Saturday, March 28, 2015


If there is any hard lesson Uganda has taught me, it’s not to cry. I have seen only three Ugandans over the age of six cry, and I think the world of each of them for their brave honesty. But aside from that,

Ugandans. Don’t. Cry. 

At least not in public, unless at a burial.

Unaware of my newly learned skill, I’m sitting at dinner with my people in Corpus. We’re having a lovely conversation about the way God has knit our hearts together. They’re all crying and Presley looks at me and says “Natalie, you don’t cry anymore. You glisten.” And of course we’re all killing ourselves laughing at her choice of words! Crying and laughing, snot everywhere. “Glisten?!” “Your eyes just get shiny, but you don’t cry!” She’s right; it’s rare that the tears will actually leave my eyes these days. They just sit there, pooling up above my bottom eyelashes, but never making their way down my cheeks. Glistening.

I glisten at least five times a day. So maybe you could say that Uganda has NOT taught me to not cry, it’s just taught me to hide that I’m crying. Either way, it keeps my Ugandan friends from feeling uncomfortable, and I am glad to have learned that lesson. 

I’m twenty-one. That is not very old. But to me it feels old, just like it felt old when I was seven and fifteen and twenty. Because I’ve only lived through twenty-one years, twenty-one years is the biggest amount of time I can imagine. And I was alive for every single one of those twenty-one years. A long time. I remember lots of things, all the way back to being three and begging my parents to put on the Patsy Cline CD in the car.

My Mom and Dad used to listen to country music before we moved to Texas. I guess when they got to Texas and stayed a while, they realized everybody else listened to country music and they had to be hipster and switch to some other kind of music. I don’t know. But nonetheless, there are certain country songs I hear every once in a while now (why they’re listening to Garth Brooks in Namuwongo slum, I will never understand.) and I am instantly transported to my Dad’s black pickup, riding around with our dog Thelma in the back. 

When James Taylor comes on my iTunes shuffle, I see the Rockies and taste pink lemonade and feel the victory of winning my Mom’s Car Bingo challenge. Road trips and James Taylor always went together, my parents harmonizing and Victoria and I rolling our eyes in the back seat. 

When I hear Gungor, I feel the chill in my bones of a November concert in Waco with my sister Stephanie + her husband Dennis, and the of taste of Cowboy Coffee from Common Grounds. 

The same with smells. 

When Hannah left Uganda last year, I inherited her purple rain jacket. When rainy season started this week and I pulled that jacket out of the closet, I smelled Hannah’s perfume and remembered the months we spent together on the tippy top of a hill in Kampala in our Elephant Graveyard house, sharing life and guacamole. 


Yes, food too. When I eat really good french fries, I’m taken back to Fridays and seventeen, my lifelong best friend Wahson, having skipped her English class, would meet me in the back parking lot by her little red truck. I’d put my feet up on the dashboard and we'd head to the island, talking about nothing and everything over a pile of cheesy waffle fry goodness, always in the same wooden booth. 

Your senses have that way with you, don’t they? You suddenly feel all the emotions you once felt, the sense directly connected to the memory. If time travel exists, I’m convinced the key must be smells and songs and tastes. A song comes on the radio, and I’m a crying mess. 

Or I’m just glistening.

I love reading. I used to think I hated reading, but I actually hated people telling me what to read. High school’s over, and I like reading now. Most of all, I just love stories. I love reading them, I love hearing them, and I love telling them. 

I think the reason those songs and smells and flavors strike a chord with our hearts so many years later is because they are directly tied to our stories. 

They tell our stories back to us.

I want to listen to James Taylor every time I take a trip, because I love my Mom and Dad, and it just feels right. Listening to James Taylor on a road trip tells me the story of my childhood, and how much my parents love each other and music, and how they instilled that in me. 

I want my sister and Dennis to be there every time I see Gungor, because would Gungor even sound good if they weren't by my side? The music tells the story of me and Stephanie and how we are sisters, but also best friends, and how we both love God, and have a lot of questions about Him. Those songs tell the story of how to worship God nonetheless and how Stephanie and Dennis walked eight years ahead of me and taught me how to do that. 

Waffle fries in Port Aransas, Texas tell the story of my nine year friendship with Wahson. They are exactly what I want to eat when the movie of our life together plays, during the scene where we get her truck stuck in the sand at the beach or the scene where we take turns reading 1984 out loud because we procrastinated on our summer reading list until the day before ninth grade. 

I glisten when I think about those things because I have loved my life so much, and namely I have loved the people who stayed.

They have stayed, and years mean a lot in relationships to me. Years build. 

There is One who stayed and has been building a home in my heart for a very long time. And I glisten when I read His Word. Words written so many years ago, long before my twenty-one years even started, but His words…they tell my story. 

I sit in Opelousas, Louisiana and hear sweet Betchina read Psalm 23 in Haitian Creole and I glisten because I have walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and He did walk with me. He did lead me beside still waters, and He has restored my soul. And that has been true for every person, in every language, for all time. And that has been true for me in my twenty-one years here and true for Betchina in her eight. 

I sit at Jangu Omulise in Namuwongo and I teach on Isaiah 62. I talk about how I asked God to give me a name, and tell the story about how He did. I fight to keep the tears in my eyes and off my cheeks because all these Ugandan mamas are staring at me, but it is a tough battle because these words are my heartbeat. These words from so long ago, telling me that God rejoices over me and will call me by a new name that the very mouth of the Lord will give. 

And He did. 

God did that. In me. 

Out of all the people on the earth who know this God and have this very same Bible, but these words are true for me. 

I sit in the dark before sunrise, power out and lavender candle lit, reading Ephesians and welling up with tears in chapter 2 because I was dead in my sin. I was dead and a stranger living in the passions of my flesh. And even in the midst of that filth, this God-man, Jesus looked me in the eye and loving me despite me, gave Himself up on the cross. And now in Christ Jesus I, who was once so far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for He himself is my peace. He did reconcile me to the Father. 

This is my story.

This book, this Word of God, is the bread I live by, incense rising in glory before the Father, soundtrack to my story. These words make me glisten because these words hold all of my twenty-one years. They hold eight years old and walking down the aisle during the alter call, my heart beating in my throat and tears welling in my eyes because Jesus loved Natalie, and I wanted to love Him back. They hold thirteen and being so scared to sing on stage for the first time, but knowing God wanted me to. They hold twenty and moving to Uganda and starting a ministry for pregnant mothers. It has been, and still is, the loneliest, hardest season of my life. But the same God who walked with me when I was eight, walks with me now. And I glisten because He has remained true. At eight I could tell it to you with crooked teeth in my eight year old vocabulary, and at thirteen I could sing it to you in skinny jeans and converse, and today I can still tell you “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea” (Isaiah 46:1-2) and I can tell you that there is just “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after,” (Psalm 27:4a) to sit and dwell in Him, to sit in His glory and just look at Him. HE is my one thing. He is good and sure and steadfast, and these words have been true for my twenty-one years. And they will be true for twenty-one more. And twenty-one million after that.

God. Is. Good.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Grand Canyon + Waiting

In January my Dad took me on a trip to Oklahoma, Kansas (I think?), Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and all the way back through Texas to the very bottom we call home. I love roadtrips. And most of all, I love Vacation Dad. Vacation Dad is different from Normal Life Dad. Vacation Dad tells hilarious stories, doesn’t shave, and eats a lot of dessert. Normal Life Dad does these things sometimes, but Vacation Dad is all about it. He’s Normal Life Dad on crack. I inherited the adventure gene from my Dad. Adventures just make us more fully ourselves.

One of our many adventures on the trip was to the Grand Canyon. I had never been. Dad has been there once.

We arrive really late at night, after I failed as a navigator and took us an hour in the wrong direction. Woops. Thank God Vacation Dad mostly just laughed, bought another Monster and candy bar, and said not to tell my mom. We finally make it, and we’re driving through the Grand Canyon at pitch black midnight to our hotel, seeing nothing but the hope of tomorrow and all it will hold. They say the Grand Canyon takes your breath away, and I can’t wait to see the promise with my own eyes.

We’re up at the crack of dawn. A coffee for me, a Monster for him, and we’re in the car and on our way. The ground is covered powdery white snow. It’s magic. I’m enchanted. But then we make it to the Canyon’s edge.

We make it to the Canyon’s edge, and we can see nothing. When I say nothing…I mean absolutely nothing. The fog is so thick, we can hardly see five feet in front of us. It is unbelievably cold for this Texan/Ugandan girl, and only getting colder. Fashion is thrown out the window as I’m borrowing a big sweatshirt from my Dad and wearing some hat (ew) from the souvenir shop, gloves, leggings under my jeans…I look like a puffy mess with a red nose. But yolo. It’s the Grand Canyon, and I have hope that the fog will clear and we’ll see this apparently entrancing place. In the meantime, we go in the museum and watch a documentary about it. We greet the promise from afar through video, interviews, and photos. We sit and listen to people on the screen talking about how glorious the Grand Canyon is, how vast, how captivating. The movie ends, we walk outside, and still the fog remains. No Grand Canyon, and I’m starting to believe it’s not really there. My Dad assures me he’s been here before, he’s seen it with his own two eyes, and the haze will eventually clear.

For some reason, my Dad is not upset about all of this. Having travelled hundreds of miles to come to this place, to be so close, and there’s just a haze between us and the thing we dreamed of seeing. He’s not one bit discouraged.

My Dad spends the day leading me around the Grand Canyon, focusing on the good and beautiful things. Yes, the Canyon is twenty feet away and we can’t see it, but look what we can see. There’s a baby elk! Johnny Cash is on the radio and we know all the words! This is your first real winter; let’s throw snow, eat snow, sit in the snow, make snowmen and snow angels and let’s walk around in the snow making footprints everywhere! Here’s a hot apple cider! Look, a hippie grocery store (my Dad knows the way to my heart); let’s buy snacks and have a picnic in the snow! After a few hours of this, I begin to forget we are even missing the thing we came to see. I’m so intoxicated by adventure and my Dad’s joy, that I’m not all that upset about the fog anymore.

Sometimes you can drive around the Grand Canyon all day long, and not see it. You can be so close to the promise, but feel so far away. It’s so hazy you’re beginning to believe the Grand Canyon isn’t even there, probably just a fairy tale or a tourist trap. But hold fast to your Father’s hand. Hold fast. And let him lead you all around, showing you the beauty of powdery snow, baby elks, and drinks that warm your insides. Let him teach you joy and patience. Trust him. He’s gone before you, he’s seen it. He knows it’s here. You’ll just have to wait. 

What promise are you waiting on? What’s on the other side of the snowy haze?

We had an appointment the very next day in Phoenix. We had to leave.

But the Grand Canyon!

We drive in the opposite direction. Goodbye Grand Canyon. Woulda been nice to see you. 

Two days later my Dad says “Natalie, we can do whatever you want today!” Always a dangerous statement.

“…can we drive back to the Grand Canyon?”

Vacation Dad. Yep, I’ve got him wrapped around my finger. And we drive.

Hours later we arrive at the Canyon’s edge. Tears well up, and I breathe it all in. It’s even more beautiful than I could have imagined.

I see it! I see it! This long awaited glory, this hope, and it’s right before my eyes! My Dad was right, it really is here! And it’s better than those silly documentary people said it would be! It’s better than what I read online or heard about from the park rangers! It’s breathtaking and it’s indescribable and it’s mine. Today it’s mine. It’s mine to breathe in, and it’s mine to talk about, and it’s mine to taste and see and hold in my heart forever. And it was worth the wait. In fact, the wait made it better. Because in the waiting, I got to sing Johnny Cash with my dad. I got to see baby elk and their mama making footprints in the snow. I got to eat crunchy apples in the freezing cold with my Dad. I prayed for this moment. I actually prayed “God, PLEASE clear this haze! Let me see your beauty! Let me see your goodness!” And I did. I saw it in the fog with my Dad, and today I see it in the sunshine and the vast Canyon promise ahead. 

Sometimes you can drive around the Grand Canyon all day and never see it. You can walk all around the promise, the thing you came to see, but you see nothing except the joy on your Father’s face.

Will you choose to sit in the cold staring into the haze, thinking “Why can’t I just have what my Father promised me right now?” Or will you choose to rejoice in Him and all the joys He wants to show you?

Let’s faithfully learn to wait well.

I want to learn to wait like my father and my Father. Wait in joy, wait with eyes on the beauty.

That day wandering all around in the fog feels so small, compared to the immense joy of the moment when I actually I saw the Grand Canyon. It was well worth it. The waiting made the promise all the more sweet. We are here on this earth only for a second, before we’re in Heaven for eternity with Him. Heaven is a breath away. I want to wait well. I want to fight for joy in the haze of it all, and trust my Father that glory is just a step ahead.

Today one of the mamas from Jangu Omulise delivered a dead baby. Faith’s little girl was lifeless in her womb for two weeks before we met her. Sitting in this mama’s home and hearing her story did not feel close to Heaven. It did not feel like the world would be reconciled or light would overcome darkness today. The haze of this loss made goodness seem far away, and evil so near. But I trust my Father. He’s been here before. He knows that Glory is just ahead. He knows that He wasn’t lying when He said He’d come back for us and redeem it all to Himself. Heaven is just a breath away, and for now…for now He will lead Faith beside still waters and restore her soul. He will show her beauty on this side of the fog, and He will not let go.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. -Romans 8:18

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