I wanted to come home. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted Starbucks. I wanted to experience my favorite season, fall. I wanted to hang out with my friends. I wanted the luxuries that come with living in a first-world country.
I also wanted to stay. I wanted to teach at Heritage. I wanted to go to the jigger clinic and the baby home. I wanted to return to Mombasa, Kenya and take in all its beauty again. I wanted to drink Stoney for another year. I wanted to be with my students for another year. I wanted to hug Florence and Gideon again.
But my health got in the way. And then God did. And despite the things I wanted in Uganda, I knew it was time to come home.
The goodbyes were heartbreaking. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much as I did on the ride from Kampala to the Entebbe airport. My heart was broken. I wasn’t even gone yet, and my soul ached for the people who had become my world.
It’s nearly impossible to spend time abroad for a year, return, and then not reflect on what you’ve done since you returned. Today marks one year since I returned to the US, and I find myself reflecting on everything that’s happened- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I promised myself a year ago that my life would be different than it was before I left for Africa. I certainly kept that promise to myself, and I changed in ways I never imagined I could. Many times I’ve told people that God tore me apart in Uganda because He needed to put me back together, to fix me. Much of the “fixing” part has taken place since my return home, and I’m still a work in progress.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Uganda. Not one day. Whether it’s the country itself, my friends there, my students, or Florence and Gideon, something always crosses my mind about my time in Kampala. I couldn’t forget if I tried. Because of this, it’s difficult not to wonder, “What if…” What if I had stayed? What if I want to go back? What if I never get to return to Uganda even for a visit?
But the “What if’s” have to be suppressed. I don’t know what would have happened if I stayed. Maybe I’d still be spitting up blood and eventually end up really sick. I don’t know what would happen if I went back. It wouldn’t be the same, but at least it would fix the hunger in my heart for Africa. I don’t know what would happen if I never get to go back and at least visit. The thought makes me sick to my stomach.
Overall, when I returned from Uganda, I wanted my life to be one with value. I wanted to do things that matter, I wanted to grow closer to the Lord, and I wanted to find a career that made me happy. Done. Done. And done.
Although I miss Uganda like crazy, I can’t help but look back on the past 365 days of my life and smile. In one year I’ve made all sorts of amazing memories with friends and family. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I feel as close to the Lord as I ever have been. Within the last month I started a job that is absolutely perfect for me, and I wouldn’t want to leave it for anything.
God is good, whether I’m living in Uganda or Indiana. And God has always been good. I might be a whole new Natalie, but God has always been the same.