A year in Uganda + a year in America = a whole new Natalie

10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_nI wanted to come home. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted Starbucks. I wanted to experience my favorite season, fall. I wanted to hang out with my friends. I wanted the luxuries that come with living in a first-world country.

I also wanted to stay. I wanted to teach at Heritage. I wanted to go to the jigger clinic and the baby home. I wanted to return to Mombasa, Kenya and take in all its beauty again. I wanted to drink Stoney for another year. I wanted to be with my students for another year. I wanted to hug Florence and Gideon again.

But my health got in the way. And then God did. And despite the things I wanted in Uganda, I knew it was time to come home.

The goodbyes were heartbreaking. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much as I did on the ride from Kampala to the Entebbe airport. My heart was broken. I wasn’t even gone yet, and my soul ached for the people who had become my world.

It’s nearly impossible to spend time abroad for a year, return, and then not reflect on what you’ve done since you returned. Today marks one year since I returned to the US, and I find myself reflecting on everything that’s happened- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

10614337_10152228624626573_5915920655416583542_nI promised myself a year ago that my life would be different than it was before I left for Africa. I certainly kept that promise to myself, and I changed in ways I never imagined I could. Many times I’ve told people that God tore me apart in Uganda because He needed to put me back together, to fix me. Much of the “fixing” part has taken place since my return home, and I’m still a work in progress.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Uganda. Not one day. Whether it’s the country itself, my friends there, my students, or Florence and Gideon, something always crosses my mind about my time in Kampala. I couldn’t forget if I tried. Because of this, it’s difficult not to wonder, “What if…” What if I had stayed? What if I want to go back? What if I never get to return to Uganda even for a visit?

But the “What if’s” have to be suppressed. I don’t know what would have happened if I stayed. Maybe I’d still be spitting up blood and eventually end up really sick. I don’t know what would happen if I went back. It wouldn’t be the same, but at least it would fix the hunger in my heart for Africa. I don’t know what would happen if I never get to go back and at least visit. The thought makes me sick to my stomach.

11401077_10152812057366573_1683850763778689837_nOverall, when I returned from Uganda, I wanted my life to be one with value. I wanted to do things that matter, I wanted to grow closer to the Lord, and I wanted to find a career that made me happy. Done. Done. And done.

Although I miss Uganda like crazy, I can’t help but look back on the past 365 days of my life and smile. In one year I’ve made all sorts of amazing memories with friends and family. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I feel as close to the Lord as I ever have been. Within the last month I started a job that is absolutely perfect for me, and I wouldn’t want to leave it for anything.

God is good, whether I’m living in Uganda or Indiana. And God has always been good. I might be a whole new Natalie, but God has always been the same.

“How was Uganda?” I’m running out of adjectives…

Almost three weeks ago I stepped foot on American soil for the first time in nearly a year. My mom and dad were waiting for me in true American style with red, white, and blue flowers, and they were wearing “USA” T-shirts. My experience in Uganda was over, and I was home.10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_n

I remember coming back from my first big mission trip to Africa. I spent two weeks in Niger. It was difficult, when I returned, finding the words to describe what that trip was like. Being in a radical Muslim country and sharing the Gospel was something I’ll never forget, but explaining that, explaining what it was like… it was difficult.

A few years later I went on a week-long trip to Nicaragua where we built latrines and did Bible school with children in the village. I also got to meet my sponsor child. I came home from that trip with even fewer words to describe what I had experienced.

In 2013 I made my way back to Africa for almost two weeks. We spent the majority of our time at Lifesong for Orphans Zambia. Those children, those faces, and their voices will forever be engraved on my heart. Still, when I came back to the US, I wasn’t sure how to put those experiences into words. I even wrote a blog post about it then.

Now, after living in Uganda for almost a year, I’m asked the same basic question, but with a different location.

“How was Uganda?”

Amazing. Intense. Outstanding. Life-changing. Difficult. Spiritual. Aggravating. Incredible. Terrifying. Awesome. Fabulous. Insane. Wonderful.

I’m running out of adjectives.

Before I came home I had this fear that no one would want to know details about my time in Uganda, and there are still plenty of people who don’t care, but it’s kind of ironic that so many people have asked about it, and I have literally nothing to say but a few flowery adjectives.

I had difficulties summarizing a week or two across the globe, how in the world do I summarize an entire year?

My dad asked me the other day why I hadn’t blogged since I’ve been home. My honest answer was, “Because I don’t know what to say.”

And I still don’t know.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

IMG_0137Maybe it’s because I know most people will never understand. Maybe it’s because there’s just too much to tell. Maybe it’s because I can’t think about saying goodbye to Florence, our dayguard’s daughter, without bursting into tears. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to sound like I’m boasting if I say, “God sent me there for my students, and a few of them even flat out told me that God sent me there to help them.”

My emotions are so mixed right now. I was told to take plenty of time to reflect on my time in Uganda, take time to rest and recuperate. I was told to take at least a month to really let things sink in and to process all I had experienced. However, since I’m unemployed, I couldn’t turn down a summer job at my old place of employment. I started a week after I got back. So much for relaxing and reflecting. So much for processing. A part of me feels like I’ve been forced to put processing my entire experience on the back burner, kind of like, “I’ll get to it later.”

What I do know right now is that I’m running out of adjectives to use to describe my time in Uganda. There’s just so much to say that I really don’t know where to start. So forgive me if you run into me and ask, “How was Uganda?” and my response is just a few descriptive words and I leave it at that.

I am so thankful for the support of my family and friends, whether it was financially, prayerfully or both. I am beyond blessed to know so many people who have taken an interest in what God is doing in Uganda. I pray that if you have any specific questions, even if they sound silly, that you will ask me! I am more than happy to share about any and every experience I had in Uganda. It’s just a little difficult to wrap it all up in one response to the question, “How was Uganda?”

No More…

Before writing a blog post, I felt led to write a poem about yesterday’s tragedy and the children who have died. I am a faithful believer, based on what I have read in the Bible, that all children who die enter the kingdom of heaven. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you saw my status about how I believe we must pray for those left behind and the suffering they are going through. For these children, who so tragically died, they will suffer no more. And that’s where I got the idea for this poem.

No More

There will be no more birthdays.
No more gifts on Christmas morn.
No giggling from their bedrooms.
It’s as if they were never born.

There are no more smiles.
No more hugs for mom and dad.
No baby dolls or little league games,
It’s enough to drive you mad.

But…

There will be no more suffering.
No more tummy aches or bruises.
No more misunderstanding,
No team that ever loses.

No tears shed over lost pets,
No more fighting over toys.
God has perfectly prepared His kingdom,
For these little girls and boys.

No more will they worry about anything.
No more will they be distressed.
For their lives are now in heaven,
Where they are truly blessed.

Moms and dads will miss them,
Their families see them no more,
But we must remember that these angels,
Are now inside heaven’s door.

A headless Precious Moments and how it taught me the truth about Santa…

Each Christmas, there was always one guaranteed gift under the tree: a Precious Moments figurine. The pastel, porcelain, big-eyed figures were a huge collectors item in the 80’s, and each year Santa would bring me a new one.

IMG_20121201_082616I loved them! Their sweet, innocent faces and Bible verse stamped on the bottom made them so special. But the disappointing thing about Precious Moments was how fragile they were. You couldn’t play with them, only set them on a shelf and look at them.

As a child who made salt and pepper shakers at restaurants put on shows and talk to each other, it was obviously very difficult for me to just look at my Precious Moments. They were just dying to talk, to dance, to have tea parties, and live in a world as spectacular as the one my Barbies were in.

It was only a few days after Christmas one year, I think I was about five years old, that I asked my mom if I could look at all my Precious Moments.

“Yes, but be careful. They break very easily,” she said as she spread out more than a dozen Precious Moments on a towel on the dining room table. “Don’t touch them, just look.”

Mom left the room, and I was in awe. There they were, spread all over the table like a little Precious Moments village. There was the clown, the one with a harp, someone was making a salad, another had been shopping. They were just begging to come to life! They had so much to do! So much to say!

I couldn’t resist any longer. I grabbed the clown. She was so adorable with her face paint and balloon. I knew she wanted to dance. I hopped her around the surface of the table, saying hello to the other Precious Moments as she did so. One of them stopped her.

“Hello Clownie!” said a Precious Moments with a harp.

“Good day!” Clownie responded.

Before I knew it, the two were in full-blown conversation and things began to get intense. They talked more and more and even began to jump around! They were so happy to finally have a voice and to be able to move! LepetitThey talked and jumped, and talked and jumped….

And then….

CRASH!

Clownie and the other figurine collided.

Clownie had been decapitated. Her head rolled across the dining room table. The room began to spin and I couldn’t breathe.

Just then my mom yelled from the bathroom, “Nat! I’ve got your bath ready!” I quickly grabbed the clown head and gently rested it on the shoulders of the clown. It would have to do for now until I thought of a great idea to get myself out of this mess.

After my bath I dried off and put on my pajamas. Then I heard the reaction.

“NATALIE ANN TROUT!”

I began to cry and to make the walk to the dining room. There was mom, holding Clownie’s body in one hand, her head in the other.

“What happened?” she demanded.

“I was makin’ ’em talk,” I said quietly, so quiet that she didn’t even hear me.

“What?” she snapped back.

“I was makin’ ’em talk,” I said, and I began to cry a little more.

“Natalie, I told you not to touch them! I paid good money for these!”

I stopped crying. I was confused.

“No you didn’t,” I said. “They’re from Santa!”

“THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!” she yelled. I mean literally, full-blown yelled it at me. “I paid for these!”

The tears returned, and came as quickly and as heavily as ever. My heart literally broke in two. Mom was mad at me, Clownie had no head, and Santa wasn’t real. So much to take in at such a young age.

For years we’ve talked about how that one moment probably ruined my life. We often joke about how someday Oprah or Dr. Phil will have my mom and I on the show and we will talk about that terrible day that she screamed at me that there was no Santa Claus.

Clownie’s head was glued on with ease, but she and the other Precious Moments were silenced for eternity. Never again would they speak, sing or dance. Although it ended in tragedy, they would never forget the day they came to life. And neither will I.

A Penguin Riding a Peppermint…

Some people like big, perfectly decorated and color-coordinated Christmas trees. I don’t disagree, those trees are beautiful, but what I love is the type of Christmas tree that I grew up with. No rhyme or reason, no color coordination, and no “theme” other than “a bunch of random ornaments from throughout the years.”

I used to love decorating the tree with my mom and dad. We’d pull out our favorite ornaments from over the years and almost always add a new one or two to the collection. Since I left college, I’ve taken over the decorating of the tree, and I still get excited when I pull out my favorite ornaments. Most of them wouldn’t do well in the stores. Most are old, some are falling apart, and I think one is even molding. But for me, Christmas ornaments aren’t about the glitz and the glam- they are about that happy feeling I get just seeing them on the tree.

IMG_20121130_200915My Favorite
I didn’t even remember where this one came from, but my mom says it was from my babysitter who lived next door. For as long as I can remember decorating the tree, this has been my favorite ornament. I love penguins, and the fact that he’s riding a peppermint is super cute to me. This is always the first ornament I put on the tree, and it always goes towards the top.

 

IMG_20121130_200955Handmade Ornaments
They look pretty rugged, but I love the ornaments I made in preschool and IMG_20121130_201038elementary school. I don’t know what the moon is made of- it is almost like a cookie. The candy cane I painted when I was two is another favorite, and I adore the dove I painted. What makes it especially unique is the bright yellow piece of yarn it hangs from. Sure it would look classier hanging from a hook or a silver ribbon of some kind, but it’s the yellow yarn I remember most. I’ll never change that.

Grandma’s OrnamentsIMG_20121130_201007
What’s super cool about my little pre-lit tree is the fact that it was my grandma’s tree when she lived in assisted living. I also got a few of her ornaments after she passed away. My favorite is this clear bulb filled with snow and a piece of paper that says her name, “Rita.” I’m brought to tears when I put it on the tree, as I miss her so much that it hurts.

IMG_20121130_200430This year my other grandma was put into the nursing home. Just today my dad brought me a box of ornaments from my grandma’s attic. I’m so excited to add them to my collection, and I know they will always make me think of my grandma.

 

IMG_20121130_200903Ornaments Around the Globe
Within the past five years, I’ve started buying ornaments as mementos of my trips. When I was ina Niger, Africa in 2009, there were no ornaments to purchase. Not only is it a Muslim country, but it’s not a tourist destination. However, I did find a few keychains to buy, and I use one as an ornament.

On that same trip, I purchased an ornament on our long layover in Paris. Another one of my favorite ornaments from my travels is the one from Cozumel. I can’t wait to get an ornament in Zambia this summer!

New Ornaments
My parents know that I love me a cute moose. So when they went on an Alaskan IMG_20121130_201217cruise this past fall, they had lots of opportunities to get me something with a moose on it. Sure enough, I ended up with a moose ornament, and this handmade clay ornament is one of my new favorites!

My tree and ornaments may not be worth a lot of money, but I don’t care. You really couldn’t put a price on the memories and the sentimental value they have in my heart.