Upwardly Dependent » walking the delicate balance of absolute truth and overwhelming grace.

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I am Not a Good Person

Since our preparation to move abroad and during the time of our service overseas, we have been flooded with compliments, honor, and unwarranted praise.

You are such an inspiration!
I’m so in awe of the work you do!
I could never sacrifice the things you have!

Kind words have flooded our inboxes. Encouragers have tickled our ears. We have been overly blessed by the support of friends far and wide.

But so often I fear that so many of my Christian brothers and sisters have misdirected their admiration.

Today I caught up with a new Finnish friend over coffee. I spilled some crazy exciting news to her about how our opportunities here are rapidly developing, and how thrilled we are to be joining the Father in the work He is doing in this country.

If you had spoken to us last month, I told her, we were so deflated. We were feeling so incapable, so broken, like we weren’t cut out for this lifestyle at all. And now, this??

It usually happens like that, she said. We are brought to our knees just before the Father makes a really big move…so that He can remind us who is really at work in the hearts and lives of His people.

I was so thankful for her truthful wisdom. I was so grateful that she understood.

I was also relieved by her response.

She countered my excitement in a way that deflected the glory back to the only One who deserves it. And we sat for a moment just amazed by the Overwhelming Goodness of our Creator.

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We studied the passage of the Rich Young Ruler recently at our Sunday Gathering.

This set of verses has been a crucial part of my growth in Christ since entering adulthood. Relinquishing the checklist mentality and being willing to give it all up for the Cross are some of the lessons I’ve taken from this short story.

But the Two-edged Sword cut a little deeper this time, drawing me into the Savior’s response to the Rich Young Ruler’s addressing him as Good Teacher.

Why do you call me good? He said. No one is good, that is, except God.

It was then that I understood this unsettling feeling that I’ve had lately.

The well-intentioned words of honor and glory directed toward me are always so kind, but they aren’t mine to accept. They ultimately belong to the Father.

If Christ couldn’t even claim the title of Good, surely I am far from worthy of accepting even the least amount of praise.

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I am not writing to anyone specifically. I am the greatest at fault when I accept personal accolades without refuting such attention and bringing focus back to God myself.

Still, I don’t want to be someone who people look at and say, Wow—she is doing some really awesome things.

I want to be someone who other people look at and say, Wow—I want to walk beside her in what she’s doing, because God is doing some pretty awesome things in and through her.

I don’t want to be a good person. I want to be someone who makes famous the goodness of God.

via Unsplash

via Unsplash

So I sit back and wonder what the world would see if we quit patting each other on the back. What if every time we felt a person accomplished something for the Kingdom, we instead fell to our knees in wonder and amazement of the Redeemer at work?

What if the thing we rejoiced in were our weaknesses? What if the thing we glorified were our failures?

What if we really believed we aren’t that good after all, but only earthly vessels being used by a Heavenly Being to accomplish the goals He set in motion from the beginning?

I don’t want to be an inspiration. I don’t want to praised.

I want to be completely given over to the plans He has for me, and I want to see my brothers and sisters completely given over, too.

This behavioral shift and cognitive change isn’t something I can lead anyone in.

Perhaps you can only understand it when you’ve seen JUST HOW INCAPABLE you are to start some kind of spiritual awakening.

The only thing I can do is encourage. I can champion you on to do hard things. To stick your neck out there. To step out in faith.

And I can testify of the Father’s provision. I can tell you how He’ll be there. How He’ll teach you. How He’ll overwhelm you.

And then I can stand beside you. Or kneel beside you, rather. Because we will both be looking up at a magnificent King and finally be able to understand what Good really looks like.

I Hate Cliché Posts {This is a Cliché Post}

2014 will forever go down as the year that kicked my butt.

In the thick of it, it didn’t seem so bad. My nose was to the ground. I was in the zone and just kept pushing through.

Even two weeks ago, I was thinking about all that would and could happen in 2015, specifically with our travel schedule and pending adoption, and I lackadaisically said to Gavin, Whew. 2015 is going to be such a crazy year!

His sarcastic and honest response? Whew. Glad 2014 wasn’t too crazy.

It was then I realized just how stressful the last twelve months have been.

Obviously, we moved across the globe. Packing and bringing our belongings to SE Asia was plenty hectic, not to mention all of the planning meetings, legal and financial preparation, plus terribly difficult good-byes.

Let’s add to that: Adoption home visits (in Tennessee and SE Asia), buying and selling cars, studying a tonal language, making completely new friends, raising a toddler, and relearning how to do all the day-to-day necessities in a new country and new culture.

Did I mention I’m supposed to be wrapping up a PhD? Hello, wayside.

Last year was like a roller coaster that I never really wanted to ride. We chinked up the incline, slow and steady, knowing that we were headed toward nothing more than a stomach flop and a rapid race to the bottom of yet another incline.

Some of those slopes were long and arduous, leading us up to days we had dreaded for months: the last hugs at the Nashville Airport, culture fatigue, special holidays and celebrations apart from those we love.

Some of the inclines were so unnoticeable that we were caught off-guard by the sudden dips along the way: failed expectations, a viral blog post, and a breakdown in a department store.

But as much as we dreaded the highs and lows of last year, we knew that they would lead us to where we ultimately want to be.  We are settling into this life overseas and are feeling more comfortable with all that it brings.

Still, as I look back at where the last year has taken us, I am breathing sighs of relief that we don’t ever have to do THAT again. 

I feel like running around giving fist bumps to everybody I see. We’re having lots of dance parties in our house these days. I also just changed my desktop background to this:

what she tackles she conquers

So here’s to 2015: The year I hope doesn’t kick my butt.

I have about 250 pages of writing to do. Books to read, surveys to write, data to analyze.

We have guests visiting (yippee!), conferences to attend, and work goals to pursue.

There’s some other travel sprinkled in, a furlough planned, and—by the grace of God—hopefully a baby to bring home!

That means there could potentially be a long trip to Uganda, court dates, and immigration paperwork.

But most importantly, we have the day-to-day.

We have relationships to cultivate, language skills to improve, and local professionals to train.

Alece Ronzino founded One Word 365 in 2009 to encourage people to move away from a list of resolutions and focus on just one word. One word to focus on every day, all year long…one word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.

I chose Calm as my word for 2014, because good gracious I knew I would need it when I felt like my hair was on fire.

This year, I’m choosing the word Persist.

persist

I thought about Tackle, or Conquer. But I’m going to leave those on my desktop for now. Because the truth is, I realize that I am nowhere near tackling or conquering anything in my life.

Our cross-cultural transition is only beginning. I need energy and divine intervention to push me into the next level of language study. Adding a child to our family via adoption will bring all kinds of new dynamics. And the dissertation lying before me is one long battle of endurance.

So I’m just hoping to PERSIST.

I want to be present for those around me. I want to finish things well. I want to begin things well.

If you know me personally, you know that I get very excited and jump two feet into anything new and flashy. But the follow-through is where I drop a royal amount of balls.

There are lots of fragile balls rolling around on our plate this year, and I simply cannot drop them.

So I hope to persist. A day at a time, doing my best to continue in this life of ups and downs and unexpected curves…onto the promise that keeps us all pushing forward.

The Christmas Story is Only the Beginning

I grew up in a conservative church background with generations of believing men and women passing down a rich legacy of faith. These men and women were Scripture-searching, Bible-quoting people who I believe had the best of intentions as they sought to glorify God through sound doctrine and Biblical truths.

As a little girl, I learned that Christmas {as a holiday} is not found in the Bible, nor is the command to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It was always awkward for me when people rejoiced in The Reason for the Season, because we didn’t have a nativity scene in our home and there was no Christmas Eve service at church.

As an adult, I shook off some of this staunch rejection to Christmas as a religious holiday because I found myself so secluded from the Christian community at large. What is the problem with celebrating Christ, in any form or context? I certainly don’t have an issue with this, and my husband and I are learning how to integrate the Christmas Story into our new holiday traditions.

But this year, I have found myself stuck in the middle of a lot of things, and the Protestant Christmas teaching is yet another one.

Because if I’m honest with myself, the Bible truly never glorifies the birth of Christ.

We are invited to celebrate it, just as shepherds came to worship Baby Jesus in a manger and wise men came to honor Baby Jesus with rich gifts. The birth of Christ is certainly a precious present that we receive with anticipation, hope, and overwhelming joy.

But the entire vision of Christ’s church was set in motion by his life, death, and resurrection.

We gather, study, obey, and proclaim Good News because of the perfect model we have in Jesus’ life.
We fight injustice, sacrifice comforts, and deny ourselves because of the humble servanthood we witness in Jesus’ death.
We look forward, see beyond, and cling to hope because of the eternal perspective we are given in Jesus’ resurrection.

If I am going to set aside one day of the year to honor Jesus’ birth, I want to spend the other 364 days honoring the rest of his story. Because that’s the story that’s convicted me, taught me, and sustained me.

The Christian community has gone to such great lengths to commemorate Christ’s birth. We have established traditions and written songs and created Advent calendars. And rightfully so.

God exists to be worshiped. God in all forms exists to be glorified.

I simply hope that we put as much effort into rejoicing over Christ’s death and resurrection throughout the year as we do celebrating his birth during this season of Christmas.

I hope that with all of our humble nativity scenes, we practice welcoming the humble into our homes.
I hope that with all of our twinkling lights, we practice being that light in the dark places of our communities.
I hope that with all of our beautifully wrapped packages, we practice taking the gift of Good News to all people in all places.

It’s hard for me to believe that Christ wants the world to remember him in the form of a helpless babe.

But I do believe him when he said, Do this in remembrance of me, and he instituted communion.

And through communion, he gives us the opportunity to make each gathering of the saints a blessed celebration of our faith.

So we acclaim his birth. And we should! December is a wonderful time of year filled with endless opportunities to love well and rejoice in the perfect prophecies fulfilled through a tiny baby in a manger.

But may we also commemorate his body and his blood, and rejoice in his resurrection as he conquered death from our sin to the grave with a promise of eternity.

The Christmas story is only a beautiful part of the master plan of our God and King.

christmas story

So after the guests return home and the trees come down, after the magic of Christmas has drifted into January, take heart, my friend.

There’s a Spirit that’s within us, alive and powerful, that wants to celebrate every day, every week, with every breath we have. Christ is manifested inside us always.

The story of Jesus’ birth is so much more than just a season. It’s the story that launches us forward into a tribe of confessing believers, modeling our lives after that of our Anointed One.

AprilDecember 23, 2014 - 1:27 pm

You put into words so eloquently what I believe and was raised to believe as well. We had one very pretty, glass nativity set that Mom always let us “carefully” play with. I never felt the big celebration of Jesus birth growing up but I guess I was shielded from what everyone else was doing. I knew friends that always participated in a Christmas play at church and I thought that was neat. Now that I’m an adult though, the push of “Jesus is the reason” stuff is everywhere. I am so glad people are openly talking and looking to Jesus but like you, I think we need to be more intentional of studying every part of Jesus’ life and death.

SecondStoriesJanuary 1, 2015 - 3:30 am

Beautiful words– “…with all of our twinkling lights, we practice being that light in the dark places of our communities.” May it be so!

A Second Rebirth {Velvet Ashes}

I am so honored to be joining Velvet Ashes as a regular contributor. (I’ve also been managing our Instagram account if you haven’t checked it out!) Velvet Ashes is an online community that provides a safe place for women serving overseas to come together with their stories and authenticity, their rejoicing and their weeping. Follow me over to read my first full post here!

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Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, 
unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 3:3

I knew these words as a young teenager. I could quote them for you and show you where they were highlighted on the pages of my New Testament.

These words were what took me into the water with Jesus. Never mind that my baptism took place in a swimming pool on a Tuesday night. These words convicted my twelve-year-old self in such a way that I wanted to surrender my life to Christ forever.

I was born again that Tuesday night, and I became a part of a new Family.

And for the next fifteen years, it worked pretty well for me. I carried my Sword, I claimed His promises, and I taught anyone who was willing to listen about the Glory that was set before me.

The faith of my teenage years and early adulthood was even enough to motivate me to move abroad. But over the years of church attendance, service trips, and volunteer work, the faith I carried was also more than enough to puff me up before the throne of God.

Read the rest here.

Standing in the Middle of No Man’s Land

 

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via Unsplash

I’m suffering from what feels like an eternal writer’s block.

It’s not that I haven’t been trying. I’ve clicked away at the black squares on my laptop for hours upon hours. I’ve scribbled blog topics on scraps of paper when they pop into my head. I’ve kept notes of my thoughts in my journal as I read from Scripture or my latest book, Bonhoeffer.

But for the last several months, any time I’ve tried to put my exact thoughts into words, they all come out more scrambled and confusing than when they were safely tucked away in my head.

This is incredibly frustrating for me because I am an external processor. Many times I don’t know how I feel about a topic until I speak that feeling out loud. Times of quiet meditation are nice for reflection, but absolutely nothing sticks unless I’ve dialogued a subject matter with someone.

Blogging is a joy to me because of this very fact. I have thoughts floating in my head, they are shaped into a semi-organized format, and then you, the reader, continue the dialogue with me.

It makes my heart happy, really.

But lately, this blog space has been nothing but a wasteland.

I thought it was culture fatigue. That’s probably been part of it.

Then, I thought it was a change in priorities. Eh, maybe a tad.

But today as I scrolled past blog post after blog post in my news feed, I realized why I’ve had such a hard time writing lately.

The internet is so terribly click-hungry for polarizing opinion pieces.

101 Ways to Pose Your Elf on the Shelf
101 Reasons Why Elf on the Shelf is the Devil 

Why I Love My Church
Why I Left My Church 

Support this Cause
Boycott this Cause

I can’t seem to find my voice in all the drawn party lines with verbal pushing and shoving.

To be honest, it feels impossible to cram any of my thoughts on a given day into a 700 word cohesive thought. If there’s one thing moving overseas has given me, it’s the gift of many perspectives.

But those perspectives make things awfully cloudy most days.

I’m straddling a fence with a sea of black on one side and a sea of white on the other, and as the colors begin to touch beneath my feet, they turn all shades of gray as I kick and scream, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I THINK ANYMORE!!!

I can’t write about the nightmares in Ferguson because I know the race-related statistics of crime in the U.S. and I’m also incredibly feely about the way white people and government projects have placed my darker-skinned friends in generations of poverty.

I can’t write about adoption because I feel so much instinctive protection for the defense of my next child, but I also am keenly aware of the corruption that exists when money and international law get mixed up with vulnerable children.

I can’t write about church theology because things that seemed so weighty in the United States have ceased to even be real in our Asian context. When I see doctrinal battles being fought over social media, I watch as two sides simultaneously take each other down and completely miss the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.

My point is, I don’t know how to identify myself anymore.

I’m too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends.

I’m too communal for my friends in American and too American for my communal friends in Asia.

I’m too religious for my justice-fighting friends and too justice-fighting for my religious friends.

And I’m standing in the middle of No Man’s Land, totally understanding both sides but not willing to fully join either one. And I wonder when someone is going to stand up for that middle ground.

Where’s the balance in our theology? Where’s the balance in our political views? Where’s the balance in our basic capability to live peaceably with one another?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way.

But I know that a man walked this earth many years ago that was teaching the kind of balance I’m hungry for.

He was the kind of man that said the person without sin could throw the first stone at an adulteress woman. He also told that adulteress woman to go and sin no more.

There were always two sides with Christ. And somehow, he always found the perfect Truth that covered all people with loads of Grace.

That’s where I want to find myself, too.

So pardon me if I continue to struggle for words. I’m finding it hard to write exactly how I feel these days. I commit to sharing my journey with you as I seek to find that delicate balance of absolute truth and overwhelming grace.

And if you’re up for it, I’d love some company out here in No Man’s Land.

Melissa TDecember 12, 2014 - 12:14 pm

So, so true. An eloquent way of expressing what so many of us feel… And what I’m dealing with right now on furlough!

BethDecember 12, 2014 - 2:01 pm

You are not alone! You put into words what I have been feeling for years. Thank you!

[…] this year, I have found myself stuck in the middle of a lot of things, and the Protestant Christmas teaching is yet another […]