Because the holiday season can be tough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

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

Because sometimes your plans aren’t as great as you think they are

Life often leads you down unexpected roads that leave you wondering how and why you got to where you are.

And sometimes you’re dressed as a strawberry while you’re on those alternate paths.

Over the weekend, all I wanted to do was rest. I had been sick for a few days and was zapped of most of my energy, so the thought of doing nothing but watching football and baseball sounded like perfection. And I obviously needed sunshine and the ocean to cure me.

When I headed for the beach Saturday, the sun was out, and the weather was pretty ideal. By the time I got to the beach about seven minutes later, though, it was overcast and kind of chilly, and there was a foggy marine layer hanging in the air. (My hair and I are not fans of the marine layer—at all.) I don’t understand how the atmosphere can be so drastically different a few miles apart, but it’s a thing out here.

I still laid my towel in the sand, put in my headphones, and stretched out as if I actually had a chance of soaking up some rays. Here’s something that you need to know about me: I hate—and I do mean hate—being cold. If I had been Jack, I absolutely would have made Rose scoot over to give me room on that freaking door that could easily fit two people.

It was in the 60s, and I wanted a blanket wrapped around me. I had not planned for a frigid and gray day at my place of peace. Why was I only in my swimsuit? Why was I not covering myself with my clothes or towel? I can’t explain my actions and inactions, but for some reason, I simply remained as I was and let the sounds of the waves drown out all of my discomfort as I fell asleep for a much-needed nap. It wasn’t quite the way I had planned it, but it was still oddly good.

I woke up feeling refreshed (but still cold) and gathered my things to go home so that I could change and go to my friend JP’s volleyball game (she coaches at a college nearby). I had a Halloween event that evening and still had no idea what I was going to be, though I was leaning toward Ariel because my friend has a mermaid dress that she said I could borrow. I also wanted to be Ms. Frizzle or Rainbow Bright or Strawberry Shortcake, but I didn’t have any outfits for those people. To keep things simple, maybe next year I should just be nothing. Or three-hole-punch Jim.

I’m a strawberry. Duh.

After JP and her team won their match, I went to Party City for inspiration. As I was walking down the superheroes and My Little Pony costumes aisle, it hit me like Peter La Fleur pegged White Goodman while blindfolded to win the championship: I should be a strawberry. So I bought some red stuff and paid a visit to Target (my personal simultaneous haven and danger zone) to complete the ensemble. It wasn’t the original plan, but I’d argue that it turned out better. I didn’t even stay at the party very long, but at least it had a strawberry there briefly.

My beach day didn’t go as I had intended, and there were parts of it that weren’t very enjoyable, but it ended up being a time of escape and rejuvenation that I needed. And my costume certainly didn’t turn out as planned, but I wound up being a food-related item for the third year in a row (I was a peppermint milkshake last year and a yellow Skittle the year before) and liking my costume. With everything that’s been happening lately and the heaviness in my heart I’ve felt recently, I think that I needed some reminders that life doesn’t always pan out as you hoped or planned, and that’s OK.

And it’s often for the better.

I turned 34 earlier this month, which basically means that I need to stretch before everything, my desired bedtime will continue to get earlier, saying “no” to things I don’t want to do and events I don’t want to attend is a piece of cake, and I’ll sometimes pull muscles during my sleep (I swear this happened recently). I’m exactly nowhere where I thought I would be in life at this point. I thought that I would for sure be married to my forever guy by now, my career would be something entirely different, and I’d be living happily in Dallas.

In reality, I’m as single as the last piece of gum in the pack, I’m working a job I never would have expected but surprisingly absolutely love, and I live in what has become my favorite place on earth but that is nowhere near the great state of Texas. I have to trust that all of those things have been planned out with specific purpose by Someone who truly cares about me and has more than I could ever imagine in store for me. The guys I wanted to date, the relationships I wanted to happen, the words I wanted to hear, and the love I wanted to feel didn’t happen because they weren’t supposed to happen. It didn’t make sense to me then, and some of it still doesn’t make sense to me now, but I do know that I’m going to continue to believe that it’s all part of the story of my life that’s going to be better than one I could ever write.

My sister-in-law sent me one of my favorite songs by Lauren Daigle the other day, and the lyrics were a needed reminder that I have to repeat to myself often.

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

The hopes in your heart won’t always happen like you want them to, but that doesn’t mean that you should give those hopes up. Let them soar, but also be ready to go on a much different path than you ever expected with more twists and turns than you think your heart can handle.

Because some of the most magnificent stories are ones that you never see coming.

Cartwheels in the Target maternity section

Your life can be impacted by anyone at any moment and anywhere.

Even by a little girl on a Thursday evening in the maternity section at Target.

I met my cousin and her kids and my aunt and uncle for dinner last Thursday, and my trusty Google Maps told me it would take anywhere from one to two hours to get there after work, so I left two hours before we were meeting just to be safe. It ended up only taking a little more than an hour, so I had some time to kill.

Naturally, I went to the nearest Target.

I was looking around and seeing a bunch of things I probably don’t need, and then I saw a precious little girl dancing around and talking nonstop as her pregnant mom looked for some new maternity clothes. (To be clear, I was not shopping in the maternity section. The clearance rack was mixed in the same area. I’ll be honest, though: I have accidentally purchased maternity clothes in the past when they were on the same clearance rack as the nonpreggo clothes. Oopsies.)

The little girl pranced over my way and asked me my name and told me hers is Avery. After our introductions, she informed me that my hair is red—kid knows her colors. Then she told me she can do a cartwheel and asked me if I wanted to see it.

I mean, is that even a question?

She raised both hands in the air, and right before she showed off her gymnastics skills, she looked at me and said, “Make sure you’re watching. I’m really good.”

It was one of the worst cartwheels I’ve ever seen.

But it was also one of the best. Even though I didn’t think it looked so great (I’m no gymnast, but this looked more like putting your hands on the ground and attempting a roundhouse kick with both feet), Avery truly believes in herself, and that confidence made that cartwheel so much more respectable.

Then she instructed me that it was my turn. At this point, her mom intervened and told me I certainly didn’t need to listen to her daughter, but I felt a cartwheel was necessary in that moment. I’m pretty sure I’ve never completed a straight cartwheel in my life (plus, there is not a lot of space in the clothing section for a cartwheel, so the challenge was magnified), but when I finished, sweet little Avery exclaimed, “Wow! That was so good!”

Bless her heart.

Even though I don’t know that Avery’s judge of talent is very accurate, I appreciated her innocent affirmation. I think we need that every once in a while—people telling us that we’re doing well. Life can kick our tails sometimes, and I think people like Avery step into our lives at just the right moments to remind us that we can do the things we don’t always believe we can do.

I might not be a rock star, but maybe one day I’ll take over the stage.

We (hopefully) all have goals and dreams we’re chasing, but sometimes it takes others believing in us to help us more fully believe in ourselves. I remember years ago when I was growing up, I wanted to be so much like my older brother, and I wanted him to be proud of me. I was bragging to him about how high I could jump, and he gave me a challenge: He taped a dollar bill way up out of my reach and told me to jump up and grab it. I jumped and came up short. I tried again and failed again. I can’t remember exactly how long I kept jumping for that thing, but I do remember I legitimately started sweating. I also remember reaching a point when I was so tired and frustrated that I wanted to quit. The whole ordeal was beginning to seem impossible. But I thought about my brother and the fact that I thought he really believed I could get it. I told myself that he believed in me—he believed I could reach that dollar. And that helped me believe it, too.

I got the dollar—and I framed it.

Avery reminded me of the importance of believing in others and believing in ourselves. I’ve been a little discouraged lately because of all of my kidney troubles and not being able to run as far or as fast, and I often worry that I’ll never race again like I used to. But I have to believe it’s possible.

I think we all have strengths within us that we don’t always know we have. Sometimes we have to find those strengths on our own, and other times we need people to remind us that those strengths are there.

Either way, you might discover you’re capable of a lot more than you thought you are.

An unexpected gift from a Target employee

I’ve always known that Target is full of goodness, but that became even more apparent on what turned into a day I’ll always remember.

Even though it started out as a day I wanted to forget.

I’ve been studying for this test called the Series 7 for months now. It’s a six-hour test, so I had been kind of dreading it. I’ve never taken a test that long before, and I didn’t feel like I was ever going to feel 100-percent ready for it. But Tuesday was test day, so I had to be as prepared as I could be.

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I passed one of the six kidney stones that were just chillin’ inside of me. The antibiotics I’ve been taking (combined with the pain meds) made it not as awful as it could have been, but I’ll still say that it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. The last thing I wanted to do was go answer 260 complicated multiple choice questions, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to skip or try to cancel it.

mom-pep-talk
She really does give great pep talks, especially if you’re taking a difficult test or freezing in the woods.

That was the hardest freaking test I’ve ever taken in my entire life—and that fact has nothing to do with the kidney stones. After the first 130 questions, you’re required to take at least a 30-minute break (and you’re allowed a full hour) before completing the second half of the exam. During my break, I sat on a chair in the waiting area and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Wheat Thins and thought about how much I did not want to go back to computer 9 in that testing room. I called my mom and got a little pep talk (she’s really good at those), and before I knew it, 30 minutes had gone
by—and it was back to the dungeon I went.

I wish I should share with you some miraculous tale about how I entered this industry I didn’t know and passed this beast of a test that not everyone passes on the first attempt. But I can’t. I failed. I really wanted to cry for so many reasons—the test failure being the cherry on top—but I held back my tears and tried to get out of that testing center as quickly as I could.

And I drove to the one place I thought could cheer me up: Target.

I needed to finish up my Christmas shopping, and I figured focusing on getting things for other people would help me not feel sorry for myself. I mentally started calculating what my total would be once I had all of my items, and I realized it was easily going to be more than $50. I had a coupon I’d gotten from Target in the mail (it treats its frequent customers well) for $10 off any purchase of $50 or more. Then I remembered the coupon was sitting on my kitchen counter.

Of course it was.

I went through the self-checkout lane, and when it was time to pay, I called the gal manning the area over to explain my situation. She seemed new and like she didn’t know what to do, so she said she would ask about it. Then she called over Joe. Joe was not a manager, but he appeared to have a bit more tenure. I re-explained my situation to him, and he said, “Oh, I’ll have to ask my manager about that, but I’m not sure we can honor it.”

At that point, I could no longer hold back my tears, and the floodgates opened up.

It was bad. I usually bottle up tears, so when I finally cry, I’m making up for all of the times I wanted to cry but didn’t. Poor Joe. He had to suffer through the following exchange.

Joe: “Oh, please don’t cry. We’ll try to get it sorted out.”
Me: “I’m not crying about this. You don’t understand, Joe. It’s been a really tough few months. First, a guy broke my heart, and then I got kidney stones and still have them and had to miss a race I’d been training for, and then I failed this really big test I was hoping to pass this morning. I just want to go home.”
Joe: “Don’t you worry—I’ll get this taken care of for you.”

Joe then got on his walkie talkie and told his manager about the coupon mishap. I heard him say, “I really need to do this.” The next thing I knew, Joe suspended my transaction and walked me over to an empty register so he could take off the $10. I was still sobbing like a psycho, and I said I was sorry for crying and making him uncomfortable. Then he said something I wasn’t expecting: “You know what? I’m gonna give you an extra $5. This is on me.” I thanked him a million times and promised I would go home and rip up the coupon I had forgotten (which I did).

It’s not every day that strangers care about your problems. I’m sure Joe has troubles of his own he’s dealing with in his life, and they might be a lot bigger than mine. But he saw a hurting heart in front of him that needed a reminder of what it means to show genuine love to others. He easily could have told me that he understood I was upset and that it was unfortunate I forgot the coupon but that there was nothing he could do about it. But he didn’t—because there was something he could do about it. And he did it.

We’re given multiple opportunities throughout our lives to help others when they truly need it. I know I don’t always take advantage of those chances, but I’m going to try to be more aware of them, thanks in large part to Joe. He reminded me what it means to see what’s right in front of you in each moment you’re handed rather than letting yourself be distracted by what’s next on your agenda.

He also reminded me that, even though we are bombarded daily with all of the horrible things there are in this world, there still is a lot of good out there. Everywhere. It’s in our homes. It’s at our work places. It’s in our relationships. It’s on the roads. It’s in the midst of chaos. It’s in sports. It’s at Target.

On Tuesday morning, I passed a kidney stone. On Tuesday afternoon, I failed a test. And on that same Tuesday, I encountered kindness so powerful that it overshadowed both of those negative experiences and gave me hope that there truly are better days to come.

It’s further proof that love always wins.

Unicorns, distractions and Target winning again

It can be easy to get distracted by fascinations that draw you away.

Especially when you’re at Target.

There’s just something about Target that creates this entirely different universe of greatness. It’s difficult to explain—you have to experience it. It’s really challenging to go in there and get just one thing. I might even venture to say it’s impossible.

There have even been multiple occasions when I’ve gone into Target with one thing on my list, left with more than one thing, and completely forgotten the original thing I needed to get. I know my ladies out there feel me on this one. There are just too many distractions putting thoughts in your mind of, “I need this” or “I’m sure I’ll find use for this somehow” or “That’s too cute not to buy” or anything else along those lines.

It’s delightful torture.

I was a victim to this on Saturday. All I needed was contact solution. That’s it. I could have (and probably should have) just gone to a normal grocery store. But I didn’t. Target was summoning me. That stinkin’ red target shouldn’t be on the outside of the building—it should be on all of our backs. Target hits the bullseye every.single.time.

unicorns
Obviously a necessity

I went inside and immediately was drawn to the Dollar Spot: a place where everything is $1, but you can easily end up spending about $32 there in a mere matter of seconds. After I found some stickers I know I’ll use and some neon mechanical pencils that I never will (I don’t remember the last time I even used a pencil), I moseyed on over to the clothing area. I mean, I had a Target gift card, so I might as well get some new work clothes, right? Last time I checked, fun shorts and a shirt with a frocket with unicorns on it weren’t part of the corporate dress code, but those items somehow wound up in my cart. I did find a skirt that I actually can wear to work, so I declared it as productivity and made my way to the grocery area.

I would like to point out that I passed by the shoes section and didn’t let myself stop. I saw some boots that I really, really wanted to take a second look at, but I stayed strong. See, Target doesn’t own me completely.

I got some Birthday Cake Teddy Grahams (everyone needs to try these) and an avocado and then went and got in line to check out. Right before it was my turn, it hit me: I forgot contact solution. I was completely out, and I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to sleep in my contacts. But I really didn’t want to get out of line and have to walk all the way over to the health/beauty/whatever-it-is section to get it. The one thing I really needed to get there, and I didn’t even get it. After at least 40-something seconds of useless debating in my head, I opted to stop at Kroger on the way home to get the solution. After all, Kroger has self-checkout.

I think my actions and my mindset at Target are similar to those of many of us in our daily lives. We let things constantly distract us from what our main objectives should be, and then we end up straying so far that we neglect them entirely or simply give up on them. But, the problem with those distractions is that they usually aren’t as good for us as we imagined. Sure, I really like the new clothes I got, but they weren’t going to be able to take care of my contacts while I slept.

When I was a freshman in high school, I had a project due that our teacher had given us weeks to work on. I started a little before midnight on the night before the day it was due. Throughout the weeks we had to work on it, I had let distractions veer me away from the assignment—whether it was basketball, watching SportsCenter or a Mavs game, hanging out with my friends, talking on AIM (obviously a critical priority), or a number of other things. I’m not saying those things are bad, but at the end of the day, they didn’t accomplish the one thing that had a deadline: my assignment. I ended up completing it, but I hadn’t made it a priority, just like I hadn’t made my contact solution a priority. Instead, I had let it slip deeper and deeper into the back of my mind until it became an afterthought. A checkout thought.

I think a lot of us do this with more important things than solution or school projects: relationships, our time, our sleep and a variety of other things that are truly important to us. But what if we didn’t let ourselves get Target Shopping Syndrome with things that matter? What if, instead, we let our priorities stay at the top of our lists? I’ve been trying to focus on this more—well, other than my obvious slip when I was actually shopping at Target—by saying “no” to things I don’t need to spend my time doing, by not overcommitting myself, by being intentional about not wasting time with frivolous concerns, by being intentional about getting more sleep, and (most crucial) by being intentional about making sure I make time for the people who are most important to me in life.

And life has been so much more peaceful and a lot less chaotic.

We can’t always escape Target Shopping Syndrome. Distractions happen, and that’s how life works sometimes. But we can be more aware of what we’re truly focusing on and place more effort on not letting distractions get in the way of what we were originally going after in the first place.

Plus, if you’re constantly looking at other things you don’t have, you might miss something wonderful right in front of you.