Category Archives: Virtual coffee dates

Virtual Coffee Date

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.

 

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If this isn’t joy, I don’t know what is!? Lucia with her father.  My photo.

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!

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Some links for you:

 

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Virtual tea date

If we were hanging out this morning, I’d be sipping on my favorite casablanca mint tea.  When I’m under the weather as I am currently am, I can’t stand the thought of my beloved coffee; I finally understand what’s so comforting about tea-drinking, and yet, I confess that’s why I always feel like a bit of an invalid when I’m drinking it!

It’s been a whirlwind of a week, packed with teaching for me and unpacking for my husband, but having his family in town broke up the projects and made the follies more tolerable, I think!

One little joy of having his family in town is watching our nieces, especially our youngest, play junior nurse with Lucia.  I’ve noticed that when Lucia screeches and writhes for some unknowable reason and all our lips get a little tight and our hearts a bit anxious, Hannah stands by quite contentedly.  I appreciate that many children, including her, seem to know how to stand by when there are tears and pain and carrying on, perhaps placing a comforting hand or offering a kind sigh, but not trying to rush us others through their feelings.  What a lesson, I think, to be comfortable and at ease with one another’s distress, to be able to witness and hold but not press and prod, maybe offering the best consolation by just being human beings together.

That Hannah is a gem.

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Our evening bliss.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’ve begun to allow myself to look forward to all the things we will do in this house, like baking scones in the kitchen, hosting our first overnight guests in just a week, and enjoying more beautiful evenings on the patio.

I’m also hoping there’s enough room left in August for me to get my book off to publishers, put the finishing touches on a few articles, and maybe conjure a few more writing projects!  I’ve been trying to be better about setting and keeping writing goals, and I’ve been inspired by the progress of my students–it pushes me to be a better professor!

We are so thankful that Lucia continues to thrive in her new environment.  There is much to be figured out and much to pray for–she has equipment cliic on Tuesday, her IFSP next week, and we’ll be looking into what to do for school for her, but again, we’re so blessed to be in a state that creates possibilities for our child with special needs.  It reminds me that this anchor that we’ve put down here may yield some limitations, but it’s also what helps us keep our bearings and keep in view that many blessings we have.

…oh, and the Olympics!  I’m so excited!!!

What are you up to this weekend?

 

 

 

 

Virtual coffee date

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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.

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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?

 

Virtual coffee date

If we were having coffee this week, I’d let you in on a few things…

I’d tell you that it’s already been a week packed with doctors visits and hospital tests like usual, but something has shifted.  It shifted when I realized that despite checking “no” to all the tasks listed on Lucia’s 24-month questionnaire, I also got to check “no” to the question, “does anything about your child worry you?”  In the midst of moments where I could have been discouraged, I counted myself so blessed, because of the much needed perspective our daughter with special needs brings to our lives and my faith.

(Here’s another great perspective on children with disabilities I saw this week!)

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Countryside in Yunnan, China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’d also let you in on how incredibly thrilling it was to find an email in my inbox this morning entitled, “你好 from China” from a former student who with her broad interests in Native American culture, architecture, and history, I never thought would quite end up there!  She wrote,

“Also Professor Raffety, China is wonderful. Granted there are many moments of ‘ahh, what am I doing’ but those are minimal in comparison to my many moments of ‘ahh, so much goodness.’ My co-workers, new friends, are brimming with patience, generosity and a eagerness to converse and teach me. I’m sure you have experienced many of these same moments. And of course, the food is new, but oh so flavorful.

I hope all is well with you and your family, your faith and teaching.”

I’m tickled not just because she’s having this encounter with China that I once had that was so powerful and earth-shattering and meaningful but because there’s this subtle affirmation of my call that I also read in her generous words–some mutual recognition of something more than just teacher and student, something more like our vocational and spiritual lives intermingling for something greater.  She had me musing this morning, during a season when I’ve been lacking a bit of pedagogical inspiration, “See this is why I can’t not teach!”

And finally, I’d tell you that I really should be writing my sermon instead of this blog post, but that I think it can all pretty much be summed up in these words from Glennon Doyle Melton that speak to the curious balance of conviction and humility that it takes to live the Christian life:

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What are you up to this week?  Grab a cup of coffee and let me in on it!

Virtual coffee date

I have been thinking lately about how helpful it is to reframe major challenges in life as adventure.  

You know how sometimes you’ll be going through something and someone will try to comfort you by saying, well, it will make a great story later, won’t it?  What if we could embrace the great story now?

It sounds crazy, but I think my life is just as much, if not more of an adventure, here in the everyday with a baby, classes, and trying to be faithful to God as it was living in China and traveling the world.  I’m trying to be grateful for the adventure as I’m living it rather than tomorrow or in a couple years.  I’d love to hear how you do that in your lives!

Amazing islands of Hong Kong.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Amazing islands of Hong Kong. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’ve also been reading Sacred Pauses and just hit the chapter on silence, which you know is my jam.  My mind was kind of blown by the idea that none of us have actually ever experienced silence, the true absence of sound, and that silence in general actually makes us more attuned to the presence of small, overlooked, everyday sounds.  The author used this to encourage us that God is always working, especially in the silence, a truth that has been powerful and poignant for me over the years, too.

An illustration from Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day.

It’s finally a little warmer, though there’s still heaps of snow on the ground.  Yesterday our little family took a lovely, cozy walk through the snow.  I just love how it crunches under your feet.  About a year ago, a friend gave us the children’s book, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, because our daughter, who will turn one next weekend, was born in between two snow storms.  It is my favorite children’s book that we own, and I’ve been reading it to her a lot lately and reminiscing about her coming into the world amidst slow flakes coming down in the wee hours of the morning.

Yes, I’m adult, yes, I was raised in Wisconsin, but there’s still something so magical to me when it snows.  I remember my husband trying to describe snow to his students in South China who had never seen such a thing.  They were incredulous and full of wonder.  I wonder if they will ever see it snow in their lifetime.

Sure, it gets cold out here.  But life is quite the adventure anyway.

Happy weekending.

Love these two...my photo.
Love these two…my photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual coffee date

“I think I just love ideas,” I said to my husband dreamily the other evening after a particularly rousing conversation with a colleague.

It didn’t seem like much a revelation, but I may have mentioned that defending my Ph.D. last year has seemed to open up all this conceptual space with which to dream about vocation both in and outside of academia.  It’s been at once exhilarating and daunting.  There’s so much freedom that I’m almost paralyzed by it.

Halong Bay, Photos by Evan Schneider.
Halong Bay, Photo by Evan Schneider.

But to acknowledge and relish that I really get a kick out of talking about theories, ideas, and people is a small start.  And then the other day as I chatted with a colleague on the seminary campus who turned to go into her office, I turned to head back to the university campus, to my syllabi, articles, and ideas.  And I was so thrilled and so grateful to have that desk, that community, and those ideas.  I realized as scary as it is to admit, I’m not ready to give up on the academic job search yet.  I want to see it through a bit longer.  I want to continue to pursue these possibilities, because I have so much passion for the work I did with foster families and children with disabilities in China, for China itself, for students, and for anthropological knowledge and those ways of thinking.

Things seem positively turned upside down in my life right now and I have no idea what God is doing.  But I’m trying to learn (again) to be content with that– to embrace the thought that this not knowing about the future is not really so bad and that life is an adventure that is so much better when we let God lead.

The other morning I saw the sun for the first time in a long, long time, and some words from good ol’ Anne of Green Gables came to me as I happily thought, “Today is fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.”

Trying to live in that freshness, faithfulness, and fullness that God so generously provides.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Have a good weekend.  What are you up to?

Virtual coffee date

马年大吉!Happy year of the horse!  

The bustling night market in Nanning.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
The bustling night market in Nanning. Photo by Evan Schneider.

If we were having coffee today, I would tell you that there are several times a year I just ache for China (in roughly October, during the autumn moon festival, every lunar new year, during the spring festival, and the tomb sweeping festival in late spring).  And despite having fled the country several times during spring festival to be rid of the noisy fireworks and avoid the crowded trains, there’s just something so full of joy and promise about sweeping the dust from the corners of the house, remembering the ancestors and praying for health and happiness in the coming year, and feasting with old friends and family.

Ladies doing tai chi along the Li River in Guilin, Guangxi.
Ladies doing tai chi along the Li River in Guilin, Guangxi.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

This time around, sweeping the cobwebs and looking forward to the new year, is pregnant (hehe) with meaning, as I’ve been soaring through a dissertation revision this week and preparing for a baby due on Valentine’s Day.  I’m so proud to report that I did, indeed, revise all five body chapters of my dissertation this week, so I’ll have a full draft to present to my committee members to read before the baby comes.  I feel so blessed to have felt so energized and inspired, despite being nine months pregnant!

I’m so grateful to God for allowing me in lieu of stress to experience this time of much expectation and preparation, rather as fullness, in which my cup runneth over.  

The husband sipping on cafe alonge in Paris.  My photo.
The husband sipping on cafe alonge in Paris. My photo.

I feel so much joy to be writing about foster families who I love and who taught me so much as a vocation, excited about potential jobs and postdocs on the horizon, as well as ministry opportunities, and of course, terrified and overjoyed at the prospect of a new baby.  Sometimes I do sort of stop in my tracks and feel a bit paralyzed with fear that we’re not the least bit prepared for this baby, but then, I think that awareness and awe-inspired fear probably goes a long way.

This weekend we’ll be continuing the nesting process, packing up boxes, filing papers, and tidying up–a Chinese new year ritual and baby prep all rolled into one.  Also trying to get a couple evenings out in before the baby comes, and if there’s time in the next two weeks I’ll add an introduction and conclusion to that second draft.  Who says you can’t channel all that nesting productivity into your dissertation, right?!

What are you up to this weekend?

Virtual Coffee Date

Hibiscus in the President's Garden, Princeton University.  My photo.
Hibiscus in the President’s Garden, Princeton University. My photo.

If we were having coffee this morning, I would wonder aloud whether this coming of age thing is supposed to be so fraught with life and death, divorce and birth, loss and love.  Sometimes the co-mingling of so much joy and pain, so much sunshine and devastation, seems cruel, contrite, and certainly, inconceivable.  I think it’s partly this stage of life, where friends and family are facing such crossroads, but I also think that living life fully necessarily takes us into deep sorrow and deep joy, and we have little control regarding where one ends and the other begins.

Inside Notre Dame, Paris.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’m left with a sense of awe regarding how the God of the universe holds our fragile lives in such a charged balance.  And a sense of humility for how little I understand of this life, how without words I find myself when witnessing deep pain or deep joy.

But in the midst of the unknown, I find gratitude creeping over me.

What more is there in this life than accompanying one another through the valleys and the mountains?  What more is there to be being human than these experiences and the ways we respond in love and care to one another?  And how much more there is to this God we seek to know more fully!  I’d tell you that even when I can’t see or feel God and I doubt what God is doing, I trust in God’s peace that passes all understanding, I trust in the peace we lend to one another as sinners, yet bearers of Christ, when worldly peace is utterly unfathomable.

My family and I walking in a wash in Arizona.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
My family and I walking in a wash in Arizona. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’d also tell you how I’ve hit something of a stride with this dissertation and how very thankful I am to be in a field where I can be both analytical and creative.  I’d tell you how nervous and excited I am to be teaching at Drew University this fall and be learning with students there about Chinese family culture.  I’d tell you about the anticipation of planning to receive our Chinese pastor friends at Princeton Seminary and Princeton University this fall, the joy I feel at hosting them at our home when they were so generous in showing us around years ago.

And finally, I’d tell you about how gorgeous these final days of summer in New Jersey have been, how there’s something about the sun coming through the window in the morning, the hummingbird on the porch, and the encroaching crispness of the evening hours that reminds me of hope in the midst of darkness.  Just last fall, New Jersey experienced much of the brunt of Super Storm Sandy, but since that time, nature has been healing herself and healing many of us in the process.

Fuzzy photo of the humming bird feeding on our porch.  My photo.
Fuzzy photo of the humming bird feeding on our porch.

Yes, in the midst of pain, there is peace.  It’s not immediate or instant, but comes about slowly, with grace and goodness, and we are its bearers in a fallen world.

Photo Credit.

What is your hope or your peace this day?

P.s. I’ve linked up all the virtual coffee date posts in a new category so you can find them easily.  Check it out!

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.

Virtual Coffee Date

If we were having coffee this morning I would tell you that I love this time of year, because the year, stretched out before us, firmly in the future, is full of possibilities.

Perhaps you would remember that I love to set goals, but this year as I prayerfully considered what God was calling me to, I found myself penning more general statements about how I want to live my life, Pray Audaciously.  Be Gracious of Heart.  Approach teaching as service and writing and learning as discipline.

A few nights ago I sat in silence, and I felt my heart racing.  I felt insecure.  I’m insecure, because teaching is a new experience for me this semester, and when I think about needing to prove myself, I’m crestfallen.  In my heart, I’m still yearning for China, and when I think of learning and serving, I often picture being hungry and cold with people somewhere else in the world, or preaching from a pulpit in a congregation.  But I sat there and I waited for a word from God, and I heard that what God’s calling me to is, “sitting at your feet, childlike, attentive, waiting.  It’s being a servant,” and my heart leapt as I thought, “and even I can do that.”

Approaching teaching as service reminds me that Jesus’ teaching was never about proving himself, or even about being right, but it was wholly relational, progressive, and above the fray.  And because Jesus relied on God for the balance between these qualities in teaching, his teaching was life-changing.

Yesterday as I talked through some of these fears and excitements with my spiritual director, I realized that if I could just listen to my students with love and attentiveness, if I could just learn with them, I think I’d be doing enough and serving well.  In the language of servanthood, teaching becomes less about doing things right or perfectly or best, and more about regarding the people in front of me with respect, reverence, and a gracious heart, and again, I think “even I can do that.”

I would go on to tell you that I intend to sit in silence this year to listen to God more often.  I would tell you that I plan to say audacious prayers for China.  Somewhere along the way, I think my heart became so troubled by not being there and not being able to “do” anything, and I think deep inside me, a little part of my faith died, when it comes to the people I love there who I feel are very confined by their circumstances.  But lately I’ve been remembering that God changes hearts and lives, which is pretty much the greatest path, perhaps the only, toward changing circumstances, and I’ve resolved to pray boldly for China and its people.

And finally, I would tell you that yesterday I had a meeting with a professor who somehow saw through all my meandering writings of late, that my heart lies with foster moms and disabled children, and he encouraged me not to look for ways to make my dissertation topic bigger or more important, but to trust that this small topic can become bigger and greater and more compelling than I ever imagined.  It was both overwhelming and heartening to hear such critique and advice–heartening because these are the stories I collected and want to tell, and overwhelming because I need to start a bit fresh with some applications and outlines and etchings.

But it’s a new year, and what better time to start fresh, right?

What’s on your mind in 2013?

Small World

–Erin