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.

When you let tunnel vision blind you

The ocean is so vast and incredible and filled with more species of sea animals than most of us could ever imagine.

Yet, for some reason, we often only allow ourselves to focus on one.

I went whale watching over the weekend, which is something I’ve wanted to do pretty much since I moved out here about a year and a half ago. I really wanted to see some dolphins, and I guess seeing whales would be kind of cool, too. I mean, they’re rather beastly creatures, and witnessing their grandeur up close sounded like an intimidatingly fascinating idea.

They’re my kind of people.

It’s been a bit cold in Southern California lately. I realize that there are so many other parts of the country suffering much chillier temperatures, but I’m not in the business of comparison—it’s cold here for what we’re accustomed to, so I’m going to stick with my statement. I knew that it was going to be even colder out on the water, so I did my best to bundle up and prepare for whatever was in store for me for the next few hours.

I’m glad that I wore four layers—they still weren’t enough, though. The spray from the ocean water made it even worse (remember the drink Ocean Spray?? Maybe someone who went on a whale watching excursion came up with that), and I’m so grateful that my friend Jose let me borrow his gloves toward the end of our time on the water. Regardless of how cold it felt out there, it was an adventure that I’m grateful I got to take. I was able to spend an afternoon with some wonderful people I get to have as friends in my life as we took part in a quest to find and see the beautiful phenomenon of giant ocean creatures in their natural habitat.

And I was reminded that we’re so often chasing after things that may or may not be meant for us to the point that we don’t pay attention to what’s actually right in front of us.

I never actually saw Dustin, but I heard his voice quite a bit. He was our tour guide, and I think he was driving the boat. I’m not actually sure. I just trusted that someone who knew what he or she was doing was behind the wheel (or the helm, for all of you nautical type). But Dustin was the one telling us about the differences between seals and sea lions and informing us where the whales were and our strategies for making sure that we would get to see them. There was even a drone sent out from the boat to get better shots and also to help us find the path the whales were taking.

I don’t see any whales, bro.

We never saw the whales up close. We saw them blowing air from the water from a distance, but I still haven’t seen a whale in real life. On the way to try to see them, though, we saw quite a few bottlenose dolphins—and my heart soared. I honestly cared more about seeing dolphins than whales, so it was a special moment having a front row seat as they swam right in front of the boat. I really wanted to see them jump out of the water—I’m a product of romcoms and happy endings, people, so I want the fairy tale fantasy stuff—but it didn’t happen. Still, it was a breathtaking few minutes of my life.

Dustin let us see the dolphins but then kind of brushed them aside to remind us that we needed to go farther out in the water to see the whales. I understand that the thing is called a whale watching tour, so it was important to stick to the task at hand. At the same time, though, we were missing some true greatness that was right before us because we were so focused on pursuing something that we would never actually obtain.

And it was in that moment that I realized that I’ve done that far too many times—I’ve chased the things that are fleeting and missed out on some beautiful opportunities that were directly in front of me.

I think that it’s important to go wholeheartedly after your dreams and remain determined to achieve your goals. However, I think it’s also important to acknowledge the wonderful chances you’re given along the way. Maybe you’re meant to reach what you’re striving for so passionately—but maybe you aren’t. You might be going after a whale when you’re actually meant to encounter dolphins, instead.

There will be trials you face along the way—whether it’s the spray of the ocean, the gusts of wind that knock your breath out of your lungs, the bad breath of the sea lions that makes you want to hurl (whether you took Dramamine or not), or the loss of circulation in your extremities (thanks a lot, Raynaud’s)—and those are times when you have to remind yourself why you’re there in the first place and that you can do hard things.

And it’s also when you need to remind yourself that there is beauty and wonder outside of your tunnel vision.

I saw the same amount of whales on my hike as on the tour.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of times when I allowed tunnel vision to take over and cloud my sight of everything else around me because I was chasing whales I’d never actually reach. And don’t you know that some of those whales were guys who caused me to ignore many dolphin guys around me? I did it frequently with running, too. I would focus solely on the big accomplishments and PRs so much that I would miss the little victories that didn’t happen on race day that I was gaining along the way.

I want to make sure that I’m more aware of the dolphins all around me and that I don’t simply focus on the whales that I may or may not ever see. It’s great to have goals, and I hope that you achieve all of yours, but it’s also beneficial to notice all of the greatness that surrounds you that may not be what you initially think is best for you.

Because sometimes you’ll set out on a quest for whales and not find what you think you’re looking for—but perhaps the dolphins you encounter were what you were meant to find all along.

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.

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 faith trumps fear

I got a tattoo the other day, this one in my handwriting, that says a mantra that I try to live by in every aspect of my life.

“Be brave.”

I’m not going to lie—when I first moved out to California, I was certain that it was a one-year thing and that I would move back to Dallas as soon as my lease was up. I longed for the familiarity of Texas and all of my people, and I thought where I was in California was merely going to be a brief stint in my life that I could simply chalk up as “one of those adventures I just had to have.”

And God probably smiled down at me knowingly, thinking that it wouldn’t be too long before I realized that, once again, His plan was different—and better.

I’ve grown to love where I am and love the community I’ve become a part of there. I’ve gotten involved in quite a bit, and it’s definitely helped me to get to know people and build relationships. Besides, you can’t really beat being able to go to the ocean pretty much whenever you want. I honestly think this place has helped to heal my soul and the broken heart that seemed like it would never end.

Just look at her. I CAN’T EVEN.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things I miss about the world I left last fall. My second precious niece was recently born, and I was thrilled to take a trip back to Texas to meet sweet Evelyn (“Evie”) and spend some time with my family. Before I go any further, let me rave about HOW FREAKING ADORABLE SHE IS! This isn’t a biased opinion by any means. She is seriously tied for cutest human alive (with my other niece, Olivia, of course).

As soon as I landed, I went over to my brother’s and sister-in-law’s house (they had just gotten home from the hospital), and they let me spend time over there every single day I was in town. I usually FaceTime with my brother and Olivia once a week, but it was so nice actually to be with them and read with Olivia and play games and practice saying words and give her snuggles and go to the park and do all of the things that aunts can do. I was also so grateful to be able to hold little Evie and talk to her as if she actually knows everything I’m saying.

There’s something about being an aunt that brings joy to a person’s heart. I remember when Olivia was a baby, I used to go over there once a week to hang out with her, and I would talk to her about everything going on in my life. It was during a time when that aforementioned heartache was just beginning, and she helped me through so much pain. She listened, she sympathized (at least I’m going to say that’s what it was), she cried for me (we’ll also say that’s why she was crying and not because of colic), she let me cry, and she was just there for me. She’s my little best friend, and I was so scared that moving so many miles away would change that.

Even though being back in my old middle school is always weird, I’d go anywhere with this gem.

I was also afraid that being so far away from my sister (my adult best friend) would challenge our relationship, but it hasn’t. I stayed with her and her husband while I was in town, and that walking heart of a woman let me borrow her car for the entire time I was there, no questions about it. I was able to spend so much time with her going to dinner, watching Mulan and She’s All That and The Office while relaxing on her sofa, cheering on her soccer team that she coaches (she’s the best middle school girls coach around), and watching the play version of Legally Blonde performed by a bunch of eighth-grade students. My sister is the best.

The truth is, though, that distance doesn’t have to ruin a relationship—at all. And even though it hurts to be so far from certain people, I know that I’m right where I need to be.

I love seeing Olivia interact with my brother, and I’m sure Evie will be the same. Olivia lights up whenever she sees him, says “daddy” or “dada” as often as possible, clings to him at times, and trusts him more than anything. And he loves her more than life itself. That man would move mountains for that little girl, and his love is genuine and obvious. I was sitting and watching them together the other day, and I couldn’t help but wonder why I don’t always have that childlike faith and trust in God, the Father whose love is so much greater than any human’s could ever be. Instead, I tend to think that my own ways and plans are better and would suit my life perfectly.

And I’m usually wrong.

Homies 4 lyfe

More so lately, it’s become truly apparent just how much I needed to be exactly where I am in California at this exact time. Whether it’s because I need certain surroundings or people in my life or they need me, it’s all part of a plan that I couldn’t have put together more perfectly if I had plotted it for years. He had this in store for me and knew all along what’s best, and I honestly wish that I had been more trusting. It’s something I’m working on currently.

My life might not look anything like I thought it would years ago, but that’s because it’s not supposed to. Sure, I’m still the most single person you’ll ever meet, but that’s because God has something or someone else in store for me, and I simply have to trust Him as much as Olivia trusts my brother. I have to believe that He wants the best for me because He loves me more than life itself. He would move mountains for me, and His love is genuine and obvious—even when I don’t always act like I know that’s true.

Right now, I post pictures with my friends, my nieces, my sister, my other family members, sometimes even strangers, and I often post pictures by myself. There will hopefully be a day that I become minorly annoying by posting pictures with the man I’ve been praying for all along. Until then, I’m going to let my faith and my heart grow in ways I’ve never imagined, trusting like I’ve never trusted.

And, for me, maybe that’s part of what being brave is all about.

When surfing dogs inspire you

Sometimes you find admiration and inspiration from something you’d never expect.

You know, like a surfing dog.

Some friends who used to live in Southern California had informed me of an annual dog surfing competition in Huntington Beach that I needed to attend. I’m not even a big animal lover, but I wasn’t sure I could live with myself if I missed something like this. I’m impressed by humans who can surf, so dogs on surfboards sounded a little incredible.

And they didn’t disappoint.

On Saturday morning, I got my a$* kicked by some rather monstrous hills during my run through a canyon, so I was pretty tired and looking forward to relaxing in the sun. I packed my bike in the back of my car and drove out to Huntington Beach (I could probably ride there if I want to go for a really long ride, but please read the previous sentence about running hills earlier that morning for my justification of not making that trek) and then rode from where I parked out to the special dog beach. I didn’t realize how popular this event really is until I pulled up and saw the large crowd gathered around a bunch of oddly talented dogs.

Please click the links to the videos. This pic doesn’t truly capture the greatness.

I was able to squeeze my way toward the front to get a good spot for viewing this ridiculously amazing spectacle, and we all waited in anticipation for the next round of competitors. The humans surf with their dogs (so maybe the animals really aren’t that talented), and the pups just kind of chill on the end of the surfboards and ride the waves back to the shore. It’s certainly entertaining—that’s for sure. One guy even did a little hop trick, and the end of the board with the dog on it went up at a slight angle for the rest of the way, and that dog just stayed there like he was king of the sea (sorry, but that’s Ariel’s dad’s role, bud).

One rather funny moment occurred when, on the next little run, that same dog fell off of the board and into the water right before they reached the shore. It was pretty hilarious, but don’t worry—he was fine. In fact, he popped back up like nothing had happened and then had a very impressive final run a few moments later.

As I was watching all of this, I realized just how much trust those dogs have in their owners and how much resilience they have when things don’t exactly go as planned.

I’m not sure that’s always the case for this human.

I thought back even to my run that morning. Like I said, those hills pretty much owned me, and it was a reminder of how I’m not quite in the running shape I’d like to be in right now. Sure, it’s still been less than a month since I had two kidney surgeries within a three-week period, but it can be discouraging when you used to be somewhat good at something and now feel average at best. I beat myself up about it both during my run and for a fair amount of time after.

And I feel like that’s not super uncommon. It can be easy to dwell on lots of things in life that aren’t so great—things from our pasts, things we did recently and might regret, things we are dreading. We think about them too much rather than realizing that they are things we can’t change, and we need to focus on the here and the now. It’s better to live in the moment than to live in the land of “what if” or the world of “if only.” I’ve had to remind myself of that quite a bit lately with all of the recent changes and uncertainties.

I think I was happy that I wasn’t the one surfing with those dogs. I’d prefer my first attempt to be free of all K9s.

The truth is, though, that perhaps we really should be more like those absurd surfing dogs. They don’t care about the possibilities of falling into the ocean, they aren’t concerned with previous crappy attempts that didn’t pan out, they don’t stress about how they compare to the other dogs around them, and they certainly aren’t acting anxious about whether or not the crowds watching are pleased with them or not. Instead, they simply do what they know they are supposed to do: stand on those surfboards with poise and excitement and enjoy every single second of it.

That sounds like a pretty solid way for a human to live, too.

Sure, we aren’t dogs with humans riding on the backs of our surfboards, but we definitely face a bunch of ups and downs in life—and sometimes we crash and burn, while other times we rise above the waves and coast on them to what we consider successes. Regardless, during those times when we find ourselves in situations that make us a little bit (or a lot) afraid or looking back on those that we maybe want to forget, it’s important to remember that it’s often those moments that help to make us stronger and help to make us who we are.

And we might find that we really are like the dog who falls off of the surfboard, gets back up like nothing happened, and goes back out for another try.

Closed doors can make you stronger

I really don’t like trite expressions, but I guess there’s a reason they exist.

Perhaps they were true at least once.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “When one door closes, another door opens” many times, and maybe there’s a logical explanation for that. But is it really true? Or is it one of those things we say to make people feel better when we don’t actually know what’s going to happen? Aren’t there some doors that simply close, and other open doors have nothing to do with the ones that closed? Or will there always be another door that opens for you solely because another one just closed in your face?

I’m still trying to figure that one out.

It can be pretty painful when a door in your life closes when you really hoped it would be one you’d walk through. My mom used to love the store Coldwater Creek—in fact, she loved it so much that she once got a part-time job there so that she could not only make a little extra cash but also get a discount on all of the clothes she wanted to buy. (I’m surprised she wasn’t featured in the Coldwater Creek catalogues, seeing as how she was decked out in the apparel from head to toe.)

Imagine her reaction when she found out her favorite store was closing its doors forever.

park
When you find out you didn’t get a callback to be one of Beyoncé’s background dancers

Imagine how people feel when doors close on things that matter so much more than skirts and shirts and dresses and whatnot. You’ve likely been there before—it’s not a fun place to be. You might realize a closed door will never open again. You might wonder if it’s closed temporarily for renovations. You might know in your heart that the door is merely closed for a bit, and you simply need to wait outside until it opens again.

But what do you do if you really don’t know?

I’ve started watching the Netflix original series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Kimmy literally had a door closed on her for 15 years, living in a bunker until she and the three other girls with her were finally rescued. She walks through the open door that once closed on her, and she goes on to find a tremendous amount of other doors welcoming and daring her to walk through. One thing I love about Kimmy is that she never loses hope, and she doesn’t give up on her goals—or on people. There are a lot of doors that continue to slam in her face, but she keeps fighting, either by trying to kick those closed doors back open or by directing her path elsewhere.

Doors closing have been fairly common in my world lately. Some of them don’t bother me too much—others leave me wondering why they ever offered even little lights of hope at all if they were only going to close right when it seemed like I was about to walk through them. So much about life doesn’t make sense to me, and maybe it isn’t supposed to. I don’t always understand why things happen the way they do and why there sometimes has to be so much pain involved. I was thinking about this Sunday in church when the band started playing a familiar tune I love as the final worship song, some of the lines reminding me that I don’t need to concern myself with any of the doors anywhere.

And I can see a light that is coming
For the heart that holds on
A glorious light beyond all compare
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You

It’s easier to say not to worry rather than actually not worry, but the truth is that worrying doesn’t really do any good. It doesn’t open closed doors or find other opportunities. We’re probably all going to face a lot more closed doors in our lives than we want to, but the hurt that happens after won’t last forever. It can be really difficult to trust and have faith during those times, but sometimes that’s all we can do—be the hearts that hold on.

There may be other doors that open when certain doors close, but even if it seems like there aren’t, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope left. The door that closes closes for a reason. It may be for a while; it may be forever. Either way, the sadness or frustration or pain or whatever emotion you feel afterward will eventually fade, and you may or may not see the reason you had to go through what you did. But it’s important to keep going through the rain when you’re there and find the strength you may not have even known you have.

Because there’s a light that is coming for the heart that holds on.

Holding on tightly

It’s not uncommon for me to learn things from people who are younger than I am.

Even if one of those people is barely four months old.

pinky-hold
Iron grip

I hung out with my niece Saturday night while my brother and sister-in-law went to their company Christmas party. After a week filled with kidney stones (which were responsible for that back pain I was having last week) and frustrations, I was excited to have a fun night of hanging out with the most adorable human alive (not an exaggeration). I got there early enough so that I could watch Olivia while Chris and Katie got ready for the party, and we sat on the couch and watched the end of some movie with Goofy in it and then a little bit of the show Paw Patrol. We also talked about life, as we usually do—she’s such a great listener. At one point, she gripped my pinky and wouldn’t let go. She just kept holding it tightly as she continued in her fascination with the colors and animations on the screen.

MY HEART MELTED.

Later that night, the sweet little one started wailing when it was roughly time for her to eat. I was trying to get her to calm down while I got the formula ready for her, so I began singing (and clearly I have the voice of an angel). At first, I sang a random song about everything that popped into my head—it included references to the cold weather and the fact that jelly beans will never taste good, no matter how hard they try to be as wonderful as gummy bears. When I ran out of material, I resorted to LeAnn Rimes’ “The Light in Your Eyes,” which I’ve mentioned holds a special place in the hearts of my sister and me. (I’m not trying to be boastful, but there were ZERO TEARS the entire time I was singing. Just saying.)

When it was time for her to go to sleep, I took her to her new throne (I think it’s actually called a co-sleeper or something along those lines), and I laid there beside her to make sure she fell asleep. But then I ended up staying there the whole time because 1) I was super tired, and 2) she has a slight cold and raspy breathing because of it, and that made me super nervous, so I wanted to make sure she kept breathing while she was asleep.

olivia
We’re best friends.

While I was lying there, I thought about how easy it is for Olivia to trust me. Whether it is holding my finger during TV time, listening to my voice as I made her formula or knowing I was right beside her as she dozed off, she believes that she is safe in my care. She made it seem so simple: When someone cares for you, you let that person care for you.

I think we could all learn a lot from babies.

I know you can argue that it’s pretty easy to have faith that everything will be alright for you when you really have no choice. But those babies eventually become little kids who still trust that their parents and teachers and coaches and other people who care about them will do just that—truly care about them.

And then we grow up.

There are a lot of not-so-great aspects about being an adult—you know, like paying taxes and bills, working lots of hours on lots of days, and having to act like a grown up when you really want to go eat snow cones and sit on a hammock, instead—but it makes me sad that many adults won’t let any childlike tendencies into their lives. I still like to climb trees and dream things that probably aren’t likely and make homemade cards with crayons and markers and use stickers as often as possible.

But, like many other grownups, I struggle with that whole trust thing sometimes, too.

It’s hard to believe that others will come through for you when you’ve been let down so many times. It’s hard to believe that you’ll see the sunshine soon when the rain is constantly pouring down. It’s hard to believe that everything will be OK when it feels like there’s no hand to grasp. It’s hard to believe that the songs you’re hearing are from the heart.

And that’s why we need that faith like a child.

Life certainly isn’t always going to be easy. There will be tears. There will be pain. There will be confusion. There will be fears and frustrations and temptations and letdowns. There will be so many things that make us want to cry like babies who have no other way of letting others know they’re in need.

But there will also be beauty.

There’s actually a lot of good in this world—sometimes it’s really obvious, and other times we have to look for it a little bit. But it’s there. I’ll admit that it’s challenging to trust God and whatever it is He’s doing in our lives all of the time. I have to believe His plan is right, though. I look at the things around me, and I see so much He’s done in so many different lives and situations—even if I do often feel like I’m gripping his finger as tightly as possible just to remember He’s there.

But I know He is, and He’s even using a precious girl who’s only been around for four months to show me that. And I want to show that love and care to the people He’s placed in my life and be thankful for those who show me the same love and kindness in return.

Because, as Olivia has taught me, when someone cares for you, you let that person care for you.

I don’t doubt it

No Doubt had some pretty solid hits back in the glory days of the ‘90s, but I think there’s something better about the band than its music.

No Doubt had a strong name.

For years, I’ve struggled with this little beast called doubt. It’s so obnoxious. It comes out of nowhere and makes me think things that I don’t want or need to be thinking. And the worst part is that it makes me do really stupid things sometimes. I mean, I didn’t go to four colleges in four years simply because I was bored.

There are some situations in which such uncertainty is inevitable. If you’ve ever gone shopping without trying on the clothes before purchasing them, you know what I’m talking about. When you finally put those outfits on, you may doubt your purchases and suffer from buyer’s remorse in a big way because not everything looks as good on you as it did on the hanger or mannequin. It’s a painful reality.

I miss this

Even people who hung out with Jesus weren’t always so sure of their decisions—and at times when Jesus was right in front of them. Peter thought he was being really brave and making a good decision when he opted to try the whole walking on water thing. Then he saw some waves and realized how freakishly windy it was, and he suddenly started to question his decision. So, all you doubters out there, you’re not alone.

I often wonder why I have to doubt so much. Why can’t I just be comfortable with the choices I’ve made. I love my new job, and I know I was supposed to leave teaching. I’m 100 percent positive of it. Yet, even now, there are times I find myself asking, “Wait, did I do the right thing? Am I crazy for walking away from something I was so comfortable doing?” I know I did the right thing, and I know I’m not crazy for what I did. I’ve been confirmed in my decision in so many ways. So, why am I even thinking about questioning myself?

It doesn’t stop there. I even had recent doubts about my new church. I really like my new church and truly feel it’s where I belong, yet I entertain the thoughts of, “Should I really be here? Was I wise to leave somewhere I had been for so long?” It wasn’t just a rushed decision to leave—it was something I thought and prayed about a lot. Yet, I still questioned.

It gets worse. I recently made the decision to move, and I’m really happy about it. But then, the other day, I was walking from my parking garage to my apartment, thankful for the garage to keep me from getting wet from the rain, and suddenly felt really weird about moving next month. Why am I leaving somewhere I’ve been for more than two years now? Did I make the right decision not to renew my lease here and to commit to a year somewhere new? I know I did—I need to leave this place for so many reasons. And I want to.

As I was entering my apartment, something that I hate admitting hit me hard: I’m still afraid of change. I’ve tried for years to overcome this, but I’ve obviously got a ways to go. For me, this is where the doubt comes in—there’s uncertainty in the uncertainty. Like Peter, I want to make sure that the waves and winds aren’t going to bring me down, and I start to worry that my decisions weren’t the best ones.

I remember a few years ago when I had a crush on this guy and wanted him to go to a football game with me. I sent him a text to ask him (yes, I’m a pansy and couldn’t make an actual call), and as soon as it made its way through the texting solar system to his phone, I immediately started doubting my choice to ask him. I was uncertain about the uncertain. But even though he turned me down (he said he had chores to do on a Friday night), it was good that I sent it, because then I knew he wasn’t interested, and I could move on without having to wonder.

I don’t like doubt, and it’s definitely something I am trying to remove from my life. I’d rather trust in the uncertainties, as strange and uncomfortable as that may be.

Because there’s Someone who knows what’s ahead, and I don’t doubt that His plan is so much better than anything I could imagine.

Because some plans are better unplanned

It can be scary to take a chance and do something that takes you away from what’s comfortable.

But sometimes you have to ignore “logic” when you’re learning to trust.

One summer when I was a kid, my parents for some reason thought it was a good idea to forgo the beach and instead go to the mountains to go hiking. I’m sure their intentions were good in encouraging family bonding time through physical fitness rather than playing in the ocean and lying on the sand all day, but I still question this decision. I can’t think of a current situation that would make me choose mountains over beach. Ever. But there we were, the Merrill 5, hiking to the top of a mountain and bribing my sister with Twizzlers along the way to keep her motivated.

One thing I remember most about the trip is having no idea where we were, where exactly we were going or how long it would take us to get there. I’m certain we asked my dad way too many times how close we were to the top, but we never really knew for sure. We just had to trust my dad that he knew what he was doing and where he was leading us.

And sometimes that’s just how life goes.

As I mentioned previously, I left my role as a teacher after seven years. I knew the direction I wanted to go, but I honestly had no idea what it was going to look like. I had lots of people asking me what my plan was and reminding me that I needed to be active in my new career quest. I didn’t have a plan, though. I had applied many different places and was constantly looking for opportunities that I figured would be good fits for me, but sometimes it felt pretty useless. People were looking for years of corporate experience, and I had been in a classroom for seven years—they weren’t exactly jumping at me upon seeing my resume.

Oddly enough, though, I wasn’t super concerned. I mean, I knew how essential it was that I get a job, but I was trying not to enter into panic mode. I knew God had called me elsewhere for a reason, and now was a time I needed to trust Him completely in whatever He had planned. It was kind of like the hiking trip with my family: you just have to continue on the path you’re being led without always knowing what the destination looks like.

And now I know.

corporate
This is my corporate look

Last Wednesday was my first day in my new career, and I can say with confidence that this was all part of the plan that I didn’t make or even have to know about fully. I went through a couple of phone interviews, a writing test and then an in-person four-hour interview process with six different people at the company. I left that day of the interview feeling a sense of peace, knowing that, regardless of whether or not I got the job, I had done everything I could. I had left my normal beach setting for something that was going to be more of a mountain, and I had hiked the path I was given. (Thankfully, I ended up getting the job.)

I know there are often advantages to having structure and organization and a set plan, but there are also times when those things are simply not necessary, and you just have to take a leap of faith without knowing where you will land. I know if God calls you to something that He will provide for you, but it’s so much easier just to say that than actually live in that hope. But, when you do, there is a genuine peace that kicks those doubts and anxieties to the curb. Maybe that’s why little kids seem to have so much fun in life—they hold their parents’ hands and find joy in the smallest things. They never know what’s next, but they don’t really care. They’re simply trusting they will be taken care of.

Life won’t always be the comforts of your feet in the sand and the serene sound of crashing waves on the shore. There will be mountains, and you might have to walk up them—with or without Twizzlers dangling before you. But it’s good for you and could be exactly what you need to do.

After all (and I am unashamedly quoting Hannah Montana right now), it’s all about the climb.