Life is not a word search… stop looking for love!

I was just starting to dig into my adult mac-and-cheese when the 23-year-old sitting across from me sighed.

“I just don’t know where to go to meet a guy. I’ve tried church, the gym, the bar scene, everywhere! I can’t find anyone!”

I remember being in her shoes. I remember that ten years ago I used to feel the same way. Almost everything I did was in hopes of meeting a guy. My friends were getting married, starting families, and all that other stuff you’re “supposed” to do in your early to mid-20’s, and then there was me: single.

Ten years later, and that’s still me: single. But oh-so-much has changed.magnifying-glass-967211-m

My young friend’s frustrations with being single reminded me of how so many women are missing the boat on finding love. We can’t force it to happen, and we certainly can’t live our lives constantly in search of it. Life isn’t some giant crossword puzzle where we’re all looking for the word, “Love.”

“They” say when you stop looking, that’s when you’ll find love. While that hasn’t happened for me yet, it’s not changing the fact that I live life for other reasons now. I don’t do anything simply to meet a guy. And I’m completely ok if it hasn’t “paid off” yet in the form of a boyfriend or husband.

When I was in my 20’s, practically everything I did was in hopes of meeting someone. Not just any someone, but someone who would transform my life, make me happy, and give me butterflies! I tried different churches, joined the gym, went to trivia nights at the local pub, joined a “Christian Single’s Group” in town, etc. etc.

Obviously, nothing came of any of that.

And why would it? No guy wants some chick who is spending her entire life waiting on him. Guys want a woman who is living her own life, without him, because he’s likely been doing the same without her.

I go to church now because I want to stay close to God and learn more about His word. I go to the gym to work out because I know it’s good for me. I watch football at Buffalo Wild Wings because I love football (and wings!). I volunteer at the homeless shelter because I love helping people- not because I hope there will be a cute, single guy volunteering with me.

Single ladies- just live your life! Stop looking for something that you can’t make appear. You can’t rush God. He won’t bring the right guy into your life until HE says it’s time. So in the meantime, why not love the life you have? God has lots of great things planned for you. If you’re living in His will, He won’t let you miss out on that perfect guy because you were too busy and not looking.

sand-heart-2-1421655-m“If it seems slow in coming, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”
Habakkuk 2:3

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Psalm 27:14

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 37:3-4

Defining the “grown-up”

I hadn’t seen Mandy in almost four years. We met up last week for lunch when my parents and I were passing through Atlanta. It was nine years ago that Mandy and I were in our mid-20’s and living it up as single gals.

At one point during lunch, her 16-month-old daughter waddled around the table and Mandy scooped her up so she didn’t run away.

“I’m a mom now!” she said. “This is my life!”

My own mother, admiring Mandy’s precious daughter, said, “Maybe one of these days Natalie will grow up, too!”

I’m sure my mom didn’t think a thing about what she said, but it really got me thinking. Maybe in her generation that’s the case, but in 2014, are we really still at a place where you can’t be considered an adult unless you’re married and have children?

Washing feet and checking for jiggers at a clinic in Uganda.
Washing feet and checking for jiggers at a clinic in Uganda.

So I’m 33 and not married. I don’t have any children. I have former students who are 19, married, and have a family. Does that make them more of a “grown-up” than me, someone who just spent a year living in a third-world country? Am I somehow immature because I gave up a year of my life, and certainly any hopes of finding a husband, to serve God in Africa? Should I have stayed here in America just to “grow up” and start a family?

What defines a grown-up? I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but here’s what I think:

You put God first, family second, friends third.

Those three things were always being rearranged throughout my high school and college days, but once I got them in the right order, I feel I was able to live more at peace. Being a grown-up means having your priorities straight, and what you believe in should always be top priority. For me, that’s God. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Your homestead is a good financial decision

For years I always looked down on guys who lived at home, especially if they were in their 30’s. Then I moved to Africa, came home unemployed, and I’m living in my parents’ house. More and more I’m seeing single people do this, and while I think it used to signify an immature person who can’t get their life together, I now see the other side of things. If living at home is the best financial decision, what’s immature about that? If buying a house is a better financial decision than renting, do it. If renting is your best option, do that. If where you live is best for your bank account and your future, you’re a grown-up.

You spend more nights in than you do out

Hanging out with mom and spending the evening at my nephew's baseball game.
Hanging out with mom and spending the evening at my nephew’s baseball game.

Mandy and I were out almost every night of the week when we were single gals in LaGrange, Georgia. Whether it was eating wings at “the Pub,” drinking Boat Drinks at The Lazy Peach, or enjoying chocolate, wine and live music at Ou La La, we were always out and about. Mandy may have a husband and a child now, but we are both content with spending time at home, instead of going out. Grown-ups are OK with this. Grown-ups are fine with reading a book on a Friday night or watching a movie at home on a Saturday evening. Grown-ups also know that if they sporadically do want to meet up with friends for a drink or a movie, this does not make them immature.

You don’t dress like a teenager

Since my return to the US from Uganda a month ago, I’ve noticed that the trend these days is “trampy.” Harsh word, I know, but how else do you explain it? “Inappropriate” just doesn’t seem to do style these days its justice. I’m currently working part-time at an office in town, and I’m amazed at the inappropriate things some “grown-ups” wear to work. Grown-ups dress like adults. That doesn’t mean dressing like an old woman at a nursing home. It’s totally possible to be attractive, beautiful, and even sexy, while still having class and dressing like an adult.

You believe you are a grown-up

This is really the only one that matters. If you have embraced the trampy style of teenagers these days, party like it’s 1999, would rather hang out with your friends than your family, and live outside your means, but still feel like a grown-up, then that’s on you. If it means getting married and having children, then that’s your right as well. For me, it means putting God first, staying in more than going out, dressing appropriately, and making good financial decisions.

Some people might not see you as a grown-up until you are married and have a family, but what really matters is how you see yourself and how God sees you. I believe I’m a grown-up. A husband and children will not define that for me.

A different kind of Valentine’s Day

IMG_20140214_092651I was in the 8th grade when I had my first Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend. His name was Ben, and we were on our second-round of being girlfriend and boyfriend.

“Check your mailbox,” Ben said when I answered the phone.

“Why?” I asked.

“Just do it!” he said, and hung up the phone.

I walked out to the mailbox and opened it up. Inside was a rose, a card, and a small box. The small box contained a necklace. It was the ugliest necklace I’d ever laid eyes on. I can still picture it to this day. It was a gold chain, and on it hung a gold bow with what appeared to be fake opal painted on parts of the bow. It was hideous.

Ben and I didn’t last. Well, we broke up a few weeks later and then got back together a few weeks after that. This happened probably another four times throughout the remainder of my 8th grade year.

Valentine’s Day has ripped me apart some years and other years it’s made me smile. In college we had “S.A.D.” parties on Valentine’s Day- “Single’s Awareness Day” parties. They involved a lot of booze, dancing and some poor choices. That was ten years ago, and I must say, my feelings about this day have changed drastically.

This is my first Valentine’s Day in Africa, and I feel like it’s the first year I’m truly aware of what Valentine’s Day should be about: love.

When I think about it, Valentine’s Day could easily be a Christian holiday. Do you remember the story from the Bible about the religious leaders asking Jesus which commandment was most important? His response was this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31

For Christians, showing love isn’t something we should just be doing on Valentine’s Day. Showing love is what God wants us to do every single day.

IMG_20140214_092810We also need to take note of the fact that Jesus wasn’t specific about which neighbors we should love. He didn’t say to love our Christian neighbors. He didn’t say to love our American neighbors. He didn’t say to love our straight neighbors or our Caucasian neighbors or our neighbors who don’t do drugs. There are no footnotes in the Bible when it says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” God wants us to love our neighbors, the very people He created, no matter what their situation, race, or sexual orientation is.

Not everyone is easy to love. I know this. I’m a teacher, and I’ve had more than 1,000 students cross my path over the years. They haven’t all been easy to love. But what better way to be a witness for Christ than to love everyone?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

I have a student right now who some teachers might find difficult. He knows he’s difficult, but I tell him on IMG_20140214_092929almost a daily basis that I love him. He’s told me that he doesn’t understand why. It perplexes him how I could possibly love him given some of his behavior. This student is also an atheist. What if I didn’t show him love? What kind of an example for Christ would I be if I didn’t love him?

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about romantic love. It can be about the love we have for all the people of the earth. It’s easy to remember the importance of love as I sit here in Uganda, surrounded by people who were strangers to me seven months ago and are now people I love with all my heart.

Don’t feel sad if you don’t have a “Valentine” on February 14. God loves you more than any Valentine ever could. And if you love Him back, you’ll show love to everyone around you.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 12:4-8

“Marriage sucks!”

Years ago I went out to eat with a male friend not long after the end of a relationship. It wasn’t just the end of IMG_1674any relationship, it was the end of a relationship in which after our first date I called my mom in tears and said, “This one is different. This is different.” And it was after our second date that my gut told me: he was “the one.”

I knew he felt the same way, because only a month or so into our relationship he told me, I remember exactly when and where and the tone of his voice, “I can’t wait to make you my wife someday.”

He never did make me his wife. In reality, he isn’t sure he ever even wants to get married. This was all made evident when we broke up. I was heartbroken and confused as ever.

But on a cold January night when I was out to eat with my friend, everything became clear.

We ran into three of my ex’s best friends. His “boys.” The guys he talks to on a regular basis. All of them are married.

Somehow my friend and I ended up at a table with these guys, and we got to talking about marriage.

“Marriage sucks!” one of them said. “I love my wife and family, but being married sucks!”

“I’m so sick of having to constantly report to her,” one of them said. “It’s terrible. I’m a grown man! I can do what I want!”

One of the guys kept pretty quiet, but did chime in at one point after one of the other guys said, “Women are crazy. Hands down. They’re all CRAZY.” He piped up and said, “Did you ever think that maybe we make them that way?”

The conversation shed so much light on marriage for me. Men hate marriage. As one of the guys said, “Marriage sucks!” No wonder my ex wasn’t excited about the idea of getting married to anyone- most of his friends and a lot of society tell us that marriage isn’t a wonderful thing. It isn’t about love and companionship; it’s more like a prison sentence.

I remembered that conversation from years ago after last week watching an online sermon called, “The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating,” presented by Andy Stanley. He mentioned something about the “good side of marriage that no one ever talks about.” And I realized he was right- we rarely hear the good stories or what people love about being married.

While I was raised by a happily married couple, my parents, I realized I still kind of have a skewed view of marriage based on what I’ve heard, been through, and seen in society. I decided to turn to Facebook for inspiration. Marriage is a GOOD thing, and I knew there would have to be people who had good things to say about marriage and about their spouses. I ended up with so many responses that I can’t list them all, but here are some of my favorites.

IMG_5166These quotes come from people married for a few months to many years, Christians and non-Christians, men and women, and people from all sorts of walks of life. I hope these words encourage people who are married and those like me who are still waiting on their match:

“The love he has for me and the boys just goes to extraordinary levels when someone is sick or hurt…”

“I love knowing that she has my back in any and all situations, and even though I am her rock, she will be mine when I start to doubt myself. She will also be there to bring me back down to earth (when I need it).”

“I love being married for all the normal reasons that everyone gives, but the best reason is knowing that you never have to date again! No more awkward first kisses, dates, conversations, none of that. It’s nice to know someone loves you and has seen everything and willing to be there. For me, there’s comfort in the predictable.”

“I love that he vacuums the house and takes care of the car when it needs oil or fixing!”

“I love that God has one special person for me and that putting God first in our marriage helped our love grow and our relationship become what it is today. After almost 30 years of marriage, he can look at me and warm my heart. I still love holding hands and just being with him. And now, I love spending time with our beautiful family that was brought together through God’s love and grace. Being married isn’t always easy, but the rewards are great.”

“Just love the relationship we’ve molded over the years, great communication and understanding, the love, loyalty and respect that we have for each other. Being the young couple, people do doubt us, but it makes us stronger.”

“He knows what I am thinking or how I feel, sometimes even before I realize it myself!”

“I just love that I am with my best friend, day in and day out!”wedding5

“Love having history together. He knows why I react a certain way, because he knows the experiences that have shaped me. Also love being exposed to new things. Without (him), I would never have gone winter camping, on canoe trips, learned about identifying birds, etc.”

“I love that, when needed, you can take turns being the strong one.”

“I love that we’re on the same page about life. Where we are and where we’d like to be 10 years from now.”

“I like being married (to my husband) because I LIKE HIM. I like doing stuff with him- any kind of stuff. I like going to Home Depot and looking at faucets. I like going to the grocery store. I like going out to eat with him. I like riding down the road and talking non-stop… I just like him.”

“I love that he is my warrior. He has a heart of gold and is willing to do anything for me. He is willing to fight for me and my freedom, daily. We have our own dreams and goals, but we also have dreams and goals as a couple. I also love the little texts that he sends me every day, just to say hi.”

“I love that if he is home before me, at the end of the day I walk in the door and he will say, “Is that the love of my life?”

“I love that sometimes we can just sit in silence and just hold onto each other. It’s so powerful to know that someone gets you and sees your good and your bad and loves you anyways!”

“I love being with my best friend. I love that he is a man of God, and that we make each other better people. I love that he is such a wonderful leader and protector for our family.”

28309_396535656572_5388461_n“Sorry, it’s not just one thing. Companionship, the joy (she) brings to our marriage, and her many acts of kindness.”

“In my marriage, there is unconditional love. I was completely sighted and in good health when we married eight years ago. Since that time, we have encountered a rare eye disorder that is stealing my sight, and I’ve had to battle rare health issues (for my age). My husband married me, never knowing he would face these issues with me and that his wife would become visually impaired… My husband has sacrificed his own desires to satisfy mine and has shown me unconditional love. Simply put, he has honored his marital vows.”

“I love that my husband’s not perfect, because neither am I, and that makes us perfect for each other.”

In defense of the “selfie”…

IMG_20131116_051646Annoying. Narcissistic. Those are the two words one of my Facebook friends had to say about people who take selfies. I know plenty of people who would agree with him. But I would like to defend the selfie-  the photographs we take of ourselves and post on social media.

Argument #1: You post pics of your kids. I don’t have any, so I post pics of myself.
The number one group of people I see knocking the selfie are those with children. The people who post photo after photo of their child doing this and that are annoyed by the rest of us posting pictures of ourselves. It makes perfect sense that a parent’s life would revolve around his or her children. It should. If you don’t have children, who does your life revolve around? Yourself. It doesn’t mean your selfish, it just means you’re at a different stage in life.

Argument #2: There’s a difference between posting a selfie and being narcissistic.
“I am looking so fine today! #gorgeous #beautiful #hotmama.” “Be jealous ladies! You don’t look this good and you never will! #Ilookgood.” Even Instagram posts like that make my skin crawl. There’s a huge difference between taking a nice picture of yourself and announcing to the world how hot you think you are.

Argument #3: What happened to promoting confidence?
Posting a selfie doesn’t mean you love yourself so much that you have to show everyone how you look all the time, but don’t we promote an attitude of confidence this day and age? Aren’t we supposed to be telling younger generations that they should feel comfortable in their own skin and not feel pressured to look like super models? If I feel confident enough to think, “I look nice today!” is there really something so terrible about posting a selfie? There’s such a false connotation with being confident these days and it being mistaken for narcissism. Taking selfies of yourself and posting them all over your room? Now THAT’S narcissism.

Argument #4: Believe it or not, some people do want to see selfies.IMG_20130911_101949
I moved to Uganda almost four months ago. My close friends and family members don’t get to see me except for the photos I post on Facebook. These people flat out tell me that they enjoy seeing my face and how I’m doing in Uganda. I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there who the only way people ever see them is on social media. Whether it’s a photo you took of yourself or one someone else took of you, what does it matter?

Argument #5: Who cares?
I take people off my Facebook newsfeed, Twitter and Instagram all the time when I get tired of their political and religious rants. If you’re tired of people’s selfies, I suggest you do the same.

As you can see from the pictures in this post, I do take selfies. Not on a daily or even weekly basis, but every once in awhile I will take a selfie. For me, this is actually quite a testament to how far I’ve come. Let me explain.

Throughout high school, college and in my 20’s, I never felt pretty. I never felt like I was even remotely attractive. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I truly realized I wasn’t all that unfortunate looking. For me to take a picture of myself and post it where people can see it shows how my confidence has grown, and it’s also a part of my testimony.IMG_20130724_181827

Like everyone else, I was created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27) Once I truly accepted God’s love for me and found my full worth in Him, my confidence soared. I began to feel beautiful on the inside, and that confidence radiated to my exterior as well. I am confident in being the woman God created me to be. I don’t see what’s so narcissistic about that.

“Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.”

Psalms 20:7

Not good enough for some, but good enough for One…

The maker of this beautiful Ugandan sunset loves me despite my many flaws.
The maker of this beautiful Ugandan sunset loves me despite my many flaws.

“Does he have a girlfriend now?”

My stomach did a flip-flop as I looked at the picture my friend sent me on Facebook. It was a picture of the guy who had a tight grip on my heart for more than two years… and his girlfriend. The guy who didn’t even want a girlfriend was looking as happy as ever in a selfie with a beautiful, petite girl by his side.

I once again realized what I knew all along: it wasn’t that he didn’t want a girlfriend; it was that he didn’t want me as a girlfriend.

It can be a tough pill to swallow. The thought that someone can be so attracted to you, enjoy your company so much, and can trust you with anything, but yet not love you in a romantic way, is quite a mystery.

I’ll never understand it. My friends will never understand why he and I had such chemistry and yet he didn’t want to be with me. It boils down to his selfishness and being shallow, and me not being the “ideal” woman for him to be seen with. He has admitted this.

I accepted the truth more than a year ago, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. And until August, I thought I had at least escaped the hurtful situation with a lifelong friend (silly me). Then some information was presented to me by a mutual friend, and I learned that even our friendship was a lie.

It’s all a reminder that people will hurt us. Not to say that you shouldn’t ever trust anyone, but you should never trust someone more than you trust God. You should never put all of your heart and soul into a person, only God.

For years I’ve allowed this guy to hurt me, to make me feel terrible about myself and to remind me that I’m not the poster child of the perfect-looking girlfriend. But guess what? I’m also not the poster child for the superstar Christian. I’m damaged, imperfect, flawed, defective… every word you can possibly think of that makes me not worthy of God’s love. He loves me anyway.

So while this guy from my past has made it clear that I’m not good enough to be his girlfriend, God has made it clear that I am a child of His and that He will always love me, no matter what. Only God’s love is perfect, and that’s all the love I’ll ever need.

“…nothing will ever separate us from the love of God…” Romans 8:39

No more “Summit City” for Summit City Single?

I woke up out of nowhere at around 4:30 a.m. on April 24 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I decided to check my email HeritageLogoand there it was, an email from the principal at Heritage International School in Kampala, Uganda.

“I am writing to offer you the position of High School English teacher at Heritage International School, beginning in August.”

I think I blacked out for a second. I was excited. I was horrified. I was one huge ball of emotions all at once.

Yes, it’s true, and I’m now making it public. I’m moving to Africa for two years, and if God so calls me, possibly longer.

I’ve Tried this Before

When I moved back to Indiana after about five years in Georgia, things didn’t go as I expected them to. Probably the number one reason I moved home was to be with my Grandma Shideler. Sure enough, almost a month after I moved, she died. I was devastated. My heart broke. I instantly began to question my decision to move back to Indiana.

Things weren’t going well. I wasn’t making friends, teaching at North Side made me miserable, I missed my grandma, and I just wanted out. But for the first time, I taught a unit on Africa and genocide in my World Literature classes. It was something I knew little about, even though I have always been fascinated by Africa. My fascination grew as I studied Rwanda with my students. That’s when I decided- I would teach in Africa.

I looked daily for jobs. I applied everywhere. But… nothing happened. I wasn’t particularly close in my walk with Christ at that time. I was actually pretty bitter about God taking my grandma away from me. I look back now and realize why things didn’t work out. It just wasn’t time.

4788_103254166572_3645889_nGod did, however, work it out that I could spend two weeks of my summer in Niger, Africa with Jesus Film Ministries. While the work we did there was good, and I was filled with the Holy Spirit as I shared the gospel with Muslim Africans, I’ll admit, I was more caught up in “being in Africa.” It was a dream come true, but too much of my focus was on the cultural experience I was having, not the GOD experience I should have had.

The Next Few Years

My dreams of moving overseas obviously didn’t work out, so I let it go. I figured maybe God just wanted to see if I was willing to go. I got over my anger at God, and  figured He was ready to introduce me to my husband, I would start a family, and all would fall into place. So when I met my boyfriend in 2010, I was so sure- this was The One.

Needless to say, he wasn’t. I was heartbroken and devastated for almost an entire year.

Somewhere in the middle of that year when I was still spending a lot of time with my ex, I went with my church to Nicaragua. My mind was right this time. I was focused on our mission. My heart caught on fire with a desire to do mission work more often. One week every year or so just didn’t satisfy my soul. I needed more.216059_10150151389976573_735678_n

Sure enough, the organization we went with, Food for the Hungry, said they needed a journalist to work for them in Nicaragua. I have a degree in Journalism. How perfect! But my selfishness kept me away. What if things were going to work out with my ex? I could never leave him! I could never leave my family! They mean too much to me! I didn’t even meet with one of the leaders from Nicaragua when they came to our church months later. Even though my heart wanted to do it so badly, I couldn’t follow through with it.

2012

Ever since Nicaragua, I’ve felt that God has been nudging my heart, “Go.” I didn’t know where or in what capacity, but I felt like He was saying, “Go.” I knew I needed to talk to someone about my feelings. I needed to ask, “How do you know, for sure, that you’re being called to serve God overseas?” But I didn’t ask anyone because I knew what they would say, “Read the Bible and pray.” And I didn’t want to do that because I knew what would happen. God would tell me, “Go.”

So I avoided it. I continued to grow in my faith and my walk with Christ, but there was always that one area I avoided.

549779_10151265482271447_332404794_nIn November, my heart began to stir. I really wanted to go back to Africa and to keep my focus on God’s work. Long story short, I signed up to go on a mission trip to Zambia with my friend’s church in Texas. (You can read more about how God worked all of that out here.) So I was thrilled to be going on the trip, and I thought for sure it would satisfy my desire to serve God overseas.

March 2013

Although super pumped about Zambia, my heart wasn’t content with just another 10 days in Africa coming up in June. Then one day in the middle of an email from one of my Christian mentors she wrote, “I really think that with all of the unconditional love and mercy that you have for people, you need to be in another country…. It is not what I think that matters, though. It is between you and GOD.” I’m no dummy. That information came straight from God.

But I freaked out. I have student loans to pay off! I’m 32, can I really just enter the mission field now? What about all my furniture and stuff? I was still doubtful that it could all work out.

As if that nudge from God wasn’t enough. About a day later I got an email from my old small group leader in Georgia. He wanted me to read a blog about a couple who went into ministry in Africa. He concluded his email with the following: “When I read their story I thought of you. Let me know what you think after you read it. God can make a way! WOW! Can He make a way!” I broke down when I read that. Could God really be any clearer? I don’t think so. God was telling me that He will work it out.

And He did.

em0a5r7u5px09u4lhfwpI didn’t know where to start, where to look. A family friend had connections at World Gospel Mission in Marion. I checked out their website and flipped through the many openings they had for various positions around the world. One stood out to me: “Secondary English Teacher, Uganda.” I read about the job and it just seemed too perfect for me. There was no way it would be that easy for me to find something that quickly.

The Present

One month. I answered God’s call by saying, “I will go where you lead me.” Within one month I applied at Heritage International School, had a Skype interview, and was offered the position. One month. God made it all happen in one month.

I’ve never in my life felt more at peace with God’s plan for me. This is MY life. While I will miss them dearly, I cannot live my life for my parents. I can’t live my life for my friends. I can’t live my life for my nieces and nephews who I adore so very much. I have to live my life for God and the plans He has chosen for me. Some people don’t understand that, but I can’t let that hold me back. Some of the best wisdom I’ve received has come from Richard Stearns’ “Hole in our Gospel.” That will be another blog post in itself.

ugandaThe excitement I am feeling extends far beyond anything I’ve ever felt before. It’s a satisfaction that fills my heart with joy, more joy than any job, man or experience has ever brought me up until this point.

I know it will be a rocky road at times. There’s money to be raised, plans to make, the fear of entering what could become an unstable country at any given moment, leaving my friends and family, etc. etc. However, I trust God will take care of me.

I’ll write another blog post about all I will be doing in Uganda. This post is long enough already, but in case anyone was interested in how I got to this point, I wanted to share. I can’t wait to continue to share with you the awesome things God is doing in my life. And please, let me know what He’s doing in yours!

“I know Who goes before me. I know Who stands behind- the God of angel armies is always by my side. The one who reigns forever- He is a friend of mine. The God of angel armies is always by my side.”
– Chris Tomlin “Whom Shall I Fear?”

The curse of seeing someone’s potential…

1237608_trophy“Potential has a shelf life.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

It’s typically thought of as a positive thing, to see the good in everyone. I am one of those people who instantly recognizes someone’s potential. In all honesty, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

If potential were a trophy, I see almost everyone I know carrying it. The problem is, not everyone is lifting that trophy up, some aren’t even looking at it, while others are kicking it around on the ground with no plans to ever pick it up.

Seeing the potential in people can be heartbreaking when they don’t reach that potential. It’s a dangerous road to travel when you see potential in the wrong people and when you let it consume you. I’ve experienced this heartbreak as a teacher and as someone who has been in relationships with guys who have so much “potential.” Right now I’m struggling with the latter.

Seeing potential in the opposite sex

Seeing someone’s potential as a future husband or wife can be very dangerous. Seeing what someone “could” be is so intensely different from what they actually are. When it comes to dating, I have learned that you must see someone for what they are at that present time.

I’m not saying you might not meet someone who just needs a little encouragement or support. I’m talking about the jerks, the players, the non-committers, or some other type of guy or girl who has qualities that make them a poor choice for a life partner. You can’t consider their potential. You must consider the present, and if it isn’t good, move on.

Potential… according to who?

There are two specific guys from my past that I have always believed have all the potential in the world, but they refuse to grow up. I see they have the potential to be two of the greatest guys in all of Fort Wayne, quite possibly all of Indiana or even the entire country, but both of them refuse to live up to this potential I see in them. They are nowhere near reaching their full potential as professional, beautiful, outstanding men on this planet!

They might not ever reach their full potential. But “potential” according to who?

According to me.

 If their potential is just my opinion, the only one they’re really disappointing is me. Why am I so concerned about them reaching what I think their potential is, especially when it’s only disappointing me? Probably because I love them both way too much. It’s not a situation of being “in” love or wanting to be with either of them, I just plain love these two guys with all my heart. When you love someone, you want them to succeed and be the best version of them they can possibly be.

Letting go of potential

If you’re like me and you see the great potential for someone who isn’t interested in reaching it, maybe it’s time to let it go. Pray for that person, but stop letting it tear you up inside that they aren’t what YOU think they should be. If someone doesn’t want to be a better person, that’s their choice. You can’t force them.

It’s a beautiful thing to be able to see people’s true potential, but I guess I need to just see that potential and then let it go. Otherwise, I’ll continue to fall for guys and their awesome potential, not who they really are.

What about your own potential?IMG_20130504_232645

I think people like me get so caught up in other people’s potential that we forget about our own. I’m sure if I asked God if I was living up to my potential, He would say I’m not. I imagine He would say no one is. Who knows, maybe there’s a guy out there who wishes I would live up to my potential.

If seeing someone’s potential is tearing you up inside, let it go. Spend more time worrying about your own potential. There’s a good chance you’re not reaching yours either.

It’s not about being judgmental…

“I smoke, by the way. I hope that’s OK.”1391828_untitled

It was the text that took my heart from, “Could this guy be my happily ever after?” to “Take care, it was nice meeting you.”

In November I went on a few dates with a guy who seemed pretty cool. I wouldn’t say we “totally hit it off,” but we certainly had a good time, and there was potential there. But then he let me know that he was a smoker. At first I thought he was kidding. There was no way this athletic coach was a smoker. Turns out, he wasn’t kidding.

I let him know that I don’t date smokers, and then before I knew it I was being called judgmental and that him being a smoker didn’t define him.

There’s a huge difference between being judgmental and knowing the habits you don’t want your boyfriend or future husband to have. I have friends who smoke, and while they know I worry about them for health reasons, I don’t think any of them would say that they feel I judge them.

557070_alcoholic_dream_Another example is drinking. I don’t mind a guy who drinks socially, but I do mind that guy who posts on his Facebook, “About to get WASTED tonight!” For me, that’s an insanely huge turn off. It doesn’t mean I am going to un-friend the guy and no longer speak to him, it simply means he’s not a guy I would want a relationship with.

I’ve noticed a few things this week in the opposite sex that I definitely don’t want in a mate. Some of my guy friends have these traits or habits, and they know I’m not judging (I’m also not trying to date them).

If someone doesn’t want to date you because you smoke, drink too much, have too much debt, or some other reason, it doesn’t always mean they are judging you. It just means you have some qualities they aren’t looking for in a mate. Respect that, and move on.

A letter to my 18-year-old self

18-year-old me
18-year-old me

I was thinking today about how my life as a 32-year-old woman is nothing like I imagined it would be. I wouldn’t ever want to know the future, and it’s not that I have any regrets, but if I could write a letter to my 18-year-old self, a girl just a few months away from graduating high school, this is what it would say:

Dear 18-year-old Natalie,

Things are exciting right now, aren’t they? You’re about to graduate high school and head off to Indiana Wesleyan where you will study art. You won’t be there long, but you’ll figure all that out, and it’s for the best.

There are some things I want you to know. I could tell you what’s going to happen to you, about your college career, the places you’ll move, the jobs you’ll have, the hearts you’ll break and those who will break your heart, but you need to experience that on your own.

What I want you to know is that things aren’t going to turn out like you think they will. That’s not a bad thing. Your family, friends, society… will all make you think that there’s a playbook of life and that it’s the same for everyone. They will make you think that there’s only one definition of success and happiness, but that’s not true.

You will not find happiness in a man, Natalie. You will try. You will try very, very hard, but there are other things in this life that will make you much happier. Don’t let anyone make you think that where you are in life isn’t “normal” or that there are things you are “supposed” to want.

God is going to use you to do things other people can’t do- in the same way He uses them to do things you can’t do. You have to trust that all your frustrations and hardships are leading up to something wonderful that God has planned for you.

Relax. Enjoy the ride. When you’re 32, you’re not going to be where you think you’ll be. Instead, you’ll be exactly where God wants you. And I can say with confidence… you’ll be the happiest, most confident, and most peaceful you’ve ever been.

All my love,
Your 32-year-old self

32-year-old me
32-year-old me