Tag Archives: children

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!

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On true love and throwing progress to the wind

I’m slowly realizing that one of the most challenging parts of parenting is that it’s incredibly difficult to predict or gauge progress.

The Delaware Raritan Canal at the height of spring.  My photo.
The Delaware Raritan Canal at the height of spring. My photo.

I’m so eager to know what I’m doing, the energy that I’m putting into my daughter, is being directed toward a purpose.  Perhaps this comes from years of being a student, where hours of reading and writing usually directly translate into better grades, admittance into higher education programs, or awards and grants.  I am addicted to progress, but I’m realizing that it’s a worldly ideal that can often be crippling in its hegemonic and normalizing ways.

That led me to thinking the other night, what if we threw progress and developmental markers and perfect sleep to the wind as parents and focused on loving the children in front of us?  I remember when I was awaiting this baby my spiritual director told me that children first and foremost need love, and I remember feeling empowered, thinking, now that I can do.

But love isn’t always easy.

There are a million human ways we  complicate and condition and crowd out love.  Suddenly love begins to look and feel more like precision, weight, or caution, because we’ve replaced it with our own ideals, our desires, or our own assuming needs.

But true love is life altering in that it demands a total shift in the way we view and live life.  We must change if we are to love graciously and selflessly rather than greedily and humanly.

D&R Canal.  My photo.
D&R Canal. My photo.

This is why, I think, with parenting the “progress” is always paradoxically barely perceptible and earth-shattering.  We find that simultaneously across the long nights and endless crying, both nothing and everything has shifted.  We realize that despite our being wedded to a hegemonic view of progress, change and growth took their meandering course.

Not surprisingly, no amount of sheer human will and determination moves our children to progress, but rather the painstaking effort of love nurtures their being.  Our children rely so perfectly on us, but we come only by struggle to rely on God.  And yet the release of our lives to God is simply the greatest source of change imaginable.

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No longer searching or bound by our desire for progress, we are released into grace and love.  We are able to love because God first loved us.  And when we live with the knowledge of that fact, we find joy and contentment in the children that we have, not merely the people that they are becoming.

On contrasts and convictions

Often the contrast between Oklahoma, where we’ve found ourselves these last few weeks, and China, where we made our life for the past two years couldn’t be starker.

In China, the world seemed all too rich, too raw, charged with spirits and tragedies too great for me to bear.  I lived in a place and a time where children were the ones who had to shake the dust from their shoes and trudge on, or lived in cribs in stark rooms instead of the arms of revelatory love and goodness, or worse, might be left to waste away, so invisible and insignificant to a society and a people who worship modernity and progress–two gods that march relentlessly forward, crushing the least of these.

In Oklahoma, we’re surrounded by our three beautiful nieces, who lack for nothing, and in the summer, they spend their days swimming, playing games, and running in the grass.  A different kind of modernity or progress–the expanse of homes and fields and food and plenty–renders me speechless and a stranger in my own land.

Of course, it’s not all children in Oklahoma or in China who live in these contrasts.

And in fact, there are moments when both cultures seem more similar in their strangeness to me, than expected!

Oklahoma truly has a culture all its own.

That’s what came to mind the other evening as I sat on my uncle’s porch, surrounded by my husband’s extended family, and still trying to sink into an unfamiliar place and make sense of this life interrupted that we seem to be living as of late.

Looking around that certain uncle’s living room, covered in taxidermy, or the sprawling fields brown and parched from a lack of rain, or listening to the chatter on the porch about the second amendment, oil, politics, and brush fires, all made me aware of a shared history, and a connection to one another and the land, that make me feel as though I’ll forever be a stranger in this place.

But something I read this evening convicted me of those meandering thoughts, and it was this line, from a fellow blogger, about how all of us, “chicken man, terrified gay teen, self-righteous pastor, Lesbian Activist, and me, we are all [God’s] kids.”

You see, I not only find my thoughts at times to be critical of my family and friends here, and I also didn’t like the way the words that came out of my mouth sounded in a conversation where people from different worlds attempted to build a common story.

I was reminded that something I deign to call knowledge or wisdom smacks of righteousness when it presumes to know better than the simple people in this place.   And that my own life experiences in China these past few years, when it comes to understanding mission and the Church, are not to be wielded as a yardstick with which to measure others’ breadth of international knowledge, but rather a helpful reminder of how much larger God’s work is than my ideologies or my words can ever presume to teach.

Truth be told, it is so difficult for me to capture those years in China in casual conversations with friends, family, and strangers.  If these days are teaching me anything, it’s that there are no casual conversations.  And that, as Oswald Chambers puts it, “As long as you think that you are of value to [God,] He cannot choose you, because you have purposes of your own to serve.  But if you will allow Him to take you to the end of your own self-sufficiency, then He can choose you to go with Him ‘to Jerusalem.’ (Luke 18:31)”

Those urges to be self-sufficient, to regard myself above others, or dismiss the meaningfulness of these Oklahoma moments for the China ones, claw at me.

But so does the Lord, urging me to be better, to be humbler, to be like a child, ever reliant on God’s purpose, God’s wisdom, and the conviction that we are all children of God, in China, in Oklahoma, and everywhere on this earth.