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

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What’s Your Excuse?

A couple of years ago, I had fallen into a slump. I was about six months out from my most incredible overseas experience to date, and had seen the Lord move in unbelievable ways.

But I had come home to a church environment that seemed less than interested to hear about what God was doing in my heart and in my life. My bitterness towards the institution of the Body of Christ was palpable, and I started to push myself away from the traditions of my youth.

I questioned the beliefs I had once valued so dearly. I severed relationships with people who had become a discouragement. I quit writing about the things that convicted me.

That’s when I get a Facebook message from a man named Jeff York.

The message wasn’t long. It wasn’t complicated. It was sweet, simple, and pointed.

I’m ready for you to blog again. 

I had never met the man. I didn’t know anything about him, other than a few pictures I had seen.

I played along, anyway.

Hi, Jeff! Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll blog again this week just for you. 

So I did. I pulled my little fingers to the keyboard and hashed out my thoughts and frustrations on a web address for anyone to see.

And he read it. And supported it. And responded in true Jeff York form.

Remember this – the most effective tool the devil has is discouragement. He can use it to tear down Christians like you with a thousand cuts.

Over the next year, as I worked through much of my religious baggage through blogging, Jeff read every word I wrote. He encouraged me to push through when I felt completely uninspired. He connected me with new readers all over the country. He forced me to accept a gift I wasn’t initially sure was God-given.

I was thrown off by his incredible amount of kindness.

Who would invest so much time in a young writer he had never met? Who would go out of his way to encourage a stranger? Who would give so much energy to following a person’s faith walk?

I had to know who this man was.

So last Christmas, during my family holiday, I took my first trip to meet this Jeff guy.

What I found humbled me to the point of tears.

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Jeff was standing in his bedroom, leaning over a desk cushioned by several pillows. He wasn’t relaxing, though. He was stuck there.

He told me about his condition.

About how he suffers from a disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (Stone Man Syndrome). About how he had to drop out of school because he could no longer perform the basic duties of a student. About how his muscles calcify any time he’s injured, or any time the disease flares up.

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About how he wasn’t expected to live past his teen years—maybe his early twenties. But now he’s 54 years old and frozen in place…a human statue…every day confined to the same four walls.

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About how he stands at his desk for twelve hours and then is helped to the bed to lie on his side for twelve hours. About how his jaw is locked and his nutrition must come through a straw. About how he can no longer go where he wants because riding in a car is next to impossible. 

AND about how he refuses to let any of this stop him from living a life sold out for Jesus.

Jeff and Bethany

About how he is thankful for the internet, because it keeps him connected to his church. About how he loves using Facebook to encourage. About how he stands at his desk each day, typing away with the back of his knuckles, fighting to stay involved in the lives of people.

About how even in his limited capacity, he hopes he can still have influence.

I had seen a man’s stature before I saw his heart. And I have been forever changed because of this tragic mistake of humanistic perception.

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I have to tell you now, Jeff. YOU STILL HAVE SO MUCH INFLUENCE.

Those of us who know you are just in awe of your perseverance and faith. We take note of your attitude, and fail miserably to reproduce it in our own lives. We are amazed, inspired, and motivated by your unwavering positivity and indescribable strength.

We see you, Jeff, as a true man of God. One who has not blamed the Creator for your quality of life, but rejoices that the Creator has allowed you to improve others’ quality of life.

The ultimate servant.
The ultimate model.

We don’t love you because your body is tangled. We don’t visit you because we feel sorry for you.

We come to you because you teach us. You disciple us. You correct us.

We take a seat in the room with you because, really, we all wish we were more like you.

You fill our cups. You make us brave. You push us on in the race of life.

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My fear is that sometimes we wait until people are no longer with us before we talk about how much they mean to us. We fail to celebrate the beautiful people they are while we can still shower them with our love.

Today is Jeff’s birthday, so could you help me out? Let’s flood his Facebook (Jeff York), Twitter (@chewallabc), and Instagram (@chewalla60) accounts with the stories of why we love him. You can leave him a message in the comments below, too!

Every day that he is blessed with health is a day we all reap the benefits of his service to the Kingdom.

Are you just now meeting Jeff? Share his story! Maybe someone else needs to hear about a man who refuses to make excuses to walk a life of faith.

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Thank you, Jeff, for encouraging me constantly to use this space to glorify the Maker. You have taught me so much, and I love you lots.

Lola-Margaret HallAugust 30, 2014 - 11:14 am

Thanks got humbling me today. For making me grateful and for encouraging me to give God the glory in all of it!!!!! Happy Birthday, Jeff

Lauren BriggsAugust 30, 2014 - 2:09 pm

Happy Birthday Jeff!!!

Nina kingAugust 30, 2014 - 9:52 pm

Such a amazing story! May God continue to bless you and give you the strength to bless others! Happy birthday!!!!

SandyAugust 31, 2014 - 5:45 am

Happy Birthday, Jeff! You are a Christian in the truest sense of the word. Thank you.

Kasey StephensAugust 31, 2014 - 5:47 am

What an encouragement you both are! I have no excuses for being discouraged or not being an encouragement to someone else!

Kasey StephensAugust 31, 2014 - 5:48 am

& Happy Birthday, Jeff!!!

Brenda MaddoxAugust 31, 2014 - 2:41 pm

Enjoyed reading this and it really touched me. Saw it when a couple of friends shared on Facebook and I’ll share it too. Liked his page so I can follow him and yours also. I like this statement you wrote “My fear is that sometimes we wait until people are no longer with us before we talk about how much they mean to us.” At our church we recently lost a “special needs man” who was known for for his hugs and love. I was so glad that we actually got to know and love him too.
Read some past posts and love your honesty in your feelings. Sometimes I think we share and encourage others more when let them see a real person with flaws instead of an unreachable perfect Christian which none of us are. I’m from Memphis–not far from your town of Selmer. Look forward to reading more.

Dennis WilbanksAugust 31, 2014 - 11:10 pm

I have been blessed to have met Jeff at an early age. He stood by the steps going into the gym and kept stats during the Highschool basketball games when I was a youngster, over 35 years ago. I remember I would go to him to see how many points Neal Walker, Mike Walker, Kenny and others scored throuighout the night. He was always there and he had the stats I am sure he has them in a journal today. I have heard my father say on occasion, when ask about stats from the past, I am sure Jeff York can tell you. I can tell by your writing what Jeff saw in you, You do it so well. I enjoyed the article, if I may call it that, I wish Jeff York a Happy Birthday, You are an inspiration to all.

Where Humility and Empowerment Blend into Something Beautiful

Today I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes, an online community for women serving cross-culturally.
I love the weekly discussion and writing prompts, and am excited to share
this supportive network with you expat ladies again!

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A few months ago, I was invited by one of my local friends to meet a Thai movie star. This was an exclusive, invitation-only party, and my friend was tickled to pieces that this woman was coming to our country.

She had several golden tickets, and I’ve vowed to never turn down an open invitation in my host culture if I can help it. So I got the details and psyched myself up for a night on the town with the ladies.

I figured I should fancy up, so I pulled out the very nicest dress I brought with me: a bold turquoise maxi from TJ Maxx circa 2011. I spent forever curling my hair and sprayed the fire out of it to prophylax against the humidity. A little extra mascara, my first lipstick since March, and some pretty jewelry…I was feeling like a hot mama.

I kept checking the rear view mirror all the way to my friend’s house because I honestly had forgotten what I looked like with so much make-up and decently styled hair. My confidence lasted the entire fifteen-minute drive across town, and ended abruptly when I met up with the local crew.

Out they came, all four family members dressed in fancy black outfits, showing off their figures and stylish tastes. I squeezed into the back seat with my turquoise getup, bright-colored scarf, and yellow pocketbook.

One of these things is not like the other one…the tune kept playing in my head as I started to laugh at myself and the situation.

I mustered up some of my language knowledge to state the obvious.

Ohhhh, You all wear black. I wear blue. I not know. Smile. Wink. Ha.Ha.Ha.

What my hosts forgot to tell me was that I was going to the Thai movie star’s weight loss product promotion, and duh, *black make you look so skinny*.

So, I spent the evening in a room full of beautiful Asian women and a sea of black fashion, praying the whole time my ombré hair counted for something. When I finally got home that night I died laughing spilling the details to my husband.

It was a lesson in cross-cultural adjustment:

You can easily be in a culture and not really be in a culture.

Moving abroad has a way of stripping you of everything you know about yourself, and then doing this again and again until you’re left clinging to the tiniest thread of identity to attach to yourself.

It’s humbling, to say the least.

You tell people that you eat your daughter instead of feed your daughter.
You find yourself ordering a plate of grilled best friend instead of pork.

And when the phrase I’m really tired is almost identical to I have a lot of pubic hair, I mean, COME ON. The embarrassment is not really articulate-able.

If there’s anything I can say about my first half-year abroad it’s this:

The absolute only thing I have control over in this life is bringing glory to God in all of my mess.

I’m incapable of anything on my own. I can’t manipulate my success or start a movement or ensure my safety.

I’m nobody here.
I’m less than nobody here.

But the state of being invisible, awkward, and needy in a new environment has empowered me in an ironic way.

I’m FREED from my own striving, praise the Lord!

I’m learning that my skill set is far outweighed by the cultural, relational, spiritual, and professional odds against me.

But I’m resting in His ability, and finding hope in His promises. And I’m loving watching His power shine through my weaknesses.

The beautiful thing about humility is when we finally admit that we aren’t running this show, we sit back in the audience as God directs a production far greater than our wildest dreams.

At the end of the day, when I lay my head on my pillow, I know now that any success I experience is a direct gift from the Father’s mighty hand.

I don’t want to carry the burden of status or accomplishments or self-defined identity tags.

I want to rejoice in the unbelievable works my Father does through my fumbling attempts at obedience.

Who would have thought that humility and empowerment could blend into something so beautiful?

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Just because I know you’re still wondering how loud this turquoise dress really was…

AprilAugust 28, 2014 - 11:16 am

Heard recently how someone said “God is so good” when someone complemented their singing in church. What a great way to respond instead of saying “thank you” as if to take all the credit for the God-given talent. By the way you look very pretty. I think the color should have been turquoise instead of black.

Lola-Margaret HallAugust 29, 2014 - 7:34 pm

I had already enjoyed this to the fullest and tonite we are having dinner with friends and we have all just split our sides as I had to bring it up on my phone and share. You are such a hoot at telling an already hilarious story. BTW the lesson you brought with it is awesome!

Shawna SheahenSeptember 4, 2014 - 8:45 am

Well, you look just fabulous! You definitely weren’t invisible that night!! 😉

I Love My Man & His Football

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When we began preparing to move overseas, I made lists of all the things we would need to bring.

Clothes.
Kitchen items.
Shoes.
Bedding.
Décor.

I tried to budget out all of the projected costs for each category, and then pitch the idea to my husband.

The conversation started something like this:

Me: Hey, buddy. Is $250 enough to buy whatever clothes you need to take to Asia?
Gavin: I don’t know. Why do I need to buy more clothes?
Me: You seriously plan to wear the same old boxers for the next two years?
Gavin: I don’t know.
Me: So, what exactly are you planning to take to Asia?
Gavin: My football.

He wasn’t kidding. I packed that sucker around my spices and extra diapers in Bag #11. It crossed the ocean with us and hasn’t left his side since.

As a thirty-year-old, he still has frequent dreams about his days as a receiver in high school. Some days I catch him napping with his football. He even has taught our daughter how to push it around in her baby stroller.

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He’s been counting down the days to college football season since August turned the corner.

Who am I kidding? He’s been counting down the days since the clock ran out at the 2014 National Championship. I’m surprised he hasn’t made a paper chain out of Christmas colors.

The man loves the pigskin. I cannot tell a lie.

The International Date Line cannot keep him from missing his sport, either. My husband has a color-coded spreadsheet of every game this season, what stations are playing which games, and how to *legally* watch every game in real time.

He’s been teaching our one-year-old the fight song, and she’s starting to clap at the appropriate pauses.

A few nights ago, as he scrolled through the latest “Countdown to Kickoff” videos, I heard him gasp under his breath, There are fourteen new minutes of scrimmage footage!

I knew things were serious a few years ago. My husband was in the throws of family practice residency, and he asked me if I would be mad if he wasn’t a doctor anymore.

What do you mean, honey? You’ve been in school 23 years and we have loads of debt, I said.
I mean like, what if I quit being a doctor and became a football coach?

I can’t say I was surprised. The man spends at least (insert significant amount of time) every day checking up on recruits and reading offensive strategies. He frequently chuckles to himself at players’ tweets and vines…he’s privy to game plans and team stats and conference standings.

So, I had a choice to make. I could play the victim of a pitiful football widow from August to January each year. Or, I could learn to love the game and join him in the fun.

I chose to love my man and his football.

I learned players’ names. I memorized their positions. I let them fill my social media outlets.

And I fell in love with it all.

With the traditions and the drama and the fans. The trips up North and the late night games and the entire ESPN college football crew.

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More than anything, I love what this game does to my husband. The passion he has and the emotional connection he has to those 60 minutes of play. He’s deeply tied to this sport, and I’m deeply tied to him.

It’s almost time…next weekend we’ll watch our teams hit the fields and show off all their practice from fall camp.

But in between plays, I’ll probably be sneaking peeks at my sweet husband’s face. Because seeing him so happy brings me so much joy.

I love you, Gavin. And I love how you love the game. Go Blue.

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A Letter to the Apathetic Church

Photo Credit: David Kracht via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: David Kracht via Compfight cc

When is it going to be enough?
What more evils do we need to witness to lose sleep over the state of humanity?

More graves for the victims of Ebola?
More pictures of the beheaded children of Iraq?
More public demonstrations of racial discrimination? 

More suicide from a lack of mental health care?
More nasty words being exchanged about the selfishness of the above?
More children being sold and daughters being raped and sons being worked for no pay?

More slavery to addiction?
More sexual promiscuity?
More families being stripped of any form of function?

When is it going to be enough?

I feel so burdened by not only the world’s bad news, but the poor response from the ones with Good News, too.

When are we going to wake up our dead hearts? When are we going to feel uncomfortable in our flesh-covered temples?

It’s time to stand up—to be men of valor and women of might. We’ve isolated ourselves from the real world for too long.

Who’s taking the lives of our children? Who’s tearing down the walls of our churches? Who’s threatening to rob our security today?

My dear, precious, apathetic church. No one is coming after us.

I fear the enemy would be hard-pressed to find us.

We look so much like everyone else.

Self-pitying. Self-serving. Self-gratifying.
Passive. Indifferent. Dispirited.

Is there anything that will drive us to action anymore?

We have holed ourselves up. Locked our doors. Protected our children.

We’ve altered our convictions to keep people in our buildings. We’re more afraid of who we’ll offend than who we’ll never save.

And while we’re in our safe, Christian circles, the world is blowing up around us.

And we go about our business, where it feels good and we can ignore the chaos.

Shall we be honest? We really don’t want Christ to return.

We have fancy homes, retirement funds, vacation packages.
We have safety nets, community groups, private school.

We don’t really want Christ to return, because we’re not quite sure Heaven will be as nice as this gig.

Who needs God’s protection when we’ve hedged ourselves in all alone?

Praise the Lord for the evil around us. Maybe we will finally WAKE UP.

Maybe our eyes will be opened to the dark places in our world. Maybe we’ll start to see the dark places in our neighborhoods. Maybe we’ll even discover the dark places in our tepid hearts.

Maybe we’ll stop feeling like we belong here. Maybe we’ll remember our citizenship is above.
Maybe—just maybe—we’ll have enough zeal to storm the gates of Hell.

Because Hell clearly isn’t only eternal. Turn on your TV or your computer screen.

Our fellow man is living in Hell every passing minute.

In brothels.
In relationships.
In abuse.
In danger.
In mental illness.
In war zones.

Across the world.
In our backyard.

It’s time to storm those gates, my dear, precious, apathetic church. It’s time to rescue the souls of our fellow man.

It’s time to love Christ more than we love this earth. It’s time to take risks, to pray like mad, and to believe that we are part of the single-most powerful gathering that exists today.

We are the church, the body of Jesus.
We don’t have a spirit of fear, but one of POWER, and LOVE, and SELF-CONTROL.

Let’s quit using other people’s tragedy to push our own party lines, doctrines, or identity.

Let’s just be for people.

No matter their race, nationality, or social class, let’s exist for people.

Let’s
pray for them,
serve them,
rescue them,
laugh with them,
cry with them,
rejoice with them,
SHARE GOOD NEWS WITH THEM.

Until the whole world hears, Church.
Until the whole world hears.

May we ache for Christ until we provoke His return.

What is it going to take?

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And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout
the whole world as a testimony to all nations,
and then the end will come.

-Matthew 24:14

To My Parents’ Generation: Please Don’t Give Up on Us

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Photo Credit: bcostin via Compfight cc

My husband and I have quickly learned that we need a way to escape from the stress of cross-cultural acclimation. What am I saying? We’ve always needed a way to escape from the stress of basic, normal life.

We’re not binge TV watchers, but when we find a show that grabs our attention, Friday nights sometimes turn into episode marathons.

Downton Abbey, Master Chef, and the The Blacklist have all been in our queue. Now we’re marching our way through all the seasons of Parenthood.

The Braverman family provides the perfect amount of drama on every level. Last night as we were watching the teenagers get themselves into inappropriate relationships and drunk driving accidents, the parents came together to raise their white flags in defeat.

They were finished—out of ideas. They had resigned to the fact that their children would just be who they wanted to be and there was nothing they could do to change it.

But Sarah stepped in and made a bold, weighty statement:

No! We don’t give up. When our kids tell us that they don’t want us, when they push us away, that’s when we have to show up. We have to talk when we they don’t want to talk. We have to be there when they tell us to leave them alone. When our kids tell us they have it all together, that’s when it’s most important to show up. We can’t give up.

Whoever wrote this scene put together some powerful words. And I think it’s true for a parent-child relationship.

But I think it’s true for my entire young adult generation, too.

I’ve thought of writing posts about my fear that 20-somethings have lost an appreciation for previous generations. We’re highly motivated but highly arrogant. We’re willing to talk about our ideas but unwillingly to take a posture of learning.

All of that sounded so cynical and gripe-y, though.

So instead, I’d like to address the generations of the 40+.

Just as I fear my peers have neglected to entertain your company, I fear that you will give up on us.

I know how we come across: Like we think we have all the answers.

We are quick to rebel against the religious traditions of our youth. We call out any hint of hypocrisy. We make no effort to guard our convictions.

Social media has provided a way for us to put our voice out there and look for others who will affirm our thoughts and feelings. And when the response is positive, well then hey, we’ve got this life thing figured out.

We appear to be pushing you away.

Joining younger, hipper churches.
Getting tattoos and accepting social drinking.
Voting Democrat, for crying out loud.

We have gone to great lengths to declare our independence from you. We are intelligent, empowered young adults. Our worldview is broader and our wallets are fatter than any generation of young adults before us.

But we are not ok. 

More college graduates are moving back home than ever before. Divorce is rampant and credit card debt is losing its shame. Lively worship is drawing crowds but producing shallow faith.

Yes, we are telling you to leave us alone…that we’ve got this. We don’t want to talk because we’ll just disagree. We just want you to leave us alone so we can figure stuff out.

But now, more than ever, we need you to show up.

We need retirees to guide us through work-related drama. We need experienced fathers and mothers to teach us how to raise children in the Lord. We need those who have questioned their faith to walk into our living rooms and guide us through our theological doubts.

We all need our hearts to be shepherded by someone wiser. This is not a need people outgrow.

So please, those of you in my parents’ generation: don’t give up on us.

Pull us into your homes. Share your stories with us. Teach us the ways that the Father has worked in your hearts.

Our perspectives may be different, and our ideologies vastly opposite, but we haven’t stopped being human. And that leaves us in a state of needing mentors.

We need you to show up. To walk across the church sanctuary and sit beside our screaming kids. To invite us over for a home-cooked meal. To model the commitment of a devoted marriage.

We’re only 20-something after all. You’ve lived a lot more life than we have. And no amount of our own confidence can keep us from falling on our faces from time to time.

We need to know that you’ll be there to wash our wounds. And that you’ll meet us in that place with your own understanding of life’s jabs and punches.

Forgive us for trying to do this on our own. Deep down we really want to be led by you.

Becky WelchAugust 10, 2014 - 5:27 pm

I absolutely love this!!! God has granted you a gift with words and I am so glad you are using that gift! It blesses me daily!

CarrieAugust 10, 2014 - 6:24 pm

I’m confused. Are you saying that “Voting Democrat” is somehow pushing back against older generations? My grandparents, who served in churches their entire lives and would be 87 if they were still here, voted Democratic their entire lives. It was from them (and my own parents) that I learned how important social justice was to Jesus.

Lauren PinkstonAugust 11, 2014 - 9:28 am

Hi Carrie, so glad you commented. I wasn’t trying to suggest this at all. I’m with you–so many of the social justice lessons I have learned have come from Democrats. I didn’t mean to give this post a political slant. I simply know a lot of conservative voters who are wary of the shift in younger ideologies. Many of my readers come from a Republican background, and I wanted to disarm this fear just a tad. Thanks for your thoughts.

Lauren PinkstonAugust 11, 2014 - 9:29 am

Thanks, Becky! I know a classroom full of students who are being blessed by the gifts God has given you :)