Category Archives: lists

10 Things I Learned from 2013

I admit that I sometimes go back and read my blog posts.

I don’t think it’s because I’m a narcissist(?), but more because I’m woefully forgetful!

Rolling hills over Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Rolling hills over Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ. Photo by Evan Schneider.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that I often have to revisit the same lessons many times to make sense of who God is and where God is calling me, and thank God, God stays faithfully the same.  So with November waning, December looming, and 2014 on the horizon, I wanted to take a moment to revisit some of those lessons.  

Perhaps you’re like me, and it takes a few times for something to stick.  Perhaps you’re like me, and reminders of God’s grace and provision, can never be too frequent or too poignant.  So I invite you to revisit some of these posts from 2013, and share your lessons in the comments.  What have you learned?  Where are you growing?  And where are you headed?

1.  “Called to this life.”  Jan. 25, 2013.

I’m reminded that it is in God that the multifaceted call I’ve received finds its unity.  This gives me confidence and reassurance when others question, or I begin to question the integration or the practicalness of my own call.  It is we who often put limits on God, not the other way around!

2.  “Cracks are all there is.”  Feb. 1, 2013.

I’m reminded that there are really only two ways to live in this world–the one in which we try to prevent others from seeing our imperfections, and the other in which we lay them bare and resolve to love others and ourselves just as God made us.  How liberating it is to live into the second truth and to let God shine through the cracks.

Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo.
Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo. Photo by Ben Robinson.

3.  “I’m not busy.”  Mar. 15, 2013.

I think this may have been one of the greatest revelations of my year, and I’m so glad it came relatively early!  I find myself repeating these words to others and myself when I am tempted to let the competitive, swimming upstream tendencies in my career or my life to get the best of me.  And I find deep wisdom and comfort in never being too busy to listen to those in front of me.

4.  “Holy everything”  April 6, 2013.

Thanks to yet another excellent sermon at my church, I began to reflect on what it means to be Easter people, to undergo profound internal change, and yet to still experience great brokenness, pain, and death in this world.  For me, holy everything amounts to witnessing and testifying to the holiness of the cross, and the holiness in you and me, in the triumphant and the everyday.

5.  “Outside the walls” May 9, 2013.

Yong River. Guangxi, Nanning.
Yong River. Guangxi, Nanning.

I wrote: “Perhaps this is where my anthropology meets my theology so nearly, neatly, and dearly–in the enmeshing of the sacred and the profane in the everyday lives of people in culture, relationship, and meaning-making.  Real salvation is transcendent in that it seeps out of our pores to touch everyone we meet and everything we do.  And so I think theological education has to change to respond to not only this reality, but this Truth.  It has to equip all these people who are going to be outside the walls of the Church institution, and who will be ambassadors of faith and hope and love in this world.”

6.  “On community” June 4, 2013.

I reflected on how deeply our new church community had ministered to me despite the lines I’d been trying to draw between experiences of God in China and back in the United States during our transition.  

7.  “Each other’s miracles” July 13, 2013.

I wrote: “What if instead of contemplating the origins of disease, asking how the bus driver got lung cancer, or quibbling with the details of disaster, wondering why people bother to live in Oklahoma which is so prone to tornados, we contemplated the length that Christ went for us on the cross, the underservedness of our own grace, and the abundance of grace in a world that’s often so graceless?  And then what if we committed to being not the one who speaks, but the one who prays, not the one who solves or fixes or even heals, but the one who recognizes, beholds, and reveres deep need?  What if we found a way to acknowledge great hurt, but live with great hope?  What if we were one another’s comfort, one another’s grace, each other’s miracles?”

8.  “The God of all of us” Aug. 3, 2013.

A mosque in Cairo, Egypt.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
A mosque in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I realized that I often give up on those closest to me, friends and family who have been burned by the church and believe that God is not for them.  If I believe that God truly is the God of all of us and doesn’t give up on any of us, how do I reflect that with my life?

9.  “Learning contentment” Sept. 10, 2013.

I reflected on what it truly means to be content in all circumstances, to find a deep acceptance of what God has given and an even deeper praise for all that God has gone, no matter the ups, downs, or delays in life.

The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer. Photo by Evan Schneider.

10.  “Redefining Success” Oct. 17, 2013.

Along those lines of learning contentment, I thought about how empowering, meaningful, and important it is to redefine success in a world in which its often bound up with pride, trampling others, and being number one.  I believe that even in academia, it’s possible to live with the sense that being a child of God and doing one’s best constitute the ultimate contentment and satisfaction.




Why I don’t regret the regrets

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” ― poem by Mary Jean Irion*

When I hear people proclaim the motto “no regrets,” I can’t help thinking that it’s a little prideful, short-sighted, and disingenuous.

I’m not advocating for living life on the bench, or engaging in some sort of flagellation that leaves not only the body, but the soul with real wounds.  And I appreciate the zealousness of trying to live life with vigor and intent.

But I think a healthy dose of introspection, when it comes to our mistakes, can also be enlightening.

With a foster family in Hubei.
With a foster family in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.

Last night, as I realized that it’s been almost a year since we left our life in China, all I could think is if I had it to do over again, I would have spent more time at the feet of the foster mothers, hearing the trials of their lives during the Cultural Revolution, the story of each baby they’d raised, and their fears about the future.

I wish I’d looked out the window more often at those soaring karst peaks and endless fields of green rice paddies, because who knows when I’ll see them again?


I wish I’d accepted every invitation to a bowl of rice noodles, a strange feast of chicken feet, or a home out in the countryside without running water or electricity.  It was in these places that I saw life lived with an irrepressible human spirit…and ate some of the best dumplings of my life.

With a dear friend.
With a dear friend.

I wish I’d told my friends all my fears and hopes and dreams, because I treasure the secrets they shared with me.  I recall them and revisit them like precious gems when I miss their friendship and their confidence.

I wish I’d made far more trips to the market, taken many more jogs around South Lake, and sat many more hours peering into the square from our balcony, and all despite the sticky heat.

Beside South Lake Park in Nanning, China.
Beside South Lake Park in Nanning, China.**

In short, I wish I’d slowed down to only love the people in front of me and nothing more.  I wish I’d treasured the normal days, for one knows not how many there will be.  I wish I’d known how extraordinary China and its people were before I left it.

One might call them regrets.

But I’m also left with gratitude for the simple joys God afforded me while I was there and some wisdom for living this life tomorrow.

*Special thanks to my friend, Kate, for posting this poem the other day.
**Bottom three photos by Evan Schneider.**

Virtual Coffee Date

There’s a blogger I read and like who does an occasional, reoccurring post entitled Virtual Coffee Date.  She borrowed the idea from another blogger, and I, who love coffee, also love the idea of pretending we’re sitting down here for a sacred cup and gabbing like old friends.

I admit, in the same breath, that I’m kind of intimidated about a post whose very premise seems to suggest that I have this busy, interesting, important life to keep up with, but then I’m reminded how instrumental this blog has been to process this (and many of life’s) transition(s), and I’m thankful for a space to spew some of these fears, hopes, and prayer requests, and especially humbled by readers who attend to them!

A typical morning scene for this gal.

So if we were sitting down to coffee I would tell you all about the dissertation, how much it strikes fear into my heart when anyone mistakenly asks if I’m done yet (I’ve hardly just begun), and how paralyzing it is to think of synthesizing a life–anyone else’s or the one that I had in China–into a word document.  It’s mostly difficult for good reasons: my life in China taught me so much, not just about culture and childrearing, but about God and humility and faith everyday.  So I’m a ball of nervous energy and excitement when it comes to this daunting project!

I’d tell you how much I’m looking forward to fall here in Princeton, how welcome the crisper, cooler mornings are to a girl who was previously living in the tropics, and how I can’t wait to bring on the pumpkin spice, the leaves on the tow path, chunky sweaters, my October birthday, and getting cozy with warm coffee.  I love and have missed all of that!

A foster mother and her daughter in Guangxi, Nanning.

I’d tell you about my friends in China, and my best girlfriend who is in crisis and constantly on my mind, and how hard it is to be away.  Please pray that she feels closer to God and God’s peace and also pray for the mothers, fathers, children, and orphanage workers there.  Pray especially for a twelve year-old girl who will be adopted in the coming weeks to a loving family in the states and for the joy-filled foster mom who has raised this soulful, mature young woman.

I’d tell you (and thanks in advance for listening) all about this course I’m excited to take at Princeton on modern Chinese intellectual history in Chinese that I’ll use to work out my Chinese and my mind this semester.  Feeling pretty blessed to be at one of the best Chinese language program’s in the country and looking forward to speaking and writing more competently about my research in Chinese through this course.

And finally, I’d tell you about the brokenness in my home church, where huge changes are stretching everyone’s patience and faith.  I grew up there and out of that wonderful place of diverse thought and acceptance sensed my own call.  And my deepest prayer is that those in the church find a way to love one another and be one in Christ despite the hurt and the pain.  Healing takes time, and as a child of the church, those suffering are ever in my thoughts and prayers.

My lunch view here on Princeton’s campus. Gorgeous!

And I’d ask you to praise God for finding me here in New Jersey, for God’s persistent call on my life, for the depth and the breadth of experiences these past few years, and the possibilities that remain. 

Two years in China

Nanning at twilight!
Another image of city life in China.

It’s been two years of life for my husband and I here in China.  We’ve traveled to the mountains of Yunnan to visit minority churches, explored the ultra modern city of Hong Kong, explored, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Egypt, and the UAE and hosted our families and friends. He’s completed two years of teaching college-level English and I’ve finished two years of fieldwork with foster families.

On Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
In Tahrir Square, Cairo, on the one-year anniversary of their revolution with our friends Ben and Emily.
With a foster baby in Guangxi. Photos by Evan Schneider.

More than anything, as I look back through the past years, I’m astounded not only by the breadth of these experiences that I will carry with me, but also God’s provision and faithfulness.  

If you have time I invite you to check out the following posts which weave their way, highlighting some snapshots of our two years here, describing some of the highs and lows of research, faith, cross-cultural immersion, and our life.

From 2010

August 2010: Abide in me…  {thoughts on silent prayer in a city of 7 million, spiritual growth, and freeing oneself from distractions}

September 2010: Journeywoman  {on security, brokenness, and culture}

December 2010: Equipped by the Spirit (Yunnan Reflection #2)  {reflections on my first trip to Yunnan, and the tension between the need for theological training and the equipping work of the Holy Spirit in the Yunnan countryside}

From 2011

May 2011: Hunan Headlines: A Mix of Sorrow and Hope  {personal and professional reflections on the baby-selling scandal in a county in Hunan, which made international news}

July 2011: Church Renewal from Below  {thoughts on Richard Rohr, cross-cultural exchange, and Chinese solutions to Chinese problems}

August 2011: A Taste of Vietnam {evangelizing for one of my favorites, Vietnamese coffee!}

October 2011: Come on ride the train {snippets from a typical road trip to Guilin}

November 2011: Like a child  {reflections on fieldwork with children, disability, and faith}

December 2011: The Best Things about Winter in China {bundled up babies, chestnuts roasting, and hot pot, of course!}

From 2012

January 2012: Cairo notes: from the rooftops {a reflection on our first few days in another land}

February 2012: Thanking God for the woes  {on the beattitudes, justice, and God’s call}

March 2012: 72 Hours in Hong Kong {highlights from a weekend trip}

April 2012: Some Easter Thoughts from China {on Christianity, tomb sweeping, and culture}

May 2012: Consider the ravens, consider the blessings {on understanding, cross-cultural relationships, worries, and of course, blessings}

July 2012: Pinching myself {reflections on leaving China and savoring the little things}






America the beautiful

I’m realizing that this whole ambivalence that comes with leaving another country that’s been your home for the past two years isn’t necessarily the best fodder for the blogosphere (sorry).

I figured I could take advantage, however, of the mixed feelings, by listening to the leaps my little heart does when I think about some of the more frivolous (and not so) aspects of calling the U.S. of A. home.

So, with no further ado, here are some of the little things I miss and am looking forward to in our reunion with America in just a month:

Idyllic, isn’t it?
  • Grass, and walking in said grass, getting it between my toes and feeling the earth under my feet (cheesy, I know).
  • Pastries: scones, muffins, you name it, and the opportunity for some real baking in a real oven (which I hardly did before we left the country, but now it sounds great!).
How’s that for a chocolate cake?
  • Being in the same time zone as friends and family, i.e. being able to pick up the phone in mid-afternoon and give one of them a call!
  • Libraries full of books and movies in my native language.
  • And along those lines, quiet, solitude, and the great outdoors.
  • Worshiping at a Presbyterian Church.
  • Good draught beer, burgers, sandwiches, grilling out, and other all-American fare.
  • Going to the gym (and knowing it will have air-conditioning and be relatively BO-free!).
  • Gorgeous bathrooms and bathtubs where one can just linger…
  • Good coffee and wine!

What did I miss??

Happy Weekending.

The weekend is here, the adventures are over (photos from our family trip to Guilin and  the rice terraces in Longsheng to come!), and we’re down for the count over here: runny noses, sore throats, and coughs for the husband and I.

Of course, the next adventure– packing up and moving from China– is just around the corner.

But I’m not ready to think about that just yet.  

My latest obsession: yogurt, walnuts, bananas, a drizzle of honey, and a dollup of peanut butter in a bowl.  A dollup of peanut butter just makes everything better, doesn’t it?  

Walnuts suggested, cashews pictured, substitute your nut of choice!

This morning I read these two intense and sobering articles: one about the prevailing problem of migrant deaths in our deserts, and the other about women’s work-life (or lack thereof) balance.  Still reeling from both of those.

But I’m also looking for some light, fun reading, after being disappointed by The Girls from Ames and Confessions of a Counterfeit Farmgirl, and Leaving Church.  I like spiritual, international, and memoir, not necessarily in that order…any summer reading suggestions??

The hubby and I have been blowing through the complete series of Modern Family…gosh, I love that show!

Can’t imagine it will be the most exciting weekend over here being under the weather and all, but I’ll leave you with an image below of the Dragon Boat Festival here in China, and click here for a really neat shot of the Great Wall.

May your weekend be a happy and healthy one!

Where did May go?

Yes, I know it’s already the fourth of June, but I’m stunned.

May seemed to just fly by…what do you think?

For me, May highlights included:

A view of the countryside in South China.
Evan and I on Halong Bay.
A photo of me and my grandparents from spring 2008.
  • A myriad of foster visits
  • Perhaps my last trip to the countryside to see the disabled kids who are thriving there in foster care
  • A visit from dear friends and a jaunt back to Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam
  • The passing of my lovely Grandfather
  • My twin sister’s seminary graduation (it really feels like just yesterday she started her classes at Denver Seminary.  Congratulations, Julie!  Now both twins graduated from seminary: praise God!)
  • Our fourth-wedding anniversary
  • Experiencing God’s blessings, grace, and joy!
Photo from my seminary graduation in 2008….
…and the twin’s this May. See the resemblance??

And looking forward to in June:

Five Chinese Phrases to Get You By

We’re having a fabulous time hosting our dear friends here in Nanning, and decidedly tickled at the prospect of returning to Halong Bay via the overnight train to Hanoi this evening (a la our first remarkable trip to Southeast Asia last summer).

But the time in China with friends who don’t speak the language has got me thinkin’ on those little phrases that mean so much, that get you by with cultural finesse even when you’re a clunky foreigner living in well, a foreign country.

You can find men anywhere, anytime in China playing chess on street corners.

So with no further ado, here’s five Chinese phrases I’ve found to be particularly useful in these parts.

A familiar juxtaposition of traditional and modern architecture in China.


Bu hao yi si (不好意思)

That’s Chinese for sorry, or more woodenly, my bad!  Very useful when you botch someone’s name, spill something, etc. (can you tell who is a clunky foreigner here?!).  Chinese don’t usually apologize unless it’s something really shameful, but the bu hao yi sis are used as both nouns and verbs and pepper conversations like our ubiquitous sorrys.

Mei ban fa (没办法)

This one’s hard to translate, and incredibly infuriating if you’re on the receiving end.  Mei ban fa means basically you’re not going to get what you’re asking for because either the person in question can’t do anything about the situation or they just don’t want to!  It’s a great way to evade responsibility, but it’s also a handy one if you don’t want to go into a lengthy explanation for why something just can’t be done about that lousy leak under the sink or that visa paperwork.  Again, I guess I’ve been burned on the receiving end of these and am left a bit more bitter than I thought…

Wo you shi (我有事)

This little phrase is comparable to our Oh I’m sorry, I’ve got other plans.  It’s a wonderfully vague way of saying I’ve got other stuff to do, I’m not gonna be able to make it, and don’t ask me about the stuff, clearly it’s private, or I would tell you instead of saying, I’ve got stuff.  It’s amazing how sufficient and satisfying Chinese find this explanation.  For instance, someone might ask you why you weren’t at work or in class, and all you need say is, wo you shi and it’s all forgiven.  Wildly helpful, this one.

Wo kao lv yi xia (我考虑一下)

This phrase is handy in the event that you’re shopping, you’ve discovered prices are a bit higher than you’d like to pay and you’d like to get out without offending anyone.  Perhaps the shopkeeper is pestering you a bit.  Shoot him or her a simple wo kao lv yi xia, and you can slide right out of the store assured by a simple nod and no questions asked.  It means something like, I’ll consider it, and gets you off the hook with surprising speed, no questions asked.

Na li, na li?  (哪里哪里?)

Here’s your token response to the great undeserved praise that will be given to you for uttering a broken xie xie or ni hao.  Maybe your Chinese truly isn’t up to snuff, but when you respond to their false praise of your abilities with a na li na li, they will discover that you do indeed understand Chinese culture.  Westerners often find this response, which literally means, where, where? a silly and phony self-deprecating move, but I guarantee you your humility, however false, won’t be lost on your Chinese friends who will grin with pride at your ability to kowtow with the best of ’em.

A familiar sight in downtown Nanning.

And those my friend are just five little tips (of the iceberg as far as Chinese goes, though!) for your first trip to China.

What are yours?

All photos by Evan Schneider.

China Bucket List

So yesterday my husband and I decided we would opt this week for a staycation: there’s just too many tasks on the table (research-wise, job-hunting, life in general) to allow us to get out of town not only in body but in spirit.

But that doesn’t mean, with the prospect of leaving China on the nearish horizon, that I haven’t started to make mental notes on places I’d like to go and things I’d like to do.  So here they are, and perhaps with a few days off this next week, and some lovely weather, we’ll even make some progress on these rather quickly!

1.  Go North:  We’d like to make it to somewhere like Harbin in Heilongjiang or Dalian in Liaoning; Beijing is the furthest north we’ve ever been in China, and since all of our favorite foods seem to come from Northern cuisine, we imagine the trip would be pretty tasty.  Of course, we don’t know much about any of these places—any thoughts?

2.  Go South:  Even though the Hainan trip is on the back-burner for the moment, we’re still hoping to soak in some sun on one of these long weekends.  It would be a bit of a luxury vacay, but popping in for a few days seems do-able.

3.  Head out to Qingxiu Shan in Nanning:  We’ve become true locals in the sense that we’ve hardly been to any of the Nanning touristy sites.  But everyone says Green Mountain is beautiful, so we must make it before we leave.

4.  Hit up the hot springs:  There are hot springs just a few kilometers outside Nanning, and our friends have given rave reviews.  We should go before it gets too hot!

Path around Nanhu Park. Nanning. Photo by Evan Schneider.

5.  Run around Nanhu:  I make half-circles when I go on my daily runs, but I’ve always wanted to run around the whole lake for fun.  Some friends who are coming in May promise to take on the challenge with me- shouldn’t take long, about an hour, but I may give it a try on my own this afternoon!

6.  Dragon’s Back Rice Terraces, Longsheng:  My family bought their tickets to China a few days ago, and we’re excited to take them to Guilin and hike up the rice terraces–we hear the view is spectacular, a real taste of beautiful Guangxi!

7.  Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan:  I’ve driven up around Tiger Leaping Gorge, but never hiked it, and we have friends in Kunming who are game to do it, and who we definitely want to see before we leave China.

8.  Drink More Tea!  I’m just not a tea aficionado–those of you who know me or read this blog know that coffee is my jones, but I have loved frequenting tea houses and learning about tea drinking culture here in China.  I just figure I should really seize the opportunity to drink tea and make merry here while I have it!

Drinking tea with my friend, Taylor, in Nanning. Photo by Evan Schneider.

9.  Yangmei, Old Town:  Again, just a few kilometers outside of Nanning, this old-timey preserved village is supposed to be a nice, quiet retreat from Naninng’s bustle and sky-scraped scenery.

Minced bamboo shoots wrapped in banana leaves in Yunnan. Photo by Evan Schneider.

10.  Um, food, duh.  I was lamenting last night about how I will just die if I can’t find a great Asian grocery store when I get back to the states.  Even if we do, the food won’t be the same, for sure!

Happy Weekending.

Lion Hill Park in the spring (Nanning). All photos by Evan Schneider.

It is a gorgeous, brisk sunny morning here in South China.

Because the cool winds had powered back into our region these past few days, my husband I decided to make the most of the chilly weather and slurp down some delicious hot pot last night.

Today, it’s all about foster visits, wherein I’m challenged to get wiggly little girls to practice some English, share with me their fears and hopes about being adopted, and somehow encourage the older ladies who take care of them.

I’ve been having crazy dreams lately, the other night my family came to China and we took a boat down the Yong River into the wee hours of the morning, and last night I lay awake planning lectures for future courses in my head–I’m just that dorky.  Speaking of dorky, look who Obama’s put in charge of the World Bank: Jim Yong Kim is the creator of Partners in Health, a physician, AND an anthropologist!

On Halong Bay, Vietnam, last summer.

On the docket for this weekend: my husband’s planning to go down to the riverbanks and take some photos of Nanning (I’ll try to share some later).  Speaking of picturesque sites, we were both enthralled with this article, which brought back great memories of our Southeast Asia trip last summer.  We’re so excited to head back to Vietnam with friends in May, but are scheming for how we can fit in another trip to Laos somewhere in the near future!

I’m looking forward to church and a Sabbath, been reflecting on and touched by these words from one of my favorite blogs, Be confident because you are A Child of God. Be humble because everyone else is, too.”  

I’ve been more diligent about working out this week (yesterday I even added these to my workout!), so I may treat myself to a cheap, luxurious foot massage for my aching muscles!

What about you?  What are you up to?  Hope it’s a great weekend.