit better if the sides were folded correctly, but that’s a reality on which I choose not to dwell.

By a miracle of God, I finally had success.

I might boycott cardboard for a while.

I quickly used the packaging tape they sent me (which was actually super cute, by the way), to tape up the box and then noticed something that made me cringe more than a little bit: I had taped the wrong end of the box. You see, I had opened it on the wrong end originally, so I didn’t think anything of it. However, each side of the box had an arrow with the word “up,” which meant it was taped on the “down” side. I said a weary prayer that the computer would make it to its destination in one piece and not be damaged from the multiple packaging mishaps that I had created.

I then looked down at the box and wondered how in tarnation I was going to get that thing to my car downstairs. It’s not that it was super heavy, but it looked too massive for me to carry on my own. So I scooted it. Yep—I got in defensive tackle position and pushed the box to the elevator and down to the parking garage. As soon as I got down to the garage, though, I had to accept the fact that I couldn’t scoot it on the concrete to my car.

That was a really unfortunate realization.

I was so tired. I put my head down. I suddenly looked up to see a tall beautiful creature walking through the doors into the garage. I didn’t even think twice before letting the words come out of my mouth: “Hey, hi, hello. Can you please help me move this box into my car?”

Homeboy had super long arms, so he was able to pick it up without my help and put it in my backseat. I thanked him probably six times and then hopped in my car to head to the post office. Somehow—I’m really not sure how—I got the box out of my car on my own and awkwardly carried it to the door. I don’t like to admit failure, but I tried to open it on my own and had a success rate of zero. Thankfully, some man full of jokes saw me struggling and helped me and also felt the need to point out the absurd picture before him. Thanks, bro.

I finally got that huge box to the desk (Mr. Funny had more commentary when I tried to hoist it up there on my own) and out of my hands. I really wanted to take a nap.

I have to admit that a thought ran through my mind during that entire box situation: This would not be this difficult if I had a boyfriend.

I know it’s silly to have such a thought, but it’s also true. It’s not just about having someone to help me, though—it’s about having someone to make memories and share experiences with. It probably would have been a lot funnier in the moment and not just looking back on it if it weren’t something I had tried to do all by myself. I’m a very strong-willed and independent person, but every once in a while, I have moments when I think it would be nice to know what it’s like to be loved by someone who picked me out of everyone else in the world.

That evening, I watched the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and I was really touched by Jason Taylor’s speech. He said so many wonderful things, but one struck me more than the others: “Ease is a greater threat to growth than hardship.”

And he’s right.

I truly believe that it’s the really tough stuff we face that helps us become even stronger. I mean, even though that whole box situation was draining, it was something I obviously needed to endure that day.  Sure, it made me feel weak in certain moments, but it was also a reminder that I can still handle the difficult circumstances that come my way—and that, even though I may not have a fella, there are still people who will always be there to help me along the way. I also always have the Lord there working His miracles on His own time.

And it was a reminder that being single doesn’t mean you’re completely alone.

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That time I climbed into a dumpster

There are many places in life where I never thought I would find myself.

Like inside of a dumpster.

For many reasons last week, I was ready for the weekend. I mean, most people usually are, but I was really ready for that week to be over and forgotten. I walked out of my door Friday morning to leave from work and mentally reminded myself that I needed to start thinking positive thoughts about everything going on.

I was taking my trash to drop down the chute on my way to the parking garage and had a million things going through my mind at once. Normally I’m very careful in the trash chute area, making sure anything in my hands that’s not trash stays in my hands. I would never want something accidentally to slip down the chute with the garbage.

But sometimes we get the things we don’t want.

My keys were in the same hand as the trash, but I had a pretty good hold on them. I heaved the bag toward the chute, and a very horrible disaster occurred: The keys had become tangled up in the drawstring ties on the bag, and they went flying through the air with the trash. It felt like an awful slow motion scene that I couldn’t stop, yet everything happened so quickly, and I watched as my keys disappeared into the wretched black abyss.

“SHAST!” was all I could say in that moment.

I ran down the stairs to the garage and to the room in the garage where the dumpster is. An immediate stench filled my nose, and I was practically blinded by the swarm of flies hovering over the bags of discarded food and God knows what else. I peeked over the edge and saw my keys, which were still clinging to the bag I had tossed. I couldn’t reach that far down to get them, though—I was going to have to go in if I wanted to retrieve them. I briefly considered letting them go. I had a spare car key in my purse, and I had a spare key to my apartment in my car. It actually wasn’t the worst situation. But then I thought about the clicker that gets me in my garage and apartment building and about how replacing it costs something like $70 or somewhere in that range.

And then I did something that makes me cringe just thinking about it.

There were boxes to the side, and I stacked a few on top of each other and climbed on in there. As I did, I said a quiet prayer that no one would throw trash down the chute while I was in there. I quickly grabbed my keys and had to pile a couple of bags on top of each other to get back out. IT WAS SO DISGUSTING. Then I rushed back upstairs to shower for the second time that morning and change clothes. (Side note: It’s amusing to me how everyone I’ve told this story to has asked me if I showered after. I didn’t realize I gave off such a vibe of not caring about my sanitation.)

As I scurried off to work, I just kept thinking, Surely the day can only go up from here, and while I was in the dumpster (a phrase I never thought I’d say), I had thought, Is this really my life right now?

This wasn’t my original outfit. And this is pretty much how I felt all day long.

Life is rough sometimes. There are going to be times when we are down in the dumps (maybe not literally like I was) and feel like our situations can’t get any worse than they actually are. Whether it’s been from heartache, ongoing kidney issues, or trying to figure my life out, I’ve had a lot of dumpster days in the past year. It’s yucky, and it’s stuff you want to run far, far away from and not have to deal with ever again.

But sometimes a period when you feel like you’re in a heaping pile of garbage actually leads to better things than you would have imagined. For me, not only did I get my keys back, but I wasn’t really thrilled with the original outfit I was wearing, and I ended up having to change. I also learned a lesson in paying more attention to even the little things when I let myself get lost in my seemingly endless thoughts. I tossed something very important down that trash chute, and I would never want to be so careless and caught up in my own stuff that I become the cause of someone else feeling down in the dumps.

And this whole experience made me feel more sympathy for others. Some people literally dig through trash on a daily basis, and others are more figuratively in their own dumpsters. We don’t know the stories of all of the people we encounter, but it’s important to remember that they could be facing really tough situations or going through extremely difficult times. And often the only thing we can do is show them love—even if that’s simply through smiles or kind words or being present.

We’re going to have wonderful days, and we’re going to have days we just want to end. I would never wish dumpster days on anyone, but I know they’re going to happen. The good news, though, is that a dumpster is not actually meant for humans, so you will make it out of there someday. And finally climbing out of a garbage bin filled with what’s causing you pain and an array of emotions you don’t want is a beautiful thing.

Especially when you actually get what you were hoping for when you ended up in there.

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Following your calling—even if it includes pet sitting

Every once in a while, I find myself in a situation that I never would have predicted.

Like letting a dog sleep in the same bed as me.

I don’t do the whole pet thing. It’s not that I dislike animals, but I also don’t have an affinity for them. I never ask strangers if I can pet their dogs because most of the time I prefer not to touch them. (I understand that some of you are judging me right now. Now you know how I feel when I meet people who don’t watch sports.)

Yet, for some reason, people frequently ask me to pet sit for them—and I honestly don’t mind.

It all started when I was in high school. We had a family friend who owned a big tank full of fish, and he paid me $20 a day to stop by his house once a day to feed the little swimmers when he and his wife were out of town. As a teenager who didn’t have much of a steady stream of income from my shifts at the Smoothie Factory and the tutoring center where I worked, this kind of money felt like a steal.

Since then, I’ve become a go-to for some people when they travel. I’ve taken care of dogs, cats, another fish (yes, just one—that is another interesting story in itself), a bird (I actually genuinely do not like birds), a rodent or two, and probably some other animal I’m forgetting. In most of the cases with dogs, I stay at the actual houses, but that time I fish sat just the one fish, it stayed with me. (Side note: Please ask me the story about how I was in the middle of moving when I was keeping that fish, and my mom ended up taking it with her in a grocery cart in Tom Thumb.) Once I even somehow ended up taking care of three different pets at three separate homes at the same time. I needed a nap that weekend.

We went on a walk to the park. Later I discovered that my shirt was on backward.

I don’t plan on getting a pet. In fact, I have zero desire to. But I like helping people, and I appreciate that they trust me enough with their beloved animals while they’re away. I’m not meant to be a pet owner, but I know I’m supposed to be there for the people I care about.

And sometimes being part of something for a little while is a necessary part of your journey.

I remember when I left teaching, I knew my life was going to be drastically different, but I also knew that my time in that role was finished. I was a little nervous about entering the corporate world because, for a lot of different reasons, I didn’t really feel like I would fit in. My life felt like a complete whirlwind for a long time—there were no bells, I didn’t have a set schedule, people went off campus for lunch, YOU CAN TAKE A ONE-HOUR LUNCH BREAK, I didn’t have younger humans looking up to me and trusting me with everything, there were no daily announcements made from my classroom, I didn’t even have a classroom, I had to work on a PC and not a Mac, I didn’t get to mentor anyone, I didn’t have to create assignments and maintain a grade book, and there were SO MANY OTHER THINGS that were new to me.

It was pretty scary.

It’s been more than two years now, so I guess you could say I’m a little more settled in. Thankfully, I still keep up with/mentor a handful of young women I was privileged to teach for all of their four years in high school, and I’m absolutely thankful for that. Seeing them grow up to become incredible individuals pursuing their dreams and becoming confident women who aren’t afraid to stand up for what is right is a beautiful thing to witness—it’s realizations like that that remind me that my time spent teaching was absolutely worth it.

Someone recently asked me what I ultimately want in life, and I didn’t have to think about it much. I may not be there yet, but I feel like much of what I’ve done thus far has been similar to pet sitting—I help out for the time I’m needed until it’s time to move on. And I genuinely care about each role I serve. (I even wished I could text Audrey, my parents’ dog I’m pet sitting, when I left their house the other day to make sure she wasn’t overheated after the walk we took that morning. She doesn’t have a phone, though.) I feel like God’s used me where He needed me to be. I knew when I started teaching that I wasn’t going to be there forever, but I know those seven years are ones I wouldn’t trade for any other better-paying job in the world.

We all have our own passions and callings. Some of us are meant to stay in the same roles for long periods of time, while others are meant to live a little differently. Some of us are meant to be pet owners, while others aren’t. I’m not saying that I want to bounce around all of the time, but I am saying that it takes some people longer to get to their destinations than others.

Life moves so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up sometimes, and we don’t always get the opportunities again that we let slip away. I love being there for my people, and if that means watching their pets when they ask me to, then so be it. If it helps them, I’m happy to do it—because for some reason I know it’s a role I need to play in this journey.

I don’t know exactly what the next chapter of my story holds, but I know it’s full of change, and I know I’m full of hope for it—and I’m ready for whatever it is that comes my way.

Even if it means taking care of a cat I’m allergic to for the sake of love.

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Hearts are stronger than distance

I love people and hearing their stories.

And I really love when their dreams come true.

My dear friend Crystal (I call her Peltz) is someone who has become one of my favorite people over the years. I met her during my first year of teaching, and I’m pretty sure it was destiny that we were meant to be friends. You know those people who just get you? Peltz is definitely one of those people for me.

We coordinated our outfits on my birthday one year.

We used to take what we called “upstare” pictures (which are basically us staring off into the distance) every Wednesday. I don’t even know how exactly they got started, but they became something fun we did on a weekly basis, and we occasionally even coordinated our outfits for them or had themed pics. We tried to come up with something fresh and creative each week. Was it silly? Probably. But we didn’t care—it was our thing.

Peltz is one of those friends who is genuine through and through and will drop everything in a heartbeat to help you when you need it. There was one day during a teacher workday when I started having unbearable pain, and some of my coworkers insisted I go to the hospital. Peltz immediately stepped in and said she was taking me there, no questions asked. She stayed with me the entire time (and kept me highly entertained, obviously) and even called my parents to make sure my family knew what was going on (and of course they showed up and to this day still ask about her and go on and on about what a great friend she is). She had so much she needed to be doing to get ready for the new school year, but she didn’t even act concerned about any of that—her main focus was making sure I was OK.

I had a ruptured ovarian cyst, so it was a long day in the hospital. She stayed the entire time and ended up taking me back to my car at the school later. Understandably so, she was pretty hungry and stopped at Chick-fil-A for a grilled chicken sandwich, and she gave me her extra Chick-fil-A sauce. I love that stuff, and I’m pretty sure I told her it’s so great that I could drink it—thus, a challenge was issued. So, in the front seat of her car, I downed that sauce on its own. I can’t say it’s something I’ll do on the regular anytime soon, but it’s a moment with Peltz I’ll never forget.

Then once she tried to trap me in a science lab.

I’ve known for years that my dear friend wasn’t planning on staying in Texas forever. Her heart has always been in Maine, and I was filled with joy for her when I found out that her dream is finally coming true. She’s found a wonderful job and home for her family to live in her favorite place on earth. The selfish part of me is already heartbroken that she’ll be so far away, but the other part of me knows this is exactly what she wants and what she needs.

The thing is, though, distance can’t ruin those true friendships and relationships that are meant to last. People sometimes leave, but the bonds don’t—they remain for as long as you let them.

Life is full of people and possibilities. Some people simply pass through our lives, and we only have limited time with them. Others are there for the long haul. Either way, they can impact us in so many ways and change our lives in what seems like a mere matter of seconds.

I have stories of heartache to prove it.

Change isn’t easy, and it’s not always embraced. But I don’t think it’s something that should necessarily be feared. It can be good for our hearts in ways we could never imagine.

She bought us tiny pink hats. THE BEST.

Peltz is gone from Texas, but I know she isn’t gone from my life. (Plus, we have matching necklaces that say “love” and matching tiny pink hats, so we’ll always have a special heart connection.) I love that she’s chasing her dreams, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for her.

There’s a lot that happens in a single lifetime. There are adventures and dreams and hopes and opportunities and wins and losses and broken hearts and celebrations and so many other things. But it’s the people who make all of those things worth it.

And it’s those people—people like Peltz—who remind you every day why it’s so important to love and to live as big as you can.

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#noregrets—advice from a guy on a plane

I know it’s trite to say, but I truly believe that everything happens for a reason.

Especially when it involves the person you sit next to on an airplane.

My friend Amanda and I went on a trip to San Diego over the weekend, and we ended up catching an earlier flight home (so that we wouldn’t get home super late on a Sunday night), so we weren’t sitting near each other on the plane. Instead, I wound up next to some guy named Chris.

I started talking to him a little before the flight took off, and we discussed a variety of different things pertaining to our individual lives. He gave me a lot of great advice, but one thing he said to me really stuck with me: When you’re young, and you’re single, let your heart take you where it needs to go—because you don’t want to look back years from now and regret that you didn’t take enough chances.

And it was exactly what I needed to hear.

(By the way, I never told homeboy I’m single. I think I just have an aura about me.)

I’ve made some recent decisions that I’m currently pursuing, and not everyone thinks they’re good ideas. For me, I firmly believe they’re right for right now. I know every decision we make—even the small ones—can impact our lives in huge ways, but sometimes the decision not to do something can be even more significant.

And I don’t want to live in regret.

I’ve mentioned before all of the times I haven’t let guys know how I feel, and I’ve never won their hearts. I’m not saying they all would have fallen madly in love with me if I had said something, but I also don’t know what would have happened—and sometimes I wonder.

What if I had taken a chance and shared my heart? What if I had been brave in a moment when I really wanted to be brave, rather than let that moment pass by? What if I had trusted my heart? What if I had done something that was not quite in the realm of the comfort zones I’m so used to at this point?

And I’m not a fan of living in the Land of What If.

Even this trip with Amanda was sort of an on-a-whim thing. I wanted a little getaway to San Diego, and she loves that city and was gung-ho about going. We somewhat spontaneously booked the flights and got the rest of the details of the trip in place. No, it wasn’t the wisest financial decision I’ve ever made, but I’m OK with that.

Because it was totally worth it.

This was right before our cartwheels in the sand. I’m pretty sure we both pulled muscles (aging sucks), but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

It’s one of those trips I’ll look back on and be really glad I took it. First, if you’ve ever spent any time with Amanda, you’d understand why. She’s one of the greatest people I know and an ideal travel buddy. Second, it was a needed escape for a little bit to somewhere I love: the beach. The beach brings me a lot of peace and clarity, especially when I can sit for a while on a lifeguard stand and just stare out at the seemingly unending ocean water (which we made sure to do on this trip, of course).

Chatting with Chris at the end of the trip was truly what I needed with my heart full of hope and mind full of anxiety that I’ve had lately. I needed the change of flights, and I needed to chat with this guy.

And I think God knew that and put us both on that particular row on that particular flight.

I will say that Chris didn’t want to be my BFF or anything—no one was sitting in the window seat (yes, Amanda and I could have sat on the same row, but discussing that would involve the angry face emoji), and he suggested I scoot over and sit there. I contend it’s because he’s a little bit of a larger man and needed more space and arm room. I mean, he gave me his business card and offered to buy me a sandwich on the plane, so I don’t think my presence or talkative personality repelled him that much.

He did, however, remind me that I definitely want to live my life without singing Hanson’s great “If Only.” You can only sit along the shoreline for so long until you realize it’s time to run into the water or do a cartwheel in it, regardless of how cold it feels.

Because sometimes that chilly water is exactly what you need to set your heart on fire.

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Hey, keep it strong

Every once in a while, some simple words of encouragement can truly boost a person’s spirits.

Even if they come from a complete stranger.

I was running after work one day last week, and it was HOT. More than once during the run, I questioned why I thought this was a good idea, and more than once, I wanted to stop and walk (or dodge into the nearest establishment and pour water all over myself). But, for whatever reason, I kept running. I’m never going to get where I want to be and be able to start racing competitively again if I start giving up because of challenges.

It turns out that I needed that run a lot more than I thought.

I was somewhat near the end of my run, and it wasn’t getting any easier. I was on a pretty busy street at this point, and I was approaching a bus stop where a man was sitting with a bag that may or may not have contained all of his worldly possessions. As I ran by him, he startled me a bit when he spoke to me.

“Hey, keep it strong.”

I don’t know if he knew this, but in that exact moment in my life, I needed those four simple words. As I said, “Thank you so much!” and continued on my way (his inspiration even made me pick up my pace a little bit), I realized that I didn’t only need those words to help me while I was running—I needed them to help me in my life.

We tried to keep it strong when we ran up this hill. (P.S. This pic doesn’t do the steepness of the hill justice.)

It’s easy to get discouraged when things aren’t going your way or when you simply feel powerless in certain situations. Giving up hope and throwing in the towel seems like the only option. I know I sometimes feel that way, and it’s been more prevalent lately in a few areas. As I ran, I let my circumstances run through my mind, and I kept replaying that man’s words in my head: Hey, keep it strong. And I prayed for him and thanked God for him—I truly believe He sends the right people to us when we need them the most.

I know that life isn’t always going to pan out the way we hoped it would, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still have hope. I know that I might not meet the guy of my dreams while walking through a park, and he accidentally hits me in the head with a frisbee and then comes over to apologize, and sparks fly—but I’m probably still going to hope that it will be something like that.

There are going to be many times when it’s easier to give up or to settle for what you know isn’t right for you. But those are the moments when it’s important to find even just an inkling of strength to help to keep you going to do what you know you need to do.

I believe in hopes. I believe in dreams. I believe in continuing to believe in those hopes and dreams, even when you have so many odds against you or people trying to tell you what would be better for you to hope and dream. We’re all so different, and we’re going to have different hopes and dreams and standards and beliefs and values and strengths and passions—and that’s not a bad thing.

There’s a line in the movie Without Limits (about the life of Steve Prefontaine) when Pre is trying to win Mary’s heart, and Mary asks Pre, “Are you always so positive about everything?” and he replies, “Consider the alternative.” I think it’s a really great mindset to have—one that tries to be hopeful for things for which others are not so hopeful. The alternative isn’t quite keeping it strong.

You never know when your words can truly encourage a person or when someone else’s can do the same for you. I’m grateful for the man at the bus stop. He didn’t have to say a word to me—he could have simply kept to himself until his bus arrived. But, instead, he gave the gift of hope to a person he doesn’t even know. He made me remember that when you know in your heart that something is right, it’s important to keep that hope alive with all of the gusto you can muster.

Because when you lose hope, you can certainly lose a lot more along with it.

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