Fairy Tales

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 let yourself believe that you’re beautiful

I’ve always loved Target, but now it’s become an even more special place to me.

Because it’s a place where you can remind others just how beautiful and loved they are.

I was at the remarkable store the other day in the travel-sized items area because I know my priorities and needed a mini can of hairspray to have in my purse at all times. I started looking through my purse to make sure that I had enough toothpaste still left in there, as well, and then I lingered even longer when I started listening more intently to the conversation two teenage girls were having near me.

They were talking about an upcoming school dance they were about to have, and one of the girls (I’m going to name her Kirsten) was asking her friend (let’s go with Shelby) if she was going with some guy. The ensuing conversation went down right there at the end of the aisle of heartache and insecurity.

Shelby: No, I don’t think so.
Kirsten: Why not? You know you want to.
Shelby: Because he’s probably gonna go with Mykala. He was flirting with her a lot yesterday at lunch, and she’s so pretty. He doesn’t like me.
Kirsten: (says not-so-nice comments about Mykala that I’m not going to repeat
)

My heart broke. Did Shelby think that she wasn’t pretty enough to go with this boy? And Kirsten forgot to remind Shelby how beautiful she is and provide her with a bit of affirmation. I obviously needed to say something.

As I walked by them, I paused and said to Shelby: “You’re beautiful and should ask him, anyway.” And, even though she initially gave me one of those “I don’t want you all up in my business” looks and then muttered a sheepish “thanks,” I hope it encouraged her even just a little. (Yes, I do realize that it’s not always my place to jump in on other people’s conversations, but sometimes I do it—just ask anyone in my building who’s ever been in the elevator with me.)

I remember being Shelby’s age and feeling the same way she feels—like the other girls were prettier, and there was no way that any guy was ever going to want to go to a dance with me or date me. That’s why I always kept my crushes hidden (except for that one time I didn’t, and the guy I liked at the time wanted to make fun of me for having a crush on him). It caused me pain to hear the unhopeful tone in her voice as she told her friend that the guy she likes doesn’t feel the same way.

Charlie Brown was so right: “There’s nothing like unrequited love to drain all the flavor out of a peanut butter sandwich.”

And that was right after good ol’ Chuck had told his best buddy Linus that the Little Red-Haired Girl didn’t notice him because he was “nothing.” Oy. WHY MUST YOU BREAK MY HEART, CHARLIE BROWN? I hope that Shelby doesn’t think of herself the same way that sweet CB sees himself.

Monique is obviously gorgeous on the outside but also has such a beautiful heart.

It’s hard not to feel that way sometimes, though. I can think of too many times when I felt like I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough or popular enough or whatever enough to have even the slimmest chances to end up with the guys I liked in high school. And I wish that it had ended there—but it didn’t. I spent more years in college and in my 20s still thinking that I was lacking all of the things a young woman needed to catch the eye of any fella. I was eating nothing but bland peanut butter sandwiches.

And then something changed in my heart, which eventually helped to change my mind. I wish that I could say that those doubts never returned, but I’m a human woman, and they have a tendency to resurface every once in a while. I’ve gotten a lot better about getting rid of those thoughts, though, and replacing them with affirmations of who I am, rather than what I’m not.

My friend Monique gave me some solid advice recently. We were talking about something completely different, but I’m going to start applying it to almost every area of my life.

“If one of your nieces told you this, what would you say to her?”

I hope that sweet Evie always smiles when she sees her reflection.

If Olivia or Evie ever tried to tell me that she saw herself in a negative way or that she wasn’t good enough for someone, I would immediately refute those lies and replace them with the truth of how wonderfully made she is and how precious and valued she is. I would tell either of them: “Don’t talk about my niece that way.” (Thank you to my friend Ana for telling our book club that her husband always says “don’t talk about my wife that way” when she says something negative about herself.)

And maybe that’s something that we should say to ourselves more often: Don’t talk about myself that way.

I hope that Shelby got the courage to ask that boy to the dance. And, even if she didn’t, I hope that she eventually believes that she is beautiful and enough as she is, regardless of whether or not some guy feels the same way about her that she feels about him.

I hope that you know that your worth isn’t determined by what other people think, either. You have your own unique gifts and your own unique look, and you’re beautiful as you are. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

And please don’t ever get the same mindset as our friend Charlie Brown and think that you’re nothing—you’re more something special than you may know, and I hope that your peanut butter sandwich always has an abundance of flavor.

Because you’re worth living fully and taking chances

Time seems to go by really quickly, even when some of the days feel far too long.

Especially when you’re old(ish).

There’s some 10-year challenge that’s been trending on social media, so I’ve seen a lot of posts lately of split-screen pictures showing what people looked like back in 2009. While I didn’t jump on board that ship, it did get me thinking about how quickly 10 years go by. It doesn’t feel like I graduated college almost 12 years ago, but I did. It doesn’t even feel like I’ve been living in California for a year and a half, but I have.

I’m 34, and my favorite drink is Capri Sun.

I don’t remember thinking time was flying by when I was younger, but I was also too busy focusing on trying to grow up too fast. Some moments stick with us forever, and others become distant memories that we don’t recall as well as we might prefer. Some things we want to remember; others we wish we could forget. But each one of those moments has helped us to get to where we are right now and to become the people we are today.

I’m 34, and I often joke about the fact that I’m officially old. It’s like my body decided to start reminding me of my age when I hit 30—if you don’t stretch before breathing, everything’s going to hurt. The truth is, though, I’m really only older than I used to be, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m old. Maybe that whole “age is just a number” saying is true. Or there’s that one about only being as old as you feel. I’m not sure about that one sometimes, though, because that would make me 77 some days.

I often like to live like I’m still a kid. No, I can’t go completely rogue and ignore all of my responsibilities that are part of adulting, but I love the carefree attitudes of kids and the inherent ability they all seem to have to be able to find joy in almost any situation. I mean, my sweet niece Olivia was having crazy fun “dropping” (her word for throwing, apparently) toys behind her bed while we were FaceTiming over the weekend. When did stuff like that stop being so enjoyable for some of us?

These gems help keep me hip.

Another thing that I think we often lose as we get older is that special boldness to do and say what we want. Sure, there are some shy little kids who sometimes try to hide behind their parents’ legs, but even they usually start to come out of their shells after a few minutes of becoming familiar with their surroundings and the people there with them.

The other day, I was sitting on the shore, and there were a few little kids near me. One of those big ugly sea birds landed on the sand, and I didn’t really pay attention to it. I don’t like birds much. The kids, however, suddenly took off running straight toward the bird, laughing uncontrollably as they did. It was quite entertaining to watch—that bird wanted nothing to do with them, but they didn’t care at all. They were caught up in the moment and were enjoying every single second of it.

I realize that everything is much simpler when you’re that young and don’t fully understand much of the world around you. Yes, there are times in life that are full of struggle and pain and heartache and tears and so many feelings and stuff that feels like more than you can handle—and none of that should be ignored. It’s important to acknowledge reality and what you’re going through and the emotions that start to build up inside of you, but I think that it’s also good to live like a kid every once in a while and not focus on all of the “what ifs” and potential outcomes and, instead, just run straight toward what your heart desires.

What would that look like in your life? Would that mean chasing a dream that you’ve been afraid to pursue? Telling someone how you feel? Opening your heart to love? Taking a trip or journey that you’ve wanted to take but simply haven’t yet?

Me to a stranger: Will you take a picture of me flexing?

Why do we often overthink things without just doing them? It sometimes makes a lot more sense to run after the ugly sea bird without giving it a second thought. I know that I don’t want to look back at moments in my life and wonder what might have happened if I had simply been just a little bit braver—“If Only” isn’t the Hanson song that I want to describe my life. The years truly do go by so quickly, and I want to live them fully and without hesitation. I want to know that the wrinkles I’m eventually going to have are worth every single smile and every single laugh because I was able to enjoy the precious moments I’ve been able to experience.

I hope that the next time you compare pictures of yourself from years apart you see someone who has grown in tremendous ways yet still has that youthful belief that truly anything is possible. Because it is. I hope that you see someone who is bold and is confident in who you are. I hope that you see someone who knows that you’re enough and lives with the truth that you’re worth people’s time and love.

And I hope that you see someone who takes chances and doesn’t let moments pass by when they’re right there in front of you.

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 you don’t have to be sorry for being you

It’s interesting to me that it can be so tough for us to apologize when we know we’re wrong, but other “I’m sorry” statements are so simple to make.

Like when we have no real reasons to be apologizing.

When you hurt someone or wrong someone in some way, there’s a need to say you’re sorry. Perhaps you have to cancel plans on someone or are running late somewhere and send an apology text—there’s nothing wrong with that. But there are other times when you might say you’re sorry for something for which you really shouldn’t have to apologize.

Especially if what you’re doing is simply being you.

I remember reading an article a couple of years ago that mentioned how women often apologize for things in the business/office setting that they shouldn’t be—things like speaking up in meetings or presenting ideas that would bring about potential changes and innovations. (I don’t know if men do this as often, but the article focused mainly on women.) Ever since then, I’ve tried to be more aware of times when I might be saying sorry and not actually meaning it.

I’m not sorry for asking a stranger to take my picture.

I eat Wheat Thins with everything and at every meal. I love them with my whole being. I have them with me at all times—there’s always a box in my car, and I carry a sandwich bag of them with me in my purse. Yes, I do bust them out at the dinner table in public places. I remember going to dinner with some new friends a little more than a year ago, and when I got my Wheat Thins out, I said “sorry, I eat them at every meal.” As soon as that first word came out of my mouth, I immediately regretted it. I wasn’t sorry. At all. So now I make sure that I never apologize for having Wheat Thins when I’m eating.

Because I’m not sorry for being me.

I don’t believe that eating my favorite food hurts anyone, even if other people think it’s bad manners. I didn’t go to cotillion at any point in time, and I’ve never been that great with manners, anyway.

Have you ever noticed yourself saying sorry for something for which you really had no reason to apologize? Have you ever said sorry for bothering someone when what you’re about to say is really no bother at all? Have you ever apologized for not being perfect? I’m not sure why we do this. We have the abilities to speak our minds and share our hearts and go after our dreams, and we don’t have to be sorry for any of that. You do you, boo.

And in the same way that we shouldn’t be apologizing for being ourselves, we shouldn’t expect other people to be sorry for the unique individuals they are—we should be giving them love and encouragement and room to continue to grow so that they can be comfortable being themselves.

I was speaking to the junior high students at my church last weekend, and I was talking about accepting others and loving them not just in spite of their differences from us but also because of those differences. I thought back to when I was in middle school and how I was an absolutely horrible example of that. I didn’t know Jesus yet, and I was very selfish and far too concerned with what people thought of me and what I thought of others. It’s not a time of my life that I’m proud of by any means.

I’ve said this before, and I stand by it: Middle school is the worst period of life. It’s such an easy time to be mean and judgmental, and you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what life is and what’s cool and what’s not, and you have no idea of what the genuine and important things in life are yet. I’m sure that there are some mature kids in that stage of life who are rare gems, but for the most part, it’s a painful and awkward stage that we all have to go through as a rite of passage into (hopefully) becoming more mature adults who are concerned with more than popularity and what brands of clothing you’re allowed to wear and which ones are faux pas.

You know what, though? Even though that period of life can be very superficial and unwelcoming, being an adult doesn’t suddenly become easier just because you’re no longer begging your parents for Doc Martens and wearing overalls with only one side buttoned because it looks so much cooler (you feel me, 90s middle schoolers??). It can still be tough to feel like you’re accepted and like you belong, and there will be people who judge you and make you want to apologize without even knowing why you’re saying sorry. But if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have no reason for those apologetic words.

Because you don’t have to be sorry for being you.

I’m also not sorry for wearing shirts under crop tops.

I’m going to keep checking myself to make sure I’m not starting sentences off with “I’m sorry, but” and then following that statement with something for which I feel no actual sorrow. I won’t ever be sorry for eating Wheat Thins. I won’t ever be sorry for having an idea and wanting to share it. I won’t ever be sorry for wanting a turn to speak at a meeting. I won’t ever be sorry for telling a guy that I have feelings for him. I won’t ever be sorry for having the passions and dreams I have. And I won’t ever be sorry for not being other people’s opinions of me.

When you need to make improvements or changes in your life or your behavior or your attitude or whatever, make them. If you’ve hurt people or have legitimate reasons to say you’re sorry, make those apologies. At the end of the day, though, I hope that you’re confident in the person you are and the person you strive to be, and I hope that you never apologize for the things that need no sorries to go along with them.

Because you don’t have to be sorry for being you.

When you stop merely wishing

There are some really innocent things that we do in our childhoods that we don’t necessarily think can hurt us later in life.

Like making wishes.

I went to see Wicked in Hollywood with my good friend Amanda and her mom last week. It was such a great play, and the lead roles have incredible voices that I like to pretend I have when I’m singing in the car or the shower. There was a line from one of the songs that really hit me and got me thinking, though.

Wishing only wounds the heart.

As a girl so full of hopes and dreams that I actually believe are possible, this pierced my heart to hear those words. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that wishing truly can wound the heart—a reality that Disney never taught me long ago.

I think that wishing is a lot different than hoping and dreaming. When you have hope, you back it with faith and trust. There’s an anticipation, and you let your confident expectation drown out doubt. You have an optimistic outlook, and you might even put some patient endurance behind that positivity. A dream is a vision you have of something wonderful that doesn’t exist yet but will in the future. You work toward it—you strive with everything you have to make that dream come true. There’s a need for perseverance and faith as you continue through your journey to get that desired outcome.

A wish, on the other hand, is a desire that you toss out into the air (often silently), and you don’t necessarily do anything about it. Why is it that, when you make a wish on birthday candles or after you get the bigger end of the wishbone, you aren’t allowed to tell anyone what you wished if you actually want it to come true? You can tell people your dreams, and they can support you as you chase them down. You can tell people your hopes, and they can pray for you and alongside you as your hopeful expectations begin to grow.

But wishes are different.

I’ve made a lot of wishes in my life, and I frequently find myself wishing each time I witness a shooting star, see 11:11 on the clock, and get my hands on a dandelion. Maybe that’s because it’s sometimes fun to take part in childlike activities like that—the innocence of it all reminds you of how simple life was before you knew all of the things you wish you didn’t. If I’m being perfectly honest, though, a lot of the wishes I make are for realities that I don’t always believe in my heart are going to happen.

Which, like the song says, only wounds the heart.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick because you believe so positively that what you desire will happen. The actual hoping part itself doesn’t hurt—it actually fills the heart with joy and excitement. But wishing only wounds the heart because there isn’t always much confidence behind a wish.

I don’t want to be a wisher—I want to be a dreamer and a hoper. I want to go after the dreams I have and fully trust in what the future holds and Who holds it regarding the hopes in my heart. I know that’s not always easy, but there are quite a few things in this world that I’ve faced that have been more challenging, and I’ve lived through them. I just have to remind myself that I CAN DO HARD THINGS.

During the last year and a half (well, it’s almost been that long) since I’ve been in California, God’s been doing a lot of work in my heart and grown my faith in more ways that I can describe. Moving out here and knowing zero people made it much more apparent to me just how sufficient He is—how He truly is all we need in life. At the same time, though, He’s surrounded me with amazing people and more love than I ever knew possible. That’s not something I ever wished for, but it’s certainly something that I hoped for with all of my heart.

I’m going to change my wishing tactics so that the things I wish don’t just stay wishes but, instead, become hopes and dreams. I’ve spent too many years letting wishing wound my heart, and a heart wasn’t made to hurt so much. It wasn’t made to break when you’re reminded of what you don’t have. It wasn’t made to ache each time the dandelion particles flying through the air as a result of your breath scatter in every direction. It was made to love and love well.

Don’t let wishing diminish your hope—wishing may wound the heart, but hope will fill it with love.

Because our backflips are all different

I’m thankful for the people in my life whom I don’t know who remind me of the important lessons in life.

Especially when those people are little kids who are way smarter than they even know.

On a recent walk on the beach, I saw a girl doing backflips of a tiny sand ledge that had formed naturally near the water. She was ridiculously good, and as I walked by, I made sure to let her know. When I told her, a little boy with her (I’m assuming her younger brother) yelled “watch me!” before performing what I can only describe as one of the most uncoordinated front somersaults I had ever seen combined with a turbo roll of some sort.

When he got up, he looked at me and smiled before shrugging and saying a statement that I wish we were all saying as comfortably and confidently as he did.

“Mine’s a little different.”

Yes, that was the perfect word for it: different. What was so wonderful was that he wasn’t ashamed of that at all. In fact, he was pretty darn proud. He had made it a point to have me watch him perform his own version of the tumble his sister had perfected, and by most people’s definitions, his was so much worse. To him, though, it was worthy of showcasing.

I told him that it was beautiful, and I wasn’t lying. Sure, when I first saw it, the word “ugly” probably popped into my mind. But when I realized what it was to him and how he had actually tried, my perspective changed entirely. You see, what this precious little boy has already learned at such a young age that so many adults still haven’t seemed to grasp is so simple: Our lives are going to look completely different from other people’s, and that’s perfectly fine. We don’t need to shy away from who we are and the things we can or can’t do as well as other people.

Because beauty looks different for everyone.

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the comparison game—suddenly we’re not smart enough or pretty enough or fast enough or thin enough or strong enough or making enough or talented enough or dating enough or experienced enough or traveled enough or social enough or whatever enough. It seems that someone’s always doing a backflip that’s better than yours, while you’re following with an uncoordinated somersault combined with a turbo roll of some sort.

But what if, rather than getting frustrated or feeling embarrassed that the things in your life look different from those in everyone else’s, you embraced those distinctions and were proud of the things you’ve been able to accomplish and were happy to say that you’re still trying. What if, when you started comparing some aspect of your life with someone else’s, you stopped for a moment to say “mine’s a little different” and were OK with that?

As a single girl approaching my mid-30s (IT CAUSES ME GREAT PAIN TO SAY THAT), I have to do a lot of that in my life, especially around the holidays. I’ve definitely embraced it in terms of making my own Christmas cards that look quite different from most of the ones I receive with families and couples and pets on them. Mine features only me—and sometimes a superimposed orca whale jumping over me—but hopefully someday you’ll get a card from me with my lobster (but the Friends version of a lobster and not an actual lobster, which I realize might be confusing based on my previous statement about the whale).

At church over the weekend, we were setting up for all of the Christmas Eve services and were creating a photo setup so that people could take their pictures in front of a pretty lit-up backdrop with a wreath in the background and trees on both sides. We were trying to make it the perfect size for families to take pictures. I understand why, but I also had a soft spot in my heart in that moment for all of the people who would be coming to church by themselves. I took a picture by myself in the setup right after I had just taken a picture of a precious couple followed by a family all together. When I looked at my photo, I couldn’t help but think of how different it looked from the ones I had just taken. For a second or two, I started to feel sad, but then I remembered the little boy on the beach, and I reminded myself that different isn’t bad. I didn’t need to look at all of the extra space in my photo and see emptiness—it’s merely extra room to welcome in more people in my heart and give more love.

You don’t have to be like everyone else. You won’t be. And you shouldn’t. Your life doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. It won’t. And it shouldn’t. You may have a pristine backflip, or you may have one that resembles that of the turbo-rolling little boy on the beach. Either way, give yourself a little grace for simply getting out there and trying.

Because, either way, you’re enough being you, regardless—and especially because—of how different you are.

When you don’t need an invite list

Even though an Evite email reminder or an invitation update sometimes seems like just another email to add an additional number inside the little red dot on your inbox icon, it’s actually so much more than that.

It’s a reminder that you’re loved.

When I was in the sixth grade (THE WORST), I was invited to a party that was mainly with those I considered to be the “cool” kids in my grade, and quite honestly, I was kind of surprised that I made the list. Being the shallow middle schooler that I was, I felt pretty great that I received an invite. (I seriously don’t like to think often about the person I was in those awful years, but I can’t change the past, so let’s just accept that I was immature and insecure and didn’t understand a thing about what it truly meant to love people.)

It’s nice to be invited places, isn’t it? I’ve gotten to the point in my life at which I have become comfortable inviting myself to join in on other people’s fun, which I’ve had to do a lot more of since moving to California almost a year and a half ago. I jokingly say that I quickly invade myself into people’s lives, but it’s kind of true, so maybe I’m not really joking. I mean, the first week I was here, I invited myself to church with a coworker and her husband. (But she’s one of my best friends now, so I’m glad I did.) And there have been so many other instances—both back in Dallas and out here—when I’ve asked if I could tag along to places or go over to people’s houses or join in on various events. I may or may not be my people’s own special version of Dennis the Menace (minus the troublemaker part) or that neighbor kid in Home Alone who mistakenly gets counted as Kevin in the van.

I think sometimes I forget, though, that not everyone is as intrusive as I am, and maybe I need to be better about making sure that I invite others when I set out to do things on my own. I recently hurt one of my favorite people in the world because I didn’t reach out and invite this person to experience parts of my life with me. When I’m not inviting myself places, I do pretty much everything on my own, and so I think I’ve maybe gotten too used to that for my own good that I forget that there are people who love me who want to do life with me. I need to remember that don’t have to be independent all of the time—it’s OK to invite people to walk alongside me in my journey every once in a while.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that feeling uninvited is a lot like feeling rejected. It makes you feel unwanted and like you weren’t even a thought in someone’s head. (Side note: If you haven’t read Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst, please put down whatever you’re reading right now, or pick up a book for the first time in ages, and READ THIS BOOK. SO good.) Being invited, on the other hand, creates the exact opposite feelings in your heart—you feel valued and loved and like you matter enough for someone to think about you specifically and then reach out to you to make sure that you’re there to experience the same things that person is about the experience.

Earlier this year, Beth, the first person I ever met at my church in the OC, mentioned having me over for dinner with her family when she heard that I didn’t have any plans on Easter. The following weekend on Easter Sunday, I didn’t see her at church and didn’t have her number, so I figured I’d just go home or go for a walk at the beach. But what did sweet Beth do? She got my phone number from someone else and texted me to remind me about the invite. I remember in that moment feeling like I wasn’t just another face at church on Sundays—I’m loved and known. It’s a wonderful feeling to be known and to know that there are genuine people in your life who want to know you and want to spend time with you. Maybe we all need some Beths in our lives.

Since moving to California, God has shown me and taught me so much about His sufficiency and who I am in Him. He’s reminded me in big ways just how loved I am and that I’m made complete and made worthy in Him. He’s reminded me that the invitation for His love and His grace is always there—there are zero exceptions. He’ll chase me down if He has to, but I never have to chase Him.

Because He’s always there with open arms and love to mend every hurt and every shattered piece of a broken heart. Always.

Don’t be afraid to invite yourself places. It doesn’t make you pathetic or desperate or fearful of being left out. It makes you brave to pursue people and love them well and also to make sure that you’re not doing life by yourself all of the time.

And don’t forget to invite others to come on adventures with you, too—even if an adventure is as simple as getting froyo or grabbing dinner or going for a walk.

Because we all need to be reminded of how loved we are every once in a while.

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.