Saturday, March 28, 2015

Glistening

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. 

Food. 

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.

To join us in equipping more mothers in Uganda with the word of God, visit http://www.uniquelywoven.org! Your donation equips women to rise from the darkest places into the light of Christ. That is my story...darkest place, into the light of Christ. Let's join God in making it the story of Uganda. 






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