National Teacher Day for an Ex-Teacher

IMG-7873I had big dreams. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Journalism and already a decently impressive resume at the age of 25, I was well on my way to achieving those dreams. The dreams were ESPN The Magazine or Sports Illustrated.

But when I received a job offer for a sports writing position at The Macon Telegraph, a newspaper I’d interned at a few years prior, I turned it down. I decided to stay in LaGrange, Georgia, working for The LaGrange Daily News, a small newspaper that certainly wouldn’t propel me to sports writing stardom.

Then my dreams began to change.

In October of 2005, I had to write the most difficult sports stories I’d ever written. Dazman Anderson, the quarterback of one of the high school teams I covered, was was fatally shot in the back. I interviewed students and staff for dozens of stories throughout the aftermath of Dazman’s death. They were heartbroken. I was heartbroken. I began to learn more and more about the teenage population in Troup County, Georgia, and the issues they faced.

I wanted to be part of the solution.

So one afternoon after interviewing a coach after baseball practice, I sat with him on a picnic table and our conversation turned towards me.

“Natalie, you’re so good with these kids,” he said.

I thanked him, and said I loved covering high school sports, and I loved the kids in Troup County. That’s why I didn’t take the job in Macon.

“No, it’s more than that,” he said. “You really care about these kids. You’d make an outstanding teacher.”

IMG-7877Between the coach’s words, and a stirring from the Holy Spirit, it didn’t take long for me to agree to change my career path. I would be a high school English teacher. This was an especially easy path in Georgia, given their extreme shortage of teachers.

I was accepted into the Master of Arts in Teaching program at LaGrange College, had an informal interview with the principal of Troup County Comprehensive High School, and within a few months I was teaching high school English.

My journey through the world as an English teacher could be a book, even though my stint as a teacher was short-lived. Two years in Georgia, three and a half years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and one year in Uganda, and I was done with teaching.

Aside from teaching, I’ve been a Crime Beat Reporter. A Sports Reporter. A Marketing Assistant, a Customer Compliance Administrator, a Communications Coordinator, and currently, a Director of Marketing and Donor Engagement. Not to mention years of being a waitress and working at Dairy Queen through college.

No, I haven’t done it all. But I know enough to know this- teachers work hard. I even feel comfortable saying they work harder than most, if not all, of the rest of us.

IMG-7876Teaching is hard. The hours are awful because they never actually end. The hour of “planning” teachers get each day is usually filled with professional development or other meetings. Teachers spend hours and hours on nights and weekends grading papers and planning for what’s next. They hunt down parents who need to know their child is struggling. They send home notes of praise when a child is performing well.

Teachers not only teach, but they counsel. Children don’t leave their issues from home at the classroom door, they bring them into the classroom with them, and sometimes their teacher is the only one who says, “I’m here for you.”

My job description said I was to teach literature, composition, and grammar. But it was so, so much more than that.

I had a student whose mother had been murdered. By her father.

I had a student dealing drugs so mom could pay the rent.

I had a student who wanted more than anything to get pregnant so she would feel loved by someone.

I had a student who wanted to go to jail so he would have some structure in his life.

I had many students whose parents told them they were worthless.

I had a student whose twin brother committed suicide.

I had dozens of female students who had abortions because their mothers insisted on it. Multiple abortions.

I had a student who was shot over Christmas break, survived, but knew those same people were still after him.

I had a student hauled away from school in handcuffs and placed in the back of a squad car. I never saw him again.

I had female students who cut themselves.

I had male students who told me they wanted to die.

And my job, and the job of my co-workers, was to teach them. English. History. Math. Art. Music. Science. Everything those kids carry into the classroom, and it’s the teacher’s job to get them to focus on education.

But more than that, the job is to get them to pass a test.

IMG-7874When I taught in Georgia, my school took a, “We can do this, and we’re in it together” approach to standardized testing. But when I taught in Indiana, it was more of a, “Your students better pass or you’re in trouble.”

Still, I loved teaching. It was incredibly fulfilling. I loved my students, and, for the most part, my students loved me.

So why did I leave teaching mid-year in 2011? It wasn’t the students. It was politics. Administration. Not being able to teach how I best know how. Standardized testing. The list goes on and on.

As education continues to get worse and teachers keep losing battles with administrations who don’t support them, schools will lose good teachers.

I was a good teacher. Maybe I wasn’t a great English teacher, but I was a good teacher. I know this because I still hear from former students, both from Georgia and Indiana who say, “Miss Trout, you believed in me when no one else did. Thank you.”

I hear from students who just got out of jail who say, “I’m going to start living right, Miss Trout,” because they want to make me proud.

Just today a former student gave me a shout out on Facebook saying, “I appreciate Miss Trout for teaching me in 9th grade and always keeping me positive.”

10372329_10152113701606573_5822805670897977551_nAnd that makes it all worth it. All I ever wanted was to make an impact on some students, and I did.

Don’t forget that each teacher in your child’s life also wants to make an impact. No one goes into teaching for the money or the prestige. Teaching has neither of those. People go into teaching because they care.

I’ve never worked as hard as I did when I was a teacher. So, today, I’d like to thank all of the teachers in my life. The ones who taught me. The ones I taught with. The ones I taught who will one day teach others. Happy National Teacher Day from an ex-teacher who will forever admire the work you continue to do.

Advertisements

God isn’t your Grandma

grandmatroutWhen you’re a child, and mom and dad say, “No,” who is likely to say, “Yes”? Grandma.

Mom doesn’t let you have ice cream for breakfast. But grandma probably would. Dad won’t let you jump on the sofa, but grandma might.

So, you start to learn that it’s easiest to just ask grandma first. Do whatever it takes- bat your eyes, maybe even shed a few tears, and beg if you have to. Grandma will give in. That’s why grandmas are awesome!

And while God is awesome, too, He’s not your grandma.

God isn’t there to say, “Yes!” to everything you ask Him for.

There’s this belief with many Christians that if you just pray “hard” enough, God will answer your prayers in the way that you like. If you BELIEVE enough, if you just have enough FAITH, God won’t let anything painful happen to you or those you love.

I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. And it’s not Biblical.

The notion that God will grant you your every wish if you have enough faith is preposterous.

In case you forgot, there’s a story in the Bible of a man who prayed to God about a tough situation. His name was Jesus.

Jesus prayed, to God, three times, that if it was God’s will, He not be crucified. (Matthew 26:36-44)

Again, with emphasis.

JESUS prayed to GOD, THREE TIMES, that if it’s God’s will, He not be crucified.

JESUS. Son of God. The only perfect being to walk this earth, PRAYED for God to take away the task of Him taking on the sin of the world on a cross in an agonizing death.

And God said, “No.”

God. Told. JESUS. No.

And yet there are people who believe that if they just pray hard enough, they will get what they want from God.

It didn’t work for Jesus. Why would it work for you?

Why do people even believe that it would work in the first place?

It’s because we don’t understand what prayer really is. It’s not about begging God for things. It’s not about getting our way. It’s about telling God that we trust Him, and that we want to be in the center of His will, because we know that His will is what’s best.

“Prayer does not change God; it changes me.” 
– C.S. Lewis

True faith isn’t just believing that God can cure your friend of cancer. True faith is believing God is still good after she dies.

Jesus told us how to pray. His example was all about trusting God’s will, forgiving people, and asking God for strength to resist temptation.

God isn’t your grandma. You can’t talk Him into or out of anything. You can’t bat your eyes, shed a few tears, and hope that just maybe He’ll change His mind about something. God’s will is God’s will. Sometimes it’s not what we want, but THAT is where faith steps in. We still believe He is good.

This Easter, I encourage you to remember that the only perfect and flawless person to walk this earth asked God to take the pain away, and God said, “No.” Was there ever anyone who had more faith than Jesus? Jesus’ true faith was ultimately revealed when He accepted God’s will and died on the cross for our sins.

It’s not wrong to let the desires of your heart be made known to the Lord, but remember that no amount of “believing” is going to change His mind and make your will, His.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Two years at one job. For me, that’s huge. And that’s OK.

10389726_10152082108416573_5815621699821138411_n
Natalie the teacher.

Newspaper reporter.
English teacher. (at four different high schools)
Marketing Assistant.
Customer Compliance Administrator. (I still don’t know what that is)
Communications Coordinator.
Director of Marketing & Donor Engagement.

You’d have to be crazy to look at my resume and not see a lot of perceived red flags. Some might argue that I’m a risky hire. I’m only 37, and I’ve already had three different careers. I haven’t worked at one location for more than two years since I graduated from Indiana University in 2004.

Until today. Today I have worked for two years at The Rescue Mission, a homeless ministry in Fort Wayne, Ind., and for the first time ever, I hope there are many years to come. I work at a job that I absolutely love. I love the people I work with. I love what I do each day. I love the people we serve. I’ve attained something few people in this world have: job satisfaction.

So was my job-hopping and searching for the right fit for me worth it? Absolutely.

There were certainly some rash decisions in there. For example, I was so determined to get out of teaching in 2012 that I accepted a job that paid almost half the annual salary I was making as a teacher. My debt skyrocketed that year. But I believe all of those crazy decisions led me to where I am now.

24131365_10154864673246573_7216643921817659447_n
Natalie the Director of Marketing & Donor Engagement.

My career is important to me. It’s been more important than starting a family. Would I rather have my own family right now, or a job that I love? I can say with certainty, a job I love. Granted, now that I have that piece in my life, I would love to have my own little family, but finding job satisfaction was apparently something I needed to attain first.

I would probably never tell a young person that job-hopping is a good idea, but if you can sit in an interview and explain each hop in a way that makes sense, you can certainly get somewhere. Clearly it never stopped anyone from hiring me. And because I never gave up on finding a career and employer that I love, I wake up every day happy to go to work.

Your career moves are your own. You can get a lot of great advice from other people, but it is ultimately your decision. Some decisions deemed “career suicide” are not always as bad as they seem.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the part my faith has played in all of this. God has always made it clear to me that what I do with my career should be honoring to Him. He also gave me the patience and perseverance over the years to not give up on finding work I love.

Today I celebrate two years at The Rescue Mission. It hasn’t been perfect. There have been days when I’ve cried in the bathroom. There have been times I’ve had to leave and go to Starbucks just to get away from someone who was irritating me. There have even been days I’ve hopped on Indeed.com.

But I haven’t touched my resume. It still reads that my most recent job was the one I was at two years before The Rescue Mission. And I don’t plan on updating it anytime soon.

Two years. For me, that’s huge. And that’s OK. I’ll never regret my journey to finding a job that I love and the fact that I never gave up on finding it.

Babies. Hummus. I’ll pass.

hummus-812675_1920I don’t like hummus. The texture. The taste. I just don’t like it.

I knew after the first time that I tasted hummus that I didn’t like it. But, everyone around me loved hummus. Let’s face it, nearly everyone on the planet loves hummus. So literally every opportunity I had, I tried hummus. Different brands, different flavors. I hated it every single time.

It took me awhile to give it up and finally admit it. I hate hummus.

And that’s OK.

Hummus isn’t for everyone.

And neither are children.

I once went with some friends from work to an event just for women. A lot of it was about women empowerment. In the venue there was a big wall where women were encouraged to write down the best thing about being a woman. A woman in our group said with enthusiasm, “Duh, we get to have BABIES!”

I felt like crap. I don’t have babies. I don’t even have A baby. I’m 37 and time is running out! But then I realized, I don’t even want to birth children. I’ve NEVER wanted to birth children.

Why was I letting someone’s comment make me feel bad about something I didn’t even want? Why did I keep trying hummus when I knew I hated it?

Simple. I felt like I was missing out on something. I was missing out on this delightful, healthy treat called hummus. I was missing out on babies, even though I have never wanted one.

Sure I had baby dolls when I was a little girl, but I was much more into Barbies. My Barbies traveled the world and had fun jobs. And my mom will tell you, the words, “I can’t wait to have children,” have NEVER come out of my mouth.

A few months at a wedding there was this precious little boy in front of us who kept turning around and smiling. A co-worker next to me said, “Aww! Look at that little…” and she stopped mid-sentence. “Oh I forgot, you hate kids!”

Nope. Not even remotely true. While yes, I’m horrified of holding a newborn, there is not a single bone in my body that has any sort of hatred of children. As a matter of fact, I would love to marry someone who already has children, or to adopt someday. I simply have zero desire to birth children.

IMG-2722There are some people in my life who refuse to accept that. They say I will change my mind. They say I’m missing out. I wonder if they’d say those same things to a woman who physically CAN’T have children. Let’s hope not.

I also have a few married friends who have decided not to have biological children. They might adopt one day, or even welcome foster children into their homes. The backlash from some of their friends and family for not having biological children is heartbreaking.

Please, stop with the “be fruitful and multiply” verses from the Old Testament. Each of those scriptures refer to animals and the Israelites, and were also in specific cases to fill up the earth after creation and after the flood.

IMG_9361 (2)And if people are so concerned with their interpretation of “be fruitful and multiply,” what about all the verses about taking care of orphans? DIRECT words from Jesus Christ Himself!

 

I realize I am in a minority group of women who don’t want to birth their own children.

I realize I am in a minority group of people who hate hummus.

And that’s OK.

There’s nothing wrong with having babies or liking hummus, but there’s also nothing wrong with NOT having babies or liking hummus.

So… what’s your hummus? What is it that is making you feel like a failure or a crappy human being because you don’t like it or want it?

Maybe it’s that you don’t dream of having babies.

Maybe it’s that your children don’t play sports.

Maybe it’s that you don’t travel the world.

Maybe it’s that you don’t make your family eat gluten-free.

Stop letting people make you feel bad for things you don’t even like, or things you don’t even want. You do you, and no one else. You are the only one who has to live your life. Don’t try to fit into the mold that other people want you to fit into.

I don’t like hummus. I’m going to stop trying hummus, even though people keep wanting me to try new flavors and brands.

And I’m going to stop allowing myself to feel bad about not waning to having biological children, even when people flat out tell me, “Yes you do.” Because, you know, they apparently know me better than I know myself.

God didn’t design us to all be the same. And although people may have a problem with it, I don’t want biological children, and I hate hummus.

“She is clothed in strength and dignity.
And she laughs without fear of the future.”
Proverbs 31:25

An open letter to Carrie Underwood

Dear Carrie,

IMG-4494I’ve never felt like I was beautiful. So when I had melanoma removed from my face last last year, it was kind of difficult to take in. Here I was, who I consider to be an average-looking woman, who would now have a big scar on her face.

Through the support of my family and friends, I knew I couldn’t let it bother me. I didn’t have a choice. The surgeon even told me right before I went back for surgery that there are so many nerves in the face that there was a chance the right side of my face would be paralyzed. He also said my smile might not ever be the same.

“But, we don’t have a choice,” he said. “You have melanoma, and it could kill you if we don’t get it removed.”

I refused to be ashamed of the scar on my right cheek. I knew I was more than what people see on the outside.

When I read about your fall and all the stitches on your face, my heart broke for you. While I had around 20 stitches, you had more than 40. I can’t imagine what it’s like having your beautiful, flawless face cut up like that.

But a part of me was encouraged. I had something in common with you- a scarred face. And I had no doubt that you would still be beautiful.

After the first of the year, I read that you posted your first picture of yourself since the accident. I was eager to see you, confident as ever, displaying your wounds for the world to see. But instead I only saw your eyes peering out behind a scarf and a hat.

It’s difficult to put into words, but it made me feel… ashamed. I was never afraid to post pictures of my wound or my scar. If you are hiding your scars, should I be doing the same?

If you are too ashamed to share your face with the world after it’s been cut up, should I also be ashamed?

Should I not be sharing my journey of healing with people who follow me on Instagram and Facebook, or those who read my blog?

IMG-4824However, I also realize you’re facing something I can’t even begin to imagine. While hundreds of people see my photos, millions of people see yours. But Carrie, I’m here to tell you that there’s more to you than how you look.

I read another blog post recently about how it’s not your job to be inspirational. I have to disagree. Carrie, you are a positive role model for millions of girls and women. You are a celebrity and a public figure. Whether or not you want to be an inspiration to the public and your fans, you ARE.

I pray you find the courage to show the world that gorgeous face of yours. You have an opportunity to empower many women who have been through similar experiences and need to hear you say, “Here are my scars. I am not ashamed.”

Show people like me, who do not hide their scars, that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be – this is me.
Look out cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies – this is me.”
– “This is Me”, The Greatest Showman Soundtrack

My 2017: Cancer, Confidence, and a Cat

26113828_10154926156416573_1909445423053074190_nThere are three things that sum up my 2017: cancer, confidence, and a cat.

I can only imagine what I would have said if someone told me a year ago that in 2017 I’d be diagnosed with melanoma on my face, have plastic surgery to remove it, end up feeling more confident afterwards, and that I’d get a cat. There was just no way I saw any of this coming.

The big story of my 2017 was supposed to be that I bought a house. But no, God had other stories that headlined my life in 2017.

Cancer
Even though I’d gotten the phone call, even though I’d had the surgery to remove melanoma from my face, and even though I’d met with an oncologist, it wasn’t until a few months later that it actually “clicked” that I had cancer.

IMG-0076I was at an unrelated doctor appointment when the nurse said to me, “I see here that you had cancer,” she said in passing as she reviewed my medical history. Oh, I thought to myself, I guess I did. 

Cancer doesn’t look the same for everyone and every type. Mine was in the form of melanoma, and lucky for me, it only required a single surgery.

So, yes, I had cancer in 2017. Certainly not something I expected, but certainly a headlining story in my life this year.

Confidence
I’ll be honest. For a period of time before my surgery, I was really worried about what I would look like afterwards. I had a major pity party for myself that went something like this:

I am so screwed. I’m already apparently not pretty enough for someone to want to marry me. I’m going to have this giant scar on my face. NOW who is going to want to be with me?!

Before you tear me to shreds, know that those thoughts didn’t last. God intervened and reminded me that He wouldn’t let a silly scar keep me from finding someone to spend my life with. He also gave me peace and confidence to go through everything with my head held high.

It seems backwards, but I almost have MORE confidence with the scar on my face. I often forget it’s even there. It keeps healing and will continue to heal. I’m fine with it being there. Somehow God has used it to make me even more confident. I’m not sure how, but it’s not the first time He’s done something I don’t understand.

Cat
When my friend got a job at the SPCA, I avoided the place at all costs. I knew that if I visited, I’d come home with a pet. Then, one June afternoon, she talked me into a visit.

That’s when I saw a handsome grey cat who stole my heart.

A few days later, I returned. And I went home with a cat.

IMG-2998I never knew an animal could have such a huge impact on my mental health. Mr. Glitter Sparkles has changed so much for me. He’s given me a buddy and a reason to smile when I come home to an empty house.

I am beyond grateful for my amazing cat, Mr. Glitter Sparkles. I can’t imagine going through melanoma, heartbreak, and other bad days without him.

Cancer? Check.
Confidence? Check.
Cat? Check.

I’d love to speculate what I’ll be writing about a year from now, but only God knows. Maybe life will be better, maybe it will be worse. But as always, my faith in God will get me through whatever lies ahead.

Well… that and Mr. Glitter Sparkles.

The issue with “keeping Christ in Christmas”

IMG-3593“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him at Christmas, shall have everlasting life.” John 3:16

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others in December, for which such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16

Wait a minute… those don’t seem right…

I love Christmas. I love what it stands for, I love making cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I love Christmas music and cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movies.

Christmas is just the best! But I’ve realized something odd about Christmas, for me, the past five or so years: it’s become less and less about Jesus (whose birth we are celebrating). Do I blame commercialism, or society, or this sinful world we live in?

No.

I blame the fact that my relationship with Christ is as strong as it’s ever been.

The issue with “keeping Christ in Christmas,” is that so many people literally keep Him right there in December and ignore Him the rest of the year.

My spiritual journey is an interesting one. I’ve always “been a Christian.” Mom and dad did all the right things raising me and having me involved in church. Christmas was always so spiritual, as I’d be a part of the church pageant each year, the family would go to Christmas Eve communion, and dad would always read the Christmas story before I went to bed on Christmas Eve.

Christmas continued to give me this happy Jesus-y feeling throughout most of adulthood. I would feel especially close to Christ at Christmas, causing me to make more donations, give more gifts, and maybe even talk about Jesus more. After all, Christmas is when Christians celebrate the Virgin birth.

It wasn’t until my early 30’s that I really “got” what it means to be a Christian. It’s not a set of rules to follow, it’s a relationship with Christ. And since that relationship with Christ has grown the way it has, Christmas doesn’t give me that ultra-mega-Jesus-y feeling anymore. That’s because for the past five years or so, I don’t keep Christ locked up in December. I keep Him in my every day life.

I realize the saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas” is typically meant for those who dismiss Him completely at Christmas, but I encourage you to look at it another way: Are you keeping Christ in Christmas, but ignoring Him the rest of the year?

Are you emotional about the miracle of Jesus’ birth in December, but could care less in June?

Do you notice the poor and homeless around Christmas, but forget about them in the spring?

Do you volunteer your time to help those less fortunate this time of year, but find you don’t even consider the less fortunate once January hits?

I realize we’re each on our own spiritual journey in this lifetime, and trust me, Christ loves you even if you do only acknowledge Him at Christmas. Even if you keep Him there. But I’m here to tell you that each and every day can be like Christmas if you build a relationship with Him.

The magical feeling of Christmas each and every day?! Absolutely.

I’m not suggesting we remove Christ from Christmas, but spiritually, for me, it’s not the huge religious deal some people make it. I often fail miserably, but I try to make Christ a huge deal every day, not just in December. I am thankful for His birth every single day.

The things God has called us to do as Christians do not have an expiration date. They do not have a timeline other than living for Him each day. And trust me, when you do, your life will change in ways you can’t even imagine.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

“In the same way, let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and He will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17