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.

Another early goodbye…

IMG_20130914_080640Four months ago when I went to pick up my friend Katrina at her apartment here in Uganda, I was greeted through the security gate by a precious little face and painted fingernails. I instantly fell in love with the little girl peering through the hole in the gate and snapped a photo.

“Who is that?” I asked Katrina when she got in the car.

“That’s Florence, our day guard’s daughter,” she told me.

Time went on. Katrina moved back the United States, and I ended up moving into her open room on the compound. I remember my first day going home to the new apartment after a day of teaching. I opened the gate and tiny little Florence came running towards me. You would think I was her best friend that she hadn’t seen in years. Behind her waddled Gideon, her little brother.

I thought it was because I was new, but as it turned out, that’s how I was greeted every single day- with love and hugs from two of the cutest kids in all of Uganda.

IMG_4757I quickly learned that Florence loves to dance. She would twirl for me, hop around, sing and dance for as long as I would watch. And she would always say, “Look!” in her little Ugandan accent, which actually made it sound like she was saying, “Luke!” She spoke very little English, but enough that I could tell her every day that she was beautiful, and she would reply, “Yes!”

Florence loves having her picture taken, and she especially loves being in videos. We’ve had fun with my camera and computer just being silly. She’s been the first child here that’s made me think, “I get it. I now know why people come here and go back to America with a child.”

But Florence isn’t an orphan. She isn’t without a family. She’s got a mother and a father who have gone through the very worst in order to do what’s best for her and Gideon. I learned recently that they are refugees from Congo. They arrived here on foot. They have seen two children die already. They’ve been through things we can’t even imagine.

On the worst of days, and I’ve had my share of them here in Uganda, Florence has been the shining light that makes me smile. Today, Florence and her family leave to return to Congo.IMG_20131116_002418

To say that this breaks my heart is an understatement. Not only am I sad that I won’t be able to spend time with her, but I’m horrified for the family’s safety. The worst part is, I’ll never know what happens to them. I’ll never know if they make it back to Congo safely. I’ll never know what happens to them if they do make it.

My initial response to the family returning to Congo was one of shock. Why on earth would they return to such a war-filled country? They escaped! Why return? I was somewhat relieved to learn today that apparently things have been peaceful for a few weeks now. Also, they cannot afford to send Florence to school in Uganda, and in Congo, she will receive an education. If that’s what’s best for Florence, I am all for it.

The compound is going to feel really strange now. I know I’ve only been here a month but I’ve grown to love Florence and to always look forward to her smiling face. I’ll even miss Gideon, even though he was prone to peeing on our front porch. It’s hard not to love that little ball of goofiness with a smile that melts your heart.

Please pray for Florence, Gideon and their parents. Pray for their safety and that the move is what’s best for the family. Pray that God will provide them with whatever they need to live a happy life.

And pray for the rest of us who will miss their glowing faces and their giggles that once echoed throughout the compound.

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From one house to another…

My new apartment is on the second floor of this building.
My new apartment is on the second floor of this building.

It was after 1 a.m. when I arrived at my new home in Uganda on August 1. The sight of the towering house literally took my breath away, and I was shocked as I was then shown to my very own bedroom and bathroom after walking through the giant living room and eating area.

I certainly didn’t expect to live in a hut. My adventure in Africa would be teaching high school English at an international school in city of more than a million people. I knew my place would be decent, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be primitive. However I also didn’t expect it to be really nice.

Housing here is so strange. The school takes care of our housing, but not all housing was created equal. For three months I have lived in a two-story house with two girls. We each had our own bedroom and bathroom. We had house help six days a week. We had double beds, large bedrooms, a huge kitchen and a nice yard. Other people have tiny apartments, twin beds, bedrooms less than half the size of mine, and house help only twice a week. I’m not blaming the difference in housing on the school, but it is pretty extreme, because they have to take what they can afford and what is close to school.

While the house is beautiful, it isn’t my ideal living space. I have always wished I lived closer to school, and I’m definitely not bonding with the dog I’ve been forced to live with. Simba is a great guard dog, but he causes me more stress than he’s worth, even though I try to pretend he doesn’t exist.

Meet Ashlie- my new roommate!
Meet Ashlie- my new roommate!

As I mentioned about a month ago, my friend Katrina left Uganda. Her leaving here opened a space in one of the apartments closer to school. The opening would be with my friend Ashile, from America, and the new girl taking Katrina’s spot is Dutch. Lots of wheels were turning in everyone’s mind as we realized how this could work out great for all of us- where Ashlie wouldn’t have to have a roommate she didn’t know, and the new Dutch girl could have Dutch roommates. And yes- I could be closer to school and not have to deal with the dog.

Yesterday was moving day. I moved to a smaller apartment, smaller bed, smaller bedroom, and I’ll be sharing a bathroom. But to be honest, the great house I was living in isn’t what I ever expected to have here. I’m happy to make the sacrifice of moving into a smaller place. In the end, I think it’s exactly what I need for the rest of my time here in Uganda.

I’ll certainly miss Debby and Elize, but I look forward to new adventures with Ashlie and our awesome neighbors!

Here are some more pictures of my new home here in Uganda:

The view from this different apartment is much more like I expected things to be here.
The view from this different apartment is much more like I expected things to be here.
Smaller bed, but works just fine for me!
Smaller bed, but works just fine for me!
Favorite part of the new apartment - our porch!
Favorite part of the new apartment – our porch!
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View looking out the back of the apartment.

I’m not afraid of gorillas and war…

“Aren’t you scared?” is the number one question people have asked me when they find out I’m moving to Uganda for at least two years. I’m not sure if they think I should fear being eaten by a lion, bit by a spider, contracting malaria or being captured by rebels.

“Not really,” I say. But I’m starting to realize that that’s a lie. I AM scared, but not for the reasons everyone probably thinks.

I don’t fear for my physical safety. I 100% percent believe that God has that taken care of, and I’ve given up those fears to Him. I am completely at peace about my physical safety in Uganda. I’ll be sleeping each night with an armed guard outside my door. What do you have protecting you?

Although I’m not afraid of wild animals (there really won’t be any in Kampala), or of war (always a strong possibility in Africa), there are plenty of things I am nervous about. These are the things I need to turn over to God, and I ask that as you pray for me, you pray that I find peace in these fears:

1043957_10151475508866573_1969601688_n1. People won’t like me. I’ve yet to interact with anyone in Uganda who has been even remotely unkind. As a matter of fact, everyone has been super helpful and constantly letting me know that they are excited about my arrival. Still, my fear is that they will meet me and not like me. This is part of my ever-present flaw of being a people pleaser. I don’t worry about Ugandans liking me, but my fellow teachers at Heritage International School. There’s really no reason they shouldn’t like me, but it’s a big fear I have.

2. The work load is too much. I’ve never taught more than three classes in one semester, and usually it’s only been two (with the same class taught a few times a day). At Heritage, I’ll be teaching Freshman English, Junior English, Senior English, SAT Prep and the school’s first Journalism class. That’s five classes, two of which I’ve never even taught before. I know God qualifies the called, but I’m pretty nervous about taking on so much.

3. I’ll inadvertently offend someone. Cultural norms in other countries are so different from what we know in America. I’m already learning a lot about what to do and what not to do, I just fear I’ll do something terrible and not know it until I have a bunch of angry Ugandans getting upset with me.

4. I won’t be able to “connect” with my students. In IMG_1096America, this is what made me a good teacher. I connect with my students, they feel they can trust me, and I find great ways to relate material to pop culture in a way that they understand it. I’m about to teach an entire group of students who not only come from Uganda, but literally from all over the world. My fear is that I won’t be able to find that “connection” with them.

5. Someone important to me will die back in the U.S. As I say my goodbyes to people here, I am already thinking, “What if that’s the last time I’ll see them?” I have been especially dreading the goodbye with my parents. But I’ve also realized lately that ANYTIME you say goodbye to someone could be the last time you see them. Still, my fear is that someone important to me will die while I’m in Uganda, and that I won’t be able to be here to support my grieving family and/or friends.

I know God will help me overcome these fears, which is why it’s important that I am fearful about some things. Otherwise, why would I need to turn to Him?

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