A letter to my 18-year-old self

18-year-old me
18-year-old me

I was thinking today about how my life as a 32-year-old woman is nothing like I imagined it would be. I wouldn’t ever want to know the future, and it’s not that I have any regrets, but if I could write a letter to my 18-year-old self, a girl just a few months away from graduating high school, this is what it would say:

Dear 18-year-old Natalie,

Things are exciting right now, aren’t they? You’re about to graduate high school and head off to Indiana Wesleyan where you will study art. You won’t be there long, but you’ll figure all that out, and it’s for the best.

There are some things I want you to know. I could tell you what’s going to happen to you, about your college career, the places you’ll move, the jobs you’ll have, the hearts you’ll break and those who will break your heart, but you need to experience that on your own.

What I want you to know is that things aren’t going to turn out like you think they will. That’s not a bad thing. Your family, friends, society… will all make you think that there’s a playbook of life and that it’s the same for everyone. They will make you think that there’s only one definition of success and happiness, but that’s not true.

You will not find happiness in a man, Natalie. You will try. You will try very, very hard, but there are other things in this life that will make you much happier. Don’t let anyone make you think that where you are in life isn’t “normal” or that there are things you are “supposed” to want.

God is going to use you to do things other people can’t do- in the same way He uses them to do things you can’t do. You have to trust that all your frustrations and hardships are leading up to something wonderful that God has planned for you.

Relax. Enjoy the ride. When you’re 32, you’re not going to be where you think you’ll be. Instead, you’ll be exactly where God wants you. And I can say with confidence… you’ll be the happiest, most confident, and most peaceful you’ve ever been.

All my love,
Your 32-year-old self

32-year-old me
32-year-old me

Finding Hippos and a Meal for a King…

From my journal of the mission trip with Jesus Film Ministries to Niger, Africa in 2009.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Today was a FABULOUS day! We had cinnamon rolls and banana bread for breakfast and then headed out for our boat rides. The rain really cooled things off last night after a huge thunderstorm, so it was the perfect morning.

Bruce haggled us a good price for the boat ride, and then we were off! In my boat was me, Kathy, Sheri, Zac and Jonathan. The water was pretty muddy and was only a few feet deep. The boats looked really old and were falling apart, but we trusted our guides.4788_103252161572_2999197_n

We went really far in hopes of finding some hippos. I was kind of nervous. Hippopotamuses?! They are HUGE and are NOT nice. And the guides said that they are as fast as horses when on land. Well, we did find some hippos! All we really got to see were their heads but it was still very cool. We walked around on a beach on an island, and we watched the hippos from there and took lots of pictures.

4788_103252191572_6479839_nWe got back in our little boats and our next stop was this tiny little village on an island. We walked around the village. We met some of the people and took pictures of the kids. One little boy just walked up to me and grabbed my hand! He was so cute!

All of the little village kids sent us off when we floated away. There were about 20 of them waving and yelling as we left.

For lunch we went to Angel and Venonce’s home (they run the university Campus Crusade as IMG_0673 (2)national directors in Niger). It was a pretty big deal for them to do that. I guess they didn’t do that with last year’s team! The meal was INCREDIBLE! It was some really weird stuff, but it was also really good. There were a lot of vegetables, some sort of meat (no one dared ask what), and of course all the Fanta we could drink.

Their home was pretty nice. It was gated- like every “real” house here is. They even had a servant!

We talked a bit about the political issues in Niger. It is scary to think Niger could get a new president who will declare it a Muslim country and outlaw any other religions. I don’t even want to think about it.

4975_102900226572_770615_nOur Jesus Film showing was OK. Not many people came but a few accepted Christ! I must remember to pray for this one young man who accepted Christ. He spoke some English, so we talked a little. I was really excited that some of the kids remembered my name! How cute!

Things got creepy when a sand storm started moving in. So when the film finished, we packed up quickly. Even though we did have some scary Muslims chase kids away, at least we didn’t have it as bad as the group that got rocks thrown at them. Crazy! No one got hurt, but that had to be scary.

They just don’t know what to do with us…

It was a glorious Sunday morning when I walked into a potential church home. I was excited at the new friends I would meet, the great sermon I would hear and the spectacular worship I would experience. I was there by myself, of course, I was a single woman with no children.1308201_objects_of_propaganda

I looked to my right and saw a man in a suit with sunglasses on and a walkie-talkie. He looked at me and frantically muttered something into his walkie-talkie. I looked to my left and saw three other men in suits and sunglasses running towards me. Not knowing what to do, I ran down the nearest hallway only to be pulled into a dark room by yet another man in a suit and sunglasses. They shut the door, set me down at a table and put a spotlight on me.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Well,” one of them said. “You’re single.”

“Yeah,” I said, not understanding what the problem was.

“This is church,” he said.

I was even more confused.

“We don’t know what to do with you,” the man said. “Single people in their 30’s scare us. We don’t know where to put you.”

“Could I start off by just going to church?” I asked.

They laughed.

“Who will you sit with?” one of then asked.

“Myself. It’s not social hour, I’m here to worship and learn,” I said.

“But then what? Then what do we do with you?” one of them said. “Where do we put you?”

“Well, is there a place for me?” I asked.

The men all shouted in unison, “No!”

“Can we create one?” I said.

They all just looked at each other before one of them spoke up. “It’s just easier if we ignore you.”

My heart broke, but I wasn’t surprised. It was the same story at every church I’d ever been to.

“We do have a women’s group!” one piped up. “It’s for ladies in their 30’s, just like you! They meet every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m.”

“I have a job.” I said.

“Well most of these ladies are stay-at-home moms. Don’t you want to be that?”

“No,” I said without hesitation.1379514_a_lonely_chair_on_white_background

The men were so baffled that they removed their sunglasses and rubbed their eyes.

“There has to be a place for me!” I screamed.

“We have a great college group,” one began.

“I’m 32. I’ve been out of college for 9 years,” I said.

“We’ve got a phenomenal group of singles who are divorced or widowed,” one spoke up. “They like to get together and talk about their hurts and how hard it is to move on.”

“I’ve never been married,” I said. “Can’t I just join a group that focuses on my relationship with Christ?”

No one said a word.

“Isn’t that what it should be about?” I asked.

Finally someone spoke up, “But we still don’t know what to do with you.”

“Would it be easier if I just left?”

“Yes!” they all said.

So I stood up, walked out of the room and out of the church. They just didn’t know what to do with me.

———————-

1354792_churchThere’s a spot for everyone at church, or so they say. But I think being a single person above the age of 30 is the worst thing to be at a church. Even a drug addict can walk into a church and people will know what to do- they will pray, help the person find addictions counseling, sign them up for Celebrate Recovery, and get them well on their way to a better life. You could be someone who just lost their entire family in a horrific shark attack and the church would know more what to do with you than it does with a single person.

Why do you think so few single people go to church? It’s because we don’t fit in. People think you aren’t married because you must be some sort of demonic person or partier, or that you have absolutely no social skills.

Women’s groups are all focused on being a wife or a mother, or both. Men’s groups are the same way, you’re a husband and/or a father. Churches have tried the whole, “people in their 30’s, no matter what their situation” type of groups, but they don’t work. It always turns into talks about being moms and dads. Plus then the women get catty when you have more in common with their husbands than you do the them. Sorry gals- I can’t talk breast feeding and potty training with you, but I can talk about last night’s IU game with your husbands, and it doesn’t mean I’m trying to steal them away from you.

I wish it would just be about God. I know small groups are intimate and women will share sdetails of their lives with each other- that’s to be expected. It just seems like so many groups are solely focused on being a spouse or a parent.

The church just doesn’t know what to do with us. I can’t say I blame them, and wish I knew of a solution. While my story above is obviously fictional, I have been told by multiple workers in various churches that they really don’t know what to do with us. This isn’t all in my head!

I’ve resorted to having my own Bible studies… with myself. I guess that’s fine, at least I’m getting spiritually fed. I just hope that maybe someday churches will figure out what to do with all of us crazy single people.

“Some of your friends are… terrible!”

I’ve heard that phrase quite a few times from my out-of-town friends since I’ve moved to Fort Wayne.

“Isn’t she supposed to be a good friend of yours?”

“None of my best friends would ever do that to me.”

“What’s with these people you know in Fort Wayne? Some of your friends are… terrible!”

Becca, me and Heather - these two girls are two of my true best friends. They know the meaning of the word "friendship."
Becca, me and Heather – these two girls are two of my true best friends. They know the meaning of the word “friendship.”

Of course at first you don’t want to see it. It’s hard to believe that you have “friends” who are actually the people in your life pulling you down, holding you back, and stabbing you in the back while they’re at it.

I think about some of my female “friends” here in Fort Wayne, and I kind of see what my out-of-town friends mean.

More than a year ago I was the best of friends with someone here in town. She was very manipulative and took advantage of me and my kindness on many occasions. She didn’t know the meaning of the word “loyal” by any means. This girl was a liar to me and to the people around me, and she destroyed relationships I had with other people because of her lies. She also tried to hook up my ex (who I was still in love with at the time) with his ex-girlfriend (who she barely knew). Wow. Some best friend. When I told an out-of-town friend this, she was shocked. Not one of my best friends from IU would ever, EVER do something like that. I believe my friend’s words were, “Why do so many of your friends suck?!”

Well, I ended that friendship more than a year ago, but it appears I’ve still got some snakes in my life. This weekend I was telling a friend of mine in Texas about a conversation I had with a “friend” this weekend. She was like, “Are you serious? Isn’t she supposed to be your friend? Why on earth would she say those things to you?” And she was right. Those things shouldn’t have been said to me, and they wouldn’t have been said to me by anyone who was a real friend.

It’s very sad to me that so many of my out-of-town friends have pointed out that some of my female friends here in Fort Wayne are pretty terrible friends. (There are other times it’s come up with other people, more than the two I mentioned here.) I know there will always be selfish people with ulterior motives in the world, but how did I become “friends” with so many of them? And forget trying to explain to a guy that another woman is a bad friend. That’s just a waste of everyone’s time – especially if the girl is “hot”.

Sure I’ve been burned in relationships with guys before, who hasn’t? But in the past couple of years I’ve really, REALLY been burned in female friendships, and it has me putting my guard up with any woman I meet who could be a potential “good friend.” But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe guarding myself a little more when it comes to friendships is exactly what I need to do.

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.

On my mind and on my heart…

1413990_i_heart_retroLove has really been on my mind lately, and I don’t even think it’s because of Valentine’s Day. I’ve just had a lot of moments of clarity lately when it comes to love and what I expect from it. Here’s what’s been on my mind and on my heart:

I really am OK without romantic love… for now.

Of course I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life, but I really am OK being alone right now. It’s easier to feel that way when I see so many loveless marriages, so many marriages falling apart, people so unhappy with their situations in marriages, and friends going through divorces. I don’t desire that, and I thank God that I haven’t settled for anyone who isn’t the one for me.

In love, I know what I’m looking for.

32 years into my life and I think I finally know what I’m looking for in a guy. I thought I knew before, but for some reason I kept dating guys who were nothing like that. I’m done with the party scene. I want a guy who is done with it, too. Don’t read this wrong, I’m not passing judgment on anyone still in the party scene. All I’m saying is that I have a preference, and I want a guy who would rather rent a movie than go to the bar, a guy who would rather go bowling than to the club. Of course I still like to have a good time, and every once in a while I like to go to a bar and have drinks or to the club and dance, but every weekend? Even every other weekend? No. I’ve got to stop dating guys who do that, because clearly that’s not what I want. And I’m over trying to change guys into what I think they should be.

1413989_i_heart_pinkGod sure saves my heart from a lot of unnecessary pain.

Sometimes I get these crazy feelings. It’s easy to romanticize something that happened years ago. It’s easy to look back and only see the good, to remember how it felt at first, to think about how perfect you once were for each other, and to completely overlook the reason it didn’t last. Sometimes I get caught up in that. What’s awesome is that each time I start to feel nostalgic, God reveals something to me. Might be something as simple as a tweet that tells me, “Oh yeah, Natalie. THAT’S why you will never go down that road again.”

This might be the first Valentine’s Day that I actually love myself.Bday

I’ve always been a pretty humble person, and I think for most of my life I thought that if I was happy with myself, it meant I was vain. So the opposite kind of happened, and I had very low self-esteem. To say I’ve come a long way in the past four months is an understatement. I’ve learned to love myself and everything God created me to be. I’m not perfect, but I’m OK with who I am. That has made all the difference in my life- living for God and living for me, not other people.

God’s love is the only perfect love.

No love is greater. God’s love NEVER changes for us. He will never forsake us. Who doesn’t want a love like that? We aren’t guaranteed anything in love with another human being, but with God we are. His love is perfect. No matter what happens with another person in your life in any sort of relationship, God will always be there loving you.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Remember that today is about love of all kinds. There are lots of people who love you, and above all else, God loves you. That’s really all that matters.

Experiencing true Niger culture…

Another excerpt from my journal on my 2009 trip to Niger, Africa with Jesus Film Ministries:

Friday, June 19, 2009

IMG_0516 (2) - CopyAbby, Sheri and I met with a guy at 8 a.m. to talk about getting a dress made for each of us. First we picked a style, and then w went to the market to pick out fabric. Abby and I got blue material and Sheri got green and black. When we returned to the guesthouse we were measured. Our dresses should be done by Tuesday!

We didn’t have to go to the university so we went to the Gran Marche (Grand Market). It was huge and crazy. It was their version of a Wal-Mart, only outside. There were sections for shoes, meat, electronics, jewelry, etc. etc.4788_103253781572_1396633_n

For lunch we ate at the Lebanese bakery again. It was fabulous! Most of us had hamburgers, and the fries came ON the sandwich. How weird! We all thought it was pretty funny.

After lunch we went to a few places to buy souvenirs. We did some bargaining, it was fun!

But at 1:30, we had to stop. There was a Muslim “call to prayer,” and since Friday is the Muslim Sabbath,  ALL Muslim men participated. All the shops closed and the town fell silent. The crazy, loud and obnoxious town of Niamey stood completely still. It was creepy. We were the only ones walking around (we had no choice but to find our way back to the van). There were HUNDREDS of men praying in the street. And there we were- the American Christians just going about our business. We couldn’t even get into our van because it was surrounded by men on their prayer mats.

IMG_0545 (2) - Copy

We returned to the Catholic Guesthouse to pack up. We didn’t really know what to expect at the new place except that if we wanted air conditioning we had to pay for it. I know I expected the worst. But then we got here and the place is only a few years old. The grounds are all gated and there are lots of security guards. Our guesthouse has two armed guards – Mohammed and Frank. We got a kick out of that- Frank. The place is super clean, modern, and we have an awesome common area for meals and devotions.

Tonight we went to new locations in new groups for the Jesus Film. I was with Kathy, Zac and Don. Our students with us were Solomon and Adam. This time we were in a city neighborhood. MUCH IMG_0578 (2) - Copydifferent than the other two places. There was a soccer game going on where we were set up. While we waited for it to end I played with the kids. A few of them knew a little English- I was surprised!

The game ended and we started to set up. Lots of kids helped us and kept yelling, “Cinema!” because they were so excited. Then, just was we were to start there was a “call to prayer.” We were just around the corner from a mosque. The students told us that the neighborhood we were in was a very devout Muslim area. We could tell.

4788_103256596572_4237979_n - CopyWhen the “call to prayer” was over, we started the film. There were probably 50 kids there and a few adults. About five minutes into the film, a Muslim woman chased all the kids away! They didn’t want to leave, but she was very scary that they had no choice! There were about 20 people left when she went away. I was very discouraged, and then it got worse. Parents started showing up and very aggressively began removing their children from the crowd.  So halfway through the first reel we had only about six people left to watch.

About 20 minutes later, some kids came back and more adults slowly trickled in. Still, I was pretty creeped out because of how angry so many parents were. I could totally understand where they were coming from, though.  Can you imagine someone of a different religion coming into your neighborhood and trying to preach it to your kids? You wouldn’t be happy either. I just pray we had a positive impact on someone and that at least one person now has an interest in Christ.

God’s love on a receipt? Not even close…

I am continuously shocked at the Christians in this world who don’t understand the concept of God’s love and how we are to display it for EVERYONE just as Christ did.receiptgrab

For example, a pastor and a large group of people recently dined somewhere together and were charged an automatic gratuity. This happens a lot with groups larger than 8 or so. Apparently the service was fine, nothing terrible happened during the meal, but the pastor felt the need to leave the message, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%?” You can read the entire article here.

Wow.

I can only imagine, if the server wasn’t a Christian, what he now thinks about Christianity.

Does a server deserve more than God? Of course not. This pastor gives 10% regularly in his tithes to the Lord. Giving 18% on a ONE-TIME meal really isn’t that big of a deal. To compare it to what he gives to God is simply absurd.

This pastor clearly missed a rather important part of the Bible, and some of the greatest words Christ ever spoke:

“…just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

It’s one thing for this pastor to not leave the server an extra tip since the 18% was already added on. It’s quite another to make a connection between a tip at a restaurant and what God deserves from us, and to then write it on the receipt. What kind of love does that show?

Do we really need to give the world more ammunition against Christians? Will we ever learn that Christ wasn’t kidding when He said we were to love one another and show God’s love to everyone? I can just imagine an atheist reading this article and thinking, “That’s why I don’t believe- self-righteous Christians, who show no love, prove that there is no God.”

One of my favorite quotes comes from Brennan Manning:

“The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

It gives me chills every time I think about it, because it holds so much truth. Is it true? Are Christians the reason so many people DON’T believe in Christ? I think it’s highly possible.

I’m not saying this pastor is a terrible person. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be a pastor or that the rest of us don’t sometimes have poor judgment. But I do believe that the biggest step towards being a true disciple of Christ is showing His love… to EVERYONE.

The “disease” people just don’t understand…

Hello. My name is Natalie. I suffer from a disease known as “Singleitis.” I have had Singleitis for 32 years. While most people are rid of the disease at this point, I still carry it with me. I am single.

IMG_0319
“Singleitis” is a serious disease that many people suffer from and others find confusing.

People view single women at my age in one of two ways: the spinster or the party girl.

The spinster’s only social interaction is with people at work, anyone she talks to in line at RedBox, and her cats: Taylor, Alanis and Adele. Hobbies include knitting, reading the classics, crossword puzzles, and playing Jewel Quest until the wee hours of the morning. It’s really no wonder why she’s single.

If a single woman isn’t a spinster, everyone sees her as a party girl. The party girl just wants to have a good time. Her social interaction is with anyone at the bar, anyone on the dance floor, and any guy she brings home with her. She is a drunk who wears little to no clothing even in the dead of winter. It’s really no wonder why she’s single.

So that’s it. If you’re a single woman in your 30’s, you must be one of these two things, right? You’re either a loser with no social skills and that’s why you’re single, or you have too many social skills and are a partier, and that’s why your single.

I see these stereotypes made of single women all the time! Sure there are spinsters and party girls out there, but not all of us fall into one of those categories.

When I was a high school English teacher, if my students asked me what I did over the weekend and I said anything along the lines of, “Met up with some friends for dinner, we went bowling and saw a movie,” they would give me a blank stare, and someone would say to me, “You do stuff?” To which I would respond, “Yeah…. do you think I sit at home and knit on the weekends?” They would all nod in agreement.

On the flip side, when I mention wanting to live in a bigger city because there’s more to do there, some people in my life hear, “I want to live in a big city so I can get drunk and party and make poor decisions that will keep me single for an eternity.”

I am not a spinster, and although I had my fair share of party-girl years, I am not a party girl. I am single, and contraire to popular belief, that doesn’t mean I have a terrible disease. So why do so many people treat it that way?

IMG_1718 (2)
Strapless dresses?! Martinis?! Single girls?! Clearly Kim and I are about to be drunk sluts in downtown Indy. (Note: Not the case at all!)

If you don’t know me and dont’ know my life, don’t make assumptions. If I post a picture on Facebook and I’m holding a glass of wine, don’t assume it’s my fifth glass. If I put up a new blog post, don’t assume I sat at home all weekend by myself writing it. If I am tagged at a dance club in town, don’t assume I’m wasted and going home with a guy. Maybe me and my girls just wanted to dance!

I know we all make assumptions, but let up on the single people a little bit. It’s not easy out here. And if you think it is easy for a single gal in her 30’s to find a man in Fort Wayne, Indiana… you find some guys and send them my way. I know of a few great girls who are looking, and would love to get rid of their disease! 😉

God just said, “Here you go Natalie…”

1395377_the_blood_3Lately I have been anxious. My feelings about certain things and certain people have really been confusing me lately. I was pondering some of the things that were causing a stir in my heart this afternoon, when I realized I hadn’t read my daily devotion yet. I reached for my cell phone and pulled up today’s verse:

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised.” Hebrews 10:36

Wow. It’s like God handpicked that verse just for me today. Some of the things I’ve been worrying about are things I’ve taken into my own hands that I need to just let God take care of in His time.

This verse tells me to step back and be patient, so I can continue to do what God wants me to do right now. Then, when the time is right, God will give me what He has promised.

I don’t need to be anxious anymore. God’s got it all in His hands, and things will work out exactly as they are supposed to.