Tag Archives: dreams

The God of Abundance

“My friend who is a Buddhist said once after coming out of a meditation retreat, ‘The colors were so much more vibrant afterward.’  Her meditation teacher said, ‘When you are present, the world is truly alive.'”  –Natalie Golderg, Writing Down the Bones

Monet's Garden at Giverny.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
Monet’s Garden at Giverny. All photos by Evan Schneider.

Sometimes when I take a vacation, my Protestant ethic won’t quit, and if I lounge in the sun without intention, sleep in, or indulge in some rich food, I can’t actually enjoy the stuff of life, because I’m too busy trying to tap into my greater purpose, honor my routine, and be intentional.

But the thing about the Protestant ethic, and the one that goes into overdrive for so many of us, is that it’s actually quite shoddy theology–theology that wrongly overemphasizes our small part in this big world, while deemphasizing God’s infinite wisdom.

Remember a few months ago when I blogged about the futility of swimming upstream versus the wisdom of going with the flow?  

Well, it turns out God lives in sweet rest, play, and adventure just as much as silence, intention, and purpose.  As my husband and I walked the cobbled stoned streets of Paris, marveling at all the amazing places we’ve been over these past five years together, we began to dream aloud about the next five, ten, and twenty years, and it was good.

Walking the streets of Paris.
Walking the streets of Paris.

The other morning as I spoke the language of my heart with a dear friend, I confided in her how delicious it has been to dream with God by my side, and how when so many things are wrong and scary and negative in our world, that blessing of vision that sees opportunity and possibility and goodness is from a God so worthy of praise!   

The best thing about this break is that coming home, it felt as if the colors here didn’t dull in comparison to those in Paris (although the coffee really did, but that’s for another post…),  but rather had blossomed and become more vibrant in my absence.  The air smelled clean, the sunrise eager, the sunset gentle and delicate, and I looked around and found my friends flourishing in their lives, too.  

Paris in bloom above the entrance to the subway.
Paris in bloom above the entrance to the subway.

And I rejoiced.

You know that real leap your heart does when it knows something to be good and you can barely contain yourself from jumping up and down and yelling like a little child?  I’ve felt that numerous times in just the past few days listening to my friends tell me that they’re thriving, and I see them following God with such earnest devotion.  And I realize that life is simply more exciting when you’re letting God call the shots, take the reins, and lead you in directions that you never could have dreamed.

I don’t think abundance is fleeting.

I think God is a God who deals in abundance, but our glimpse into understanding that abundance is limited and finite.  So today while I’m granted this vision, I’m filled with praise, joy, and reverence.  And I’m going to take in those vibrant colors, rejoice in who God is, and pray with dreams, conversations, and this precious life I’ve been given.

Stained glass in Saint Sulpice, Paris, France.
Stained glass in Saint Sulpice, Paris, France.

Amen.

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When God dreams

I shut my eyes a week ago now during a moment of mediation.

Talking with foster parents in Hubei, China.  In addition to this foster baby, this sweet couple had twins who were napping when we visited, and of course we loved gabbing about how I'm a twin, too!
Talking with foster parents in Hubei, China. In addition to this foster baby, this sweet couple had twins who were napping when we visited, and of course we loved gabbing about how I’m a twin, too!  Photo by Jason Fouts.

And I was so instantly and effortlessly transported to China with this bird’s eye view of the people, the places, the sights, and the smells to which I’d come to feel a part of and find so comforting and familiar.  I was filled with such deep gratitude for how God sets us out upon journeys we hadn’t even begun to dream of.

Guangxi countryside.  I took this one from the train!
Guangxi countryside. I took this one from the train!
More visiting with foster parents and kids in Hubei.  Photo by Jason Fouts.
More visiting with foster parents and kids in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.

But as I mediated on how the damp dark insides of humble homes aside foster moms had become places of warmth and connection, I wondered where it is that I truly belong.  When I glimpse photos such as these they tug so deeply at my heart strings, because I remember each family as if it were yesterday– the words we spoke, the disabilities their children face, the worn wrinkles of their kind eyes and hands and faces.

Several months ago, freshly displaced from China, these thoughts would have also driven fear into my heart with their ability to force doubt into the pathways that seem so clear and foreordained.  But I’m learning that faithfulness to God is rejoicing in these pangs of connection and communion, thanking God for the gifts of life in China, and thanking God for the journeys that only God’s yet begun to dream of.

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I forget that China wasn’t always so comforting, that in the midst of connection and communion, I lived with great uncertainty in China, too.  This is how I’m learning to rejoice in the midst of challenges, because I’m looking around and I can see God’s hand so clearly in those valleys in China, and I strive to believe it’s here, too.  And so the other evening as a few colleagues permitted me to make the analogy, I began to realize that dissertation-writing is an act of faith, too: we may not know where we’re going but we’re trusting that the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, are all building toward something.

Once again I’m humbled by the thought that I don’t belong to just one place or one people or one vocation.  I belong to God.  And my faith isn’t just about serving God in China, but writing this dissertation bit by bit, teaching a class with service in mind, and lingering in the belonging that these moments yield.  I guess as I’m getting older, I’m getting more comfortable with the fact that there isn’t one clear path, I’m getting more comfortable in journeying rather than fixing my eyes on destinations, but mostly God is teaching me that I can be confident in the little that I do know, because that’s enough.  

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It’s enough to be a follower and to follow God with great faith.  

In fact, that may be the only thing that matters in life, and while it’s often terrifying, it’s also thrilling.

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Saying goodbye to families in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.

Called to this life.

Blurry shot of beauty this morning.
Blurry shot of beauty this morning.

It’s been another full week: the United States celebrated the second term of its forty-forth president as Princeton Seminary ushered in its seventh president.  In both personal and public places, and in the first month of a new year, we’re in the business of reflecting on where we’ve been and where we’re going.

This weekend, I was challenged by the words of Dr. King, as he embraced the present moment despite its imperfections, as his moment, to which he was called.  On Tuesday, as I heard the new president preach at the seminary, I was moved by his charge to allow God’s dreams to interrupt our small goals and to use our limits as a way back to God.  As he mentioned his thirty-one years in ministry, and as I looked around the congregation filled with pastors and hopefuls, I felt that call, as I’ve felt it many times over the year, to serve, to lead, and to minister.

But then I realized: talking to a Chinese friend that morning, and forming words in another language that might provide some comfort, some empathy, some peace–I felt myself called to that.  Discussing anthropology and faith earlier this week with my faculty mentor at the seminary, I felt myself called to that.  And worshipping God on Tuesday in community and feeling free and full, I felt called to that.

Princeton Seminary from afar.

And I wondered, perhaps we are the ones who put the limits on our lives, who cling to small calls when God has wider, fuller dreams?  I feel gratefulness choking me up when I realize that a life where every moment is spent in service and praise of God makes ministers of us all–no more, no less.

My expectations brim with faith these days, faith that our definitions of call are too narrow for God’s infinite wisdom and abundant vision, faith that my limits speak of possibility when they draw me nearer to God, and faith that the kingdom of God isn’t fleeting or futuristic or finite–it’s here and it’s in you and me and all around us!

May you go this weekend in the knowledge that you are imperfectly, humbly, yet emphatically called to this life.

Amen.

 

 

In praise of the weekend

It was an invigorating, pedal-to-the-metal kind of a week, full of early mornings, course planning, expectations, connections, and preparations.  

The weather finally turned cold over here in NJ: I took a run in the freezing temperatures on Friday morning feeling quite at home, and yet I’ve also relished the opportunity to rest inside while the wind swirls outside this weekend.

This weather calls for stew, about which my husband, thankfully, knows plenty!
This weather calls for stew, about which my husband, thankfully, knows plenty!

What have you been up to?

I’ve been contemplating these words about doing less, these from the always wise and timely Anne Lamott, and wondering how I can make a visit to this amazing sounding coffee shop sometime in my future?

On Saturday morning I grabbed coffee with a seminary alumnus friend for some good, hearty conversation about academia, life, and faith.  Yesterday afternoon I combed the UPenn Anthropology museum with some friends and then went to a lovely cocktail party to celebrate another friend’s birthday down in Philly.

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Finally, this morning, Evan and I attended church and got to listen to reflections on faith and history.  The pastor read from Dr. King’s “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech which he gave the day before he died.  You can listen to it here.  His words are on my heart and my mind as we honor his memory and his dreams tomorrow.

I’ve been praying for wisdom as I begin to teach, for China, and for grace.  I keep hearing from other wise voices and God’s that I need to continue to let go and live into the harmony of the present, embracing and remaining open to what can and will be.

I’ve been missing walks in the village, the families I grew close to, even the misty sweltering Southwest China weather as of late!  But I am comforted when I see God’s hand in leading me back to this concept of harmony, so woven throughout the fabric of Chinese life and morality.

Guangxi foster family friends.
Guangxi foster family friends.

Could it be that God weaves a harmony in our lives that we are created to crave but in our sinfulness also so easily dismiss?  And could it be that fulfillment and life-giving transformation often involve minute acts of yielding to God’s harmonic rhythm rather than moving boulders, mountains, or dreams with our own two hands?

I hope your Sabbath has been restful…may you yield to God’s perfect harmony this week and give God praise for mountaintops, dreams, and the present. 

On gratitude and sacrifice

I finally listened to the speech Michelle Obama’s gave at the DNC this morning.  

My husband and I have been largely hiding behind a rock this election season, avoiding politics talk, genuinely overwhelmed by the spars, the divisions, and the pettiness when just a month ago we were living in a nation with five times as many people as this one, and where poverty, human rights, and children’s lives hang in the balance.

But, perhaps predictably, (and don’t worry, I’m not about to really get political here), the First Lady’s speech did strike a chord with me today.  Ironically, the narrative of sacrifice and commitment that she and President Obama expressed in regards to their parents reminded me of some of the culture of filial piety, once so vibrant and pervasive, that is beginning to erode in China today.

But her words about gratitude and sacrifice and humility, about learning from their parents that “so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us, to the janitors who kept our school clean” also reminded me of my own family.

My Grandfather and I this past November.

The story she told about her father struggling to walk with MS and shifting uncomfortably out of bed each morning reminded me of my grandfather who prayed everyday on his knees despite the paralysis in his own legs.  My mother has MS, so she not only knew what it was like to watch her father struggle with his paralysis, but I know what it is like to know and be inspired by someone who does not let her physical disabilities hold her back from serving others.

The sacrifice Mrs. Obama mentioned that her parents made to send her to college reminds me of my own father’s years of getting up before the sun came up and coming home after it went down, all so my sisters and I didn’t have to struggle to pay for school.  It, this gift of education, was my parents’ ultimate gift to their children and only later in life do I relish what a sacrifice it meant and what devotion it took.

My parents on Thanksgiving, 2011.

Mrs. Obama’s stories remind me of the way my dad’s parents’ scraped together during the Great Depression, their determination to live and make do with what they had, and the money my maternal grandparents left to me as they passed on, despite the fact that they always lived with so little themselves.

As Mrs. Obama spoke I realized why these stories are so powerful: they bind us to one another.  They express the gratitude to those who came before us for the lives we live today.  They recognize that the strength of humanity, not just Americans, but of all people, is this willingness to submit that perhaps their dreams won’t come true in their lifetime, but they can come true in the lives of others.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, Gramma and Grandpa, Grandma and Grandad, for loving me so unconditionally, for giving me a life full of possibility and joy, despite what your own lives may have lacked.  Your love inspires me everyday, and I hope when people compliment me on my successes, I remember the people, you, who made them possible.

Who inspires you today?  Who do you thank for your successes?  Who taught you about gratitude, and humility, and sacrifice?