“Everyone is replaceable.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hey, “Everyone is replaceable.”

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

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

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

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

 

The Notebook (no, not THAT one)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jesus + Nothing = Everything”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mercy is undeserved forgiveness and unearned kindness.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas of a different kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Found my backbone. Can I give it back now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.