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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God isn’t your Grandma

grandmatroutWhen you’re a child, and mom and dad say, “No,” who is likely to say, “Yes”? Grandma.

Mom doesn’t let you have ice cream for breakfast. But grandma probably would. Dad won’t let you jump on the sofa, but grandma might.

So, you start to learn that it’s easiest to just ask grandma first. Do whatever it takes- bat your eyes, maybe even shed a few tears, and beg if you have to. Grandma will give in. That’s why grandmas are awesome!

And while God is awesome, too, He’s not your grandma.

God isn’t there to say, “Yes!” to everything you ask Him for.

There’s this belief with many Christians that if you just pray “hard” enough, God will answer your prayers in the way that you like. If you BELIEVE enough, if you just have enough FAITH, God won’t let anything painful happen to you or those you love.

I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. And it’s not Biblical.

The notion that God will grant you your every wish if you have enough faith is preposterous.

In case you forgot, there’s a story in the Bible of a man who prayed to God about a tough situation. His name was Jesus.

Jesus prayed, to God, three times, that if it was God’s will, He not be crucified. (Matthew 26:36-44)

Again, with emphasis.

JESUS prayed to GOD, THREE TIMES, that if it’s God’s will, He not be crucified.

JESUS. Son of God. The only perfect being to walk this earth, PRAYED for God to take away the task of Him taking on the sin of the world on a cross in an agonizing death.

And God said, “No.”

God. Told. JESUS. No.

And yet there are people who believe that if they just pray hard enough, they will get what they want from God.

It didn’t work for Jesus. Why would it work for you?

Why do people even believe that it would work in the first place?

It’s because we don’t understand what prayer really is. It’s not about begging God for things. It’s not about getting our way. It’s about telling God that we trust Him, and that we want to be in the center of His will, because we know that His will is what’s best.

“Prayer does not change God; it changes me.” 
– C.S. Lewis

True faith isn’t just believing that God can cure your friend of cancer. True faith is believing God is still good after she dies.

Jesus told us how to pray. His example was all about trusting God’s will, forgiving people, and asking God for strength to resist temptation.

God isn’t your grandma. You can’t talk Him into or out of anything. You can’t bat your eyes, shed a few tears, and hope that just maybe He’ll change His mind about something. God’s will is God’s will. Sometimes it’s not what we want, but THAT is where faith steps in. We still believe He is good.

This Easter, I encourage you to remember that the only perfect and flawless person to walk this earth asked God to take the pain away, and God said, “No.” Was there ever anyone who had more faith than Jesus? Jesus’ true faith was ultimately revealed when He accepted God’s will and died on the cross for our sins.

It’s not wrong to let the desires of your heart be made known to the Lord, but remember that no amount of “believing” is going to change His mind and make your will, His.

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

 

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.

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

Five words I’d rather you not use to describe me…

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Don’t mind me! I’m just a religious, churchy, thick, photogenic, intimidating girl!

I started writing this post a few days ago. I had no clue how to start it, so I skipped the intro and saved it for last.

And then, the day after I wrote all about the five words I do not like to be labeled, one of my male co-workers called me TWO of the five words in one conversation.

“You just always look so happy. All your Facebook pictures are nice, you’re always doing stuff and going places. You’re super photogenic.”

Grrr… that was the first one.

“Most guys probably don’t want to go out with you because of all you’ve done and all you do. Nobody wants to try and measure up to that. You’re too intimidating.”

Grrr… that was the second one.

He also said if people don’t know me personally, they might think that I think I’m “high and mighty.” But that if you get to know me, that’s not the case at all. “High and mighty” borders “religious” and “churchy.” So he pretty much mentioned four of the five words I’m about to explain.

Here are the five words I’d rather you not use to describe me:

Word #1: RELIGIOUS

Definition: of, pertaining to, or concerned with religion

I’ve heard it often, especially from my non-Christian friends. They consider me to be very “religious.” I don’t identify myself with my religion. I am not a product of Christianity. I am a product of Christ. To me, there is a huge difference. Christianity is flawed, and I think God Himself would agree with that statement. Why would I want to identify myself with a flawed religion, as all religions are flawed? I find my strength from Christ. My faith is in Christ. I believe I have eternal life because of Christ… it is not because of my “religion.”

Word #2: CHURCHY

Definition: adhering strictly to the prescribed form in ecclesiastical matters

For some reason, if you’re a weekly church attender, follow Christ and talk about God, you’re considered “churchy.” This is different than “religious,” as it suggests you strictly follow the church “code of conduct.” To me, “churchy” is an insult, and people don’t exactly think it through when they say that about someone. I believe a “churchy” person is somewhat standoffish, judgmental, and closed-minded. I would hope that no one thinks that is a good way to describe me. I believe even the most involved person at church doesn’t have to be “churchy.” I don’t even consider my pastor to be “churchy.” Society has tied negative connotations to words like “churchy,” and unfortunately, sometimes I can see why.

Word #3: THICK

Definition: not skinny, with meat on your bones

I had to jump over to Urban Dictionary for this one. It’s a term I really pretty much only hear from black men. White guys don’t call girls “thick,” because to them they’re just fat or big. I guess because of the word’s double-meaning (which is often attractive in the eyes of one race, but not another), is why it bothers me. At least in Uganda they are outright with it. I have a number of friends who were told, “You look fat!” And it was meant as a major compliment. However, I think the word “thick” is insulting. If you like how I look, just tell me I look good.

Everyone be intimidated! I washed feet in Africa!
I washed feet in Africa. Apparently this makes me scary.

Word #4: INTIMIDATING

Definition: to overawe, as through the force of personality or by superior display of wealth, talent, etc.

I am so sick of hearing how “intimidating” I am, and I know a lot of other educated, well-traveled women who are tired of it, too. Sure it’s a copout for men sometimes, but even some of my male friends have told me that if they just knew me on the surface, I would be way too intimidating for them to ever ask out. It’s clearly not my looks, it’s everything else. I’m independent, I’ve done mission work, I volunteer, I’m educated, I have a fulltime job, I pay my own bills… all qualities one would THINK would make me desirable to the opposite sex, but instead it has only hindered my dating life. I’m not scary. I promise! Please stop saying I am intimidating. It is NOT a compliment.

Word #5: PHOTOGENIC

Definition: forming an attractive subject for photography or having features that look well in a photograph

This label has been thrown on me way before Instagram gave us filters that make our skin glow. Ever since high school, people have commented on how photogenic I am. If you have ever told me this, there’s a chance you’ve heard my canned reply of, “Pretty in pictures, ugly in person!” I know that’s not what people mean, but I like to see their reactions when I say that back.

If you’ve ever called me any of these words, don’t worry. I’m used to it by now. And I won’t go cry in my bedroom if someone calls me any of these things in the future. Luckily, the Bible doesn’t say I’m any of these words. But I’ll happily take some of the things God says I am, like forgiven, redeemed, born again, accepted, free, and loved.

Yup. I went and got all “religious” and “churchy” on you there.

Cookie-cutter Christians: Why some of us MUST be different

“I’m not like them.”

It’s a common thought I have around big groups of Christian people with a certain personality.

They raise their hands high and say, “Thank you Jesus!” throughout prayer and worship. I partially lift my hands, close my eyes, and silently shed a few tears as I feel the Holy Spirit.

It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!
It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!

They quote scripture and often pull it into their prayers when praying in front of everyone. I talk to God like He’s my friend, and I suppose I don’t quote scripture to Him because He already knows it.

After my thoughts of, “I’m not like them,” come the thoughts of, “So I must not be as good of a Christian.”

It’s a struggle I’ve had since college. And it’s a false struggle. It’s one that Satan loves to tell me over and over again: “You’re not like them, so you aren’t worthy.”

It hit me recently how incredibly terrible those thoughts are. I know better. I know that God loves me just as much as He loves them, and I know that I don’t have to be like them to be a good person.

But then a seriously disturbing thought hit me like a hurricane: what if some of my students feel the same way? What if I have students who look at some of the “super spiritual” students and staff at school and think, “I’m not like that. I’ll never be like that. So why bother?”

Some conversations with my students this year revealed that some of them have felt that way before.

I knew I needed to say something. God told me I needed to say something. Yes, even though I’m not walking around quoting scripture and raising my hands in worship, I do talk to God. A lot. He gets me. And He knew it had to be said. So on Friday I said it.

The main class I needed to say these things to were my seniors. They’re an interesting bunch. Yes, I teach at a Christian school here in Uganda, but not all of our students are Christian. Many are simply “Christian” only because they’ve been forced to be. There are two boys who don’t even believe in God and have serious issues with Christianity and Christians in general, there is a Hindu girl, some who have a strong faith in God but are not charismatic like a lot of their peers at school, and a few who are.

When I finished sharing, they clapped. That’s a huge thing for this group of ten 12th graders. Their enthusiasm is typically non-existent. But then one of my seniors, who detests most Christians, said, “I just got more from what you said than anything I’ve heard in chapel all year.”

Part of me didn’t want to post that. I don’t want to hurt our chaplain or anyone else who has spoken in chapel. They’ve put their heart and soul into presenting for these kids. However, the fact that he said that completely drives home the point I made to my students: the point they so eagerly accepted and understood.

My overall point was this: Christians are not all the same. We’re not supposed to be.

It’s tough. If the Christians you’re surrounded by all act the same way and that’s just not your personality, it can be discouraging. And from the discussions we had yesterday in class, I discovered that it can be especially discouraging for teens. They think, “I’ll never be like that. That’s just not me to do that or say that.”

And so the next types of thoughts are, “Maybe I’m not a Christian.” Their overly hyped-up Christian classmates also inadvertently make them feel inadequate. They attribute the problem to their “level” of Christianity, when in reality it’s more of a personality difference.

I’m not saying anyone needs to “tone it down” or anything- not students or staff. But the kids who aren’t like that need to know that it’s OK. You can still have an awesome relationship with Christ without being so eccentric.

I also shared with the students the number one way that I’ve shared Christ with people: love. Simply put, love. Love people. Forgive people. Show grace towards people. Have mercy and compassion for people. Love. Love. Love.

I’ve never had someone say to me, “Natalie, thank you for telling me that I need Jesus. It’s made me want to be a Christian.” But I have had people say, “Thank you for loving me and for loving others as unconditionally as possible. I know this is because you’re a Christian, and that helped lead me to Christ.”

 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

We’re different. God wanted us to be different. While Christian organizations tend to be flooded with similar personality types, sometimes you need a misfit like myself who can reach out to the people who are different.

Do your thing. Be the person God created you to be. Be a Christian and be YOU. Don’t change your personality to match those of people who appear to be “better.” God loves us all the same!

“I’m not like them” is a legit statement to make about how I feel when I compare myself to most of my co-workers. Thank God for that. If I was exactly like them, I wouldn’t have reached some of the students God used me to reach yesterday. The same goes for them- God has used those people to reach many students this year as well! God uses ALL of us.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. Part of it says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”

I choose to reach people through love and compassion. What works for you? What do you do that brings people to Christ? As long as it does the job, well done! Use your God-given gifts to be a light for Him. And remember, just because you’re not exactly like the Christians around you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t as spiritual or important in the body of Christ. Do your thing. All that matters is what God thinks of you. And He thinks you’re awesome enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

I get it. But in a way, I don’t…

IMG_4833I get it. A&E censored a Christian from speaking his mind. It’s not the first time a Christian has been censored. It won’t be the last.

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” 2 Timothy 3:12

I get it. It’s frustrating that everyone else in America can express their opinions, freely worship and denounce things they don’t believe in, unless you’re a Christian. In that case, the world wants you to be silent. But God never told us it would be easy. He flat out told us we would suffer.

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:17

I get it. The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. It says the same about drunkenness, adultery, fornication, gluttony, idolatry, jealousy, etc. etc. Everyone else’s sins seem so much worse than your own, don’t they? So you hate. You’re tired of rights being given to people who sin. You see these people as your enemies.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

I get it. I may not agree with you, but I get it. It’s ruined your week and maybe even your holiday to know that a Christian spoke his mind and was then persecuted for it. Now, your favorite television show might not be on the air anymore.

But I ask you this holiday season to open your eyes. Think about the things that are getting you fired up. Is it politics? Is it Obamacare? Is it A&E and Duck Dynasty? Is it Miley Cyrus? Think about the things that, as a Christian, make you the angriest. And then, think about these things:

InIMG_3875 September I met a little boy here in Uganda who survived child sacrifice. He’s been through multiple surgeries because his head was literally cut open with an ax. He was one of the lucky ones because he survived. Here in Uganda, witchdoctors sacrifice children. They spare no mercy when it comes to abducting a child, chopping them up for body parts and organs and leaving them for dead.

The other day I went with some co-workers to a local orphanage. The place is filthy. The playground is insanely dangerous. The orphans’ noses run with no one to wipe them. Bath time means fitting as many children in a tub at one time and hosing them down like they were dishes or something. Orphanages like this are all over the city of Kampala.

To the north of Uganda is South Sudan. So not only does the violence in South Sudan hit close to home because it’s literally close to home, but one of my best friends here is from South Sudan. She has family and friends there, and has to wonder each day whether or not they will fall victim to the violence.

I promised myself I wouldn’t do this. I wouldn’t be the one to say, “Look at what’s making you upset! And yet there are people dying because of such corruption and evil in the world!” But then I started to wonder… maybe that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do. Maybe part of the reason I’m here is to tell you about these things, to tell you that they are really happening.IMG_3976

As a Christian, what makes your blood boil? What gets under your skin? Is it the fact that your favorite reality television star was suspended? Are you going to let that ruin your day when there are people dying in South Sudan, children being sacrificed in Uganda, and orphans being treated like animals?

I’m not saying that it shouldn’t irritate you that Christians are so often censored and persecuted. I get it. It irritates me, too, but the Bible warned us about this, over and over again.

“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” 1 John 3:13

I get why Christians are upset about A&E. I get why homosexuals are upset about Duck Dynasty. I get it. But when I’m seeing the things I see here and experiencing the things I experience here, I really don’t get it.

Open your eyes. There’s so much more going on.