Sorry Satan… you lose.

Confession time. When I listed my biggest fears before I came to Uganda to teach high school English, I left the biggest one off the list: I was horrified to teach at a Christian school.

With some of my students my last day at North Side.
With some of my students my last day at North Side in 2011.

There’s no question that the majority of my students at Troup, Northrop and North Side loved having Miss Trout as a their English teacher, but not every experience I’ve had with teens has been pleasant. The worst experience I’ve ever had was with a group of Christian teenagers at my church in Georgia.

I thought working with the youth group would be perfect. I was in my first year of teaching, and putting together my love for God and for teens seemed like the perfect combination. I accepted the challenge of working with a group of sophomore girls. I was ecstatic to be a part of the youth group! I would be a mentor for these young ladies, and I figured it would also help ME stay in line in other areas of my life.

The exact opposite happened. I was open with the girls about my past, like my crazy partying days at IU, and it totally backfired. Their allegiance was to their previous small group leader, a young, pretty, married woman they had known their entire lives who was now leading a different grade. They refused to accept me. My heart was open to them, and they completely shut me out.

It was bad. It was hurtful, and my heart still aches when I think about it. I ended up leaving in the middle of the year, as well as leaving the church, because it was so bad. There was no reason for me to stay when they refused to let me into their lives and their hearts and learn anything from me. I was shattered.

These feelings all came back after I agreed to teach at Heritage here in Kampala. Satan really tried to attack me by saying, “Natalie don’t you remember what happened in Georgia? You can’t teach Christian teenagers. Christian teenagers hate you! Remember?” Satan is so good at reminding us of our insecurities that have been buried for years.

A few days before school started, and my nerves were already out of control about this whole “teaching Christian kids” thing, we were told we had to sign up for a committee. Our options were: special events, performing arts, enrichment, and spiritual life. I didn’t even think twice about it when I heard “spiritual life.” I signed up immediately.

It was like Satan attacked me again. “What are you doing? You can’t talk to these kids about God! Look at the mistakes you made in life! If they find out, they’ll turn on you just like the kids at church in Georgia!”

Satan is such a dirty liar.

Waiting for the rest of the youth group to arrive at last week's kick off.
Waiting for the rest of the youth group to arrive at last week’s kick off.

Can I tell you that I already know these kids love and trust me? Not only do I make them write essays and read books, but I also tell them about everything God’s done in my life and what He can do for them… and they still respect and love me?

Yesterday in my 12th grade class we got into a deep discussion and somehow my testimony came up. As I was telling it, I was starting to have those awful feelings and wonder if I would forever lose them if they knew where I once was in life.

But I kept talking.

And when I was done, one of my students said in his beautiful Kenyan accent, “Awesome, Miss Trout. Thanks for being honest. So many Christians lie about the dark times in their lives, but you aren’t afraid.”

Satan has consistently reminded me of what happened in Georgia so many years ago. But once again, God is the victor. What Satan once used to tear me down, God is using for His glory.

“And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, what could stand against?”

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The challenge I didn’t expect…

God likes to challenge us. It’s how we grow. But I never imagined that this would be the way God would challenge me in Uganda. I have quite a task ahead of me.

Each morning from 8 – 8:15 the middle school and high school students have devotions. I am in charge of the 10th graders, a class of about 15.

For the first five and a half years I was a teacher, I was in the public school system with a very clear separation of church and state. Now, here I am, in Uganda, teaching at a Christian International school where I am to lead devotions with an entire class each morning. I felt extremely awkward even being allowed to pray in a classroom.

Of course it’s a beautiful thing to be able to pray, but leading a devotion of some sort? I had no idea where I would start. So yesterday I was honest with the students about not really knowing what to do with them. They said their devos teacher last year asked them for ideas and they wrote down topics on a sheet of paper that she would sometimes choose from.

I thought that sounded like a good idea, but once the students got out their sheets of paper, their minds went blank.

“Miss Trout I don’t know!”jesus-on-cross-4-1364043-m

“I can’t think of anything!”

“Can we just watch Veggie Tales?”

All sorts of excuses were being thrown at me. I tried to get their minds going and prayed for the best.

I was not prepared for some the responses I got:

“How to deal with circumstances you cannot handle.”

“Why God has seemed to change from Old Testament to the new, but the Bible says He’s the same yesterday, today and forever.”

“Why does God get so angry at the Israelites when they’re in the desert (enough to kill them)? But then the Bible says He has infinite love and patience?”

“Why should we believe in Christianity rather than the Jewish religion? Which one is true depends on whether documentation and word of mouth is true. So why should we believe one or the other, how can we know? The same goes for Islam.”

And about a handful of students wrote something like, “Questioning your religion.”

God has given me these students for a reason. They have a lot of valid questions, and I feel God wants to use me to help answer them. But it’s very scary.

Those “questioning religion”, some are Christians and some are not. I have a very serious and timely topic on my hands here to deal with.

And as far as some of the other questions, I think I’ll be in touch with my pastor and retired pastors about a few of those! I think it’s great that they are asking questions like those. It’s when we stop asking questions and stop searching for God’s wisdom that we fall behind in our spiritual lives.

Like all of us in charge of a class for devotions here at Heritage, I need your prayers. I need prayers that God will give me the right words, the right answers, and that my students will have open hearts.

I read somewhere that high school is when people really start to think about what they believe in and why. I want to be the light for God that attracts these students and keeps them close to God. Wish me luck!

Walking on Water

“You called me out upon the waters
The great unknown where my feet my fail.
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand.”

I’ve seen my fair share of beautiful bodies of water. From the Caribbean, to the Atlantic Ocean, to the Pacific Ocean, to Victoria Falls and beautiful blue rivers in Africa, I can honestly say I’ve seen some incredible waters on this earth. It wasn’t until recently that I truly connected the idea of water, Jesus and what it means to have faith.

I’ve always known the story of Jesus walking on the water, but it’s taken a new meaning in my life lately, and it’s eerie how God has revealed to me the importance of this event.

IMG_3120In Zambia a few weeks ago, we taught the story to the children at Lifesong for Orphans. In short, Jesus approached His disciples by walking on the water, and not just any water, but it was also in the middle of a storm. The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, but Jesus said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Oh how often Jesus tells us that, yet we fear so much!)

Peter had such great faith that he told Jesus to call for him. Jesus did, and Peter also walked on water. But when Peter lost sight of Jesus and focused on the winds, he began to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus grabbed his hand and saved him.

“I will call upon Your name.
Keep my eyes above the waves.
My soul will rest in Your embrace.
I am Yours and You are mine.”

Beyond teaching this story I’ve known since childhood to the kids at Lifesong, my friends Mo and Janeth played a song for me while we were in Zambia. The song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong began to speak to me, as it did to Mo and Janeth. I didn’t really get a chance to listen to the lyrics until I got home and downloaded it, but when I did, it all came together for me.

Everyone has their own ways of relating to the story, but here’s mine. Me going to Uganda is God calling me out upon the water. I’ve never been in a position like this where I’ve had to have so much faith and rely completely on God. I have to trust Him for my safety and my fundraising. Some people say I am doing such a great thing and that I must be so strong. I look at it as God did this because I’m not strong. He wanted me to be in a position where I had to surrender to Him completely, because before now, I hadn’t.IMG_2678

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters.
Your sovereign hand will be my guide,
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.”

Peter started to sink when he lost sight of Jesus and focused on the storm around him, and Jesus asked him why he doubted and where his faith was. There will be storms in Uganda. I will experience things I’ve never experienced before, and the biggest storm of all will be missing my family and friends. I’ll sink if I don’t stay focused on Jesus, and if I don’t keep my eyes above the waves.

God has been calling me to step out in faith for years, but only within this past year have I had the faith to step out of the boat and onto the waters. These final lyrics I will type now are so perfectly and beautifully written, that I feel like they came from my own heart:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feed could ever wander,
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

—————————————————————–

Lyrics from Hillsong’s Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
All photos by Natalie A. Trout

What you might be shocked to know about my trip to Zambia…

Two weeks from now I’ll be flying over Africa somewhere, headed to Zambia where we will serve God at Lifesong for Orphans. What’s really awesome about this trip is that Janeth, one of my best friends, will be going on the trip as well! But there’s something you don’t know about our friendship.

Let me tell you about Janeth. Janeth is amazing. Although just a young grasshopper, she doesn’t mind being friends 488122_3188445239546_496056400_nwith an old woman like me (she’s 24 and I’m 32). Never once has age stood in the way of our friendship. She always makes me laugh, and since we became friends almost a year and a half ago, she’s been there for me whenever I’ve needed her.

Even though Janeth is in Texas and I’m in Indiana, she’s managed to be my rock this past year, especially when I had my heart broken. Her advice and prayers got me through some pretty rough times.

What I love about her the most is that she’s such a Godly woman. She is so spiritually mature for her age, and I have learned so much from her beautiful heart for God and her passion for humanity and the earth in general. She is, quite simply, one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.

Janeth is also the reason I even know about the trip to Zambia! The day she suggested I go was one of the coolest things ever. I’m so excited to serve God on this trip and to do it with one of my best friends.

Here’s what you don’t know…

Janeth and I have never met.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

No, we didn’t meet on FriendFinder.com (is there such a thing?), or some sort of Christian website. We met right here, on WordPress.

A few years ago I had a blog that none of my family or friends knew about. It was very personal, and for some reason, lots of people found it interesting. Janeth was one of those people. She followed my blog, I followed hers, and one day in February 2012 I posted a comment on one of her posts. She sent me an email with the subject: “Hi from Texas :-)”

We were both going through some heartache at the time, and her words in that email were so comforting and helpful. She was very open about her relationship with God, and what she was going through. Little did I know that a little more than a year later I would be going to Africa with her.

532521_3195916786330_513696476_nWhat’s weird to think about is that GOD knew. He orchestrated this entire friendship. I have never been so sure of anything in my entire life. God has used Janeth in a major way to help me grow as a Christian. I believe He’s used me in the same way for her.

Janeth and I will meet for the first time in London when I meet the rest of the group going to Zambia. We’ve text and Skyped before, so we’re definitely not complete strangers. Like I said, she’s one of my best friends! We talk pretty much every day!

I know plenty of people will find this all rather bizarre, and that’s OK. I think it’s all pretty awesome that God would use someone so far away to help transform my life. Just one of the many amazing things He’s done for me!

This verse definitely sums up my friendship with Janeth:

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Thank you, Janeth! Can’t wait to serve God together in Zambia!

Think I’ll stop drinking rat poison…

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”
– Anne Lamott

574986_poisonI have to be honest. I’ve been drinking a glass of rat poison every day for the past year or so. I’ve been waiting for the rat to die, but instead I’ve only been killing myself.

My spiritual gift is mercy, and I’m quick to forgive. We’ve all had to forgive people for hurtful, heartbreaking things they’ve done to us. But for some reason, there’s someone I just can’t bring myself to forgive.

It’s not the guy who broke my heart a few years ago after he claimed to love me and wanted to make me his wife someday. I’ve forgiven him. It’s not the guy who ripped my heart out of my chest repeatedly in most of 2012 and kicked it around, stomped on it and tore it to shreds. I’ve forgiven him.

It’s an ex-friend who deliberately deceived me for the year or so that we were close, close friends. It wasn’t one event that ended our friendship, it was more of a situation of, “I saw the light.” Others had warned me repeatedly that her motives are never, ever pure at heart. There’s always something in it for her. I didn’t see it at the time, but now I look back and see how incredibly manipulative she was with me- how our entire friendship was a lie.

Guys can be jerks. They break our hearts, that’s what they do. Our best girl friends? They are not supposed to break our hearts, but she broke mine. Once I learned many of the lies she had told me throughout our friendship, and the lies she told other people about me, I felt stupid. I felt like a fool.

Is it obvious yet that I am holding on to a lot of hate? I’ll be honest. I am. I couldn’t tell you anyone else on this planet who gets me more worked up than she does. I haven’t been able to forgive her. I can’t let go of that hate.

We are studying Joseph in the book of Genesis at Bible Study Fellowship. Last week we studied how Joseph forgave his brothers even after they tried to kill him, threw him in a pit, and eventually sold him into slavery. He forgave them because it was the right thing to do. It was what God wanted him to do.

941127_chained_loveI’ve felt chained up and trapped since the friendship ended. I read stories of people who forgave those who killed their family members or abused them. There’s no reason I should be holding on to this hate. No reason to not forgive her, even if she can’t see that she did anything wrong. I’m drinking the rat poison day after day expecting it to kill the rat, but it’s only killing me.

After Bible study I talked to one of the leaders about my situation. She suggested I pray for the ex-friend I can’t forgive.

Wait. What?

I flat-out told her, “I don’t want to pray for her.” 754548_lamb_of_god_1

She told me it’s not a matter of what I want to do. It’s a matter of obedience and what God REQUIRES me to do. If I pray for her, maybe I can eventually forgive her.

And it makes sense. Why on earth should God forgive me of my sins if I haven’t forgiven this person?

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.” – Mark 11:25

I’m done drinking the rat poison. I know I don’t have to like her, I don’t have to be friends with her or even talk to her, but I do have to forgive her. Hopefully I’ll reach that point by praying for her instead of holding on to all this hate.

God doesn’t give us “suggestions”…

When Jesus set out to gather His disciples, it did NOT go like this:1389725_bible_collage

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into a lake, for they were fishermen.

“I have an idea,” Jesus said as he approached them. “If you’re up for it, you should come follow me.”

Andrew said, “Well, we’ve got fishing to do. Maybe some other time.”

“OK, no problem,” Jesus said. “It was just a suggestion.”

In reality, Jesus said, “Come, follow me. I will make you fishers of men.” And guess what? The Bible says that “they immediately left their nets and followed Him.”

God doesn’t give us suggestions. The Bible isn’t a suggestion of how to live, it’s the ONLY way God commands us to live. Today I’m not struggling so much with that, as I am with something else God has been saying to me for years.

“Come, follow me,” He has been saying. Of course He commands that we all follow Him, but some of us He calls to follow Him to more extreme locations. When God does this, it’s not a suggestion. It’s a command.

Has God commanded you to do something? Maybe it’s to let go of someone from your past. Maybe it’s to treat your spouse better or to be more patient with your kids. Maybe it’s to be a missionary in the most remote place on earth. Whatever it is, it’s between you and God and you know in your heart what it is. You also need to know that God isn’t merely suggesting you do something, He’s telling you to do it.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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.