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

Revenge: a dish best not served

IMG_4643A friend text me a few weeks ago. “How’s your day going?” I had been crying. I took a selfie with watery eyes and smudged mascara. “This is how my day is going,” I responded.

I had been hurt. Wounded. Blindsided, and even feeling a little stabbed in the back. It was not a good day.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have the potential to be a vengeful, hurtful person. Not that I am, but the potential is there. If you hurt me, I can think of even more hurtful things to say back to you. And sometimes, I really, REALLY want to.

A few weeks ago was one of those days. Even in the days following, I plotted out the terrible things I wanted to say to the person who hurt me. It kept me up at night, making a mental list of everything I wanted to say.

But God kept slipping the word “grace” into my mind, which just made me even angrier at first. Why should I show this person grace when they didn’t show me an ounce of it?

Because it’s the right thing to do.

UGH. Sometimes I hate doing the right thing. I always think back to this: “Doing what is right is never wrong.” Never. It’s never wrong to do what’s right. And doing what is right is swallowing my pride and biting my tongue.

Right now it still doesn’t FEEL right, but many tough decisions can’t be made based on feelings. Decisions should be based on what’s right. What’s right is to not serve up a piping hot plate of revenge, or even a cold one.

“See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15

It’s funny to me that non-Christians probably think it’s easy for us to try and do good all the time. I’m not afraid to say it: it’s not. Our nature is a sinful one, just like everyone else’s. Luckily I have a God whose Son died on the cross for that sinful nature so I don’t have to suffer eternal consequences for it.

Revenge is a dish best not served at all. It still feels wrong. I still want to retaliate, but I won’t. There have been times people in my life extended grace, and now it’s my turn to do the same for someone else. It’s not easy, and right now it doesn’t offer the satisfaction I’m looking for, but one day it will. And it’s the right thing to do.

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
James 4:17


I’m working on writing and publishing my first book! I’ve created an author page on Facebook, and I hope you’ll “Like” it and come on this crazy journey with me! Click below to visit the page. 

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Happiness not wrapped up in a spouse

IMG_3405A few years ago I read an incredible blog post by a woman who talked about how she desired being married someday, but that in the meantime, she was content being single. I could completely relate. And I can still relate. I want to be married someday, but right now, I’m happy. I’m content.

Some troll jumped in and commented something about how single women need to stop lying to themselves. That if this woman truly desired marriage, there was no way she could possibly be happy without it. I jumped to her defense, then she got involved, and a few other people, and it got kind of ugly.

It’s irked me ever since. Even years later. Can you be content and happy even if you don’t have something you desire? You tell me. I desire to win the lottery (even though I don’t play it), but I’m happy without it. I desire the body of a Victoria Secret model, but I’m content with what I have. I desire to work from home and make more money, but I’m still satisfied without it.

What really makes me laugh is when people don’t understand how I can be in a long-term relationship without marriage (for now), and still be happy, and yet many of those people ARE married… and miserable. And yet apparently having a husband and children is the only acceptable way to be happy in this country.

I love my boyfriend, who, yes, when the time is right, we will get married. We’ve discussed it. It’s between us. It’s interesting that I have to keep explaining that to so many people. I should start asking married people, “So, are you going to stay married? How do you know? Can you explain to me what your plans are for the rest of your marriage?” Sounds ridiculous, but that’s how I feel when people pry into why I’m not married yet.

My life isn’t perfect, but I’m definitely happy. I have bad days, I have breakdowns, but most days are great, and I honestly don’t have much to complain about.

Throughout my 20’s and early 30’s, I was just sure that a husband would solve all my problems. I’m not sure why I thought this, especially when I had many friends who WERE getting married, and they honestly weren’t any happier than I was.

Happiness isn’t found in a spouse. If you aren’t happy before you get married, you won’t be after. For me, the greatest happiness and peace I have found is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. (Feel free to contact me if you want to know more about that!)

As I thought about my happiness, and how so many people are skeptical of it simply because I’m single and childless, I decided to reach out to other amazing single women, and see what they had to say about how they remain happy while being single. I also gave them the option of NOT responding, because let’s be honest, there are plenty of single women who are NOT happy. So this post is for them.

It’s also for those of you who don’t understand. You don’t understand how we can be happy with our lives without a spouse. There’s plenty I don’t understand about your lives as wives and mothers, but you won’t find me judging you for it. I’m just thrilled to see you happy and loving life, just as I am.

Here are some responses from some of the women who replied to my request:

The question: You’re not married. How in the world are you happy with your life?

“I know I can be happy without a husband in my life because I always have God as number one. Now on a funnier side, I can eat when I want, can do my dishes when I want (no dishwasher), watch what I want on TV, and not have any one to tell me what to do.” Age: 60’s

“I’m not married, but I’m happy with my life because I am so sure of myself and the strong individual that I am. I am still learning about myself and evolving as a woman in this world. I am (and am becoming) the strong, sensitive, independent, compassionate, fiery, confident woman that God created me to be, and I don’t necessarily need a husband to accomplish all of that.” Age: 27

“I was raised that I can do anything I want if I work hard for it, and I don’t have to rely on anyone else to do something. That includes my happiness. I am still looking for mister right, but I find my own happiness. If it is in God’s plan for him to come along it will happen. If not, I am content with that and won’t just settle with the wrong guy to say I am married. I won’t do that for me and my kids’ sake. It has to be right.” Age: 46

“Being a single women has truly allowed myself to find who I am as a women and learn how to love myself. Through the years I have learned my strengths and weaknesses and that has helped me become the women I am today. Also, I have pushed myself to limits I never knew I could achieve and I achieved those limits without a man helping me get there.” Age: 34

“I consider myself married….to my husband who is my Lord and Savior. I keep busy in His work and I desire only his will in my life. I live content for the majority of the time because I trust His ways for me. I get the same question. I have been single over 25 years and not without asking the same question of God. But he knows best and ‘this is only a sliver of the sum’. I trust…” Age: 50’s

“The reason I am happy and single is because I am happy with who I am in its entirety, I have accepted me and love me. You can not be truly happy in a relationship/marriage if you do not know how to be happy as a single.” Age: 35

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

Closure: When the timing is right

grace2I remember being curled up one night in my bed in Uganda in 2014, under the protection of my mosquito net, a fan trying its best to keep me cool as it oscillated around my room. I was crying, which wasn’t unusual considering some of the things I had been through during my year as a high school English teacher at an international school in Kampala.

I had but a few months left to go, and I was wrestling with whether or not I should return for a second year. There were so many reasons to leave: I’d been spitting up blood for ten months, the Uganda dust was doing a real number on my sinuses, my administration was shady, I was thousands of miles away from friends and family, hardly any of my friends were coming back, and I’d been fighting a deep depression. But there was one reason to stay: my students.

The battle was fierce, and I was at a loss. So I cried out to God, “You have to tell me! I can’t make this decision on my own!”

readinggroupsThe next day at school it was like God hand-delivered my answer on a silver platter. It was time to go. I simply could not put in another year. This certain situation was handled so poorly that it even gave someone else the final push to not return.

I left Uganda an emotional mess. But there was no time to think about it. I came back to the US, where I was living with my parents because I’d sold nearly everything before leaving for Uganda a year prior. I was unemployed. I was trying to fit back in to a society and friend groups that all seemed so different now. Things were happening quickly, and I had little time to process my year overseas.

All I knew was that I was hurt, and the taste in my mouth for Uganda was a really bitter one.

Eventually, I began to see things more clearly. Through prayer and reflection, I began to see the part I played in some of my hurts from Uganda. And while that helped to ease a bit of my resentment, it didn’t completely erase it.

kidsThat part came in the past few weeks. My dad and I went on a mission trip to Uganda. My prayer was that God would give me the closure I needed. I didn’t know what He’d do, but I knew He could and He WOULD do it.

Over two weeks, I rediscovered Uganda and why I wanted to serve there in the first place. I fell in love with a country that deserves endless love. I was reminded of the Ugandan people, who are so loving and welcoming. I even met up with a former student who used to be an atheist. He’s accepted Christ and is now a light for God. He thanked me for the part I played in his dedication to the Lord, even though it was years before he accepted Christ.

It had been five years since I arrived in Uganda for an emotional and life-changing year. God knew that a return any sooner than this wouldn’t have been beneficial. I needed to grow, forgive other people, and forgive myself.

We tend to want closure immediately and on our terms. But God has His reasons for not giving it to us immediately. Like all things, God’s timing is best. The day I left Kampala in 2014 in complete shambles, He knew I’d be back in four years. He knew that’s when He’d help me heal my wounds.

If there’s an area of your life that you’re waiting for some closure on, don’t give up hope. Keep praying, and trust that God will give you the closure you need at just the right time. 

When I look back at Uganda now, I smile. I see the good. God took a hurtful and tough area of my life and made it special again.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.
The old has gone, the new is here.”
2 Corinthians 5:17

hut

 

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.