Tag Archives: future

Waiting with joy in Advent

They are the social media forums that are the windows to our souls–an article about the lack of services for young adults with disabilities making the transition from school to work and out of the home is bookended by a comment from a mother whose daughter is only two and a half, but she says these are the very challenges that already keep her up at night.  Another post in a Facebook group is from a mother who’s just given birth by emergency c-section but less than 24 hours later she’s writing to ask if there are other parents whose children had similar births.  How were they affected? she asks.  What did their futures hold?

A few weeks later I sit in the pews in the second week in Advent and the pastor up front tells us about a question put to her at the beginning of this school year that she’s still pondering in this season, over four months later, and she asks it of all of us:

“What are you waiting for?”

I am not waiting for my daughter to die, speaks a still, small voice inside of me.

It’s a statement that feels so foreign to my being that I’m altogether startled by it, as if I brushed up against it and now I’m disoriented and dizzied.  No one waits for their child to die, I ponder…and yet we all do, in a way.  In fact, how many of us really live our lives longing for, with an expectation for life, rather than death?

I think back to those message boards and I see people for whom the future is tyranny and agony and for whom waiting is shot through with worrying and fear, one might say even death and despair.  As a parent of a child with a terminal disease I know that I would not be able to live with the tyranny of the future looming like that.  I’m not saying that I do not have moments where I blink back tears, so starkly aware for just a moment that life without my daughter seems altogether bleak or meaningless.  I have also had moments where her suffering seemed to be costing her too much in the land of the living.

And that thought didn’t come from nowhere.  Clearly, I am not immune, as anyone who lives in this world, to the reality of the pain of death.

But I realized relatively early on that while embracing Lucia for who she was would mean embracing death, it would also mean living an extraordinary life quite impossible without her.

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My photo.  Our family at Christmas.

A few weeks ago as I preached that first week of Advent, ruminating on John the Baptist’s birth, a friend of mine pointed out that Zechariah and Elizabeth, like Mary and Joseph, would have their greatest longings for life granted in this child, only to find their greatest heartbreak in his death.  Another friend of mine pointed out recently, and I’d never thought about it this way before, that these parents were living with children who had terminal diagnoses.  Jesus was predestined to die a premature death.

But there’s so much more to the story, as we know.  And Jesus’s story, even as it is often overshadowed by his bloody, violent crucifixion, was all about overcoming death–it was all about radiant, redeeming, everlasting–life.

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for??!

The question begins to scream at me.  Because I can plainly see how the story of Jesus’s life, his parents’ lives, all our lives, are not so much about death, but about living life with abandon, with reckless, heartfelt love that bleeds out all over those around us who are suffering here on earth.  What if that kind of all of us-all on love, is what life, not just death, is really about?

As she closed her sermon, the pastor talked about how so much of ministry is about waiting with people.  And suddenly it occurred to me that when people wait with me, they’re often assuming we’re waiting for Lucia’s death–they tiptoe, they want to walk with us gently and patiently toward an inevitable tragedy, an inevitable heartache.  But I just don’t think that’s how God sees Lucia and her life.  And that isn’t how God is with us, how God has waited with us all these years.

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Photo credit.

It strikes me that in this third week in Advent, as we light the candle of joy and we celebrate joy in Jesus’s birth, as well as Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection that the tyranny of the future really threatens to rob us of the joy of the present.  That how we wait is as crucial as what we are waiting for.

So as for my family and I, the tyranny of the future can wait.  We will go on living, looking for signs of life, not just in this season, but in every season.  And we will wait with joy.

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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.

 

 

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?

Faithful with this moment

 As 2015 has begun, I’ve been filled with this desire to be faithful to God.  But what does that mean?

As I’ve reflected on all the uncertainty in my own life and the world, I continue to struggle with trusting God with the future and what is beyond my knowing.  When I picture the future, my wildest dreams still sometimes tend toward anxiety, and I begin to worry, doubt, fear, and breed resentment.  I know these are not faithful feelings, and I worry that I’m just not cut out for this life of faith.

Awning and lights in Paris, France.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
Awning and lights in Paris, France. All photos by Evan Schneider.

But I’ve also realized something.  When my daughter cries, I turn without thinking to wrap her in my arms.  When a student in front of me needs counsel, I listen intently and reply with carefully chosen words.  When those around me are hurting or in need, I lift them up in prayer, and I strive to serve them.

When it comes to one moment, I think I can be faithful.  I can be faithful with this moment rather than fearful of what I do not know.  And suddenly faithfulness becomes not something unattainable or fleeting, but a daily practice of breathing and walking with the God of this moment.  

A couple days ago I found myself saying to a tearful student in my office,  “I know at this moment, you have no idea what decision you will make in the future and how you will make it.  But you are a capable person.  You are doing everything you can to gather all the information and be prepared to make a good decision.  Therefore, I trust and believe that you will make a good one when the time  comes.”

The River Seine at night.
The River Seine at night.

I love saying those words.  

I love letting others know that when the world and uncertainty fill them with doubt and fear, there is reason to trust otherwise.  I love believing in a God who is invested so deeply in our lives, in making us capable, faithful people, rather than leaving us to our own devices.  And I love knowing that faithfulness isn’t just about some lofty goal or distant future, but is the stuff of now, of taking care of this moment, with God never far away.

Now, if I could only listen to my own advice…

The God of possibility and present

Remember how I shared with you that God has been teaching me a bit this past year about how to be content, like the apostle Paul, in all circumstances, and how I’ve learned that life is so much more full of possibility with God at the reins?

I’m happy to report that I have a draft of my dissertation–all five body chapters–and am working to make revisions to these before the baby comes.  Throughout the pregnancy, even though I haven’t felt great, I’ve been really active, continuing my normal runs (albeit shorter and slower) along the canal, and I’ve had a fair amount of energy, which I’ve been really thankful for.

The D & R Canal in the snow.

Still, it’s been discouraging to hear unsolicited advice and comments from strangers or acquaintances warning that I’ll “get nothing done after the baby comes,” or that the energy, productivity, and passion that I have for my dissertation project will necessarily fall by the wayside.

 I can’t anticipate what it’s like to have a baby.  

I imagine it will be an uncanny mix of exhaustion, joy, and fear, and schedules and priorities will necessarily have to shift, but I have no way of knowing what’s really coming.  It’s a completely new experience for my husband and I, and so these comments have, on occasion, sprouted little seeds of doubt about myself and the life and passions I seemingly will have to give up for a new baby.

I’ve been noticing, however, that I’m not a stranger to the unknown, and that through all the unknowns in my life, God has been decidedly faithful, providing possibilities I, myself, could have never foreseen.  It’s been helpful as I approach the unknown of having a child to remember how my husband and I felt, for instance, before going to live in China.  We had no idea what to expect, and yet, we prepared as best we could, seeking counseling, reading books, imagining potential conflicts, difficulties, and pitfalls, as well as looking forward to the excitement of a new experience.

My family hiking in the rice terraces outside Guilin, Guangxi.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
My family hiking in the rice terraces outside Guilin, Guangxi. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for sometime may recall how much the experience of living in China surpassed my expectations and deepened my relationship with my husband, God, and others.  There were definitely moments that my husband and I didn’t anticipate (stressful visa issues, our entire apartment flooding, the general wear and tear of trying to assimilate to a culture and speak a language that wasn’t our own), but overall, I felt closer to God in China than ever, I made lasting relationships with incredible people, and I think that challenge even strengthened my relationship with my husband.

I recently read a blog post about productivity from Zen Habits in which the author describes anxiety as a lack of trust in the future.  While I think this makes sense, I don’t necessarily see a reason to trust the future per say, but I do want to be a person who trusts God with my future.  God sees possibilities for us that we can’t, but we often struggle to let God be God when it comes to the future.  For instance, the teaching experience that I just completed at Drew that was so formative for me wasn’t even on the radar until summer last year.  If I had panicked and chosen something else, I would have missed out on one of God’s possibilities.

It’s funny how this kind of trust in God can impact not just the future, but the present.  For instance, when I realized that the negative voices of strangers often came from a place of anxiety themselves, I gradually began to also hear the confidence and encouragement of friends who know me well.  My spiritual director told me she’d never been more productive than when she had a newborn who slept all the time, my advisor never wavered from believing that I could complete both a dissertation and have a baby, and my friends only seem to be more supportive of me now that my husband and I are embarking on this new season in life.  It means so much to have God using these friends and mentors to remind me who I am during this time.

Walking on the towpath in Princeton with a dear friend.  Photo by Schneider.
Walking on the towpath in Princeton with a dear friend. Photo by Schneider.

I love a challenge–I always have, from that first trip to Mexico in high school to our life in China, to writing a dissertation, and finally having a baby–these are all things that at one point seemed impossible that God made possible.  And so here I am, over eight months pregnant, working on a dissertation, expecting a baby, and wondering what possibilities God has in store for this coming fall.

And with God by my side, I hardly feel anxious.  

It’s this challenge of faith, trusting the future to God, and leaning on God to yield contentment and peace in the present, that’s keeping me grounded, confident, and filled with gratitude.  I don’t think contentment is about sliding into complacency.  On the contrary, it’s about living faithfully with the uncertain, another challenge that God’s been guiding me through these past years.  I just keep marveling on how much God can do with our lives when we bow them at God’s feet rather than wresting them from a God who wants to show us possibility.

How do you trust God with your future?  How do you find contentment in your present?  How do you worship God with your life?

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

How to not speak of God

Allen Ginsberg – view from my kitchen window, 1984

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, from the great plains of Oklahoma, buying a car, insurance, and learning (or should I say not really learning) how to use our smart phones.  And then packing up that car and driving it some 1500 miles cross-country, in the good-old great American road trip fashion.

I’m very much a creature of habit.  

I love routine, because it keeps me balanced and aware.  Writing this blog has added to that discipline of seeking to be aware of God in every moment, so I’d like to attribute my lack of connection with God as of late toour transience and our busy-ness.

But I can’t.

To do so would be not only dishonest, but also misleading.  The fact is, God is everywhere and in everything (after all I managed to adjust to my unpredictable fieldwork and life in China), and even if there truly are more distractions here in America, it is I who choose to be distracted by them.

In the moments where I’ve been present with God, God’s presence has also been palpable.

Like at my dear friends’ wedding this past weekend, where I had the honor of praying for the the bride before she walked down the aisle and praying the blessing at the reception.  And so many friends and strangers, from so many walks of spirituality, came up to me confirming God’s presence in those moments.

Or the funny little discipline my husband and I found in reading Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother aloud to one another on our road trip, and pausing to discuss Chinese culture, life, and relationships.  Or regarding God’s breadth and goodness as I hear my professor’s husband confirm that God must have heard our prayers for his cancer from China, because his progress has been steady, his condition remarkably stable.

But there have also been too many moments where I’ve referred aloud to God’s provision as luck, when I’ve tucked my faith and my vulnerability out of earshot, not wanting to burden anyone with the fact that I’m not sure how well I’m doing with being back in the US, or admit that I’ve spent less time talking to God as of late, and I’m wondering what to say or how to pray.

So I’m confessing here that I’m all too often an expert at how not to speak of God rather than how to, and that doing so, even for a budding minister, is difficult, risky, important, and takes practice.  

And while I’m feeling disappointingly aware of the moments where I should have spoken up, and the moments where I’ve failed, I’m also feeling confident in God’s presence, despite my absence.  And this evening I’m trusting in God’s ability to keep growing me toward God and others this day, tomorrow, and in the future…wherever that may be.

Peace for the moment

Warning: International move in progress…and shown, along with reverse cultural shock,  to also have side effects of extreme sappiness.  Please humor me these next couple of weeks, dear readers!

Feeding the fish in Guangxi, Guilin.

Maybe things aren’t working out perfectly, and maybe they’re even about to get really, really hard, but just as there’s been grace for moments like these, I’m reveling in the peace, God’s peace, that’s been washing over me these mesmerizing last days in China.

Walking with friends in downtown Yunnan, Kunming.

It’s such a peace that’s got the husband and I dreaming with a reckless abandon (rather than worrying with wracked paralysis!) about what’s in store for the future.  As we sort through two years of papers and research and clutter and life here, I find myself looking over at him and being ever so thankful for his goodness, his curiosity, his companionship.

Evan and I in Guangxi, Yangshuo on our third anniversary.

As I walked back to the orphanage the other evening with one of my Chinese friends I told her the gist of how my husband and I got to China, how it was he, who ten years ago came here for two summers and found himself drawn to the culture, the people, and the place.  But in varied twists of fate, he never made it back, and went sifting through a bundle of doubts and questions and frustrations and miraculously through all of it found his way to seminary.

And as we became friends, fell in love, and eventually married, he told me of that dream to return to China and his passion captivated me as well.  So without knowing that the seemingly rash actions I took at the time–enrolling for Chinese 101 with the undergrads and beginning this study of Chinese foster mothers despite the plans I had to write my dissertation on Mexican women in the Pentecostal movement (I’ll get to that project one day!)–were the stuff of faith, I began to feel my way toward this place, China, as well. 

Girls playing in the Li River, Guangxi, Yangshuo.

And as I told this story to my friend the other evening I said that I’m not too certain of many things in my young life, but despite the wildness and the difficulty of it all, I’ve always been fairly certain that Evan and I were meant to go to China together.

It’s funny because when we first got here, everyone we met in China wanted to know if it was Evan who followed me here or the other way around, and despite my incessant claims that we’d very much come here together, because we both wanted to be in China, I could tell that didn’t make sense to them, not grammatically, not culturally, not logically.

Hiking the rice terraces with my family in Guangxi, Zhongliu, June 2012.

So it is that peace comes to us, surpassing all understanding, and settling into the cracks of ill-conceived plans, pushing aside our greediness for things like power and security, and our obvious limitations.  And so people who need each other find each other and not logically or fantastically, but quietly and providentially.  And peace lives and breathes in a place where faith is rich and alive, and the rest is just details.  That place, for my husband and I, has been China.

My husband and I in Green Lake Park, Yunnan, Kunming, June 2012.

Where have you found peace?  And what has God made you certain of this day?