Open Letter to a 501(c)3

Dear Noprofit Advocates,

This is not meant as a shaming letter. I love your passion for orphans, refugees, sex trafficked victims and any other type of mission you’ve shared with me. I love knowing God gave you that passion for a reason. I even love your boldness in standing in front of hundreds of college students and presenting your organization’s financial needs. That takes guts. Good job.

I agree with you. All you’re asking us to do is give up four coffees a month in order to support your passion-focus. You even go as far to point out that if we set a goal with a friend, we would give up less. (We’re going to ignore the fact that people like me would give up bread before we give up our coffee.) It’s a doable sacrifice for an overwhelming need. It helps that all of you are immaculate storytellers. Good job only focusing on the needs and not giving past successes. That makes it harder to say no.

Is it possible that’s what you wanted? Why can’t this be about joining you in praising God for what He’s already done and merely talking about how we’re called to support these group together? Maybe becase that’d make it easier to walk by your table with the darling kiddos’ faces staring at me without opening my wallet?

Before I go any further, please know I completely understand what it’s like raising support. My parents were missionaries and there were a few times as a kid I was confused that a pastor would invite us to speak and then no one joined the bandwagon. It’s hard not shaming people into supporting you or your passion when you know the need firsthand.

Can I share with you what I learned as I watched God provide despite what I didn’t see coming from those churches? The reality is, if every family in the pews spread their resources through every mission that walked through the door, none of the missions would feel helped. They would all feel like the people were merely doing it for the tax write off or spiritual pat on the back – not because they knew God wanted to use them financially to support something bigger than themselves. 

So, I humbly ask you to not cheapen the gifts you receive by shaming those who can’t or don’t give. Certainly, there are those who can give and don’t, but that’s none of your business. That’s between them and the Lord. But many of the God-fearing Believers in your audiences don’t give because they are already giving all they have toward something else. 

I’ll say it again, I love your passion for your organization. However, please work against playing the Judge over how many people you need to join your cause in order to get your yearly goal met. If everyone gave, if every college student sacrificed, I wonder how much less applause God would get simply because you could explain it away as good busines and financial stewardship?

You have your passions. I have mine. You can be guaranteed I have searched my heart to see if God wants me to join you in your passion. Some of your missions He has given me permission to give money to; others of you, I am that dejected college student that has learned to walk past your table with her head down.

Challenge us to pray. Challenge us to speak our questions. Challenge us to pray again, then watch God work miracles without your help.

No shame necessary.

I will join you on my side of the world proclaiming God’s faithfulness if you promise to do the same.

Sincerely,

A Pensively Challenged College Student

Check-listed Forgiveness

I idolize check-lists. I’m not a person who has to physically check off a task, but regardless, I need to know what I’m supposed to do next. You’ll get a blank stare and a few pointed questions if the extent of your offer is, “Come over whenever you want.” Mkay, great. What time is “whenever”? What do I bring? How long am I expected to be there? Is there a reason I’m coming over?

Are you expecting anything from me?

My “check-list mentality” makes Christianity intrinsically heartwrenching. It’s especially frustrating when I stand in front of the concept of forgiveness. I wronged you, you forgive me… Now, what do I do next? How many times do I need to bring it up again before it’s obsolete? Do you need me to do something before you purely love me as deeply as you did before I wronged you? 

Asking those questions towards another human being is called survival. I have learned with many that when they say, “I forgive you” what they mean is, “I’ll say something I don’t mean because I don’t want to be seen as a jerk.” Forgiveness doesn’t erase anger, but it should erase shame. Because humans are, well, humans, that doesn’t happen as often as it probably should.

But what about asking those questions when I’ve wronged my holy and righteous God and savior? Have I ever needed to ask God what His stipulations were for forgiving me? Have I ever had to look at that gift and then sheepishly ask God, “So, for how long is that mine this time? Two years? A week? What do I need to do to help you continue holding my ineptness over my head? What deals can I make with you so you won’t be angry any longer?”

No. I’ve never had to do that. He’ll listen to my train of thought, sure. But I can almost hear his heart break every time I try to add my own magic to His already perfect forgiveness.

When God sent His Son to die on the cross and Jesus’ death and resurrection paid the debt of my sin, my checklist was ripped to shreds. It’s as if He handed me a new list with only one entry:

1. You are Mine.

Being Like Christ is Enough?

I’m so done pursuing them. After being brushed off  for the third time, that was my only angrily hurt thought. Who needs friendships? I’m just.. Done. D-O-N-E, Lord. Ya hear me? Done! It gets old when you’re friendship is only observed when they need something from you. Telling God I was done felt justifiably good.

Inevitably, God brought two things to mind. The first being a story near to my heart of a man who pursued a woman for over a year with no apparent understanding that his pursuit wasn’t appreciated nor reciprocated. When the woman stepped away, he stepped closer in friendship anyway. He knew what God was calling him to do. It never seemed as if much else mattered; he was on a mission. The man still acts as if he won’t give up until God tells him his mission is complete.

Though the couples’ story still brings a smile to my face, God’s second reminder sent a chill up my spine. God’s pursuit of me. I was reminded of God’s beautiful pursuit of the risk-taking, independant, don’t-need-anyone girl. I was the girl who, even when she had nothing, swore she’d never come back to Christianity. Yet little by little, God proved he could run faster than me. He never stopped giving me reasons to look for him.

What if He had given up? What if he had felt my cold responses one too many times and stopped being available? 

There are times where backing away from a friendship is beneficially the right choice. I’m not a stranger to that need. However, I think we as humans make that call too often; maybe even too quickly. The second we face friction, we decide we’re done. No one would really blame us anyway, right?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am called to so much more, though. I’m not merely called to being a poster-child for Christ’s mercy. I’m called to be Christ-like and Christ-filled. 

Even when Christ feels the sting of rejection, he continues to pursue with love in undeniable ways. When was the last time I chose love over anger? When was the last time I chose to answer in love rather than making promises to never try again? When was the last time I was satisfied looking a friend in the eye and telling them they knew where to find me when they wanted actual friendship?

With that, I can only choose to let God pick up my bruised heart and whisper, “Teach me how to love even when I don’t get loved in return.” After all, being Christ-like will never mean I’m ultimately liked.

I Wish I’d Known

In most people’s eyes, I had everything a 22-year-old wanted. I had my independence, a great job, friends and accquaintances on both sides of the religious spectrum. I’d sown my oats and lived to tell about it. I needed nothing. 

I was voted “Most likely to get hitched and have 3 kids by 19” in school. At 22, I was about the only one who had never filed for a dependant on my taxes, left the country to explore or declared a pursuit of some high-falutin’ doctorate. As far as the dating thing went, let’s face facts, shall we? When your fellow 20-somethings harken back to school days and the once-popular football guys still chuckle that, “You don’t mess with Harris. She’s a piece o’ dynamite” you get friends, not dates.

With the ever increasing use of social media, I saw all my friends pass me up. Dating relationships, amazing careers, marriages, kids… Fame. They had it all it seemed, and I was stuck in the town where every time you sneezed the mayor requested a new weather report. 

I wanted to be noticed. I felt hidden. I wanted someone to want me… I felt overlooked. People said my high-end(ish) job made me successful. I felt stuck and taken for granted. This was adulthood? Would I ever see beyond the 7,500 people who could still recall in great detail what buck-teethed, awkward 9-year-old me was like?

I missed out on so much because I was constantly comparing my journey to someone else’s or knocking on Heaven’s door asking for a preview of my exciting life 15 years down the road. I wanted everything that wasn’t mine to have. Very rarely did I giggle at the silence and dance when the music stopped.

No one ever told me my desire for more would make my life have meaning if I could be content. The last words out of my mouth at night wanted to be, “Thanks, I guess, for my loneliness, my boredom, my routine, my annoying ho-hum, do nothing life. Yay air. Amen.” To be content in those things? What was the point in moment-by-moment, not fantasy-by-fantasy or expectation-by-expectation?

Doing that would require being content in the constant Person of Jesus Christ. That would require being accepting of the fact that experience builds character, and sometimes that character has nothing to do about me. Contentedness means appreciating loneliness and routine because, if I’m willing to listen, I’ll have more time to pray for people and be a part of an unseen battle.

At 22, no one saw the need to tell me my “stupid routine life” mattered. As a 26-year-old, I wish I had known then the joy of sacrificing my expectations at the feet of the Master who knew the beauty of my future.

I wish I had known the beauty of taking the time to ponder the vastness of never being bigger than the God I serve.

Speaking Unknown Languages

This morning, I found myself reliving the past and cherishing the present. 

I laughed at the blessing of what I have surrounding me this Christmas Eve. I’ve been given memories I’ll never forget, loved ones I’ll always cherish… I can’t thank God enough for all these things. My worlds have officially collided. Every time I see strangers becoming family around my parents’ dinner table, I can hear God whisper, “This is both a reminder of eternal redemption you can’t run from & a gift of absolute love.” 

But still, in this quiet morning where memories can flow without interruption, I found myself missing Ohio. Last year, I was a guest in a friend’s home; a cherished stranger-made-family. I could have easily felt like a fish out of water, but I rarely did. 

Hearing German, Korean and Japanese happened often during that Christmas. Every once in a while, I’d throw in some Sign Language just to make my friends giggle… At times, my surrogate German-Mama would forget to speak English when addressing me and the kitchen would erupt in laughter at the confusion. 

Last Christmas Eve, in four different languages, we sat down and told the Christmas Story. As Jesus’ birth was celebrated simultaneously in each language, I laughed for fear of crying. 

It was a minuscule taste of what I can only imagine Heaven to be like. Voices raised with confidence, speaking the Truth of our Redeemer in our respective heart language. We shared knowing smiles as we let each other express our Jesus differently, knowing our bond would always hold some mystery. 

I’m surrounded by English speakers this year. Each time I hear snippets of the Christmas Story – Holy God coming to Earth as a baby to save His people – I smile. Jesus is so much more than a story.

He breaks down language barriers, cultural differences & economic struggles and creates family out of strangers. 

Silencing the Parents

I was always that kid who moved mountains to keep things level.

I’d love to say my fear of disrupting the peace was something I sculpted into my pint-size personality over time, but that’d probably be a lie. As a 6 or 7-year-old, I heard my parents discussing finances (not arguing, fighting or crying… discussing) after they’d sent me to bed. I heard the phrase “we can’t do that right now” and took matters into my own hands.

From then on, I struggled to tell my parents what I wanted (Suzy Home Bake, anyone?) or what I needed ($15 for band supplies or fail the class…?). Now that I’ve been ‘adulting’ for a few years, I understand what my parents were doing that night. Their hesitation over the checkbook didn’t mean I was a burden as another mouth to feed. It didn’t mean I wasn’t wanted. It just meant budgeting would be a good idea for the next 15 days.

Sidenote: For all I know, they could have been talking about putting money towards a road trip, not some desperate necessity.

It didn’t matter what the scenario was, though. I wasn’t going to be a burden on my parents… 

Anytime I talk to my mom about my annoying people-pleaser skills (I mean ‘tendencies’) as a child, the reaction is always the same — utter frustration, heartbreak and an explanation of reality. It’s all stuff I’m completely aware of now, but the underlying question is still there: Why was letting your dad and I provide for you so hard for you to do?

I, unfortunately, don’t have an answer for her. All I know is I was fairly positive I understood life and could help my parents survive it by knowing more than they did. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. Honestly, the idea of my future child doing that makes my blood boil.

But the reality is, no matter how much logic I can pour into that misconception to make it disappear, I’m still in danger of doing it. Only now, I’m the adult-child kneeling before my Heavenly Father uttering the words, “I don’t think I should bother you with this heartache…” 

Without hesitation, I hear Him chuckle as He replies, “You know better than to think that, but since you do, come sit with Me anyway. I just want time with you.

And, just like my earthly parents, as I sit with my Father God, I start to understand He understands me better than I understand myself. He knows what I need and, though it feels life-threateningly large to me, He handles it because He can.

Wait, what was I worried about, again?

             

Every Season’s Worth

I depend on laughter most days. Even when I’m knowingly distraught, I’m usually the one quick with a one-liner to make sure no one else feels as if they’re being held captive by the need to cry. (Sidenote: If you do that too, just know it is the most frustrating thing for those who love you.) Humor is fantastic. It’s incredibly powerful, necessary and–believe me–a lifesaver during the weirdest of transitions.

I like humor. It’s easy to define: You laugh= It was funny. No high IQ required to understand that one.

I may be more comfortable with humor, but I honestly struggle with how the majority of white America handles sorrow.

One of the hardest things to get used to while living around a different culture when I was a kid was the fact that most were of the opinion pacifying someone’s hurt too early was the worst thing you could do. What that translated into? Someone crying like their heart was being torn in two and everyone encircling them but rarely coddling the one who was hurt. Why? Because tears needed to happen. 

Holding them would make the tears stop and honestly, only God should be the one to determine that.

When King David lost the son conceived with Bathsheba, he secluded himself for days in order to mourn and to pray. He understood the need for tears. He understood the need to let emotions run their course. He understood God was still present when the tears flowed and, in some ways, sorrow so deep made His presence easier to comprehend.

We seem to shortern the things that can make us heal the most: tears and circumstancial loneliness are two of the hardest ones. Your heart hurts? Find someone who can make you laugh. You’re lonely? Quick! Get in a crowd so you can appear to fit in but still struggle with convincing yourself you belong.

What if we’re stealing some of the deepest transformations within ourselves simply because we’re uncomfortable (and ready to be fun to be around again)?

What would happen if we acted as if we believed God wasn’t lying to us when He says there’s a season for everything? What would happen if we believed God was/is sovereign enough to know what our hearts need to go through in order to become more like Him? 

What would happen if we embraced what we needed rather than only praising God’s goodness for the the things we wanted?

Powerful Questions

We are no longer in a generation where being confronted by “Churchy people” on Sundays is attractive, convicting or a game-changer for someone outside the Body of Christ. 

Once upon a time, you still came to church if you had tattoos, but you covered them up.

If you were simply 3 days clean off a drug, you kept your mouth shut, your eyes down and you collected the atta-boys of people who were perceived as holier and cleaner than you.

Technically, it was equally the shame of the action (the desire to cover things up) and the desire to change (if you ignore your past long enough, it’ll disappear and you can have a fresh start, right?).
Recently, I struck up a conversation with a single father in town. We talked all things parenting (Praise ya, Jesus, for the gift of insightful yet ignorant empathy…) and all things trial. He laughed about no longer going out with the guys at night and I chided him that sleeping in was probably no longer in his vocabulary, either. He made it clear he could be a better dad. I reminded him his daughter was beautiful.

Then the enchantment ended as soon as I brought up God.

“You? Really? But…”

His eyes spoke the volumes his lips refused to mutter. You’re too nice to me to be a Christian.

The conversation quickly died down from there, but I was reminded of a Truth that broke my heart.

The days of opening the Church doors and ringing the steeple bell to strike curiousity in a person’s heart no longer exists. We’re no longer seen as a loving place to try out. We are us and they are them. End of discussion. Though that’s not necessarily accurate across the board… it’s a reality that’s getting harder to deny. 

We’re playing our own game of ignore it and it will disappear. 

So, I simply challenge those of you that claim Christ as your savior and Lord to own up to your redemption in every way. Whether your sin struggles are in the “acceptable” sins (gluttony, lying, gossiping) or the life-style temptations, be willing to let God use your experiences to reach out to someone who thinks they can’t come through those church doors without cleaning up first. Because that is quite simply a lie from the pit of hell.

They need to know it’s possible to be seen right where they’re at. Though that’s been a concept ever since Billy Graham was first given a podium, it’s becoming more urgent… and more an issue for the Church to address than it ever was for an independant evangelist. Outside of the comfortably-Christian communities, we are losing our impact on those who believe differently because we’re not willing to get down in the mud of life next to them and ask one simple thing:

I’ve been where you’re at. Wanna talk about it?

Ironic Purpose, Meaningful Life

“You’re letting me die and I haven’t even been kissed, gone to Prom or gotten my driver’s license. Okay.”

Tomorrow it will have been 10 years since I mentally went through and prayed about the things I thought I’d never experience as I was being prepped for brain surgery. Those three things were what stuck out as important… and those were the three things I was more than willing to give up if it meant God would take me Home instead of “making me” live.

Oh… How things have changed.

1o years later, none of those things are drastically important to me. I had to laugh this morning as I remembered my almost 16-year-old brain thinking my life was incredibly boring because I didn’t have those things. I was so enraptured by the lack of those experiences I even dreamed about them… I thought those dreams were all I’d have before looking my Savior in the eye.

This morning, I was humbled by the fact that such a memory brought joy, not mourning. Then I heard my heart cry, “You have so much more for me to do, Lord. Keep me here. Find me faithful. I’m not done yet.”

It’s been 10 years of joys, trials, tears and laughter, but God kept me here for a reason. I used to happily tell people my life’s purpose was to be a testimony of how to suffer and die with joy. Not kidding. Now, I’m starting to believe that I may be the last person God takes Home, simply because He really enjoys irony.

The idea of “knowing your calling” as a Believer in Jesus Christ has become a dramatically important thing. There are so many books on the topic (Thank you Os Guiness…) I’m fairly certain it has its own section on the self-help shelf at bookstores. I often feel as if I disappoint older Christians when I don’t tell them specifics in regard to what my “calling” is. Wife? Mother? Writer? Journalist? Teacher? … Hobo???

Who knows. But my ultimate calling has been ironically and beautifully defined. I have been called to plan for the moment yet live for an undefined, God-filled future. A future that I couldn’t dare to dream about as I signed a Do Not Resuscitate order 10 years ago. 

Come what may, I know the price of living on my deathbed. Now my God is giving me the right to discover the epitome of what it means to truly live.

I am 2nd

In some ways, I press forward in my faith to honor the people who expect me to fail. In one aspect, I do it for the precious ones who knew me when christianity was a status symbol, rather than a Covenant between myself and my Savior. 

They need to know one thing: 

If they’re waiting for me to fail… I will. 

It’s the astonished tone to their voices, “Wait. You… You still believe this Jesus thing works? Don’t you know life without boundaries is so much freer?” The dearest of friends guffaw good-naturedly and mutter the same idea over and over again. 

“Come find me when you give up. Come find me when you’re finally done playing an invisible game.” 

I was reminded the price of my belief in Christ tonight as my commitment, and the shared commitment of another like me, was met with disgusted, confused and annoyed silence. 

My faith has nothing to do with my ability to be good enough, on the straight and narrow enough, or even loud enough about my faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God as my savior. Though all those things are a portion of a lifestyle, relational Christianity, that makes it all about me… When it’s not. 

God used a highly frustrated friend to remind me that my faith in Christ is about giving Christ the chance to shine more brightly through my brokenness than I ever could simply out of sheer will. 

When I told the truth about my convictions, my heart broke because I knew he wouldn’t agree. My heart broke as I was silently taunted by the reminder that I was the most unqualified to speak truth. But instead of fighting, I was met with complete silence and God simply whispering: 

This is my story, not yours. You spoke Truth tonight. You might not next time, but it’s not about your ability to convince anyone about My existence. It’s about your transparency in showing how quickly and fully My grace, love and redemption pursue you when you run from Me.