The search for identity

Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Never-ending social media posts about mom and dad and how great they are or how great it is to be one.

fathersday2018But within the past few years, people have been very vocal about the “other side” of these commercial holidays- the “Don’t forget, some people don’t have their dads here on Father’s Day,” and the “Some women really want children but can’t have them.”

And I get that, but I don’t think it’s insensitive to simply talk about your dad on Father’s Day. You shouldn’t have to censor your love for your mother or father.

Think about it, everything we post on social media, there is someone out there who wishes they had it. That amazing trip you went on? There’s someone out there who can’t afford it but would give anything to see the world. When someone posts pics of their husband and how incredible he is, I certainly wish I was married! But no part of me thinks they should stop publicly loving their husband simply because God hasn’t given me that yet. He may never give me that.

Here’s where the true issue lies in the so-called “offensive” Mother’s Day and Father’s Day posts: when you make it your complete identity. When you talk about being a mother in a way that makes it sound like no woman can be complete without children, THAT is when it’s hurtful. Not only is it hurtful, but it’s downright wrong if you’re a Christian.

“So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them;
male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27

Your identity isn’t in being a mother. It’s not in being a father. It’s not in being a wife. It’s not in your career or your travels (speaking to myself on that one). Your identity is in Christ. And oh how thankful we should be for that!

Because unlike motherhood, fatherhood, married life, traveling the world, or having an awesome career, Christ is available to EVERYONE. At any time. In any place.

You don’t have to wait for your identity in Christ. You can have it right now. And you’ll always have it. It’s the most important identity you’ll ever have, and it’s the only identity you will ever need. Child of God. Favored. Loved. Forgiven. Righteous. Blessed. That’s what it is to find your identity in Christ. And you can celebrate it every single day.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called Children of God…” 1 John 3:1

If you were hurting on Mother’s Day or hurting on Father’s Day, my heart breaks for you. I do realize how lucky I am to still have both of my parents, but I know a day will come that those two holidays will be rough for me. But I will never once want others to not honor or thank their mother or father in front of me. I will never want my friends to stop talking about their husbands and how great they are.

But if you’re finding your own identity in motherhood, fatherhood, your career, or anything other than Christ, you’ve got a lot to work on. I know I’ve got a lot a lot to work on, as I look to worldly things for my identity all the time. We can find great joy in those things, but not our identity.

And when you make it sound like anything other than Christ is all that’s acceptable to find your identity in, THAT’S when it becomes hurtful. That’s when people who literally can’t have what you have will feel in an impossible place. For example, I don’t even want biological children, but I am often made to feel I will not be complete, as a woman, until I do.

An identity in Christ is all that’s necessary. For anyone. You will have many wants in life, but you need nothing else in life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

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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

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

 

 

 

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

My Spiritual Journey

1482753_10151871483561573_2088816754_nPart of the application process for my new job as marketing director for a local nonprofit was to write about my spiritual journey in fewer than 500 words. Here is what I wrote:

Although I was raised in the church, I’ve had my ups and downs with God. The greatest part of my testimony is that God was with me during the downs.

The greatest transformation in my spiritual life came when I lived in Uganda for a year, serving as a high school English teacher and missionary with World Gospel Mission. I tell people it was the best and worst year of my life. God used Uganda to destroy me and rebuild me. It wasn’t the extreme poverty, the orphans with HIV, my students who were contemplating suicide, or even the mystery illness I suffered from during and after my year in Uganda that destroyed me. It was an internal struggle that is almost impossible to describe.

579707_10151778872521573_24131533_nThe internal struggle, however, is not what this is about. It’s about the transformation that God did on my heart during that time. It’s about how I drastically changed as a person after a year in Africa. I came home to a world that was just how I left it, but I viewed it differently. I was incredibly filled with compassion in a way I never could have imagined.

I began to volunteer in my own community, here in Fort Wayne, Ind. While I still have a heart for international missions, the Lord has revealed to me that He wants to use me here more than anything. I volunteer at the Rescue Mission, as well as other specific events in the community. Perhaps the most moving volunteer experience this past year was at the Allen County Jail where we sang carols and passed out cookies to the inmates for Christmas. I even saw a gentleman I knew from my time serving breakfast at the Rescue Mission. It broke my heart to see him locked up in a cell, but it was worth it to see his eyes light up when I recognized him.

1457651_10151711498836573_1649942654_nThere’s a lot I have to learn. God will never stop teaching me about this world and His place in it, and He’ll never stop working in me. Whether or not I am in a career that directly involves helping people, I’ll always do that on my own in some way. It’s what Jesus did, and it’s what we’re called to do.

Lamentations 3:22 is one of my favorite versus. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.” Uganda, and all I experienced there, could have consumed me. I literally felt destroyed. It was the compassion of Christ that put me back together, and now I am a whole new person.

 

The position I couldn’t refuse (kind of like mayo)

10989201_10152868956486573_2499407629811187220_nSome decisions are easy. Do I want mayo on that? Of course. Would I like to go to Target? Always. Should I run away from my responsibilities and live on the beach? No. Should I submit my application to be the next Bachelorette? Double no.

Other decisions, they are not so easy. Sometimes they’re just awful and yet so great at the same time.

When I was offered my current position at a local foundation, there was no doubt about it that I should take the job. It was a raise, better hours and benefits, and I would be working at a nonprofit. Oh yeah, and my position at the time was at a horrible company. Decision to leave? Easy.

I’ve been thrilled to have my new position at a nonprofit. It’s been fun, and my co-workers are some amazing people. I haven’t even considered looking for another job.

But then, another job found me. And it was pretty much my dream job.

“Marketing Director,” was the job title, and it was at the local nonprofit where I volunteer each week. It was at the local nonprofit that my church supports. The only reason I knew about the job is because they posted it on Facebook, and a few people pointed it out to me.

10846434_10152450003736573_2901492763140195990_n
Dad volunteered with me one morning serving breakfast at The Rescue Mission.

What to do? What to do?! I thought. I’ve only been at the foundation since May. I couldn’t possibly leave already. I wasn’t even considering leaving! But how could I pass up such an opportunity?

Tough decision, but…

 

I applied. I interviewed. I interviewed again. They offered me the job. All within about a week.

So there I sat in my beautiful downtown office with giant windows having just been offered a different job. If I accepted the job and had to tell my boss, it would totally and completely blindside her. Even I was feeling a little blindsided.

I looked around my office. It’s so nice. I only recently moved into this larger, nicer office. This was after I spent a week in Florida over Christmas. Our PTO (paid time off) policy here is pretty amazing, so I had the time to spend in Florida. My co-workers are phenomenal women who love and care about the community and are doing great things to help the less fortunate. Things aren’t perfect, but I realized that I was comfortable.

Why on earth would I leave such a good gig?

It was the same answer to when I was deciding whether or not to move to Uganda: God wants me to.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, and one of my favorite quotes from him is, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” That’s what this is. And that’s why I’m leaving my current job after only eight months.

“Career suicide!” some people say, but the thing is, this position I have accepted is like an actor getting a leading role in a major Hollywood movie. It’s like a chef taking a position at his favorite restaurant. It’s like, well, me… taking a position at the nonprofit I volunteer for and have a bleeding heart for.

There was a time when God called me across the globe to live in Uganda. Now He’s called me just a few blocks away. In this position, I feel I’ll really be able to shine for Him and see Him change lives. After all, the mission of The Rescue Mission, where I’ll be working, is, “To provide, through the power of Jesus Christ, a home for the homeless, food for the hungry, and hope for their future.”

I honestly can’t think of a better, more Christ-centered mission than that. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. The decision ended up being as easy as, “Do you want mayo on that?” And if you know me well, I’m pretty obsessed with mayonnaise.

When Starbucks ruined Christmas (or so they say)

STARBUCKS COFFEE CANADA - Red Cup Pre-OrderIt was early November when the latest meeting of the “Angry Christians” club was called to order in a small American town east of the Mississippi. Everyone had come with their list of things to be angry about, and they were ready to discuss.

As the president of the “Angry Christians” club started the meeting, someone burst in.

“You won’t believe it!” the man said. “You simply won’t believe it!”

All of the Angry Christians turned to see a man holding up a red Starbucks cup.

“Christmas is ruined!” the man shouted. “Christmas is gone! America is taking Jesus out of Christmas, and that is obvious because of this red Starbucks cup!”

The Angry Christians’ blood began to boil. They tore up their lists because nothing was worse than this.

“Starbucks hates Christians,” the president said. “Starbucks hates Christians, and it hates Christmas! We have to tell Jesus!”

Meanwhile in heaven, Jesus was sipping on a Starbucks peppermint mocha when one of His angels walked in shaking his head.

“We’ve got another issue from the Angry Christians,” he said. “This time it’s over a Starbucks cup.”

The angel put some paperwork in front of Jesus, who read it, and then sat back in His golden chair. He looked at His own Starbucks cup. Then He looked at the angel.

The angel was tired of waiting for a response, so he said, “Sir, what do we do about this?”

Jesus put His cup down and stood up.

“Is Starbucks a Christian company?” Jesus asked.

“No, sir,” the angel said. “They have no religious affiliation.”

“Did they ever have my name or image on their cups, and now they have removed it?” Jesus asked next.

“No, sir, they simply took off things like trees and snowflakes. They change the design of the cup every year.”

“Christmas is when Christians celebrate my birthday, right?” Jesus said.

“Of course it is, sir,” the angel replied.

“And does a plain red Starbucks cup mean it’s no longer by birthday?”

“Not in the least!”

Jesus was perplexed. “Will any fewer people become Christians this holiday season because snowflakes and trees were removed from this year’s Starbucks holiday cup?”

“I don’t imagine so, Lord,” the angel said. “If the Christians are doing their jobs on earth, they should be the ones leading people to you.”

“Then why,” Jesus said as He picked up His peppermint mocha, “are they letting a cup get them so upset?”

“Well, they feel it just another way America is taking you and your name out of Christmas.”

Jesus looked at the angel and chuckled. “Take ME out of Christmas?”

“Lord,” the angel said, realizing that taking Christ out of Christmas was impossible, “forgive me for even approaching you with this. For I have forgotten that you ARE Christmas. Starbucks can’t remove you from Christmas. America can’t remove you from Christmas. NO ONE can remove you from Christmas because you are God and you ARE Christmas!”

Jesus smiled. “That’s right. And I always will be.”

The angel gathered up the paperwork to bring the news to the Angry Christians, but Jesus stopped him before he walked out.

“And let’s be honest,” Jesus said. “Christians love their coffee. Do you really think Starbucks would purposely try and upset Christians and lose all of that business? Of course not. And if my followers were to boycott every business that didn’t glorify me, I’m not sure they’d have many places to go. Do they research the religious beliefs of each and every place they spend money?”

“Sir, you always have the greatest points!” the angel said, as he left the room.

Jesus sat back down and again looked at the Starbucks cup on His desk.

If the holiday season is about me, how many of my followers are doing things I actually called them to do?  Jesus thought. These people who are angry over a cup, are they feeding the poor, visiting the orphans and widows, fighting for justice of the oppressed? Or are they just looking for something to be angry about….

Back on earth the angel returned to the Angry Christians meeting, but no one was there. He hoped maybe they were downtown passing out free coffee to the homeless or visiting the sick in the hospital. Instead, they had all gone home to update their Facebook pages with anti-Starbucks status updates since Starbucks had ruined Christmas.

The angel shed a tear at the actions of the Angry Christians members who were allowing anything to ruin what Christmas really means. “Christmas is still about Jesus,” he said. “It can’t ever NOT be about Jesus.”