Defining the “grown-up”

I hadn’t seen Mandy in almost four years. We met up last week for lunch when my parents and I were passing through Atlanta. It was nine years ago that Mandy and I were in our mid-20’s and living it up as single gals.

At one point during lunch, her 16-month-old daughter waddled around the table and Mandy scooped her up so she didn’t run away.

“I’m a mom now!” she said. “This is my life!”

My own mother, admiring Mandy’s precious daughter, said, “Maybe one of these days Natalie will grow up, too!”

I’m sure my mom didn’t think a thing about what she said, but it really got me thinking. Maybe in her generation that’s the case, but in 2014, are we really still at a place where you can’t be considered an adult unless you’re married and have children?

Washing feet and checking for jiggers at a clinic in Uganda.
Washing feet and checking for jiggers at a clinic in Uganda.

So I’m 33 and not married. I don’t have any children. I have former students who are 19, married, and have a family. Does that make them more of a “grown-up” than me, someone who just spent a year living in a third-world country? Am I somehow immature because I gave up a year of my life, and certainly any hopes of finding a husband, to serve God in Africa? Should I have stayed here in America just to “grow up” and start a family?

What defines a grown-up? I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but here’s what I think:

You put God first, family second, friends third.

Those three things were always being rearranged throughout my high school and college days, but once I got them in the right order, I feel I was able to live more at peace. Being a grown-up means having your priorities straight, and what you believe in should always be top priority. For me, that’s God. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Your homestead is a good financial decision

For years I always looked down on guys who lived at home, especially if they were in their 30’s. Then I moved to Africa, came home unemployed, and I’m living in my parents’ house. More and more I’m seeing single people do this, and while I think it used to signify an immature person who can’t get their life together, I now see the other side of things. If living at home is the best financial decision, what’s immature about that? If buying a house is a better financial decision than renting, do it. If renting is your best option, do that. If where you live is best for your bank account and your future, you’re a grown-up.

You spend more nights in than you do out

Hanging out with mom and spending the evening at my nephew's baseball game.
Hanging out with mom and spending the evening at my nephew’s baseball game.

Mandy and I were out almost every night of the week when we were single gals in LaGrange, Georgia. Whether it was eating wings at “the Pub,” drinking Boat Drinks at The Lazy Peach, or enjoying chocolate, wine and live music at Ou La La, we were always out and about. Mandy may have a husband and a child now, but we are both content with spending time at home, instead of going out. Grown-ups are OK with this. Grown-ups are fine with reading a book on a Friday night or watching a movie at home on a Saturday evening. Grown-ups also know that if they sporadically do want to meet up with friends for a drink or a movie, this does not make them immature.

You don’t dress like a teenager

Since my return to the US from Uganda a month ago, I’ve noticed that the trend these days is “trampy.” Harsh word, I know, but how else do you explain it? “Inappropriate” just doesn’t seem to do style these days its justice. I’m currently working part-time at an office in town, and I’m amazed at the inappropriate things some “grown-ups” wear to work. Grown-ups dress like adults. That doesn’t mean dressing like an old woman at a nursing home. It’s totally possible to be attractive, beautiful, and even sexy, while still having class and dressing like an adult.

You believe you are a grown-up

This is really the only one that matters. If you have embraced the trampy style of teenagers these days, party like it’s 1999, would rather hang out with your friends than your family, and live outside your means, but still feel like a grown-up, then that’s on you. If it means getting married and having children, then that’s your right as well. For me, it means putting God first, staying in more than going out, dressing appropriately, and making good financial decisions.

Some people might not see you as a grown-up until you are married and have a family, but what really matters is how you see yourself and how God sees you. I believe I’m a grown-up. A husband and children will not define that for me.

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

The “Bully” and the “Bullied”

I’ve written about this before on my Facebook page (weird- I just noticed it was exactly one year ago to the day), but I’ve updated it and would like to share it again, as it is something that really gets me worked up. It’s not the typical “anti-bullying” post:

There once was a girl growing up in small-town Ohio. She was teased a lot for multiple reasons. Nowadays you would say she was “bullied.”

There was an instance in fourth grade where after the school play she couldn’t get out of her cheerleading costume and got back to class late. The entire class laughed at her because one of the mean girls told everyone that the girl was so fat that she was stuck in her costume. She went home and cried.

This girl did not feel very good about herself. She wasn’t pretty and popular. The popular girls actually made fun of her a lot. One time she decorated a t-shirt with puffy paint and wrote “GUESS” on it, convinced that the cool girls would think it was a real GUESS shirt (GUESS was THE brand in the late 80’s, early 90’s). The mean girls made fun of her and ridiculed her for wearing it.

Fast forward to Junior High, where things were the worst. The poor girl developed a chest earlier than some of her classmates. While a large chest might make you popular in high school and the rest of life, it is not a good thing in Junior High. Boys called the girl “Puffs,” because they thought she stuffed her bra. They would approach her and say their noses were running and they knew she had tissues. Also, in 7th grade, this girl was madly in love with a super popular boy in her class. To make a long story short, this boy said she was fat. She was nowhere near fat, but felt that way because of what he said. She was destroyed.

Fast forward again and the girl is in high school. It was freshman year and her family had just moved. She started a new school, and on the first day, someone put a tack on her chair. She sat on it, felt a stinging in her butt, stood up, and pulled out a tack. She was even bleeding a little bit. Such humiliation.

This girl didn’t tell anyone about the bullying. She didn’t tell her parents, her teachers, anyone! Why? Because she KNEW HOW TO DEAL WITH IT. How do I know? All of the above things happened to me. Never once did I consider myself “bullied.” It’s called kids being jerks, and that’s just life. I remember one of the worst “bullying” incidents I suffered was on the bus ride home from school. Some of the mean girls said I wasn’t cool enough to even know the words to “Ice Ice Baby.” I thought I did- but I completely messed them up. They laughed at me. Their laughing echoes in my head to this day when I hear Ice Ice Baby. (kidding)

Now, I will say this, physical violence is a different story. If a child/teenager is being physically harassed, it is definitely bullying and unacceptable. I know words can hurt just as much, if not worse than physical violence, but with today’s definition of “bullying,” I think almost all of us could claim we were “bullied” at one time or another, and we all got through it.

So what’s the solution to all this “bullying” and kids killing themselves over it? Yes, it’s a tragedy. But it’s not just a tragedy that kids are so mean and can say such hurtful things, but it’s a tragedy that kids aren’t taught the proper way to deal with those situations.  Self-image is not on any state test, so it’s something teachers and guidance counselors can’t spend time on, no matter how much they want to.

Kids (which includes teens), also need to learn about the finality of suicide and what it does to the people around them. Killing yourself doesn’t make a statement. It’s final. There’s no “last laugh” when you kill yourself. If parents aren’t teaching their kids this, and the school isn’t allowed to take time to teach this, clearly a kid might think suicide is a natural solution to being made fun of, and the media only make it worse. It’s almost like kids think they are being a martyr for bullying and that their gesture is a good thing.

Are kids really getting that much worse, or are our kids becoming too sensitive, too babied, too sheltered? They are being raised in this society to always point the finger- change other people, but not yourself. You HAVE to change yourself if you’re being “bullied” and you can’t take it anymore. The number one thing you can do is learn to love yourself, to know that everyone, EVERYONE has been “bullied” in some way or another in their lifetime, and that the tough times pass. There’s not always something you can do about other people, but there’s always something you can do about your reactions to how people treat you.

What happens to these kids who are “bullied”, once they leave school? Do “bullies” not exist in the adult world? Of course they do! And if you’re overly sensitive and can’t handle it, you still won’t be able to deal with it as an adult. Problem is, you can’t run to mommy and daddy and expect them to do anything about it. Someone in your life will always be a jerk. That’s just life.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s terrible that kids are killing themselves over “bullying.” I think it’s tragic, and I think something DOES have to be done, but not JUST with the bullies, but with those who are being bullied. There are two problems in the whole “bullying” situation in this country- the bullies and bullied. Both need examined and fixed, if that’s even possible. Bullies may never stop bullying, but we can teach our kids that suicide is NOT an option, that they ARE loved, and that life DOES get better.

Never once in any of the above situations did I feel like I was being “bullied.” To me, bullying was only in movies when kids beat up other kids for their lunch money. I felt like being teased was just a part of life. And it was, and I have turned out just fine. Now that the media is on this “bullying” frenzy, EVERYONE thinks they’re being “bullied.” And given how society is now defining “bullying”… I’m pretty sure ALL kids could say they are being bullied right now in one way or another. We’ve got to teach them how to deal with it before we lose anymore lives.

Note: All photographs are from from stock.xchng.