What if I’ve missed something?

I imagine myself getting off the plane in Detroit in June. After a long flight from Uganda to Amsterdam and an even longer flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, I’ll finally arrive in America. While Detroit won’t be my final stop, it will be my first steps on American soil in almost a year.

In July when I left America for my new life in Uganda.
In July when I left America for my new life in Uganda.

I imagine myself crying.

I imagine myself falling to the ground and kissing it. Yes, even the dirty floor of the Detroit airport.

I imagine myself running in slow motion with the Chariots of Fire theme song playing in my head, towards the airport Starbucks.

It will be a grand return to my home country, and the thought of it makes my stomach feel like it does when I ride down the huge hill of a rollercoaster at Cedar Point. It’s scary, but it’s also wonderful.

There are 52 days left on my journey in Uganda.

Although I’m as excited as ever about going home, I have to admit: I’m horrified. As my time here comes to a close, the same question keeps popping up in my mind: What if I’ve missed something? It sparks a long list of questions like: If God called me here, what if I haven’t learned everything I was supposed to learn? I’ve grown, but what if I haven’t grown enough? What if I haven’t given enough?

I came to Africa to help. I came here to make a difference, to follow God’s calling, be it for a year or for the rest of my life. But after a few months, I began to think that maybe God brought me here more so for me. He wanted me to grow, wanted me to experience things that would forever change the way I viewed the world.

Now, though, as time dwindles away and my departure date moves closer, I am realizing that’s not entirely the case. I am here for other people as well. They just aren’t the people I imagined they would be.

Maybe I’ve held some babies who were HIV positive. Maybe I cleaned their bathrooms and bedrooms. Maybe I washed the feet of people who had jiggers. But those aren’t the primary people God brought me here for. He brought me here for my students.

And as I worry, “What if I’ve missed something?” I realize that God wouldn’t let that happen.

“For this God is our God forever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.” Psalm 48:14

In October we took the students on a spiritual retreat.
In October we took the students on a spiritual retreat.

He’s been my guide this entire time. It’s because of Him that I have the desire to hang out in my classroom with teenagers long after the final bell has rung. It’s because of His guidance that I have the right words to say to my struggling students who come to me for someone to listen.

I shouldn’t worry about what I’ve missed. God won’t let my time here be wasted. Even though the bulk of my time here was spent with students from places other than Uganda, that doesn’t mean my time was in vain. Even if I was here to show God’s love to just one student, even that was worth my time here.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

I haven’t missed anything in my time here in Uganda. Because I trust in the Lord and lean on Him and not my own understanding, I can’t go wrong. I’ll continue to live the same for the next 52 days, as well as the rest of my life.

A letter to my 18-year-old self

18-year-old me
18-year-old me

I was thinking today about how my life as a 32-year-old woman is nothing like I imagined it would be. I wouldn’t ever want to know the future, and it’s not that I have any regrets, but if I could write a letter to my 18-year-old self, a girl just a few months away from graduating high school, this is what it would say:

Dear 18-year-old Natalie,

Things are exciting right now, aren’t they? You’re about to graduate high school and head off to Indiana Wesleyan where you will study art. You won’t be there long, but you’ll figure all that out, and it’s for the best.

There are some things I want you to know. I could tell you what’s going to happen to you, about your college career, the places you’ll move, the jobs you’ll have, the hearts you’ll break and those who will break your heart, but you need to experience that on your own.

What I want you to know is that things aren’t going to turn out like you think they will. That’s not a bad thing. Your family, friends, society… will all make you think that there’s a playbook of life and that it’s the same for everyone. They will make you think that there’s only one definition of success and happiness, but that’s not true.

You will not find happiness in a man, Natalie. You will try. You will try very, very hard, but there are other things in this life that will make you much happier. Don’t let anyone make you think that where you are in life isn’t “normal” or that there are things you are “supposed” to want.

God is going to use you to do things other people can’t do- in the same way He uses them to do things you can’t do. You have to trust that all your frustrations and hardships are leading up to something wonderful that God has planned for you.

Relax. Enjoy the ride. When you’re 32, you’re not going to be where you think you’ll be. Instead, you’ll be exactly where God wants you. And I can say with confidence… you’ll be the happiest, most confident, and most peaceful you’ve ever been.

All my love,
Your 32-year-old self

32-year-old me
32-year-old me