Remembering Doug

doug1I had been working as the Director of Marketing at The Rescue Mission, a homeless ministry in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a month when I met Doug. He was selected to receive a special basket of goodies from a local Christian radio station. Doug was nominated by some staff members who thought he could use some encouragement.

That was in February 2016. And a week ago, I was by Doug’s side as he took his final breath at the age of 50. What happened between February 2016 and November 2019? A lot.

Doug was such a likable guy. He was tall, had a southern drawl, and was just plain hilarious. No doubt about it, Doug was loved. And while we shouldn’t have had “favorites” out of the many homeless men we served, Doug was an obvious favorite. So much so that for the fundraising banquet in November 2016, Doug was The Rescue Mission’s shining testimony. His life had been changed.

Before the banquet, we filmed Doug telling his story. While I would typically interview a person for such a video, Doug didn’t even give me a chance to ask any questions. He talked, and talked, and talked. For three hours. I didn’t stop him. The video crew didn’t stop him. His story was so gripping and heartbreaking that we just couldn’t interrupt him.

That day I learned a lot about Doug. The five-minute video did its best to capture his story, but there was so, so much more. Doug went through things no child or adult should ever have to experience. Unfortunately, he turned to alcohol at a young age, and it ruined his life.

IMG_6623Doug found sobriety at The Rescue Mission. For awhile. Doug graduated the long-term program in February 2017, had himself an incredible job, and found himself an apartment. But by the time summer came around, Doug had relapsed.

Doug came back to The Rescue Mission and was OK for awhile. Then he relapsed again.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Thrown in there was a long list of health problems, some drinking-related and some not. There were quite a few times when we were told, “Doug probably won’t make it.” But until a week ago, he always made it.

He always eventually went back to being lovable Doug. Even without a filter, Doug was so lovable. After dying my hair dark one fall, he said to me, “Why did you do that? It makes you look old!” Naturally, I gave him crap about that for as long as I could. Doug was like my big brother at The Rescue Mission. I knew I could count on him for a laugh, a hug, and an honest response to anything I asked.

After three and a half years, I left my job at The Rescue Mission. At that time, I knew Doug was in Marion, Indiana. I knew he was in bad shape and drinking again. Sure enough, about a month after I left my job, Doug was back.

IMG_9803And on Friday, November 15, I received a call from a good friend at The Rescue Mission. Doug had been moved to a nursing home a few weeks ago. He had liver cancer. Hospice said he had only a few days to live.

I broke down on the phone, but there was a part of me that didn’t believe it. Doug had already had so many brushes with death, and he escaped them all.

My friend Brittany, who also once worked at the Mission, and I planned to visit on Saturday. However, I received a call Friday evening that Doug only had hours to live.

When we got to the nursing home and I saw Doug, I knew that was it. He wasn’t coherent. He was moaning. He was skin and bones. His skin was discolored. I burst into tears. It wasn’t the Doug I knew and loved.

The room was full of people who loved Doug, most of them from The Rescue Mission, and a few friends from Indianapolis. Doug didn’t have a relationship with anyone from his biological family.

As we stood in the room around Doug’s bed, someone pulled up the video from The Rescue Mission banquet in 2016 and showed it to one of Doug’s friends. Everyone else was talking to each other, but there was what felt like a scripted pause in the room and we heard Doug’s voice in the video say, “Who would there even be to tell if I died? Nobody.”

IMG_9807That night, there were 12 of us around Doug’s bed as he left this world to be with Jesus. Doug may not have been victorious in sobriety, but he certainly did know and love the Lord. And while I cried so hard that night that my eyes hurt for days, I was incredibly relieved and thankful that Doug’s battle with alcoholism was over. No more struggling. No more pain. Doug was at peace.

Doug will always mean the world to me. We got to experience a Doug that his family never knew: a sober Doug that loved us with all his heart, just as we loved him. He will be greatly missed.

“Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.”

Isaiah 57:2

 

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.