Wedding Advice: On Registries

It’s time to break the silence.

Truth must ring out, proclaimed from the rooftops and known among the streets:

Not everything that happens in movies is how things happen in real life.

I know.

I, for one, am shocked and personally appalled.

But, it is what it is, and today that whispered shadow of a rumor came crashing into reality at about 9:15am as Kevin and I walked into Crate and Barrel, armed with an iPhone and the promise of a wedding registry event.

In all fairness, thanks to springing forward, we had lost an hour and were fashionably late, which only added to the frazzled looks in our eyes when the sweet salesgirl set us loose on the store, calling after us, “Feel free to ask if you have any questions!”

“So, um…” I looked at Kevin, and then at the first row of shelves, “do you want to start with water glasses?”

Luckily the sales team heard my awkward pitch, and appeared like fairy godmothers to the rescue, arming us with a registry checklist and a basic plan of attack.

Sidenote: I highly recommend starting your registry experience at a Crate and Barrel event, even if you end up not using that registry, because they have free food and coffee and everyone in the store legitimately wants to explain everything.

We wandered and scanned and talked about color schemes and even laughed at a few crazy items (I might have added a $300 gelato maker while Kevin wasn’t looking), and after a few hours wandered out the door to go get some lunch.

Here’s the thing, though: I had this vision in my head of couple wandering around a store, sooo in love, scanning and giggling and getting psyched about the new life they were starting together.

Kevin and I didn’t have a bad time, but it wasn’t anything like the movies- no sound track or inside jokes or playing hide and seek between the aisles and aisles of dish sets.

It was a bit disappointing, walking out of the Crate and Barrel, a little tired and a lot let down. Maybe we weren’t a “good couple,” or maybe we weren’t ready to get married, or maybe this whole thing was doomed from the start- and what were we even thinking, anyway?

But, we had other things to do, and a few hours later we walked into a rum bar with a phenomenally fun bartender who let us try all sorts of different types of rum, and with a bit of a Latin infusion, we headed to Target to finish our registry marathon.

I don’t know if it was warmer weather or the sips of rum or the fact that I had let all my morning’s expectations go, but our Target experience was the complete opposite of Crate and Barrel.

First, there was no event- no free food, no excited salespeople, no private hours just for engaged couples. It was just Target, full of tired moms with screaming toddlers and college students home on spring break.

Secondly, we knew how the system worked. We could scan like pros and we knew that the kitchen would have yellow and the bathroom would be blue.

Finally, we had a strict deadline: we had thirty minutes to scan what we could before we had to be out the door, so we walked up and down the aisles once (or twice) and if we couldn’t decide, we moved on.

And it was so fun.

It was inside jokes and silly scans out loud laughter and stolen kisses. It was everything the way registering is explained in the moves, only it was way better.

Because it was Kevin.

And because we might be eating homemade gelato and air popped popcorn for the rest of our lives because we couldn’t decide on a frying pan.

And because if I could pick one person to eat gelato and popcorn with, it will always be him.

I learned a lot today.

First, Crate and Barrel events really are great.

But honestly, a little rum and a time crunch might be better.

Leave the Hollywood expectations at home- he’s your FIANCE, not your co-star.

Definitely start your registry in a store, and don’t worry if you scan every weird thing in said store…. Just make sure to tell your mom your log in so she can delete the weird things and save you from a lifetime of gelato dinners.

Not that that would actually be that bad. 😉

On Early Mornings And Other Things

My alarm went off at 5am this morning. Now, in nursing school, there’s nothing so unusual about this particular time, except for one thing:

Today is my only day off, the only day I’m allowed to sleep in.

But the alarm went off and I didn’t even snooze it. Instead, I turned on the lights, grabbed my phone, and sat bundled up in the mountain of blankets, facing out my window into the pre-dawn darkness, holding my phone between my knees and alternating between whispering and giggling.

One of my bridesmaids was calling me from the other side of the world, and with the time changes 5am was the only time we were both free, so with great joy I dragged my exhausted body out of bed to hear about her time and share a little about mine.

I think it’s easy, when you’re going through a difficult season, to feel the walls pressing in on you for so long that you accept the treatment as normal. In the chaos of these days, the things that used to be routine have been slowly displaced: things like early morning prayer, dawn runs, evenings spent laughing with friends.


Amanda and I used to meet in the morning to run and to pray, and when the alarm went off, it was a no brainer- I was out of bed and lacing on my shoes without a second thought. Now, when the alarm goes off a few minutes early to read a quick Psalm before getting slammed with my day, if I don’t miss the appointment through the snoozes, I feel so tired the whole time.

But today, I feel alive. The sun isn’t even up yet (how I long for summer mornings!) but I know it’s coming, and I’m eagerly anticipating the day. Downstairs, my coffee is hot and my Bible is waiting- the world is no less chaotic but my soul has finally found footing.

Hebrews 10 reminds us not to neglect meeting together, a command I so often dismiss as impossible. And yet, it is in the meeting together that we are encouraged, spurred on to love and good deeds, reminded of the truth and empowered to make the steps required for the day.

Is it easy to make the time to spend with the saints? No.

But is it worth the 5am wakeup calls, or the late night drives out to a Starbucks, or a living room? Absolutely.

We can’t do this life thing on our own. Praise God for sisters for the journey… even if sometimes those sisters happen to be missionaries in another timezone.


Relearning Lessons From the Race

This is a repost of a blog I wrote 3 years ago. I wrote it on a Thursday, so I’m channeling that to make this a #tbt, but I’ll be honest: it showed up on my timehop this morning and it was exactly what I needed to be reminded of. My fights these days have switched from angry red ants in 90 degree heat to explosive diarrhea coming out of 90 year old patients, but they’re still fights nonetheless.

And now it’s time for me to remember the lessons I have already learned.

The Worst Day

I love Australia. It’s girl’s month, aka 9 women all together all the time. We’re in a tropical climate, aka bright sunshine day after day, with nary a rain drop in the sky.


Team TakaMamas

We’ve made it to month 10, and at the time of this post, there are only 40 days left on the Race.

Now let’s unpack these statements.

Nine women- nine different women- all in a community with restrictions like, ‘you can’t go anywhere alone,’ and ‘you’re on a super tight budget so you can’t really afford to go anywhere, anyway.’ She loves to chatter; she can’t be coaxed to speak. She gets up early to run; she stays up late discussing the deeper ideas of the supernatural. She wants to eat healthy; she’s trying to get everyone around her to join in her midnight binges. She’s obsessed with living in community; if she sees one more person heads will roll.

Nine women. One community. Let’s talk about iron sharpening iron… or perhaps baptism by fire?

Tropical climate- this means there are two seasons, wet and dry. We’re currently in what’s lovingly referred to as the buildup, when the sky gets cloudy like it might rain, but then it doesn’t. With temperatures clocking in somewhere around 90+ degrees, the buildup is really a sick way of saying it’s so humid the sky has to find something to do with all the moisture, so it picked clouds.

It’s so hot you wake up in the middle of the night thinking someone poured water on you as some sort of cruel joke, only to realize it’s your own sweat. Add nine women who couldn’t escape each other even if they wanted to, and you’ll start to get an idea of where I’m going with this.

40 days left. For some, that’s a monumental number- it’s the number of days Jesus fasted in the desert, it’s the number of days of Pentecost. For us it feels like nothing– after all, we’ve been on the field since before we can remember- what’s five more weeks?

Nine women in the blazing heat who can’t escape each other but know the end is breathing down their necks.

Now let’s not forget ministry.

Here at the Darwin Christian Outreach Center, the Takamamas have been doing all sorts of manual labor to help the facility run. It’s a perfect month 10 ministry- you don’t have to be overly nice or spiritual, all you have to do is know how to clean a toilet or make some sandwiches, rake a yard or fold sheets. The days are long (and hot), but it’s always nice to fall into bed exhausted rather than bored.

Today was officially the hardest day.

I over slept my alarm once again- this community thing is great when you’re bored and want someone to talk to, it’s significantly different when you’re dead tired and just want to sleep butother people want to chat it up- so I was running a little late and was still half asleep. I didn’t even open my Bible, choosing instead to cut up yet another shirt in hopes of soaking up some rays (today the sun was supposed to be directly overhead- tans for Thanksgiving, anyone?).

Brilliant, Natalie.

With that excellent start to the morning, Rachael and I report to the office to receive our duties, being the outdoor unit for the day. One of the hired hands didn’t make it in, so we ended up on rubbish bin duty.

Changing trash bags- what an easy task. Grab the bag, throw it in the back of the trailer (that’s right, trailer, love my life), replace the bag.


My first clue should have been the offer of gloves, but I missed the memo somehow and found myself, ten minutes later, covered in angry red ants, trying to wrestle out a trash bag that was over full and ripped and incredibly smelly, wondering if my team would notice if I skipped lunch to run to the airport and catch the first flight back to the land of the sane.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24

Um, excuse me, what in the world is that doing in my mind?

Sanctification, Natalie. You asked Me to sanctify your mind. This is not the time to rain judgment on all of the people who put trash in the can; it’s a time for you to remember that you’re serving ME, not them.

Funny how God always pops in with exactly what you don’t want to hear, usually about the time you so desperately need to hear it.

I got the trash bag out, replaced it, killed enough of the nasty ants to continue on my way, with only a slight limp (I kid you not- these guys are monsters).

One down, about thirty to go.

The trash didn’t get any less smelly, the ants didn’t magically decide to take a vacation and attack the trees, gently swaying in the buildup breeze. A lot of the bags were ripped because they hadn’t been changed all weekend, and I didn’t suddenly discover a passion for trash that I hadn’t previously known existed.

But the Colossians passage never left my mind, so even though I squirmed and struggled and literally fought tears as I fought rubbish bins, the whole time my thoughts were consumed with serving the Lord.

When I met Rachael at our next break, the first words out of her mouth were, “I officially understand the value of Scripture memory. Today was the worst day, but the whole time all I could think of was that verse, ‘and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’”

That’s from the same passage in Colossians, by the way.

We eventually finished the job, washed our hands, and even had the opportunity to shower (and running water is still the world’s biggest blessing). I’m getting ready for bed on a real mattress, a little sticky from all the sweat, but reminded of a prayer I prayed this morning:

Lord, reveal Yourself to me in a crazy way that’ll make a great story today.

What a dangerous prayer.

But He certainly came through. The old Natalie would have spent the whole morning grossed out and complaining, if not out loud, then certainly in her head. This new Natalie that I’m watching the Lord reveal can walk up to an overflowing pile of rubbish, swarming in red ants, and deal with it, because her mind is being sanctified, daily renewed, brought under the authority of Christ.

That counts as a miracle in my book.

And tomorrow’s prayer is going to be for the weather, because I don’t think I can handle another day of mental sanctification in the form of red ants.

Running into the Australian sunrise

Running into the Australian sunrise

All photos taken from my teammates, since I don’t even know what happened to my camera after the lion ate it in South Africa

On Clinicals: The First Day

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged- a long time since I sat down to unleash upon the world the words swirling through my mind, day after day, the truths and the lies and the half-finished jokes. But it hasn’t been a long time since I’ve written- we are required to write journal entries after each clinical experience.

I had the chance to speak with an old friend today, about blogging and writing, about release and remembrance, and I finally had the courage to publish these memories.

So, with that knowledge in hand, I’m going to begin posting these journals that I wrote what feels like a lifetime ago, but was in fact merely a few weeks. My prayer is that as I relive these experiences, I will be reminded of the precious gift that is a life. May I never take it for granted again.

September 03, 2014

Sometimes, when I don’t know how to talk about my day, the only way I know how to begin is by going back to the originals, Mary Kate and Ashley and the Olsen & Olsen Mystery Detective Agency:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Actually it was bedtime, when our great-grandmother would read us stories of mystery and suspense. It was then that we decided to be detectives.”

It was then that they decided to be detectives.

It was today that I decided to join the circus.

Today was day one of clinicals- the for-real kind, where you actually walked into a patient’s room. It was a complete whirlwind of a day, from tired when the alarm went off to excited when I walked in the hospital to nervous when we walked into our first room to downright horrified when I watched a woman poop out blood.

I wanted to cry when I finally took a real blood pressure (shoutout to Amelia for helping with that) and when I found out that the scream down the hall was just a little girl laughing and when one of the patients looked at me and said thank you and actually meant it.

My internal dialog included all of the symptoms of schizophrenia:

“This is the coolest thing ever!”

“What the heck am I doing??”

“I’m going to be a nurse!”

“I could never be a nurse.”

“This is what I was made to do!”

“I think it’s time I joined the circus.”

There was a moment, barely an hour into the day, when I stood at the bedside of a sweet old patient who was surrounded by doctors and explaining to them that she was no longer interested in being alive.

“I’ve lived a good life,” she said, “I have children and grandchildren- why don’t you just let me go septic and die?”

As she spoke, I remembered many similar occasions, standing in a similar hospital room just a few miles away, signing the requested DNR form for my 93 year old grandmother as she lay sleeping in her own hospital bed.

I remembered the night she sat me down and handed me a box with the diamond ring she had been saving for my wedding: “One day,” she whispered as the tears streamed quickly down my cheeks, “there will be a man who gives you your own ring. I’m not going to be there to see it, so I want you to have this today.”

I remembered the night I walked into the room hospice had taken over and saw her body lying on it- silent and cold, the soul of my sweet, strong Abuelita gone for real this time. I remembered sitting on the couch after the undertakers left, staring at the wall and wondering what I was going to do now.

Standing on straight legs almost brought me crashing back to reality quite literally, jarring my thoughts as the doctors shook the patient’s hand, encouraging her to talk to her daughter before deciding what to do.

“Remember,” the doctor said, “whatever you decide is the right decision.”

I wanted to shake her and tell her how it feels when your grandmother gives up the fight to live, how hard it is for a granddaughter to look into a casket at the woman who so deeply shaped her life and say goodbye. I wanted to remind her that part of the duty of a grandmother is to go to the dance recitals and listen to the stories about boys and pray a daily hedge of protection around the young women who carry on the family name.

Instead, I smiled at this woman who was in so much pain, asked if there was anything else I could get for her, tucked her in, and let her sleep. I walked out and realized, I can’t do this. Nurses can’t tell patients what to do, even if it seems right. I don’t think I can be a nurse. I wonder if it really is too late to join the circus?

But stepping into the hallway was like stepping into the ocean, and the currents of the day pulled me along without thought or worry as to the state of my body or my soul- they ripped and pushed and spun and sometimes almost swallowed, until I found myself at the edge of another bed and a completely different story.

This lady seemed much older, her skin barely covering her brittle bones. She had had organ failure, and from where I was standing, it seemed like she was bleeding herself to death. The nurse and tech called me over, and we did everything we could to stop the bleeding. When it was all over, she was lying on a clean bed under a warm blanket, ordering dinner and doing whatever it took to survive.

As we walked out, the nurse looked at me and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Natalie,” I replied, realizing as I answered that in some small way, she was acknowledging what I had done and thanking me for my help.

And just like that, the day was done, an end to the blood and bowel movements and repeated attempts to take a blood pressure. I got in my car and drove home, the same orange sun that rose over the first patient’s room now setting in a blazing display of glory, washing the day clean of its pain, inviting the world to rest and remember that this was just a day. Tomorrow the sun will rise on these two patients, and they, like me, will get to decide what to do with the day they have before them.

Maybe, I thought as I pulled onto the road, just maybe, I’ll make it as a nurse after all.

On Grace Spoken and Lived

We sat down to dinner tonight, a bit of a rough crew. First there was Nick, one leg propped on a chair, crutches beneath the table, head in his hands, frustration oozing out his pores. Opposite him sat my mom, tired and hurt, having just listened to him recount to her all of the ways she had messed up the conversation with the school where she informed them he was out sick today.

I sat in the middle and watched the scene unfold, watched the emotions begin to escalate and the volume to increase, as my sweet little brother got more red-faced and upset.

But my mom didn’t fight back.

She listened, she apologized, and she agreed with the somewhat ridiculous demands of a dramatic teenager.

She showed him grace. Grace upon grace upon grace. The more agitated he became, the more clearly I could see what was happening: she was allowing her grace to absorb his anger.


Earlier this week, Kevin and I had about 15 college students over to discuss a passage in Ephesians 4 on the spiritual gifts God has given to the church. The word for “gift” in the original Greek is charisma, which is derived from charis, which means, “grace.”

“What does it mean,” we asked, “that these gifts are a type of grace?”

It means that they are unearned, undeserved, and that they change the person who receives them as much as the people around her.

And to follow up, we asked, “Why did God give us these spiritual gifts?”

To build up the church in unity and love.


Tonight at dinner, my mom showed the Ephesians kind of grace. She was humble and patient, gently bearing with my brother in love in order to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. And as her grace absorbed my brother’s anger, we watched it sputter and fade, unable to find the kindling needed to build itself up into a raging flame.

In doing so, she helped rebuild the family in unity and love.


When he had calmed down, she looked at both of us and said, “I’m going to say grace,” and we bowed our heads and listened to her genuine prayer of thanksgiving over the provisions before us.

But I prayed another prayer, silently to the Lord.

Thank you for a mother who lives grace, who offers it when it is least deserved, who reminds me day after day that you first loves us when we were dead in our sins, and that kind of love can raise the dead to life.

On Lunch Dates and Cancer and Opening My Eyes

We were driving fast down the twisty roads through Old Town Fairfax. Dad was dropping me off at the gas station to pick up my car before rushing off to a client meeting, and of course we were running late. As we made a sharp right around the courthouse, the Red Hot & Blue came into sharp focus, directly ahead of us with bright colors standing out against the monotonous brick buildings.

“Remember Bob, the guy we had lunch with there a few weeks ago?” Dad asked.

How could I forget? I almost burst out, He had the craziest proposal he was bidding on and I pulled so many all nighters getting our Past Performances together for him.

Thankfully, I bit my tongue, and calmly replied, “Yes,” thinking no more of it, certainly not prepared for the bomb my dad was about to drop:

“He just died.”

“He what??”

“Yeah… Colon cancer.”


Bob had spoken briefly of the cancer when we’d met over lunch one Tuesday a few weeks ago, saying he wouldn’t be able to review some documents until after a procedure, but he hadn’t seemed overly worried about it so I didn’t even think twice.


I mean, lots of people survive cancer, right?


But maybe the answer to that question is no.


All of the women who had cancer when my mom was diagnosed have since died. It seems everyone knows someone whose life has been marked by the disease, a hostile takeover of your cells, a betrayal at the most intimate and microscopic level, when your own body turns and destroys itself.


And today I heard of another victim, sweet little old Bob, my dad’s long time business partner and friend.


Sometimes you get news and you just don’t know how to react, how to process it. There are times when weeping and mourning is not only appropriate, but important. When my grandmother died, the first thing I did was call my dad, and then when he walked in I broke down and sobbed. There was no thought behind the emotion, simply a release of pain and sadness at losing my beloved Abuelita- literally my body agreeing physically with the spiritual anguish of my soul.


When I received news of Bob’s death, though, I shed no tears for the man I had only met once. While my heart ached for his family, my mind locked into playback mode, and I replayed the conversations we had in the few moments I knew him. I got stuck on a loop in the middle of it all, where he mentioned the cancer.

“…going in tomorrow, should be out by Thursday…”


And that was it.


We didn’t pray for him or his family.

We didn’t ask for more details or offer any encouragement.

We didn’t hug him goodbye and wish him the best as we all scurried off to our next meetings, preoccupied with the momentary urgency of buzzing cell phones and missing the chance to love a man who may have been nervous or anxious or scared.


There have been several mentions of the early church in my life recently- it seems that right now everyone wants to live an Acts 2 lifestyle. These people are dedicated to prayer and fellowship, focusing on their neighborhoods and being intentional with their community.


That’s awesome.


But I have a lot of Bobs in my life.

I have so many people whom I see a few times and then leave forever, whose stories briefly intermingle with mine before getting tangled up somewhere else.

These people may be getting on swimmingly, but judging from my own life, I imagine there are more things causing heartache than not.


So, as I try to be more and more intentional in my focus on my home team, I need to keep a weather eye on the horizon, and then next time a Bob mentions, almost as an aside, that he has cancer, I need to stop what I’m doing and pray for him.


Even if it feels awkward.

Even if he isn’t immediately miraculously cured.


It’s not my job to do the healing, simply to point people back to the Healer.



Forgive my selfish striving after the unimportant urgent events in my days, and help me to better see those around me as worth dying for. After all, that’s what Jesus did for me- who am I to offer back to You any less?

One Year Later: Scars and Wedding Bells

One year ago today, I found myself sitting in a pool of my own blood on the side of Braddock Rd, trying to stay conscious as my vision faded to black, listening for the sounds of sirens and EMTs as they quickly strapped me into an ambulance and high-tailed it for INOVA Fairfax’s ER.


It seems a lifetime ago, though it was only a year.


Today, I’m pausing to remember, and to rejoice over the fact that God protects, provides, and heals… and boy, does He heal.


You can read all about it here.




One week after surgery!

one year

Only the smallest scar left one year later!

On Desert Seasons and Finding Hope

I’ve spent the last two weeks on planes and in hotel rooms, working and working and mostly working.

I’ve spent the last two months fighting an ever deepening sense of despair- I’m blaming the weather and the workload. My extraverted tendencies don’t do well being confined inside, on a laptop, all day every day. 

I’ve spend the last few days praying for a new song, and last night on my second flight, I decided to read through my prayer journal from October until this week.

Sometimes it’s cool to pick out patterns of life and growth, of revelations and seasons and prayers.

As I went through the fall entries, I almost didn’t recognize the excited young woman whose pen dripped with joy and who literally couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with her bubbling thoughts and emotions, the handwriting sprawled across page after page.

And then, things began to change.

The journal entries were more frequent, but a theme emerged:

Sorry, Lord, that we’re not really close anymore.

I’ve thought the last few months, I had stopped spending time with God, but as I look at the facts, it’s not that I stopped, it’s that I stopped feeling His presence.

And then the temperature plummeted. The days grew dark. The prayers seemed to lose hope.


I found this entry right around the time everything seemed to change:

December 04, 2013


Worthy is the Lamb of God who was slain for us. Son of God and man, You are high and lifted up, that all the world may know Your great Name.


Yesterday I wanted to be considered worthy of suffering for Your Name.

“Dear friends,

Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering,

as though something strange were happening to you.

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ,

so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

1 Peter 4:12-13

So of course I pray this scary prayer and You answer it, but not as I expected.

No one insulted me for claiming the name of Jesus or tried to stone me for preaching the Gospel.


Instead, you put Jim and Janine in our lives.

What blessings they are to Mom and Dad- how joyous to have friends on the journey.

But You have afflicted Jim with cancer and I don’t understand why.

I mean, God, You are sovereign, and I know nothing can touch him outside of Your express permission. You are fully aware of this situation and have authorized it in Your great, wise, merciful sovereignty.

And Father, I know heaven is a better place to be than here on earth. You’re there in all your glory, surrounded by the angels, who cry out:

            Holy, holy, holy

                        F o r e v e r

You will lovingly wipe away every tear and justice will finally be served.

How I long for that day!

But, Jesus, that being said- all that being true– please don’t call Jim home yet.

Rapha God- the God who heals- remove every trace of cancer from his body and let him be healthy and whole, softened and humbled, boldly preaching the good news about the God man who came to die so we don’t have to and lives again- our Savior, redeemer, and friend.

Please God,

            H e a l   h i m

Because only You can.

            We need a m i r a c l e

                        And we need it badly…

And while I wait for Your glory t be revealed in this seemingly hopeless situation, please fill me with grace as I have the honor of serving this beloved family. And thank you for putting me here, where I can do this.


You are so good.


I’m reading in a book on prayer about desert seasons, and I’m finally starting to understand that maybe it’s not me. Or God. Maybe it’s just a desert season.

And I can respond with denial (pretending everything is fine), determination (doing whatever it takes to fix it myself), despair (recognizing it’s hard and giving up that it will ever change), or hope.


This is all, of course, easier said than done, but there is something reassuring about a sober recognition of what it happening.

So now the only question is,

               w h a t   s h a l l   I   c h o o s e ? 

On Silence and Sweet Potatoes and Finding My Own Voice

It’s 7:30 pm on a Monday night, and I find myself at home, in the basement, taking bites of too-hot sweet potatoes that I pulled out of the over a few moments too soon and keep eating despite the slight sizzling sound my tongue makes every time.


I’m alone, for the first time in I don’t even know how long.


It’s 2014 and I didn’t realize I wasn’t ready- I looked down at my watch today in surprise when I saw that the first week is already over. Where did the time go?


But in all honestly, 2013 is long gone. This may be one of the first years that writing “2014” hasn’t felt strange at all.

Maybe it’s because my birthday is the 14th so I kind of like that number already. I mean, come on. Even year, even better, right?

Or maybe because there’s so much I’m looking forward to this year: applying to nursing school, turning 25, leading my first missions trip (maybe), starting nursing school, actually fasting and not killing my team in the process (boy do I have some fasting stories if you ever want them).


All of these things are true, but if I’m really being honest, I think the reason I’ve so easily moved onto 2014 is because I had forgotten all of the things I learned in 2013, and it took a night of silence for me to be still long enough to reflect on what I had almost so easily buried in the past with the memories of another finished year.


The theme of 2013 was rely. As in, Rely on God. It’s something I definitely struggle with, so God graciously helped me learn about it.

Like the time I crashed my bike into a trash can and couldn’t leave my couch for a few weeks (and then didn’t want to because my face was so disfigured).

Or the time I was a counselor at a summer camp where all of my campers either surrendered their lives to Jesus for the first time or the last time (no way they learned that from me- that was the Lord working through me one hundred percent).

Or the months when I finally obeyed God and carved out chunks of time every morning to pray before starting my day- definitely some of the sweetest (and scariest) memories of 2013.

Like the time the Lord said, “trust him to Me,” and I finally (after a lot of tears) replied, “I will,” and the next thing I knew the man I thought I was sending off to be a missionary sat me down to tell me he was staying here to pursue me.


Rely. Rely. Rely.


Then December slipped by without me even realizing it, and January swooped in and punched me in the face.


Actually, January didn’t punch me, but someone else did- I have the swollen nose to prove it. But it happened this week so I’m blaming January.


2014 is supposed to be the year of deny yourself. Perfect for the girl about to start nursing so she can… well, I’m not going to finish that sentence because I gave that up last year while I was relying, but it used to include orphanages and Africa. We’ll see.


 So far, though, there hasn’t been a whole lot of denying, there’s been a stream of constant excess.

Excessive scheduling.

Excessive eating.

Excessive scrolling.

Excessive talking- desiring to be heard or just filling the silence.

Excessive task finishing instead of people loving.

Excessive running in circles and going nowhere fast.


Until tonight, where I find myself looking at my now empty dinner bowl of sweet potato chunks and sipping slowly on tea, listening to the wind’s maddening howls as it threatens to shake the very foundations of this home which has so faithfully kept the world at bay.


Deny yourself, Natalie.

Deny yourself.



Because He’s worth it.


So here I am, plunging my stake into the ground once again, declaring that this time will be the last time but knowing that God’s grace will sustain me even if it isn’t.

2014 will be good, but 2013 is not lost.

2014 can be a year of denial because 2013 was a year of reliance, or forceful stripping away.

2014 is here and it’s time to take my sister’s advice and act the way I want to feel.


It’s time to refocus, to regain what was almost left behind.

Morning prayer.

Evening quiet.

Saying no to good so I can say yes to best.

Saying no.

Denying myself… to get Someone better.

And when the world looks at me and calls me crazy, to find my voice and speak the words I thought I had forgotten:

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”


Happy new year.

Two Years Later: Celebrating the World Race

This has been a week of anniversaries, of celebrations, of welcome homes and preparations for new seasons. Today is 11/11, or more fondly, World Race Day. It’s also the two year anniversary of my last day of ministry on the Race. In honor of that, I’m reposting clips of some Q&A blogs for all you potential Racers out there. 🙂



Question: Of your most difficult day(s) on the race,  would you repeat them the same way if you could – knowing what God taught you through the rough ones?Answer: What were my hardest days?

There was a long night in Nepal where I was up in a cold, dark, concrete squatty potty, hoping that no one would notice the puke and diarrhea flying out of my body
There were several meals where I knew that if I took one more bite I would die- in India because it was too much food, in Nepal because it was a plate of fish fat, in South Africa it was “half fat spread,” in Thailand it was roasted frogs and bugs.
There were two different days when I watched my team- my family- dissolve right in front of me.

Would I repeat them the same way?

I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is the idea of time- or maybe a renewed idea of time.

It’s easy to stand on this side of the year (today being the last day of ministry) and say, “I’m glad that moment happened,” or “I learned a lot from this experience.” Those things are true, certainly, but they’re not in a vacuum, either.

There’s a huge part of me that wishes I would have done a little less emotional eating and a little more fervent praying.

We are not made up of our moments, big or small. The daily struggles and successes, failures and fantasies do not define us. I learned a lot from these moments, but it wasn’t the moments themselves.

“At the end of a life spent in pursuit of knowledge [one] has to confess: “I now see that we can nothing know.”
That is the answer to a sum, it is the outcome of a long experience…
It is quite a different thing when a freshman comes up to the university and uses the same sentiment to justify his indolence. As the answer to a sum it is perfectly true, but as the initial data it is a piece of self deception.  Acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the existence in which it was acquired.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I wouldn’t want to redo those days (or even, to a degree, the Race), but I wouldn’t ever take them back.
Were they necessary? I don’t know.
But they weren’t all that happened, there was some good and a LOT of mundane mixed in, and as a sum of all those parts I can look back on a year of intense growth and be grateful for all of the moments that served as my teachers.
Question: In what places/ways do you think you made the most impact (even in just providing some much needed food), and in what places do you feel more defeated than content with your contribution?Answer: I think that’s pretty dependent on what you mean when you say “impact.”

For example, in India I was able to connect (via the blog) a local lady with some women back here who were able to support her and her new baby.
In Romania we helped build houses for former orphans (and on one of my favorite days artfully rearranged piles of wood).
In Thailand, there were women that came into SHE because of contact they’d had with people on my team.
In Australia, we estimated to have saved COC some tens of thousands of dollars in labor that they were able to instead use to fund pastors and missionaries around Asia.

But for every day of “impact” came days that I wondered if we were doing more harm than good. Did it help when we carried bags of dirt from one end of a field to another in Nepal?  What good is street ministry in Mozambique when the most we do is… nothing? How much good can you do in Thailand when you forget the basics of ministry? Were we a blessing on the days we were tired and didn’t fully engage in where we were?

I think the real impact we made are the prayers we prayed and the stories we shared. And to be honest, I don’t think we’ll see the results- at least, certainly not in their entirety- this side of heaven.

But we walk by faith, not by sight, and we serve a God who works all  things together for good… even on the days we weren’t our best, or in the countries that didn’t seem to need us.


Feeding Pastor Merv’s livestock | Darwin, Australia


Question: What is the greatest thing you learned about yourself on the Race?

Answer: I really can go a week (or two) without showering!!

Ok, I’ll be serious. I learned a lot. Most of it the hard way.

I learned that I have to love the unlovable, and in doing so, I realized I’m the unlovable one.
I learned the value of discipline and endurance coupled with our commandment to joy.
I learned that I will never love chacos and will always feel better when I’m well dressed.
I learned that I have to learn things and then live them or I’ll have to learn them again.

A lot of what I learned was less about me and more about people / the world (physically and spiritually) / God.

But really, at the end of the day, it’s less about what I learned and more about the fact that I’m still learning, even now that I’m back home. And, lucky me, now I get to share that with people here over coffee instead of waiting till I get internet to post it in a blog! 🙂

If you’re reading this and in the DC area and still curious… let’s grab coffee!


Sneaking into the Danube Palace | Budapest, Hungary


Hope you enjoyed this!

If you want more where that came from, check out some of these:

Meet Some of My Squadmates

On Modern Day Slavery

On Constipation

On Soundtracks

Why Should I Go On The Race?

On Packing