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

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What you don’t know changes everything

She was so perfect.

When I was in high school, there was a girl at a rival high school who lived the perfect life. She was beautiful, smart, athletic, and she never, ever did anything wrong. Guys loved her innocent charm, but it made me sick.

It made me sick for a few reasons. For one, I didn’t think it was fair that it was so easy for her to be perfect. It was so easy for her to openly love the Lord, to not drink, to not cuss, to go to church every Sunday. It also made me sick because I was insanely jealous of her life. She had it all, and life was easy and good.

Years ago we reconnected on Facebook. I never DISliked her. It was impossible to do that. She was a total sweetheart.

And it was almost a year ago on Facebook that she shared a blog post she wrote. It was about the traumatic sexual abuse she went through as an adolescent. I bawled as I read the entire thing. All I could think about were my awful words that I always said to myself about her. “Her life is perfect. It’s easy for her to be a good Christian because her life is perfect.”

sad-silhouette-1429626Little did I know that she had been through such an atrocious experience, over and over again, for years, and that it tore her up inside even into adulthood.

I wrote to her in a private message on Facebook and came clean. Although she never knew the thoughts I had about her, I told her. And I told her I was sorry and asked for her forgiveness, which she lovingly gave me.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve changed dramatically in so many ways. I’m confident in my faith and my walk with the Lord, and my priorities have majorly shifted. After reading her blog post and then our conversation on Facebook, I thought to myself- how many people look at me, and my walk with Christ, and think it’s just so easy for me? How many people think, “Natalie’s life is so perfect. She’s never even been through anything. That’s why it’s so easy for her to be a ‘good Christian.'”

I decided then and there that my own blog post had to be written. That was in January of 2015. As you can see, it’s taken me almost an entire year to muster up the courage to actually write it.

In December I attended the YWCA “Circle of Women Luncheon” here in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the featured speaker was a victim of domestic violence. I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me once again saying, “You have to tell your story.”

In 2009 I was dating a guy I should have never been dating. We’ll call him “Patrick.” I had always kind of been into “bad boys,” but this one was far and beyond any sort of “bad” I had known before.

He had made a lot of mistakes in the past, and who was I to judge Patrick, who was ten years older than me, for what he had done in the past? Besides, he had a fabulous support system. I loved Patrick’s family so much, and they loved me. However, what they failed to mention was Patrick’s violent past. I would later find out that they never said anything because they believed he had changed, especially for a good girl like me.

Patrick was sweet. He said he loved me. He was gentle. He loved God. He made me laugh. He made me smile. Except when he drank.

Patrick didn’t drink every day, but he did a few times a week. And when Patrick drank, it was to get drunk. And when Patrick was drunk, he was a completely different person.

We had been together for a few months when we went to Indianapolis for the weekend with some of his family. At that time I was getting tired of his drunken antics, but I was hanging in there. I felt like he needed me, so I stayed around.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, as it’s pretty tough to recall what happened that night in our hotel room. But I will say this: Patrick was inebriated, I was pulled to the ground by my hair, he had his arm wrapped around my neck and said over and over again, “Do you have any idea how easy it would be for me to snap your neck right now?” He also, while he had me pinned down, dug his knuckles into my back. I was covered in bruises.

Nothing happened to cause his violent behavior other than him being drunk. I hadn’t done anything. I was actually asleep when he came into the hotel room after drinking at the bars. It was the first time I realized that domestic violence really can happen at no fault of the victim whatsoever. I was sleeping when he attacked me. There were even other people across the room, sleeping.

When someone finally woke up and told him to stop, I escaped his grip, ran to the bathroom and locked myself inside. Naturally, he woke up the next morning not having a clue what had happened. He had his sister get me out of the bathroom. I wouldn’t make eye contact with Patrick as I left the room.

I decided that I didn’t even need to be in the same vehicle as him for our two-hour drive back to Fort Wayne, so I had my cousin pick me up and take me home. The next day I changed my phone number. My parents were out of town, and had no clue what I had just gone through, so I went and stayed at their place for about a week.

I never spoke to Patrick again.

I’ve never even seen Patrick again, with the exception of his mug shot on the cover of the local newspaper. Literally, on the one-year anniversary of the most horrifying night of my life, Patrick was arrested for trying to kill the girl he got with after me. She was so badly beaten that she was in the hospital. According to the article, he had even told her where he was going to bury her body after he killed her. I didn’t doubt for one moment that he had said that.

Reading the newspaper that day was almost just as traumatizing as what I’d been through a year earlier. What if that had been me? What if he had killed her? The “what if” game I played with myself made me sick, and it messed with my mind for a long time. I felt terrible about myself for ever being with someone who was capable of such awful things.

I ended up going to therapy for awhile, where my therapist helped show me how strong I was to walk away when I did. She said many women would have stuck around and continue to be abused year after year because they are afraid to leave.

How in the world was I so strong? How in the world did I have the strength to walk away when I did? How in the world did I have the strength to STAY away after I changed my number? It was God. It was all God. I can guarantee you that I didn’t have that strength on my own. It was God.

Patrick is nearing the end of his five-year sentence in prison (not near long enough if you ask me). To think that this monster will be released into the public again is something I try not to think about. I don’t worry that he’ll come after me, but I do fear he’ll hurt the next woman he’s with.

I forgave Patrick in my heart. I did that a long time ago for myself, not him. I rarely think of him at all, unless the issue of domestic violence comes up.

If it ever appears that my life has been perfect and that that’s why it’s so easy for me to love the Lord, know that I haven’t lived a squeaky-clean, perfect life. I’ve been through plenty of other trying times, and although for only one night, I’ve been a victim of domestic violence.

The next time you see someone and think, “His/Her life is perfect,” remember that it’s not. There may be deep dark secrets that you can’t even imagine. This is why we love people, no matter what.

This wasn’t easy to share. It’s pretty embarrassing, actually. But I believe God wants us to share our stories, to share our stories of the messes He gets us out of, and to share the real moments that have forced us to rely on Him.

So thank you, to the woman I mentioned earlier who had the courage to share her story, proving to me that none of us have walked this earth without pain and suffering.

“God never allows pain without a purpose in the lives of His children. He never allows Satan, nor circumstances, nor any ill-intending person to afflict us unless He uses that affliction for our good. God never wastes pain. He always causes it to work together for our ultimate good, the good of conforming us more to the likeness of His Son.”
Jerry Bridges

The perfect way to make things worse

I blasted Janet Jackson’s “Again” in my headphones as I cried myself to sleep night after night after my first traumatic heartbreak, which came in the 8thsad-silhouette-1080946-m grade. I was mad at Ben. Mad at Bob. More than anything, I was mad at myself. I gave up a deep love with Ben for one passionate night of hand-holding with Bob at the YMCA lock-in. What I didn’t expect was Ben to show up to play basketball at the YMCA while I was holding hands with Bob, the cute guy from a neighboring town.

It was super dramatic. I remember running away from them both and bawling my eyes out in the locker room, surrounded by my friends who were trying to help me decide who I really “loved.” At the time it was the toughest decision I’d ever had to make: Bob or Ben?

In the end, it didn’t matter. Bob never wrote me a letter (the main way you communicated with your out-of-town boyfriend in 1994), and Ben wanted nothing more to do with me. I was heartbroken. Nothing had ever hurt more. My world came crashing down at the precious age of 14.

Obviously, this was but a grain of sand compared to the sandstorm of broken hearts I would experience later in life, but I really didn’t need to know that. I needed to grieve. As silly and insignificant the situation was to my life, I needed to be upset. You could have told me that it was a Junior High relationship, and that it was not a significant problem to worry about, but I wouldn’t have believed you.

f343c71f67ffa4bcfec8e4d37cccd994On Facebook a few months ago I saw a comparison of love memes and military photos. On top was a meme, no doubt created by a heartbroken high school girl whose boyfriend just dumped her. Phrases like, “When he’s all you can think about…” and “Being lonely is the worst feeling in the world,” accompanied by a photo of a sad girl by a tree or a lake or some other dramatic, lonely location. On the bottom of each was a photo that put the statement in perspective. A woman at the grave of her husband who was killed in war. A soldier wounded millions of miles away from home.

Ouch. Excellent point. Excellent perspective. I totally get it.

But there’s a time and a place for perspective. In general, this post going around Facebook had a wonderful point. However, if someone was suffering from heartache at the time and someone sent this to them to offer a little “perspective,” I think that’s incredibly insensitive.

Why force guilt onto people who are already struggling with something else? Not only that, but why tell people that what they are feeling isn’t valid, that things could “always be worse”?

When you’re upset or brokenhearted, the last thing you need added onto it is guilt. And yet I see it often. It’s basically non-sympathetic, forced guilt. It’s something people throw around way too often, in my opinion.

I’m quick to jump to the defense of the oppressed. I’ll open your eyes to the terrible living conditions I’ve seen in Nicaragua, Niger, Zambia, Uganda, and Kenya. I’ll give you a million reasons why your day wasn’t as bad as it was for most of the people in the world, but I try to make sure I don’t do it often, and I certainly won’t do it when you’re having a bad day or going through something that’s already hurting your heart.

I understand that we do have a responsibility to “keep it real” for our friends and families. Life isn’t flowers and butterflies all the time, and sometimes we have to speak up.

But… not always. There’s a time and a place for it.

Heartache is heartache. To put a degree of hurt on heartache is absurd, to me. You don’t know what that person is feeling or going through, to suggest that things could be worse or that it’s really not a big deal is incredibly insensitive and uncompassionate.

Can we just allow people to feel? Can we stop telling people that their feelings are invalid? If you can’t come up with a comforting word for someone who is having a tough time, or you feel their feelings really are exaggerated and ridiculous, don’t say anything at all. Don’t guilt them into feelings by reminding them in any way that, “things could be worse” or “others have it much worse than you do.” It doesn’t help.

Don’t agree with me? I think the Bible makes it pretty clear:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

Not good enough for some, but good enough for One…

The maker of this beautiful Ugandan sunset loves me despite my many flaws.
The maker of this beautiful Ugandan sunset loves me despite my many flaws.

“Does he have a girlfriend now?”

My stomach did a flip-flop as I looked at the picture my friend sent me on Facebook. It was a picture of the guy who had a tight grip on my heart for more than two years… and his girlfriend. The guy who didn’t even want a girlfriend was looking as happy as ever in a selfie with a beautiful, petite girl by his side.

I once again realized what I knew all along: it wasn’t that he didn’t want a girlfriend; it was that he didn’t want me as a girlfriend.

It can be a tough pill to swallow. The thought that someone can be so attracted to you, enjoy your company so much, and can trust you with anything, but yet not love you in a romantic way, is quite a mystery.

I’ll never understand it. My friends will never understand why he and I had such chemistry and yet he didn’t want to be with me. It boils down to his selfishness and being shallow, and me not being the “ideal” woman for him to be seen with. He has admitted this.

I accepted the truth more than a year ago, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. And until August, I thought I had at least escaped the hurtful situation with a lifelong friend (silly me). Then some information was presented to me by a mutual friend, and I learned that even our friendship was a lie.

It’s all a reminder that people will hurt us. Not to say that you shouldn’t ever trust anyone, but you should never trust someone more than you trust God. You should never put all of your heart and soul into a person, only God.

For years I’ve allowed this guy to hurt me, to make me feel terrible about myself and to remind me that I’m not the poster child of the perfect-looking girlfriend. But guess what? I’m also not the poster child for the superstar Christian. I’m damaged, imperfect, flawed, defective… every word you can possibly think of that makes me not worthy of God’s love. He loves me anyway.

So while this guy from my past has made it clear that I’m not good enough to be his girlfriend, God has made it clear that I am a child of His and that He will always love me, no matter what. Only God’s love is perfect, and that’s all the love I’ll ever need.

“…nothing will ever separate us from the love of God…” Romans 8:39

Heart on a String

Wrote this poem a few years ago. I’ll just leave it at that.heart

Heart on a String

Not easy to acquire, this heart inside my chest.

I made you work harder, harder than all the rest.

Life had showed me that my heart is a precious, precious thing.

But even if I gave it away, I’d keep it on a string.

I’d keep it there so I could yank it back, if it ever came to that.

You could have turned out to be a liar, a psycho or even a rat.

But something strange happened, something that’s never happened before.

Even though I gave you all of my heart, I found myself wanting to give you more.

So then I did something crazy, an absolutely unthinkable thing.

I handed you my heart… and I also gave you the string.

My heart was easy to give back, you gave it back to me with ease.

Now you won’t return the string, but I’m begging you to do it- please!

Things are the worst they can be, because you hold that string.

That string, much more powerful than my heart; it’s really a peculiar thing.

Because while my heart tries to move on, while I try to get away,

You lightly tug on the string with the confusing things you say.

If I were strong enough to break the string, I’d do it without question.

I’d have my heart back with its string and you could have no objection.

But now I sit, with just my heart, and the sad songs it begins to sing.

What use is a heart that needs to heal, when you still hold the string?

It’s not very useful, not at all, because all it does is make me blue.

It yearns for love, it pleads for affection, and only yours will do.

Because this game of my heart on a string, totally controlled by you,

It’s only making life impossible; it’s breaking my heart in two.

Perhaps you’re holding on, you hope to get it back someday.

That would be the ultimate reward- for that is what I pray.

It’s unfair to give me back my heart but still you hold the string.

Not asking for a wedding, not even asking for a ring.

A few choices are in front of us, I pray you decide what I think you should.

Say you’ll hand me the string on my heart, or take back my heart for good.