Sometimes, God sends you away from Africa

IMG_4864As I sit here in Indiana looking at photos on Instagram of the smiling children and missionaries who live in the village I’ll visit in Uganda in just a week, my heart hurts.

My heart hurts because I thought that would be me.

When I moved to Uganda in 2013, that was supposed to be it- be my calling. God was calling me to Uganda to be a missionary! I would teach at Heritage International School for a few years, and then God would move me to a village where I’d be a full-time missionary. The issue was, He didn’t.

Some people fear God will send them to Africa. (There’s even a book about it.) But for me, my fear was that He’d send me back home to the United States. And He did.

I don’t regret leaving after only one year. I know, for various reasons, that I couldn’t return for the second year I committed to. Still, I see other women my age serving the Lord in Uganda and other places in Africa and I wonder, “Why couldn’t that have been me?”

Even more so, I see these women living the best life ever (or so it appears) in Uganda, and I wonder why my experience wasn’t the same. Why, for me, wasn’t Uganda some ultra spiritual journey of helping others and following God? Why was my year in Uganda plagued with depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and lots and lots of tears?

1482753_10151871483561573_2088816754_nI look back at my photos from that year in Uganda. You’d never know I was in so much pain. You’d never know the battles I was fighting, both internally and externally. You’d never know that at one point I felt so worthless that I didn’t see a reason to live any longer.

Oddly enough, as much as I don’t regret coming back to the US after one year, I also don’t regret going over in the first place. And this journey I’m about to make back over, I am praying hard that it gives me some closure to the emotional and gripping time I spent there.

I’ve been uneasy for about a month now. My stomach is in knots. My heart is heavy. What if I go there and once again want to live there? What if I realize that I screwed up, and I should have stayed? My anxiety is through the roof.

“I needed to do this to see that it’s NOT what I’m meant to do for a lifetime. Had I not come to Uganda, I’d always wonder, “What if?””

 

I’ve been going back through Facebook private messages from when I was living in Uganda, as I work on my memoir. The statement above is what I must rely on as I make my trip back. “…it’s NOT what I’m meant to do for a lifetime.”

10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_nSometimes, God sends you to Africa. And sometimes, He sends you away from Africa.

He sent me away.

I trust His plan is what’s best. So as I return to the Pearl of Africa for two weeks, I will embrace everything I love about it- the welcoming people, the beautiful hills and trees, the melodious sounds of the many birds, the incredible food, and even that scorching equator sun.

I am thankful that God sent me to Uganda. I’m also grateful He sent me back home. But a part of my heart will always be in Africa, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the coming weeks.

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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.

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.”

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.

Five things I’ve learned about missionaries…

All Christians are missionaries. Let’s first get that out of the way. If you’re a Christian, you’re called to spread the Gospel. That doesn’t mean you have to move to another country, continent, or planet to do so. We are ALL called to be missionaries.

But for this post, when I refer to a missionary, I’m talking about the ones who have moved their families to different countries and cultures completely different from the ones they were born in. I’ve spent time with missionaries in Nicaragua, Niger, Zambia, Uganda and Kenya, and I’ve learned a lot about their way of life. I’ve learned a lot about missionaries that I never imagined I would learn.

Turkey in a box. Christmas in Uganda was interesting, but doesn't compare to being with family.
Turkey in a box. Christmas in Uganda was interesting, but doesn’t compare to being with family.

1. Being a missionary sucks. I lived in Uganda for a year. For one year, I gave up American friends, family, food and holidays to live in a third-world country and serve God. But the people who do it full time? They give all that up… every… single… year. No Starbucks, no Target, no Macy’s at Christmas time, no nieces and nephews in school plays, no grandma’s 90th birthday party, no fun of the “normal” kind. Missionaries are literally a world away from their family and friends for a majority, if not all, of each and every year of their lives. It’s a part of the “job” that really sucks. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Being a missionary, especially in a place like Uganda, means spiritual warfare is a very strong and very real thing. Missionaries experience it like you can’t even imagine. It’s treacherous on the heart and soul, and it’s easy to lose faith. Your soul is constantly under attack in ways that can’t be explained. And don’t get me started on the physical threats missionaries face.  Most probably won’t admit it, but being a missionary sometimes sucks.

2. Being a missionary is awesome. The benefits far outweigh the bad. There was a time where I began  to wonder why anyone would do such a thing to their kids- move them to a foreign country where life would be so drastically different from the rest of their peers back in America. Then I got to know and teach MKs (missionary kids) for a year in Uganda, and I saw that they are simply spectacular children who have experienced life to a degree their friends in America will never understand. They are smarter for it, better for it, and more cultured because of it. Not saying it makes these kids better than those who aren’t MKs, but being an MK certainly doesn’t make their lives any less awesome. Being a missionary, or an MK, is incredible. The experiences both culturally and spiritually are matchless.

3. Not all missionaries are “nice.” Missionaries do great things. That’s obvious. They have hearts of gold for people who have less and need assistance. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean missionaries have good people skills with people of their own kind. Some missionaries appear to be very bitter, or they seem to not care about any mission other than their own. Missionaries gossip, missionaries sin, missionaries say hurtful things, missionaries…. are human. And we can’t forget that. They do a tough job, and maybe on some days it’s difficult to put on a smile. While the downright “coldness” I sometimes have felt from missionaries still shocks me, it’s important to remember that none of us are perfect. Being a missionary doesn’t mean being Miss Congeniality.

4. Missionaries don’t care about your mission trip. They won’t admit it, and maybe the wording is harsh, but full-time missionaries in the field often feel like they are being stabbed in the gut when you say, “Oh I know what it’s like in Uganda! I went there on a mission trip last summer!”  No. You don’t know what it’s like. Not at all. I went with some friends in Uganda to pick up someone at the airport after we’d lived there for about six months. While waiting, we saw wide-eyed mission teams ready to take on life in Uganda for a week or two. We kind of laughed at them and the idea that they thought they would truly experience Uganda. It was the first time I really realized why missionaries were never impressed when I told them I was going to spend two weeks in Niger, Nicaragua, or Zambia. A few weeks doesn’t even begin to compare to a lifetime. And the same goes for my situation. I was in Uganda for just short of a year. I still don’t know what it’s like to truly be a missionary in a third-world country. My year in Uganda is but a spec of time compared to those who serve their entire adult lives. I can’t blame them for not being impressed that I lived there for just a year.

Can't imagine surviving my year in Uganda without the opportunity to go somewhere nice and relax.
Can’t imagine surviving my year in Uganda without the opportunity to go somewhere nice and relax.

5. Missionaries deserve treats, just like the rest of us. Probably more than the rest of us. Oh the things people say. A few of my missionary friends in Uganda have even stopped posting pictures on Facebook of times they go out to eat because one of their supporters will say something about it. “Wow. Looks like a nice place you’re eating at there. Guess you aren’t “roughing it” after all.” Or, “I see where my support money is going now.” Yes. People say things like that. People are ignorant. If you support a missionary, you support their well-being. Part of surviving, and part of staying healthy, means having some time off. It means enjoying a special treat or vacation. Yes, even with your support money. A missionary will never succeed if he or she doesn’t have the opportunity to get away and unwind a bit. In my opinion, they need it and deserve it more than the rest of us, who are technically living in luxury each and every day of our lives. Do you have a car? Air conditioning in your home? A television? You are living in luxury compared to the rest of the world.

As Christians, we have to support missionaries. Some might not all be super friendly. They might not be impressed with your mission trip. They might not even love what they do every day. But the bottom line is, they are doing God’s work, they do it for a living, and they don’t get paid. The best way to support missionaries is financially and through prayer. Trust me, every little bit helps.

Unless you’ve done it, you don’t get. And I mean really, truly done it. Not even serving for a year in Uganda makes me qualified to say I know what it’s like to be a missionary in place like Uganda. These people go through things we can’t even imagine, both heartbreaking and fantastic things. They need, and deserve, our support. If we’re really Christians, we will support them, as we continue to be missionaries to the people around us, no matter where we’re located.

At the feet of Jesus…. or the Lincoln Memorial…

It was one of those Sunday mornings where I really didn’t want to go to church. It was a last minute decision to haul myself out of bed, throw something on, and go.

We sang some songs, listened to announcements and then sang another song. And then, before the sermon, we prayed. The worship leader said he wanted us to take everything to Jesus. Whether it was problems at home, at work, with friends, with family… whatever it was, take it and put it at the feet of Jesus. He’ll take care of it.

Having the wild imagination I was blessed with, an image quickly popped into my head. There everyone was with the things they were bringing to Jesus. I, for some odd reason, imagined Jesus kind of like the Lincoln Memorial. He was big, stoic, and unreachable other than His feet where everyone was putting down their worries and troubles. They quietly placed them at the feet of Jesus and turned and walked away.9997Abraham_Lincoln_memorial

But I was different.

In my mind I saw myself with good intentions of simply putting down my cares at His feet, but instead I saw myself putting them down and then pausing. I looked up at President Linco…. Er…. Jesus, and I tapped His foot.

“Don’t miss this one!” I yelled.

He didn’t respond.

“Hey!” I yelled louder, as everyone else continued to quietly give Jesus their struggles. “Hey Jesus! Don’t forget mine!”

It’s probably not very appropriate to yell at Jesus, but in my imagination, I really wanted to be heard. And to be honest, right now, in reality, I’m not feeling heard.

I took a leap of faith when I moved to Uganda a year ago. I took an even larger leap of faith when I moved home a month ago. I have a great education, excellent experience, wonderful references, and yet each and every job I apply for is turning out to be a dead end.

At first I was OK with that. Even after I discovered my dream job did, in fact, exist, and I was definitely qualified for it, spent four hours filling out the application one Sunday, and was told two days later that the position had been filled, I still was encouraged. I believed that God must have something better for me.

I took it to the feet of Jesus and let it go.

But then I interviewed for another job I really wanted, and I haven’t heard anything. I was still hopeful about another job here in Fort Wayne in which I had the perfect background for in journalism and education. I got a letter a few days ago saying other applicants were better qualified. They do not want to interview me at this time.

I am feeling defeated. Useless. Unwanted. Like my education and experience have all been a waste.

And on Sunday morning I took it to the feet of Jesus, or the Lincoln Memorial, and I kept hitting His foot to make sure He was hearing my request, that He was taking my worries for me. The giant stone monument offered no comfort.

After the sermon we sang “I Will Not Be Shaken.” I love God’s sense of humor. The chorus of Tommy Walker’s praise and worship song says this:

So I’ll stand in trust.
I’ll stand in faith.
I will not be shaken.

All of a sudden the picture I had created in my mind became so wrong for so many reasons.

For one, when we take things to the feet of Jesus, He isn’t a giant monument. He literally walked the earth as a human. When we put things at Jesus’ feet, we kneel down before someone our size. We give Him our worries, and then He gives us a warm hug.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Jesus is not unreachable. He is our friend, and He cares about us.

Secondly, I do not need to yell at God to remind Him of my situation. He knows the struggles I’m facing in finding a job, and He’s got it covered. He is always listening.

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13

Am I frustrated? Absolutely. I feel I have a lot to offer an employer, and I’m getting nowhere. For some reason, God hasn’t placed me in any of the jobs I’ve applied for. Although it’s difficult, I will stand in trust. I’ll stand in faith. I will not be shaken. I’m taking it to the feet of Jesus and putting it before Him.

And He’s not a giant stone monument. He’s holding me tight as I wait for what He’s going to do next in my life.

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