When “safe” isn’t always the answer

It’s easy to be content and trust for the best to happen when you feel safe.

But it’s in those moments when we’re called to be brave that we become who we were always meant to be.

Oh, my heart.

Saturday was the perfect day to stay inside. It was storming pretty badly for most of the late morning and afternoon, and I think we were under a tornado watch. I had invited myself over to hang out with my pretend mother-in-law, Darla (my brother’s mother-in-law who has quickly become one of my besties), and my precious nieces, and I was not sad when I ended up staying there most of the day since it was too nasty outside for me to want to walk outside to my car and drive home.

How is it possible for one human to be this adorable?

I’m not one to be scared of weather. I actually sometimes enjoy thunderstorms—as long as I’m inside somewhere curled up on a couch. And that’s exactly what I got to do Saturday as I snuggled with my nieces and chatted about anything and everything with sweet Darla. The girls didn’t seem to be fazed by the occasional roar of thunder or the fairly constant pounding rain, and I think it’s because they felt completely safe—they were in a place free of danger with two women who would literally do absolutely anything for them.

So what was there to fear?

I think that’s an easier attitude to have when you’re a little kid, though. You don’t pay much attention to the storms or the chances of bad things happening because they aren’t actually there, and you don’t tend to worry as much about things that are merely possibilities when you’re in your safe place. Sure, there might be monsters under your bed when you’re all alone in the dark, but suddenly everything is just fine when your mom or dad comes in the room and flips on the switch. You’re safe again, and worries disappear.

I remember one time when I needed a good cry, and I went and sat/laid on the floor of my closet and wallowed for a while. Mind you, I lived in an apartment all by myself, so zero people would have seen me crying. But there was something about that space that just felt safe—that made me feel like it was OK to let out all of my feelings and allow my face to turn into a red splotchy tear-stained disaster. So I stayed in there until I was finished with my sobfest and ready to face the world again. (And by “face the world,” I obviously mean just move from my closet to the couch to watch basketball.)

Braving the NKOTB crowds. The real hero was the air hockey table.

I thought about that time again on Saturday when I walked to my car when the rain had let up. It felt really peaceful out, and I didn’t have to worry about getting my hair all nasty or my clothes soaked. I was in a safe place. As I started to drive home, though, another torrential downpour began, and there were moments when I couldn’t actually see the road, which probably should have been pretty concerning. But the moment I pulled into my parking garage, I was shielded from the storm, and I knew that I didn’t have to worry about anything. It seems like a pretty sturdy structure. Could it be destroyed? Sure. But it feels pretty safe to me.

So what is there to fear?

Bad things happen in life. That’s pretty inevitable. But there are also amazing things that happen every single day—from the smallest pieces of joy to the most monumental miracles you couldn’t even imagine. Why focus on the storms and the dangers and the “what ifs” and the possible rejections and the risks and the chances of failure and all of the other junk that might or might not happen when we could be focusing on the here and now right in front of us and taking those chances we need to take, even if they don’t necessarily feel “safe” to us?

Nothing about this situation is safe.

While paying attention to your safety is obviously important in many areas of your life, a lot of the time it’s better to remember what C.S. Lewis said about Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

It won’t always feel safe to do the things we need to do that other people might even see as crazy, but I trust that the One who calls me to do those crazy things is there with me every single step of the way.

And I feel completely safe with Him—because I know that He’s good.

Because comfortable isn’t always for you

If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that letting yourself step away from what’s comfortable often allows you to become stronger and more capable of being fearless.

Even when it involves shoving cake in your face in front of a bunch of people with iPhones while you’re celebrating a birthday you’ll likely never remember.

Post-cake cuddles. Also, how is she already 1?!

My sweet niece Evie turned 1 today, so we celebrated with a big party for her over the weekend. She’s such a joyous little angel, and it was wonderful to be able to get together with family and friends to watch her do an actual face dive straight into her precious tiny cake.

She wasn’t so sure about that cake at first, though, so she was hesitant to eat it. But she really loves food, so maybe it was because she was surrounded by a bunch of people singing to her. I’m not sure I’d be super thrilled about eating cake in front of a crowd when I wasn’t wearing a shirt, either. My brother helped her out by taking a little bite first to show her that everything was safe, and then she trusted him to feed her some, too. It wasn’t long before she was sticking her hands in there and eating the heck out of that cake.

As we stood around her and watched for a while, almost everyone with his or her phone out taking pictures and videos (it’s now hitting me how much we put kids through—and, the more adorable you are, the worse it is), I held my older niece, Olivia, so that she could see more of the action better. She kept reaching her hand out, and I asked her if she wanted cake. When she nodded yes, I tried to put her down so that she could walk up there, and she used a death grip to cling to my neck and told me that she didn’t want to go down.

I never knew how fun balloons were until Olivia came into my life.

A few minutes later, we had déjà vu all over again. I couldn’t help but wonder what made her so fearful. I asked her why she didn’t want down to go get cake, and she didn’t answer me but, instead, just buried her head in my shoulder and clung even more tightly.

I get it, sweet pea. I get scared sometimes, too.

Both of my nieces reminded me of just how huge of a role faith plays in our lives. Evie was unsure of the cake until my brother went before her and showed her that it was good. She trusts him. Olivia, who is a wild child of a free spirit but sometimes gets slightly shy when lots of people are around, wasn’t keen on the idea of going up on what looked more like a stage than a backyard porch step to eat some of a cake that her younger sister was skeptical of after the paparazzi of onlookers had just sung some strange song directed at Evie. It was safer to stay in my arms and let me get my upper body workout for the month. She trusts me.

Has there ever been something that you truly wanted to do but were afraid to take the risk because there was too much unknown involved? I’ve been there far too many times, especially when those risks involved my heart. I’ll never forget a moment I had years ago to say something bold that I let slip away faster than a future NFL Hall of Famer running the 40-yard dash at the Combine. I had feelings for a guy who was supposedly just my friend, and he had just said something that made me think there was an inkling of a chance that he could possibly feel the same way. We stared at one another for a long three-ish seconds that any romcom would have written perfectly, and I did the only thing I thought I was capable of doing: I looked down and then away.

I wasted a perfectly good opportunity to be brave because I let fear think that it has more power than it actually does.

This one also teaches me a lot about faith and not always letting yourself be comfortable.

Olivia and Evie are just little kids, so it’s perfectly understandable that they are still learning how to be brave. But I hope that I can set a good example for both of them—I’m not that same fearful girl who looks down and away. But they also continue to teach me every day what it means to have constant and complete faith.

The world and the situations we face aren’t always going to be just how we want them to be. There’s going to be hurt. There’s going to be pain. There will fear and anxiety and heartache and challenges and setbacks and so many other things that make us want to curl up in little balls and stay right where we are so that we feel completely safe and comfortable.

But comfortable doesn’t help us grow. Comfortable doesn’t challenge us. Comfortable doesn’t allow us to become the bold women and men we were always meant to be. Comfortable doesn’t help us to run full throttle toward our dreams. Comfortable doesn’t let us take the chances that we need to take and make the changes that we need to make.

And comfortable doesn’t do much other than hold us back from all of the great things our hearts have yet to encounter.

You’re never too young for lip gloss.

I know that it’s easy to cling tightly to what we know and not do what we need to do to grow and change and be brave. But what I’ve found is that it’s far better to cling tightly to the God you may not be able to see but Who is still always there and intentionally walk straight into the fear that’s in front of you. You might fall along the way. You might fail. You might end up with a completely different outcome than you ever imagined. But, whatever happens, I can tell you with certainty that it’s worth it—it’s worth it to take the risk instead of looking back years later and wishing that you had. Remind yourself now that YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS, and please believe it with your whole heart.

Because you matter enough to challenge what’s comfortable and trust a God who will never leave you or let you down.

When you stop asking “why me?”

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

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

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

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

The battery was dead. Perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you’re fearless in what you want

Once again, I’ve been reminded about the importance of being brave in every aspect of life.

And, once again, a young child brought it to my attention.

“I want a hug.”

My precious niece Olivia had a cold last week, so I worked from my brother’s house for a couple of days to help take care of her. She’s a little older than 2 1/2 now, and she’s gotten really good at saying what she wants. More than once, she came up to me and said “I want a hug” and then climbed up into my lap.

My heart soared, and I melted.

Olivia knew what she wanted to comfort her when she wasn’t feeling well, and she made it known. She wasn’t afraid to be open and honest, and she does that with everything that she wants. Like when I was eating Wheat Thins and some granola and a banana, I heard that little angelic voice say “I want some.”

I started thinking about it later and wondering why it’s so simple for little kids to be so sure and assertive with the things they want and need, yet we struggle to be as open about it when we get older. Sure, there are certainly things that kids declare they want that aren’t theirs to have (no, Olivia, this is not your phone), but I still commend them for being so bold.

They are actual angels.

When you’re that young, you hear the word “no” a lot more than you ever want, but you don’t really think much of it. It’s just another “no” that you eventually forget about (even if there is an ensuing hissy fit that follows for a little bit) before the next time that you pursue your interests. You don’t overanalyze why you were rejected or let it make you feel like you’re not good enough—you simply move on and continue with your life. There might be tears, and you might need to take a moment for some uncontrollable wallowing, but you don’t let such a minor setback get you down for too long.

Why is it so much more difficult for us to go boldly after the desires of our hearts when we get older? Why do we let fears hold us back from saying what we want? Sure, just like kids, we can’t have everything we think we need, but there are certainly times when we simply need to suck it up and chase the things that set our hearts on fire.

I can think of far too many times in my life when I should have been more like Olivia—when I should have said what was in my heart instead of shying away from declaring words that never actually made it into the air for anyone to hear. But that was years ago, and I’m way past done being the girl who’s too afraid.

As my girl Jess said in New Girl, “What’s wrong with a girl that’s fearless?”

Minus her choice of pronoun, I’m completely with Jess. There’s nothing wrong with a girl who chooses to be brave.

I wanted a pic with Dirk, so I asked to borrow a stranger’s cutout.

Brave enough to chase her dreams.
Brave enough to speak what’s on her heart.
Brave enough to love without reservation.
Brave enough to walk with her head held high.
Brave enough to say “yes” when she means it.
Brave enough to say “no” when she means it.
Brave enough to look fear in the face and say “not today.”

I hope that Olivia grows up to be an even braver woman than she is now and never lets fear keep her from taking chances that she knows she needs to take. And I hope that you don’t, either. No, you can’t always get what you want, but it’s often better to take the risk than to sit back and be far too content with what’s merely comfortable. Do you want the job? Apply for it. Do you want the raise? Ask for it. Do you want to get to know the guy at the gym you always see and think is cute? Ask him out. Do you finally want to say “I love you” out loud? Let the words leave your mouth. Do you want to dance your heart out? Get out on that dance floor, and let loose. You do you, sister, and don’t worry about what other people think or say about you.

Because there’s nothing wrong with a girl who’s fearless.

When doing the brave thing means going home

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

And then sometimes we’re called back home.

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

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

I mean, how could I not love it here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because change and failure are inevitable

You often hear people say that change is hard—and it certainly is at times—but I think there are moments when you feel its impacts more powerfully than you thought possible.

Like when you’re at a roller skating rink.

It’s been raining an absurd amount in Orange County lately, and I’m not a fan at all. I require much more sunshine and far less humidity and wetness than we’ve experienced in the past month or so in order to function properly. I usually like to do things outside on the weekends (like hang out at the beach, go hiking in the canyons, ride the ferry and walk around Balboa Island, etc.), but those outdoor activities have been rather limited recently.

Sk8er girlz

My friend Monique and I had originally planned to go on a walk on the boardwalk Saturday, but constant downpours prevented that from happening. We were trying to decide what to do, and I suggested that we hit up a local roller skating rink. I mean, what else would two single girls do on such a dreary Saturday than put on some roller skates and relive the glory days of youth? I’ve actually gone to quite a few in my adult years, but it had definitely been a while, and I figured that it would be a fun thing to do on a rainy weekend day.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so. The place was PACKED. I don’t recall ever seeing a line out the door at any roller rink—at least not in any year after 1994 or so—so Monique and I were a little perplexed when we had to park in the parking lot next door because of the zero spots available in the rink’s lot and then wait much longer than 28 seconds to be at the front of the line.

Once we actually got inside, we immediately felt crammed. It was almost tough to breathe because there was practically no space anywhere. We laced up our rented skates in a clustered area with humid air that had the stench of a high school football locker room. When we finally got out on the rink, the process of skating was complicated by the multiple people (both adults and children) using PVC roller skating trainers to keep them from falling. To be honest, though, I really think those things made it more dangerous for everyone else.

I just landed a triple axel.

As I skated a few laps outside of the lines that the rink “referees” very strictly enforced as off-limits territory, I looked around and realized how much has changed since I was a kid. For starters, the PVC skating frame things were killing me. How are we supposed to learn if we never let ourselves fall? I understand that people don’t want to get hurt and break bones and whatnot, but can you really get that injured from falling on a surface similar to that of a gym floor. I don’t want to criticize anyone, but I also think that people are becoming too soft and overly cautious. Falling is part of life, and if you never let yourself get rid of training wheels and skating frames and bowling bumpers, you’re never going to allow yourself to grow and take chances that lead to greater things than you ever could have imagined.

Then there were the arcade games. None of them even accepts quarters. Instead, you have to have a card that you scan in order to activate the games. Maybe it’s because not many people carry cash or change around with them anymore, but it was so strange to see that putting coins in the machines wasn’t even an option. I didn’t get to play the claw game that grabs stuffed animals (I used to be really good at that one back in the day) because I wasn’t willing to go find out where and how to get one of the digital cards. I did happen to have two quarters in my pocket, though, because the lockers only take quarters to lock and get the keys out—but, unfortunately, those Washingtons are apparently useless in the arcade section.

I’m sad to admit that we didn’t last very long at the rink.

Later that day, I began thinking about how much has changed over the years—in society, in our entire world, in childhood experiences, and in my own life. Some changes are really great and easy to embrace. Others cause us emotions that aren’t so joyous and leave us anxious or upset in more ways than one. However we end up feeling as a result of those changes, though, doesn’t prevent them from happening and engraining themselves into our lives.

Trying to break into a cabinet—just a typical Friday.

And I also couldn’t stop thinking about failing and why we’re so afraid of it. I certainly don’t like failing. Just ask my coworker Barry, whose desk cabinet I tried to pick lock last Friday. He had locked his computer and coffee in there and left the key at his house, and I told him that I could get it open. I know how to pick lock a door, and I’ve opened cabinets before, as well, but this one was giving me more of a challenge than I expected. I spent nearly an hour working on that thing (I swear I’m actually a productive employee) and wasn’t able to get it open.

I felt like a complete failure—I had let both Barry and myself down.

My coworker Jim made me feel a little better later when he took a look at my unlocked cabinet and assured me that the lock was actually more complex and had some special bar, so you would essentially have to break the whole thing to get it open without the key. When I had originally suggested the breaking thing prior to speaking to Jim, Barry didn’t like the idea of me vandalizing company property. (Thankfully, his son brought him the key later in the day, so it all ended up being OK.)

I didn’t succeed at picking the lock, and I lost a bobby pin and paperclip in the process. It can also be argued that I lost an hour of work productivity, but I justified it because I think it’s important to help our friends when they need it. I’m pretty sure my boss would agree (and that’s what we’re going to continue to believe). I’m glad that I at least tried, though, even though I wasn’t completely positive of what the outcome would be going into it.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of worries and fears hold me back in the past from going after changes and things that might result in rejection or failure. I don’t want to live like that anymore, though. I want to be willing to step outside of my comfort zones and adapt to changes and learn from failures. I’ve actually had many changes in my life over the last few years, and there are certainly more on the way. I think they’ve been good for me, and I want to continue to be able to adapt to them and know that, no matter what happens, God has a plan that’s better than anything I could conjure up in my head.

And I want to know that I’m living as bravely as I can and learning from the times when I fall. Just because you fall down doesn’t mean that you’re down forever—it simply means that you’ve been given the opportunity to rise back up, dust yourself off, and give it another go.

Change is tough. Failure is probably even tougher. But they’re both inevitable. You’ll face change at some point in your life, and you’ll also fail at some point. Maybe change and failure both happen at the same time, which really isn’t a fun situation. They’re both huge aspects of life, though, and you simply have to learn how to deal with them. Sometimes you have to throw the PVC skating trainers to the side and go at it without so much hesitation. It’s how little kids learn to crawl and then walk—they fall, and then they get right back up and try again later.

I hope that you’re letting yourself learn to be comfortable with the changes you face and the failures that are possibilities in your life. The chance of failure means that there’s also the chance of success. You won’t always make it around the rink without a stumble or two, and that’s OK. The next lap could be the best one you’ve ever taken. But you won’t know unless you’re willing to get out there again and take a chance or two with the risk of failure still hanging in the air. Take on those opportunities and changes without fear—you’re braver than you think and worth believing that you’re capable of great things.

And you might find that you’re able to roll with the changes and setbacks much more boldly.

Because sometimes it’s better not to think

I’m a pretty passionate person about matters of the heart.

Especially when the heart leads you to make decisions that your head shouldn’t be deciding.

One day last week at work, my coworker and I had been working on something together, and he sent me some content to review. I made my revisions and told him that I would send it to the final person who needed to see it when I thought it was good to go. I fired it off not too long after that and let him know, and when I passed by him a few minutes later, the following exchange occurred.

Me: I sent it to him.
Him: Oh, you didn’t think very long.
Me: I didn’t need to think.
Him: Sometimes the best decisions are made that way.

Ohhhhhhh. That’s a good word, sir.

I know that this situation had to do with something at work and didn’t involve any life-altering decisions or anything like that, but what he said is so true and applicable to so many other areas of life. If you think about it, thinking about something for too long can actually ruin a decision. Like my buddy said, sometimes the best decisions are made without really thinking much—because they’re made based on what the heart feels is the best thing to do.

My friend Bear didn’t need to think about spending $27 on candy. She just did it. Genius.

There are many decisions in life that need a good amount of thought put into them. I mean, just the other day, I was with my friend Bear at an acai bowl place and had to take some time thinking about which bowl was best to get that morning. It was important to consider the ingredients and the level of satisfaction that I felt each bowl would bring me. After a couple minutes of careful thought, I made a truly wonderful decision that made my taste buds and my heart very happy.

But not everything requires you to stand in front of a menu board and analyze every aspect of every option—because sometimes you simply have to go for it without thinking.

I’d like to give a super real example from Gilmore Girls. When Rory Gilmore was trying to decide between Harvard and Yale, she made a pros and cons list. She had always dreamed of going to Harvard before she ever even visited it, but after visiting both Harvard and Yale, her heart felt more drawn to Yale. She let fears get in the way of that feeling, though, and she then tried to think about her decision too much. Lorelai ended up having to step in to make her daughter realize that she actually wanted to go to Yale more, which meant that that was the school she should choose.

This clearly involved no thought whatsoever.

I know that sometimes when we decide with our hearts or go with our gut instincts those choices don’t always end up being the best ones for us—especially when they’re choices we make because we’re blinded by feelings we have for people—but sometimes they do. And taking chances is often the only way to find out. Risks can be scary, but they can also result in some pretty incredible things.

And taking chances actually isn’t as frightening when you don’t overthink them.

I watch the NBA All-Star Game every year, and I kept that tradition alive over the weekend. The game usually involves almost a negative amount of defense, so the score is always ridiculously high (this year, Team LeBron beat Team Giannis 178-164). Despite that, it’s still a lot of fun to watch because the players are jacking up insane shots and putting on some circus-like spectacles. It’s not like baseball was up until a couple of years ago, where the game actually mattered and had home-field advantage implications during the World Series, so the players are simply having fun the entire time and putting on a show for their audience. They’re not thinking a ton—they’re just enjoying themselves and taking chances that they might not necessarily take in normal game situations.

And those chances often leave Reggie Miller saying “ooooohhhhhhh” and “daaaaaaaannngggggg” right along with the rest of us watching from home and begging for the replay.

You never have to think twice about enjoying life with forever friends.

I realize that we were given brains for a reason and that it’s good to use them. But we were also given very powerful hearts that often need to overpower the things that our brains are telling us to do. If I listened to my brain rather than my heart most of the time, I don’t think that I’d be the person I am today. I think that I would be much more fearful and much more cautious—two things I simply don’t want to be. I know what it feels like to be rejected and to have my heart broken as a result of going with my heart and not my brain. But I wouldn’t change those decisions. They’re the ones my coworker was talking about when he said that sometimes the best decisions are made without thinking.

Because if you’re constantly thinking and never simply letting your heart lead the way, how will you let yourself grow and fail and love and realize how brave you actually are?

I hope that you let yourself take chances without thinking about them too much. I hope that you let yourself pursue your dreams without always making pros and cons lists. I hope that you let yourself love others completely in big ways.

And I hope that you never let yourself think that you aren’t brave enough to take risks that come straight from your heart.

Because it’s nice to be thought of sometimes

Because I really love people and am fascinated by their stories and personalities, I sometimes I listen in on their conversations that don’t necessarily directly involve me.

Especially in elevators.

One day last week, I was on my way back up to the office after lunch, and the two women in the elevator with me were talking about a little note that her husband had written her and stuck in her purse that morning without her knowing it. It was simply a quick “Go kick today’s a$*. I love you!” note, but it seemed like a really sweet gesture to me. The woman’s friend agreed and said something that stuck with me.

It’s always nice to be thought of.

This is way old, but I love these sibs of mine.

As I stepped off of the elevator, that phrase resonated with me for a bit. She’s right—it’s truly comforting to know that someone out there is thinking of you and lets you know about it. I recently had something I had to face that gave me a bit of anxiety, and the morning of that day, both my brother and sister texted me to wish me luck and to let me know that they were thinking of me and love me. It touched my heart more than they likely knew, and it helped to ease some of my worries knowing that I had their love and support from afar.

As humans, we’re pretty sensitive creatures, so the opposite is true, as well: It can hurt when people don’t think of us or don’t reach out to show us that they care. Whether it’s our friends or family members or coworkers or those for whom we have deep feelings, the individuals in our lives can impact our moods and our hearts when it feels like they don’t truly care about us simply because they aren’t investing time and energy into showing us how much we mean to them.

I was so sad when Ashley moved to Nebraska, but I’m so thankful for our weekly phone dates.

I believe that you make time for the things that you want to make time for in life, and I think that’s why it means so much to me when people reach out and show that they care—because they’re taking time to remind you that they were thinking of you. They’re taking time to remind you that it’s nice to be thought of, and they want you to feel the joy from that. They’re taking time to stop whatever they’re doing to remind you that you’re loved.

And they’re taking time to invest in you.

I know that I sometimes need to be better about this. I try to check up on people as often as I can, but I want to make sure that I’m doing more to show them that they are thought of and that they matter. It’s such a big and crazy world, and it’s easy to feel like you’re lost in the shuffle and just yet another face in the crowd.

But please remember that you’re not just anyone or anything—you are unique you, and you are valued and loved, no matter how many people remind you that they’re thinking of you.

My sister gets me.

That’s certainly one thing that I’ve had to let myself focus more on over the years, because people are not always going to reciprocate my thoughts and feelings. There have been a number of guys who haven’t felt the way I feel about them, and they didn’t exactly remind me that they were thinking of me—probably because they weren’t. And that’s OK.

Yes, it’s always nice to be thought of, but it’s also not a requirement to my identity and sufficiency.

I hope that people remind you that they’re thinking of you, and I hope that it brings a smile to your face each time. But I also hope that you find joy and an immeasurable amount of smiles in the fact that you are already loved more than you’ll ever know.

I was running on the boardwalk recently, and this guy on a bike came alongside me and said “it’s a lot easier on a bike.” I kind of laughed and said “right, sometimes. I like a challenge. Also, you’re very attractive.” And then I picked up my pace and wove through the suddenly crowded sidewalk as he got a little trapped. (So I guess it’s not always easier on a bike, huh?) The fella didn’t chase after me, and I never saw him again.

I took this after running from the guy I called attractive.

After I did that, I laughed a little because I never would have been so candid like that years ago, which led me to reflect again on the notion of being thought of by people, specifically guys in my past. I normally didn’t immediately express my feelings of attraction for them, so my little confession to the biker prompted these thoughts of how I used to place way too much emphasis on what they thought of me and how often they would text me or talk to me or whatever.

As I kept running, I kept reminding myself that none of that actually matters, and it still won’t matter with any guy in the future. My worth isn’t in those guys or their levels of interest. Whether they think of me and let me know or not really isn’t that important. If they don’t care enough to show me, well, I think Ariana Grande said it best: “Thank u, next.”

And, while it’s always nice to be thought of, you’re enough as you are with or without those affirmations.

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.

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.