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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My Melanoma Story

Genetics. Tanning beds throughout my 20’s. Severe sunburns from when I lived in Uganda. It all likely played a part in why I had a chunk of my face removed two months ago. But whatever the official reason was doesn’t matter. All that mattered was that I had melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, on my face.

IMG-0670It was September of 2015 when I visited the dermatologist about a spot on my right cheek. It was a small, dry, red patch. It was growing, and no amount of lotion or coconut oil was making it go away. The dermatologist recognized it as precancerous immediately, and ended up blasting the spot with liquid nitrogen. It turned white on the edges, but within a few weeks, the spot disappeared.

A little more than a year later, a mole started to grow in that same spot. At first, small and brown. Then it began to grow. One area was black. The edges were jagged. It was a strange-looking spot. I decided to have it checked out.

I was hoping the dermatologist would say, “No, that’s nothing.” But instead what I got was a concerned, “Yes, we need to biopsy that today.”

First they numbed the area with a series of shots. (Shots to the face are REAL fun.) Then she razored out a small chunk of the spot on my face. At this point my face was bleeding and wouldn’t stop, so she had to cauterize the area. Nothing like seeing smoke rise from your face while smelling burning flesh.

I was told they would call me in a week with results.

A week went by and I hadn’t heard anything.

“I’m sure it’s fine!” so many people said.

“It’s nothing, that’s why they haven’t called!” others said.

But my curiosity got the best of me and I called the dermatologist on a Friday morning. My results had just come in.

“Your biopsy shows melanoma. It’s very small, but bigger than what we call “superficial.” So it’s not a best-case scenario, but certainly not the worst. You’ll need to have surgery to remove the melanoma, and since it’s on your face, we’ll refer you to a plastic surgeon.”

For some reason, I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t really feel any emotion.

“Melanoma cancer is serious, so we’ll want to get you in as soon as possible,” she said. “Are you OK? Do you have any questions?”

“Um, no questions,” I replied.

We set up a consultation with a plastic surgeon, and hung up.

And then I cried. Unfortunately, I’d already prepared for bad news and read up on melanoma. I knew it was the worst type of skin cancer to have. I knew it could kill you. Although small, the deadliest type of skin cancer was on my face- not far from my brain or my lymph nodes, where melanoma spreads to before it kills you.

It was small. The surgeon would remove it. I wouldn’t have to do chemotherapy or any other sort of radiation, as long as he removed it all. But still. I was told that I had cancer. Words no one wants to hear.

IMG-0410It was about a week later when I met with the plastic surgeon. He explained the stages of melanoma and where mine fell.  The stages run from Stage 0 (superficial) to Stage IV. Mine was a Stage 1 melanoma.

He drew on my face to show how big of an area he would remove. Typically, he said, there would be another appointment before surgery, but since this was melanoma, there was no time to waste. It had to be done sooner than later.

It’s funny how people react to skin cancer. I heard a lot of, “Oh I had a spot removed once,” and, “I had basal cell carcinoma skin cancer before.” Which, yes, sucks, because all cancer sucks. But this was melanoma, and people don’t understand how deadly it can be once it spreads. Not to mention the fact that this was on my face.

IMG-0733But I kept a positive attitude. How could I not? It was somewhat of a simple “fix,” assuming the surgeon removed all the melanoma during surgery. And yes, I’d have a hideous wound on my face for awhile, but that’s nothing compared to burn victims, people who have had acid thrown on their faces, etc., etc. I tried to keep things in perspective, and certainly leaned on my faith in the Lord as I awaited surgery.

My surgery- wide excision- was on August 9. I was sedated, but was “awake” for the surgery. I was tied down to the table, so as not to jolt and mess up the surgeon cutting my face open. It was quite an interesting experience.

Recovery wasn’t bad at all, which surprised me. Once the numbness wore off that night, it was pretty painful, but the next morning and on was fine. It looked, however, pretty disgusting when I was allowed to take off the bandage.

IMG-0319Within four days, they removed the stitches, and it began to heal. And within a week, we received the results of the biopsy of what they removed- my margins were clear, and all of the melanoma was successfully removed.

Praise. God.

But my journey isn’t over yet.

Just last week I met with an oncologist. My surgeon said it would be a good idea, in case I get melanoma again, in case it has spread, I would already be established with one.

IMG-0932Because that’s the issue with melanoma- if it appears on your body once, it’s very possible that it will appear again. Whether due to genetics, tanning beds, or natural sun, I have the cells in my body to produce melanoma. The oncologist will check my lymph nodes again in three months, I have to get full body checks for suspicious spots every six months for the next 3-5 years, and then, if no other melanomas appear, I still have to be checked every year for the rest of my life.

I’ve been told it will take a good year to tell how well the scar has healed. There are a lot of nerves in the face, so it will also take awhile to know whether or not I’ll regain feeling in that area. Right now, if I touch the top part of the scar, it feels like I’m touching the bottom of it. Nerves are a funny thing!

IMG-1868I hope my melanoma story ends here. I plan to be smarter in the sun- wearing SPF 30 every day, whether I’m at the beach or not. And I’ve been encouraging all my friends and family to get checked, and many of them have! All have been fine, with the exception of a friend’s husband who has a superficial melanoma spot on his arm that has to be removed.

But thank the Lord that people are getting checked. If I went through this just to make others more aware of taking care of their skin and going to the dermatologist, it was worth it.

I’m very lucky. Melanoma kills, and it’s one of the fastest growing cancers for people in their 20’s and 30’s.

I get it. Everyone looks better with a tan. fbprofile

I get it. It won’t happen to you, right? That’s certainly what I thought. Nothing could stop me from tanning. Not even the threat of deadly skin cancer.

But my lesson has been learned. I pray no one else I know has to learn this lesson.

Some people commented on my bravery as I went through the entire thing. I can only attribute my positive attitude and outlook to my faith in God. I knew, and I still know, that He has a plan for my life. And even if that plan includes melanoma, I’m happy to live it, because there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in God’s will for my life.

Note: The melanoma was found in my right cheek. In photos, it appears to change because some of the photos are selfies and were taken with a phone that reverses the photo.

 

 

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.

13 Reasons Why? Actually there’s only one.

girl-1098610_1920I was living in Uganda when I truly thought about ending my life.

I was in a weird place- both physically and mentally. I was surrounded by Christian people, but never felt so far away from God. Never felt so judged.

I was thousands and thousands of miles away from any family. I had gone to Uganda to follow God’s call for my life, and yet some people didn’t want me there. They made that very clear.

I was spitting up blood often, and none of the doctors in Uganda could figure out why.

I was in a car accident which turned out to be one of the most horrifying moments of my entire life, as our car was surrounded by a giant mob of angry Ugandans banging on the windows, and as one kind stranger told us, “You need to get out of here- they will set your car on fire!”

While it was a tough time, any sane person would realize that those are certainly not reasons to end your life. But that’s the thing about suicidal thoughts- they don’t come from sane people. I was nowhere near sane at certain points of my time in Uganda.

I recently finished the Netflix original, “13 Reasons Why” (based on the book of the same title). It’s about a teenage girl who has committed suicide, but instead of leaving a note, she leaves cassette tapes, each one chronicling the “13 reasons why” she decided to take her own life. It’s intense, it’s heart-wrenching. There are a few scenes in the final episode that are so incredibly graphic, I couldn’t watch.

I watched “Beyond the Reasons” after I finished the 13-episode series. They made it graphic on purpose- suicide is not glamorous. It’s not peaceful. And it most certainly destroys your family and friends who are left behind.

Someone today asked me how I felt about Hannah Baker, the character who takes her own life. And to be honest, I’m still figuring that out. She had horrific things happen to her. I can see why she snapped. I can see why her life sucked. I can understand each and every one of her “13 reasons why” and why she had such bitterness towards each of the 13 people.

But really, there’s only one reason why Hannah Baker killed herself. There’s only one reason a person would kill himself or herself. One reason.

They choose to.

I say that with empathy. I say that as someone who has considered doing it. I know people do it because they think they have no other option. They think no one cares. They aren’t thinking clearly. I wasn’t thinking clearly. But the only reason someone follows through with suicide is because they choose to.

I chose not to. As dark of a place as I was in, I chose not to. I chose to deal. I chose to move forward. I chose to change my situation. I chose to cling to what God says about me, not what other people say about me. I chose life.

It’s never so bad that you can’t choose life. Never.

woman-1006100_640I work for a homeless ministry where each and every day I talk with people who have been through the worst trauma you can imagine. They’ve been physically, sexually, mentally, and verbally abused by the very people who are supposed to love and protect them. But they persevered. Despite their trauma, they choose to live.

There is always a choice when it comes to suicide. And that choice is left completely up to the person considering it.

So how do I feel about Hannah Baker? Although just a fictional character, I feel terrible for her, my heart breaks for her, but I’m also pretty angry with her. She made the wrong choice. Taking your own life is ALWAYS the WRONG choice. Her “13 reasons why” weren’t good enough reasons for me, and that’s because there was only one true reason she took her life- she chose to.

How is that funny?

11170297_10153015085031573_8931005548228988462_o“Haven’t been sold into sex trade yet?”

My blood began to boil when I saw this comment posted on a friend’s Facebook status about visiting Thailand. It took everything in me to not respond to the woman who wrote it.

I tried to calm myself down by reminding myself that not everyone has met face-to-face with children who have been trafficked. Not everyone has had dinner in Thailand with an 8-year-old girl who was sold into the sex trade and lived a nightmare most of us can’t even imagine.

Biting my tongue (my fingers?), I didn’t write anything in response to what the woman said.

A week or so later, when my friend announced he was leaving Thailand and returning to the US, that same woman wrote this: “I’m glad to hear you avoided the trade.”

Part of me wanted to find where she lived, throw her in my car, drive her to the airport, and put her on a plane to Thailand where she could meet the thousands of children who DIDN’T avoid the trade, and see if maybe she still thought her comments were funny.

Yes, our society is overly sensitive about a lot of things. But I’m sorry if I just can’t stomach a “joke” about trafficking, especially when someone makes a joke about it twice.

12017597_10153015984556573_9042627776706687868_oDo people not realize that it’s real? There’s a reason why organizations like Destiny Rescue exist, and it’s to save children from sex trafficking. Are you getting the heaviness of that? Are you realizing the grotesque nature of that? CHILDREN are being SOLD and FORCED to have SEX.

One more time… CHILDREN are being SOLD and FORCED to have SEX.

I’ve met some of those girls. And at times it was hard to look at them and think about the disgusting things they were forced to do. I was also extremely thankful for Destiny Rescue and the work God is doing there to rescue these girls.

This isn’t an issue that’s far from home, either. Sex trafficking is very real, right here in the United States. Right here in Indiana. Right here in Fort Wayne even.

We can sit back and make jokes about it, which is incredibly sick and twisted if you ask me, or we can do something about it. Be a voice for those who have no voice.

“You may choose to look the other way,
but you can never say again
that you did not know.”
– William Wilberforce

A short video on my experience in Thailand

 

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