The missing person I hope is gone for good

It might be time to put out a missing person’s report… for myself. The girl who got on a plane a little more than a year ago and moved to Uganda is no longer the same. I’m not sure where she went, nor was there anything wrong with her, but I’m glad she’s gone.10427690_10152090158296573_1541129307916478648_n

At first I wasn’t sure how I had changed. But as I was home back in America longer, it was pretty obvious. Finances changed,  friendships changed, priorities changed, and my overall sense of peace and contentment with life changed.

Financially

The great thing about living in a third-world country for a year was that I returned to America and decided there were a lot of luxuries I could do without. Starbucks, the mall, pedicures, makeup, television and even flat-ironing my hair were a part of my past.

If you know me, you know this isn’t even remotely true. I’m still the first to jump at a trip to Starbucks, and I do my hair and makeup pretty much every day. I love shopping, Target, Macy’s, and fancy perfumes. The difference is, now I appreciate them so much more. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t look around me and think, “Thank you God! I have so much!”

Sure, I have changed my spending habits. I no longer have to have a Coach purse (I sold them ALL before moving to Uganda- there were lots), and I’m satisfied buying my jewelry at places like Target instead of from Premier Designs. But I’m not going to start doing all my shopping at Goodwill and going Starbucks-free because of my experience in Africa. That’s just not the type of impact it had on me.

Friendships

There were a few friendships I was really excited to come home to. I had warned some of my friends that I had changed, but apparently some of them weren’t ready for those changes. While it breaks my heart to see some of my friends make poor choices, like cut out someone like me who is a positive person to have around, it’s not my job to try and “save” anyone from making mistakes.

I’ve returned from Africa realizing I’m worth more than being anyone’s doormat. I’m not the girl who sits back and lets people walk all over her. Loyalty always has been and still is one of the very top things I value in friendship. When that loyalty was broken in the past, I would feel very hurt but probably let it slide. Not anymore. Life is too short to let some things “slide.” If that changes the degree of some of my friendships, so be it. I’ll never stop loving certain friends, I’ll never stop calling them “friend.” We simply have less in common now and aren’t as close. I’m pretty sure that’s just a part of life.

fortwaynerescuemissionPriorities

Volunteering was something I did on occasion before I moved to Uganda. I always wanted to make it a priority, but for some reason I never went through with it. Since coming home, I have felt an incredible tug at my heart to volunteer on a regular basis. I feel like I’m just not me if I’m not doing something to help those who need it. So, on Wednesday and Friday mornings I head to the Rescue Mission at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast to the homeless. Yes, it’s early. It’s hot and stuffy in there, and I leave smelling like sausage, but the smiling faces of the homeless keep me going back.

I’ve also added working out and reading/learning to my priority list. There’s so much to learn about the world and God, and I believe we should take the time to do so.

My Disposition

I’m different. Maybe it isn’t noticed right away, but I’m different. Things don’t bother me like they once did. I’m not chasing after things or people I know God doesn’t want me pursuing. I am… content. With what I have.

This changes everything.

It changes the way I treat people. It changes the way I see myself. It changes the way I see my future. It changes the way I handle hurt. It changes the way I generally feel on a daily basis. I am content. There is nothing else I “need” to be happy.

These changes didn’t happen overnight. I was nothing like this while I was in Uganda. Uganda was almost like a detox for my soul, and I didn’t reap the benefits of it until I came back to the United States. It reminds me of this verse from Galations:

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
Galations 6:9

I might seem like the same Natalie I was before I lived in a third-world country. The outside of me hasn’t changed. But know that on the inside, I’m completely brand new. God used Uganda to do so many crazy and unexpected things in my life and in my heart. I will thank Him every single day for the hurt, fear, struggle and heartache, knowing that it’s what got me to where I am today.

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.