My name is Natalie. I go to therapy.

psychology-531071_1920The stereotypes are endless.

Only messed up, crazy people need therapy.

Therapy will only screw you up more.

Therapy is just an excuse to blame your parents for everything.

The list goes on and on. For me, I am messed up. But I think everyone is, to a degree. Therapy has not screwed me up, it’s actually been very beneficial. And finally, it has not given me an excuse to blame my parents for everything. OK, maybe a few things, but not everything.

If you have never been to therapy, here are some things to consider:

Therapy doesn’t look like you imagine it does.
The word “therapy” often makes us think of a man or woman with a notebook, wearing glasses and frantically taking notes while the patient lies on a couch, stares at the ceiling, and talks for an hour. I’ve seen around five different therapists in my life (from living in different cities), and not once have I laid down on a couch. I’ve even seen a few therapists who don’t even write anything down while we meet.

Rooms for therapy are often very inviting and lit by a lamp and not harsh fluorescent lights. I’ve had multiple therapists who diffuse essential oils. They typically want you to feel relaxed and comfortable, so creating that type of atmosphere is important.

You will do most of the talking.
It’s interesting, to pay someone to sit there and listen, but it works. There’s a misconception that therapists will give you advice. However, therapy isn’t someone telling you what to do when you need direction. Instead, they will guide you in making the decision yourself. They will ask a lot of questions, and you will do most of the talking.

You will leave feeling refreshed.
Even on really bad days where I word vomit on my therapist about certain things and get really emotional, I leave feeling better. There’s something about telling a stranger your struggles that really feels like a release. It’s almost like a cleansing of toxic thoughts. Yes, therapy will bring up some ugly things you might not want to dig up, but you will still likely leave feeling a little bit better than when you went in, if you have the right therapist.

It’s OK to find a new therapist if you don’t click with your current one.
You HAVE to feel comfortable and trust your therapist. If you don’t, it will be a waste of time for both of you. I was seeing a therapist in November and December who did not make me feel comfortable. I left each session thinking, “That was a waste of time.” I finally made the decision to stop seeing her, and ended up finding someone who was a much better fit.

Therapy can be expensive, but it’s worth it.
Some employers have special benefits that include therapy, but it’s often only at one specific place. I tried this once and it was awful, as the therapist was a young kid just out of college who seemed to have no clue what he was doing. I found a therapist who is in my network, not free, but it was worth it. We join gyms, pay more money for organic food, and other things for our health, it’s OK to spend money on your mental health as well.

Therapy isn’t for everyone.
You might hate therapy, and that’s OK. I just hope you’ve given it a fair shot. Try at least two or three therapists before giving up on therapy completely. Then, you might come to the conclusion that therapy just isn’t for you, but I certainly hope you have other avenues to help your overall mental health.

Therapy doesn’t mean you don’t trust God.
I can’t stress this enough. Therapy doesn’t mean you don’t have faith or that you don’t trust God. It’s certainly not a “God replacement.” I’ve been fortunate to find a therapist who isn’t an advertised “Christian counselor,” but she IS a Christian, and she works faith into our sessions. Find what works for you, but don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong to be a Christian and go to therapy. For me, and I bet many others, therapy has only enhanced my relationship God. I allow Him to work through my therapist.

I’m a huge advocate for therapy, especially for people going through a tough time. Going to therapy really helped me make the decision to leave my current job. My therapist knew I was unhappy and facing a lot of stress-related health issues, and she helped me see that I wasn’t going to solve any of the issues at work. It was time to go. While she didn’t come right out and say that, she helped lead me to that conclusion.

If you’re considering going to therapy, please do. And don’t give up if you don’t find a good fit right away. Therapy should bring enlightenment and clarity to your life. There might be tough days and tough decisions to make, but in the end, you’ll feel so much better.

I’ll conclude with the verse I received at my very first therapy session, when I was a recent college graduate living in LaGrange, Georgia. It’s helped me in time of stress and anxiety:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy
think about such things.”
Philippians 4:8

Strength and hope: not found in Michael

2496cd262b1d857060d03844ebc7d599--cassette-singers“I wanna start a party up in heaven,” I sang along with my cassette tape. The cliche 90’s beats and synthesizer sound filled my headphones. And I loved it.

I was in fifth grade, and my parents had just returned home from a long weekend at Praise Gathering with more than 10,000 other people in Indianapolis. It was a weekend full of concerts from Christian music’s greatest artists and was hosted by Bill and Gloria Gaither, two of Christian music’s elite.

My mom always returned with gifts, and this particular year, one of them was an autographed Michael English cassette tape. I was an instant fan.

Michael, whose song “In Christ Alone,” (not to be confused with the modern praise song by the same title), was an anthem for Christians across the globe, became my favorite Christian singer. I loved the lyrics from “In Christ Alone” that were, “My source of strength, my source of hope, is Christ alone.”

But it became clear, not just in 1994, but many times after, that often my source of strength and hope wasn’t in Christ alone. It was in people like Michael English.

Just two weeks after winning the biggest awards in Christian music at the Dove Awards, Michael English announced that he was leaving Christian music. He was a married man who not only had an affair with another Christian music artist, but he also got her pregnant.

My world exploded. How was that possible? How in the world could my favorite Christian artist do something like that? He had an obligation to all of his fans to be pure and godly! I almost felt personally victimized. I felt like his songs no longer held meaning. They were a waste.

A few weeks ago, I saw a Christian man and recovering addict post a photo of him and his girlfriend with a caption that read, in part, “I am so grateful for the hope you have given me!”

My stomach dropped. When I hear statements like that, I’m always brought back to Michael English. To Amy Grant. To Jim Baker. To more recently, Bill Hybels. I’m reminded of some people I personally looked up to in churches I’ve attended.

Our source of strength and hope CANNOT be in any human, because humans sin. Humans fail. Humans make mistakes. If you find all of your strength and hope in a person, you WILL be disappointed. They will let you down.

It’s ironic that the words in Michael English’s song so perfectly sum up how we’re supposed to live: “My source of strength, my source of hope, is Christ alone.”

Don’t put your hope in people. You can love people, they may even give you hope, but they cannot be your SOURCE of hope. That can only come from Christ.

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”
Luke 4:8 (NIV)

God isn’t your Grandma

grandmatroutWhen you’re a child, and mom and dad say, “No,” who is likely to say, “Yes”? Grandma.

Mom doesn’t let you have ice cream for breakfast. But grandma probably would. Dad won’t let you jump on the sofa, but grandma might.

So, you start to learn that it’s easiest to just ask grandma first. Do whatever it takes- bat your eyes, maybe even shed a few tears, and beg if you have to. Grandma will give in. That’s why grandmas are awesome!

And while God is awesome, too, He’s not your grandma.

God isn’t there to say, “Yes!” to everything you ask Him for.

There’s this belief with many Christians that if you just pray “hard” enough, God will answer your prayers in the way that you like. If you BELIEVE enough, if you just have enough FAITH, God won’t let anything painful happen to you or those you love.

I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. And it’s not Biblical.

The notion that God will grant you your every wish if you have enough faith is preposterous.

In case you forgot, there’s a story in the Bible of a man who prayed to God about a tough situation. His name was Jesus.

Jesus prayed, to God, three times, that if it was God’s will, He not be crucified. (Matthew 26:36-44)

Again, with emphasis.

JESUS prayed to GOD, THREE TIMES, that if it’s God’s will, He not be crucified.

JESUS. Son of God. The only perfect being to walk this earth, PRAYED for God to take away the task of Him taking on the sin of the world on a cross in an agonizing death.

And God said, “No.”

God. Told. JESUS. No.

And yet there are people who believe that if they just pray hard enough, they will get what they want from God.

It didn’t work for Jesus. Why would it work for you?

Why do people even believe that it would work in the first place?

It’s because we don’t understand what prayer really is. It’s not about begging God for things. It’s not about getting our way. It’s about telling God that we trust Him, and that we want to be in the center of His will, because we know that His will is what’s best.

“Prayer does not change God; it changes me.” 
– C.S. Lewis

True faith isn’t just believing that God can cure your friend of cancer. True faith is believing God is still good after she dies.

Jesus told us how to pray. His example was all about trusting God’s will, forgiving people, and asking God for strength to resist temptation.

God isn’t your grandma. You can’t talk Him into or out of anything. You can’t bat your eyes, shed a few tears, and hope that just maybe He’ll change His mind about something. God’s will is God’s will. Sometimes it’s not what we want, but THAT is where faith steps in. We still believe He is good.

This Easter, I encourage you to remember that the only perfect and flawless person to walk this earth asked God to take the pain away, and God said, “No.” Was there ever anyone who had more faith than Jesus? Jesus’ true faith was ultimately revealed when He accepted God’s will and died on the cross for our sins.

It’s not wrong to let the desires of your heart be made known to the Lord, but remember that no amount of “believing” is going to change His mind and make your will, His.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Why aren’t you excited?

I’m happy. I’m content.IMG_20121126_190915

But sometimes… that’s not enough.

Despite an overall sense of contentment, I’ve also felt quite defeated lately. Work. Health. Finances. They aren’t exactly making me feel like I can take on the world.

I got to thinking, “When DID I feel like I could take on the world? When was the last time I was not only happy, but excited about my life and the direction it was headed in?”

The answer was clear: before I went to Uganda.

From when I accepted the position at Heritage International School in Kampala, Uganda in April 2013, to the day I left for Uganda in July 2013, were the greatest months of my life because I was so… excited! I knew that I was smack in the middle of God’s will for my life. I knew I was about to have an amazing adventure. I had so much to look forward to!

So the question is, as I sit here feeling a bit defeated and discouraged, why can’t I be excited about what’s next? Why can’t I be just as excited as I was before I went to Uganda?

The answer is simple: because I don’t KNOW what’s next.

But God does. He knows what’s next. And He knows that it’s exactly what I need. Isn’t that enough to be excited about?

Starting right now, I’m going to start living my life like I’m excited again. I’m excited to see what God has planned. Multiple people have told me that God is going to use my experience in writing and serving internationally in some great way. Instead of sitting here annoyed that it hasn’t happened yet, I’m going to be excited! Elated! Ecstatic!

I encourage you to do the same. You may think you have nothing to be excited about, nothing to look forward to. I understand that. It’s often difficult to convince ourselves that God is going to do something spectacular in our lives. But you have to have faith.

You might find yourself so excited that you’re smiling when you least expect it. And if someone asks why you’re smiling, just tell them the truth: “God’s about to do something great in my life!”

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” Romans 8:28

Cookie-cutter Christians: Why some of us MUST be different

“I’m not like them.”

It’s a common thought I have around big groups of Christian people with a certain personality.

They raise their hands high and say, “Thank you Jesus!” throughout prayer and worship. I partially lift my hands, close my eyes, and silently shed a few tears as I feel the Holy Spirit.

It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!
It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!

They quote scripture and often pull it into their prayers when praying in front of everyone. I talk to God like He’s my friend, and I suppose I don’t quote scripture to Him because He already knows it.

After my thoughts of, “I’m not like them,” come the thoughts of, “So I must not be as good of a Christian.”

It’s a struggle I’ve had since college. And it’s a false struggle. It’s one that Satan loves to tell me over and over again: “You’re not like them, so you aren’t worthy.”

It hit me recently how incredibly terrible those thoughts are. I know better. I know that God loves me just as much as He loves them, and I know that I don’t have to be like them to be a good person.

But then a seriously disturbing thought hit me like a hurricane: what if some of my students feel the same way? What if I have students who look at some of the “super spiritual” students and staff at school and think, “I’m not like that. I’ll never be like that. So why bother?”

Some conversations with my students this year revealed that some of them have felt that way before.

I knew I needed to say something. God told me I needed to say something. Yes, even though I’m not walking around quoting scripture and raising my hands in worship, I do talk to God. A lot. He gets me. And He knew it had to be said. So on Friday I said it.

The main class I needed to say these things to were my seniors. They’re an interesting bunch. Yes, I teach at a Christian school here in Uganda, but not all of our students are Christian. Many are simply “Christian” only because they’ve been forced to be. There are two boys who don’t even believe in God and have serious issues with Christianity and Christians in general, there is a Hindu girl, some who have a strong faith in God but are not charismatic like a lot of their peers at school, and a few who are.

When I finished sharing, they clapped. That’s a huge thing for this group of ten 12th graders. Their enthusiasm is typically non-existent. But then one of my seniors, who detests most Christians, said, “I just got more from what you said than anything I’ve heard in chapel all year.”

Part of me didn’t want to post that. I don’t want to hurt our chaplain or anyone else who has spoken in chapel. They’ve put their heart and soul into presenting for these kids. However, the fact that he said that completely drives home the point I made to my students: the point they so eagerly accepted and understood.

My overall point was this: Christians are not all the same. We’re not supposed to be.

It’s tough. If the Christians you’re surrounded by all act the same way and that’s just not your personality, it can be discouraging. And from the discussions we had yesterday in class, I discovered that it can be especially discouraging for teens. They think, “I’ll never be like that. That’s just not me to do that or say that.”

And so the next types of thoughts are, “Maybe I’m not a Christian.” Their overly hyped-up Christian classmates also inadvertently make them feel inadequate. They attribute the problem to their “level” of Christianity, when in reality it’s more of a personality difference.

I’m not saying anyone needs to “tone it down” or anything- not students or staff. But the kids who aren’t like that need to know that it’s OK. You can still have an awesome relationship with Christ without being so eccentric.

I also shared with the students the number one way that I’ve shared Christ with people: love. Simply put, love. Love people. Forgive people. Show grace towards people. Have mercy and compassion for people. Love. Love. Love.

I’ve never had someone say to me, “Natalie, thank you for telling me that I need Jesus. It’s made me want to be a Christian.” But I have had people say, “Thank you for loving me and for loving others as unconditionally as possible. I know this is because you’re a Christian, and that helped lead me to Christ.”

 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

We’re different. God wanted us to be different. While Christian organizations tend to be flooded with similar personality types, sometimes you need a misfit like myself who can reach out to the people who are different.

Do your thing. Be the person God created you to be. Be a Christian and be YOU. Don’t change your personality to match those of people who appear to be “better.” God loves us all the same!

“I’m not like them” is a legit statement to make about how I feel when I compare myself to most of my co-workers. Thank God for that. If I was exactly like them, I wouldn’t have reached some of the students God used me to reach yesterday. The same goes for them- God has used those people to reach many students this year as well! God uses ALL of us.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. Part of it says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”

I choose to reach people through love and compassion. What works for you? What do you do that brings people to Christ? As long as it does the job, well done! Use your God-given gifts to be a light for Him. And remember, just because you’re not exactly like the Christians around you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t as spiritual or important in the body of Christ. Do your thing. All that matters is what God thinks of you. And He thinks you’re awesome enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

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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