I’m going to start by saying something that may surprise you.
Growing up, my experience with several “Christians” led me to believe that I did not want anything to do with Christianity. They were judgmental, hypocritical, self-consumed, and some had pink hair (see TBN for more details).  I spent a good part of my life feeling like this was not a club I wanted to be a part of.  
What I have discovered in the last several years of my life is that these people still exist in churches all over the world.  The people who don’t care about the Christian walk, but they sure do care if the neighbors are arguing in their driveway (and then they add it to “prayer request time,” not to gossip of course, but for prayer, folks).  I continue to be disgusted when I see this, and even more so when I see it in myself.  And for clarification, I do see it in myself. More than I care to admit. We live in a fallen world, and we are all prone to unholy thoughts and actions that do not edify our Father.
I probably could have lived my entire life being someone who thought that Christians were (at best) delusional.  A baby? A manger? A cross? How silly. How useless. A bunch of dreamers who have come up with this great plan to make themselves feel better about life. I suppose I had better, more tangible things to do with my life.
And then one night (This January 17th, I will celebrate my eighth “anniversary”), I heard Him speak to me, and I have never been the same.  
It doesn’t mean that I turn a blind eye and think that the church is perfect (NO church is perfect).  What it means is that I have seen the tears fall in a group of people as we gathered together on a stormy night to hold hands and pray over the baby in my womb who had just received the diagnosis of certain death. The door blew open as we prayed and the rain poured in (no Sundays are surprised at this detail, right??:)) It means I have seen what the church was meant to be, and I love it.
I have seen true community, as a group of 30 or so people come to my house every Wednesday night and we share life. We don’t talk about the weather or the latest trends (usually…).  We talk about struggling marriages and kids who have walked away from the church. We talk about loss and heartbreak, and we celebrate the gifts that God has given each one of us. We talk about the parts of life that make it worth living. 
Images from childhood are racing through my mind at warp speed as I type.  The 6th grade girls down the road who told me I wasn’t as good as them because I didn’t care about Jesus. The same girls who invited me over to audition to be a ballet school teacher at their “school” that they were opening in their basement. I put on a leotard and some ballet shoes, kissed my mom’s cheek as she wished me good luck and then walked through the freezing cold streets.
I did every single move they told me to, and then, trying to play it cool,  I asked if I had made the cut.  They said they needed to think about it, and as the door closed behind me, I heard raucous laughter. I had fallen for their prank.  There was never a ballet school, just a chance to humiliate a little girl who didn’t know any better than to put on her shoes and walk toward opportunity.
Let’s not even get into the time I joined my first Bible Study (Breaking Free by Beth Moore…I like her a little bit), I was not yet a Christian, and I showed up nervously with the only (Catholic) Bible I had, which was, umm, a “Precious Moments” Bible. Score. 
It also had a whole bunch more books than the other girls’ Bibles…which was explained to me later:) Luckily, those women welcomed me wholeheartedly and helped me find the different books as they flipped through at the speed of light and I sat paralyzed with the giant book (those pages are like tissue, are they not?). They are still all close friends of mine, and I am so blessed to have met a group of people who exposed me to the true Gospel.
Do you have impressions or memories of Christians that sting? I bet you do.
And here is why I feel so compelled to write to you all today.
This is not the church that Jesus intended. This is not HIS church. It is what we, in our fallen state, have made it.
He is healer, refuge, forgiver, strong tower, peace-giver, redeemer, joyful, mender of brokenness…He is the Light of the world, and He came to give you the life that you were meant to have since before time began.
I am speaking from experience here, friends. I have met with Him, and I have fallen deeply, unequivocally, passionately in love with Who He is.
Last night, I had the great pleasure of spending an evening with several friends who live their lives chasing the Lord. We spent an evening with Mexican food, obnoxious laughter, homemade hot chocolate and watching as our 6 children run around like wild animals, so full of joy they could explode. To put it simply, it was, well, community.  The real kind. The kind where you hug someone because you know their deepest hurts and joys and you love each other richly despite their shortcomings. Nights like those restore my faith in what we are called to be as a body…they stir the fire that says, “This is my church, daughter. Now go out and DO something with what you have seen here…”
I have spoken of some of them here, but I want to reintroduce you.  You already know about Jessica and Matthew. I also spent time with an amazing, sweet couple named Chris and Anne Jackson.  Anne has an amazing blog and has her first book coming out in a few months (pre-order here).
Finally, you know about my dear friends Brandi and Pete.  People, listen to me. They GET it. Pete is the pastor of Cross Point Church (remember the cool videos they did of us for Audrey…he’s the one with the rockin’ hair), a church that is thriving because of the authenticity with which every message is presented. They are the real deal.  We went to look at Christmas lights in our pajamas the other night if that tells you anything…(and Brandi, you do not have my permission to tell the reason I was not pajama-clad….I am working on it…:))
I want to personally invite you (on behalf of Cross Point Church) to attend one of their Christmas Eve services, and I promise, you will be blessed. Services are at 2:00, 3:30, and 5 p.m. in Nashville, and 3:00 and 5:00 in Dickson.  Here is the link to their church site for more information. They don’t know I am doing this, but I just felt compelled because I know what an amazing night it will be, and if you can make it, you will be glad you did.
Maybe you haven’t even walked into a church for years. 
Maybe that feels scary or uncomfortable. 
Maybe you feel like you wouldn’t fit in, or that you would feel inadequate.
I totally understand, and I was with you there for most of my life. 
But maybe, just maybe, this is the year that you allow God to woo you the way He longs to…I am praying that for each of you. And by all means, if you do come, and you see me there, please say hello (and tell me I look skinny, because I am struggling a little with that…thank you to all my sweet neighbors who brought oversized plates of cookies….Crystal, yes, that means you. And Terri, also not helping.)
Here is a shot of us from last night- (Anne, me, Brandi and Jess)

I slacked a little on the Christmas card thing this year, so I thought I would post this for you all to see. It’s my favorite one I have ever sent, and I hope you love it too. I will go ahead and answer the inevitable questions (because I got a ton of emails when it went out in 2004!). Yes, that is Todd and the girls walking (look how TINY they are!!!!), and I digitally altered it to make the point that I hope you get when you see it.  
We can’t see Him the way we wish we could all of the time, but we can lift our hands to His and do what He longs for us to do….walk and believe…

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…
Romans 3:22
Merry CHRISTmas to you all, and much love to each one of you.