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

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Pure and Undefiled Religion is Within Our Grasp

Pure and undefiled religion. It’s a catchy phrase that draws us in.

But it’s wrapped in tragedy.

Children with no parents, whether through death, neglect, or abandonment.
Women with no husbands, whether through long periods of sickness or untimely accidents.

It’s…
pain,
confusion,
stress,
anger,
heartbreak.

It’s the very things the Enemy uses to make us question the goodness of God.

In our First Day Gathering this week, we read from Psalm 107:

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
For his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, 

Whom he has redeemed from trouble,
And gathered in from the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south. 

As we discussed these words from David, I knew that I would have to put them in my heart and simply commit to believing them. Because bad things happen, and that’s when I wonder why a Good God allows such terrible things to play out in the lives of His people.

The next day, my husband brought me some of that disheartening news. With a shaky voice, he gave me an update on the situation surrounding a mutual friend of ours.

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Evan Rector was in a motorcycle accident two months ago that nearly took his life. He lost an arm and a leg in the accident, and has been working through rehabilitation since.

He was scheduled to go home on Monday, his father’s birthday. That morning, his father was killed in a bicycle accident involving a vehicle.

If ever there was a story so unfair…

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Evan and his wife were in college with me, but I don’t claim to know either of them well. I don’t know his brother or his mother personally, either.

But I know the Enemy. And I refuse to allow him to make us question the goodness of God.

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Gavin and I have been preparing an Instagram Auction this week in order to raise funds for our adoption. The response has been unbelievable, and we have been so floored by the open-handedness of so many.

I’ve spent countless hours behind the computer screen this week, responding to emails, connecting with shop vendors, organizing a spreadsheet. But no matter the amount of generosity that has flooded my inboxes, I have not felt an absolute peace.

There’s been a part of me that just wasn’t quite ready to open this auction. And as I typed in the 62nd entry this evening (SE Asia time), it was no coincidence that James 1:27 suddenly settled on my heart.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans AND widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

I’ve read and talked and advocated for orphans until I’m blue in the face and you’re sick of hearing my pleas. But tonight this verse convicted me in a tangible way.

There’s a widow who needs our bent ears, too.

Gavin and I feel led to support two scenarios through the funds raised this weekend: both a life that through tragedy is joining a family and a life that through tragedy has left a family.

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Sometimes the way the Father works through Scripture is indescribable.

When Gavin told me the news about Evan’s father, I was sitting on my front porch with the Word opened to Romans. As if it was instinct, my fingers flipped to Psalm 107 just as we had studied the day before. I had no words, so I began reading out loud.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
And he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
And delivered them from their destruction. 

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
For his wondrous works to the children of men!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And tell of his deeds in songs of joy. 

It’s Inspired Words that keep the Enemy out of my heart. And it’s the love and kindness of people that keep me turning to my Maker.

Let’s be a resounding voice that squashes our doubts with Truth and our fears with Grace. The Kingdom of God is always at hand.

Undefiled religion is within our grasp.

>>><<<

It’s not too late to take part in the Instagram Auction starting tonight (Friday, December 5) at 7:00 PM CST. Every penny raised will be used to defend a fatherless child and a grieving widow. The sale will run through Sunday, December 7 at 5:00 PM CST. You can find us at @pinkstons_adopt.

If you do not have an Instagram account and would still like to give to this fundraiser, you can donate via PayPal to LMPINKST@clemson.edu. We will divide any donations through the weekend between our adoption fund and a contribution to Mrs. Rector. 

Thank you for loving well. Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in us.

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Adoption Update + BEAUTIFUL Quilt Raffle!

This blog space has led me into so many of your lives, and allowed me to connect with you on some deep, meaningful levels.

When you reach out, comment, or send me an email, I love reading as you spill your guts to me about the things you’re rejoicing over, wrestling with, or healing from. Really, I wouldn’t be able to write if I didn’t feel confident that someone would be willing to chat with me after I throw out a few hundred words.

Sometimes, pretty amazing things come from the connections on this space, and today I’m celebrating one of those!

Denise Karnes was a stranger to me before we began a dialogue in the comments section here and then on Facebook. This like-minded sister wrote me one day and offered to make a quilt to raffle as an adoption fundraiser for our little one, and I read her email with the most astonished look on my face.

I couldn’t believe someone would spend hours piecing together a quilt, just to give it away to someone she’d never met! And what’s more, Denise even offered to manage this raffle for me so that my brain wouldn’t be tackling this alone.

I am feeling all kinds of loved, and I can’t wait to share the next phase of our adoption journey with all of you.

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Gavin and I have had quite the runaround trying to get our dossier prepped for Uganda. I will spare you the rabbit trail of details, but I will tell you that it included:

–> a hand-delivery of our home study via our NGO President/CEO, all the way across the ocean to Asia

–> a long morning at the U.S. Embassy, looking for answers for how to process our child’s initial immigration application (I600A)

–> emails with our Consular Chief and chats with the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok

–> another hand-delivery of dossier documents and USCIS paperwork by our fabulous NGO President/CEO, this time back to America

–> Gavin’s precious mother digging through EVERY.SINGLE.BOX we left in her basement, searching for a copy of my college diploma

–> $1,400 invoice to finalize our dossier preparation

Whew!

We are feeling SO CLOSE to actually being eligible for a match! 

We are itching with anticipation.

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Our least favorite part of this process is definitely the one where we ask people to help us. I would give anything to be made of money in circumstances like these.

And yet, I don’t believe I would understand the depth and love of the Lord’s Body if it weren’t for our dependence on people like you.

Are you ready for the part where you can jump in? Thanks to Denise Karnes, I’m actually EXCITED to share this opportunity with you!

For every $10 that’s donated to our adoption fund this month, your name will be put in a drawing to win this gorgeous, handmade quilt!

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The quilt measures 51” x 63” and is made of 100% cotton fabric and bamboo batting. Denise machine quilted it in a loop-the-loop pattern with gray thread.

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I love that this raffle is just in time for the Christmas holidays! The fundraiser will continue until the end of November, and Denise will ship it to the winner December 1.

Here’s what you can do to WIN!

  1. Give via PayPal to LPINKST@clemson.edu (100% will go towards the Dossier Fee of $1,400)!
  2. Give via PureCharity (PureCharity will earn 5% commission, but the rest will go towards the Dossier Fee).
  3. Share this information on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter with the hashtag #PINKSTONQUILTRAFFLE.

Remember: For every $10 and every share, your name will be put in the raffle to win!

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We would love to cover our entire Dossier Fee with this fundraiser. We are currently sitting at $1,121. That means that $279 will completely carry us through this payment.

Are there 30 of you who would be willing to give $10?
Are there 15 of you who would be willing to give $20?
Are there 10 of you who would be willing to give $30?

It is a joy to share this process with you. We are already imagining our family pictures with this next little one, and can’t wait for the time to be here when we can love another child.

Thank you, Denise, for your incredible generosity.
Thank you to everyone who has already given and who will give. We are forever indebted to you!

The 7th Month Slump

I miss people.

I miss writing. I miss productivity. I miss Velveeta and Rotel dip.

And sausage. And cornbread. And fountain drinks.

I miss Southern drawls. I miss driving laws. I miss Hobby Lobby.

They told me this would happen. That I would hit a wall of inexplicable frustration and the rainbows and sunshine would no longer hover over my world in Southeast Asia.

They told me that I would feel overwhelmingly tired. That I would no longer think the best in people I met on the street. That I would switch between wanting to stay in bed all day and wanting to beat my head against a concrete wall.

They said it would happen after I’d been overseas for 6-7 months.

Hey, Month 7, I see you.

I see you on my bedroom ceiling as I force my head out from under the covers.
I see you in today’s fourth cup of coffee.
I see you in the mounds of paperwork piling up, unfinished on my desk.

Culture shock. Culture fatigue. Culture stress. Culture rub.

Yeah, you’re all over me, culture.

And if it weren’t for a gracious husband, a lovely daughter, and an incredible community surrounding me from across the globe, you might just be beating me.

It’s not that I’m angry. It’s not that I’m defeated.

I’m just at a point of feeling—shall I say—well, meh about life.
The more I learn this language, the more I realize what I can’t say.
The more I interact with local society, the more I realize I don’t fit in.

The more I pursue opportunities to Teach, the more I realize this is no short task.

7th month slump

Don’t worry, I knew this was coming. But no amount of cross-cultural orientation can protect you from the dynamics of cross-cultural adaptation.

You have to go through it. You have to live it and breathe it. You have to have a personal encounter with it.

It’s like I’ve been running a race since March, with this hurdle getting closer and closer. I’ve expected it. I’ve anticipated how I would tackle it.

But now, instead of gracefully launching my body over the thing, I’m planted in front of it with my arms flailing in annoyance as I say, Did you REALLY have to come and get all up in my business???

Yeah, culture shock, I’m talking to you.

We were doing great, Asia and me. Pho noodles and me. Terrible heat and me.

And you, YOU…you had to come and interrupt us, didn’t you?

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This is me in my current state. My love affair with *trying new things* has come to an end.

I’m making a lot of mashed potatoes and watching a lot of Parenthood. I’m jacking up our electric bill from the excessive use of our air-con.

I’m also finding hope in the fact that this is a phase. I’ll be all right. And in a few short months, this place may even feel like home.

My precious friends, your generous donations are not wasted. Your prayers are not in vain. My family is here for the long haul, and we can rejoice in this milestone.

As soon as we get down on ourselves for giving into the crushing fatigue, we recognize that there’s still no part of us that regrets this decision.

The past two Sundays, I have sung I Surrender All with a gloriously ruined chorus of voices. And oh the tears that streamed down my face both times.

In times of sorrow, frustration, confusion, and pain, my heart is ripped open and my faith truly exposed.

The raw, imperfect, honest parts of my being are so sensitive and so tender, and these are the times when my worship is unabashed.

Shameless. Bold. Unrestricted.

I would live this season over and over and over again if I could forever worship like this.

The Father is truly the Lifter of my head. And that’s all I need for today.

Deena TrimbleNovember 13, 2014 - 2:55 pm

Hi Lauren. I just came home from a bible study about Gideon. When God called Gideon in Judges 6:12, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon said he was from the smallest tribe and weakest family, yet God saw him differently. V 14, go in the strength you have. V16, I will be with you…..read back through this short story. God told him he had everything he needed. Even in his weaknesses, God’s strengths are perfected!
7 months is about all the strength you had. Now it is time to let God work a miracle in you and through you. Go forward in the strength of the Lord.
V16 I WILL BE WITH YOU.

SaraNovember 14, 2014 - 12:59 am

Lauren. I could have written this exact post. I have felt everything, EV.’RY.THING that you wrote here, multiple times. (It seems to go in 6 month cycles for me.) I want to reach out to you. If Skype-ing with internet acquaintances is your thing, please let me know. I would be so happy to be able to just listen and say, “YES!” throughout whatever needs to come out of your mouth at the moment. I’ve found it so hard to adequately express to friends and family who haven’t experienced this what I really mean when I say, “I’m tired of everything in Japan. I’m tired of everyone in Japan.” Please let me know if you need someone to listen without jumping to conclusions about your mental state or your ability to serve! 😀 My heart has been reaching out to you, reading your words these past two weeks. It’s completely normal, but nothing I would ever wish on someone! Blessings to you.

lmpinkston@gmail.comNovember 14, 2014 - 9:44 pm

Deena, I so appreciated these words! I look forward to spending some time in these verses. You are such an encourager!

lmpinkston@gmail.comNovember 14, 2014 - 9:46 pm

Sara, I’m so thankful for our connection and I don’t consider you a stranger at all!! I was really interested in what you said on Insta about feeling the culture shock so much more the second time around when you studied language. I’ve been playing that over and over in my head. I really can’t put a price on being able to float my thoughts, feelings, and experiences out there and having people who understand write back with their own common stories. You are such a blessing!

lisaNovember 15, 2014 - 7:52 am

hi lauren. just wanted to let you know, i feel you! i know how you feel. after almost three and a half years it still annoyed me that today at a store they had to type in every number on a barcode (even though there is a barcode to scan… i don’t get how the inefficiency doesn’t bother anyone else!). anyways, i just wanted to let you know i feel you. and i also feel you when you say express the nearness of God. we’ve been through a tough year and i felt like God said, “i have brought you here to love you.” so even if i never accomplish a single thing to be proud of here, i will know that i have a father in heaven who deeply loves me, in a way that i would not have been able to comprehend had i stayed where in the states. we can be thankful we have a God who understands, feels with us and is our refuge of love in the storm. praying for you during this season of wanting to throw all things cross culture against the wall. :) and, velveeta and rotel can be mailed… we just ate some this week! :)

Practicing Picking Up My Bible

When my alarm went off at 5:30 AM on Monday, there was much more of me that wanted to stay asleep than wanted to peel myself out of bed. My flesh won over, and I made it through two snooze cycles before my feet actually hit the floor.

I threw on a pair of yoga pants and rubbed the crusty mascara from the corners of my eyes. I tiptoed through the house, trying not to wake the toddler, gathering the things I needed.

With an ink pen, a journal, a glass of water and a Bible finally in hand, I quietly flipped the lock on my front door and slipped into the quiet morning that awaited me.

I took a few deep breaths, preparing myself to enter the presence of God. Still a little drowsy, I closed my eyes to just enjoy the stillness around me.

There were faint noises of neighborhood children starting to wake and the occasional motorbike passing by. Monks walking their morning route chanted blessings over those who gave food offerings.

Everything in that environment flooded me with an overwhelming calmness.

Crisp air kissed my face.
Quiet peace settled my spirit.
The Word of Truth convicted my heart.

I wondered why mornings like this are so rarely my norm.

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When we were dating, I remember my husband talking about how he wanted to marry a woman who spent more time on her spiritual beauty than her physical appearance. How desperately I wanted to be that woman he described.

And how many things have relentlessly challenged this deep desire that I still have to be a woman of the Word.

Some of them are the obvious: morning routines, a busy schedule, a struggle with apathy.

Occasionally it’s even my own fear of failure that cripples me from spending time with God each day.

Sometimes I neglect to read Scripture out of guilt for not doing it yesterday. Other times I put off studying until tomorrow, hoping to have better intentions then.

There are always excuses, and the Enemy is steadfastly affirming them.

As I cracked the spine of my Bible Monday morning, he couldn’t resist but to taunt me in my failures.

This isn’t really you, Lauren. Remember yesterday when you answered emails instead of doing this? Remember last week when you struggled to stay awake during your evening meditation? Remember all of the times you’ve failed to be a devoted student of your Master’s teachings? 

He poured the discouragement over my head, and painted a vivid picture of an unworthy servant approaching a Most Holy Throne. I began bending into the lies that I had no right pretending to practice my faith in this way.

Hadn’t I stumbled through my prayers last week? Hadn’t I neglected my time in the Word? Was I doing anything more than putting on a show of righteousness?
And the real answer is Yes.
Yes, I stumble through my prayers. Yes, I neglect my time in the Word. Yes, sometimes I’m simply acting out my faith.

But if I asked, Can God be pleased with this?, the answer would still be Yes.

I must believe that the blood Jesus shed so long ago holds infinitely more power than my ability to express appreciation of it.

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Would I love to be a woman with a never-ending hunger and unlimited timetable to devote to God’s Word? Another Yes.

In my truest form of honesty, though, no matter how much I believe and cherish and respect the Good Book, sometimes I’m still just practicing picking up my Bible.

The Liar tells me that I should be ashamed to approach the throne in such an imperfect state. He condemns me for my lack of commitment. He shames me for my poor display of spiritual discipline.

The Enemy creeps into my mind and validates any excuse keeping me from hearing Truth because he knows what happens when I soak up those ancient words.

I am
empowered, convicted, set free,
repentant, forgiving, gracious,
peaceful, courageous, and sustained.

My faith may waver and my spirit may fail.

But the Father is always prepared to speak Life into this woman’s heart, as it is open to His teaching.
Any time.

Any day.
So I must start over, morning upon morning, in the practice of picking up my Bible.

For there, in those moments of quiet instruction, is where He remakes me through the power of His Word. And if I keep at it long enough, maybe my practicing will eventually become my nature.

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“So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Isaiah 55:11

Jesus Knows Your Culture Shock

Gavin and I took a business trip across country borders last week and decided to stay an extra night in Thailand for fun. We planned to explore a city we’d never been to before but had heard about its malls and Western food, so I was eager to scope out the scene.

After checking into the hotel, we decided to run through the McDonald’s drive-thru for lunch. Because traveling + drive-thru + toddler = win.

I hadn’t seen a drive-thru in six months. I hadn’t seen a McDonald’s in six months. I almost forgot how to yell through my car window for the food I wanted, and felt like I needed to take a picture to document the mind-blowing experience.

But still, I felt good. I didn’t even particularly enjoy my burger and fries. And I ordered chili sauce for dipping instead of ketchup.

That’s when I knew I had started to adjust to life in my new home.

Oh, self. I’m so proud of you! You are rocking this culture shock phase, my friend.

I thought that for about two more hours until I stepped into a children’s store at the major mall in Udon Thani, Thailand.

I pushed Eliza around, found the toy section, and picked out a nice wooden puzzle. Off-brand, about six dollars, still pretty cute.

It was the first time since March that I had walked into a store, found something I liked, and didn’t feel like it would fall apart before I walked back out of the store.

I felt like a real mom shopping for her daughter.

Then I ventured out to the clothing section, confident I would find nothing but glittery Minnie Mouse accessories and striped Hello Kitty everything.

Wrongo. The best of imported European baby fashion lay before me, calling out to every weak money management bone in my body.

As I walked by racks of well-made, stylish shirts and pants, I felt a twinge of pain for not being able to shop *like normal* for my own child. I’m so thankful that I have amazing family members who supply her wardrobe and friends who take care of our Amazon Wish List.

But a large part of me also wanted to buy Eliza something special…just from her Mama. And as I picked up unique articles of clothing that matched my taste, another opposing twinge of pain hit me.

It was the practical side of me that reasoned that I live in the developing world where nobody cares about European fashion. Anything I bought would be ruined. And who needs fancy clothes, anyway?

It all happened much faster than I could process these emotions, so I did what any strong, level-headed female would do.

I had a massive breakdown in the middle of the 5th floor of a Thai shopping mall.

Eventually I got it together, and Gavin convinced me to buy a shirt and the puzzle for Eliza. And then we ate at a restaurant called Sizzlers with a salad bar and baked potatoes, and we felt pretty much normal for the rest of the night.

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Gavin and I were debriefing our current phase of cultural adjustment the next night, and I listened as he processed his own layers of stress and fatigue.

The thing about this lifestyle is that you hardly have a moment to let your hair down. There are locals to attract, teammates to appease, and a spiritual battlefront to guard.

We have spent a good part of six months trying to keep so many people happy. And we are not complaining.

We love our host nationals. We love our teammates. And we love all the people back home who are following our story.

But most days the only thing we have to show for our first half-year abroad is a tidal wave of intercultural proof that we have no idea what we’re doing just yet.

I told Gavin, and I’ll share it with you, too.

Praise the Lord that Jesus knows our culture shock.

He left a perfectly comfortable and familiar place to walk this Earth. He spent time with people he had prepared to interact with but who refused to truly know him. He learned how to be one of us, mortal beings having so little in common with his spiritual form.

jesus knows your culture shock

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I have nothing poetic to share. No Bible verse that’s guiding me through this period of adjustment to living overseas.

But I’m continuously amazed that Jesus can find one more way to relate to me. He knows my every fear, my every frustration, my every triumph. Because he’s walked in my shoes. Even in my life as an expat, Jesus knows my every sentiment and can relate on deeper levels than I could ever express.  

I’m all the more grateful for a Savior who looks at me with knowing eyes, witnesses my inner tensions, and can still say, Child, I’ve carried your burdens.