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

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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

On my mind and on my heart…

1413990_i_heart_retroLove has really been on my mind lately, and I don’t even think it’s because of Valentine’s Day. I’ve just had a lot of moments of clarity lately when it comes to love and what I expect from it. Here’s what’s been on my mind and on my heart:

I really am OK without romantic love… for now.

Of course I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life, but I really am OK being alone right now. It’s easier to feel that way when I see so many loveless marriages, so many marriages falling apart, people so unhappy with their situations in marriages, and friends going through divorces. I don’t desire that, and I thank God that I haven’t settled for anyone who isn’t the one for me.

In love, I know what I’m looking for.

32 years into my life and I think I finally know what I’m looking for in a guy. I thought I knew before, but for some reason I kept dating guys who were nothing like that. I’m done with the party scene. I want a guy who is done with it, too. Don’t read this wrong, I’m not passing judgment on anyone still in the party scene. All I’m saying is that I have a preference, and I want a guy who would rather rent a movie than go to the bar, a guy who would rather go bowling than to the club. Of course I still like to have a good time, and every once in a while I like to go to a bar and have drinks or to the club and dance, but every weekend? Even every other weekend? No. I’ve got to stop dating guys who do that, because clearly that’s not what I want. And I’m over trying to change guys into what I think they should be.

1413989_i_heart_pinkGod sure saves my heart from a lot of unnecessary pain.

Sometimes I get these crazy feelings. It’s easy to romanticize something that happened years ago. It’s easy to look back and only see the good, to remember how it felt at first, to think about how perfect you once were for each other, and to completely overlook the reason it didn’t last. Sometimes I get caught up in that. What’s awesome is that each time I start to feel nostalgic, God reveals something to me. Might be something as simple as a tweet that tells me, “Oh yeah, Natalie. THAT’S why you will never go down that road again.”

This might be the first Valentine’s Day that I actually love myself.Bday

I’ve always been a pretty humble person, and I think for most of my life I thought that if I was happy with myself, it meant I was vain. So the opposite kind of happened, and I had very low self-esteem. To say I’ve come a long way in the past four months is an understatement. I’ve learned to love myself and everything God created me to be. I’m not perfect, but I’m OK with who I am. That has made all the difference in my life- living for God and living for me, not other people.

God’s love is the only perfect love.

No love is greater. God’s love NEVER changes for us. He will never forsake us. Who doesn’t want a love like that? We aren’t guaranteed anything in love with another human being, but with God we are. His love is perfect. No matter what happens with another person in your life in any sort of relationship, God will always be there loving you.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Remember that today is about love of all kinds. There are lots of people who love you, and above all else, God loves you. That’s really all that matters.