A year in Uganda + a year in America = a whole new Natalie

10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_nI wanted to come home. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted Starbucks. I wanted to experience my favorite season, fall. I wanted to hang out with my friends. I wanted the luxuries that come with living in a first-world country.

I also wanted to stay. I wanted to teach at Heritage. I wanted to go to the jigger clinic and the baby home. I wanted to return to Mombasa, Kenya and take in all its beauty again. I wanted to drink Stoney for another year. I wanted to be with my students for another year. I wanted to hug Florence and Gideon again.

But my health got in the way. And then God did. And despite the things I wanted in Uganda, I knew it was time to come home.

The goodbyes were heartbreaking. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much as I did on the ride from Kampala to the Entebbe airport. My heart was broken. I wasn’t even gone yet, and my soul ached for the people who had become my world.

It’s nearly impossible to spend time abroad for a year, return, and then not reflect on what you’ve done since you returned. Today marks one year since I returned to the US, and I find myself reflecting on everything that’s happened- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

10614337_10152228624626573_5915920655416583542_nI promised myself a year ago that my life would be different than it was before I left for Africa. I certainly kept that promise to myself, and I changed in ways I never imagined I could. Many times I’ve told people that God tore me apart in Uganda because He needed to put me back together, to fix me. Much of the “fixing” part has taken place since my return home, and I’m still a work in progress.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Uganda. Not one day. Whether it’s the country itself, my friends there, my students, or Florence and Gideon, something always crosses my mind about my time in Kampala. I couldn’t forget if I tried. Because of this, it’s difficult not to wonder, “What if…” What if I had stayed? What if I want to go back? What if I never get to return to Uganda even for a visit?

But the “What if’s” have to be suppressed. I don’t know what would have happened if I stayed. Maybe I’d still be spitting up blood and eventually end up really sick. I don’t know what would happen if I went back. It wouldn’t be the same, but at least it would fix the hunger in my heart for Africa. I don’t know what would happen if I never get to go back and at least visit. The thought makes me sick to my stomach.

11401077_10152812057366573_1683850763778689837_nOverall, when I returned from Uganda, I wanted my life to be one with value. I wanted to do things that matter, I wanted to grow closer to the Lord, and I wanted to find a career that made me happy. Done. Done. And done.

Although I miss Uganda like crazy, I can’t help but look back on the past 365 days of my life and smile. In one year I’ve made all sorts of amazing memories with friends and family. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I feel as close to the Lord as I ever have been. Within the last month I started a job that is absolutely perfect for me, and I wouldn’t want to leave it for anything.

God is good, whether I’m living in Uganda or Indiana. And God has always been good. I might be a whole new Natalie, but God has always been the same.

A change of plans…

I’ve been quiet, haven’t I? I haven’t blogged since Valentine’s Day.

That’s not true.

I live in a land of infinite beauty here in Africa...
I live in a land of infinite beauty here in Africa…

I did blog, but was asked to take it down after a reminder that I do not live in a country that embraces freedom of speech.

And then, life just got in the way. Boy did life get in the way. So much has happened in the past month that I can’t even begin to describe it. Horrible things. Wonderful things. So many things happened.

I’ve said all along that God uses us wherever we are. I’ve also said that whatever I decide about my future, it is ultimately between me and God. And in February I made the big decision – I would stay in Africa for a second year. I didn’t feel God calling me to one specific place, and I believed He was leaving the choice up to me.

“The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

While I still feel that I can’t go wrong with my choice, things have changed. I started to feel uneasy. Some things started to unravel. My heart wasn’t at peace. My health started getting worse. Some things were revealed to me that I never imagined would be revealed.

I finally broke down one night while saying my prayers before bed.

God, I can’t make this decision. I need you like I’ve never needed you before. I need you to make it clear. I need to it to be crystal clear, spelled-out-in-the-sky clear. God, I am begging you. I need guidance and wisdom, and I need to know for sure what I am supposed to do.

I also live in a land of infinite chaos...
I also live in a land of infinite chaos…

The next day, God did just that. He revealed everything to me. He showed me things I hadn’t seen before, and He made it clear, just like I had asked Him to.

“Answer my prayers, O Lord, for your unfailing love is wonderful.” Psalm 69:16

It’s time to go home.

I know some people believe I’ve been “under attack” from Satan, but as long as I walk this earth, he will always be there looking to stop me from doing God’s work. That will happen in America as well as Africa. I’ve had enough conversations with God to know the difference, and I know that He is closing the door on my time in Uganda.

Yes, my heart is broken. I wanted to come here and fall in love with life in Africa. I wanted to find my lifelong calling and serve God here for years and years. But what we want doesn’t always line up with the plans God has for us. His plans, though, are always best.

I had to take a leap of faith before coming to Africa, but to be honest, I feel like it’s an even bigger leap of faith to go home. I will be unemployed, living at home, and trying to fit back into a society that was once normal to me but now seems so incredibly strange. I’ll have hundreds of stories to tell, but will anyone want to hear them? I’ll have so many memories, but will anyone even understand them?

I am faithful that God will work it all out. He has given me peace with my decision.

“Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you.” Job 22:21

I am overjoyed at the support I’ve received this year from friends and family, and even a few strangers. Whether it’s been financially or through prayer, so many people have given their love and support. But I need one last thing from you all: accountability.

Don’t let me come home and be the same person I was before I left.

I am at peace with my decision. USA bound in 71 days!
I am at peace with my decision. USA bound in 71 days!

Don’t let me forget Africa.

Don’t let me stop serving the Lord because I’m comfortable in my home country.

I will volunteer. I will fundraise for worthy causes. I will support missions. I need you to help remind me to do so.

I have 71 days left in Uganda. There will be no second year. God has big plans for me in America. I can’t wait to see what’s in store…

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised.” Hebrews 10:36

America or Africa? The big decision…

“I’ve been praying, but I am not seeing any results. I don’t feel any guidance or that I’m receiving any direction.”IMG_3406

A good friend of mine who isn’t very religious or spiritual decided that maybe it was time to try prayer, but she felt like it wasn’t getting her anywhere.

My responses were all the things good Christians should say:

“God is listening! It’s apparently just not the right time to give you any answers or direction.”

“Don’t give up!”

“Keep praying!”

But now, even as a lifelong Christian who loves God with all her heart, I find myself asking, “God, are you listening? What should I do?”

And I’m not getting any response.

IMG_4872About a year ago I committed to two years as a high school English teacher at an international school in Uganda. I moved here in August, and about five months in, I decided that I missed home too much and that maybe this just wasn’t for me. International schools have a lot of work to do when it comes to finding teachers, so we had to give the school our intentions on January 9.

I didn’t tell many people back in America, but I gave the school my intentions on January 9: I wouldn’t be returning for a second year.

Then God stirred my heart. Or did He? All of a sudden, I regretted my decision to leave and felt like I not only COULD handle another year, but that I WANTED to do another year here.

And then I realized that maybe I couldn’t. So I did what everyone said to do, which is what I knew I needed to do: pray. I prayed. I continue to pray. I feel nothing. I hear nothing. I have no answers. I have no direction.

I understood why my friend was so frustrated with God as well. All my “good Christian answers” I tried to throw back at myself weren’t doing much for me. I wanted to hear something, anything, from God.

I pray.

Silence.

More prayer.

More silence.

It’s like I tap the microphone and say, “Is this thing on?” and God is in the sound booth just looking at me.

Then a horrifying thought hit me. What if this one’s on me? What if God’s leaving it up to me? One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past ten months is that God wants us to serve Him and spread His love no matter where we are located.

So maybe since God knows I’ll do that no matter where I am, He’s leaving it up to me. Where do I WANT to serve Him? Africa? Or America? There’s no right or wrong choice here.

I hate making decisions. I overthink every decision I’ve ever had to make in my entire life, except one. The one decision that was easy, the one decision in which I recall God literally speaking to my heart, was when I came to Uganda in the first place. This time around, He’s putting it in my hands.

The list of reasons to leave and go home is long. I’ve had terrible sinus and allergy problems that cause me to spit up blood some mornings. I am 33 and single, and staying another year would yet again prolong my chances of meeting someone and getting married. I miss my family so much that hurts. I long for the company of my best friends like a lost kitten missing its mother. Financially it makes no sense to stay another year. There’s always the chance of political unrest in a country like Uganda. The list goes on and on.

The list of reasons to stay another year is short. But the items on that list are important: I should honor my 1800357_10203260749505265_2087202430_n (2)commitment of staying for two years. I love my job, and my students are the most amazing kids on the planet. I’ve also made some new friends here who I really don’t want to say goodbye to. I learn so much from them, and we spiritually uplift one another.

Many of us are facing the same decision- to go, or to stay? I really think that if I were to stay, next year would be a lot easier. The transition period would be over, I’d know the ins and outs of living in Uganda, and I could focus even more on my students and other volunteer opportunities. If I were to go home, sure I’d be happy to be around my friends and family, but as one of my best friends asked me yesterday, “But would you end up regretting it? Would you end up wishing you had stayed that second year?”

And I think I would.

God trusts me enough to allow me to make the decision. America, or Africa?

And I choose Africa.

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CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT MY SECOND YEAR IN UGANDA!

The first goodbye…

“After this year, we go back home.”

“Looks like we won’t be back next year.”

“I put in my notice. I’m going back to America in a few weeks.”

1240220_585275881853_518517809_nI wasn’t prepared for this part of working at an international school- the part where teachers and students come and go like there’s a revolving door at the front of campus.

Yesterday I said my first goodbye to a new friend here in Uganda. Katrina knows God led her here, but through her experiences and a lot of time spent in prayer, she also learned that God only wanted her here for a short time. Two months to be exact.

Katrina and I are a lot alike. We bonded almost instantly over common tastes in music, movies and television shows. I was happy to find a fellow American who reminded me so much of my best friends in the States. But for various reasons, Katrina’s time here in Uganda was cut short. She left yesterday, and is now back in America.

It hurt to see Katrina go, but I realize now that this is a common thing I’ll have to get used to here. This was only the first goodbye.1377040_587489186373_734753264_n

I know of a handful of students who will not be back next year. Either their parents are missionaries moving them to another country, or they’re children of fellow teachers who are done working at our school. So not only will many of my students be gone next year, but some of my co-workers I have already grown to love.

Goodbyes are never fun, but they are certainly going to be a major part of my life throughout the next few years I spend in Uganda. I pray that God will use each and every person I meet to enrich my life, and I hope I can do the same for them.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I have no doubt that God will use Katrina to do great things back in the US!  I’ll miss you, girl. We are all praying for you and the start of your life back home again!