Revenge: a dish best not served

IMG_4643A friend text me a few weeks ago. “How’s your day going?” I had been crying. I took a selfie with watery eyes and smudged mascara. “This is how my day is going,” I responded.

I had been hurt. Wounded. Blindsided, and even feeling a little stabbed in the back. It was not a good day.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have the potential to be a vengeful, hurtful person. Not that I am, but the potential is there. If you hurt me, I can think of even more hurtful things to say back to you. And sometimes, I really, REALLY want to.

A few weeks ago was one of those days. Even in the days following, I plotted out the terrible things I wanted to say to the person who hurt me. It kept me up at night, making a mental list of everything I wanted to say.

But God kept slipping the word “grace” into my mind, which just made me even angrier at first. Why should I show this person grace when they didn’t show me an ounce of it?

Because it’s the right thing to do.

UGH. Sometimes I hate doing the right thing. I always think back to this: “Doing what is right is never wrong.” Never. It’s never wrong to do what’s right. And doing what is right is swallowing my pride and biting my tongue.

Right now it still doesn’t FEEL right, but many tough decisions can’t be made based on feelings. Decisions should be based on what’s right. What’s right is to not serve up a piping hot plate of revenge, or even a cold one.

“See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15

It’s funny to me that non-Christians probably think it’s easy for us to try and do good all the time. I’m not afraid to say it: it’s not. Our nature is a sinful one, just like everyone else’s. Luckily I have a God whose Son died on the cross for that sinful nature so I don’t have to suffer eternal consequences for it.

Revenge is a dish best not served at all. It still feels wrong. I still want to retaliate, but I won’t. There have been times people in my life extended grace, and now it’s my turn to do the same for someone else. It’s not easy, and right now it doesn’t offer the satisfaction I’m looking for, but one day it will. And it’s the right thing to do.

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
James 4:17


I’m working on writing and publishing my first book! I’ve created an author page on Facebook, and I hope you’ll “Like” it and come on this crazy journey with me! Click below to visit the page. 

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Happiness not wrapped up in a spouse

IMG_3405A few years ago I read an incredible blog post by a woman who talked about how she desired being married someday, but that in the meantime, she was content being single. I could completely relate. And I can still relate. I want to be married someday, but right now, I’m happy. I’m content.

Some troll jumped in and commented something about how single women need to stop lying to themselves. That if this woman truly desired marriage, there was no way she could possibly be happy without it. I jumped to her defense, then she got involved, and a few other people, and it got kind of ugly.

It’s irked me ever since. Even years later. Can you be content and happy even if you don’t have something you desire? You tell me. I desire to win the lottery (even though I don’t play it), but I’m happy without it. I desire the body of a Victoria Secret model, but I’m content with what I have. I desire to work from home and make more money, but I’m still satisfied without it.

What really makes me laugh is when people don’t understand how I can be in a long-term relationship without marriage (for now), and still be happy, and yet many of those people ARE married… and miserable. And yet apparently having a husband and children is the only acceptable way to be happy in this country.

I love my boyfriend, who, yes, when the time is right, we will get married. We’ve discussed it. It’s between us. It’s interesting that I have to keep explaining that to so many people. I should start asking married people, “So, are you going to stay married? How do you know? Can you explain to me what your plans are for the rest of your marriage?” Sounds ridiculous, but that’s how I feel when people pry into why I’m not married yet.

My life isn’t perfect, but I’m definitely happy. I have bad days, I have breakdowns, but most days are great, and I honestly don’t have much to complain about.

Throughout my 20’s and early 30’s, I was just sure that a husband would solve all my problems. I’m not sure why I thought this, especially when I had many friends who WERE getting married, and they honestly weren’t any happier than I was.

Happiness isn’t found in a spouse. If you aren’t happy before you get married, you won’t be after. For me, the greatest happiness and peace I have found is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. (Feel free to contact me if you want to know more about that!)

As I thought about my happiness, and how so many people are skeptical of it simply because I’m single and childless, I decided to reach out to other amazing single women, and see what they had to say about how they remain happy while being single. I also gave them the option of NOT responding, because let’s be honest, there are plenty of single women who are NOT happy. So this post is for them.

It’s also for those of you who don’t understand. You don’t understand how we can be happy with our lives without a spouse. There’s plenty I don’t understand about your lives as wives and mothers, but you won’t find me judging you for it. I’m just thrilled to see you happy and loving life, just as I am.

Here are some responses from some of the women who replied to my request:

The question: You’re not married. How in the world are you happy with your life?

“I know I can be happy without a husband in my life because I always have God as number one. Now on a funnier side, I can eat when I want, can do my dishes when I want (no dishwasher), watch what I want on TV, and not have any one to tell me what to do.” Age: 60’s

“I’m not married, but I’m happy with my life because I am so sure of myself and the strong individual that I am. I am still learning about myself and evolving as a woman in this world. I am (and am becoming) the strong, sensitive, independent, compassionate, fiery, confident woman that God created me to be, and I don’t necessarily need a husband to accomplish all of that.” Age: 27

“I was raised that I can do anything I want if I work hard for it, and I don’t have to rely on anyone else to do something. That includes my happiness. I am still looking for mister right, but I find my own happiness. If it is in God’s plan for him to come along it will happen. If not, I am content with that and won’t just settle with the wrong guy to say I am married. I won’t do that for me and my kids’ sake. It has to be right.” Age: 46

“Being a single women has truly allowed myself to find who I am as a women and learn how to love myself. Through the years I have learned my strengths and weaknesses and that has helped me become the women I am today. Also, I have pushed myself to limits I never knew I could achieve and I achieved those limits without a man helping me get there.” Age: 34

“I consider myself married….to my husband who is my Lord and Savior. I keep busy in His work and I desire only his will in my life. I live content for the majority of the time because I trust His ways for me. I get the same question. I have been single over 25 years and not without asking the same question of God. But he knows best and ‘this is only a sliver of the sum’. I trust…” Age: 50’s

“The reason I am happy and single is because I am happy with who I am in its entirety, I have accepted me and love me. You can not be truly happy in a relationship/marriage if you do not know how to be happy as a single.” Age: 35

Social media’s shocking reveal: we’re different

IMG_1556

One of my earliest selfies was in the 8th grade.

It was 1995, and a group of us were at a retreat. My roommate and I were up all hours of the night, of course, talking about what boys we liked from the other schools, playing MASH, and just plain being silly. Apparently, at some point, I also took a selfie with my disposable camera. The moment is forever memorialized in my 8th grade scrapbook.

It wouldn’t be my last selfie.  It certainly wasn’t the last time I took a ridiculous amount of photos at an event, vacation, or just a general day in the life of Natalie.

I remember our first big family vacation. I was 8 years old. My mom gave me a notebook and told me to write in it every day about what we did. “You’ll want to remember this trip!” she told me. I still have that little notebook.

IMG-1560I have more than 25 scrapbooks. That doesn’t even include the fancy books we can make nowadays online, which I have about a dozen of those. But I’m talking full-blown, photos glued to paper, scrapbooks. I have chronicled most of my life via scrapbook.

Now, I chronicle most of my life via Facebook and Instagram. I post selfies. I post fun or interesting things I’ve had to eat. I post my feelings. I share memories. It’s just how I am.

And compared to you… that might be different.

Nothing compares to social media when it comes to highlighting our differences. Our political differences, our religious differences, our differences in personality. Those differences have always been there, but now they are highlighted for the world to see.

Maybe you think selfies are ridiculous. Maybe you would never take one. Perhaps taking a photo of your food would be too embarrassing for you, or you just think it’s silly. That’s OK. Not everyone is like you. Not everyone is like me.

I get it. I struggle with everyone not being like me sometimes. I want people to care more about some issues and less about others. The truth is, however, that we’re always going to be different. And that’s not an excuse to cut people down.

I hear such hateful speech from some people about the most random things. And I’m not going to start apologizing for Instagramming my Starbucks or posting a selfie on Facebook. This is who I am. You might find it stupid, but that doesn’t mean I am stupid. And just because it’s not your personality to do those things, doesn’t mean it can’t be mine.

(I do NOT believe, however, that “This is who I am” is an excuse treat people poorly. But that’s another blog post for another time. God did NOT create you to be a jerk!)

starbysWe’re DIFFERENT. Have we forgotten that in society? If I drink pumpkin spice lattes and you don’t, that doesn’t in any way, shape, or form mean I’m “basic” or unintelligent. We simply have different tastes.

Teasing is one thing, and I am surrounded by many people who love to tease, and I tease back! But I have also noticed some people in my life who aren’t teasing. They’re judging my very personality and the things that bring joy to my life and have since I was younger. So it’s time to create some distance.

Don’t let people make fun of you because of who you are. God made us each unique. Highlight that as much as you want to on social media. Or don’t. Either way, you were wonderfully and fearfully made by a God who loves you. (Psalm 139:14)

One more thing to all my single ladies: There is a man out there who will love you for who you are. He might think having an Instagram for your cat is ridiculous. He might tease you repeatedly for using Snapchat filters. But he will love you, and none of that will matter. Be YOU. It’s an incredible feeling to be loved for being 100% authentically YOU.

“Everyone is replaceable.”

Sometimes I think I need to do a TED talk. I have so many thoughts and ideas about company culture, that I could probably write a book. (Add that to the list of about a dozen other books I want to write, but haven’t yet.)

natalie
My first year teaching at Troup High in LaGrange, Georgia was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced when it comes to workplace culture. It was truly a special place under the leadership of our principal.

I think we all have opinions about company culture, and what could improve it at our respective places of employment. For me, since graduating college 15 years ago, I have worked for seven different companies, schools, organizations, etc. I’ve seen only one place truly understand company culture and how to keep its employees happy while also getting the job done.

I’m willing to bet most people have never worked at a place with excellent morale or culture.

Granted, that doesn’t mean the place of employment doesn’t SAY they have excellent morale and company culture. Actually, most, if not all, leaders of organizations are convinced they DO have it together. That their employees are happy. That everyone feels valued.

While I could go into a lot of different areas concerning this topic, today I want to talk about what I believe is one of the easiest ways to show your employees that they are NOT valued. Simply utter the words, “Everyone is replaceable.”

It’s not that it isn’t true. But just because it’s true, does that mean you have to say it?

If you found out a friend had cancer, would you tell them, “Some people die from cancer.” Yes, it’s true. Some people die from cancer. But just because it’s true doesn’t mean it has to be verbalized. Especially if it will make someone feel like crap.

Guess what? Your spouse is replaceable. Go ahead and see how they feel if you go and tell them that today. (Please, DON’T!) That’s not something you would say to someone you value and care about. So don’t say it to your employees.

Supervisors, leaders: stop saying, “Everyone is replaceable.” It makes employees feel undervalued. And guess what? Employees who feel valued do a much better job. It’s a win-win for everyone if you stop telling people they are replaceable.

Also, look at the cost of hiring someone new. If you have an all-star employee you deem as “replaceable,” and they feel undervalued and leave, you’ve now got a position to fill, which takes company time, resources, and money.

But hey, “Everyone is replaceable.”

A simple way to improve your company culture- stop telling people they are replaceable. Even if it’s true. Stop saying it.

Imagine a company culture where every employee felt valued and important, not like they could be easily replaced. An organization with a culture like that would THRIVE.

I should note that I’m not pointing fingers at any one specific place I’ve worked. I’ve heard this phrase uttered at many places.

So, leaders, consider removing the phrase from your vocabulary. Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it has to be said. As a matter of fact, I’d even say go so far as to make your staff feel like they are IRREPLACEABLE.

 

The Notebook (no, not THAT one)

I loved Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook.” The movie was great, and the book was even better. But that’s not the notebook I’m writing about today.

IMG_5616In December 2012, a friend of mine gave me a journal. I decided it would be my “spiritual journal,” where I would take notes during church.  It was a hot pink notebook with a Jane Austen quote on the cover: “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.”

The notebook even came with me to Uganda when I moved there in 2013. Unfortunately, my pen DID dwell on a lot of guilt and misery, especially during my year overseas. And when I returned to the United States in 2014, I decided that it was time to be done with the guilt and misery in that notebook, and I bought a new one.

This new notebook was the same style as the other one. It had a soft leather cover, an elastic loop that kept it closed, and a shiny ribbon to keep my place. The only difference with this one was that it was teal instead of pink.

My first page of notes in this notebook was on January 10, 2015. The church was Emmanuel Community Church. I always put the date and the location in the upper right-hand corner. The notebook is flooded with notes from sermons, devotions, conferences, and, rarely, journal entries about how I was feeling.

What I love about these notebooks is the fact that I go back to them when I’m in search of wisdom or guidance, or when I want to remember something from a specific sermon. If there was something I really liked, or something that convicted me, I would circle it or star it, knowing that I’d want to read it again later.

IMG_5615As we approach 2019, it’s time for another new notebook. This little teal notebook has treated me well over the past three years, but it’s time to move on. Before I do, though, I decided to flip back through it and share some of those circled verses and notes that I took. Maybe they will inspire you as much as they did me.

“Jesus was showing once again that He values RELATIONSHIP over RULES, and that the new way of furthering God’s kingdom is through COMPASSION.” 

“Jesus + Nothing = Everything”

“Our Heavenly Father is kind, and He is merciful, so we should strive to be the same way.”

“Understand that you don’t deserve God’s grace, but treat everyone else as if they do.”

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:17

“God is not my boss, He is my Father.”

“Christians need to understand that God is still in control.”

“Faith is not a ‘magic feeling’ that makes us do great things. Faith is believing that God will do what He said He will do.”

“Stop trying to be like other Christians and be like Jesus!”

“We need to spend much more time seeking the FACE of God, and less time seeking the hand of God.”

“True freedom is living according to God’s design.”

“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex. Your workmanship is marvelous.” Psalm 139:14

“Mercy is undeserved forgiveness and unearned kindness.”

“Jesus is more willing to give you mercy than you are to receive it.”

“Stop trying to prove who you are to people and God.”

“Stop assessing God’s goodness by how your life feels at any given time.”

“People who do not believe are living all around you. Live such good lives that they will see the good things you do and will give glory to God.” 1 Peter 2:12

“His love isn’t based upon who YOU are, it’s based upon who HE is.”

Happy New Year, everyone! May God bless us all with another year of joys and wisdom to better serve Him.

Christmas of a different kind

My alarm went off at 4AM. For the first time in my entire life, 38 years, I was awake at 4AM on Christmas morning. I was also completely alone for the first time, with the exception of my cat, Mr. Glitter Sparkles.

Typically Mr. Glitter Sparkles wakes me up demanding a morning treat, but this was too early for even him.

I groaned. It was Christmas morning, and I groaned. I rolled out of bed and headed to the bathroom to get ready for what would be a really long Christmas day. I threw on my Rescue Mission t-shirt, some jeans, and boots, did my hair and makeup, and headed out the door by 4:30.

Fort Wayne was a ghost town. It was dark and cold, but there wasn’t any snow. I needed Starbucks badly, but even on a regular day they wouldn’t be open this early, so I was definitely out of luck. I put on some Christmas music hoping to lift my mood, and even Andy Williams and his “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” didn’t do it.

I love my job. I love The Rescue Mission and what it does. I love that God uses us to help homeless people find and follow Jesus and change their lives for the better. But on Christmas morning, I just wasn’t feeling it. I wished I was sound asleep in Florida at my parents house like usual and not due to wake up for another four hours.

After dropping my things off in my office, I went to the lobby to greet the reporter who would be interviewing me live on their morning news show. I put on my happy face and greeted him with very convincing, “Merry Christmas!” He was genuinely filled with joy, which was slightly irritating at the time, but I didn’t let my disdain show.

“Well, I’ll do my teaser here in a few minutes. I won’t need you until around 5:40,” he said.

“Sounds great,” I replied. “I’m just going to go do some work in my office until then.”

Going back to my office meant trekking through the courtyard again, since my regular route would have been through the chapel, and the chapel was filled with sleeping homeless men. But I as I turned to head through the courtyard, I saw something I didn’t see when I came through before. I glanced down the hallway and saw homeless men sleeping on cots. As we often do, especially in the winter, we had run out of room in the chapel, and men were sleeping in the hallway.

IMG_5462Getting up at 4AM on Christmas morning suddenly didn’t seem so bad. Working on Christmas day suddenly felt like nothing. I stood and stared at the sleeping men in the dark hallway for awhile. Being homeless at Christmas. Sleeping on a cot in a hallway at Christmas. I grabbed my phone to capture what I saw, as I knew it would be a pivotal moment in the day for me.

As I walked outside into the courtyard, I began to cry. I felt super selfish for hating my Christmas morning. I woke up in my own house, in my own warm bed. I drove my own car to my job, which I love, that gives me a paycheck every two weeks. I had so much to be thankful for.

I pulled myself together by the time I went back up front for my live interviews.

“I’m here in downtown Fort Wayne at The Rescue Mission with their Director of Marketing & Donor Engagement, Natalie Trout,” the reporter said into the camera as he began the interview.

With a cherry disposition, I spoke with the reporter about how we were planning to give away more than 3,000 Christmas meals between the hours of noon and 3pm. All were welcome, whether homeless or not.

I had a few hours between my interviews and when I needed to be back at work to take photos at The Rescue Mission’s Christmas dinner and to tend to any news stations who might show up. I ran home, had my boyfriend meet me there, made some cinnamon rolls, ate breakfast, and then headed back to The Rescue Mission at around 11AM. I planned to be done by 1PM, at which time my boyfriend and I would go out for a delicious Chinese dinner.

Things did not go as planned. While the Christmas meal was turning out to be a huge success, my bad attitude somewhat returned when one particular reporter was hanging around longer than I would have liked. The other two news stations had finished, and all I was waiting for was for this one reporter to leave, so I could leave and spend the rest of the day with my boyfriend.

It was almost 2:30PM when I thought the reporter was finishing up.

“I’d like to talk to one more person,” he told me. “Maybe someone with a really great story of why they are eating here today.”

I text my boyfriend: “Who knows when I’ll be out of here. This reporter won’t leave!”

Noel, my boyfriend, was very understanding and patient. Chinese food would have to wait until I could leave work.

48427577_2175054049181395_2107974123585011712_nThe reporter ended up interviewing a man probably in his early 60’s. He was by himself, and appeared to be talking a lot to the reporter. I was thrilled, hoping this meant he was about to wrap things up. I was right.

“Natalie would you mind sitting across from him and chatting with him while I shoot some b-roll?” the reporter asked me.

“Sure,” I said, and I sat down across from the man and introduced myself. He said his name was Jerry.

“Have you been here before, Jerry?” I asked him, as the reporter walked around us taking video.

“Oh yes,” Jerry said. “I love the Mission. Many years ago I stayed here. Now I come back for holiday meals because I have nowhere else to go. But mainly I come here because there’s always someone who is willing to listen. I don’t have anyone in my life who will just sit and listen, but there’s always someone at The Rescue Mission who will.”

Then, the reporter tapped me on the shoulder, “I got what I need, Natalie, so I’m going to head out. Thanks for everything!”

With the reporter gone, I was free to go. But here was this man across from me, who just wanted someone to listen. I text Noel and told him I’d be even longer, that I had something important to do.

Jerry and I talked and talked. He told me that at his lowest point, he wanted to end his life. He drove onto the interstate, parked his car, and got out with intentions of walking into traffic. He said God then spoke to him and asked him if he really wanted his 11-year-old daughter to hear that her father was scraped off the highway. Jerry’s answer was, “No.”

The man I talked with wasn’t homeless. He has a home, a job, and a car. Jerry was just very lonely. He came to The Rescue Mission to find someone to listen, and God put me in his path. Although it meant putting off Chinese food even longer, I was incredibly thankful that for the second time on Christmas Day, God reminded me of what Christmas was all about – love for God and love for others.

It was a strange Christmas. It wasn’t what I imagined or hoped for. It was so much better. God reminded me of what’s important, and I hope to carry that with me for the rest of 2018 and into 2019.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
Luke 2:14

Found my backbone. Can I give it back now?

I was dating a real winner in college one semester when I found out he was cheating on me. He called me a “worthless piece of sh*t,” and then I apologized.

Another time in college, a guy got hostile with me because all I would do was kiss him and nothing more. He demanded I drive him home. Not only did I drive him home, but I took him through the White Castle drive-thru because he was hungry. I also paid for it.

I once had a “friend” reunite the guy I loved with his ex-girlfriend. She also hid cocaine in a friend’s purse who was riding home with me from the bars one night. I let both of those things slide.

Then there’s the tall, gorgeous guy who wouldn’t commit to me because I didn’t “look like the kind of girl people expect to see him with.” I continued to jump at his beck and call for years.

Up until a few years ago, there might as well have been a tattoo on my face that read, “Take advantage of me. I’ll let you get away with it.”

I didn’t stand up for myself. I didn’t feel worthy of standing up for myself. I didn’t get angry with people, for fear I would lose them (no matter how awful they were). I simply didn’t have a backbone. In friendships. In relationships. At work.

Then something crazy happened. I moved to Africa. And I don’t know exactly how it unfolded, but I grew a backbone. When I returned in 2014, I was very, very different.

This had the potential to be a great thing. I started standing up for myself. I started standing up for others.

But, oh dear, has it caused some problems. While that same backbone has caused some people to have more respect for me, it’s caused others to not like me at all.

The issue is, I care. I care about doing what’s right. I care about best practices in my career field. And no matter how respectful or gentle I try to be about expressing my opinion (or often, outright FACTS), I get burned.

lips-2801702_1920Can I return my backbone, please? It was almost easier to NOT have a backbone. Because, let’s be honest, expressing your opinion can be exhausting. Calling people out for how they treat you is emotionally draining. Standing up for others is extremely risky.

Exhausting. Emotionally draining. Risky. Wow- having a backbone is such a blast.

I’m at a crossroads. I have become this person with a lot to say. A person with lots of ideas and opinions that I want to share both in my personal and professional life. But I’m starting to feel like it’s easier to stay silent.

It’s easier to not share my opinion.
It’s easier to not call people out.
It’s easier to not stand up for others.

Question nothing. Accept everything. Keep the peace. Care a little less. In some cases, care a lot less.

Easier said than done. I do care. I do want to share. I want to say the things that others don’t have the guts, or backbone, to say. I want to stand up for what’s ethical and right. But is it worth it? I’m not sure it is.

“Everybody says “say something”
Say something. Say something.
Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.
But I can’t help myself. No, I can’t help myself, no no.
Caught up in the middle of it.
Maybe I’m looking for something that I can’t have.”
– Justin Timberlake, “Say Something”