Monthly Archives: February 2013

When God dreams

I shut my eyes a week ago now during a moment of mediation.

Talking with foster parents in Hubei, China.  In addition to this foster baby, this sweet couple had twins who were napping when we visited, and of course we loved gabbing about how I'm a twin, too!
Talking with foster parents in Hubei, China. In addition to this foster baby, this sweet couple had twins who were napping when we visited, and of course we loved gabbing about how I’m a twin, too!  Photo by Jason Fouts.

And I was so instantly and effortlessly transported to China with this bird’s eye view of the people, the places, the sights, and the smells to which I’d come to feel a part of and find so comforting and familiar.  I was filled with such deep gratitude for how God sets us out upon journeys we hadn’t even begun to dream of.

Guangxi countryside.  I took this one from the train!
Guangxi countryside. I took this one from the train!
More visiting with foster parents and kids in Hubei.  Photo by Jason Fouts.
More visiting with foster parents and kids in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.

But as I mediated on how the damp dark insides of humble homes aside foster moms had become places of warmth and connection, I wondered where it is that I truly belong.  When I glimpse photos such as these they tug so deeply at my heart strings, because I remember each family as if it were yesterday– the words we spoke, the disabilities their children face, the worn wrinkles of their kind eyes and hands and faces.

Several months ago, freshly displaced from China, these thoughts would have also driven fear into my heart with their ability to force doubt into the pathways that seem so clear and foreordained.  But I’m learning that faithfulness to God is rejoicing in these pangs of connection and communion, thanking God for the gifts of life in China, and thanking God for the journeys that only God’s yet begun to dream of.

20130218_072257

I forget that China wasn’t always so comforting, that in the midst of connection and communion, I lived with great uncertainty in China, too.  This is how I’m learning to rejoice in the midst of challenges, because I’m looking around and I can see God’s hand so clearly in those valleys in China, and I strive to believe it’s here, too.  And so the other evening as a few colleagues permitted me to make the analogy, I began to realize that dissertation-writing is an act of faith, too: we may not know where we’re going but we’re trusting that the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, are all building toward something.

Once again I’m humbled by the thought that I don’t belong to just one place or one people or one vocation.  I belong to God.  And my faith isn’t just about serving God in China, but writing this dissertation bit by bit, teaching a class with service in mind, and lingering in the belonging that these moments yield.  I guess as I’m getting older, I’m getting more comfortable with the fact that there isn’t one clear path, I’m getting more comfortable in journeying rather than fixing my eyes on destinations, but mostly God is teaching me that I can be confident in the little that I do know, because that’s enough.  

20130214_072102

It’s enough to be a follower and to follow God with great faith.  

In fact, that may be the only thing that matters in life, and while it’s often terrifying, it’s also thrilling.

120409_4330
Saying goodbye to families in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.
Advertisements

Deeply Needy, Deeply Grateful

16584_4617293002437_1398877609_n
Sun setting over university campus. Photo by Evan Schneider.

At our church’s Ash Wednesday service last night, we were encouraged to meditate on our need for God and the journey of Lent by passing through five interactive stations in which received ashes, remembered our baptism, were anointed with oil, burned away oppression, and lit candles to represent God’s light along the way.  Often when I close my eyes and practice meditation, I’m sensitive to the sounds around me or other voices.  I have trouble accepting rather than getting frustrated by my own thoughts, because I forget that meditation isn’t about perfection or getting it right, but simply being with God.

But last night as the music filtered through the air and voices trickled in, it felt good and right to be in a community of great need and vulnerability.  I sat in awe of a moment so sacred from the rest of our busy lives because people were faithfully voicing their needs for prayer, healing, and connection aloud and laying their needs bare.

Over the past few weeks my attention has been drawn simply but persistently to my own need for God.  And yet, when I start to feel afraid or insecure, I think I need competence, credentials, and success.  What I really need, of course, like the Israelites wandering around in the desert, the disciples and other believers facing uncertainty in the form of the cross, and this broken world, is God.  I don’t actually need all my plans, lofty goals, or even productivity, but I very much need God.

Red Sea
My husband and I on the banks of the Red Sea. Photo by Benjamin Robinson.

Last night I knew this impetus to focus on my great need from Lent was a word from God, because I felt so deeply grateful.  I felt grateful to hear those needs voiced aloud, and to see us offering prayer and healing for one another, because our needs have the power to draw us together.  When we cover them up and try to be gods ourselves, we find we have no companions for this very human journey, and we lead one another away rather than to God.

I feel grateful to serve a God that supplies my need.  I can, and I hope I will, especially during Lent, let the tasks and the doubts and the playing god fall to God, so that my need for God will be what marks this holy season in the wilderness.

Virtual Coffee Date

South Lake Park
A weekend stroll in South Lake Park, Nanning.  All photos by Evan Schneider.

If we were having coffee this morning, I would tell you that we’re entering the fourth week of my course at the seminary, and it’s already been such an incredibly rewarding, exciting experience.  The most fulfilling part is that I don’t feel like I have to sell the students on the fact that culture, family, and ministry go together.  They believe that twenty-first century ministry is all about embracing and negotiating difference, and they’ve been so affirming over email, coffee, and in person that this is a course that they need: praise God!

I would also admit that when it comes to my dissertation, I’ve been working hard, but it feels like the writing is being cobbled together, and all the cracks are showing.  I’m trying to be brave and believe that even in academia, we can let some of these cracks show, learn from one another, and find grace in life’s seemingly most unyielding moments.  I’ll let you know how that one works out…

Souvenirs

It’s Chinese New Year in my other home these days, and despite the fireworks and the fanfares, for the foster families in Guangxi it’s often a difficult time of year as the weather turns wet, cold, and unrelenting.  A wise NGO worker I knew once pointed out that for children in orphanages this is the loneliest time of year, when they’re reminded they have no family to celebrate, no grandparents to travel home to.  I’m praying for protection and warmth and possibility for the foster families and healing, love, and peace for all the children.  Happy Year of the Snake!

As for me and God, we’re just hanging out.  No agendas, just me accepting and reveling in God’s unconditional love.

This week I realized that despite how wonderfully God is integrating my academic and my spiritual lives in this course at the seminary, in conversations with colleagues and professors, and even in my dissertation writing, I had become restless.  In my prayers, I was setting an agenda for the time I was carving out.  Instead of simply rejoicing with God, I’d moved on in my mind to what was next, to how this all could possibly be so neatly integrated in a future in which I’d be forced to choose between academia and ministry.

The temple rooftops in Kunming, Yunnan.
The temple rooftops in Kunming, Yunnan.

But it’s not my job, it’s never been my job, to hold all those pieces together…it’s God’s.

And I hear God saying firmly, let me do my job and just let me be with you.  (It’s a thrilling revelation by the way, when you realize the almighty God just wants to be with you!)  And when I let God pour God’s peace into me, filling me to the brim, I’m not only reminded that my plans and agendas are the stuff of this world, but also that God’s peace makes me a better pastor and professor.  It’s funny how God volunteers to carry our burdens but we’re the ones who keep snatching them away.

When I look back on God’s deft work in just one month of 2013 here, I am amazed at what God can do!  I’m amazed at how God led me to simple, integrating goals that were refusing agendas from the very first days of this year, and how those represent God’s hand and God’s promise to continue integrating all these different parts of my call in powerful ways.  I’m amazed at how whole I feel here in this place when months ago, just returning from China and listless, I wondered if that was even worth praying for.

It’s amazing how productive God can be if we just leave the agendas, the goals, and the making us whole thing to God.

Cracks are all there is.

I was thinking last night about how earnestly hard we work to prevent the cracks from showing when really, cracks are all there is.

The Bible is full of cracked people, of course.  And somehow we read it and we think we will be different–we think that with all our hindsight and modern wisdom in hand, maybe our cracks just won’t show.

Light streaming through the top of a mosque.  Cairo, Egypt.  All photos by Ben Robinson.
Light streaming through the top of a mosque. Cairo, Egypt. All photos by Ben Robinson.

A former college classmate (who I admire very much) who writes a witty blog on faith and culture recently dubbed 2013 her year of epic failure.  She doesn’t want to fail, of course.  I think she mostly wants to learn how not to be so afraid of it, to be controlled by fear that she might and will fail, and remain one of us–you know, one of those phony, better-than-Biblical characters.

The other afternoon I heard a minister of a growing, vibrant, multicultural church describe his job as a series of humiliations.  A couple weeks ago a person I had judged as highly successful and privileged told me the secrets to her success included some epic fails along the way.  And finally today I told some friends about how I used to be so chicken to try new skills in gymnastics but my twin sister was a dare devil.  She fell more, but she also flew higher.

Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo.
Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo.

It’s telling that these people who share their failures don’t come off as flimsy, irresponsible, or incapable to me.  In fact, I tend to respect them even more.  I find their humility a breath of fresh air in a world where perfection is worshipped and as a result, insecurity, fear, and disbelief are often held far too dear.

It may sound cheesy, but I think another thing I relish about seeing my own cracks and those of others for what they are is that a little bit of God tends to peek through them.  It shouldn’t be so surprising that God makes us both cracked and beautiful, and that God doesn’t abandon us in failure (and neither do those who truly love us), but it is.

Sunset over Cairo.
Sunset over Cairo.

That’s how grace always feels: brand new and fresh, even though it’s always been there.  And suddenly the cracks look pretty beautiful…if you’re asking me.