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

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

Jen Hatmaker – kicked out of the “Christian Club”

Christianity. It seems to be more of a club lately than anything, and yet it has little to do with believing and following Christ. Your theology on certain topics can differ from others in the club, but on other topics, there is no grace. You simply have to believe exactly how the majority of the club believes. If you don’t, you’re out. You are out of what I call the “Christian Club”.

The latest “Christian” to be kicked out of the “Christian Club” is Jen Hatmaker, a well-known “Christian” author and speaker. (I put quotes around “Christian” because her Christianity is being called into question these days.) Hatmaker is an author that many Christian women borderline worshiped, but are now crucifying over her comments about homosexuality in this article.

jen
Photo from forthelovebook.com

Her comments apparently crossed line, and she had to turn in her card to the “Christian Club” and lose all rights and privileges associated with the club. “See ya, Jen,” the members said. “Your theology is all wrong. Ours is perfect. We’ve no room for you in our club. We won’t sell or read your books anymore. Everything you say now is tainted with the fact that you said those things about homosexuality.”

Do you seriously imagine that Jesus is PROUD of what is happening to this poor woman who has inspired millions of women in their walks with God?  The counter point is, do you think Jesus is PROUD of what Jen Hatmaker said in that article? Maybe not, but I don’t think He supports the Christian community crucifying her either.

LifeWay Christian Resources has stopped selling her books. I should mention that her books, filled with words that have inspired many women across the globe, aren’t about the subject of homosexuality, and yet all of her credibility has been stripped.

What I find incredibly ironic about this entire situation is that the “Christian Club” has kicked out Hatmaker, but is totally fine with Donald Trump being a member. The exact people saying, “I simply can’t be associated with a group that supports Hatmaker,” or, “I can’t read books and receive discipleship or advice from a woman like that,” are the people who are justifying voting for Trump. Christians are kicking Hatmaker to the curb, but are willing to vote for an incredibly immoral man to run the very country they live in.

Grace for Donald Trump, but no grace for Jen Hatmaker? I’m not trying to make any political statement here, I’m just asking for a little consistency!

And you know what? I don’t think Donald Trump should be kicked out of the “Christian Club.” I believe any person on this planet, as messy, sinful, and terrible as they may be, can come to Christ and receive His love and grace, because ALL have fallen short. ALL have fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Billy Graham as fallen short of the glory of God.
C.S. Lewis has fallen short of the glory of God.
Beth Moore has fallen short of the glory of God.
Joyce Meyer has fallen short of the glory of God.

Every single Christian book you read has been written by a sinful person. It’s been written by someone who has fallen short of the glory of God.

The only exception is the Bible. It is the only book with a perfect author.

IMG_20140105_081452We need to stop putting Christian authors and speakers on pedestals, and leave Christ as the only perfect author and speaker in our lives. I bet if we spent more time in the actual Bible, we’d see that Christ would never kick Jen Hatmaker out of the “Christian Club.” That’s simply not how He works. Would He maybe correct her? Probably, but He’d do it in a graceful and loving way. He would never, ever say, “Goodbye, Jen. You’re out.”

Jesus doesn’t do that. And Christians need to stop doing it. We are showing a secular world that there are, indeed, things you can do that will get you kicked out of our “club.” Who wants that kind of pressure? I certainly wouldn’t want to join a club where if I sinned or said something that wasn’t theologically sound, I would be kicked out. I know that as believers we certainly need to hold each other accountable for our actions and words, but shunned? Kicked out? Shown not an ounce of grace? That’s just as un-biblical as some of Hatmaker’s comments in the article.

To be honest, I don’t even want to be in the “Christian Club.” I want to be in the loving arms of my Savior, who shows me grace every single day. Maybe those people in the “Christian Club” don’t need grace because they are perfect, but for me, I need it. And I don’t want to be a part of a “club” that preaches anything other than grace.

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

 “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:14

The post I’ll always make on June 3rd

IMG_4864Every June 3 I will make this blog post:

“XX years since I returned from living in Uganda.”

It’s impossible NOT to write about the year of my life that has had such an impact on who I am today.

This post today is 2 years since I got back from Uganda. The excitement has faded some, but is still there. The pain has faded some, but is still there. The scars are still pretty fresh, but I also know why I have them. God doesn’t want me to forget.

Only 1/35 of my life was spent in Uganda, yet I think about it every single day.

Seriously. Every. Single. Day.

How could I forget? It was best AND worst year of my life thus far.

So many of the memories were experiences that blew my mind. Washing feet at the jigger clinic. Visiting the babies at the baby home. The amazing chocolate cake at Cafe Javas. Stoney! Trips to Kenya. Late nights with my roommates dancing in our living room. Getting to teach the greatest teens from around the world. Going on safari. The list goes on an on.

IMG_20140307_172741Somehow, depression made its way in. Doubt made its way in. Insecurity took over my life, and I felt like I had no one, not even God, to save me. Few people know this about my time in Uganda, but it was the first time I ever seriously considered ending my own life, and that’s mainly because I truly believed that no one cared about me. I look back now and see how untrue that was, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.

Needless to say, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What ended up helping towards the end of my stay was learning that I wasn’t alone. Others were hurt. Others were struggling. But our school was less than supportive when we needed it most.

I’m working on having grace for the people who hurt me and others. It’s not easy, but who am I to judge them for not having grace on those of us who struggled? I should model what I preach. I need to forgive. Easier said than done.

Wow. Two years later and I’m still processing. Two years later and it still hurts. Two years later and I still miss Uganda every single day.

I wish had something more profound to say. Maybe it’s this: I wouldn’t change a thing.

Two years ago I stepped foot on American soil after a year in Uganda, and I was a totally different person. And I continue to change. God isn’t going to let my suffering be in vain.

10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_nMy prayer is that when I post my “3 years since I returned from living in Uganda,” I’ll have found the grace to forgive, not only those who hurt me, but also forgive myself for mistakes I made while I was there. I hope to have processed more, grown more, and accepted the fact that if I’m going to want people to show me grace, I’m going to have to show it to others as well.

I am a work in progress. I should probably walk around with an “Under Construction” sign around my neck. It’s a sign I would have to wear the rest of my life because I am so, so far from perfection or anything near it.

Most milestones in my life are now built around my year in Uganda because that’s when everything changed for me. And like I said, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Super awesome ways use Facebook to lead people to Christ (not really)

10314730_10152032892446573_2907543003102461580_n
If you don’t have social media accounts, try naming your business something ultra-churchy like this supermarket I saw in Uganda.

PART I: We are better than everyone else

Jesus made it pretty clear: “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

Facebook, and other social media, make this as easy as it’s ever been. I’m “friends” with a lot Christians on Facebook, and I’ve noticed that the following are the top ways Christians must be trying to lead people to Christ:

1. Argue with nonChristians via comments. The key here is to be as nasty as possible. If a nonChristian posts something about the environment or *GASP!* animal cruelty, be sure to remind them of how awful ISIS and abortion are. This will quickly open their eyes to what a loving God we serve by slapping them in the face and telling them that their feelings about a topic are invalid.

2. Make it clear that you oppose homosexuality. Don’t let there be any question about how much you hate homosexuals. Make posts about this as often as you can. Before you know it, that nonChristian homosexual you know will be sitting in the pew next to you after he/she hears about what an awful person they are. High-five for reposting that blog about how the LGBT community is destroying our country!  (But be sure not to mention anything like premarital sex between heterosexual couples because, yeah, that’s a sin, but it’s not as bad as the gay people).

3. Never let on that you sin or struggle. You’re a CHRISTIAN. Remember that. And since you accepted Christ, you haven’t sinned. Doesn’t it feel good? Make sure everyone who is friends with you on Facebook knows what an angel you are.

4. Talk about politics. Often. Jesus was pretty hardcore about politics, and He often talked crap about Roman government leaders. He was also always telling people how their political party had everything to do with their identity. Right up there with being a Christian is being a republican or democrat. (Republicans hate the poor, Democrats hate babies- where do you stand?)

5. Remember this famous verse: “Some have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But you are not one of those people, so it is your duty to remind others that they HAVE fallen short. Hold your head high Christian, you are one of the good ones!

If you can follow those five simple rules for being a Christian on Facebook, you’ll be leading people to Christ in no time! Jesus was adamant about making people feel guilty about their sin, for boasting in self righteousness and being as nasty as possible to scare people into believing in Him.

We CAN keep this up. Eventually it’s got to work, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a Christ follower with all the awesome posts we make on Facebook?

Coming soon: PART II