But as much as there is to share about what I’ve learned this year, there’s thanks in order to you, dear readers, for hanging in with me throughout all the feelings and frustrations and for your own listening ears, your caring, and your advocacy. Whether you’re a new reader, or you’ve been around for awhile, thank you for sharing our family’s struggle. I certainly hope you’ll let me know which posts continue to resonate with you, what you like best and what you like least about the blog, what you’ve learned in 2017 and what you’re looking forward to in 2018.
Here is a look back in hopes that these lessons learned from the year prior will carry us forward in making this world more just, more healthy, more good, and more compassionate:
If we were sitting together this morning having coffee I would tell you that life has lent its typical roller coaster as of late (seizure for Lucia- she’s doing great now, though; running over a deer carcass with my car for me-it still smells; no bus for Lucia’s first day back to summer school on Monday- a friend came to the rescue; nurse pulled out Lucia’s tube on Thursday morning-ugh; and we lost power on Thursday night during the storm-got it back early Friday morning)… and yet, as you see, with God’s help, we’re finding adventure in adversity and somehow holding it together!
Summer has been so full of unexpected joys–luxurious and productive staycation for us in June, thrilling aquatherapy sessions for Lucia covered by insurance and rides to and fro covered by Medicaid–even as it’s packed with challenges, too–I sent my book manuscript off to the editor in early June, have been teaching summer school at Princeton since July, and start a new job at the seminary in the fall. All this while the healthcare wars rage on Capitol Hill and we worry as Lucia’s care seems to hang in the balance.
If I seem distracted, unable to focus even in the midst of a sentence, it’s because I am.
But I’m trying to trust that (with the exception of maybe the healthcare battle, deer carcass, and tube being pulled out) there’s a real abundance, blessing, and excess in the way my cup is brimming over, inviting me to embrace this season in its chaotic fullness and to testify to what God’s doing with a life and a heart fittingly overflowing with joy.
So that’s what I’m trying to do (more on how that later), not living a life in response to what others are doing but a life that responds to what God is clearly doing, in a big way in my life, my family’s life, and in this world.
Still, if we were talking this morning, I’d look you in the eye and thank you but urge you to keep making those phone calls on behalf of people who are on Medicaid, who need assurance that health care will be there, not just for the healthy but for the sick, the poor, and the needy. I’ve put some links below that I’ve found helpful and important in wading through the excess of information out there. I did a podcast on Medicaid that I hope you’ll share with family and friends who want to understand its benefits and even as I still feel that families with people with disabilities face such an uphill battle in terms of understanding and coverage, I am thankful for all the support and hopeful that concerned citizens are making their voices heard.
I was reading Margaret Mead for one of my seminary courses yesterday: I sat there for like two full hours just reading and devouring–it was incredible, and this quote of hers that has been on my mind for weeks sprung to my attention. I leave it with you in hopes that you may believe that we can change the world, that God is with us even when we forget it, and that joy is abundant and ample and just as human as fear and defeat!
However, as we drove home from the hospital after a successful surgery with Lucia yesterday, I reflected that in so many ways this attitude of understanding our children’s lives as cause for celebration rather than burden is bolstered by the support systems we share. My husband and I are so thankful to live in a state that invests in Lucia’s care, to have insurance, that despite its shortcomings, generally covers all that she needs, and to have friends and family that love Lucia unconditionally, pray for her, and care for us!
It is difficult to imagine how we might view Lucia’s disability if with every medical intervention we had to also sweat the finances or insurance coverage or if we had to worry that someone caring for her didn’t have the proper resources or training. These are the very important supports that often go unstated in the words I write about Lucia, and this morning, I am thankful for them. I am also deeply prayerful that families who don’t have such support will find it in gracious lawmakers, caring social workers, more humane insurance policies, and more state programing for kids and families with special needs.
The pending election in this country may seem positively incongruous with this month in which we aim to practice gratitude by naming our blessings when so many, like the ones above, go unacknowledged. But this morning, I began to wonder what it might look like to practice a spirit of gratitude despite the strife and division in this country and the world.
How would our attitudes toward one another shift if we were to focus our attention on all that we in America have to be grateful for, what we are grateful for in the candidates we support, or what we are grateful for when it comes to the provisions of our country and state (rather than only so very critical of)? Thanksgiving invites us to pause and offer God the praise that God is due, and as we can see, this in and of itself, in an election season can be very powerful and countercultural! Could such thanksgiving invite us to more civility and less hate? Could it remind us of our common human needs, desires, and goodness? Could it point us back to God when our human ways are frail and flawed?
I realize, perhaps more personally than many this election season, how dire and in jeopardy such supports for people with disabilities are, and I do not discount these challenges, but I wonder if gratitude is still an appropriate way to reflect on the hardships in the midst of the blessings. After all, God has taught me so much about how to experience blessings despite the challenges as we’ve gotten know Lucia!
So this morning, I am thankful for…
The amazing nursing care provided through Medicaid in the state of New Jersey, for my daughter, Lucia, and the opportunity for her to attend a school come February that will meet her special needs.
Students at a historically black college who protested a KKK speaker in their auditorium and people protesting a pipeline that will disrupt Native American lands. Thankful for those who lift their voices, use their bodies, and engage in brave, peaceful protest for those in need in this country.
A democratic country with peaceful elections, robust debate, and freedom of speech.
All those who love Lucia so well, celebrating rather than mourning or pitying her life.
What are you thankful for this morning? What countercultural words do you have this election season? Feel free to link up with this post and write your own #thanksgivingforelectionseason.
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!
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!
This is one of my favorite posts to write, because it forces me to go through all the lessons of the previous year and cull together all that God has taught me and all that God is doing. 2014 was such an eventful year for me personally, with the birth of my daughter and the defense of my dissertation. Both of those have opened up some exciting conceptual space for me to dream and imagine my future vocation and God’s work in my life.
The other day I read a post from one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, entitled, “Creating a Lovely Morning.” In it, Leo Babauta talks about how he combines just a few tasks, something to look forward to, and mindfulness to create a lovely morning.
If you read my blog with any frequency, you’ll know that I’m a self-proclaimed morning person, like Babauta, and that I get such an inordinate pleasure out of greeting the day that I relish knowing I have the whole morning in front of me at five or five thirty am. Mornings have all the joy of possibility, confirmed by the beauty of morning light, the emptiness of the world, and the solace of the silence when the world has yet to wake.
Simply put, mornings are my sacred space.
Coming off of a relaxing vacation, however, I’ve been sort of lacking the energy to jump into action in the am. So, following Babauta’s lead, I’ve put some thought into what my lovely morning might entail in an effort to to reframe those early hours.
It’s been nearly two years since my husband and I moved back from living in South China (how time flies!), but there’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about the people, the place, or our life there. Moving to a foreign country as a young couple had its growing pains, but ultimately it brought us closer together and is an experience that we treasure and hope to repeat someday with our children.
I have some friends and acquaintances who are getting ready to make the move across the ocean or halfway around the world and it got me thinking about what lessons I can draw from our own experience. So, here are a few suggestions for how to make the most of that international living experience, which is definitely more of an art than a science.
Find Some Structure
It’s essential when you arrive to start building a community, through which you can learn about the culture, and among which you can begin to build relationships and feel at home. When I was doing my fieldwork in China, my network of informants was free-floating and dispersed, so it really helped that my husband was affiliated with a local university for his work, through which we met a mix of Chinese professors, students, and even expats. Finding a community–a housing complex, a company, a school, or a place of worship–that has some structure and rituals to it helps a lot when you’re struggling to learn the ins and outs of daily life in a brand new place and ensures that you won’t feel isolated despite the isolating experiences you’re often up against. Even setting up a weekly meeting with a language partner or a friend to explore the city can give you the motivation to get out there and get to know your new surroundings and help you feel more at home.
Speaking of isolation, a great piece of advice I received from a couple before moving abroad and back was to be mindful that despite your commonalities you won’t be experiencing a new culture in exactly the same way. It’s imperative that instead of assuming cross-cultural experiences resonate or rub against us in exactly the same way as family or friends that we allow for multiple feelings and interpretations of the same events and experiences. When I was living in China, I often assumed my husband to be my cultural confidant who shared my frustrations, joys, and complaints, but that wasn’t always the case. It really helped to talk through those disconnects and resist making assumptions so that we could be sources of support to one another in a challenging experience.
Become an Anthropologist
Now I’m completely biased, but I think it’s also important to suspend judgment and try to look past first impressions when you’re getting to know your new country and culture. Spend your time observing people, listening, and participating in life the way they live it. If you consider yourself a student of culture, it’s also a lot easier to tolerate and maybe even embrace differences that might be initially repulsive or confusing. As a student, you’re only responsible for asking good questions, applying yourself and learning to the best of your ability, and respecting your teachers, which is a wonderfully fresh and un-stressful way to relate to your new, and sometimes jarring, world!
There will be times where you need a psychological or even a physical break from the fatigue of speaking another language, being a foreigner in a strange land, or adhering to customs and pleasantries that aren’t your own. It’s important to take these much needed breaks so that when you are with your new neighbors in your new country you can be the best version of yourself. For my husband and I that meant brief sojourns to Hong Kong every once in awhile, evenings every few weeks with expats, or simply alone time on our balcony where we allowed one another the freedom to speak candidly about some of our frustrations and fears.
Don’t pass up the opportunity to explore your new country and culture while you have it. My fondest memories of China are the weekends and weeks where I made spontaneous research trips to the countryside with new friends, and the trips to Southeast Asia with friends and to the wildest parts of Guangxi with family. And I regret never making it to all the other places on our list–Harbin, Sanya, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar just to name a few! Exploring the country with new friends deepens your understanding of the idiosyncrasies of what it really means to live in that place, because there’s nothing like long hours spent on buses and trains to bring people together. After all, the art of living abroad is about taking care of yourself but also taking chances!
It’s been a fabulous weekend celebrating my husband’s 35th birthday and enjoying the company of lots of friends and the lovely spring weather in NJ. In addition to a photo from one of those lovely walks with the babe, here are some great stories and posts around the internet for your enjoyment this weekend:
“The Five Lessons of Good Friday,” a great article to ponder during Eastertide: I love the nuanced points about suffering and the proclamation that suffering does not have the last word! For my own reflections on how to live in light of Easter, see last year’s post, “Holy everything.”
On the subject of men, women, and the workplace, “The Confidence Gap,” was a lengthy, but good read about what may be holding women back.
It’s inspiring to read all the posts out there on Lent this time of year, so I thought I’d link up to some of my favorites today, and I hope you’ll do the same in the comments section. Additionally, I’d like to pass on this reflection on fasting and feasting which my mom passed on to me, and which I think sort of bridges the gap between those who abstain, add, or simply try to be more intentional during Lent.
Perhaps because it’s a particularly gloomy morning here in Princeton in the dead of winter, or perhaps because the NYT’s thrilling 52 Places to Go in 2014 just came out this week, I’m finally wanting to return to those Paris files that never made the blog, and some of the best eating, sleeping, and reading that we did on site.
I mentioned in another post that just after touching down in the city of light my husband caught a nasty cold, and so we decided to forgo our travel plans to the countryside and spend the full two weeks in Paris.
And we never felt like we were missing out.
When we had to scramble to find another hotel for the time we’d planned to be outside the city, we stumbled upon this gem, the Hotel Sainte Beuve, nestled right off the Luxembourg gardens in the 6th arrondissement. Walking off the chilled streets into the warm living room with its burgundy and pink color scheme and crackling fire place afforded all the warmth of a cozy cottage, and the rooms were a soft mix of comfort and sophistication, much bigger than the closets you get in many areas of the city, featuring floor to ceiling windows, airy balconies, and spacious bathrooms with eclectic black and white tile. The staff spoke a myriad of languages, booked us at many of the local eateries, and the hotel even had its own fragrance, that we bought and often spray around our bedroom to recall our memorable time there.
Of course this experience totally converted us into Paris snobs, who were quite unwilling to venture too far outside the city center, much less stay on the outskirts. Why would we, when some of our best meals consisted of picnics cobbled together from local cheese, cured meat, and wine vendors, and then enjoyed on the lawn of the nearby Luxembourg?
The neighborhood had plenty other charming spots, including Cafe Vavin, where we’d enjoy heaping plates of charcuterie, foie gras, cheese, and wine around 5 or 6 pm before we’d enjoy a late dinner at the teeny, white-tabled clothed Le Timbre, or the bustling Julien Pattiserie around the corner where we’d grab an exquisite espresso and croissant before heading out to the day.
These were some of the cheap thrills of discovering the neighborhood around the hotel, but for some other memorable meals, I scoured the Paris By Mouth blog, which helpfully lists restaurants by arrondissement, and provides detailed, accurate reviews. This is where we discovered the delightful Semilla, in the much-adored Saint Germain de Pres neighborhood. The menu changes daily so each experience was different, but the food was rich, delicate, and refined.
Another great meal, or should I say the best buttery, melt-in-your-mouth plate of scallops I ever had, took place on a friend’s recommendation at Pramil, the tiny, yet cozy wood-beamed restaurant off the quiet rue Vertbois in the third arrondissement. If you go, be sure to make a reservation (we didn’t, and we almost missed out as it quickly filled up!).
Of course, the sights and sounds of the city nearly rivaled the food and the flavors–that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower coming up from the subway that I didn’t expect to care anything for, the quaint courtyard and the sounds of the organ in Saint Suplice, the eerie beauty of the cemetery at Montmarte, dotted with the tombs of artists and saints, or even Monet’s sprawling gardens, packed with tourists, were as beautiful as everyone says they are. We can’t wait to go back and lap up escargot and enjoy wine by the carafe, but for the moment, especially on a day like today, Paris remains but a wonderful, distant warm memory in the dead of winter.