Hinton Christmas Care program reveals overwhelming need — and community kindness


Yes, God provided, but it was only when people listened and responded that we began to see things happen. That’s usually how it works, isn’t it? — Rev. Dawn Livingston

Hinton Christmas Care program reveals overwhelming need — and community kindness

Dec. 4, 2017

I can’t help but think of the scripture from Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

The past few weeks have been a little rough. I feel like it’s been one step forward and two steps back, or climb over one hill and the next one seems ever larger. We’ve been gathering and processing applications for Christmas Care of Clay County and I’ll admit I’ve been sucked into focusing on the overwhelming need. It’s like I’ve found myself at the bottom of a big, black hole and I can only see a little ray of light.

Normally I don’t have trouble finding the good in the situation, but this year our numbers have skyrocketed so much that I was caught off guard and have had trouble recovering. Until now.

Deep down, I knew that God would provide. Really, I did. But the needs just seemed to outweigh the resources and my heart has been heavy. I’ve almost dreaded coming to work because of it. I think more people have learned about Christmas Care and I really do think more people are seeking help this year. I don’t want to get into the “whys” of it – that could be another eight blog posts, trust me — you don’t want to get me started on that. Regardless of the why, the needs exists. Last year we helped 250 children. This year our list is at 373, with an additional 30 children on a waitlist. And the calls keep coming.

But you know what else keeps coming? Emails and phone calls from people who want to help. I am now once again overwhelmed; only this time not by the need, but by the love and support of a community of folks who care. Those who want to help.

Even early last week our numbers seemed bleak. We were chipping away with sponsorships and it seemed ever-so-slow. And for every two children who were sponsored, another application seemed to come in with more children on the list.

But now, all I can think is God is so good. Once again, we trusted (even with many doubts and heavy hearts) that God would provide … and instead of 80 some children who still need sponsoring, we have about 25.

I believe with my whole heart that God – the creator of the universe – has provided. Not only that, but people have listened to that still small voice, that pull on the heartstrings, and responded by offering to help their neighbors. Yes, God provided, but it was only when people listened and responded that we began to see things happen. That’s usually how it works, isn’t it?

Too often I think we get sucked into our big, black holes of doubt and despair. We see the needs and we’re overwhelmed. We think “what can one person really do to make a difference?”

Friends, one person can and does make a difference. How often do we ignore needs because they’re too messy or we don’t want to get involved? Maybe it’s because we don’t think we have anything to give or offer, or it won’t be enough. Whatever the reason is, we look the other way, justifying our inaction. Yes, the needs are large. Yes, there are systemic issues and bigger problems than we may never understand.

But it starts with one person taking a single step: offering help. And what a difference it makes.

Choosing to be thankful in spite of circumstances


We can come to a place where we choose to look for the good in the midst of all the bad.

— Rev. Dawn Livingston


Nov. 10, 2017

Different themes seem to emerge based upon the season or time of the year. It’s no surprise that November is the month where many folks are more intentional to give thanks. If you’re on social media, you might have friends participating in the 30 days of thanks or posting pictures that represent being thankful, or some variation.

Then there’s the polar opposite being discussed and shared: concern and fear. Whether it’s political in nature, issues of social justice (or lack thereof), violent attacks … there’s this constant awareness of all that’s not worthy of thanks. Tragedies. Traumatic events. Horrible situations. A sadness about what’s taken place and a fear of what might happen if or when.

What if out of the sadness and tragedy we choose to rise above and still offer thanks and look for the good? We’ve all heard about the way horrible things tend to pull people together. Heroes arise. Community forms. Love and goodness triumph.

What if instead of focusing on the fear and concern – whether it’s from something that’s happened or something that could happen, we choose to look for the good?

You might think that it’s easy to type these words, to think this way, from the safety of our own bubbles, right? I’ll admit, I’m sitting here in my cozy office, with my cup of coffee at hand, occasionally looking out the window at the beautiful colors of fall. So, yeah, I guess it is easy to write about from this view. But I don’t write about it half-heartedly, because I know what it is to live through a traumatic experience. I’ve faced one firsthand. The details aren’t important here, but what is important is that through that experience, I found a stronger sense of hope and a renewed passion to see the good in people; to be thankful for the good that is still in this world.

Going through something traumatic changes you, there’s no doubt. Whether you’ve experienced it yourself or known someone who has, life is no longer the same.

It’s not easy and it’s not immediate, but I think it’s possible to refuse to be defined by the situation or by what’s happened to us. We can come to a place where we choose to look for the good in the midst of all the bad. By doing so, I think we move ourselves away from living in a state of fear or concern to a place where we can experience joy and hope.

I’ve been reminded time and time again that there’s still incredible good in this world, through the outpouring of care and support of so many people, some who I barely even knew. That’s what I choose to focus on. I’ve already seen how going through this experience has enabled me to be more equipped to help others and have a type of empathy I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

I won’t deny that it’s sometimes hard to stay focused on the good. I still have a lot of sadness, grief, and even some anger over what happened, but I won’t let that change the way I treat other people or the way I approach life. I will still look for the good in others. I will still show compassion in the midst of struggle.

I will still be thankful, and I think we all have that capability. It may be a different journey that we’re all on, and we’ll do so in our own time, but I believe it’s possible. There’s no doubt that there’s some uncertainty with the world, and I do have concern for what could happen to certain groups of people if some things end up happening. I am worried about loss of support and benefits for some folks, for instance, but I won’t let it take all of my time and focus. I won’t let it bog me down, because I know that there’s still good in this world, and that there are so many people who are fighting for issues of social justice and showing compassion.

I’ve always looked for the good in others, but I don’t live with my “head in the sand” and I’m not suggesting that’s what we do. In fact, I think we raise our heads high, look the issues and problems in the eye, and determine that we won’t let them win. We won’t let the actions of others dictate who we are. We continue to show the love of Jesus, to be his hands, feet and smile in this world – showing the light of Christ through the darkness. In this season of thanks, we can choose to find goodness and be thankful, in spite of what’s going on around us.

Stepping out on faith, as Peter once did


I think to the conversations I’ve had this past week alone and have to wonder how many times are we in the middle of the storm – feeling as if we are battered and warn – like the waves of life are crashing around us, out of our control – carrying us farther and farther out. We feel just like we can imagine the disciples may have felt – scared, unsure, out of control. — Rev. Dawn Livingston

Stepping out on faith, as Peter once did

Oct. 27, 2017

I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve heard from this week that say they’re overwhelmed or stressed. I even found myself thinking those very words.

Maybe you feel that way right now too.

It’s caused me to reflect on a particular scripture passage from Matthew 14:22-33. You likely know it: it’s where Jesus walks on water and Peter, good ol’ Peter, steps out in faith… until he gets overwhelmed by the waves and the reality of his situation and starts to sink.

This passage comes right after the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish – this wonderful, amazing thing that Jesus does.  We find that the disciples went down from the hillside to the Sea of Galilee and we need to remember that at least four of them were fishermen, so they were skilled with being out on the sea. But we find that as they were on the sea and it was getting dark, the waters were getting rough from a strong wind.

When the Bible says that the waters were getting rough, it’s a little more than a slightly rocking boat. I learned that the hard way when I had the opportunity to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee… and it was a windy, cloudy, storms-a-brewin’ type of day. Because of the location of the Sea of Galilee, storms and strong winds can oftentimes whip up suddenly, without much warning. And when the waves rock, they rock the boat.  Add into that the fact that the disciples were likely in a simple fishing boat and it was dark out, there was real reason for concern. They were at the mercy of the waves and the wind – the impending storm.

I think to the conversations I’ve had this past week alone and have to wonder how many times are we in the middle of the storm – feeling as if we are battered and warn – like the waves of life are crashing around us, out of our control – carrying us farther and farther out. We feel just like we can imagine the disciples may have felt – scared, unsure, out of control.

But then, the disciples see Jesus.  Can you imagine what must have been going on in their minds? Scripture tells us that the disciples were afraid, thinking they were seeing a ghost (and not a cute child dressed up for Halloween as Casper, either). Jesus puts their minds at ease when he tells them not to be afraid because it is he.

They see Jesus, and everything changes. How I needed this reminder. Maybe you do, too. When we find ourselves in the middle of a storm or on the fringes of one, we too can see Jesus and everything can change.

But Peter takes it even further; he steps out – literally – with faith. Peter begins walking toward Jesus until his faith starts to waiver and the circumstances he’s facing overwhelm him and make him afraid once again.

I think at times we begin to step out with that type of faith just like Peter did, but then we too get a little overwhelmed by the waves around us (fear begins to set in and our doubts overtake us), causing our focus on Jesus to falter as we get caught up in the stuff we’re going through.

There’s something to be said for the kind of faith that just trusts God. It’s almost like that childlike faith, one that isn’t jaded, critical or skeptical.  One that knows God is bigger than even the biggest giant we might be facing at that moment.

It wasn’t exactly a walking on water type moment, but I remember having an answered prayer to a seemingly impossible request – a step out in faith –when I was about 6 years old.  It was one of those things that I kinda tucked away for years and really hadn’t thought much about.

It was a summer when we weren’t having rain. It was a drought or at least approaching drought-like proportions.  I had this pastor who I thought the world of, who was like a grandpa to me. He was one of the people who showed me what it means to share the love of Christ, even at an early age of five or six years old.  I don’t really remember how this was all set up, but I think it was in a sermon Pastor Gordon gave about faith. He used the example of the lack of rain and having the faith that God would provide the rain needed. I think he pretty much challenged us to have faith that makes you trust Jesus enough to step out of the boat and attempt to walk to him on the water.  He challenged us to have the type of faith that would cause us to go outside and open an umbrella in preparation for the rain that we believed God would send.

I’m not sure if he challenged us to literally go outside with an umbrella and expect rain, but as a six year old, that’s what I did. I went home and dug out an umbrella, and with all the faith in the world, I just KNEW if I walked outside and opened it, it would begin to rain.

So without a single doubt or question in my mind, with the faith of Peter stepping out of the boat, I walked outside, opened the umbrella and waited for God to send rain …

And guess what? God did!

Within minutes, it began to sprinkle.  And those raindrops made me feel like I had a direct line to the Creator of the Universe!  I stepped out of the boat in faith and God responded. I still held up the umbrella, but I relished in the sweet rain that came down, and I don’t think a raindrop has EVER felt soooo good!!

I wish I could say that there was absolutely no rain predicted in the forecast, but honestly, I was six so I really don’t know.  All I remember is that I trusted in God and something big happened.

Oh, how I wish I had not tucked that little experience away, forgotten.  Somehow over the years, that memory slipped and reason got in the way and muddied my childlike faith.  I grew up and I stopped asking God for the impossible… I stopped opening the umbrella before the rain. I started focusing on the waves and not on Jesus in the midst of the storm.

I want to reclaim the sort of faith that looks at the situation and trusts God to make a way. Not that I’ll idly just wait for it to happen, but that I can prepare myself for the next steps, knowing if I get out my umbrella it will indeed rain. I want to focus on God with faith that doesn’t waiver. Don’t you?

I may not know what you’re facing, what the waves in your life or the impending storm may be, but I do know that God is bigger than the waves. I don’t say that flippantly because I know how tumultuous some storms are and I’m not discounting them. I’m saying that even in the darkest, worst times of our life, God is there.

God is there in the midst of heartache and pain, our failures and regrets, in the midst of bills piling up, schedules that are too full, in the midst of illness that robs us of our loved ones, tragedies that we can’t even begin to fathom. God is there.

Let’s have the faith that Peter had when he stepped out of the boat.

Let’s open our umbrellas and wait for the rain that we know will come.

Let’s trust in God when we’re overwhelmed and stressed.

Let’s have that sort of faith.

‘Noticeability’ can change our world


“You’ve experienced this, right? Like when you know someone who gets a new car and then you start to see more of that particular vehicle being driven around town? There’s something about becoming aware that seems to hone our attention in a new way.” — Dawn Livingston

Oct. 19, 2017

It’s no secret that I like to at least think I’m good at multitasking. Just ask anyone here who works with me, especially with the number of emails I can send out in an hour on a plethora of subjects.

Seriously. It’s that bad.

I’ll start working on one task, and then something reminds me of another task that needs to be done, so that I’m “working” on both of them simultaneously. Meanwhile, I’m ripping pop-up post-it notes out of the holder, furiously jotting down reminders and notes of other projects I need to complete. Oh, and then there’s the ongoing to-do lists (yes, plural) that I tend to keep growing.

Yet, I keep finding more and more to do. I’ll admit, I’ve struggled in the past to say “no” when someone asks me to help or to add on just-one-more-thing. It was as if that word was being yelled out in my mind, as I would just nod my head the other way and say “yes.”

The multitasking isn’t really an issue of overcommitting though. It’s more like there are so many pieces of this big puzzle that are coming together to make the overall picture better. More complete. More effective.

I’ve worked in ministry settings with issues surrounding poverty for quite a few years now — 14 to be exact. Let’s set aside how that realization makes me feel (I mean, HOW has it have been that long, really?!). Setting it aside… and focusing on the tidbits that I’ve gathered throughout those years. It’s not happenstance either, because I believe God places us where we need to be and prepares us for what we’re being called to do.

I may not always see the bigger picture at the time, but I know it’s there. Like being invited to join a substance use prevention coalition and go to local and national trainings about a topic that was brand new to me. It was one of those moments where I wasn’t quite sure just why I was at the table, but there I was. Yes, I saw the correlation between substance use and poverty, and I have a heart to help people, but I couldn’t quite connect the dots. Then I ended up going to a seminar about suicide prevention and learning more about mental health issues.

Fast forward a few years and I have an opportunity to become a certified trainer in Mental Health First Aid. Me. Someone with no formal training or knowledge about anything with mental health. A pastoral counseling class in seminary — check. A seminar here and there about drug use and suicide prevention — check. Learning more about substance use and depression in rural communities through our Quality of Life study at Hinton Center — check.

But that is it. Once again, I eagerly signed up, not quite sure why I was at the table, but knowing that God likely has a plan. (Thankfully one of us has a plan!)

As soon as the training started, I was hooked. It didn’t take me long to see how the pieces were coming together and how valuable this training would be to me, to the community and to others working with the community.

I was able to recall details and information learned through the substance use prevention coalition, the suicide prevention seminar, and different trainings and books I’ve read about poverty. It all started to make sense, because it all fit together. To say I was amazed is an understatement.

So here I am now, getting ready to co-lead my first Mental Health First Aid training in a few weeks and another shortly after that. It’s opened my eyes in a whole new way, even refreshing my call into ministry, reminding me it’s about people; relationships.

It’s so easy to talk about situations or lump groups of people into categories and separate ourselves from them as human beings. I’m sure you know what I mean — “those drug addicts,” “those homeless people,” “those alcoholics,” “that person who should just ‘snap out of it,’” and so on. By doing that we remove any attachment to really getting involved and we identify the situation or the label, but we don’t pay attention to the people. It’s easy to keep them at arm’s length and not think about their humanness, that they too are beloved children of God. Whether you believe it’s choices that are made or the way they grew up or whatever, it’s not about unleashing judgment, it’s about making a difference. Building relationships — seeing people as people — looking beyond those labels and situations.

It leads me to think about how once you hear about something, you tend to notice it being discussed more and more. Isn’t it funny how that happens? You’ve experienced this, right? Like when you know someone who gets a new car and then you start to see more of that particular vehicle being driven around town? There’s something about becoming aware that seems to hone our attention in a new way.

It’s a new sense of awareness, almost a phenomenon of noticeability.

And that’s where I think we start to see change, to see transformation; not only in ourselves, but in the way we interact with others. Think about what a better place our world would be if we stopped looking at folks through the lens of the label we’ve (maybe unfairly) given them, and we start to see them for who they really are…

That we can connect with those who may be different than us.

That we can live like followers of Jesus, not to point out people’s mistakes or to try and “fix” them (that’s a whole other blog, trust me!), but to simply be kind and gracious, treating people as beloved children of God.

holly jolly

Jesus Didn’t Come for the Holly and Jolly: He Came for Me and You.


Thanksgiving is this week. It seems like we’ve hit the fast forward button and life is about to get crazy busy. I’ve talked with a number of people who plan to have family in for the holidays, so they’re busy cleaning the house and coming up with dishes to prepare. I’ve talked with those who plan to travel, so they’re making arrangements and hoping for decent weather. I’ve even talked with some who are already shopping for Christmas. It’s a busy and often stressful time of year.


Last week I reflected on how it’s the season of being thankful, but I think we, especially followers of Christ, also need to recognize that for many folks it’s a season that brings sadness. Maybe you’ve already been listening to Christmas music (it’s okay, I won’t judge you). Or maybe you’re like me and you’re thinking *CUE THE CHRISTMAS MUSIC* starting on Black Friday (or if we admit it: Thanksgiving night). Even if you’re in the “I’m not listening to that stuff” group, you know the songs, you’ve seen the movies, and you know the lingo. Thanksgiving to Christmas and through New Years is the season of being holly and jolly. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.


But what if it isn’t?


Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE Christmas. For me, the decorations go up the day after Thanksgiving and I relish in the music, movies, and all the silver and gold in existence. In fact, the first year my husband and I were married, I decorated for Christmas while he was at work. This was the first year I was actually able to do everything myself. We happened to have these built-in wooden shelves in the living room, so I plastered that room with Christmas joy. I’ll never forget the moment he walked into the room with this look of horror on his face, exclaiming, “it puked Christmas in here!” You see, he wasn’t used to a mish-mash of Christmas decorations– most of which were from my childhood with a special meaning. However, he’s since gotten used to it, and 12 years later has come to expect a Christmas overload at our house. I love Christmas. I love the tradition of celebrating Jesus’ birth. I love the snowmen and penguins. I love it all.


From now through the first of the year we are inundated with this notion that we’re supposed to be happy, we’re supposed to be with family, and things are supposed to be fun and picturesque. However, life doesn’t always turn out that way, and this time of year can bring up feelings of loneliness, regret, sadness, loss, fear, grief, and anxiety. For some, it is the most wonderful time of the year, but for others it’s simply the most awful.


I’ll admit that as much as I love this time of year, there have been times when I’ve had to fight feelings of sadness, inadequacy and grief. You see, my family growing up wasn’t really the joyous, picturesque family. While we always “did” the holidays, the behind-closed-doors side wasn’t always so great. Sometimes I find myself seeing these cutesy, lovey Hallmark family flicks and I have to fight those feelings of inadequacy, like we didn’t somehow add up to the expectations. It can be hard, but I don’t carry that baggage on my shoulders all the time. I’m able to overcome these feelings because of hope– through Jesus– and good in my life that allows me to work through them. There are folks out there who struggle with these feelings a lot. They hurt deep inside, and this time of year really brings those hurts to the forefront.


Two years ago my grandma passed away on Christmas day, so that can lend itself to feelings of grief and sadness. I know that she’s spending Christmas with Jesus and I have such a peace about that. Yes, I miss her, but the sadness is overcome by that peace and hope. There are folks out there who struggle with feelings of loss and grief: from death to broken relationships to missed opportunities. This time of year can bring up those memories and raw emotions.


There are folks who are struggling to make ends meet throughout the year, and as it’s the time for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and whatever other marketing gimmicks we see. It’s another reminder of what is missing. Some will simply do without or find another way to provide Christmas for their children. But some will overspend and find themselves in even more financial straits after the first of the year. Not because they are bad people, but because they are trying to keep up with society and make sure their kids, grandkids, spouse, friends, whoever, has what others have.


There are folks who don’t know how they are going to have a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner (complete with all the fixin’s), because they struggle to have full meals each day of the week. There are those who are alone, who eat dinner by themselves every night of the week, and the thought of spending Thanksgiving or Christmas by themselves is one of disappointment and agony.


Is it really the most wonderful time of the year?


It may not be, but I think that’s precisely WHY we have to celebrate this season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Not to give and get more stuff, but to recognize why Jesus came.


Jesus didn’t come so that we have to fake being happy, having that “ideal” family, or having lots of gifts for our kids. Jesus didn’t come so that we have to act like we have it all together this time of year all “holly and jolly.”


Jesus came because we have broken relationships, regrets from past mistakes or missed opportunities, the lack of making ends meet, and the times when we’re lonely. Jesus came because of all of the injustices and things that are wrong in this world. That’s why we celebrate.


We don’t celebrate because we are above or exempt from all this pain. We celebrate because we have hope and trust in the One who walks beside us through all of our pain. It’s time we, as followers of Jesus, stop wearing masks and pretending like we don’t have struggles. It’s time we are real with others and have authentic relationships with them, just as Jesus would do. He didn’t hang out with the “together” crowd, he hung out with the disenfranchised and the hurting. We are to do the same.


I don’t know what this looks like for you. I don’t know where you are in terms of feeling like this time of the year is wonderful or awful. I don’t know if you’re struggling or you’re joyous. But I do know this:


If you’re struggling or if you feel like things are not as they should be, there is hope. Don’t buy into what the world would tell you is important this time of year. Talk to God, listen for His voice and ask for that peace that surpasses all understanding. Ask for that joy that only comes through having a relationship with Jesus.


If you’re joyous, that’s great. Find a way to share that joy by being sensitive to those around you, recognizing that not all people are happy about this time of year. Recognize that others might be hurting and pray for ways to show the love of Christ to them.


Jesus came for all people:


The joyous, the sad. The social butterflies, the lonely. The wealthy, the poor. The tight-knit families, the torn-apart. The happy, the brokenhearted.


The depressed. The addicted. The prisoner. The sick. The fearful. The anxious. The lost.