one year ago

a year ago today, a terrified, doubtful, cautiously hopeful little natalie boarded a plane. little natalie knew this experience would change her life, but she did not plan on enjoying it. she cried in the airport hugging her parents and sister goodbye. she timidly told the sweet 80-year-old man next to her about her plans and repeatedly thought about how absolutely ridiculous of an idea this was.

little natalie’s plane landed in paris, france at 8am on september 14th. she facebook messaged her family and friends to let them know she made it safely. she timidly and nervously followed signs in the airport as best she could, all the while panicking about finding the person who was supposed to meet her. she wheeled her huge suitcase through customs and prayed that nothing would go wrong.

she found her person with no trouble. in her first few hours of being in paris, she experienced her first “security scare” and nearly passed out in the airport from dehydration while waiting for the train to start running again. she rode the trains and tram for the first time, totally unable to absorb all the new things she was experiencing because goodness, was she tired.

entering her new apartment, the first things to impress themselves upon natalie’s memory were the wonderful natural lighting and the welcoming smell of peaches from her new roommate’s air freshener. such little things, but nothing could have made her feel more comfortable in the moment.

life from then on for the next two months was a whole lot of ups and downs. but that’s not exactly what the story is about today. today is about the “since-then”. that’s not a real term, but i’m using it anyway.

it’s so easy for me to remember only the good moments. to look back at everything with rose-colored glasses. i know life wasn’t always sunshine and roses. i remember the nights i sobbed in bed because i just desperately wanted to hug my daddy or lay my head in mama’s lap while she prayed with me. but i wouldn’t trade those sad moments for anything, because they gave me a true appreciation for the happy ones when they did come.

looking back, though, i do have regrets about how i spent my two months. i think i knew in the moment that i would feel this way, too. some people would say that they wouldn’t change a thing about such an experience, but i would. i’ll probably always hate myself a little bit for them. and today, i’m thinking about my regrets.

i wish i’d taken more photos. man, i just want to jump back a year, shake myself by the shoulders, and say, “quit being afraid of being a tourist. take the dang photos.” and natalie, you idiot, why didn’t you take more photos with people? when i think of the after-church escapades into the city eating supper and walking around paris with some of the greatest people i’ve ever met, i hate myself for not documenting it better. i know i’ll always remember the time ben told us about the “gargoyles” (that aren’t really gargoyles) on notre dame or the night before my birthday when my beautiful paris people bought my food and gave me tons of floss and we all ate gelato in front of notre dame, but i desperately wish i’d taken more dang photos.

and possibly more than my first regret, i wish i’d invested more in the relationships i made there. i have memories that will never leave of times when i could have said, “hey, let’s go get coffee together and just talk” but i was too scared of potential rejection so instead, i said nothing and tried to pretend that was just fine. sure, it made leaving a little bit easier because i had less deepened relationships, but i would take the pain of leaving people i love dearly over shallow relationships any day. and yeah, i’ll always remember that day i knew i was supposed to ask someone to coffee and i didn’t. that memory will remain long after the memories of austin telling me all the strange ways he’s gotten injured have faded from my mind.

those are my two biggest regrets. they haunt me because i know i’ll never get those specific chances again. i can go back to paris and finally visit the inside of the louvre. i can actually buy a book at shakespeare and co. i can visit coffee shops and try different pastries and eat all the strange french food everyone assumes i ate the first time around. but i’ll never get those chances again.

all that being said, i miss france. i miss it desperately. i can’t believe it’s been a year since it all began. i would go back in a heartbeat.

*this is a sad post. i know it. i know it’s angsty. i know a post about all my favorite moments would be nicer. but this is what i have today.


not feelin’ it

I’m not sure I have feelings anymore.

That sounds dramatic and probably somewhat concerning, but bear with me and let me explain. My whole life, I’ve been all about feelings. Everything is driven by them. I am one of the most feelings-oriented people you’ll meet (why else would I cry over Bucky Barnes every time I watch a Captain America movie?). I may even be obsessed with feeling feelings. Sometimes I’ll purposely listen to a sad song (looking at you, Dear Evan Hansen OBCR) or go watch episode 87 of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and sob over Mary Kate Wiles’ brilliant rendition of Lydia Bennet. Despite my frequent laments to my friends about how “I really hate feelings” after being around a cute boy with nice teeth, I am obsessed with feelings. I always have been. So what the heck do I mean when I say I’m not sure I have feelings anymore?

I mean feelings about God.

Whoa now. I know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute, Natalie. Don’t tell me you don’t love God anymore.” Yeah, you should know me better than that. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course I still love Him. I just don’t have those feelings that used to make me close my eyes and hold out my hands while singing in church. And that’s what I’m talking about here. That’s what’s got me writing a blog post that has no clear direction at midnight. I’m stuck on this. I have been for several weeks now.

I was driving home late at night from Bible study a few weeks back, and to keep myself awake and alert, I started talking to God out loud. (Which honestly is not at all an unusual occurrence. I firmly believe that I am incapable of thinking without voicing those thoughts.) Because earlier that night, I was somewhat troubled by the fact that I hadn’t felt anything during the worship time. And I totally should, right? I was in an okay spot with God. I was seeking His will and not mine. I honestly felt really good about where I was…up until the moment during worship when I was seeing people around me overcome with feelings and finding myself standing there with nothing. This is just wrong. This is not me. I always have feelings.

But, somewhat shockingly, on that drive home, instead of asking God to restore the feelings, I asked Him to help me learn how to worship Him when I don’t feel it. It was an unusually perceptive moment that I can attribute only to God. I mean, I haven’t felt a whole lot of good feelings since November 14th (or maybe the day before that). Ever since then, I’ve been viewing good feelings in a very cynical light. After all, they don’t last. Anyway, in typical Natalie fashion, I remembered that prayer for roughly 24 hours after I prayed it and then it was gone.

Until tonight. As I was brushing my teeth (and purposely conjuring up all the sad feels because brushing my teeth always makes the sad go away), I thought to myself, “Have I really felt much in the past 4.5 months?” The answer is no. I’ve felt a lot of sadness and loneliness. I’ve had some moments when I really felt happy and even–gasp–a little content! But most of my time has been spent feeling nothing.

I’m not going to try to be too radical here, but I’m thinking that feeling nothing sometimes is worse than feeling sadness. Sad feelings can be detected. People see it and do or say nice things to make you feel better. But feeling nothing? That’s not very noticeable. Even to myself. See, that’s the kicker. I feel sadness. I can reach out (though I probably won’t). But how do you feel feeling nothing? And how do you start feeling something again?

And is it even necessary? Do I need to feel feelings? Do I need warm fuzzies when I sing worship songs? Or can I just keep on asking God to teach me how to worship Him when I feel nothing?

You probably thought I had a conclusion for this, but NOPE. No conclusion. I’m muddling through this myself. But for some reason, I felt like I needed to post this. So here I am. Maybe it’ll encourage you if you’re going through something similar. I hope so.

enduring this night

“Nothing’s forever and we deserve better than untimely exits with half of our souls.” // Heath McNease, “Endure The Night”

I’m sure you’ve all experienced a situation that hurt so much, you felt like you would explode. I’ll preface this post by letting you know that this is it for me. I simultaneously feel like I’m exploding and like I’m being torn to shreds. I miss France so much, it physically hurts me. I haven’t known how to tell my story for 2 months now, but now I’ve found a few words. This is just a small piece of what my life has been since getting back. I’m hoping that it will help you understand where I am in life.

The realization hit me yesterday that I’ve been back in Iowa longer than I was in France. That was tough. Sometimes it feels like my time in France was all a dream. The memories are less vivid. I no longer look for the Eiffel Tower on the horizon when I’m driving somewhere. In theory, the pain of missing it should have passed by now…right? Or at least eased some? You’d think so.

Ah, but reality is different than theory. There are some days when I don’t cry, yes. But the hurt hasn’t lessened. Honestly, I feel like some days it’s even worse. I constantly feel like I’m missing something— missing out on something. The sense of purpose I had in France is a stark contrast to the gaping hole I now have to stare into every time I try to figure out where my life is headed.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t dealt with this transition well. I have avoided God for 2 months. At first it was because I was just too focused on my own hurt, but it grew into a deliberate act spurred by frustration. “Where is your goodness, God? I do not see any goodness in this. Make it stop hurting.” Those were the words I would hurl at Him anytime there was any form of communication. How could a good God tear me from the only place I’ve ever felt purpose after only 2 far-too-short months?

“Seriously, God, how can there be any goodness in this? Your plan hurts and I hate it. Make. It. Stop. Hurting.” Continual frustration evolved into anger—with God and with myself for being angry at God. I was not equipped to deal with this anger I had inside me. I stood in church with my head down, hoping no one would see the tears that I could not for the life of me keep at bay. I sang the songs half-heartedly, feeling guilty for even singing them at all without meaning any of the words. I dreaded contact with most people because I knew they would ask me how I was and conjuring up a smile and “I’m good, how are you?” was utterly exhausting. So I avoided eye contact with people and I avoided almost any contact with God.

And Christmas came and it was good. I talked about Paris a lot, but I never felt like I was being grilled for answers. Not many family members asked me what’s next, which was the best Christmas gift I could have been given (aside from Captain America: Civil War on dvd—thanks, Mama and Daddy). I thought about France so much less in that week of Christmas festivities with family. Even when I did think about it, it usually wasn’t accompanied by tears or (as much) pain. There’s nothing like having 30 Johnsons in your garage celebrating Christmas to make life feel good again.

But then Christmas was over, with New Years at its heels. I had a pretty terrifying reality check about how 2017 is a year full of unknown, and some temporary motivation to be intentional about making plans and goals. I made goals for the month of January and I haven’t even accomplished the easiest goal on my list yet. (I still really need that haircut.) I got discouraged. Family left, life went back to boring, and I started thinking about home again. Oh, here comes the sadness. It’s like it never left.

This pretty much brings me to where I am now. Sad, lonely, and longing for France. Overwhelmed with fear that I’ll be replaced and forgotten. Wondering if I did any good in my 2 months there. Missing the people who I grew to love fiercely in such a short time. Feeling like I got short-changed by only having 2 months there. In general, a total mess. I have a new nightly routine of apologizing to God for ignoring Him for so long, telling Him I want to do better, then going to sleep and forgetting until the next night. I’m in a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction and depression and I can’t seem to stop spiraling out of control.

I know several people’s immediate response to this will be “Just go back!” and I appreciate the thought behind this statement, friends, but please save it. Were it up to my own emotions and desires, I would already be back there. But I am slowly trying to reconcile my relationship with God and seek Him before I make that decision. I do believe than I will go back someday. My time in France was so short and it feels like that chapter is unfinished. I don’t know when I’ll get back to it, but I do hope it’s soon.

It feels like I should have a positive conclusion to this. I don’t have one. I haven’t had one for over 2 months now. All I have is this: I’m not okay. Someday I will be, but not today. And that is okay.

confidence in Christ

I can’t even begin to express the number of times I have doubted my decision to go to Paris.

Last week began with so much fear. Monday evening consisted of frantic messages to my close friends telling them, “I can’t do this. What am I thinking? I can’t go. I can’t do it.” I sat in my room sobbing for an hour as those dear friends told me I was capable, but I just couldn’t believe them. They reminded me that this debilitating fear I was feeling was not of God. I knew they were right, but I just couldn’t get past the terror.

Then Mama came into my room, sat down next to me, listened to me express my fear, let me cry, and then spoke the truth into me. She prayed against my fear, prayed for courage for me, and prayed that I would claim the truth in Jesus rather than the lies of fear. (This is why we have Mamas, by the way.)

That was the turning point for me. I started combating the fear by saying, “God is bigger than this fear. I can’t do this, but He can. With God, I can. Through Him, I am capable.” And that’s how I got on a plane by myself, flew to Colorado, and went to training for this ridiculous (in a good way) internship.

And in hindsight, Satan’s attempts to make me back out and give up make sense. He knew that training was going to confirm my call to Paris. I’m still having moments of “what the heck am I doing?!” but I’m not letting that cause me to doubt that I’m supposed to go. Because this is meant to be. This is what God has for me.

A big thing I got from last weekend was that I need to have confidence in Christ. NOT in me or my abilities, but in who I am in Christ and what He can and will do through me. My focus needs to be entirely on Him. I’m going to have to spend a lot of time on that. My heart needs to be refocused.

So, if you took the time to read through all this, either you’re bored or you care about me. I’m going to assume that you care and ask you to pray for me. Pray that my heart is refocused back onto Jesus and that my priorities are put in the proper place. Thank you for investing time and prayer into my life. I have such a beautiful support system. You mean the world to me.


As soon as I give it to Him, He shows up.

Yeah, I’m still afraid. I still don’t have all the answers. I’m still fumbling blindly around an unfamiliar place hoping desperately that I find the light switch so I can see where I’m going.

It seems like my life has been a match of tug-of-war between fear and trust. More often than not, I find myself standing beside fear, lending my strength in the battle to the wrong side. I never knew so much of my life would be dominated by this seemingly larger-than-life match of tug-of-war.

But at least I can breathe again. I can, for the time being, look at the future with excitement and anticipation instead of terror and dread. I can look people in the eye when they ask me about my plans. I’ll even bring it up when I’m in a particularly good mood.

And the tug-of-war? Well, I’m currently standing with trust and we’re beating out fear. Of course, the moment my hands begin to sting, I might go back to fear’s side. That’s the thing about this match: I’m constantly choosing who I side with. Every moment of every day. And sometimes, to my far from 20/20 vision, fear has a better offer. I don’t have to fight as hard or hold as tightly. Fear is like that old, beat-up pair of flip-flops that you keep around. Sure, you can feel every single rock you step on, but they’re just so darn comfortable.

Ultimately, it comes down to a balance. Fear happens. It’s part of life. The danger comes when I let it be my navigator. In those times, I feel like Bob the Tomato saying angrily to his preoccupied co-pilot, “Maybe next time, I can drive into the river!” That’s how bad of a navigator fear is. The moment I give it control is the moment I set myself up for failure.

Then I get off-track. I let fear tell me where to go. I go around in circles, getting absolutely nowhere. And I put the blame on God. I give Him a very pointed “Or maybe you could help me with the map!” Oh, but silly me. He’s been here the whole time waiting for me to ask where I’m going and how to get there.

it’s just ridiculous

Today, the most common thought in my head has been, “Wow okay so I’m going to Paris.”


The fact that I’m going to Paris, I mean. That’s ridiculous. I’m a homeschooler from the middle of nowhere in Iowa. I get emotional over character development at least once a day. My biggest accomplishment on a typical day is washing my hair. I’m the dictionary definition of a nobody.

Yet even so…God looked at me with such love and said, “I have something so much bigger for you.”


I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I don’t know what to expect from any of this. I actually have taken to telling people, “I’m going to Paris for 2 months this fall and I’m super excited. That’s all I know. Don’t ask any more questions or I might have a meltdown.”

Not knowing what things are going to look like is scary. I’ve had a lot of fear about this the past week (read: the past 2 months). This fear takes every imaginable form and needles itself into my brain, making me doubt that this ever will work. The past few nights, I’ve laid in bed with so much fear inside me that I actually felt sick. What if it doesn’t happen? What if I jumped into something I shouldn’t have? What if this ends up to be a “growing experience” in which God teaches me to deal with disappointment?

This is when I have to stop, take a deep breath, and push past the fear. I have to trust God intentionally. I’ve found that sometimes the only thing I can do is push back my tears and say, “God, I don’t know if I can do this. Help.”

So when I say that my most common thought today has been, “Wow okay so I’m going to Paris,” please understand that this is so much more significant than just the fact that I’M GOING TO PARIS (which is a huge deal, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed). This is my statement of trust. No matter what comes, I’m choosing to push past the fear and trust Him.