13 Reasons Why? Actually there’s only one.

girl-1098610_1920I was living in Uganda when I truly thought about ending my life.

I was in a weird place- both physically and mentally. I was surrounded by Christian people, but never felt so far away from God. Never felt so judged.

I was thousands and thousands of miles away from any family. I had gone to Uganda to follow God’s call for my life, and yet some people didn’t want me there. They made that very clear.

I was spitting up blood often, and none of the doctors in Uganda could figure out why.

I was in a car accident which turned out to be one of the most horrifying moments of my entire life, as our car was surrounded by a giant mob of angry Ugandans banging on the windows, and as one kind stranger told us, “You need to get out of here- they will set your car on fire!”

While it was a tough time, any sane person would realize that those are certainly not reasons to end your life. But that’s the thing about suicidal thoughts- they don’t come from sane people. I was nowhere near sane at certain points of my time in Uganda.

I recently finished the Netflix original, “13 Reasons Why” (based on the book of the same title). It’s about a teenage girl who has committed suicide, but instead of leaving a note, she leaves cassette tapes, each one chronicling the “13 reasons why” she decided to take her own life. It’s intense, it’s heart-wrenching. There are a few scenes in the final episode that are so incredibly graphic, I couldn’t watch.

I watched “Beyond the Reasons” after I finished the 13-episode series. They made it graphic on purpose- suicide is not glamorous. It’s not peaceful. And it most certainly destroys your family and friends who are left behind.

Someone today asked me how I felt about Hannah Baker, the character who takes her own life. And to be honest, I’m still figuring that out. She had horrific things happen to her. I can see why she snapped. I can see why her life sucked. I can understand each and every one of her “13 reasons why” and why she had such bitterness towards each of the 13 people.

But really, there’s only one reason why Hannah Baker killed herself. There’s only one reason a person would kill himself or herself. One reason.

They choose to.

I say that with empathy. I say that as someone who has considered doing it. I know people do it because they think they have no other option. They think no one cares. They aren’t thinking clearly. I wasn’t thinking clearly. But the only reason someone follows through with suicide is because they choose to.

I chose not to. As dark of a place as I was in, I chose not to. I chose to deal. I chose to move forward. I chose to change my situation. I chose to cling to what God says about me, not what other people say about me. I chose life.

It’s never so bad that you can’t choose life. Never.

woman-1006100_640I work for a homeless ministry where each and every day I talk with people who have been through the worst trauma you can imagine. They’ve been physically, sexually, mentally, and verbally abused by the very people who are supposed to love and protect them. But they persevered. Despite their trauma, they choose to live.

There is always a choice when it comes to suicide. And that choice is left completely up to the person considering it.

So how do I feel about Hannah Baker? Although just a fictional character, I feel terrible for her, my heart breaks for her, but I’m also pretty angry with her. She made the wrong choice. Taking your own life is ALWAYS the WRONG choice. Her “13 reasons why” weren’t good enough reasons for me, and that’s because there was only one true reason she took her life- she chose to.

I’m turning 35. I live with my parents.

965154_10151383892161573_1762578868_oI’m not living the life I envisioned for myself years ago. As I turn 35, I imagine that my younger self would have a Grand Canyon-sized panic attack if I were told that I’d be living with my parents in my mid-30’s.

Hi. My name is Natalie. I am turning 35 today, and I live with my parents.

And believe it or not, that’s not a bad thing. While there was once a major stigma attached to being an adult and living at home, I’ve found that most people’s reactions are, “You live at home? Sweet! Way to pay some stuff off.” I actually know quite a few 30-somethings who live at home these days.

It all started in October of 2012 when my lease was up at my apartment here in Fort Wayne, Ind. Since graduating from IU in 2004, I had lived in three apartments in LaGrange, Georgia, and two apartments in Fort Wayne. I wasn’t sure what my next step in life would be, so my parents suggested I watch their house for them while they spent the winter in Florida. Something was tugging at my heart saying, “Don’t get locked in to a lease.” So I gave in to that feeling, put my belongings in storage, and agreed to stay at my mom and dad’s house for the winter.

970446_10151513086436573_1019058821_nIt turned out to be a good move. It was in March of 2013 that I decided to move to Uganda to teach high school English. I jumped ahead of God a little bit in deciding I would probably be there for many, many years, so I sold everything. All my furniture, pots and pans, etc. etc. All that was left was me and the suitcases I took to Uganda.

I often wonder if God chuckled when I sold everything. He knew I’d only be in Uganda for one year. I didn’t realize it until I spent most of my year oversees being sick, and had to return to the US for better medical care.

So there I was in 2014,. Back from Uganda, seeing every doctor and specialist in town who would try to solve my mysterious illness, my medical bills growing larger and larger, and I had no furniture to put in a place of my own even if I could afford my own apartment. It made sense: move back in with mom and dad.

I decided I would spend another winter in my parents’ house and find my own place in the spring. But the medical bills were outrageous. I still had no furniture. Mom and dad were awesome enough to suggest I stay through just one more winter.

My medical bills are nearly paid off. I’m making major dents in my other debts. Although I’d love to have my own place with my own furniture and belongings again, it’s kind of irresponsible of me to do so when I have this opportunity in front of me.

I’m incredibly lucky that my parents allow me to stay at their home for a very low cost. And they don’t really even spend just the winters in Florida anymore, it’s turned into fall and spring as well. They’re pretty much only home in the summer and for a little bit around the holidays.

For me, this all goes back to selling everything and moving to Uganda. Would I do things differently? Not a chance.

I’m 35. I live at home. I’m paying things off. I’m saving money. I’m building myself back up to where it makes good financial sense for me to get my own place again. I’m not a failure because I’m living at home. My circumstances have brought me here, and I’m making intelligent financial decisions. 12109054_10153064174206573_3760829934399799715_n

I can’t say what 35 has in store for me. Maybe the time will come to start buying furniture and get my own place. Maybe something completely unexpected will happen that I can’t even imagine right now. All I know is that I’m resting peacefully in God’s hands, and His plans for me are better than any others.

Follow your map and no one else’s

1534289_10151799014316573_1371136033_nWe grow up believing that we’re each given the same map. It tells us where to go and when, and we believe that if we don’t follow the map, all hope is lost and our lives aren’t “right.”

The basics of the map are this: birth, happy childhood, elementary school, high school, college, marriage, babies, retirement.

But the truth is, our maps aren’t all the same. For someone like me, who assumed my map of life was the “normal” one, it took me years to learn and accept the fact that we’re all given different maps.

I haven’t always been pleased with my life map. There were times I begged God to give me a different one. For more than two years I begged Him for the heart of a man who I eventually found out was full of false promises and other lies. I begged God to move me to Indianapolis. I begged God to send me a man to marry.

And it was just a few years ago that I not only accepted the map God gave me, but I embraced it. These days I’m thanking God every single day for my life map. Why? Because it’s MY map. MY life. MY experiences. My map of life was tailored just for me by the one who loves me most.

It still baffles me that if I haven’t seen someone in years, and the first questions they will ask are, “Are you married? Do you have any children?” Then I sound like some sort of failure because all I can respond with is, “No. I just travel the world going on mission trips, lived in Uganda for a year, volunteer at a homeless shelter twice a week and have a job that I love at a nonprofit. But sorry, no husband or babies.”

I remember having a conversation with a few of my female students in Uganda. One of them was already fearing she wouldn’t get married. It sounded like a matter of life and death to her, although she was only a teenager. It killed me that she, like I had, felt that we all had the same map, and if you don’t find someone to marry by the time you finish college, all hope is lost.

All hope is lost? Although I went through years of feeling inadequate because I wasn’t married, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. Now that I’ve fully embraced the life map that God gave me, everything has changed. Hope hasn’t been lost, it’s been restored!

Maybe you’re in the opposite position that I’m in. Maybe you did get married and start a family, and you haven’t done all the other things you wanted to do in life. I encourage you to embrace what God has given you, and pray that He will provide you with the opportunities you desire. He can make a way! Or, He will put your heart and soul at peace with not attaining the things you desire.

If you were going on vacation and driving to Texas, would you go to Google Maps and punch in Florida as your destination? Of course not. That map isn’t for you. That map won’t lead you to the happiness that awaits you in Texas. Stop trying to get somewhere that God doesn’t have as your current destination.

We’re all given different maps. Follow your map and no one else’s. We only find happiness when we follow it how God wants us to. Trust the map He’s given you.

“I will instruct you and teach you
in the way you should go;

I will counsel you
with my loving eye on you.”

Psalm 32:8

Africa destroyed me, and for that I am thankful.

IMG_4864It’s been nine months, and I am just now figuring out what to say to people about my time in Uganda. What’s ironic about that is that no one is asking anymore. In a few months I’ll have been home longer than I was there.

But just because no one is asking doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be thinking about it. To be honest, I think about Uganda every single day. I often have dreams about Uganda, whether it’s that I’m riding a boda through downtown Kampala or teaching my students back at Heritage. It’s true what they say: once you experience Africa, it will always be a part of you.

But aside from all the good times and unforgettable experiences… Africa destroyed me. Not only because of the poverty and suffering I saw- I’d already seen that in Niger, Zambia and Nicaragua. God sent me to Uganda to be personally and spiritually destroyed, torn to pieces, ripped to shreds. And He did it because He loves me.

IMG_0318I needed to be destroyed. There was no true way to piece me back together, into what God wanted me to be, without destroying me first. So He did what He had to do. He allowed Africa to destroy me.

Somehow God used me in other ways while I was there. He used me to be a friend to people, a mentor to students, a feet washer at the jigger clinic, a tub scrubber and a window washer at the baby home. I actually find it quite amazing that He had the ability to allow Africa to destroy me, continue to use me for His glory, and put me back together as a new person, all at the same time

If your life seems a mess, if you’re feeling defeated, remember that God is still at work. He will do whatever it takes to make you the person He wants you to be. I know I still have growing to do, as we all do, but looking back on my year in Africa, and looking at who I am today, I am eternally grateful that I was destroyed in Uganda.

Thank you, God, for loving me enough to destroy me and then put me back together.

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
His understanding is beyond measure.”
Psalm 147:5

Why aren’t you excited?

I’m happy. I’m content.IMG_20121126_190915

But sometimes… that’s not enough.

Despite an overall sense of contentment, I’ve also felt quite defeated lately. Work. Health. Finances. They aren’t exactly making me feel like I can take on the world.

I got to thinking, “When DID I feel like I could take on the world? When was the last time I was not only happy, but excited about my life and the direction it was headed in?”

The answer was clear: before I went to Uganda.

From when I accepted the position at Heritage International School in Kampala, Uganda in April 2013, to the day I left for Uganda in July 2013, were the greatest months of my life because I was so… excited! I knew that I was smack in the middle of God’s will for my life. I knew I was about to have an amazing adventure. I had so much to look forward to!

So the question is, as I sit here feeling a bit defeated and discouraged, why can’t I be excited about what’s next? Why can’t I be just as excited as I was before I went to Uganda?

The answer is simple: because I don’t KNOW what’s next.

But God does. He knows what’s next. And He knows that it’s exactly what I need. Isn’t that enough to be excited about?

Starting right now, I’m going to start living my life like I’m excited again. I’m excited to see what God has planned. Multiple people have told me that God is going to use my experience in writing and serving internationally in some great way. Instead of sitting here annoyed that it hasn’t happened yet, I’m going to be excited! Elated! Ecstatic!

I encourage you to do the same. You may think you have nothing to be excited about, nothing to look forward to. I understand that. It’s often difficult to convince ourselves that God is going to do something spectacular in our lives. But you have to have faith.

You might find yourself so excited that you’re smiling when you least expect it. And if someone asks why you’re smiling, just tell them the truth: “God’s about to do something great in my life!”

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” Romans 8:28

Who wins in the “my life is harder” competition?

enrapture logo with email
When I became a YL distributor and started my own business, “enrapture”, I found out quickly that I was in the minority as a single woman and as a woman with a full time job outside of the home.

I was at my first Young Living seminar back in August when I was surrounded by mothers, the majority of them stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs). We heard from many successful women, all of whom were SAHMs. Every “success story” I’ve read about Young Living distributors has been about SAHMs. So I was curious as to whether there were any great success stories of single women, with no children, who work full time jobs away from the home. I was looking for some encouragement and inspiration!

After I asked my question, I realized what was about to follow- a backlash of, “Stay at home moms work just as hard as people with full time jobs!” and, “Being a mom is a full time job!” And on, and on.

Totally misunderstood (no one could really even give me a good answer because they couldn’t get past what they THOUGHT I said), I crawled into a hole and died. I considered leaving the seminar. I held back tears. Part of me wanted to quit Young Living completely, but I stuck it out.

Then, the other day someone posted a similar question on a Young Living Facebook group. They had a friend who wondered about the success rate of women in Young Living who work full time jobs and are not a SAHM.

WOW. The responses were horrifying. One woman even said, “I know for a fact that stay at home moms work much harder than anyone with a full time job.”

Excuse me? Have you talked to every woman on the planet to know exactly how hard each woman works at her job each day? Who are you to tell another woman that her life is easier than another?

Who wins in this competition of, “My life is harder”?

How about we stop this competition completely?

Most of the time, we all work hard. We all want to be the best at what we do, and it’s a challenge for every woman. Whether its taking care of your children at home, taking care of children at a school, running a business from home, running a business at another location, etc., etc., isn’t it always hard work?

Some people think if you’re single, you’ve got it made. You get to come home from work and relax. You have all evening to enjoy life and not worry about a husband or children getting in your way. Well, do you know how many of us would love to have that “difficulty” of a husband and children? You might be stressed out because of your children and husband, but some of us are alone with our thoughts for hours on end. When is the last time you were alone with your thoughts? It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s actually quite terrifying. So while you’re chasing your children around, trying to get them into bed and yelling at your husband for not fixing the dishwasher, there are some of us wondering why we don’t have exactly what you have. And on top of that, we have to fix the dishwasher ourselves.

Can we all agree that no matter what stage of life we are in, life is tough? As women, we work hard. We have to because there’s often something we have to prove. Instead of getting into a ridiculous debate about whose life is harder, we should focus on supporting each other, building each other up.

You may think you know someone else’s life, but most of the time you have no idea. SAHMs have struggles, and so do women who work away from the home. Both work very, very hard. Married women face challenges, as do single women. Mothers have hurts and broken hearts, just as women without children do.

We should be in this together. Let’s stop passing judgment on another woman’s life and telling her that she doesn’t work as hard as you do. You have no idea the struggles she faces.

And as far as Young Living goes, I am definitely in the minority as a single woman and as someone who doesn’t work at home. But I’m not going to let that stop me from trying to be successful in sharing products that have drastically improved my quality of life. Shameless plug: Follow my essential oil blog HERE! And “Like” my Facebook page HERE!

Social media: not getting in my way

I’ve been journaling since the third grade. Yes, I literally record pretty much every moment of my entire life via written word and/or photographs. That’s just how I am. It’s really no wonder I became a journalist and started documenting other people’s lives.

Snapping a pic of my meal this evening didn't ruin any memories in the making.
Snapping a pic of my meal this evening didn’t ruin any memories in the making.

I love life. I love my life. I love seeing other people’s lives because I love people. I love people because I love God, and God tells us to love people. I enjoy seeing people’s lives on social media, and I equally enjoy sharing my own. I don’t believe it has in any way, shape, or form, had a negative impact on how I experience life.

There’s no question that many people spend too much time on social media. However, I’m tired of feeling attacked and seeing all these blog posts and videos and status updates about “missing life” because  you’re putting something on Instagram, writing a status update or Tweeting.

Excuse me… what?

If Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, are a problem for you, than that’s exactly what it is: a problem for you.

I’ve been in Uganda for almost 10 months now. One of my favorite things to do when I get homesick is look back through photos on my Instagram from when I was home. It reminds me of home, and it makes my heart so incredibly happy! Do I regret the 25 seconds I took out of my day to post a picture of me and my niece a year ago- a photo that would bring me happiness in the present as well as in the future? Of course not! I didn’t “miss” anything. If anything, I captured a moment so I could cherish it forever.

There’s no need to knock people who make the choice to not utilize social media to document their lives, but I also don’t see the reason to criticize those of us who do.

Life is beautiful. I love to share that life with my friends and family who want to see it. And honestly, I know a few people who have lost family photos and journals to house fires, hurricanes, tornados, etc., who would give anything to have those memories back. I love the fact that my memories are somewhere reasonably safe- on social media.

Getting a picture with my friends only helps me remember the fun we had this evening!
Getting a picture with my friends only helps me remember the fun we had this evening!

Isn’t it slightly ironic that the same people telling others to get off social media have invested a great deal of their time writing blogs and making videos about staying off social media? Not to mention the fact that social media will be what propels their very argument?

Tonight we went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. We took lots of pictures, and I will post them on Instagram, Facebook, etc. I’ve even posted them with this blog post. For me it didn’t interrupt my moment or my memory. In fact, it will do just the opposite. I believe it will enhance my memories.

Don’t tell people they are “missing life” because they happen to live their life differently from you. If social media is getting in your own way of living life, then of course, you need to back off. But some of us love life, and we love sharing it. I am overjoyed with the blessings God has given me, and I’m not going to stop sharing that with the world.