Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Good Day

I remember writing a post several years ago about what I would miss about Princeton someday.  

Getting ready for a swim at twilight in the Yong River, Nanning.

And here I sit from my sixth floor perch in the middle of a bustling city of five million, writing a similar one about China.  But I’m not going to write it all out just yet, I’ll leave that for the months ahead.

However, I may not be the most trustworthy narrator.  You see, I realized that on what some might call an unbearably hot day here in South China, all I could see was the way the light cut through the trees and onto the sidewalk in a lovely way, the babies squinting at me at the bus stop, and the bounty of pineapples and bananas lined up on carts on the corner.  

Prayer wheels along the side of the road.

I genuinely enjoyed my walks through the market today, and the casual interaction with vendors so absent in so many places in this busy world.  And as I felt the familiar sensation of sweat trickling down my back that comes with this time of year, I swear I smiled.  I knew after living here long enough that sooner or later a breeze would come by to relieve the heat of the sun, and that these days won’t last forever.

Grandma walks her little student home from school. All photos by Evan Schneider.

So today I’m thankful for beauty in everyday places, for my life in China, and for this amazing everyday adventure.

What about you?

P.s.  I’ve updated my current loves section: check out what I’m digging this spring!

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Ask…again and again

This morning God led me to the famous scripture, “Ask, and it will be given unto you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9).  

However, I started reading at verse 5 where Jesus tells the parable of a friend who goes to another friend in the middle of the night to buy bread.  The friend says something akin to, “Hey it’s midnight, and my kids are asleep, go get your own bread.”  But Jesus points out, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”

And then comes the command to ask (and you shall receive), search (and you will find), knock (and the door shall be opened unto you).  So you see, it’s a misnomer to think that we need merely ask, search, and knock, because Jesus tells us to be nothing short of pesky, persistent, and to ask over and over and over again, and to trust that God is good (see verse 13).  

Sometimes I think in my prayer life I am anything but persistent.  I often hear myself saying, “God I know you hear our prayers, you know the desires of our hearts…’nough said.”  I stop short of asking for what I desire, because I’m a little afraid to come out with it, and that’s because, if I admit it, I think I’m a little short on faith.

I know, I know, me a minister-in-training, a little short on faith?  But I am!

My prayers are often big question marks rather than emphatic requests, and I’m certainly nothing like that maniac banging on the door for bread at midnight.  But our God says, bang on my door, and I will answer, not because you deserve it, or because you’ve been good to me, but because your persistence is only rivaled by my goodness, and I promise to send my spirit to accompany you in this cold, dark world.

So I’m going to keep up my end of the bargain here, God.  Hope you’re ready for your midnight wake-up call.  And thanks, you know, in advance for the good gifts (Luke 11:13).

 

Home Sweet Home

What do you look forward to when you’ve been on the road for a few weeks?  Your own bed?  A good cup of coffee?  A home-cooked meal?

Me, too!

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, trailing a local NGO and visiting with dozens of orphanage directors, foster parents, and children these past few weeks.  As I’ve mentioned before, children with disabilities face an uphill battle here in China, and with both foreign and national support for group homes and other kinds of residential projects, it’s hard to convince orphanage directors that foster care is a viable option.

But I’ll certainly be posting more on all that later.

For now, my exhausted self is reveling in the comforts of home: brewed coffee, soft couches, blankets, guilty tv pleasures, internet, and my husband’s cooking, of course.  Yesterday when I finally came home in the afternoon I found said husband smoking a piece of pork on the grill for practically the whole day in an effort to produce his own ham.  In addition, he made his own scalloped potatoes, and a side of asparagus–also quite the feat in China!

Other culinary creations that are inspiring me these days include this, and these, and these.  But alas, I have a whole board on Pinterest dedicated to recipes I’d like to try when I get back from China, so I should change the subject here, lest I take the whole home sweet home thing to another level!

So my plans for the weekend: sleep in (already accomplished), and lay low, catch up on some much-missed running, sleeping, and rest.  Maybe sneak in a dinner with a foster family, and try to avoid overdosing on the addictive Reese’s peanut butter eggs my mother-in-law sent along.  All in all, it’s good to be home.

What about you?

Creativity (or the lack thereof)

I’ve been away for a week or so traveling in Anhui and Hubei and learning about foster projects there.  I’ll be in and out this week, but I wanted to pop in and put some thoughts out about creativity and hobbies.

I have always considered myself a creative person: as little girls my sisters and I would litter the bottom of the Christmas tree with homemade items for mom and dad.  I played the flute since I was four or so, and I dabbled in dance, drama, and other arts.

This week, however, I traveled alongside a man who throws pottery, hunts, and fishes in his spare time, and I found myself envying his robust hobbies and contemplating my own lack thereof as an adult.  I run, I do yoga, I try to practice centering prayer, and I keep this blog, but I guess there’s something I feel like I’m missing when it comes to either practicing an art, making things for others with my own two hands, or finding a passion that connects me to the environment.

On the flip side, I realize that I love what I do: I love doing fieldwork, and doing ministry, and these in many ways are my passions.  I find myself devouring literature on Chinese culture and psychology in my free time, and I genuinely enjoy praying and having spiritual conversations with people.

And yet, I’m thinking that’s not quite enough.  I not only want to have interests apart from my work, but I also realize as I get older and I become more aware that life is short, I’m searching for activities that stretch me intellectually, physically, and spiritually–relaxation and entertainment must be more than magazines, tv, and blog-reading (although I certainly enjoy all of those).  Paradoxically, I’m also longing to return to some of the activities that brought me so much joy as a child: making music, dancing and gymnastics, map-making, drawing, painting, creating, gardening, exploring, and of course, imagining.

My dear friend Jessie and I hiking in upstate NY.

Today I told my husband that I used to love to play in woodwind quintets, and I also loved to make cards for friends and family.  Perhaps these are some hobbies I’ll be able to take up when I get back to the states.  I’d love to move to a place with great mountains where I could hike: I love the feeling of slight soreness at the end of a great day of exploring and exercising.

What did you love to do as a child?  What skill would you want to learn if you had all the time, money, and energy in the world?  And what hobbies do you have today?

Has anyone read this book on creativity?  Sounds interesting.

Happy Weekending.

This Saturday morning brought rainstorms to our parts, and it was cheery and lovely sitting by the window, enjoying coffee, and reading as the rain came down.

I’m leaving on a jet plane Sunday morning to visit foster care projects in some other provinces, so after a quick trip to the market, I got to packing the essentials: Starbucks instant coffee, granola bars, plenty of walnuts and raisins for snacking, hand sanitizer, meds, and tissues.  You never know what China will throw at you, and I like to be prepared!

I picked up some imported beer to go with my husband’s chicken tacos tonight.  He’s in love with a hand-powered “food processor” we picked up for under $15 US from the local Walmart.  Makes his culinary adventures less time-consuming, for sure.  Ah, life’s simple pleasures!

We watched Moneyball the other night, and I wondered why I’d waited so long.  At one point in my childhood, I was so obsessed with baseball that I used to take baths just so I could listen to the games on the radio.  Naturally, I’ve always loved baseball movies, and this one was good, too.  Hoping I can convince the husband to watch Midnight in Paris with me tonight.

What are you up to this weekend?  Catching up on movies you missed at the box office?  I’ll be traveling for the next two weeks or so, the first without the computer, so blogging will be a bit spare.  Hope you find time to take a nice spring break yourself, and ‘see you’ when I get back!

—Erin

Playing tourists in Nanning

The whole adage about putting things in writing or sharing your goals with others (and/or the universe) making it easier to accomplish them is apparently wonderfully true (so thanks, readers!).  Just a week ago I issued my China Bucket list, and we’ve already struck one (albeit) small, local item off the list: Visit Nanning’s Green Mountain Park.

Because of the Qingming holiday, the park was relatively empty, and the weather was perfect.  Unfortunately that made we, who were only playing tourists for the day, one of the main attractions, as people excitedly pointed and yelled, “foreigner,” as we walked by.  Oh well, their curiosity comes with the territory.

I think my husband’s fabulous photos certainly do the park, and the views from it, justice.  The highlight, by far, was the 360-view from the pagoda, of the Yong River winding its way through Nanning.  From the top we could see new stadiums and buildings being constructed on one side of the river, and old, traditional brick homes on the other, as well as the skyscrapers of Nanning proper in the distance.  Quite the view!

Some Easter thoughts from China

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’  When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’  So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.  –Mark 16:1-8

Easter is generally quite quiet and unassuming in China.  I’ll be up on Easter morning, right around sunrise, getting into a taxi to head to the airport to travel to several provinces and visit foster care projects.  Often the rhythm of my life here in China couldn’t be more different from my previous experiences helping to pastor during the bustle of Holy Week, and I’m left to wonder what Easter means in a foreign land.

But then again, that early morning was no doubt a strange, foreign experience for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome as they ventured out in the early sunlight to anoint their messiah.  For some reason as my friend and I read through this scripture the other morning, my mind was drawn to their preoccupations over, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  I think about how they must have felt, powerless and hopeless as they walked to the tomb, knowing not even how to move the stone when they arrived.

A week or so ago when we traveled into the countryside to visit foster families, a friend of mine and I got to talking about what we do in America versus what they do in China when someone dies.  It was difficult to explain to her the sterilized world of funeral parlors, embalming, and even cremation.

“I was the one who helped prepare and clean my grandmother’s body before she was buried,” she stammered.  Chinese people are particularly fearful of the dead and of evil spirits, but it perplexed my friend that anyone other than the family would attend to such an intimate practice as preparing a loved one for life in the spirit world.  “I wasn’t afraid, I didn’t even cry,” she remarked proudly.

I think about how the women, despite their own fears and misgivings, not even knowing how to move the stone, went to the tomb anyway.  And I think of how when they arrived the angel told them plainly that their Jesus has been raised, and was going before them to Galilee.

And I think of how difficult it really is to trust that God is going ahead of us.

A woman honors her ancestors during the tomb sweeping festival in China. Photo from The Telegraph.

Another one of my friends talked through her tears earlier this week about tomb sweeping traditions in China where one prays to the ancestors and conflicts between these and her Christian faith.  Many extreme voices from the Christian foreign and local communities, not unlike those centuries before them, stress that believers today need to take a stand against these traditions and their families, and refuse to participate.

But my friend, in her deep faith and wisdom, knows there must be another way.  So she will make the trip home today to her family, to sweep the graves and honor her ancestors and her very much living family, and carry the promise of the resurrection in her heart.  And rather than risking that the promise of grace become confused with rejection, anger, and bitterness, she will wait and pray, and when the time is right, she will share the way in which her faith makes her life full and complete and meaningful with her loved ones.

I pray that she will trust that God is indeed going before her this weekend.  It seems to me that not just my friend or Chinese Christians or the women who brought spices, but all of us wonder and worry who will roll the stone away from the tomb for us.  We all struggle to trust that God has truly gone ahead of us and died for us and been raised, and that no mistake on our part, not even the terror or the muteness that supposedly plagued the women that fateful morning can change that.  The promise has been–and is fulfilled, in the resurrection of our Lord.

That is why we proclaim, Jesus is risen, He is risen indeed, from wherever we find ourselves this Sunday, from the tombs of the Chinese countryside to the sanctuaries of the United States.  And we give thanks that God has done what God promised, and that we, the weak, afraid, mute, and hopeless, are the recipients of such grace that flowed out from that empty tomb on a quiet morning in another land years ago.

P.s.  If you’re looking for more Easter reflection, Rachel Held Evans is doing a wonderful series on Women of the Passion on her blog.

Advocates and Affirmations

You is kind, you is smart, you is important.

My husband and I watched The Help about a few months late, and the other evening, nearly every time these words came out of Aibileen’s mouth I got a little choked up.

You see, foster parents in China aren’t unlike black maids in Mississippi in that they care for children who are not their own, and they are often scrutinized by others as inferior parents because of their lack of education and their poor economic status.

Foster parents in China aren’t perfect: oftentimes they don’t necessarily (initially) see the value in these children who have been cast off by their parents or who present with a number of handicaps.  Chinese foster parents are often quick to point out children’s faults rather than their strengths.  They don’t necessarily use words the way we might expect to encourage these children.

An old man and a young boy at Nanhu Lake.

But if there are a couple things I have learned through visiting with these parents and studying the care they give to children, they are that love transcends economic status, education or age, and that foster parents who love their foster children become advocates who change these children’s lives.  

Much like Aibilene, these parents begin to focus not on a child’s disabilities, but on his or her abilities, and when I walk into their homes, they proudly state how children with cerebral palsy who could not walk in the orphanage can now run, jump, and play.  Parents of children with disabilities begin to go to the orphanage and try to move surgery along, or lobby for a therapist to come and teach them how to give their child therapy.  And it is these actions, along with their bold hopes for their children, that express a wisdom and a faith far deeper than anyone in society might expect of them.

Sometimes the future for abandoned and disabled children in China is quite bleak.  These foster parents may not use words like the so touching and sincere ones above to encourage their children and to let them know they are loved, but their advocacy is an affirmation (of their children) that certainly speaks volumes.

Spring fever

I think I must have spring fever, but not the kind that makes you long for warm winds and buds a bloomin,’ but rather the type that’s seeing the beauty of the world through rosy-colored glasses these days and drinking it all in.

I think God deserves some credit though, usually does, right?  

You see just a couple weeks ago when I had some wavering confidence in my language abilities, when I couldn’t seem to put thoughts into words, I thought the situation was hopeless.  Lately, however, it seems like my mind has become a sponge, soaking up new words, concepts, and patterns.  I feel rejuvenated in this whole language-learning process, and the woman who wrote that article about me did me a solid in even making me sound articulate!

As I get older, I feel less wise, more subject to my own fossilized patterns of doubt and weakness, but also more willing to throw them to the wind and rest on God.  Yesterday afternoon I ran twice as far as I ever had around Nanhu Lake, and I felt on top of the world.  I returned home to my husband in the kitchen, whipping up scallion pancakes, cucumber salad, pork and eggplant, broccoli, and kumquat tea–determined to make the most of this opportunity to cook Chinese with abundant ingredients!

I was reading last night about willpower and how we actually have more than we tend to believe, but we beat ourselves up about our failures, forgetting to forgive first, so we can move on.

Around South lake, Nanning. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Easter is just around the corner, spring has sprung, and rebirth is the name of the game.  Catch the fever and embrace today, challenge yourself, appreciate the world around you, and give God a chance to make good on God’s promises.