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”

Advertisements

Confessions of a church hopper

2016-10-07_12_fullWe were loved. Important. Respected. We belonged. No doubt about it- the Trout family was a major part of the Celina First Church of God from 1982 until we moved away in 1996.

And I haven’t felt like I truly belonged at a church since.

Hi. My name is Natalie. And I’m a church hopper.

Here’s how it usually goes: I start attending a church. It’s exciting. I like it. I like the people. I learn from the pastor. I decide to get involved. I start to feel like I don’t belong. I convince myself that I don’t belong. I leave.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

“It’s not about you,” I’ve often heard from blogs and articles I’ve read and comments from friends and family. “It’s about God. People are messy. No church is perfect.”

Because, you know, I wasn’t aware of those things.

I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for belonging. And I’m not alone. I have a number of amazing, Christ-following friends who change churches every year or two. We just keep moving. We can’t find a place where we really belong.

There are many of us who could win a gold medal in church hopping.

Part of it is my fault. Part of it is the fault of the church and other Christians. My biggest takeaway from my year and a half at a Christian college was that there was no room for sinners among Christians. I now know that isn’t true, but I carried it with me for a long time, and still often struggle with, “I’m not good enough to be here,” no matter how unbiblical that is.

It’s interesting. I hear family members and friends talk about “church hoppers,” and they roll their eyes, not even taking into consideration that I have lived in Fort Wayne for ten years and been a regular attender at four different churches in that time frame.

I left the first church because they royally screwed me over financially concerning a mission trip. Trust me, it was bad. And they knew it, but never made it right. Someone can only say, “We’re sorry you fell through the cracks again, we’ll be sending you the money we owe you this week!” so many times before you give up.

My next church was heartbreaking to leave. I begged and begged to get plugged into a small group for years, but was repeatedly told that there were “no openings.” I had to start my own group or wait for an opening if I was to be in a small group. I prayed about it, was not even remotely led by God to lead or start a group. So I was pretty much out of luck. I decided I needed to find a church that DID have room for me in a small group.

I searched all over the city for months until I found the most recent church I left. It was dynamic, exciting, they were doing so much to reach the unchurched! But as time went on, something was… off. I can’t explain it. I’m sad to say that most of the people I got to know there have since left as well. I believe it’s a good church. I believe their mission to reach the unchurched is needed in our community. But for me, I wasn’t getting what we call “spiritually fed.”

Time once again came to go church shopping. Ugh. Finding a church where you fit in is no easy task. While I feel like I have found one now, I am fearful and guarded.

And like most things, the internet makes you feel like an awful person because of it.

“Church hopping is dangerous and will cause injury to your spirit!” one article says.

But so many of us keep doing it. And here’s my take- isn’t it better to church hop than to give it up completely? Should those of us searching for belonging just give up? Because if we don’t, if we keep looking for a church where we belong, we’ll continuously be judged and labeled as a church hopper.

Grace for the broken. Grace for those with addictions. Grace for the pastor who has an affair. Grace for the pregnant teen. What about grace for the church hopper?

I’d rather jump churches for the rest of my life, hearing God’s word at each one, than to give it up completely. And no matter where I go to church, I do have Christian community and accountability in my friends and co-workers. I simply need somewhere to worship and hear God’s word.

I will say this about the most recent church I left- they are the only church in my 38 years on this earth that noticed I stopped attending. They have reached out to me multiple times to welcome me back, say they missed me, etc. etc. WE NEED MORE OF THAT. Jesus talked about leaving the flock to find one sheep. Shouldn’t churches be doing the same to some degree? To at least say, “We miss you?” All it takes is a card or an email.

The truth is I realize, I don’t need to “belong” to any church. I belong to Jesus, no matter where I go.

If you’ve got a church home that you love, good for you. If you haven’t experienced the discomfort of not belonging somewhere, consider yourself lucky. And please, have a little grace for those of us who are still searching for where we belong.

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
Matthew 18:20

Fat. Plus-sized. Curvy. Pretty?

34635642_2059624684108760_3395763970722758656_n
Photo from Ella Chic Boutique by Reagan25 Photography.

 

“You look great! You should be one of my curvy models!”

Part of me wanted to be offended as I tried on clothes at a boutique. “Curvy” is the new way to say “plus-sized.” “Plus-sized” was once the new way to say “fat.”

So I heard, “You should be one of my fat models!”

Why in the world would I agree to that? Then people would KNOW I’m plus-sized! I don’t want people to know I’m plus-sized! (As if everyone in my life doesn’t have eyes.)

What I should have heard was, “You rock those clothes! So much so that I want you to represent the curvy line of my brand and my business.”

44055638_2315166838554542_4554206883421880320_n
Photo from Ella Chic Boutique by Reagan25 Photography.

Because, well, I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant. After all, I doubt she wants some frumpy, ugly woman to model any of her clothing.

It was a tough pill to swallow at first. Part of me was excited when I showed up for my first photo shoot, and another part of me was horrified, as I had no idea what I was doing.

Then, at one point, I had to pose with the other women modeling clothes. You know, the ones who weren’t “curvy.” I felt a sudden connection to model Ashley Graham, the first plus-sized model in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, and how she posed next to “regular” sized women.

In the modeling industry, anyone over a size six is considered “plus-sized.” I can’t hide it. I am curvy, plus-sized, thick, whatever you want to call it. Some men find that repulsive. Others find it sexy.

I think the key to confidence is accepting yourself as you are. Of course we could all make improvements, but we also each have wonderful and unique qualities that make us different from everyone else. You are one of a kind. I am one of a kind.

9E6C7772-DABB-46F4-B645-20B1BB0B9209_2000x
Photo from Ella Chic Boutique by Reagan25 Photography.

My weight has always been a struggle for me, whether it legitimately needed to be one or not.

In junior high, the most popular boy in school said if you cut off my head and put on my friend’s body, you’d have the perfect girl. I was NOT even remotely overweight in junior high, but my friend was stick-thin. And instead of hearing that the popular guy thought my face was pretty, all I heard was, “Natalie, you are FAT.”

Like most girls, I thought I was fat in high school. As it turns out, I was just really tall compared to most of my cheerleading friends who were tiny, petite things. But next to them I felt like a giant. I was the base and the spotter while they flew through the air during cheerleading stunts.

I also felt fat in college. While yes, I did go up ONE size, I still wasn’t fat.

My greatest struggles came in my late 20’s and 30’s. Being out on my own and having money to buy food, I gained quite a bit. Then I’d lose a lot of weight, then gain it back. Lose weight, gain it back.

I had lost around 30 pounds before I moved to Uganda in 2013. Lost another 20 while I lived there. Moved back to the United States a year later and managed to gain 50 pounds, and that’s not an exaggeration.  It’s been up and down since then.

Weight will always be a concern of mine when it comes to health. My grandmother was overweight and had diabetes. My mom was extremely overweight and unhealthy until she had gastric bypass surgery about 12 years ago. So far, my weight hasn’t had an impact on my health (I realize that’s “so far”), but I’m certainly going to keep an eye on it and keeping trying to find what works for me to lose weight.

IMG-6883
Photo from Ella Chic Boutique by Reagan25 Photography.

I’d love to lose those pounds I gained when I moved back to the US. But guess what? Even if I lost those pounds, I’d STILL be “curvy” or “plus-sized” when it comes to fashion. And that’s OK.

There’s room for all of us in this world. The more photo shoots I do, the more comfortable I am around the other models. It’s actually quite beautiful to see how different God made each of us.

I’m certainly not looking for a future in modeling, but the adventure has been fun and resulted in some amazing free clothes from Ella Chic Boutique. I also love the fun photoshoots with Reagan25 Photography, and learning how difficult it can be to take photos in sweaters, jeans, and boots when it’s 90 degrees outside!

Fat. Plus-sized. Curvy. Pretty? I have never felt like I was actually pretty. And then a year ago a surgeon took a chunk out of my face to remove melanoma. I’m good at faking confidence a lot of the time, it’s something I’m working on to actually believe I’m not all that terrible-looking. And let’s face it- like most women, that great selfie I post is one of a dozen that were not-so-great.

But aside from my weight. Aside from my face. God says I am “wonderfully and fearfully made.” I can say with full certainty that because of Him, I am beautiful on the inside. And that’s really all that matters.

A letter to my dad before we go to Africa

Dear Dad,

In two days we will embark on our greatest adventure yet- traveling overseas to Uganda, where I spent a year of my life just five years ago. I know my passion for Africa has somewhat perplexed you over the years, but it has never stopped you from supporting me. That means the world to me.

IMG-9963 (1)I wonder if you remember that we took our very first mission trip together. You, mom, and I went with our church to Gamerco, New Mexico for a week the summer before my 8th grade year. We did Vacation Bible School for the many beautiful children at the Gamerco Church of God. As you know, that trip impacted me so much so that later in life I went on mission trips to Niger, Nicaragua, Zambia, Thailand, and of course, the year I spent in Uganda.

You have traveled many places: a trip to Alaska, and all around Europe and the Caribbean multiple times. But this trip is very different. It will be unlike anything you have ever experienced.

I know you’ve seen some beautiful things around the world. This will be quite a different beauty. There’s a reason they call Uganda the “Pearl of Africa.” Yes, we’ll arrive in Kampala at night, and you’ll wake up to a bustling city and wonder what I’m talking about. But once we get out of the city, you’ll see what I mean. There is so much natural beauty in Uganda.

When we get to the village where we will be serving, you’re going to want to “fix” things. Remember that you’re in a culture vastly different from your own. Trust the people who serve there every single day. They know best how to serve the people.

fathersday2018Finally, I hope you will be open-minded. The fact that you’re even going on this trip shows your willingness to experience another culture. You know that the world is so much bigger than just Fort Wayne, Indiana, and even the United States.

Thank you for doing this, Dad. God continues to bless our family in wonderful ways. It is so exciting to share His love in Uganda, and you won’t ever forget this adventure. I love you, Dad!

Your daughter,
Natalie

Sometimes, God sends you away from Africa

IMG_4864As I sit here in Indiana looking at photos on Instagram of the smiling children and missionaries who live in the village I’ll visit in Uganda in just a week, my heart hurts.

My heart hurts because I thought that would be me.

When I moved to Uganda in 2013, that was supposed to be it- be my calling. God was calling me to Uganda to be a missionary! I would teach at Heritage International School for a few years, and then God would move me to a village where I’d be a full-time missionary. The issue was, He didn’t.

Some people fear God will send them to Africa. (There’s even a book about it.) But for me, my fear was that He’d send me back home to the United States. And He did.

I don’t regret leaving after only one year. I know, for various reasons, that I couldn’t return for the second year I committed to. Still, I see other women my age serving the Lord in Uganda and other places in Africa and I wonder, “Why couldn’t that have been me?”

Even more so, I see these women living the best life ever (or so it appears) in Uganda, and I wonder why my experience wasn’t the same. Why, for me, wasn’t Uganda some ultra spiritual journey of helping others and following God? Why was my year in Uganda plagued with depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and lots and lots of tears?

1482753_10151871483561573_2088816754_nI look back at my photos from that year in Uganda. You’d never know I was in so much pain. You’d never know the battles I was fighting, both internally and externally. You’d never know that at one point I felt so worthless that I didn’t see a reason to live any longer.

Oddly enough, as much as I don’t regret coming back to the US after one year, I also don’t regret going over in the first place. And this journey I’m about to make back over, I am praying hard that it gives me some closure to the emotional and gripping time I spent there.

I’ve been uneasy for about a month now. My stomach is in knots. My heart is heavy. What if I go there and once again want to live there? What if I realize that I screwed up, and I should have stayed? My anxiety is through the roof.

“I needed to do this to see that it’s NOT what I’m meant to do for a lifetime. Had I not come to Uganda, I’d always wonder, “What if?””

 

I’ve been going back through Facebook private messages from when I was living in Uganda, as I work on my memoir. The statement above is what I must rely on as I make my trip back. “…it’s NOT what I’m meant to do for a lifetime.”

10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_nSometimes, God sends you to Africa. And sometimes, He sends you away from Africa.

He sent me away.

I trust His plan is what’s best. So as I return to the Pearl of Africa for two weeks, I will embrace everything I love about it- the welcoming people, the beautiful hills and trees, the melodious sounds of the many birds, the incredible food, and even that scorching equator sun.

I am thankful that God sent me to Uganda. I’m also grateful He sent me back home. But a part of my heart will always be in Africa, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the coming weeks.

National Teacher Day for an Ex-Teacher

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

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

Then my dreams began to change.

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

I wanted to be part of the solution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a student whose twin brother committed suicide.

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

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

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

I had female students who cut themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10389726_10152082108416573_5815621699821138411_n
Natalie the teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

24131365_10154864673246573_7216643921817659447_n
Natalie the Director of Marketing & Donor Engagement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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