Monthly Archives: July 2016

We bought an old house…and some Sunday links

We’ve spent the weekend moving into our new (but I really should say old) house!

Here it is and it’s older than the constitution!

13781998_10208673739552993_1741288733960972986_n
My husband and I in front of our new house.

The house was built circa 1785 and is part of this teeny crossroads historic town in the NJ countryside.  It’s been a huge ordeal just getting here as the move-in date was pushed back months and months due to repairs and negotiations.  Despite it being built so long ago, from all accounts it’s actually in great shape.  I can’t decide if it’s the best decision we’ve ever made or if we’re bats**t crazy, but a friend who knows us well and is pretty truthful grinned when I said that and replied, probably a little bit of both!

The best news is that Lucia really seems to love her big, light-filled room, there’s views of a gorgeous, historic church across the street, and I’ve already seen tons of butterflies, birds, and bunnies out here.  We’ve been really thankful not to be in a flood zone this weekend and for all the help from friends with meals and unpacking.  Can’t wait to get out and explore the area when things dry and would love to hear all your favorite links for home knick knacks and furniture!

But we’re settling in on this torrential downpour of a weekend, and with internet and a morning off from church, I thought I’d post some links, too.  Hope you’re staying dry and hanging in!

God can see in the dark!  Love this little reflection on one of my favorite psalms.

The story behind Michelle Obama’s DNC dress.

This cartoon by a man on becoming a father of a child with special needs was really powerful.

“Could Women Be Trusted with Their Own Pregnancy Tests?” The surprising history of the drug store variety!

23 Maps that explain how Democrats went from the party of racism to the party of Obama

I’m so excited for the Olympics, especially the gymnastics, but I couldn’t agree more with this blogger!

An issue that’s very important to me, and it’s vital that we recognize we’re not hearing much of the truth these days.

Ex-pat parenting in Jordan: I love this series!

My aunt who lives in Plymouth took it very seriously to teach me the ropes at young age; Still yearning to eat a lobster before the summer is over!

What are you up to in August?

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Your Thursday morning inspiration

“The only means of strengthening the intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing–to let the mind be a thoroughfare for thought.”  -John Keats, 1819

My husband and I don’t really understand the hullabaloo around the RNC and the DNC.  As he snarkily commented, “Are these the same people who enjoyed pep rallies in high school?”  I love that people are getting excited about something, especially when the world has been so dark as of late, when our problems seem so immense.

But to me, it’s mostly just rhetoric.  Is that maybe all it is?

Even when I listen to inspiring words from the likes of Cory Booker and Michelle Obama (and as a preacher love her line about “when they go low, we go high,” and Booker’s reprise of “we will rise”), I can’t help but think that they’re merely performing the words of another (exceptionally and with permission, of course).  I worry that if all America has at this point in time are great words written by great speech writers, we might just be papering over our problems and our misunderstandings of our differences with lofty lines and grand gestures, feeling so surprised when they return and rear their ugly heads.

Our country seems caught in this wild rhetoric of hyperbole that I’ve never been the least bit comfortable with.  If one candidate says that we’re making “America great again,” the other outwits him by saying “America is already great,” if another suggests we ostracize Muslims and foreigners, another purports to invite them to join us (which is not all that much better).  It becomes a war of words and all the important nuances, perhaps the real things that make America who she is and potentially really great, get lost and buried in the crossfire.

Our responses to all this are not much better: we either seem to rally around the least offensive rhetoric or cry cynicism because the politics is truly so off-putting.  But cynicism really is the height of laziness because it’s fully dependent, accusatory, and glib (and most definitely not an agent for change), and vapid enthusiasm isn’t much better, because it doesn’t teach us anything about who we really are, it doesn’t heal wounds, it doesn’t create solutions.

corqkmnvuacjtir
Michelle Obama speaking before the DNC 2016.

So where’s the inspiration this morning?  Well, I think it begins with us.  

As I’ve been hearing all these great words these past few weeks, I’ve been thinking, let us not wait for someone to inspire us, America, because what we need is less of politics and more of real life.  Let us do the inspiring by telling our everyday stories to one another, by sharing our problems, our triumphs, our solutions.

A few nights ago I had to run out to Walmart to grab a few things.  I actually love going to Walmart because whatever your politics, it is one of the most diverse places around here.  I hate going to Walmart though because it always takes so damn long.  But I noticed something on that extra warm evening–people who didn’t look anything like each other, who don’t speak each other’s languages, and who come from very different cultural backgrounds, were going out of their way to be kind to one another.  The young black guy behind the counter, so deferential to the Spanish-speaking family in front of me, the woman with the headscarf behind me, and to me, the young white woman.  The lines were jammed up against the registers but people were patient; I watched a couple young black men let an Indian family with a full cart go in front of them in line.

I thought to myself, not bad, New Jersey, not bad.

This kind of stuff that we do everyday in America goes unnoticed but it needs to be celebrated.  It’s not going to make the papers, it’s not going to make the speeches, but it’s inspiring and it’s life well lived.  By sharing such a simple story, I don’t mean to paper over the real differences and the real problems in our country either–but I guess when I think in terms of inspiration, I’d rather find something concrete that I see in front of me, in my backyard, that’s real and right and true.  I’d rather take my cues from the diverse group of students in my classroom that cultivate meaningful but respectful conversation everyday as points of inspiration rather than the words of a few.  I’d rather think critically with folks in my congregation about how to build community rather than watch someone else pontificate about who or what America is or will be.

I guess my plea for inspiration this morning is for us to take heart and hold of the good things around us that often go unnoticed–to report them to somebody and to someone, and to talk together, to begin to share and pave real community solutions where rhetoric may fall short.  I’m not saying that we can’t watch the RNC or the DNC and we can’t have passion for the candidates that inspire us, but I guess I’m saying that I think, we the people, need to do the real work of inspiring.  

And if we look around, even in the most seemingly ordinary places, we just might find it.

Learning to hope again

“For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  –Romans 8:24-25

A few months ago I began prepping a sermon on Romans 8, focusing on the two verses that come after these ones.  In fact, the part that comes next, about how “when we do not know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), is one of my favorite passages in the Bible.  I love silent prayer and contemplation, and so I began scribbling down all sorts of ideas as I was brainstorming to preach.  I don’t even remember what I wrote down at the time, but one of the ideas was something like, “God dares us to hope again after loss, pain, and fear.”

I put my notebook away, and I went onto write the sermon a day or so later, preach it, and presumably move on.

But still, that message about hope was calling me.  

In fact, months later, I’m still thinking about it.  What that passage and my reflections on hope began to reveal to me is that faithfulness in this season of life, especially with Lucia, has often involved letting go of our expectations in order to love her as she is and celebrate her life.  This has been such a good and Godly way of learning to love, and especially when we’ve often stood in the balance of not knowing when the next crisis will strike or when we may need to let go, it’s been a powerful and fruitful way to live.

12087664_10206623950509548_3190404093913982364_o
Holding Lucia on her first birthday.  Photo by Andrew Nurkin.

But I also realize now that as we’d let go of expectations and fully embraced the uncertainty of our lives together, we’d not been particularly welcome or wont to hope.

Indeed, a few months ago, another parent said something casual to me like, “I’m just so looking forward to when she can do X…”  Yet another chirped, “Don’t you just look forward to each stage?”  The statements were remarkable because I realized, not mournfully or proudly, but simply and practically, that I certainly didn’t have the same hopes for Lucia.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t have hopes.

Something has shifted over the past few months for me.  Perhaps it’s because Lucia’s joy–her smiles, her giggles, are so contagious that we can’t help but want for more.  Perhaps it is because we’ve begun to realize that there’s a certain faithfulness (where perhaps we once thought it mere naiveté or denial) to believing and looking forward and wanting more for your child even when the future (gosh, everyone’s future!) is always uncertain.  “Who hopes for what is seen?” Paul asks, and it dawns on me that all hope is outrageous and audacious and almost senseless.  It dawns on me that true hope, hope despite fear, loss, and pain, is the most outrageous of them all, but deeply, wildly, and decidedly faithful.

What’s striking to me in this season is that even as Lucia’s daily health challenges continue, I think God is inviting us to dream a bit, to hope a lot, to envision a great and glorious and good life, even if it’s completely uncertain, for our daughter with special needs.

This is a huge shift for me…and it’s a little scary.  

And it’s not the sermon I preached that Sunday.  In fact, to this day, I don’t know how God did that–helped me write a sermon for others even as God prepared a sermon just for me.  And I am wary, as I always am, too pensive and critical, because hope for many often takes the shape of bi-ped hubris, therapeutic progress, or medical cures for Lucia, and I feel distinctly called to inhabit this tension of living and loving her now, and yet loving and hoping for her tomorrow, too.

So I find hope in the home we are making for Lucia, in the thought of her making friends at school someday, touching so many lives as she does ours everyday, teaching others, reaching out for babies and friends and strangers, and having many more swims and smiles and heroic turns of her head toward the things and the people that she wants and cares for!  These are my small, perhaps tentative, but genuine, prayerful, and faithful hopes for my daughter.

13715995_10154273846581153_6700606005512383907_n
Our little light looking for the light on a recent walk around the neighborhood.  My photo.

We will always savor the present, but we find new hope in the future with God’s help.

 

 

Join Our Special Needs Hackathon

The world is not set up for children (or adults for that matter) with special needs so every day can be a challenge.  What I’ve observed during my time in China working with families with kids with special needs and here in the US is that lack causes families to get really creative and innovative.  Perhaps not surprisingly, families with children with special needs don’t allow themselves to be stymied by an ableist society, lack of equipment or access to it, or most especially, the differences of their children–rather, they often work within society’s limitations to find the best ways to meet their children’s needs.

So, I want to highlight that ingenuity, tapping into our common wisdom, rather than just bemoaning our critical challenges.

In this post, my goal is to start a chain of communication where families with children with special needs can share cool “life hacks” with one another and find solutions to their everyday challenges.  I’ll start by sharing one of the things that we’ve discovered that works really well for Lucia, our daughter with a genetic syndrome of the brain, who feeds through a g-tube, and has a combination of high and low tone.  Then, I’ll post a question in an area where I need help.  What I’m hoping is that someone out there can answer my question, either on their blog, or on social media, and share their “life hack” and pose their own question, and so we can keep sharing!  Feel free to use the hashtag #specialneedshackathon so we can connect up all the posts.

So here’s the format: 1) Answer a question (on your blog or social media) by sharing a life hack that’s worked for your family or or your child with special needs; 2) Pose a question you need help with; 3) Use the hashtag #specialneedshackathon!

Of course everyone’s children’s special needs will be different, but my hope is that we can begin this important conversation, focusing on our strengths and our creativity, and building our community, rather than perhaps having to reinvent the wheel!  If you know of other efforts to share solutions like these, please point me that direction, as well.

So now for our life hack!  We always share with other parents that we stumbled into a great solution in that very early on we could tell that a regular stroller wasn’t going to give Lucia the trunk, torso, and head support that she needed to sit well and enjoy the world.  When she was about 14 months, we had her in an umbrella stroller and were visiting the Abilities Expo in Edison, New Jersey.  Our friends had a Special Tomato chair for their son who has CP and we were eager to try one out!  My husband asked if the size one soft-sitter would fit into the umbrella stroller and though the personnel didn’t know, they were eager for us to try.  Well, lo and behold, you can strap the size one chair onto an umbrella stroller and it fits all snug, almost as if it was made to go in there!

13726848_10154269066946153_2583083715291477757_n
Here’s Lucia in her special tomato chair strapped to her umbrella stroller!  Photo by Erin Raffety

Of course, you can probably fit the chair into many strollers, but for us, attaching it to an umbrella stroller has meant more easy mobility for our family and a lightweight, cheap solution, as the chair alone can be quite expensive.  Special Tomato also sells their own strollers but this seemed like a good solution, given that she will be growing out of it in no time!

And now for my question: as Lucia grows out of a traditional changing table (she’s 2 and 1/2 and around 24 1bs and 31 in), I’m wondering what other parents of older kids with special needs who still use diapers do for a changing solution?  We’re moving into a new house so we’re interested in finding something that is more long-term, comfortable for her, and doesn’t cause our backs to ache every time we go to change her!  Any special needs life hacks out there???

Virtual coffee date

522269_4283756904243_358526754_n
Main gates at Princeton University. All photos by Evan Schneider.

If we were having coffee today, I’d tell you that it’s been a thrilling week teaching in the Freshman Scholars Institute program at Princeton, talking with my new students (about Plato, Freire, Hitchcock, and Du Bois), and also hearing some of their stories and their passions.  When I sat with them on Sunday evening during dinner, I noticed that while they were saddened by the violence in their country, they were not defeated by it–their hope for the future is inspiring.

I’d tell you how challenging I think it may be for me to keep a handle on my writing projects and professional goals with this busy summer semester course.  A month ago at the Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop Institute at Princeton Theological Seminary, several workshop presenters talked about the efficacy of collaborative writing partnerships.  In one pair, two academics set quarterly writing goals and checked in with each other on writing schedules once a week, also exchanging work, and talking about writing over a weekly call.  I’m striving to set and keep writing goals myself and considering such a partnership as one possibility.

How do you keep your writing goals?  What are your best tips? Would love to hear from you!

Finally, I’d talk to you about all the excitement and anticipation my family and I have about moving into a new house in the coming weeks.  As you know, we’ve been living in other people’s apartments, and God’s been providing for us so effortlessly, but at this last stage, I feel the anxiety creeping over me.  It’s been easier, I think, to be faithful with little, and I struggle with the grandeur and responsibility of moving into a bigger place.  Also moving is just the worst, and the thought of that upheaval leaves me weak.

12122949_10206623955469672_735266850617710979_n
Unconventional view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

But I’m going to do my best to continue with my summer strokes, taking in all the blessing along with the challenges, finding beauty and promise and goodness in each stage of life.

What about you?  What’s on your mind these days?

 

How to embrace summer strokes

There is this thing we do, especially over in academia, but also in life, where we presume that complicated, busy, and grandiose is better.

Especially in my professional corner of the world, people often speak in belabored language and write long-winded sentences, and it’s all emperors new clothes until we realize that nobody can actually understand what we’re saying, no matter how profound it may be.

In my personal life, that version of over-complicated also takes the form of swimming upstream, presuming that every moment needs to be set to a purpose, and that things like pause and sabbath, leisurely strolls, or even hearty laughs defy the Protestant ethic in a decidedly unfaithful way.  

But surely that’s not what God intended for us…especially in the summer!

I have to admit that I once looked at offices that recognized summer hours–leaving early on Fridays–as flat out lazy.  Sure, summers are afforded teachers for restoration given the demands of the academic year, but I always felt a little guilty about that, too.  Indeed, for professors, summers are not breaks or vacations, but our best research and writing is supposed to be scrunched into these three hot summer months.

156544_4157654031750_707857148_n
Summer on the D&R canal.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

But I’m starting to see the wisdom in simple, summer strokes, going with the flow, and finding a rhythm in this slower season of life that embraces restoration, intention, and the sacred pause.

When my writing time was cut in half these past few weeks because of nursing vacancies, I initially panicked, but as I let my pen wander between lofty goals of articles and future plans, ordinary blog posts like these, and my book project, somehow my productivity multiplied.  Somehow in the slower strokes of summer, the steady motions of my pen, however pedantic, became productive.

I’ve taken walks these past few weeks just to take walks.  I’ve read books just because they’re fun or because they speak to a deep but unexplored interest.  And I’m still plotting a spur of the moment (is that completely paradoxical?) trip to the beach, just me and Lucia, before the summer ends.

The less I’ve tried to fight this slower pace, the more meaningful it has become.  

And slow spirituality?  Oh yes.  

At church this past Sunday, when I had all the reason to worry about which word needed to be preached to our desperate and hurting world, the kids on our mission trip, coming off their retreat from their own realities and their own summer strokes, were spouting this wisdom about not necessarily getting to see a job completed but doing your part, or loving the person in front of you.  And that was precisely the word that God had prepared.

The second we start to believe that God can’t do anything with ordinary lives is the second we’ve lost faith in the extraordinary God we serve.  But the moment we start to trust in the slow, deep work of God, when we trust in the abundance of God’s divine work in the world, when we go with the flow, if you will, all those seemingly singular actions, persons, and moments start to add up.  We start to see them as not incidental or momentary or fleeting, but the real stuff of life and faith.  What if we treated sabbaths not as the mere moments between what we really matters, but as life-giving rhythms for our ordinary lives?

I know summer can’t last forever, but I’m aching to hold onto its cadence as long as possible.

The benediction this Sunday, reprinted below, came from Paul’s letter to the Romans, paraphrased.  May your “ordinary, sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life” slow down just a bit this week to encounter and embrace God’s extraordinary brush strokes upon it:

So here’s what I want you to do as God helps you.  Take your everyday, ordinary life–Your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life–and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God.  Amen.

Lament for a gun-spangled America

On Sunday morning, I preached a sermon on 2 Corinthians 4, in which I struggled to find a modern metaphor for clay jars, Paul’s metaphor for the wild inappropriateness of our weak, fragile broken bodies as vessels for the gospel.  

On Monday, July 4, 2016, America celebrated its independence day.

On Tuesday, two police officers fatally shot Alton B. Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On Wednesday evening, a police officer fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Last night, five police officers were killed by snipers during an otherwise peaceful protest held in downtown Dallas.

This morning, practically paralyzed by the events of this week, grief stricken and broken hearted, I wrote this lament to our gun-spangled America.

936ea5a0ff3d9a7cf44685345ded8a6c
Photo Credit.

**********

I woke up this morning, and like so many wondered naively, will things be different?  Will things be different on a morning where birds chirp, where it seems possible to be hopeful, the heavy, oppressive heat yet to descend upon us?

Who are you, this shadowy America, and what have you done with the free and the brave?

How heavy your burden of history and violence and oppression, how heavy the present fear and death you inflict upon black men and black women, America.

How heavy that fear descends upon law enforcement, for even their guns will not free them from this madness!

And it seems we have no choice–to put down our guns is surrender, but to leave them raised is death.  We have all become perpetrators.  We have all become victims.

And so I scoffed bitterly, I want no part in your gun-spangled America, in the weapons you wave that display not freedom or strength but cowardice and fear!

These guns, these guns are illusions, nay, allusions to protect, to intimidate the very fight out of war, yet with each gunshot we’ve slowly come to the realization that America is at war with itself.  That what seems unfathomable because of our modernity, our civilization, has come not in spite but because of it.  We fail to accept our common mortality, our common humanity, and so we wage war upon our brothers and sisters in a paradoxical desire to protect our own.

But we live with death at work within us (2 Cor 4:12), so painfully and palpably now, we are bearers of not only the body of the death of Jesus martyred by the state (2 Cor 4:10), but 566 people killed by the U.S. police in 201653 American officers killed in the line of duty in 2016, and now overall 7088 gun related deaths in the U.S. in 2016.  

Scripture tells us that we carry that death so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:11), but with death among us and America’s shadows, I worry that the resurrection is only for another world.  We find hope in resurrection because it’s a respite from our self-inflicted madness; our world crowds out light and peace and resurrection–our gun-spangled America–and I want no part in that.

And yet, I must wake to this world, because my own blood-stained hands have helped form it.

I must be one to put down my gun–not just a literal gun–but my very real fears and prejudices and selfishness and insults and division that I had once thought might keep me safe.  I must be one to carry death inside, but to also live with defiance when life itself has been marred.  I must be one to show my face, to preach the kingdom of God in this inconvenient moment and in this wounded nation.  I must be one to cry out for the fragility and the brokenness of our human condition, but also the deep meaning in lives lost, to cleave to something beyond the madness–so that gun-spangled madness won’t be what life in America is all about.

Who are we, shadowy America, and what have we done with the free and the brave?

Who are we, both perpetrators and victims of madness?

Who are we, children of God?

 

 

Speak your truth (the whole truth), America

486166_4450241426252_1341685246_n
Plymouth, MA.  All photos by Evan Schneider.

Last night, after yet another independence day celebration, yet another weekend of flags, festivities, and fireworks, I read a rather apologetic post from one of the new co-moderators of the PUCSA.  In it, she writes that although she doesn’t want to be a “Debbie Downer,” on the fourth of July, she is also painfully aware of the transgressions of our nation, especially with regards to slavery and civil rights, and our present problems like gun violence, torture, pollution, and racism.  She writes that while she will celebrate, she recognizes that others will grieve.

But I say, don’t apologize, Rev. Edmiston, for speaking your truth.  

We need voices of dissent in this country, even as we have those who cry out (and I would remark unapologetically, as well as uncritically) to “make America great again.”  We need  a fuller appreciation of our tattered history to find a more purposeful present.  In our zeal for patriotism, we often forget that our founders, flawed as they were, were hearty dissenters!

484622_4450242826287_739203129_n
Plymouth Rock.  

Why is it that we in America today are so afraid of the dissenters?  Why, despite years of good and bad, do we espouse to have all the answers?  Don’t we know that what makes America great is insight and innovation, change and adaptation, that can only come with critical reflection upon our very mistakes?

My truth this morning is that love is not enough.  We need justice.  We need change.

We need change because it’s not just in Medina and Baghdad and Dhaka and Istanbul but everyday, sometimes twice a day, that gun violence on American soil intervenes to take the lives of young men, mothers, and children.

We need justice because faith has been compromised; justice would choose a fast that breaks the chains of poverty, discrimination, and sexism, chains that we often prefer not to see even in our very history of liberation and our present struggle.

We need truth, because real truth, the ugly, full, challenging, meaningful, both star striped and tattered truth, does and can set us free.  Dissenters are part and parcel of that truth.

What is your truth to speak, America?  How will you go on, despite, in spite, to fight injustice?

74266_4450243906314_1518371871_n
Native American protest at the Massasoit Indian Statue up the hill from Plymouth Rock on Thanksgiving Day, 2012.

In the words of the poet, Langston Hughes,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!