Tag Archives: fellowship

Where I’m meant to be

Bikes in front of fall vines at the university.  All photos are mine.
Bikes in front of fall vines at the university. All photos are mine.

It’s already been such a busy season.

I’ve been such a delinquent blogger because of it all, and while most of the busy-ness is good (I’ve completed 2 fellowship applications out of 4, my class is going great, the dissertation is coming along, and I’m heading to a conference in a few weeks and off to spend Thanksgiving with dear friends and family…oh, and there’s the whole every-growing belly thing), sometimes I find it difficult to rise above the stress and anxiety of the season.

I’m blessed to be a pretty low-stress, low-fuss individual, and so I’m often the one others come to  to vent, emote, and share.  And I love listening and being as much comfort as possible to those around me.

Glimpsing fall through Princeton University's arches.
Glimpsing fall through Princeton University’s arches.

But I’m discovering lately that my empathy supply isn’t endless, nor is my energy, and what it means to be me is to remain rooted in God’s calling on my life, to worship, to take time in silence, and to pray.  I love my colleagues in the Anthropology Department, but sometimes I need to step away to remember why I’m working so hard on this dissertation and this dream.

For instance, the other night, I skipped the third dissertation defense in two weeks at the university to attend a gathering for church communities who want to try to be more inclusive toward people of all abilities.  We visited and got to know one another over a meal and then had a simple worship service in which we prayed with and for one another.  And this amazing thing happened–it wasn’t the people with the more apparent disabilities that needed care and prayer, but the supposedly able people at the table.  And the friends with disabilities stepped in, naturally and full of confidence, to offer care and support.

Lovely light across campus.
Lovely light across campus.

And as tears came to my eyes and chills wafted over me, I took a deep breath and knew so clearly, this is where I need to be.  This is where I’m meant to be, with all the other broken people, the imperfect people, with the children of God.  And that experience reminds me why I write this dissertation, because the story I’m telling about foster parents and disabled children in China is so much larger than me, anthropology, or the job I may or may not get.  It’s a story about God’s transforming love, and I feel simply humbled to have been a witness to it.

So no offense to academia in this season–I’ll keep writing and applying and teaching, but I’m not going to stress out about it.  I’m going to spend the time with the people who remind me who God is and who I am, and they may not be the most likely people, but they’re some of the best around.  Today I’m praising God for God’s church, all God’s children, and the perspective that finds me when I’ve lost myself somehow.

Brilliant fall colors in downtown Princeton.
Brilliant fall colors in downtown Princeton.

Thank you God, for showing me, time and again, where I’m meant to be.

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Praise.

It’s just one of those weeks where despite the busy-ness, and the ups and downs, I’ve felt God’s presence so palpably, and I’m giving God praise.

On Plymouth Harbor.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
On Plymouth Harbor. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I give God praise for speaking into the silence, for meeting us simply and whole-heartedly.

I give God praise for listening ears and spiritual guidance on the journey.

And I give God praise for fellowship.  

Last night I had a phone call with a few girlfriends from seminary in which we got to affirm one another’s call, talk through challenges, and pray together.  It reminds me how much we were meant as human beings to rejoice together–in community.  And it made me realize all over again how powerful experiencing grace is, and how deserving of praise our God is for granting us grace.

When we look around and can see God’s hand in our lives, let us not take that for granted–let us praise God.

Amen.

On language and faith

Despite the title, I don’t have anything groundbreaking to say this morning, except that fellowship breaks into the most unlikely of places, and that yesterday was a reminder of all the possibility that exists not just in thinking but in listening.

Downtown Nanning. Crowds watch the dancers in the square. All photos by Evan Schneider.

I had my first meeting with my new language partner.  It had been difficult for me to commit to finding someone to chat with in this language that means so much to me–it felt like replacing all the amazing people I’d met in one place, and the choice needed to be just right.

But I didn’t have the time for that or the money, and so I chocked this one up to the universe, letting the university arrange the placement for me.  And yesterday a woman who’s about five years ahead of me in life greeted me by the coffee bar with the abrupt, halting speech patterns only reminiscent of a Chinese speaker of English, and as she began to unload copious amounts of unsolicited advice despite what little she knew of me, something in my spirit leapt and my heart warmed.  

See, I may have mentioned that there’s a love language in China to do with giving advice–giving advice shows you care, and so people take and give as much as is humanly possible!  And as my new language partner and I settled so effortlessly into a pattern of her speaking English and me speaking Mandarin, each pausing to correct unfamiliar words, I think not only my ears, but my heart recognized something as familiar and began to open.

A couple dancing in the square.

Last night I read this piece from Amy Lepine Peterson, “Speaking Faith as a Second Language,” and it resonated so deeply with not only my cross-cultural experiences but the goals and hopes I have for the courses I am teaching next semester on culture and family ministry.  Peterson writes eloquently about the process of learning that neither her native language nor her faith truly belonged to her:

“I was also learning that English–though my native language and one of the great loves of my life–didn’t belong to me. It didn’t belong to me, or to America, or to England, or to native speakers. As a language, it is a tool to be used, not wielded in domination or colonialism, but used for negotiating meaning. Together. Yet the transformation of my English has forced me to realize something even more important: that the language of faith needs to undergo the same kind of reconstruction for me to love it and use it rightly.”

As my language partner so openly told me about her struggles with depression in this country, her indecision about having a second child, and the pressures of work and family, I had to marvel as the intimacy that simply being present for one another, speaking the same language, introduces.  I suppose because language-learning is essentially about vulnerability, being willing to stumble as you’re trying to express some of the deepest parts of you, it’s also about faith, as you surrender your dignity, and putter along like a child.

Children playing outside a school in Yunnan, Kunming.

When it comes to this course I’m teaching next semester and my partnership with my language tutor, the goals seem akin to Peterson’s:

“Letting go of your ownership of the language of faith can be frightening, unmooring. Instead of being the person with the answers, you become a person with questions. Instead of colonizing, you work to cooperate. But in seeking to agree on the most basic of things, like the meaning of the word ‘prayer,’ you find a simplicity of language which lends itself to coordinated action. Your words take on gestures, form and meaning in the real world, incarnating the love you once only spoke of. Surrendering ownership of the language of faith means recognizing that I can only speak it as a second, and learned, language.”

So letting go, relearning, and listening.  That’s what God’s got on my heart this morning…what about you?