The missing person I hope is gone for good

It might be time to put out a missing person’s report… for myself. The girl who got on a plane a little more than a year ago and moved to Uganda is no longer the same. I’m not sure where she went, nor was there anything wrong with her, but I’m glad she’s gone.10427690_10152090158296573_1541129307916478648_n

At first I wasn’t sure how I had changed. But as I was home back in America longer, it was pretty obvious. Finances changed,  friendships changed, priorities changed, and my overall sense of peace and contentment with life changed.

Financially

The great thing about living in a third-world country for a year was that I returned to America and decided there were a lot of luxuries I could do without. Starbucks, the mall, pedicures, makeup, television and even flat-ironing my hair were a part of my past.

If you know me, you know this isn’t even remotely true. I’m still the first to jump at a trip to Starbucks, and I do my hair and makeup pretty much every day. I love shopping, Target, Macy’s, and fancy perfumes. The difference is, now I appreciate them so much more. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t look around me and think, “Thank you God! I have so much!”

Sure, I have changed my spending habits. I no longer have to have a Coach purse (I sold them ALL before moving to Uganda- there were lots), and I’m satisfied buying my jewelry at places like Target instead of from Premier Designs. But I’m not going to start doing all my shopping at Goodwill and going Starbucks-free because of my experience in Africa. That’s just not the type of impact it had on me.

Friendships

There were a few friendships I was really excited to come home to. I had warned some of my friends that I had changed, but apparently some of them weren’t ready for those changes. While it breaks my heart to see some of my friends make poor choices, like cut out someone like me who is a positive person to have around, it’s not my job to try and “save” anyone from making mistakes.

I’ve returned from Africa realizing I’m worth more than being anyone’s doormat. I’m not the girl who sits back and lets people walk all over her. Loyalty always has been and still is one of the very top things I value in friendship. When that loyalty was broken in the past, I would feel very hurt but probably let it slide. Not anymore. Life is too short to let some things “slide.” If that changes the degree of some of my friendships, so be it. I’ll never stop loving certain friends, I’ll never stop calling them “friend.” We simply have less in common now and aren’t as close. I’m pretty sure that’s just a part of life.

fortwaynerescuemissionPriorities

Volunteering was something I did on occasion before I moved to Uganda. I always wanted to make it a priority, but for some reason I never went through with it. Since coming home, I have felt an incredible tug at my heart to volunteer on a regular basis. I feel like I’m just not me if I’m not doing something to help those who need it. So, on Wednesday and Friday mornings I head to the Rescue Mission at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast to the homeless. Yes, it’s early. It’s hot and stuffy in there, and I leave smelling like sausage, but the smiling faces of the homeless keep me going back.

I’ve also added working out and reading/learning to my priority list. There’s so much to learn about the world and God, and I believe we should take the time to do so.

My Disposition

I’m different. Maybe it isn’t noticed right away, but I’m different. Things don’t bother me like they once did. I’m not chasing after things or people I know God doesn’t want me pursuing. I am… content. With what I have.

This changes everything.

It changes the way I treat people. It changes the way I see myself. It changes the way I see my future. It changes the way I handle hurt. It changes the way I generally feel on a daily basis. I am content. There is nothing else I “need” to be happy.

These changes didn’t happen overnight. I was nothing like this while I was in Uganda. Uganda was almost like a detox for my soul, and I didn’t reap the benefits of it until I came back to the United States. It reminds me of this verse from Galations:

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
Galations 6:9

I might seem like the same Natalie I was before I lived in a third-world country. The outside of me hasn’t changed. But know that on the inside, I’m completely brand new. God used Uganda to do so many crazy and unexpected things in my life and in my heart. I will thank Him every single day for the hurt, fear, struggle and heartache, knowing that it’s what got me to where I am today.

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!

What you might be shocked to know about my trip to Zambia…

Two weeks from now I’ll be flying over Africa somewhere, headed to Zambia where we will serve God at Lifesong for Orphans. What’s really awesome about this trip is that Janeth, one of my best friends, will be going on the trip as well! But there’s something you don’t know about our friendship.

Let me tell you about Janeth. Janeth is amazing. Although just a young grasshopper, she doesn’t mind being friends 488122_3188445239546_496056400_nwith an old woman like me (she’s 24 and I’m 32). Never once has age stood in the way of our friendship. She always makes me laugh, and since we became friends almost a year and a half ago, she’s been there for me whenever I’ve needed her.

Even though Janeth is in Texas and I’m in Indiana, she’s managed to be my rock this past year, especially when I had my heart broken. Her advice and prayers got me through some pretty rough times.

What I love about her the most is that she’s such a Godly woman. She is so spiritually mature for her age, and I have learned so much from her beautiful heart for God and her passion for humanity and the earth in general. She is, quite simply, one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.

Janeth is also the reason I even know about the trip to Zambia! The day she suggested I go was one of the coolest things ever. I’m so excited to serve God on this trip and to do it with one of my best friends.

Here’s what you don’t know…

Janeth and I have never met.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

No, we didn’t meet on FriendFinder.com (is there such a thing?), or some sort of Christian website. We met right here, on WordPress.

A few years ago I had a blog that none of my family or friends knew about. It was very personal, and for some reason, lots of people found it interesting. Janeth was one of those people. She followed my blog, I followed hers, and one day in February 2012 I posted a comment on one of her posts. She sent me an email with the subject: “Hi from Texas :-)”

We were both going through some heartache at the time, and her words in that email were so comforting and helpful. She was very open about her relationship with God, and what she was going through. Little did I know that a little more than a year later I would be going to Africa with her.

532521_3195916786330_513696476_nWhat’s weird to think about is that GOD knew. He orchestrated this entire friendship. I have never been so sure of anything in my entire life. God has used Janeth in a major way to help me grow as a Christian. I believe He’s used me in the same way for her.

Janeth and I will meet for the first time in London when I meet the rest of the group going to Zambia. We’ve text and Skyped before, so we’re definitely not complete strangers. Like I said, she’s one of my best friends! We talk pretty much every day!

I know plenty of people will find this all rather bizarre, and that’s OK. I think it’s all pretty awesome that God would use someone so far away to help transform my life. Just one of the many amazing things He’s done for me!

This verse definitely sums up my friendship with Janeth:

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Thank you, Janeth! Can’t wait to serve God together in Zambia!

The curse of seeing someone’s potential…

1237608_trophy“Potential has a shelf life.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

It’s typically thought of as a positive thing, to see the good in everyone. I am one of those people who instantly recognizes someone’s potential. In all honesty, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

If potential were a trophy, I see almost everyone I know carrying it. The problem is, not everyone is lifting that trophy up, some aren’t even looking at it, while others are kicking it around on the ground with no plans to ever pick it up.

Seeing the potential in people can be heartbreaking when they don’t reach that potential. It’s a dangerous road to travel when you see potential in the wrong people and when you let it consume you. I’ve experienced this heartbreak as a teacher and as someone who has been in relationships with guys who have so much “potential.” Right now I’m struggling with the latter.

Seeing potential in the opposite sex

Seeing someone’s potential as a future husband or wife can be very dangerous. Seeing what someone “could” be is so intensely different from what they actually are. When it comes to dating, I have learned that you must see someone for what they are at that present time.

I’m not saying you might not meet someone who just needs a little encouragement or support. I’m talking about the jerks, the players, the non-committers, or some other type of guy or girl who has qualities that make them a poor choice for a life partner. You can’t consider their potential. You must consider the present, and if it isn’t good, move on.

Potential… according to who?

There are two specific guys from my past that I have always believed have all the potential in the world, but they refuse to grow up. I see they have the potential to be two of the greatest guys in all of Fort Wayne, quite possibly all of Indiana or even the entire country, but both of them refuse to live up to this potential I see in them. They are nowhere near reaching their full potential as professional, beautiful, outstanding men on this planet!

They might not ever reach their full potential. But “potential” according to who?

According to me.

 If their potential is just my opinion, the only one they’re really disappointing is me. Why am I so concerned about them reaching what I think their potential is, especially when it’s only disappointing me? Probably because I love them both way too much. It’s not a situation of being “in” love or wanting to be with either of them, I just plain love these two guys with all my heart. When you love someone, you want them to succeed and be the best version of them they can possibly be.

Letting go of potential

If you’re like me and you see the great potential for someone who isn’t interested in reaching it, maybe it’s time to let it go. Pray for that person, but stop letting it tear you up inside that they aren’t what YOU think they should be. If someone doesn’t want to be a better person, that’s their choice. You can’t force them.

It’s a beautiful thing to be able to see people’s true potential, but I guess I need to just see that potential and then let it go. Otherwise, I’ll continue to fall for guys and their awesome potential, not who they really are.

What about your own potential?IMG_20130504_232645

I think people like me get so caught up in other people’s potential that we forget about our own. I’m sure if I asked God if I was living up to my potential, He would say I’m not. I imagine He would say no one is. Who knows, maybe there’s a guy out there who wishes I would live up to my potential.

If seeing someone’s potential is tearing you up inside, let it go. Spend more time worrying about your own potential. There’s a good chance you’re not reaching yours either.

“Some of your friends are… terrible!”

I’ve heard that phrase quite a few times from my out-of-town friends since I’ve moved to Fort Wayne.

“Isn’t she supposed to be a good friend of yours?”

“None of my best friends would ever do that to me.”

“What’s with these people you know in Fort Wayne? Some of your friends are… terrible!”

Becca, me and Heather - these two girls are two of my true best friends. They know the meaning of the word "friendship."
Becca, me and Heather – these two girls are two of my true best friends. They know the meaning of the word “friendship.”

Of course at first you don’t want to see it. It’s hard to believe that you have “friends” who are actually the people in your life pulling you down, holding you back, and stabbing you in the back while they’re at it.

I think about some of my female “friends” here in Fort Wayne, and I kind of see what my out-of-town friends mean.

More than a year ago I was the best of friends with someone here in town. She was very manipulative and took advantage of me and my kindness on many occasions. She didn’t know the meaning of the word “loyal” by any means. This girl was a liar to me and to the people around me, and she destroyed relationships I had with other people because of her lies. She also tried to hook up my ex (who I was still in love with at the time) with his ex-girlfriend (who she barely knew). Wow. Some best friend. When I told an out-of-town friend this, she was shocked. Not one of my best friends from IU would ever, EVER do something like that. I believe my friend’s words were, “Why do so many of your friends suck?!”

Well, I ended that friendship more than a year ago, but it appears I’ve still got some snakes in my life. This weekend I was telling a friend of mine in Texas about a conversation I had with a “friend” this weekend. She was like, “Are you serious? Isn’t she supposed to be your friend? Why on earth would she say those things to you?” And she was right. Those things shouldn’t have been said to me, and they wouldn’t have been said to me by anyone who was a real friend.

It’s very sad to me that so many of my out-of-town friends have pointed out that some of my female friends here in Fort Wayne are pretty terrible friends. (There are other times it’s come up with other people, more than the two I mentioned here.) I know there will always be selfish people with ulterior motives in the world, but how did I become “friends” with so many of them? And forget trying to explain to a guy that another woman is a bad friend. That’s just a waste of everyone’s time – especially if the girl is “hot”.

Sure I’ve been burned in relationships with guys before, who hasn’t? But in the past couple of years I’ve really, REALLY been burned in female friendships, and it has me putting my guard up with any woman I meet who could be a potential “good friend.” But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe guarding myself a little more when it comes to friendships is exactly what I need to do.

Why every man should watch a season of The Bachelor…

Every guy on the planet should be forced to watch at least one season of The Bachelor, but not for the reason you probably think I’m going to mention.

I don’t think this because guys could learn some tips about romance (although they could), but instead they can learn some things about women. There’s one huge thing in particular.

Took Ben awhile to learn that Courtney was the devil in the flesh.(Source: www.usmagazine.com)
Took Ben awhile to learn that Courtney was the devil in the flesh.
(Source: http://www.usmagazine.com)

Every single season of The Bachelor there is some sort of villain, some evil b*tch who all the girls hate and the guy totally falls for. This girl always thinks everyone is just jealous of her. And the guy believes it. How could this charming woman be so evil?! Clearly ALL the other women are wrong about her.

Eventually, even if it’s after the entire season is over, the guy finds out the truth- all the women were right- she really is an evil b*tch.

This is one place where reality television really is REAL, because I see this in real life all the time. Open your eyes guys, if there is a female you know that almost every other female you know can’t stand, hates, or strongly dislikes, THERE IS SOMETHING TO IT. The other girls are not jealous, they are not being catty… there is something to it.

“Oh she’s sweet,” they will say. “She means well,” guys will think. “She is just misunderstood. She doesn’t get along well with girls because they don’t understand her.” Um, no, she doesn’t get along well with females because she’s a complete jerk to other women. She would never, EVER reveal her true colors to any of the men in her life.

Learn a lesson here, guys. Open your eyes. Don’t fall for the line, “They are just jealous of me.” Take into consideration that if a lot of people don’t care for her, she’s clearly done some awful things to make people feel that way. No you don’t have to dismiss her from your life, but be careful. Whether it’s a friendship or a relationship with someone, if the majority of the other females in your life see something bad that you don’t, hear them out. They are probably right, and you are being fooled.

Lessons everywhere in 2012…

I’m glad that Tuesday is a new year. Not that 2012 wasn’t good, I’m just positive that 2013 will be better. Once you truly believe that God has an awesome plan for your life, you actually look at the future with hope.

I learned a lot in 2012. Some lessons were new, others I was just reminded of. Here are the top things I learned in 2012:

A liar to others is a liar to you. I should have seen the light earlier. When you have a fairly new friend and you realize she doesn’t keep friends long, that should be a red flag. But you know me, I stayed friends with her, let her manipulate me throughout the entire friendship, and I believed all her lies. It was silly to believe her when I knew she was lying to pretty much everyone else in her life about the most random things. Never have I felt so betrayed by a friend in so many different ways. I don’t know what she’s like now in her friendships, but I know that for me, I’ve become a much better person since I cut off the friendship and her lies last February.

Some of my TRUE friends, who I love with all my heart!
Some of my TRUE friends, who I love with all my heart!

Guys will never ever understand some things. I’ve learned that with a person like I mentioned above, guys will never see it. A girl can sit there and lose a female friend after female friend on a consistent basis, but guys will never see the girl’s true colors. That’s because she won’t reveal her true colors to them. I learned this years ago because I’ve seen it my entire life. Just a lesson from the past that I had to learn again in 2012.

Life is short, don’t save things. I’m not talking money for retirement here. I’m talking about gifts, perfume, vacations, etc. etc. I have gift cards from last Christmas that I still haven’t used. I have a spa gift certificate (that never expires) from COLLEGE. I let my favorite perfume sit on the shelf unless it’s a special occasion. That’s crazy! Life is too short to save so much for a “better time.” No time is better than now. I’ve learned that I need to enjoy life and the gifts I get when I get them. No need to wait.

I’m tired of going “out”. I’ve been tired of this for quite a while actually. I really didn’t go out much in 2012, but it was enough to annoy me. This is a blog post in itself. It’s hard when you’re single and want things to do and want to meet people and there are so few options of ways to do that.  I’m not saying I’ll never go out again. I might step out for a birthday or something, and I’d really like to do some entertainment writing, but for strictly social reasons, I’m done. I don’t need that “escape” or that atmosphere to feel better about myself.

That's me, happy as a clam just out to eat with my parents!
That’s me, happy as a clam just out to eat with my parents!

I can move on from someone I thought I’d always be in love with. This is an amazing lesson to learn, because at the time of the breakup, it seems so impossible. I thought I would never, ever get over my ex from a few years ago, but I did. Not only that, but I’ve realized his purpose in my life, I’ve realized how our failed relationship taught me so much. And he’s become one of my very best friends. I learned that I can move on, because in early 2012, I did move on. So while I’m sitting here now trying to mend my broken heart from someone else, I can confidently say that I’ll be OK. I will move on. It gets easier every day.

You can’t make someone love you. We all know this. So why do we try? Why do we constantly think that there’s something we can do to make someone love us? We can’t. There is nothing you can do. It’s exhausting and pointless to even try. You have to let go. There’s no other choice. Even though it hurts and literally feels like someone is ripping your heart apart, you have to let it go.

Blogging changed my life. I started a blog that no one knew about. I was crazy honest in it, and random people from around the world read about my most personal experiences and commented on them. It was amazing. The support from people who had never even met me was overwhelming. One specific person has turned out to be one of my best friends. How crazy is that?

I don’t need a gimmick to lose weight. I’m not against Body by Vi or any of those weight loss programs, but I’ve learned that you can lose weight without them, simply by changing your diet and exercising. I’ve lost 15 pounds since October by counting calories and exercising. I’ve only been exercising twice a week most weeks, and I’m going to kick that up a notch in 2013. I have another 30 lbs I’d like to lose!

The Jorgensen YMCA where I work out. Zumba twice a week! About to start yoga and belly dancing in January.
The Jorgensen YMCA where I work out. Zumba twice a week! About to start yoga and belly dancing in January.

Peace can only truly be felt when you accept the fact that God’s timing is perfect. To say I’ve grown spiritually in the past four months is an understatement. By accepting the fact that God’s timing is perfect, I’ve got a new peace in my life that I haven’t felt in a long time.

Happy New Year everyone! Have a wonderful and blessed 2013!