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 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.

When your heart needs a reminder

I think it’s important to be open and genuine, and sometimes that involves sharing your heart and being vulnerable when you might not want to.

Right now is one of those times for me.

I’m not going to lie—sometimes it’s really tough being single when you’re an adult. Even if it’s not necessarily true, it seems like every other human being around you is in a relationship and has his or her person to do life with and make memories together. And plenty of people you don’t even ask have their opinions regarding what you should or shouldn’t do to make sure that you don’t spend the rest of your life singing the catchy Farmers Only jingle.

It can be such a special status at times.

This hat is the greatest purchase I’ve made in a long time.

I’ve shared before that, while I’ve never actually had a boyfriend or even been in a relationship (or on what I consider to be a real date), I’ve had my heart broken. And I feel like I’m currently going through a never-ending heartache that I can’t seem to escape, no matter what I do. Unfortunately, there’s no timetable for mending a broken heart—we’re all so different, and we all handle our pain in different ways.

For me, I’ve always tried to deal with emotional pain the same way I deal with physical pain: I ignore it. I do this for as long as possible, and then I usually reach a point when I have to face the fact that the pain is actually there, and there’s no way to pretend it’s not there anymore—I simply have to acknowledge it.

It’s been almost two years since my heart was ripped out of my chest, thrown to the ground, smashed into thousands of tiny little pieces, and then stomped all over by the guy who walked away from it. I thought that I would be over it by now, and I honestly thought more recently that I was. But one day last week reminded me that I was once again just masking pain that was still prevalent. It still hurts, and I still miss him, which makes me feel foolish and pathetic.

But I also know that I’m neither foolish nor pathetic—I’m simply a girl who cares about a boy who doesn’t care about her. It’s not exactly the classic romance tale, but it’s my current reality.

One evening last week, I went to a panel discussion at a church that’s somewhat connected with mine, and the topic was about dating in today’s society. It was kind of difficult to take advice from the married couples up there (especially the ones who had been married for 20 years and more), and I wish they would have had more than one single person to share some insight, but I ended up having a rather enlightening moment on my own in the midst of it all.

As I was listening to some of the couples share their stories of how they met, I began to feel alone and a little sad. I haven’t cried in a while, and I have a feeling the waterworks are coming soon. (Part of that not acknowledging my emotional pain thing that I do means that I ignore moments when I want to cry, so I end up bottling up a crap-ton of emotions, and they typically come pouring out all at once when I least expect them to.) I did the only thing that ever makes sense to me when everything around me makes zero sense: I started praying.

God knows my heart, and I began unloading it in a prayer of brokenness, asking Him what I was supposed to do. I hate the online stuff—it’s not part of my story, and I know it. But I’m hurting, and I’m still sad about [homeboy’s name]. God, if I’m supposed to be single forever, can you please take away this desire in my heart? And, regardless, can you please take away my feelings for him? Am I ever going to meet my person? What do I do, Lord?

And then I heard this quiet, calming voice that has spoken truth to me so many times: Don’t you trust me? I’ve never let you down.

Talk about a sucker punch to the gut. This big and powerful God who has the entire world in His hands—the One who called me out to California and has provided for me in more ways than I could ever have imagined—truly cares about me and has a plan that is more perfect than anything that I could ever create. He’s never failed me, and He won’t start now. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to walk into the elevator at work tomorrow and meet the man of my dreams, but it does mean that, whether or not I do ended up falling in love with the one guy who picks me out of every other girl in the world, He’s got big plans for me.

God also gave me a Saturday morning run with my sweet cousin Rachel, who was in town last week. I’ve always looked up to her, and she’s always listened to my heart and provided encouragement. I hope you’re able to meet her one day. She’s freaking amazing.

And I do trust Him.

We sang two songs in church Sunday that both had lines about God never failing us and never letting us down. I think it was His way of reminding me (along with countless others who needed to hear it) that He is who He says He is, and He’s taking care of the things that cause me worry and anxiety—He’s funny like that.

I don’t know what you’re going through in life. Maybe you’re like me and wish that you could find love in a world that seems to be more challenging for the single folks every day. I hope that you don’t lose hope. I hope that you keep pressing on through the storms of heartache that try to knock you down. I hope that you know that you are worthy and enough with or without someone else standing by your side.

And I hope that you know that you are loved by the One who will love you more than anyone else in the entire world ever could.

When you follow your own heart

I’ve always hated Jelly Beans, but a few months ago, I let some people at work convince me to try some special Jelly Bean that supposedly tasted really good—and I had to spit it out because it was so horrible.

We usually know ourselves better than other people do.

People are constantly telling us what to do in life. Many times, we have to listen and do what we’re told—you know, like in our jobs and regarding certain laws and stuff. (I know you might be thinking that we should abide by all laws, but you’re never going to convince me that waiting for a crosswalk signal is the best idea. If I have enough time to cross the street without an impending death, I’m going, especially when I’m running.)

But there are plenty of times when you aren’t required to do what other people tell you to do, and it’s actually probably a better idea to do what you want or what you know you need to do. We’re all full of thoughts and insights, and that’s truly wonderful, but other people’s opinions don’t have to become yours—and they certainly don’t have to influence your actions.

One thing I’ve always admired about my mom is that she does what she wants but never in a way that’s hurtful to other people. My parents got married right out of high school, which most people would not recommend, but they knew it was best for them. It’s 45 years later, and they’re still together and love each other more than they can explain.

When I was in middle school, my mom went back to school and earned her bachelor’s degree and then her master’s degree. She didn’t ask other people’s opinions on whether or not it was a good idea to attend college classes while working a full-time job and still raising three kids. She knew she needed and wanted to finish her education, and she went out there and did it.

I challenge you to talk to her and not smile. It won’t happen.

And the joy she had on her face and in her heart when she walked across that stage after finishing graduate school is indescribable.

I live by the belief that anything matches if you wear it with confidence, and I think I learned that from observing the way my mom lives for so many years. She’s a woman who wears fanny packs because she loves them, thinks you can never have too many pairs of cowgirl boots, drives antiquated Suburbans into the ground because she’s grown attached to them, and makes up her own moves during well-known line dances (I’m fairly certain I acquired my love of free-style dancing from her). She doesn’t let people tell her what to do, and she’s one of the strongest people I know.

And I think her being so comfortable being herself at all times helps her to love other people in big ways. I mean, she introduced me to Kennedy, an employee at Altar’d State, while we were on FaceTime the other day because she was so excited and because she doesn’t care about all of the things that many people think should be social “rules.”

I’ve been trying to remind myself to live like my mom in that regard lately. I think I sometimes expect people to support me in all of my ideas and hopes and beliefs and actions, and those are pretty lofty expectations. Not everyone is going to have the same mindset as I do, and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean I need to do what they tell me to do. For instance, I don’t like dating apps, and I’m not going to use them. I understand that they are ways to meet people, but I don’t want to meet the people I’ve seen on the apps. Is it ridiculous for me to hope for a love that right now doesn’t seem likely? I don’t think it is.

All I can do is trust that God has a plan for me and that it’s a good one.

Your life is your own, and you only get to do it once. Wouldn’t it be better to reflect upon your life years from now and know that you lived each day the way you knew you were meant to live and not the way that other people thought you should have lived? I think Frank Sinatra would agree—he even sang about it.

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
And much, much more than this
I did it my way

Just sitting on my lifeguard tower that I’m probably not supposed to be on—but it’s my place of peace (insert shrugging girl emoji)

I know that sometimes people with big hopes and dreams seem a little idealistic at times, but there’s nothing wrong with believing that crazy things can come true. They’re called miracles, and they happen all of the time. I have a phone case that says “follow your heart” on the back, and I wear a bracelet that says “be brave”—and I hope I never stop doing these two things that my mom has shown me how to do so well.

Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t seem like you’re on the same page in life as everyone around you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Dream your big dreams, hope your big hopes, and let your heart lead you where it needs to be led.

And believe that you can be bold enough to make those hopes and dreams come true.

Three words on a froyo spoon that might change your life

I often find inspiration from unexpected people, places, and even objects.

You know, like froyo spoons.

I love froyo. In fact, I consider myself a froyo connoisseur (yes, I have become that much of an expert on all of the best places and what all they have to offer—taste, texture, flavors, toppings, atmosphere, etc.). My absolute favorite place is still in the DF-Dubs area, but I have found a handful of places out here that I frequent.

As if I needed another reason to love froyo

One that I go to sometimes near work is Yogurtland, which is a popular chain that exists here and in Texas. One day when I was eating there recently during my lunch break, I looked down and noticed my spoon had a few words on it that I needed to read in that moment: Hope changes everything.


As I sat there, I started thinking about how sometimes it’s really difficult to find hope within your heart, especially when you feel like there is no hope worth hoping. It’s been the story of my life in terms of guys—I always have hope for my friends and their relationships or them finding their perfect matches, but I never really have hope for myself in that regard. Whenever I’m interested in someone, I assume it’s not going to work out and that I probably shouldn’t get attached to him. And it doesn’t help that none of my crushes have ever panned out and the two times that I’ve actually let those feelings be known and not just sit back and do nothing about them, it’s eventually ended in heartache for me.

But, despite any broken heart that I have to endure for whatever reason, I still need to remember that hope changes everything.

I went for a long walk Sunday after church, and it didn’t end up being the walk I had planned. I normally hike at a canyon I love, but I wanted to try a new area this day. I drove toward what look like mountains, but I’m not sure if they actually are, and I spent longer than I wanted trying to find a place to park to get to where I wanted to go. (Yes, using Google Maps was my first thought, too, but I didn’t like how long homegirl was telling me it would take to get to a certain spot. When I looked on the map, it seemed like I could get there a better way on my feet.)

But Google Maps can make things seem simpler than they are.

I parked at a high school and started walking toward where I thought I could enter the mountainous/hilly area. However, much of it was fenced off and didn’t look very walkable. I know it’s cheesy, but I thought of my yogurt spoon from a few days before and reminded myself to keep the hope alive. After walking for about 20 minutes, I turned on some sketchy street and found a dried-up ravine I could cross to get to an area that had a path. Navigating down the steep slope to the ravine was a bit tricky, and I had a slight concern I was walking straight through poison ivy at one point (it’s fine—I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because I only had a small rash on my arm and minor itchiness later). But I made it to the other side and felt a little accomplished.

I honestly had no idea where I was, but I knew that I needed to do what I was doing—I needed that hike because I needed a small victory. Life is tough sometimes, and we often need those moments that make us remember that we can do the hard things, and we can see our desires come true.

Especially when we let hope change everything.

I eventually turned around because I needed to get home to watch the Cowboys (which didn’t even air out here—I can’t talk about it), and I had a minor concern that a bear would pop out at any moment. I don’t know if bears frequent that area (I’m guessing not at all), but you never know. There were zero humans around, and it’s probably not super safe to continue hiking in an area with no cell phone service, no people, lots of trees and maybe poison ivy, and potential bears.

We aren’t always going to get the things we want in life. I’m pretty sure we’re all living proof of that. Ask anyone you know if he or she has had every single aspect of life go as planned, and I’d bet that the answer is a big NO. But it doesn’t mean you can’t hope for the things your heart wants.

I always have confident expectations for my froyo being delicious.

I know all too well that Proverbs 13:12 is correct: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” It hurts when we don’t get what we want—when the cancer isn’t cured, and you lose someone you love; when the job you applied for doesn’t work out; when the guy you poured your heart out to walks away and lets it break into thousands of tiny pieces; when your team is one pitch away from the World Series and blows it. Whatever it is, we’ve likely all been there at some point.

But what about all of the great things that actually do work out? Would they ever have happened without hope? My friend who wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids now has two beautiful children—because hope changes everything. Multiple people I know have survived truly tough battles with cancer that even the doctors didn’t think they’d make it through—because hope changes everything. My sister found a man better than any guy she’d ever met and now gets to spend the rest of her life with him—because hope changes everything. I once sat through one of the Twilight movies for a grad school project and lived to see another day—because hope changes everything.

My good friend Michelle recently reminded me that hope is actually “confident expectation,” and I like that definition. You truly believe something will happen, and you don’t need other people or outside factors trying to convince you otherwise. You might be wrong, but you might be right. Either way, it’s good to believe in the things you’re working for or waiting for to happen. If you don’t believe, what’s the point?

There are certainly going to be letdowns in life. Your hope may be deferred, or your dreams may be fulfilled. Life can be pretty unpredictable, but it’s also short, and you only get one—which is why it’s so important to dream big and let every ounce of hope in your heart help to carry those dreams.

Because hope changes everything.   

That time I climbed into a dumpster

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

Like inside of a dumpster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, keep it strong

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

Even if they come from a complete stranger.

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

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

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

“Hey, keep it strong.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your story?

I like to believe in possibilities that don’t seem like they’ll ever become realities.

Because stories have taught me that hope isn’t always wasted.

I love stories. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve enjoyed getting caught up in different tales and plotlines. I remember reading the Christy Miller Series in high school and talking about the characters and situations as if the people in the books were my actual friends, and I was a part of their world.

I also love hearing other people’s stories—their journeys that defined them and changed them and brought them to where they are now. Just last weekend, I met a couple who shared their story with me, and I was enthralled with every word of it. I loved hearing about how the steps where she first poured out her heart to him (and was rejected) were the same steps where he later told her how he felt about her and were then also the same steps where he eventually proposed. It’s their unique story, and it’s wonderful.

I think a lot of my fascination with stories has to do with the fact that they make people who they are. You wouldn’t be the person you are today without your story. Sure, there are some chapters we may not like, but I think that’s the case with many stories out there. We can’t go back and rewrite those portions of our lives, though, which can be a bit frustrating at times. I can think of quite a few sections of my story that I would like to change, but I can’t—because then it wouldn’t be my story. It’s like trying to say Simba never should have run away after Mufasa died. Sure, it wasn’t his greatest decision, but that needed to happen for him to discover who he was and what it really meant to be king.

My only concern about falling was getting my hair wet (yes, I’m that shallow).

I went on a walk at the lake with my friend Maddie on Sunday, and we sat on the ground and caught each other up on everything going on in our lives. We’ve been friends since we were 3 years old, so we’ve been doing this whole life thing together for a pretty long time. We’ve been there through the ups and the downs. We’ve laughed together. We’ve cried together. We’ve climbed pretty much everything imaginable together. We’ve gone on numerous adventures together. We’ve turned playgrounds into our own worlds together (both as kids and as adults). We’ve torn up dance floors together. We’ve won city softball league championships together.

And through it all, we’ve shared stories together.

To be truthful, I have no idea where my story is going. I don’t know what the next chapter looks like. I can’t even tell you what’s going to happen in this chapter—I do know it’s been a frustrating one, though. But I’m trying to trust that the painful part will be worth whatever the rest of the story holds. I want to be strong enough to keep my head up (as people keep telling me to do) and still love others well when all I really want to do is eat gummy worms and raspberry Pop-Tarts while I wallow.

Because I want my story to be one that’s worth telling.

Even the haunted house we went to had a storyline, which made the experience that much better.

I wish we could all sit around campfires or in hammocks or on beach chairs or on park swings or on curbs or on rooftops—anywhere, really—and listen to each other’s stories more often like Maddie and I do. Then maybe we could understand one another more and not be so quick to make judgments or call names or say hurtful things. Until that happens, I think the best thing to do is to try to make your story as wonderful as possible.

After all, there’s no other story like it—so make it one you can’t wait to tell people.

The pains of being a Cowboys fan

My name is Natalie, and I have a problem.

I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan.

It’s a rough truth to admit and reality to face. Sure, there’s some pride involved, but where does that pride come from now? Yes, still from the 1990s—you know, the last time we really knew what it meant to be a winning team.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that our quarterback is out (again) because of another broken bone. I’m not positive of this, but I really think they need to look into Romo possibly suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta. Just a thought. It would explain why he seems to end up sidelined each time he gets touched. We’re starting the season with a fourth-round draft pick who was good in college but still has a lot to learn about playing with the big boys.

And for some reason, I still have hope.

How dem Boyz make me feel most of the time

When I was a teacher, I used to take part in season predictions with the social studies crew, and I always overestimated how good we would be. I don’t know why I continue to believe in these guys, but I’m never quite ruling out the Super Bowl—even though they usually act like they’re opposed to winning playoff games. Season after season, they make us believe that things are different and that they’ve really changed, but then they leave their overly optimistic fans crushed with disappointment.

And for some reason, I still have hope.

Years ago, I worked in promotions for the Cowboys, and I was able to attend all of the home games (back when they were at the beloved Cowboys Stadium before the whole implosion thing), and I remember getting even more excited being so close to the action and meeting some of the players at events and thinking, “Yes, this is the year.” It’s been eight years, boys, and I’m still waiting.

And for some reason, I still have hope.

Then there was that morning two seasons ago when I was unknowingly running down Jason Garrett’s street, and he was getting in his car right as I ran by and said to me, “Well, that’s inspiring!” I think I said something like, “Thanks, now go coach ‘em up,” and I became even more hopeful in that moment that he really would lead them to success that season. We won the NFC East, beat the Lions in the wild card game and then lost to the Packers in the divisional playoff game (it was a catch). It was a sad ending to what seemed like a promising season.

And for some reason, I still have hope.

The Cowboys remind me of the guy who led me to believe he was going to ask me out (and told all of my friends he was going to) but then went out with my friend, instead. He had gotten my hopes up and then let me down. Just like the Cowboys do every season.

And for some reason, I still have hope—and I’m going to have that same hope going into this season and every season after this one.

I think it’s important not to give up on your people. I know the Cowboys have a lot of issues (both on and off the field), but we can’t just turn our backs on them when things start to go south. If we don’t believe in them, who will? They’re people, just like us, and they need others to walk alongside them through the good times and the bad times—people to cheer for them when pretty much everyone else seems to be booing.

Romo is out. Dak is up. Dez is good. Jerry is still around. Troy is still providing obvious commentary. The haters are still hating. We open the season in two weeks against the Giants with a lot of eyes on us that are wondering what we’re made of with a bit of adversity thrown in.

And for good reason, I still have hope.

Hope deferred and whatnot

It turns out some of my life theories I used to have are bogus.

And as much I don’t like to be wrong, I guess it’s not the end of the world.

In my younger days, I was hopeful for things I wanted sometimes, but for those occurrences that didn’t seem as likely, I had a strategy that many people can probably relate to: Don’t get my hopes up, and I can’t be let down. I had been in too many situations in which my lofty hopes left me disappointed and hurt.

Allow me to cue up a rather shallow example.

When I was in the eighth grade, *NSYNC came to town. As a middle school girl who thought she was in love with Justin Timberlake (he is still so freaking cool), I didn’t simply want these tickets—I needed them. I wasn’t being dramatic about this at all. But did I make my family stop at some random parking lot near a gas station on our way home because there was a radio station there doing contests for concert tickets? Absolutely. I waited in the heat in a ridiculously long line to play some matching games, hoping with all hope that I would be successful, and I did not win. It was pretty upsetting, even with the orange Gatorade my mom bought for me while I stood in line.

And it didn’t stop there.

KISS FM held a ticket contest, and all I had to do was be the whatever-number-it-was caller. Thankfully we had a phone with redial by that point. My parents weren’t thrilled about me hogging the home phone (Zach Morris was the only person I knew with a cell phone back then), but I wasn’t thrilled about them not understanding the importance of *NSYNC. It was difficult to get along during those years. I called, and I called, and I called some more. All I heard was that stupid busy signal noise that is about as annoying as a cricket outside your window when you’re trying to fall asleep. It really was a long shot for me actually to win those tickets, but for some reason, I had this tremendous hope within me that believed it was truly possible.

Imagine the disappointment I felt when it didn’t happen.

It’s moments like that one that led me to my “don’t get my hopes up” ordeal, and I went years with that mindset. It’s not that I thought everything was hopeless, but I struggled to let my hopes soar because I really didn’t want to be let down. I’ll never forget the moment when everything changed though. I was a sophomore at Texas A&M, and I worked a part-time job at a daycare. There was a precious little girl there named Hailey, and we were building a sandcastle (it really was just a mound of dirt—neither of us had strong castle-building skills) and chatting about the important things in life, like our favorite flavors of Capri Sun. Then she stopped suddenly to tell me that she hoped one day to live in a castle as pretty as ours (beauty is in the eye of the beholder) and that she also hoped her mom would let her have ice cream that night. I’m not sure if sweet Hailey lives in a castle now or will anytime in the future, but you should have seen her eyes light up when her mom said she could have ice cream for dessert.

We always hoped the students would work hard and be nice.

I will always remember that moment because it reminded me how wonderful it is to have hope. Hailey didn’t concern herself with doubts of whether or not she would get ice cream or whether or not she would eventually live in a pretty castle—she simply let her hopes allow her to believe it was all truly possible.

We encounter a lot of situations in which we need hope. Often those times need action to go along with the hope, but the hope has to be there first. The thing about hope is that it can really hurt. My friend Lindsey and I were chatting recently, and she reminded me of the first part of a Bible verse that says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” And it’s true. Sometimes we hope and pray and wish for things to happen—whether it’s loved ones being healed, finding our soul mates, getting certain jobs we really want or a number of other desires—and when they don’t, it legitimately hurts our hearts.

But then there’s the other half of the verse: “but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” That’s Hailey finding out she can have ice cream. That’s your friend finding out he’s cancer-free. That’s Elle Woods passing the LSAT. That’s your friend finding out she’s finally pregnant. That’s the guy you have a crush on in your pre-cal class talking to you and actually knowing your name. That’s watching the game-winning shot go through the net. That’s the perfect pitch ending in a walk-off home run.

That’s the the risk of having hope being worth it.

The things we hope for aren’t always going to happen. But sometimes they will. There’s an unknown aspect of hope, and it’s beautiful and frustrating at the same time. Even if that hope ends in heartache, though, at least you were brave enough to believe. Because without hope, what do you have?

Definitely not the possibility of *NSYNC tickets.