Tag Archives: faithfulness

Why I prefer the (next) faithful thing to the next best thing

There is this phrase going around in Christian, perhaps primarily evangelical circles, that urges, just do the next right thing.

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Lucia grins at mommy from her wheelchair post spit up…All photos mine.

Somehow, the phrase always feels a bit off to me, like it’s mocking me. Maybe the people who wrote it never had a kid with disabilities who’d throw up her food inexplicably every couple days and then grin at you as if nothing had happened (see above photo). Maybe they have a bit more control over their choices than I do. Or at least they feel like they do. Or they know right when they see it.

But I don’t.

It feels downright audacious to say that I know what’s right for me or for my kid anymore than I know what tomorrow may bring. And as I’ve grown older I’ve started to trust that maybe it’s not so much about getting it right by God as being faithful. Being faithful the best we can, and trusting and relying deeply on God for all of it, all the things.

So this morning after this little marvel spit up her breakfast and then looked around and smiled unfazed, we took a walk. We went walking past that old barn they’re refurbishing down the road, I picked a flower, I ran part of the way just to see the wind in her hair. I really think the right thing may have been to cradle her in my arms on the couch rather than expose her to the bugs and the heat and the Earth.

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Refurbished barn down the road.
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Lucia holds the flower mommy picked for her on the walk.

But the faithful thing, savoring life with Lucia, has always reminded me of the extravagance that is God and the gifts God gives. And because God’s faithfulness is extravagant, it’s not just right, it’s also wild and free. So maybe we Christians, especially American Christians, have to be reminded that faithfulness is less self-reliance and more risky reliance on God. I wonder what our world would look like if we exchanged more risks for God for “right” steps.

A walk seems pretty tame in that light. But Lucia’s been a pretty good companion for such a journey, and maybe we’re just getting started…

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Our preparations are not our own

I was really humbled to preach the first sermon in Advent at chapel yesterday at the seminary.  For those of you who have been asking, here is a transcript of the sermon.  

Blessings on your Advent preparations!

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Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John.  Photo credit: Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org.

As begin our journey in Advent this morning, we recall that the narrative of Jesus’s birth in Luke is intertwined with the parallel story of John the Baptist’s birth and his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth.   In verses 5-20 of chapter 1, we are plunged into what Joel Green calls “the small town struggles of a little-known priest and his wife…the atmosphere is permeated by the piety of Second Temple Judaism and Jewish hopes for divine intervention.”

Now we’re living in a very different context than Zechariah and Elizabeth, but they feel like people we seminarians can relate to. They’re pretty faithful people. They’re really faithful people. Zechariah is a priest who’s given the honor of entering the sanctuary and offering incense in conjunction with sacrifices. The scripture tells us that he and his wife Elizabeth “were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.”

But in placing their childlessness directly after their high religious and social status, the scripture isn’t just showing us their social disgrace but reminding us of their suffering. For Zechariah and Elizabeth who scripture tells us are “both getting on in years” we can only imagine that if they have been struggling to conceive for quite some time, they have likely known the pain of losing children, carrying hope and letting go of it.

And so when the angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah, fear overwhelms him and though he’s told he and his wife will rejoice at the birth of a son John who will be great in the sight of the Lord, he doesn’t believe it. “How will I know this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” We’ve been prepared for years for this, Zechariah thinks. We’re in the temple everyday, we’re faithful, we’ve prayed and yet our prayers have gone unanswered. How will we know this time will be any different?

I find some solace in this beginning to Advent, this hard place, this small story in which God comes close and carries out God’s very plans amidst our lives. But I struggle to believe, too. You see, I have been pregnant during Advent, filled with the expectation of a child, of hope, of new life, but I have also miscarried in this season. And a few years ago, during Advent, even after having a child, my husband and I were still waiting. Following our daughter’s seizures and hospitalizations, around 10 months they did some blood tests, they sent them away, and we waited for a diagnosis.

And when we got our daughter Lucia’s diagnosis, a progressive, genetic disease of the brain, I remember wanting to be prepared. I googled the symptoms, the treatments, the prognosis. “Death in early childhood” it read. And so I remember wanting to be prepared for when, for how, for what that would look like, so I googled a lot more. We got a diagnosis and now I wanted a prognosis. I remember wanting to be prepared.

But for what? So I could hold back just a little bit, so I could love her…just a little less? What?

Now I would be lying if I told you that as a parent of a child with disability and a scholar of disability that I wasn’t pretty uncomfortable with a text this morning that seems to use muteness, disability, as a punishment for doubt and disbelief.

But my own experience also makes me wonder if there’s more to what God is communicating here. Because I remember that feeling of seeing the beautiful child God had put before me and yet wanting even more reassurance that things would be okay. Maybe that’s where Zechariah was, too, after all that waiting, even with the angel’s proclamation, he just wanted reassurance that things would really be okay. Even the good news wasn’t good enough to overcome all his fears, his plans, his googling. Maybe for Zechariah and for me and for you, we have been tempted to continue doggedly on with our own plans, because at least it gives us some control. When we begin the story, Zechariah and Elizabeth are seemingly in control of their lives and where we end our lesson this morning, perhaps the problem is that Zechariah is still struggling for it. He’d rather cling to control than experience what God has in store.

And so silence that looks like a curse of Zechariah’s unfaithfulness may be the very reminder in this Advent season that God is active in our smalltown lives even when we don’t believe it to be so. That loss and heartache and suffering and pain are the very places where God seeks to meet us, but where we often try to control that God who wants to break into our lives and our world with radical, reckless love. The best thing that God did for me in that Advent season was not to give me a clear prognosis, a healthy child or a new computer where I could google my future to death, but like Zechariah, God invited me to lay beside my plans and just love the person in front of me. God gives us life to go on living, not always in the form of children, but always in the people beside us and the ordinary circumstances of our lives—reoriented, shifted, rerouted toward the extraordinary love of Jesus Christ, our savior.

That son who will be born to Zechariah, John, will go onto urge us to “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” But make no mistake this Advent, we are but participants in the saving work of God, Jesus, and the Spirit. Thank God that our preparations are not our own.

Learning to hope again

“For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  –Romans 8:24-25

A few months ago I began prepping a sermon on Romans 8, focusing on the two verses that come after these ones.  In fact, the part that comes next, about how “when we do not know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), is one of my favorite passages in the Bible.  I love silent prayer and contemplation, and so I began scribbling down all sorts of ideas as I was brainstorming to preach.  I don’t even remember what I wrote down at the time, but one of the ideas was something like, “God dares us to hope again after loss, pain, and fear.”

I put my notebook away, and I went onto write the sermon a day or so later, preach it, and presumably move on.

But still, that message about hope was calling me.  

In fact, months later, I’m still thinking about it.  What that passage and my reflections on hope began to reveal to me is that faithfulness in this season of life, especially with Lucia, has often involved letting go of our expectations in order to love her as she is and celebrate her life.  This has been such a good and Godly way of learning to love, and especially when we’ve often stood in the balance of not knowing when the next crisis will strike or when we may need to let go, it’s been a powerful and fruitful way to live.

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Holding Lucia on her first birthday.  Photo by Andrew Nurkin.

But I also realize now that as we’d let go of expectations and fully embraced the uncertainty of our lives together, we’d not been particularly welcome or wont to hope.

Indeed, a few months ago, another parent said something casual to me like, “I’m just so looking forward to when she can do X…”  Yet another chirped, “Don’t you just look forward to each stage?”  The statements were remarkable because I realized, not mournfully or proudly, but simply and practically, that I certainly didn’t have the same hopes for Lucia.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t have hopes.

Something has shifted over the past few months for me.  Perhaps it’s because Lucia’s joy–her smiles, her giggles, are so contagious that we can’t help but want for more.  Perhaps it is because we’ve begun to realize that there’s a certain faithfulness (where perhaps we once thought it mere naiveté or denial) to believing and looking forward and wanting more for your child even when the future (gosh, everyone’s future!) is always uncertain.  “Who hopes for what is seen?” Paul asks, and it dawns on me that all hope is outrageous and audacious and almost senseless.  It dawns on me that true hope, hope despite fear, loss, and pain, is the most outrageous of them all, but deeply, wildly, and decidedly faithful.

What’s striking to me in this season is that even as Lucia’s daily health challenges continue, I think God is inviting us to dream a bit, to hope a lot, to envision a great and glorious and good life, even if it’s completely uncertain, for our daughter with special needs.

This is a huge shift for me…and it’s a little scary.  

And it’s not the sermon I preached that Sunday.  In fact, to this day, I don’t know how God did that–helped me write a sermon for others even as God prepared a sermon just for me.  And I am wary, as I always am, too pensive and critical, because hope for many often takes the shape of bi-ped hubris, therapeutic progress, or medical cures for Lucia, and I feel distinctly called to inhabit this tension of living and loving her now, and yet loving and hoping for her tomorrow, too.

So I find hope in the home we are making for Lucia, in the thought of her making friends at school someday, touching so many lives as she does ours everyday, teaching others, reaching out for babies and friends and strangers, and having many more swims and smiles and heroic turns of her head toward the things and the people that she wants and cares for!  These are my small, perhaps tentative, but genuine, prayerful, and faithful hopes for my daughter.

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Our little light looking for the light on a recent walk around the neighborhood.  My photo.

We will always savor the present, but we find new hope in the future with God’s help.

 

 

What God Did

A few weeks ago I sat in the pews as my colleague and senior pastor led the prayers of the people, and I lifted one for Lucia’s upcoming surgery.  My voice wavering, I asked for prayers not just for the doctors, for health, and for our little girl, but for my husband and for me.  I explained that in facing another surgery that could have mixed results, I’d grown a bit weary and leery, and my faith was faltering.  It’s so hard as a parent to make decisions for your child that involve both risk and reward.  Lucia was doing so well, and I wondered whether another surgery was the most faithful decision.  Could the congregation be my faith, could they lift prayers for us even as we were feeling weak? I wondered aloud.

Mind you, I’m one of the pastors of this church, and I wasn’t sure how prayers for faith from one of the spiritual leaders in their midst would be received.  But not a person came up to me that Sunday scolding me for my weakness, my fears, or my lack of faith.  Instead, I remember lots of assurances that prayers would be lifted, many looks of concern on their faces as I spoke my prayer, and many knowing, earnest nods as I let them know that even for a pastor, sometimes faith is hard to come by.

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Fresh snowfall on the Princeton Seminary campus.  All photos are mine.

Several weeks have passed, and Lucia’s surgery has not only brought her incredible comfort from reflux, but she is now feeding into her stomach (instead of her small intestine), an intervention that seems to bring her the satisfaction of feeling full and the comfort and freedom of having natural breaks from feeding throughout the day.  However, it is hard to describe the extent of the intangible transformation for her and for us: it feels as if there’s a part of her spirit that has been set free, and we are all growing closer, as she’s more alert, communicative, and joyful.

As I reflect on the miraculous results of this surgery and this transformation, I am left with no other explanation than that God did that.  This summer I felt that Lucia’s intestinal feeding tube had provided her unprecedented comfort, happiness, and tranquility, but these past few weeks, a transformed Lucia has smiled up at us, and I am in awe and so deeply grateful.

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Blue skies and the grad tower peek through the snowfall.  

But God didn’t just surprise us by transforming Lucia; rather such transformation is apparent in us as parents because of the faithful who love Lucia for who she has been, will be, and who she is.  I’m writing this today because it’s so important to talk about what God has done and what God can do even when we struggle to believe, how God’s faithfulness transcends our wildest imagination.  And I believe that those people in the pews who love Lucia so unconditionally are part and parcel of who I know God to be.  What a gift it is to be part of a community of faith who accept me for my weaknesses, who pray for my child, and who do these things not because they expect results or know what’s in store, but because they desire to trust God–they are the faithful.

And I am so grateful that in faith, we don’t have to go it alone–that God’s transformation happens through people, through prayer, and in us.  I am so grateful that after all these years God is still full of surprises and one of those is that even when you falter, there’s faith enough for the least of these, for the faithless, the weary and the leery.  In a world which doesn’t always recognize Lucia as fearfully and wonderfully made, it’s kind of miraculous that I’m surrounded by people who actually keep reminding me of that.

And the fact that God did all that–well, these days my faith runneth over!  And you can borrow it when you need it someday, I’m deliriously humbled and happy to owe you all a prayer or two.  Perhaps that how faith works: we owe it all to God and to one another, but in being bound to one another, we are set free.

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One of those sweet smiles that makes the world stop!

 

Counter-cultural living

In 2007, I began a seminary field education placement that would lead to a part-time ministry during my Ph.D. coursework with a pair of multicultural congregations in North Jersey.  One is a biracial congregation whose integrated demographics had survived the Newark Race Riots and welcomed a few African and Caribbean immigrants in recent years.  The local community, however, had been in transition, and the church’s numbers dwindled as more and more Spanish-speaking immigrants poured into the area.

The other congregation meets in the sprawling building’s chapel and boasts members from nearly twenty Latin American countries.  Forty-eight years ago they were established as a mission of the presbytery and they worship in their native Spanish, enduring the challenges of leaving families behind in unstable, impoverished, and war-torn countries, and navigating new immigration processes, jobs, schools, and life in a new country.

Iglesia Presbiteriana Nuevas Fronteras, 2011.
Iglesia Presbiteriana Nuevas Fronteras, 2011.

This past Sunday, members from both congregations gathered in the stately, hundred year-old sanctuary to celebrate something new: the Spanish-speaking congregation became a chartered and organized church of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  We worshipped for three hours in Spanish and English, led by the youthful chorus of the praise band and the words of former interns, church members, local pastors, and even the moderator of the PCUSA.

For Evan and I, despite our Caucasian backgrounds and our recent two years in China, it felt distinctly, like coming home.

This was the place where my own call to ministry had been nurtured by these generous people who allowed me to pray for their struggles that I could often hardly fathom, who welcomed me into their homes, and who dismissed the jumbled Spanish of a gringa woman in their midst.  I hadn’t realized until I looked around that multi-colored room this past Sunday what a powerful a witness these two little congregations in North Jersey had made.

I’d been the fourth in a long line of seminary interns, but the first who wasn’t from a Latino, Carribbean, or African American background, and yet, they’d hardly made me aware of that difference.  They’d welcomed me when they had every reason to look at the color of my skin and hear my accent and find ample reason to keep their fellowship insulated from the America which often doesn’t show them anything like hospitality, equality, or dignity.  They’d taught me when they had every reason to be suspicious of my willingness to learn or my ability to leave the privilege that had gotten me to halls of higher education and power at the door of that little chapel.  They’d ministered to me when they had precious little, the English-speaking church few members and resources, the Spanish-speaking church little funds or time to spare given their busy lives caring for children and working several jobs.

Some of the former interns of Nuevas Fronteras and UPC.
Some of the former interns of Nuevas Fronteras and UPC.

But as we celebrated on Sunday, as ministers struggled to characterize the length of their struggle as forty-eight years in the wilderness, as waiting on the timing of God, the members of the congregation who got up to speak subtly, yet confidently proclaimed the truth that despite the importance of what was happening that day, they had always been a church.  They didn’t need (and hear I sound like a bit of a Presbyterian heretic but I’m willing to take that risk) the approval of their denomination, a piece of paper, or a service full of pomp and circumstance to allow them to minister, because they’d been doing it, for those in the community, those in the church, and people like me, for forty-eight years.

Their ministry reminds me that when we take what little we have and we put it into God’s hands, far greater things than we could possibly imagine come to pass.  The trouble is, we’re usually so hesitant to trust, so hell-bent on recognition for our service, and so afraid to believe.  It’s counter-cultural to take everything that you have, especially when you don’t have much, and faithfully thrust it into Jesus’s hands, it’s counter-cultural to minister without much recognition to communities in need, and it’s counter-cultural to admit those to your fellowship who don’t look much like you and in fact, represent a lot of the power structures that give you hell on an everyday basis.

Over the years this Spanish-speaking mission, now chartered church, has trained sixteen interns and raised up twelve candidates for pastoral ministry in the PCUSA.  Those are stats that congregations with three times their size and three times their history only dream of.  But somehow along the way this little church has understood that miracles don’t happen by our own muscle, but by God’s grace, and that faithfulness is not for the in between times, but faithfulness is what life is all about.

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They have always been a church.  They have always been ministering.  Thank you, Iglesia Presbiteriana Nuevas Fronteras, and United Presbyterian Church, for always ministering to me.

Expect everything.

With foster children and parents in Guangxi, Nanning.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

It’s an interesting thing, this business of homecoming, because at a point when you feel quite vulnerable, listless, and perplexed about how to reknit yourself into the fabric of this place and these people, others seem to be prolific with giving advice.

I had been hanging onto some of those pieces of advice as of late, not quite knowing what to do with them, but succumbing to their power nonetheless.  I was told by several people after coming back from two years in China to simply take some time, not to dive into my notes, and to not move on or forward too quickly lest the disorienting power of culture shock creep up even more over me and paralyze me with a vengeance.

And I think those well-meaning people were onto something there.  

Gorgeous morning on the Princeton campus in the President’s garden.

I have discovered along the way that it’s been important for me to be cognizant of the illusion of control not only in China but in this place, for me to seek God especially when I’ve failed him, and for me to convene and to trust that God is the same here as God was in China, or anywhere else for that matter.

But somewhere along the way I also took the advice given to translate as the supreme surrender that this time of culture shock and readjustment would be a period of great unknown, and therefore I should have no expectations of life, God, others, or myself.  There have been times in my life where expectations proved seriously unhelpful, and where tossing them into the ocean has taken great faith and conviction and produced great peace and comfort.

Halong Bay, Vietnam. Photo by Evan Schneider.

But I hear God telling me that this is not one of those times.

Instead, I hear God reminding me that we are a forward people, that I’m cut from the cloth of other pilgrims, seekers, and dreamers, and that making a life in a new place comes easier if I believe, I trust, and I expect God to go ahead of me.  In fact, I hear God saying that in this moment, that’s what faith looks like, a daring openness to those and this life around me.  I hear God reminding me that even though many of my expectations of China were bowled over by the sheer unpredictability of life there, God’s faithfulness certainly wasn’t.

With friends in China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

And I’m reminded how sweet it is to be a person of faith and to find that even when many around you will tell you that there’s no rhyme or reason to this season, that you can’t count on anything at all, we can.

We can trust God to be there.  We can trust God to move.  And we can expect everything, because of what God has done for us.

Amen.

Provision

So if you’re like me, you have a pretty public blog, where you post about your mountaintop moments in life and in faith, and where you (rather subconsciously) try to minimize the doubting that goes on in the shadows, because that’s not really so compelling, nor is it the stuff that good, religious folks are all about.

Princeton in the fall. Looking forward to this!

But, as it turns out, we live in the shadows, rather than on the mountaintops, and I’m pretty sure nobody’s good and religious and faithful all the time…

…except God.  And thank God for that!

Valleys and mountains all wrapped into one in Guangxi, Zhongliu village. Photo by Evan Schneider.

You see in the midst of the missing-China-blues, the listlessness that I can’t quite explain or shake, the doubts that did make the blog, and the ones that didn’t, God’s been working  silently, heroically, and with a sense of humor, like only God does and can, to squash those doubts to pieces.

Because it just can’t be a coincidence that in only two weeks of moving into our housing complex in the US that I’ve met an amazing couple with a baby with special needs, another neighbor couple just moving from Hong Kong, and yet another neighbor couple who is…Chinese!

Do you ever feel just totally ridiculous for making your fears larger than life, larger than God, for feeling paralyzed, for doubting for a hot second that God isn’t all in this and through this life with God’s hands down in our muck in a powerful, powerful way?  And isn’t it just the best feeling, to be so, so wrong about a God that is so deeply faithful?

A view of the Princeton campus nestled between trees.

Okay, this is another mountaintop post, and I sort of apologize for that.

But if you hear anything today from me, hear that I’m a mess and God is faithful, and that’s the stuff of shadows shot through with light and meaning in the madness.

And praise God, with me, for God is faithful!

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}

 

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

I realize I’ve never told the story of how we got to China.

There’s more to it than can fit in one post, of course, but last night a good part of the journey kind of came full circle.  You see, back in 2009 when I was searching for a city in China to meet foster mothers and study foster families and was shooting off emails to anyone I knew who had any connection to China (and fretting about taking a trip to an unknown place where I knew no one!), a friend of mine came through with a list of close to forty names of friends who might be helpful.

And I sent practically everyone on that list an email, but as it sometimes goes, I got only a few back.  One was from a family that had lived in Nanning a few years ago, and the woman said she knew foster families.  We started corresponding by email, and I’ll never forget how she called me up out of the blue in March of 2009 and said, why don’t I just go with you, why don’t I take you to meet my friends?

Visiting Angel House in Nanning in 2009 with friends.

We met up with she and her husband in Nanning for the first time in June of 2009, and true to form, she introduced me to everyone she knew, people who would become my research contacts, my tutors, my trusted friends.  And many thanks to she and her husband’s introductions, when it came time to choose a place to do my research, a place for my husband and I to make our home for the next two years, there was no question in our mind that Nanning would be the right fit.

Camping with our friends in 2009.

We camped with our new friends and their four kids in August of 2009 in the states and moved here the following one.  And last night, our friends who played hosts to us in Nanning that first summer had the chance to return to Asia for a brief trip, and share a meal at our apartment in China.

We filled them in on the adventures of our lives over the past two years here: our experiences traveling in Yunnan and meeting with minority Christians, the ways in which my research with foster families has unfolded and grown, and the countless learning experiences in faith and culture we’ve shared in this place.

Minority children in the mountains of Yunnan.

We teared up as I recalled the way this woman, who has become a lifelong friend, embraced my project as her own three summers ago, marching around the city and in her limited Chinese asking everyone and anyone whether they knew foster mothers. She inspired me so much, teaching me what it truly means to be bold and serve others and trust God.

Our friends prayed for us as we prepare to leave China, and we had a chance to thank them for their commitment and goodness to us.  I told them how my friend who’d emailed me all those names awhile back recently reflected that she’d almost failed to include their family’s information, fearing they’d be too busy or wouldn’t have any connections to China.

And when I think on God’s intricate plans, I know there are none more excellent.  It was so meaningful to hear their blessings prayed over us last night, people who in so many ways are responsible for the success of this journey.  And while it will be bittersweet to leave this place, the foresight of God to bring these people into our lives across the distance and over the years reminds me that God has been and will be faithful in this and every step of the journey.

Be bold.

Be bold.

A couple weeks ago during the board trip for the charity I’ve been partnering with here in China, a board member challenged the China staff and the participants to be bold in the Lord.  And we began to talk about what that looks like.

Another Chinese friend of mine has been reading the Old Testament and contemplating the connection between prayers and signs from God (See Genesis 24).  We’ve talked a great deal about how we pray and how we might be bold in asking God for what we truly desire while not falling into unhealthy patterns of testing or bargaining with God.

And over the past few weeks I’ve been emboldened to pray differently, passionately, and urgently for the future I desire, for new post-China opportunities to serve God and to grow together in faith with friends and family.  And while I’ve not yet seen my Rebekah arrive at the well like Abraham’s servant, I can say emphatically that these prayers have brought me a new kind of peace in the face of uncertainty, they’ve opened my eyes to God’s work in my midst, and they’ve made me more aware of God’s presence in my relationships with others.

If those aren’t signs, I don’t know what are!

Early morning on Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.

And just as I’ve heard God calling me to be bold in prayer, I’ve also heard God convicting me to share God’s faithfulness and my own efforts to be faithful with others.  What I’m feeling isn’t a naive conviction that things will go perfectly according to plan but that God will provide (as God has before), which actually changes my perspective in that I see the signs of that faithfulness earlier and more clearly than I might otherwise.

When I wrote about the peace I experienced in the midst of my Grandpa’s trials, I almost felt guilty, but I realize that this peace is not incidental or manmade, but powerful and why our God is worthy of praise.  I remember awhile back hearing a fellow person of faith say being a believer in God doesn’t insulate us from life’s struggles or pain, or even fear, but because we know we’re not alone or on our own in the midst of them, it makes it all decidedly less daunting.

Scenes from Halong Bay, Vietnam. All photos by Evan Schneider.

Likewise, because so many other friends chose to lift my Grandpa up in prayer and to honor his life, although I felt great sorrow in his passing, I also felt great joy that I had the opportunity to know him and to share his life with others.  Regarding our post-China future, I’ve noticed that instead of focusing on the uncertainty of our lives right now, I have this palpable assurance that God is about to do something great…and why not?

So be bold.  And while it may sound trite, be bold enough today to trust and believe and live the promise that God is good…all the time.