Redefining Success

 

At our small group recently we watched the Louie Giglio video How Great is our God. I’m usually pretty critical of most sermons or glorified motivational speeches. But I did enjoy my perspective of the universe getting stretched by this one.

 

I’ve fallen into the very human trap of making God too small. Like, you know, he’s my God. The God of America. The God of the Earth. But when you pan out and pan out again and pan out again you realize how terribly finite we are. We’re so darn . . . measurable.

 

We take up this itty bitty space in this teeny tiny point in time.

 

And yet we are known. The same God who breathed galaxies knows when a sparrow falls on this silly little planet called Earth.

 

It reminded me that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. In the past when presented with that idea God has often been portrayed as a near bully; A kid with a magnifying glass, and we the ants.

 

But after watching the How Great is our God video a different image emerged. A God that is so big and powerful and with so much knowledge and fore/hindsight that he’s not nearly as caught up in our darkness as we are. A God who sees our light.

 

We have such small, human, western definitions of success and failure. But I have an inkling that God doesn’t perceive failure the way we do.

 

I got to thinking about how we define a “successful” ministry. Bullet points would include, far-reaching, long-running, and impressive numbers.

 

We’ve been a part of several start-up ministries that would appear to have never left the ground. Tried it for a season and it didn’t grow or have the engagement we had hoped for. Believe me, you stack too many of these on your spiritual resume and you start to feel like something is wrong with you. Like you’re a failure.

 

But I don’t think God sees it that way. I think more often He says “Good job, guys! You built relationships, you nurtured each other, you filled a short-term need.”

 

Few of us are every going to be Billy Grahams, but that doesn’t make our ministries, our day-to-days, any less important or impactful.

 

Every experience, every seeming flop – it all stretches us, teaches us something. If you’re growing, you’re succeeding. Life isn’t a race or a contest.

 

Life is ministry. Every day is ministry. I don’t need or want a legacy. I just want to live good days. Good days that slowly become less selfish and more people-centered.

 

I think God would define that as a successful life.

 

The Art of Adjusting

Accepting the good.

No matter how far we wander our roots occasionally yank us back here to the swamps and the slash pine and the fire ants. It feels a little round peg – square hole, every time. I’ll think I’m prepared for sweet tea and blesshisheart’s but then we’re back and there are a million tiny things that make southern culture little shocks to my system.

I spent 18 years in this place, so why do I feel like such a Third Culture Kid? Why do I feel the least comfortable at home where everything is most familiar, uncomfortable with my own heritage? I’ve been gone too long, I guess. Seen too much of the world. And yes, I know how obnoxiously pretentious that comes across. But traveling the world, it marks you. For good or bad.

I used to get all self-righteous and preachy about all the imperfect bits of the southern way of life. I used to spend a lot of energy being angry and appalled at the willful ignorance, the Turn or Burn of it all. But now? Well, I guess I’m calming down with old age. I turned 30 this year, I’m a real live grown up now.

You find what you’re looking for. So if I try, if I insist, I can throw a rock in any direction and hit an offense. But this place, it’s my home, and you know what they say about throwing rocks in glass houses. Not only does it destroy, but everyone is watching.

Sure, there are things I don’t like about the south. But every culture has it’s quirks. There’s no perfect society. And, as someone recently berated me, there’s a sense of blooming where you’re planted. Even if there are rocks in the soil.

So I’m planted here this year. And I refuse to be hot and bothered by the parts I don’t like. I will look for the good, the unique lovely bits of southern life that reflect Jesus. The sunrises, and the potlucks, and the lonely old men who corner you in the produce section and share their life story over zucchini sale prices.

I will learn to embrace the good parts of every culture.

To live any other way is exhausting.

A year from now lies the biggest culture shock of my life. The curry and colors and smells and innate backwardness that waits for me in south Asia. So surely I can handle this. Surely I can learn to love the swamps of south Georgia, the good the bad and the ugly.

Surely Jesus is here.

Surely he’ll be there.

 

Jessica

Reconciliation, Conflict, and All That Jazz

finger pointing

 

Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

 

Some days it feel that way.  One day last week did. When you walk this fence in Christianity between liberal and conservative – you know, this place of middle ground, sometimes you get tomatoes from both sides.

 

A really snarky, condescending commenter ripped me a new one last week about our future in South Asia. Mocked our purpose, our education, our qualifications, really just tore down everything we’re about.

 

On the same day an old friend that I was attempting to reconcile with voiced her concern that our beliefs about the Bible have just become too different for us to ever be close again.

 

Too Christian for the liberals. Too liberal for the Christians.

 

I respectfully and privately responded to both situations hoping to redeem the interactions and would appear to have failed miserably on both accounts.

 

The interactions were all around emotionally draining and kind of felt like spiritual kicks to the groin. And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that all these things, these negative changes in the atmosphere are a part of a bigger picture of spiritual warfare.

 

Satan uses all kinds to bring us down.

 

Now, the condescending commenter? Well, pardon my French, but he was just an A Double S Hat. Plain and simple. I gave it my best effort and I feel no guilt wiping the dust from my feet with that one.

 

But the old friend? She’s a sweetheart. A plain and simple sweetheart. And it’s deeply hurtful that a graceful, Biblical, healing, reconciliation doesn’t seem possible right now.

 

But these things happen. All I can do is be patient in my responses and reflective on where I may have failed. And perhaps, equally importantly – not let it weigh on my shoulders. I feel like a gave both situations my best, most Christian effort. That’s all I can do.

 

Conflict is the pits. Reconciliation is hard-freaking-work and it takes a boat-load of humility and grace.

 

But I do think that God is using these things to stretch me, wring me out of my pride, and prepare me for our future in South Asia. They say that the number one thing that brings people off the field is interpersonal issues. Even Christians (shocker) are unable to work peaceably with each other sometimes.

 

Hopefully I’ll learn from the now so that the then will be slightly less trying. Because you’re just not going to get along with everybody, and you’re certainly not going to agree with everybody. But as Christians I think it’s important for us to find a place of unity despite all that.

 

How else are we going to shine these little lights of ours?

 

They will know us by our love for each other.

 

Have you experienced a healing reconciliation?

 

-Jessica

 

I’m a Jesus Feminist Because Common Sense

 

Sarah Bessey’s fantastic new book, Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, has finally released (!) and she’s asking – why are you a Jesus Feminist?

The very simple answer for me is I’ve become a Jesus Feminist because it just makes good sense. There was a short window in my life when I was entrenched in a more conservative church culture and was taught and believed a slightly skewed version of Biblical womanhood. It involved very good intentions on the part of those who taught it, with a side of proof-texts.

They taught what they believed was true. But that didn’t make it true.

What I love about Sarah and her ability to communicate is that it isn’t angry. Too much anger has been read into the label “Feminist”. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I can’t remember who said it, probably Sarah, but being a Jesus Feminist means believing that women are disciples, too. Period.

Feminism is about equality.

It’s not about women being better than men. This isn’t about men at all. It’s about everyone having the same right to do any job or follow any calling. Just like women should have the right to vote, just like minority ethnic groups have the right to share public restrooms and schools.

Recently I attended a training with our organization. Most of the training staff were women. Nearly all of the sessions were taught by women – mature, educated, experienced, brilliant women – including translators.

How silly to think these women, with their God-given talents, should be disqualified from these very important positions because of their gender. That just doesn’t make any sense.

Of the single people attending the training, most of those were women, as well. Women willing to sacrifice all and go across the world alone to further the Kingdom. Did you know that much of early Bible Translation work around the world was done by single women? The very Bible some would forbid them to teach or preach. Oh the irony. Imagine the generations who have been affected by these brave ladies. Imagine if they had been kept from going.

So yes, I’m a Jesus Feminist. Because it only makes sense that if God has given you a passion and talent, you should be free to follow it. You should be able to be the person and pursue the vocation that God created you for.

And that seems like pure common sense to me.

 

-Jessica

Five Minutes Of Grace

sunrise over the fog

Grace.

Patience.

Those are the things I’m meditating on as we settle back into the deep south.

I’m over my angry phase. I think. I hope. And in it’s place I’m praying and reaching out for a covering of grace.

In all of our travels, my biggest culture shocks always involve coming back home. But if I can hold onto the perspective of even my home turf being a mission field, maybe I can manage not to seethe. Or anger the church gods.

A lot of the traditions and beliefs here are slightly off center, while thinking they’re planted firmly on the foundation of the Bible.

Oh, and how it can get under my skin.

Grace.

Every culture has it’s flaws, it’s unique bits.

There are good things to be found here, too.

I will look for the good things.

Joining Lisa-Jo for Five Minute Friday

I’ve Been Careless

brighter

 

I’ve written some things this summer that have deeply hurt others. I was just stupid enough to think a blanket of anonymity would protect everyone, both them and me. I was wrong and there have been buckets full of tears all around.

 

Writing is a tricky art. I’ve often defended that you can be descriptive without being judgmental. But perhaps it’s a line so thin and so gray that it’s not worth defending. Even without any judgment in the world, the mere act of describing, painting the facts of the moment, can cut to the bone. And it’s inaccurate, these snapshots we paint with our words. A painting can only capture a moment, and life is much bigger and broader and brighter than that.

 

There’s an inherent carelessness when you paint someone who you think will never see the finished product. And so my strokes have been too harsh, imbalanced.

 

I strive to write from a place of authenticity and honesty. The thing I desire to encapsulate in my word pictures more than anything is the cathartic reality that we all fall and it’s okay. We’re imperfect, messy humans and yet there’s still so much grace to be found, to be extended.

 

I failed to capture that picture this summer. I tried to immortalize the beauty in accepting our differences but I failed miserably. Miserably. In a terribly ironic and hurtful twist, I’ve done the very opposite of what I wanted. I’ve left people feeling judged, gutted open.

 

And so I’ve learned a hard and humbling lesson.

 

Anonymity and authenticity are never excuse for carelessness with another’s heart.

 

Also, I’m a pretty big coward.  God isn’t kidding about me learning how to apologize.

 

Sometimes I suck big time.

 

Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty much like the worst person in the world at the moment, not to mention an idiot.   So me and my sinus infection are going to crawl in a hole and die now.  Or hibernate until the move.

 

Jessica

 

Why Is Apologizing So Hard?

 

It’s funny how quickly you can go from such a good place to a grimy, pride-filled placed dripping with indignation and hurt feelings.

 

Last night I had a wonderful evening with Canadian friends. Tapas, cocktails, sunset walks on ocean piers. This morning I accidentally stumbled onto the realization that a childhood friend had unfriended me on facebook. Cue world crashing down.

 

Of all the dumb things to get riled up about, right? But I was. Am. I am so angry that this person unfriended me. Mostly because unfriending is a personal social media faux pas of mine. I basically cannot unfriend anyone. I just can’t do it. It’s too hurtful for the person on the other end. You just don’t DO that. And in this day and age where you can make lists of who sees your content and you can hide people from your newsfeed completely, there’s really no need to cut people off.  So to choose to do so anyway is somehow even more of an insult.

 

Sigh.

 

But that’s really not the issue, is it? My own personal pet peeves aside, this is a problem of pride. I am offended. I am hurt. I want it all to be about me!

 

But I am not innocent. I know that I’ve both hurt and offended this person, as well. We’ve never had an argument, I’ve never said anything to or about her personally, but my opinions on matters close to her heart have stung. My grievances with church and southern culture, which I’ve been all too free to voice online, have injured her. Funny how easy it is to wound without ever personally attacking.

 

So she chose to cut me clean out. And even though I think that’s much too extreme a measure, I don’t have a lot of space to defend myself.

 

Not surprisingly, God has been gently bring me back to the art of apologizing recently. For reasons I couldn’t understand I’ve been unable to get it off the brain. Genuinely apologizing is one of the hardest things in the world. And I’m crap at it. If I’m extremely close to someone, like the people that live under my own roof, I can occasionally work up the humility and courage to pull it off. But outside of that teeny tiny circle? Well, things are just going to slowly burn until I’ve baby-stepped away from the relationship for long enough that a slow bridge of bitterness is built that separates us forever. Like, actual forever.

Apologizing can be the hardest thing in the world.

In my North American, Southern, passive-aggressive cultural upbringing, directness is not a virtue. It’s awkward and personal and not socially acceptable. Sometimes I think I would love to acclimate into a more blunt culture. Let’s air this crap out already. And be done with it.

 

And yet, there have been a small handful of people in my life who have crossed that prideful, socially awkward barrier and offered me a genuine, heartfelt apology. And every time it has shocked, humbled, and healed me. Dang near instantly. It’s a radical gift to apologize. And I’m ashamed that I’ve been incapable of it.

 

So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God has been slowly guiding my mind back to confronting my own pride and weakness and inability to apologize – the very week that a situation would provide me the opportunity. There’s no such thing as a spiritual coincidence.

 

I still have so much work to do in my own heart.

 

-Jessica

Be Kind To The Cynics

Bear with us. I know it’s not fair. I know it’s not always easy. But be gentle with the wounded, be kind to the cynics.

 

It’s no great secret that the last few years I’ve been wrestling with the demons of doubt, depression, and the general human condition. I’ve been carrying my cross through a road littered with guilt, legalism, traditions, theology, and elitism, stepping carefully around each obstacle that threatens to trip my soul. Sometimes I fall anyway.

 

Sometimes I need a Simon. Someone to carry the cross for me when it gets too heavy. When I’m too weak and tired and wounded to navigate the path to mercy and righteousness myself.

 

And you know what, it’s not fair to ask that of you, I realize that. It’s not fair to carry each other’s burdens, it’s not easy, and it’s not fun.

 

“Be completely humble and gentle: be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

 

My glass, while not necessarily half empty, is usually half full of sarcasm, cynicism and insecurity. And I need you to be gentle with me. We calloused cynics aren’t as tough as we seem. That’s the ruse. The truth is we build these emotional walls so dang high because we’re hiding behind them. We’re not strong like you, we’re all soft and broken on the inside and the walls are our only defense.

 

We’re wounded and messy and hurt and we can’t take what we dish out – maybe it’s annoying, maybe it gets old, maybe our negative sense of humor offends or confuses you, maybe you wish we’d, for the love of God, unruffle our feathers, or that the dark night of our soul would be over already. But please, be patient with us. Anything less and you only inflict more damage, you feed the great big ball of cynicism that we live and fight with daily.

 

Just bear with us. I know it’s not fair. I know it’s not always easy. But be gentle with the wounded, be kind to the cynics.

 

It’s the only way to help.

 

-Jessica

Bearing With One Another In Love

Ephesians 4:4

 

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

 

Thinking thoughts of unity and peace the last couple of months as I try to let go of the past and look toward the future. It’s so easy to draw lines in the sand between Christians. We are so divided, and usually with self-righteous gusto.

 

Things like Christians reacting to the news of Rick Warren’s son committing suicide shouldn’t happen. We shouldn’t turn on our own and attack. It’s cruel and shows no evidence of the Spirit of Christ. And what is my reaction at their reactions? To get all riled up and hot and bothered about it. Sigh.

 

We need love that surpasses knowledge.  We’ve lost the art of building others up. The unity of the Spirit is a long lost parable.

 

And I’m a chief offender. But I don’t want to be; It’s exhausting, bitterness.

 

So I’m slowly shedding my lemony exterior and feeling out blindly in the dark for compassion, even towards those infuriating Christians whose label I want to put in quotation marks. Because the longer I’m alive, the more I grow in love, and the more mistakes I make, the less I find myself offended by the sins of others. Or, at the very least, the more readily I arrive at empathy and grace.

 

We need unity even in diversity. We need to get our spiritual priorities straight.

 

And maybe, just maybe, to be known by our love. Instead our ability to be hot and bothered.

 

 

 -Jessica

He Calls When He’s In Trouble

The Caller

 

Family. It’s taken me years (lots of them) to truly appreciate the bond that blood holds. Only as I get a bit older and a bit spiritually softer do I understand the truth of blood being thicker than water.  When you live a relatively nomadic life you learn to make family everywhere. But there’s something to be said for those people who you share DNA with, the ones you grew up with. They will always hold a special, grace-filled place in your heart.

 

Somehow or another that paragraph up there is related to my story at A Deeper Family this  month. If I’ve piqued your curiosity of all, click the link below to read what I’m saying over there.

 

He only calls when he’s in trouble.

 

-Jessica