I will not apologize…

IMG_2961On Sunday I turned 37. There’s lots I could write about.

I could write about how 36 was spectacular. I could write about how 36 was awful.

I could write about how 36 saw love, heartbreak, melanoma, surgeries, a cat, Las Vegas, new friendships, broken friendships, moments closer to God, a few times of anger with God, the passing of my final grandparent… the list goes on and on.

But instead, I’ve decided to write about things, now that I am 37, that I will not apologize for. That sounds harsh, but it’s not meant to be. For my birthday, a good friend from work got me Brene Brown’s book, “Braving the Wilderness- The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone,” and after just the first chapter I’m already inspired to be myself more and stop trying to please everyone.

Basically, I won’t apologize for being me. This is how God made me, and as a newly 37-year-old, I will not apologize for, or feel bad about, the following:

Proclaiming that I follow Jesus
Sometimes, I do want to apologize for being a Christian. We don’t exactly have the best reputation these days (I’m sure Jesus is thrilled about that), and many Christians are on more of a crusade to preserve their rights than they are to actually lead people to the Lord. But I will never, ever apologize for loving Jesus and talking about it. He is my hope. My strength. All I need.

Drinking Starbucks (especially PSLs)
It’s amazing how society has taken a drink, the pumpkin spice latte, and created a stereotype around the people who drink it. It’s a drink. It’s a coffee shop. It says literally nothing about who I am as a person. I love Starbucks coffee, and pretty much everything else they have to offer. I will not apologize for my taste in coffee.

IMG_1925Being a “cat lady”
I’ve wanted a cat for years. However, I never went through with it because I didn’t want to be that single girl in her 30’s with a cat. As I grew to care less and less what people think, in July I decided to get a cat. Mr. Glitter Sparkles might make me a cat lady, but that little ball of fur brings so much joy to my life! As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, getting a pet was one of the best choices I have ever made for my mental health.

Dating outside my race
I’ve dated white guys. Black guys. Hispanic. Korean. Ugandan. If I’m interested, he loves the Lord, and we have chemistry, I don’t see why I wouldn’t date outside my race. For years I kept this hidden, or at least didn’t announce it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, so I will never apologize for dating outside my race.

dimsumTaking selfies and photos of food
I take selfies because this is my life- me. No husband. No kids. Just me. So sharing my life on social media, it’s going to include selfies. And as far as food, I’ve always taken pictures of my food, even before social media was a thing.

Not wanting biological children
When I was a little girl, I didn’t play with a baby doll and dream of the day I’d have my own baby. Instead, I played “college.” I’d wake up on Saturday mornings, ride my bike around the neighborhood going to “class” with my imaginary college roommate named Jenny. I do not have a desire to have my own biological children, and I never have. This is something I often apologize for, which is crazy. I’m open to marrying someone with children, and I’m very open to adoption. Me not wanting to give birth isn’t something I should have to apologize for.

Having a heart for people who are homeless
I work for a homeless ministry. The people we serve… wow. I can’t even begin to tell you how THEY have changed MY life and how I look at the world. It’s easy to look at a homeless man and think, “Bum. Get a job.” But you don’t know their story. You don’t know their trauma, their mental illness, the reason they can’t just go out and get a job. My heart for those facing a homeless crisis grows every single day.

1012333_10151453432236573_275048135_nHaving a different world view
This certainly doesn’t make me any better than anyone else, but the fact is, I’ve been a lot of places. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve visited third-world countries on two continents. I’ve spent time with young girls who were victims of sex trafficking in Thailand. I’ve met a boy in Uganda who was a victim of child sacrifice but amazingly survived. My world view is going to be different. While stateside Christians are angry about kneeling football players and liberal Hollywood, I’m angry about poverty, sex trafficking, child sacrifice, homelessness. That’s all due to my different world view, and I won’t apologize for it. In all honestly, I should probably speak up about it more.

Blogging the truth
I hold back a lot. I have 38 blog posts I’ve written but not posted because I fear people won’t like what I have to say. Then again, that’s kind of part of being a writer. I was once telling a friend about a blog that a woman from her church writes. She’s a phenomenal writer, and I said I admired her talent. My friend responded, “You’re talented, too. It’s just that her blog is like a warm hug, and your is like a kick in the ass. But readers need both!” My friends are awesome.

I have a feeling that 37 is going to be amazing. Every year I become more and more like the person I desire to be and the person God wants me to be. I will not apologize for that. And I just might do it while drinking Starbucks and taking a selfie.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”
Psalm 139:14

When Starbucks ruined Christmas (or so they say)

STARBUCKS COFFEE CANADA - Red Cup Pre-OrderIt was early November when the latest meeting of the “Angry Christians” club was called to order in a small American town east of the Mississippi. Everyone had come with their list of things to be angry about, and they were ready to discuss.

As the president of the “Angry Christians” club started the meeting, someone burst in.

“You won’t believe it!” the man said. “You simply won’t believe it!”

All of the Angry Christians turned to see a man holding up a red Starbucks cup.

“Christmas is ruined!” the man shouted. “Christmas is gone! America is taking Jesus out of Christmas, and that is obvious because of this red Starbucks cup!”

The Angry Christians’ blood began to boil. They tore up their lists because nothing was worse than this.

“Starbucks hates Christians,” the president said. “Starbucks hates Christians, and it hates Christmas! We have to tell Jesus!”

Meanwhile in heaven, Jesus was sipping on a Starbucks peppermint mocha when one of His angels walked in shaking his head.

“We’ve got another issue from the Angry Christians,” he said. “This time it’s over a Starbucks cup.”

The angel put some paperwork in front of Jesus, who read it, and then sat back in His golden chair. He looked at His own Starbucks cup. Then He looked at the angel.

The angel was tired of waiting for a response, so he said, “Sir, what do we do about this?”

Jesus put His cup down and stood up.

“Is Starbucks a Christian company?” Jesus asked.

“No, sir,” the angel said. “They have no religious affiliation.”

“Did they ever have my name or image on their cups, and now they have removed it?” Jesus asked next.

“No, sir, they simply took off things like trees and snowflakes. They change the design of the cup every year.”

“Christmas is when Christians celebrate my birthday, right?” Jesus said.

“Of course it is, sir,” the angel replied.

“And does a plain red Starbucks cup mean it’s no longer by birthday?”

“Not in the least!”

Jesus was perplexed. “Will any fewer people become Christians this holiday season because snowflakes and trees were removed from this year’s Starbucks holiday cup?”

“I don’t imagine so, Lord,” the angel said. “If the Christians are doing their jobs on earth, they should be the ones leading people to you.”

“Then why,” Jesus said as He picked up His peppermint mocha, “are they letting a cup get them so upset?”

“Well, they feel it just another way America is taking you and your name out of Christmas.”

Jesus looked at the angel and chuckled. “Take ME out of Christmas?”

“Lord,” the angel said, realizing that taking Christ out of Christmas was impossible, “forgive me for even approaching you with this. For I have forgotten that you ARE Christmas. Starbucks can’t remove you from Christmas. America can’t remove you from Christmas. NO ONE can remove you from Christmas because you are God and you ARE Christmas!”

Jesus smiled. “That’s right. And I always will be.”

The angel gathered up the paperwork to bring the news to the Angry Christians, but Jesus stopped him before he walked out.

“And let’s be honest,” Jesus said. “Christians love their coffee. Do you really think Starbucks would purposely try and upset Christians and lose all of that business? Of course not. And if my followers were to boycott every business that didn’t glorify me, I’m not sure they’d have many places to go. Do they research the religious beliefs of each and every place they spend money?”

“Sir, you always have the greatest points!” the angel said, as he left the room.

Jesus sat back down and again looked at the Starbucks cup on His desk.

If the holiday season is about me, how many of my followers are doing things I actually called them to do?  Jesus thought. These people who are angry over a cup, are they feeding the poor, visiting the orphans and widows, fighting for justice of the oppressed? Or are they just looking for something to be angry about….

Back on earth the angel returned to the Angry Christians meeting, but no one was there. He hoped maybe they were downtown passing out free coffee to the homeless or visiting the sick in the hospital. Instead, they had all gone home to update their Facebook pages with anti-Starbucks status updates since Starbucks had ruined Christmas.

The angel shed a tear at the actions of the Angry Christians members who were allowing anything to ruin what Christmas really means. “Christmas is still about Jesus,” he said. “It can’t ever NOT be about Jesus.”

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.