The issue with “keeping Christ in Christmas”

IMG-3593“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him at Christmas, shall have everlasting life.” John 3:16

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others in December, for which such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16

Wait a minute… those don’t seem right…

I love Christmas. I love what it stands for, I love making cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I love Christmas music and cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movies.

Christmas is just the best! But I’ve realized something odd about Christmas, for me, the past five or so years: it’s become less and less about Jesus (whose birth we are celebrating). Do I blame commercialism, or society, or this sinful world we live in?

No.

I blame the fact that my relationship with Christ is as strong as it’s ever been.

The issue with “keeping Christ in Christmas,” is that so many people literally keep Him right there in December and ignore Him the rest of the year.

My spiritual journey is an interesting one. I’ve always “been a Christian.” Mom and dad did all the right things raising me and having me involved in church. Christmas was always so spiritual, as I’d be a part of the church pageant each year, the family would go to Christmas Eve communion, and dad would always read the Christmas story before I went to bed on Christmas Eve.

Christmas continued to give me this happy Jesus-y feeling throughout most of adulthood. I would feel especially close to Christ at Christmas, causing me to make more donations, give more gifts, and maybe even talk about Jesus more. After all, Christmas is when Christians celebrate the Virgin birth.

It wasn’t until my early 30’s that I really “got” what it means to be a Christian. It’s not a set of rules to follow, it’s a relationship with Christ. And since that relationship with Christ has grown the way it has, Christmas doesn’t give me that ultra-mega-Jesus-y feeling anymore. That’s because for the past five years or so, I don’t keep Christ locked up in December. I keep Him in my every day life.

I realize the saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas” is typically meant for those who dismiss Him completely at Christmas, but I encourage you to look at it another way: Are you keeping Christ in Christmas, but ignoring Him the rest of the year?

Are you emotional about the miracle of Jesus’ birth in December, but could care less in June?

Do you notice the poor and homeless around Christmas, but forget about them in the spring?

Do you volunteer your time to help those less fortunate this time of year, but find you don’t even consider the less fortunate once January hits?

I realize we’re each on our own spiritual journey in this lifetime, and trust me, Christ loves you even if you do only acknowledge Him at Christmas. Even if you keep Him there. But I’m here to tell you that each and every day can be like Christmas if you build a relationship with Him.

The magical feeling of Christmas each and every day?! Absolutely.

I’m not suggesting we remove Christ from Christmas, but spiritually, for me, it’s not the huge religious deal some people make it. I often fail miserably, but I try to make Christ a huge deal every day, not just in December. I am thankful for His birth every single day.

The things God has called us to do as Christians do not have an expiration date. They do not have a timeline other than living for Him each day. And trust me, when you do, your life will change in ways you can’t even imagine.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

“In the same way, let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and He will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17

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A checklist of love

heart-283146_1920I’m going to make this simple.

Who you should love (in no particular order, with the exception of the first one):

  • God
  • your family
  • your friends
  • your neighbors
  • co-workers (even the annoying ones)
  • Donald Trump
  • Barack Obama
  • NFL players who kneel
  • NFL players who stand
  • Tom Brady (ugh)
  • black people
  • white people
  • Hispanic people (etc. etc. You get the idea)
  • Jesse Jackson
  • Stacey Dash
  • Kathy Griffin
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Christians
  • Muslims
  • Atheists
  • Agnostics (etc. etc.)
  • people who cut in line
  • Gay people
  • Straight people
  • Transgender people
  • the CBS Exec with no sympathy for the victims in Las Vegas
  • your ex wife/husband
  • gang members
  • homeless people
  • CEO’s who make millions
  • racists
  • felons
  • Republicans
  • Democrats
  • Conservatives
  • Liberals
  • People who don’t love you back
  • Anyone with a pulse

gaudi-2574889_1920Why you should love everyone on the above list (please read the first one multiple times, I didn’t make it up, it was JESUS who said that):

  • “But LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” Luke 6:35
  • “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
  • “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31
  • “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10
  • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
  • “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
  • “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
  • “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” (Well, for today anyways…)

This love thing goes both ways

heart-700141_640She’s at it again. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to her as “Alice.”

Alice is a nightmare, especially for someone in charge of the image of the organization she targets.

Alice, one of the loudest naysayers of the nonprofit I work for, got on her pedestal last week to alert her friends and family that she doesn’t support the work we do. Instead of seeing us as a solution to helping the homeless, she sees us as a problem.

You see, although the organization I work for has worked with the homeless for more than 100 years in our community, she’s read some articles about homelessness. She knows best. Not only that, but she loves old buildings. It appears she loves them more than people.

I shouldn’t care as much as I do, but I do. It makes my blood boil. The way she inaccurately portrays my employer, the way she talks about homeless people as if they were animals, the way she has not an ounce of compassion for the homeless and talks about how they “infest” downtown as if they were rodents… it kills me.

Where is her grace? Where is her compassion? Where is her heart? Does she not know that Christ was VERY clear about loving people, ESPECIALLY the poor?

And then it hit me.

If Christ truly calls us to love everyone, that means I have to love HER. I have to show HER grace. I have to have compassion for HER.

Love and grace are great when people give it to us. But it sure is a pain when we have to dish it out for someone else, someone we feel doesn’t deserve it.

From what I’ve been told, Alice is a Christian. “Yeah right,” is my first thought. How can that be? She claims to love Jesus, but yet she’s running around talking trash about a Christian organization that helps the homeless?

After I had that thought, I almost literally felt the Holy Spirit tap me on the shoulder and ask me about a few un-Christian-like things in my life. And yet I claim to be a Christian.

The thing is, Alice doesn’t deserve love and grace from me. But I also don’t deserve love and grace from Christ, and yet He gives it to me every single day. Every. Single. Day.

If I’m going to go around preaching that we’re to love our neighbors, ALL our neighbors, and if I openly accept God’s love and grace for me even though sometimes I’m a terrible Christ follower, I have to love Alice. I have to have compassion for her.

Ugh. That’s just how it is. We’re supposed to be a representation of Christ. Christ loves Alice. I can’t say that this will happen overnight. I’m still human, I still have human emotions that take over when Alice, and a select few others, say terrible things about the people in this community facing a homeless crisis.

But I’m going to try to show Alice some compassion.

This love thing goes both ways. It means loving the people we don’t want to love. It means Alice should love the homeless. It means I should love Alice.

“Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

 

 

 

Your billboard when you’re knocked out

Everything was going great. I had job satisfaction. I was healthy. I was loving life in my new home. Spiritually, personally, professionally, and emotionally, all was well.

And then my refrigerator died.

Then my boss, whom I respect and adore, announced he was leaving. The team I have been a part of for a year and half was about to be destroyed and picked apart.

Then my dermatologist called with the results of my biopsy. “It’s melanoma.”

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Melanoma was found in the dark spot on my cheek.

Then my neighbor reminded me that I was responsible for pulling the weeds in my landscaping. Gee, thanks. I have cancer, and you’re giving me crap about a few weeds.

All of a sudden I was knocked out. I needed money for a fridge. I needed time to pull weeds. I needed a peace about the future of my job satisfaction. I also needed to meet with a surgeon to discuss the surgery that would remove the melanoma on my face.

I know it could be worse. But I didn’t see any of it coming, and I felt totally knocked out.

I have cancer. It can be removed with a simple procedure, but I’m on high alert for the rest of my life when it comes to being vigilant about the spots on my body. Once you have melanoma, there’s a very high chance you’ll get it again. I face so much uncertainty when I look at the future, concerning my health. And how I deal with all of this, as a Christian, is on display for others to see.

Last week in Growth Group at my church, we talked about how we are a “Billboard for the Lord.” For some people, the only Bible they’ll read is how we, as Christians, live our lives.

I am knocked out. I am stressed. I am hurting. I am fearful. And how I handle this speaks volumes to what I really believe about Jesus.

“People who do not believe are living all around you. Live such good lives that they will see the good things you do and will give glory to God.” 1 Peter 2:12

When I’m knocked out like this, there really is only one solution that brings the peace I so desire – Jesus. If I truly believe in His love, mercy, and grace, I will turn to Him, and He’ll give me what I need. He always has.

I will turn to the Lord when I am feeling knocked out. He is the only one who can revive me.

When I am struggling financially because of unforeseen expenses, I will turn to Him.

When I am annoyed by others, I will turn to Him.

When the future is unclear at work, I will turn to Him.

When I get a bad call from the doctor, I will turn to Him.

What will be on your billboard when you’re knocked out? Will it be complaining? Angry words? Hate? Disbelief? Worry? God’s got you covered. If you believe that, live like it.

For me, it’s a struggle to always be a squeaky-clean billboard for the Lord. But I’m certainly going to try to represent Him well, especially when I’m feeling totally knocked out.

To my new church “home”…

architecture-1868940_1920Dear my new church “home,”

I wanted to write you and be up front with you about a few things. It’s kind of like on The Bachelor when a woman tells the man, “I think there are some things you need to know about me before we get more involved.” And then he ends up sending her away. Not immediately, he would look like a jerk, but eventually, he sends her packing. Her baggage is too much.

Well, that’s me. I have a lot of “church” baggage, and I want to be up front about it.

There are gory details that I won’t share, but I will say this: my heart is broken. It’s been beaten down. Sometimes it was my fault. Sometimes it wasn’t. But overall, I am wounded. I have been wounded for years. And let’s face it, while your gym or internet provider wants to know why you left and begs you to stay, people in churches just don’t do that. They often take more of a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” type of stance.

I was to the point a few months ago where I had given up on church. Not on God, I’ve never given up on Him. But I was at the point where I decided I didn’t need a church family. I simply could not put myself through the hurt again of trying to find a church and not being accepted. The idea of trying to fit in and being rejected was too much to handle.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, I read Kelly Minter’s blog post “Valentine’s Day from a Single’s Perspective,” and she spoke of how important her church community is to her. How its made her singleness less lonely. How it’s encouraged her.

“I want that,” I realized. And I decided I wouldn’t stop until I found it.

My church hurts run deep. Really deep. Like many, I’ve been pushed around, beat down, judged, ignored, given empty promises, and flat out lied to by people in the church. Because, let’s face it, churches are made up of people. People are flawed. There will never be a “perfect church” until we get to heaven.

Still, I desire a church that will at least accept me and all my baggage.

A church that will help me grow in my walk with Christ.

A church that will treat me as more than an unmarried woman.

A church that will realize I have things to offer, even though I don’t have a husband or children.

A church that will challenge me to spread God’s word and to go outside of my comfort zone to do so.

A church that will wrap its arms around me and see that I have value.

Despite my greatest efforts, I haven’t felt valued by a church in years.

So, new church home, I hope you will accept me. I hope you will let me be of service to you. I hope you will value me, and I will value you. I will let your pastor and people guide me. I will use my God-given talents to help the church.

I am scared. I am skeptical. I don’t want to get too excited. But I am hopeful that God has a place for me in your church. I hope you will be my church family. I pray I have found where I belong.

Sincerely,
Natalie, a very broken church goer

“We have created being married with children
as the superior status in the church,
but we serve a Savior who was single.”
Panelist at IF:Gathering 2017

 

 

My first year working for a homeless ministry…

dsc_0015bI still can’t believe I almost didn’t take this job. The only reason I was hesitant was because I had been at my previous job for only 8 months. Had I not listened to God’s obvious calling, I wouldn’t be at the greatest and most fulfilling job I have ever had. Yes, it took until I was 35 to find it.

It’s now been one year that I have been the Marketing Director of The Rescue Mission in Fort Wayne, Ind. I know that no job is perfect. But to be honest, I believe that this is as good as it gets. It’s the first Christian organization I’ve worked for where they actually practice what they preach- love, grace, and mercy, all while also having a firm foundation in TRUTH. I didn’t think it was possible.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned this past year, my first year working for The Rescue Mission, whose mission is: “To provide, through the power of Jesus Christ, a home for the homeless, food for the hungry, and hope for their future.”

14650670_10153778882461573_435273107762062935_nLesson #1: Christian women can be nice, non-judgmental, loving people

Seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? While I’ve known many nice, non-judgmental, loving Christian women, I’ve known far more who weren’t, especially in the workplace. My faith has been completely restored in fellow Christian women this year. Don’t get me wrong, we do NOT always agree. There have been tough conversations. Women have hurt my feelings. I have hurt other women’s feelings. But we have the conversations that are necessary to move past them. I work with the most phenomenal women. I couldn’t ask for better women to have in my life, and the example they set has improved my faith and my walk with God.

Lesson #2: Everyone thinks they’re an expert on homelessness

20170113_142108-1New ideas can be groundbreaking. But they can also do more harm than good. I’ve learned this year that everyone has an idea of how to “solve” homelessness. These ideas typically come from people who haven’t even spent any time with the homeless. The Rescue Mission, on the other hand, is on the cutting edge of everything related to helping the homeless. We feed them. We give them shelter. We welcome them into our programming and show them how to find real change. But most importantly… we talk to them. Every single day. Our organization has been doing so for more than 100 years. And yet random people in the community think they have better ideas on how to help the homeless.

Lesson #3: Enabling is everywhere

real-change-logoI learned early on that enabling the homeless to stay homeless is very prevalent in our society. I sort of understood, but didn’t fully understand until I had a conversation with one of our residents.

This gentleman, in his 50’s, explained to me that people in town were keeping him homeless. Because they gave him everything he needed, he could easily stay homeless without being held accountable for anything. He could drink. He could do drugs. He didn’t have to get a job. Luckily, someone from The Rescue Mission offered him REAL CHANGE, and he entered the program. He told me, “With those people giving me everything I needed, I would have been homeless for the rest of my life.”

It’s tough to hear, especially when people’s hearts are in the right place, but it’s true. The whole idea of “toxic charity” and “when helping hurts” is a real issue. If you want to help the homeless, direct them to a place where they can change their lives. Don’t put a bandage on the problem. Don’t keep them homeless.

Lesson #4: Because of the nature of our clientele, there will be heartbreak

“Relapse is part of recovery,” they told me early on here at The Rescue Mission. Still, that didn’t make it any easier when people you grow to love and have so much hope for end up relapsing. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

But the worst heartbreak of the year, for me, was when one of our older residents relapsed. He had fought alcohol addiction from a very young age. He lost everything because of it. He had been sober for two years at The Rescue Mission, and for some reason, one day he just left and didn’t say goodbye to anyone. This was heartbreaking for many of us. He was so caring and loved the Lord. But he left. And he relapsed, and it lead to his death.

I didn’t expect this kind of heartache when I started working here. In one year we had three memorial services for men who died. But what I do know about those men is that they loved Jesus. I know that each of them is now with Him. Their battles with mental illness and addictions are over. Praise God for that!

Lesson #5: God works miracles in the homeless

fb_img_1467557409741Earl. Kha. Doug. Samantha. Shannon. Robert. Aimee. Jennifer. Kurt. Derricia. David. Renee. Dave. Mary. Rose. Demetrius. Vickie. Megan.

Those are the names of either residents who have completed the long-term program at The Rescue Mission in the past year, or residents who have told me their stories for newsletters and videos. And let me tell you, to put it bluntly, these people have been through hell.

For some of them, ending up homeless came because of addiction. For others, homelessness was due to mental illness. And still for others, it was devastating trauma that left them homeless. Some are in their 20’s, others in their 60’s. But their stories, as brutal and heartbreaking as they are, have taken a turn. They each ended up at The Rescue Mission. They each learned a new way to live life with a faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe in miracles. When I see the transformation in these people, I am blown away that God is so powerful that He can take a woman who was once sexually abused by her own father and make her into an amazing mother with a job and a house. He took a heroine dealer and user and made him into a young man on fire for God. He took a Vietnamese refugee, who spent 20 years in prison for attempted murder, and made him into one of the hardest and most ethical workers at a factory in town.

staff-collageI can’t wait to see what next year brings. I know there will be heartache. I know that 4th quarter (our “Super Bowl” season) will make me want to tear my hair out. I know that I’ll probably grumble when our CEO sends me a text about work before 8AM on a Saturday. But I also know that God is using us to do His work, and I have never felt more purpose in my life.

I don’t have a husband, or children, or even a cat or a dog. But thank you, God, for my career and place of employment. I have never been so fulfilled.

“Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”
1 Chronicles 16:11

No words.

profileI haven’t written in more than two months.

I feel like I can’t find the words I want to use to express the plethora of emotions I have right now about 2016.

No words to give God the glory He’s due for everything He has done for me.

No words to fully describe my broken heart.

No words to show my thankfulness for my place of employment.

No words to convey how I feel about what’s happening in Syria.

No words to express how much I love the homeless men, women, and children at the Mission.

No words to express my frustration with the church in America.

No words to explain how blessed I feel to have the family I have.

No words to illustrate how the Christian community is the toughest community for a single person.

No words to convey the slow healing from my experience living in Uganda three years ago.

No words to disclose that adequately show what amazing friends I have.

I am hurting. I am also blessed. I am scared of the future. I am also optimistic about it.

But to go into detail about anything right now, I just don’t have the words. I guess I’ll share them when I do.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understand.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6