Our family motto has become, “Life is too short to be vanilla.” To us, this quote highlights the importance we find in living life as the fully flavored, unique, God created individual we each are made to be. This is directly opposed to minimizing aspects of ourselves (such as our desires, talents, feelings, passions or humor) in an attempt to fit in and be approved of.

I had a time in my life where I wanted to dilute my flavor and become the most vanilla I could possibly make myself be. This time was largely during my teen years when being vanilla for me meant looking and acting in ways that I thought would bring me validation, belonging and acceptance. But, the more I changed myself in my appearance, personality and attitude, the further from my real heart I went. As such, even though I achieved many of the short term goals I strived for, whether it was reaching a goal weight on the scale, securing a certain boyfriend, or being in a popular social circle, I only became more unhappy with each success.

I felt like a chameleon where I was blending in to be what others wanted of me and what I thought was desired. But, despite outward success, I felt disingenuous and anxious, because I was living life as someone else, not the real me. As such, I became more and more disconnected from my true feelings and desires, because while pretending to be someone else, I also was dulling myself.

Fast forward to today, and my ongoing intention in life is to speak and live out truth in who I am and what I’m about. I no longer feel I have to change things about myself to fit in or lessen the aspects I fear may be unpopular. Instead of being vanilla, I’ve been given the blessed opportunity to fully embrace the flavorful existence I was put on earth to live out. Best of all, I embrace what makes me uniquely me and different. Many of the aspects of myself that I once thought were dorky and undesirable, such as my crazy sense of humor, my sensitivity and my passion for animals have all turned into strengths.

This transformation from a measly vanilla life to one that’s flowing with life can be credited to two things; God and animals. For me it began the day when I fully understood myself in the lens of God’s love and free grace. It was then  that I found a life that was fully worth living. I realized I didn’t have to keep searching and striving to belong to any group or to win approval from anyone to validate myself, because I was already fully loved and accepted in Christ.

I realized that the desires, passions, heart, feelings and talents in me are God created and I honor Him when I’m living from that genuine place. I am not created to be like anyone else, just as no one is created to be like me. I’ve found that when I am following Christ by trusting His voice and living honestly from my real heart, everything else has fallen into place; from finding the right friends, marrying the right man to finding the ideal career.

In this career is where the flavor enhancement of who I am was built all the more. Post college graduation I moved from my original communication and broadcast journalism goal towards animals. Not only have I found joy in giving life back to the animals and their human family through improved communication and bonds through training, but I’ve found life has been given fully back to me in return. I largely credit animals for bringing me to the person I was always intended to be, because they bring out the most authentic me.

Dogs in particular have changed me for the better. One of the main reasons my heart connects so deeply to that of a dog is because canines are never vanilla. Dogs are fully themselves, without pretense and without excuse. Dogs are in the moment, living out fully what they feel. Dogs don’t wallow in self pity or shame about what’s not right in their life or what they’ve done wrong. They have an innate ability to forgive and to let go of what was, that they may fully move forward and enjoy the now. Dogs are who they are and because of them, they’ve made me all the more embrace myself and life to the full.

I remember in my younger years I stumbled upon a quote that said, “I am who I am and that’s all I’ll ever be.” I remember feeling disheartened at the time, as I wanted to be anything but myself. But now I find peace and freedom in this quote in knowing that when we live from that authentic place within us, that’s when change and real life happen.

Though life didn’t end up as I had anticipated or planned, it has ended up much more meaningful and rich than I could have ever planned out myself. A very non-vanilla, richly flavored life at that.

I would love to hear what mottos you and your family have to live by. What have been the changing factors in your life that have brought you to a place of acceptance or change? Have animals similarly changed you?