Because hope gives you strength

I’ve learned a significant amount about hope in recent years and have realized something that doesn’t make me feel guilty when I don’t pump iron as often as I should.

Hope makes us stronger.

Green (I call some people by last names or nicknames only) and Val are two of my sweet friends who have been with me through a lot over the years. I knew Green was going to be one of my besties when she offered me a ride home from a work event during my first few weeks at the company where we worked together for a couple of years and let me ask her a million personal questions about her life that she probably wasn’t expecting to talk about on such a short trip with someone she barely knew. But she’s always been one of those people who gets me and never makes me feel like I’m doing life all wrong.

I met Val through Green the day after a really tough moment in my life, and it wasn’t long before the three of us were the proud owners of Rangers season tickets with each other. Nothing brings people together quite like the dedication to fandom of your favorite sports teams.

But it wasn’t just a baseball season that we experienced together—it’s been multiple seasons of life. They both walked with me through a broken heart that I thought would never end and that put me in a bad place. I don’t like to think about how much it affected my mood and what I thought of myself, and I really don’t like the way it affected the type of friend and sister I was. While I can’t change the past, I can certainly change the way I respond to pain and rejection.

The Lord’s taught me a lot about who He is and who I am in Him since then.

He also taught me more than I could have imagined about hope. There’s hope in darkness and in those times when we have fallen and aren’t sure if we’ll ever be able to rise again. It’s that hope that fuels a fire within us and causes us to be brave when we want to give in to our fears. That causes us to believe when no one else believes. That causes us to keep moving forward when our minds try to tell us that it’s not possible. That causes us to stand and fight when hiding is the easier option.

We aren’t good at selfies, so this seemed like a better idea.

Green is getting married in the next year, and the three of us got the VAN, as we call ourselves (for Val, Amanda, and Natalie, obviously) back together some some old fashioned bridesmaids-dress-shopping fun. Val and I tried on maybe seven or eight dresses, all of which had completely different fits and looks on both of us. At one point, I looked in the mirror and then around me at all of the women trying on bridal gowns and prom dresses, and I was reminded about how different we all are—and I don’t mean in appearances alone.

We all go through completely different ups and downs and take journeys and paths that aren’t the same as those of others. We often face moments when we’re in such rough places that we aren’t even sure if things will ever get better. It seems as if the storms won’t ever end. Hope seems so distant that you aren’t sure if you’ll ever let it in your life again.

Dear friend, please turn on Mariah’s “I Can Make It through the Rain,” and please believe each lyric she belts.

Take Tiger Woods. The guy’s been through quite a bit since he entered the spotlight and captured America’s heart so many years ago. He had a very public and disappointing fall from grace, and he’s had persistent injuries with his back and knee since then. I can imagine that there were times when he felt hopeless and when he could have given up. But he didn’t. And then that final put on the 18th hole of the Master’s happened on Sunday, and he won his fifth prized green jacket. It was a beautiful moment as he hugged his son and then mom and the daughter as the crowd chanted “Tiger.”

It was living proof that hope is full of power—it gives you faith, it gives you strength, and it gives you the belief that those crazy things that maybe only you think are possible really aren’t so crazy at all.

You do you, girl.

Your past is behind you, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next year or next month or next week or even in the next hour. The best thing you can do is to live as boldly and as completely as you can in the very moment you’ve been given right here and right now. It might not be where you want to be, but it also doesn’t mean that you’re going to be there forever. There’s tremendous beauty in hope, and the more you cling to it, the more you will realize just how strong you can be—because He equips us in spite of our failures and weaknesses.

I’ve never won a major on the PGA Tour (although I was a two-time golf city champion back in the day, and it’s not important to point out that I won both years by default because I was the only girl), but I know what it feels like to finally have a big breakthrough after spending far too much time in the Land of Sorrows and Broken Hearts, where it feels like you’re the sole resident. I know what it’s like to have to spend time away from something you love so much so that you can heal and grow and learn and foster hope. I know what it’s like to cry more tears than you knew the eyes could handle, not knowing if you’ll ever be able to stop. And I know what it’s like to train myself on patience, taking small steps each day toward the bigger goal you’re chasing.

You don’t have to have it all together. None of us actually does. You’re likely going to face setbacks at different times, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure or won’t ever see your dreams come true—it simply means that your story has some unexpected chapters to make it more interesting and to build your character. As one of my favorite sports media professionals Sam Ponder said, “Here’s to another season of learning that the imperfection and messiness of life [are] where joy and gratefulness grow.” Amen, sister.

So let the hope surface, and let it grow, my friend—and you, too, will one day be able to fist pump for being brave enough to believe in what once seemed impossible.

You don’t always need to run in heels

It’s often a good idea to slow down and take time to enjoy each moment you have in life.

Even if you’re a bride and maid of honor running late to the wedding ceremony.

My sister got married on Friday, and there were so many moments during that day that I will never forget. And, of course, one of them happened right before my sister was about to walk down the aisle.

It was pretty much go time, and my friend Michelle (who is a kick-a$* wedding coordinator, by the way) told my sister and me to wait upstairs where we were until we saw her walk past a certain point with the rest of the bridesmaids. We did that, but as soon as we got outside, we realized we didn’t know where our dad was. We couldn’t remember if he was supposed to be there with us and walk my sister all the way from where we were or if he was waiting right at the entrance at the end of the gravel path. A woman who works at the venue saw the look of sheer panic on my sister’s face, and she hustled up the path to see if my dad was there. I could hear music playing and asked my sister what song would be playing when the bridesmaids walked down the aisle.

Then, like clockwork, we heard that song start up—we needed to be up there ASAP.

My sister told me to run, and I’ve been in enough weddings to know you do pretty much whatever a bride tells you to do on her wedding day. We took off sprinting (I was wearing heels and holding the end of my dress in one hand, so the definition of “sprinting” might be skewed slightly) across the bridge, and I could see my dad walking quickly toward us and the bridesmaid right before me already walking down the aisle. Then I saw Michelle, who was motioning to us that we could slow down. When I got to the entrance, she calmly said, “You’re fine. You’re fine. Slow down. Walk slowly.”

wedding
This was shortly before the dash.

When my sister walked down the aisle with my dad, you never would have known she was just running in a frenzy toward her wedding. She looked so calm and beautiful, ready to dive into the new adventure before her.

It’s easy to get going so fast in life that you feel like you have to go at a zippity-zip pace toward everything. There are so many things that need to be done, and it often becomes far too common to feel like you’re falling behind in so many ways. Sure, there are certain things that have to be done by certain times, and there are moments we truly need to seize when they’re right in front of us. But there are so many things that will happen just as they should, no matter how quickly you run toward them.

I made a small list of things for which I want to be more patient—those things that I often feel like I need to run toward but that really will still be there if I slow down a bit.

Work — Sure, I work in a job that requires me to meet pretty quick deadlines, but I sometimes have a tendency to be too rigid on deadlines that have some flexibility. That leads to stress, and stress doesn’t allow you to enjoy many aspects of life as much as you should.

People — The bottom line is that people need love. It’s easy to get frustrated with people who upset us in a variety of ways, but we don’t always know what’s going on in their lives. It never hurts to show people you care about them, but it does hurt to show them you don’t. I try to make concerted efforts to smile at people and talk to them about their lives, but it is more difficult when I’m having a bad day, not in the best mood or not a fan of the person. You make time for the things you want to make time for in life, and I hope I always make time to care about all people.

Dating — Well, I don’t actually date, but I am not going to rush into anything with anyone. I’ve gotten my heart broken badly enough before to be reminded that you don’t have to sprint toward love, especially love that really isn’t even there. If I’m supposed to end up with someone, it will happen when it should, and I don’t need to worry about it.

To-do lists — I can’t always do everything on my list of things to do, and I need to be OK with that. Sometimes a task simply has to be pushed back to another day or another time. Most of those items on my list will still be there tomorrow, and the world likely won’t crumble if they aren’t crossed off on the days on which they were originally written.

Toward the end of the night at my sister’s wedding, the DJ played “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, and it became a special moment for my sister and me. At one point, we grabbed hands and started spinning super fast until everything around us became blurry. Every time we do this on a dance floor, we always know the exact moment we need to stop before it becomes too out of control and makes us fall or get hurt. I think that’s an important moment to be able to identify in life, too—that moment when you realize you simply need to slow down and enjoy where you are and what you’re doing before your spinning around madly becomes too much for you to handle.

I think Ferris Bueller said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

To which Aerosmith would reply, “And I don’t want to miss a thing.”

Family strong

Sometimes life has a way of reminding you just how strong a family bond can be when you least expect it.

Like when you’re on the dance floor.

My brother got married on Friday night, and I have to say it was probably the most fun wedding I’ve ever been to. And seeing as how I’ve been in 17 weddings and attended even more than that, I have a lot of experience in this area. But God did something to my heart at this wedding, and I was overcome with complete joy.

The week leading up to the wedding was long. I’m usually pretty tired by Friday and shoot for the earliest bedtime possible, so the 7:30 p.m. start time at a place more than an hour away wasn’t my ideal situation, but it wasn’t my wedding, so I wasn’t calling the shots. I was already pretty tired from sitting in traffic for an hour and a half on Thursday to drive out to the rehearsal dinner, but I popped in some Taylor Swift for the trek out to the venue Friday and tried to think positive thoughts. It was a happy day for my brother, and I was going to be there for him.

I got there early enough that I was able to take a short nap in my parents’ hotel room while they got ready, and I even got to watch the start of Coyote Ugly on TV. Gosh, I love that soundtrack. As I was sitting there and listening to their conversations and then my dad’s phone convo with the wedding photographer (a family friend who was apparently completely lost), I couldn’t help but smile at how much these two goobers make me laugh. They’re so quirky, yet they’re also so intentional and sincere in all they do. I honestly wish I had been more thankful of them when I was younger.

It was strange to see my brother get married, but it was also good to see the look of happiness on his face that evening. Some of his childhood friends were there, and it was heartwarming to see them all grown up and matured and with wives of their own. Growing up is so weird, but growing up is so good.

My mom was adorable on Friday. Of course she started crying when my brother walked her down the aisle, but she was the epitome of beauty and grace. And the look of joy on her face when she was dancing with him to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during their mother-son dance can’t be accurately described with mere words.

My dad was a true pal all night. He has a way of making friends with pretty much everyone he meets, and Friday was no exception. He was also a real buddy to me and kept me cracking up the entire evening.

My Uncle Bobcat is so caring and just as entertaining as my dad; my Aunt Vickie has a heart of gold and truly listens to you when you talk; my cousin Ryan is the sweetest gentleman you’ll ever meet; my cousin Rachel is the best friend you always wanted and someone who will forever stand by your side; my brother is one of the most determined people I know and reminded me on Friday night that he will always be there for me, no matter what; my sister is the most beautiful person (inside and out) who always knows how to make you smile; and her boyfriend, Theo, is a true gem and a real trooper for willingly spending so much time with our craziness.

my people
Every moment with them matters

These are my people.

Something hit me pretty hard on Friday, and it touched my heart in a way I can’t explain. I know not everyone has a great family situation, and I’m certainly not trying to boast in any way, but I became overwhelmed with one thought Friday night: my family is the best. Now, obviously that’s a very biased statement, and by no means are we near perfect (we can be about as dysfunctional as they come), but there’s a bond between us that can never be broken and never be shaken.

And it was completely obvious when we took over the dance floor.

As soon as the music started playing, my mom, dad, sister, aunt, uncle, two cousins, my sister’s boyfriend (I just consider him part of the Merrill clan at this point) and I were all out there having a blast just dancing with each other. At one point, my dad, uncle and cousin Ryan all did the gator. (If you are too young to know what that is, for the love, consult the Google.) We were all laughing almost to the point of tears. During one of the slow songs, I looked up at my parents dancing and looked around the room and thought, I don’t care if I never have a dance partner of my own. I have my people, and they have my heart.

When Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” started playing, you can bet the women in our family were out there belting and shaking. My sister and I took that whole “dance like no one is watching” saying extremely literally. My heart was full, and it was a perfect way to end the night. We’re family, and together we stand when the world stands against us. Together we ignore the haters. Together we are there for one another through every trial and every moment of joy. And together we dance.

As I made the long drive home that night, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I had to run a race the next morning on not a lot of sleep—I was praying and thanking the Lord for making my heart so full of love and for a family I wouldn’t trade for anything in the entire world. It can be easy at times to take family members for granted and get more frustrated with them than we do with many other people, but I hope I can show more appreciation to them more often. They’re truly Godsends, and the world is a better place with each of them in it.

Especially when gators are involved.

The way of the grasshopper

I love when life throws you unexpected lessons or reminders when you need them the most.

Even if they have to come from some grasshoppers.

I was at a wedding this weekend (yes, another one), and it was outside at a peaceful ranch beyond the metroplex. The ceremony was outside, so obviously one can expect that there might be a few bugs in the area, but I don’t think everyone was anticipating the incredible amount of grasshoppers that were present on this particular evening. I’m talking plague numbers here. To be honest, they weren’t bothering me too much, but there was a collective paranoia in the air from most of the guests that the grasshoppers were going to land in unwanted places, and some people were even asking those around them to watch their backs (literally) in case any of the over-hyper insects went for the sneak attack.

As far as I know–though I have not done extensive research on this topic–grasshoppers aren’t actually directly harmful to humans. Sure, they can ruin people’s crops and can cost people a great deal of money by ruining the grazing lands, but I didn’t see any farmers at the wedding, so I’m fairly certain that was not the concern the attendees had on their minds as we waited for the wedding to get started. I think it’s mainly because the creatures are so gross-looking and can unpredictably hop anywhere at a moment’s notice. (Interesting side note: I read that if humans could jump like grasshoppers, it would be the equivalent of leaping the length of a football field. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a rather significant distance.) Simply put, the grasshoppers were scoffed at and unwanted.

But the thing I found most admirable is that the grasshoppers just didn’t care–they wanted to be at that wedding and with those people, and they were not going to let a few hand swats scare them away.

There are many times in life when we let the way people perceive us determine our actions. I remember when I was in the sixth grade, I purposely got multiple detentions, because I had a crush on a guy who spent pretty much every afternoon in the detention room. First of all, I am not a troublemaker and was probably considered more of a goody-goody, so it was silly of me to change who I was all so I could try to impress a guy. Secondly, I honestly have no explanation as to why I was so interested in someone who was always in trouble. Obviously that one didn’t work out, and I can’t say I’m sad about it.yes

I was not a grasshopper in those days, but over the years I became more comfortable being me, even if it means people will think I am weird.

I’d rather be strange than a stranger.

As most people who know me know, I’ve never dated anyone, so that leads many experts to give me advice whenever they see fit. I’ve had people suggest to me that I should wear makeup or set aside some of my quirks when I’m in public. I always carry Wheat Thins in my purse and eat them with my food at restaurants, and I can’t tell you how many times people have told me, “You know you can’t do that on a first date, right?” False. I can, and I will. If I didn’t, I would be acting like someone who would try to get a detention to impress a guy. It’s just not who I am.

Each person in this world is uniquely made. God made you the way you are for a special reason, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to act like you in any given situation. If you want to go groove to the music when the dance floor is empty, go and get the party started; if you need to go to the grocery store but look like you don’t own a brush because you’ve been cleaning all day, walk through those doors with confidence like you are the queen of produce; if you trip in the parking lot and fall flat on your face, stand up and keep walking, because everyone is going to fall at some point in life; if you want to order a Shirley Temple and a bowl of cherries at a nice restaurant, don’t hesitate; if you feel the need to sport an outfit with “clashing” colors, well, anything matches if you wear it with confidence; if you want to apply for a job or school you think would never accept you, give it a try–sometimes rejection happens, but sometimes it doesn’t; if you fall in love, tell that person–I have to quote Michelle Branch here: “It’s all so overrated not saying how you feel, so you end up watching chances fade and wondering what’s real”; if you want to be anyone in this world, you are your best option.

You will never know how many football fields you can leap if you don’t first boldly launch yourself into the air.

Go for it, young grasshopper.