I’ve always performed well on tests. I rarely studied through school because I didn’t need to. I remembered everything that was important. I guess it’s because I have a photographic memory, or maybe I just remember everything because I find everything fascinating.
Spiritual testing is a little different though. No matter how hard I try and I study, each spiritual test is like a flash-bang grenade that goes off at the critical moment — that one when a decision needs made — and I forget I’m even taking a test. It’s as if the test weren’t there. And then I fail.
But the good thing about forgetting and failing a spiritual test from God is grace. He showed me grace when I failed one of the most important spiritual tests of my life.
[Do you trust Me?]
Black Forest Academy is nestled in the southwestern German city of Kandern, roughly 12 miles northeast of Basel, Switzerland and 25 miles east of Mulhouse, France. Part of the Alp foothills, the city is surrounded by natural beauty.
During my last year at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, I applied to an open position at Black Forest Academy. Aside from the aesthetic wonder it gave access to, I was allured to the international mingling of cultures, one I was so used to and longed to live in again. It was a perfect possibility.
I grew up in Bogotá, Colombia and then Montevideo, Uruguay with my missionary parents. Families came and went and that was hard to deal with growing up because there was no relational consistency outside of my own family.
We moved to Uruguay when I was in fourth grade after living in Colombia for 10 years. In Colombia, my siblings and I were the center of attention because of the pigmentation of our skin. I didn’t mind it because it was easy to make friends that way. And I was shy, so I needed all the help I could get.
When we moved to Uruguay, our skin did not differentiate us. In a matter of a couple days, we were Uruguayan with funny Colombian accents. This was hard for me, a shy 10-year-old who was confused by her parents’ choice to move 4,300 miles across the South American continent. I was enrolled in an international school with 300 other kids — who like me, were too young to understand the “mission” our parents were carrying out.
This became clear to me when someone asked me: “What’s a missionary?”
I was mortified because I couldn’t answer the question. I simply did not know. I think I said something along the lines of my family being here to … convert … you … ugh. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life.
My snafu didn’t keep me from making friends, though. I’ve always been naturally able to do that. But I’m still working out how to keep them.
In eighth grade, there were 12 girls in my class at the international school. By the end of the school year all of them but one left, leaving me and another girl along with 10 boys. I was miserable. Those that left were some of my closest friends and I couldn’t control whether they stayed or left. It wasn’t up to me and I didn’t understand that. I compared my relational life with my sister’s, who is younger than me. She had all the same friends growing up in Uruguay. Why couldn’t some of her friends leave like mine? Why couldn’t mine stay? I took it roughly. My parents, one of which is a counselor, got me a counselor. Maybe, they thought, that would help me deal with so much transition.
Around that time of constant turn over of friends, I sat in my room and prayed. All of a sudden, I felt a presence that I had never felt before. It was like a cloud of deafening whispers lifted me and engulfed me. All the cliche bible principles came to life and became real to me in that moment. And then I heard the promises of the Father.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
I’ve never doubted the existence of God. I had always heard about the peace that comes from Him — like water that washes over you leaving a warm sensation and blessed assurance that everything, everything, will be OK. That moment as a broken 14-year-old in my room I had an experience with God. Circumstances did not change; in fact, they arguably worsened. But I imbibed in His peace and I’m reminded of its accessibility often.
College was another change. At this point in life I was used to it. After applying to five schools, it came down to Pace University in New York or Asbury University in Kentucky. I literally flipped a coin. Asbury won.
It was OK to utter “missionary” at Asbury; there were a lot of kids in the same boat as me. But finding a roommate proved to be difficult. I don’t know why, really. I went through five in all because personalities clashed. Despite all of this, however, I grew as a human being. Looking back, I can say that I became my own person and I found myself.
But then there were two changes in my life that shook me into another aspect of who I’m becoming today.
During my junior year a person I knew died while playing rugby. He was only 24 and the month was October.
Then my uncle died in March.
“I’m not going to live forever,” I remember thinking amidst the grief. There was no reason for either of them to die. It made no sense whatsoever but the lesson was clear to me: people matter. Relationships matter, that’s the only thing in this hurting world that lasts. What if all the other people I know died?
All of a sudden, I felt a new sort of sense of urgency to live my life well. Whatever or wherever I end up … that is it: seek meaningful relationship with the people in my life.
Black Forest Academy fell through and I was heartbroken, frustrated. I thought I had done everything right. I prayed. I acted. I waited. I prayed some more. Then I heard that hiding voice.
[Do you trust Me?]
Of course I answered “yes.”
But then one day I heard an answer in my heart: “No you don’t.”
It was very real and I knew it was another one of those moments where God is letting me experience Him for a purpose that may not exactly line up with my thought-up purpose and plans.
It was the end of my college career and I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t even have a car. All I had was this very real realization that my trust for God’s plan on my life wasn’t totally put in Him. I was broken.
My uncle who died during my junior year lived in Mansfield with his wife and three daughters. Ever since the death, they weighed heavy on my mind. The family came up again in my thoughts, but this time I heard the hiding voice again.
“Ask your aunt about moving to Mansfield. Go there.”
That’s what I did. Within a couple weeks of hearing back from Black Forest Academy and wallowing in my broken state of mind, I bought a little silver Honda car with Kentucky plates and drove to Ohio to live with my aunt’s hurting family. My plan was to become a nanny in the area and just be with them, only for a year, maybe shorter. I prepared myself to not make any friends, to just exist in the margins of Mansfield life in case God called me somewhere else and I needed to move quickly.
It didn’t happen that way exactly. And I’m glad it didn’t. I ended up living there for two years. And everything was OK.
Author’s Note: Natalie now lives back in Montevideo, Uruguay, with her parents and brother helping them with the daily ongoings of the church. (Her sister lives in the states.) She plans to stay until June of 2017. When the time comes to leave she will move back to the states to work and pay off student loans. Or until God leads elsewhere.