Before my family moved to Mexico in October 2009, I became convinced that our eight months in Mexico would be an amazing time for me to grow in my walk with God. People told me before I left what a great growth experience it was going to be for me, and I had even worked it all out with God that I was going to grow so much in my faith while we were there.

But a month or two into the trip, I found myself sitting on my little bed, writing in my prayer journal by the light of the flashlight app on my iPod.
“What happened to this being a time of growth?” I demanded. “I thought I was going to come here and grow and really become more like You while I’m here!” I told God. I felt ripped off and rather frustrated with the failure of my growth mission.

But then, as I sat in the dark and listened to the neighbor’s dog bark, I suddenly realized that I was growing; my very motivation to grow indicated an increased desire to become more like Christ. In other words, that I wanted to grow was growth in itself.

I scribbled this realization in uppercase letters across the page, then paused as God brought another thought to my mind. Sometimes, the times that feel like I’m struggling the most is when I am growing the most. Growing more like Christ is not all rainbows and butterflies; God helps me, guides me, and protects me, but sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I don’t do a great job. And a lot of the time it doesn’t even feel like I’m going anywhere.

But I trust a God who promised to not quit on me until He’s all finished, which will be when I get to Heaven. He’s not giving up on me and He’s not giving up on you.

So that’s good.



Bullet Point Post

• The girls and I got a new bed last week. It’s a bunk bed with a queen on bottom and twin on top. The little ones sleep on the bottom (and there’s space for a couple more little ones down there, too) and I sleep on top. Between the occasional 4am bathroom break and turning off my alarm every morning, I’m getting pretty good at climbing up and down from the top while mostly asleep. Except this morning, my pajama pants got stuck on the ladder.

• I’ve been missing lately. Missing France, missing Mexico, missing people in both countries. Missing family in California, missing family in Michigan, missing random friends who insisted upon spending the summer in Canada…

• But my missing them doesn’t cover over being thankful for them. I’m not so wrapped up in wishing they were here that I completely forget to thank God for them. Because I am thankful for them; very much so.

• My summer has been phenomenal so far, and sometimes I worry that I’ll get so wrapped up in the things I’m doing in a given instant that I forget to think about the big picture. I know that looking back on past moments often helps gain an understanding of what God’s big picture plan is. On the flip side, there is a fine line between living moment-by-moment and becoming so obsessed with the big picture idea that one cannot live in the now. I’m on the moment side of the line now, and may need to take a bit and realign my point of view. Make it a little bit more in line with His.

• My top bunk is waiting for me. Good night; I hope you have a rocking Thursday.


Paris from Above

Paris from the Eiffel Tower.
Taken March, 2011.


Real Nostalgia

Paris has always conjured up a nostalgic, magical wonderland feeling in me. The nostalgia is no doubt due to the months I spent there as a child, and come on; who doesn’t think of Paris, France as a wonderland of baguettes, museums, and all manner of famous things?

In the months leading up to my family’s recent stay in Paris, it occurred to me that returning to the city of my dreams might wreck up the nostalgic warm fuzzies that I had built up all around Paris in my mind. Afterall, nothing kills nostalgia like ice-cold reality.

But really, I wasn’t too concerned about losing my mental shrine to Paris, and I completely forgot about any nostalgia while I was there. Which makes sense because I bet most people would take living an experience over dwelling on a glorified memory of an experience any day.

But now, more than two months after returning from France, I’ve been feeling nostalgic again. As it turns out, spending one month of reality in my beloved Paris may have only increased my appreciation for that great city. Hustling down cobblestone streets, bumping a cart full of fresh produce and fizzy water behind me, on my way to get a baguette and fresh cheese for lunch is a real life situation. It sounds perfectly Parisian; with the baguette and the cheese and the little streets and markets, but it’s real. I’ve lived it.

Another time, I sit daintily on a green park bench while the little ones scamper happily around a lovely French playground. In Chicago, barely anyone brings their infants to the park, but in Paris there are playgrounds everywhere and neatly dressed French children in dark pants and skirts run in and out of the equipment while their mothers, nannies, and grandmothers sit primly on the sidelines, rocking roly-poly babies in their prams. I know it’s real, but it’s also picturesque. Then one of France’s 5.6 billion pigeons poops on the purse of the lady making out with her boyfriend by the mini fountain and there’s a general shift from under the looming tree, while Glendy gets her skirt stuck on the slide and a darling little girl with braids babbles at Larissa in French, of which Larissa understands not one word.

It’s France and it’s wonderful, but it’s also real. Real people live there and do real things and have real good things and real bad things happen to them. I know that Paris is not a magical wonder city where everyone walks along the Seine before having a glass of wine with dinner and watching the sun set over the gorgeous Paris rooftops. But I still kind of want to move to France permanently and raise my (future) plethora of children on market-fresh produce, and promenade down the glorious Paris streets, pushing a chubby infant in a pram, the rest of my offspring trailing behind me, munching on chocolate chip baguettes, on our way to Jardin du Luxembourg.


Natalia Writes Fiction {part 1}

It was late and the clock tower was edging toward midnight. The red-brick plaza that comprised the school’s center was still; illuminated only by the faint yellow glow that slipped out of the dorm windows that lined the plaza. The little college sat like a clean, sandstone bubble in the middle of the roaring city. All around the pristine campus, bars were getting busier, restaurants were getting louder, and taxis zipped haphazardly under rusty train overpasses.

As the clock tower chimed midnight and the yellow blobs of light shining into the plaza became fewer and fewer, a lone student entered the plaza. With one step, the young woman crossed from the buzzing downtown district into the silent plaza, and no one in either realm batted an eye. The girl crossed the neat, red bricks with long, quicks steps that could barely be heard, even in the utter calm of the plaza. Reaching the locked door that lead into the women’s lounge, Hilary snatched her ID out of her purse and hurriedly scanned the card. The latch clicked open and Hilary pushed through the heavy door.

Hilary stepped briskly past the long-deserted lounge and mounted the stairs to the second floor. She took the concrete steps two at a time, and the rhythmic stomping echoing through the empty stairwell. Arriving at the third floor, Hilary clicked open the door and slipped onto the flattened, blue carpet. The door closed behind her with a long, low squeak, and Hilary sped soundlessly to her room.

Once inside her room, Hilary dropped her purse on the floor and tossed her keys onto a cluttered wooden desk. As she was ascending the stairs, even before she had fled down the hall to her room, tears had begun to gather in her dark eyes. When she collapsed onto her bed and reached up to rub her burning eyes, she felt the little drops already rolling down her cheeks. Letting go of all abandon, Hilary surrendered to the emotion that had been building in her chest. She sobbed aloud; deep, wet, sobs that shook her body violently.

The lamp next to the messy desk remained off, and the dark room was occasionally filled with light from the cars, limos, taxis and buses zipping by on the busy street below. As they passed, their headlights shone into the room with authority, slipped rapidly over the crying form on the bed, and then receded out into the night, just as quick as they had come. The people outside never knew what was going on in that little room on the third floor, and the one inside did not even notice the urgent flashes of light that swept past her, so deep was her sadness.

After a long time, the sobs had subsided and Hilary was left breathing the stuttering gasps of one who has recently cleaned out their tear ducts extensively. The pillow under her head was wet, and her body felt stiff. Hilary struggled to sit up, and when she had, she realized how exhausted she was. She kicked off her shoes, clumsily pulled off her jeans, and slid between the covers.


Life Right Now {#9}

Back to the Future movie night!


Bigger than Big

God, you’re bigger than big.
Stronger than strong.
Mightier than mighty.
I can’t imagine just how
big You are.
Just how big You are!

I know the song by heart and can whip out the dance moves like none other. But I don’t often allow God’s bigness to be real to me. I keep the concept as a cute idea in a children’s song; kind of like how Jesus loves me, or how He loves the little children. I know it and believe it, but I’m not swept up by it. I’m not usually awe-struck and dumbfounded by how BIG God is.

He’s bigger than big. But of course, it’s silly for something to be bigger than big; that’s preposterous and we cannot even wrap our minds around such a concept.


But when a week-long forecast of rain and low 60s becomes a week of sun and high 70s, and we’re slathering squinting campers in thick white sunscreen- I get a little taste of how big God is. He’s bigger than the weather.

And when my boss flips my work schedule around a bit and I find myself coaching alongside a fiesty blonde with a yell that startles me daily, I’m very pleasantly surprised by the fun that we have together, and the similarity in our backgrounds. It’s a friendship that I didn’t look for, or expect, and I know it’s all God’s doing. His point of view is bigger than mine. Way bigger.

When close to 100 people join together under His name to put on a day camp for children and families in a little community in Michigan, and by the end of the week 43 young ones have accepted Christ into their lives, I know in my heart that God is big. He’s bigger than death and He’s bigger than Satan.

The song is right; I can’t imagine just how BIG God is. But I am starting to get an idea.


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