Natalie Manuel Lee, a California native, fashion stylist/influencer, is the executive producer and host of Hillsong Channel’s newest series, “Now with Natalie,” premiering on March 3. The series is a fresh, relevant, and necessary examination into the depths of the Christian millennial experience. Featuring guests such as Kelly Rowland, Tyson Chandler, and Hailey Bieber, the series focuses on purpose and identity, the blessing and curse that is social media, and staying grounded in a culture that glamorizes status over self-care. With its countercultural “it’s not what you think” approach, “Now with Natalie” is sure to set a precedent in the modern Christian narrative. Ahead of the premier, Urban Faith sat down with Natalie to find out more about her new series, what inspired the idea, and her personal journey of staying grounded in a hustle and bustle society.
WHAT INSPIRED “NOW WITH NATALIE”?
I saw a need. A plight of this generation is to glorify the one in a position instead of seeing the purpose behind that position. The idea behind the show is to dismantle counterfeit definitions of identity and purpose and to pull back the veil of false narratives that culture tends to push. What we do and what we have cannot define our worth and value. Our identity should be rooted in who we are and whose we are. I personally have wrestled with these concepts before and wanted to have authentic conversations to shed light on this.
WHAT TOPICS DO YOU FOCUS ON IN “NOW WITH NATALIE”?
The show will focus almost exclusively on the topics of purpose and identity. Because it is such a deep and pervasive wound, the series will focus on dissecting these topics from different perspectives and experiences.
WHICH INTERVIEWS ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
Honestly, I am excited about all of them. Each episode serves a different purpose. You will hear about experiences ranging from the music industry, professional athletes, professionals in the area of cognitive neuroscience, and more. Each episode is enlightening and is intended to make you feel more free after watching.
WHAT IMPACT DO YOU BELIEVE SOCIAL MEDIA HAS ON SELF WORTH?
Social media can be the greatest blessing, but also the biggest curse. When misused, social media can fuel inadequacy. As humans, we tend to compare and want to compete based off what we scroll through on these highlight reels. A lot of our thoughts come from what we see and, for some, this level of comparison has peaked the epidemic of depression and anxiety. I always advocate taking periodic social media fasts, and just deleting the apps when needed.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE HAPPINESS?
As a mental perspective. When you truly know who you are and what you’re defined by, happiness will arrive. I think about happiness as joy, and the joy of the Lord is my strength. I constantly revert back to the truth of who I am, and the truth of who God is. Happiness and joy align with those truths.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK-LIFE BALANCE ROUTINE?
I start my mornings still. I give myself time in the morning, and spend time with God. The biggest lesson I have learned in the last decade is to not abort the process God is putting me through, and to keep my eyes fixed on the bigger picture. God created us each with a very specific and unique life blueprint, and He has equipped us to navigate it without looking to the left or to the right in comparison. God graces each of us to run our own unique race.
Leaning into the last quarter of the year, we won’t soon forget #summer18 as the time Drake and Kiki had us in our feelings. By now, we’ve all heard Drake’s Billboard Top 100 serenade to the mysterious “Kiki.” The carefree acoustics of the track made it an easy summer jam with its mellow diddy bop vibes mixed with hints of youthful New Orleans Bounce energy. While there’s plenty of speculation on the true identity of Kiki, her existence meant enough for Drake to write an entire song with her in mind. Despite whatever complications that may have arisen between him and Kiki, he sang of longing. If, for a moment, Drake was merely a man resolute on a genuine pursuit, remembering the position of his heart, and writing music about that love many years later. To some, Drake’s tune is a simple invitation to dance. To others, it inspires reflection on first loves, the places we can call home, and the people we can count on to always be there. For Christians, the Drake and Kiki dynamic is cute, but pales in stark comparison to the dynamic of Christ and his pursuit of the Church.
It’s not hard to spot a couple in love with their public displays of affection and extravagant gestures. Yet it doesn’t compare to the love of Christ and his martyrdom for the sole purpose and sake of a people who may or may not think twice about it. It has been said that the Bible is one massive love story with many interludes and plot twists that ultimately end in a beautiful union of first loves. [Rev. 21:2-4] Countless accounts in Scripture demonstrate the depth and consistency of the pursuit that flows from God Himself to us average, everyday people with records showing no merit for the grace we receive. We, as God’s people, aka “the Church,” also have a pretty strong track record of playing hard to get with God (read: rebellious). Whether an early century Israelite complaining, kicking, and screaming while making your way to a land God promised you, or whether you have the tendencies of an adolescent who prefers to spend all his money on prostitutes and living on the wild side—God says that he still wants you, and can make a celebration out of you. Whatever flavor of 2018 sin you battle every day, God says his love and grace are still yours for the taking. The hearts of mere men may change, their loyalties may realign, their focus may shift—but God is not subject to the same human emotional inconsistencies we tend to fall into. He stays the same through the ages. He has promised that his love, his pursuit, who he is, and how he values us never changes. [Psalm 136; Hebrews 13:8] His heart is that you would draw near to Him even at your lowest point, and even at your darkest hour. He declares He will never, ever leave from beside you—no matter how bad things look.
So, death to the idea of fair-weather pursuits. Imagine loving someone to the point of voluntary submission to public humiliation, bare-skin flogging, ridicule, going up a hill carrying a cross designed to hold the weight of a grown man, and dying brutally on the same. More fascinating still is the pursuit didn’t end there. Jesus not only turned on his “read receipts” and ghosted death itself, but God has also promised that nothing would separate us from his love through his son Jesus Christ—no angel, no demon, no height or depth, nor anything imaginable or unimaginable. He has promised to be down for us, in the most literal sense, always.
The world will offer many exotic loves of all sorts presented on the silver platters of our favorite vices (greed, lust, sexual immorality, addiction, impulsivity, etc.). In those moments, it is up to us to get in our feelings, to check the position of our hearts, and to recognize where and with whom our true loyalties lie. “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” [2 Chronicles 16:9]. If this is true, the Lord is also asking of you “Do you love me?” and “Are you riding?” to the extent that you will also take up your own cross and follow him. [Luke 9:23]
God has given us a masterful example of what it looks like to pursue—a relentless and timeless pursuit that supersedes death. He has demonstrated that he is someone who loves you and whose love can be trusted to last. He offers a proven record as someone who cares for you deeply. Someone who calls out for you, even when you pay him no mind. Despite it all, God says that he wants you, he needs you….and he’s down for you, always. Fortunately for us, God offers much more than a top Billboard song. He offers a love that won’t fade after #summer18, and an unrivaled pursuit that will last well after Drake and Kiki.
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