Tag Archives: gratitude

Thanksgiving (in an election season)

A couple days ago I talked with a friend who has a daughter who faces similar special needs as Lucia.  It was refreshing to speak with someone who has such a kindred attitude toward celebrating his daughter’s life, despite the challenges and the hardships.

However, as we drove home from the hospital after a successful surgery with Lucia yesterday, I reflected that in so many ways this attitude of understanding our children’s lives as cause for celebration rather than burden is bolstered by the support systems we share.  My husband and I are so thankful to live in a state that invests in Lucia’s care, to have insurance, that despite its shortcomings, generally covers all that she needs, and to have friends and family that love Lucia unconditionally, pray for her, and care for us!

It is difficult to imagine how we might view Lucia’s disability if with every medical intervention we had to also sweat the finances or insurance coverage or if we had to worry that someone caring for her didn’t have the proper resources or training.  These are the very important supports that often go unstated in the words I write about Lucia, and this morning, I am thankful for them.  I am also deeply prayerful that families who don’t have such support will find it in gracious lawmakers, caring social workers, more humane insurance policies, and more state programing for kids and families with special needs.

The pending election in this country may seem positively incongruous with this month in which we aim to practice gratitude by naming our blessings when so many, like the ones above, go unacknowledged.  But this morning, I began to wonder what it might look like to practice a spirit of gratitude despite the strife and division in this country and the world.

How would our attitudes toward one another shift if we were to focus our attention on all that we in America have to be grateful for, what we are grateful for in the candidates we support, or what we are grateful for when it comes to the provisions of our country and state (rather than only so very critical of)?  Thanksgiving invites us to pause and offer God the praise that God is due, and as we can see, this in and of itself, in an election season can be very powerful and countercultural!  Could such thanksgiving invite us to more civility and less hate?  Could it remind us of our common human needs, desires, and goodness?  Could it point us back to God when our human ways are frail and flawed?

I realize, perhaps more personally than many this election season, how dire and in jeopardy such supports for people with disabilities are, and I do not discount these challenges, but I wonder if gratitude is still an appropriate way to reflect on the hardships in the midst of the blessings.  After all, God has taught me so much about how to experience blessings despite the challenges as we’ve gotten know Lucia!

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Photo credit.

So this morning, I am thankful for…

The amazing nursing care provided through Medicaid in the state of New Jersey, for my daughter, Lucia, and the opportunity for her to attend a school come February that will meet her special needs.

All those working to welcome refugees to the abundance this land and its people can provide.

A country free from war and where so many live free from poverty, hunger, and despair.

A presidential candidate who has made disability rights a platform in her campaign.

Students at a historically black college who protested a KKK speaker in their auditorium and people protesting a pipeline that will disrupt Native American lands.  Thankful for those who lift their voices, use their bodies, and engage in brave, peaceful protest for those in need in this country.

A democratic country with peaceful elections, robust debate, and freedom of speech.

All those who love Lucia so well, celebrating rather than mourning or pitying her life.

What are you thankful for this morning?  What countercultural words do you have this election season?  Feel free to link up with this post and write your own #thanksgivingforelectionseason.

 

 

 

 

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Embrace YOUR life

My husband and I have both been reflecting on the amazing perspective afforded by gratitude and the way that reflecting on our blessings even in the midst of hardship, fear, and sadness can be deeply healing and refreshing.

But that perspective is often lost on me.

It’s really tempting to look around and idolize other peoples’ lives, to assume that they’re better, perfect, or more satisfying than my own.

But this is but a distraction from a vital, necessary, but often perplexing step to contentment: acceptance.

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It wouldn’t even matter how perfect someone else’s life is or isn’t, because it’s not mine.  

And while this kind of language often sounds like settling or becoming complacent with unhappiness, you’d be surprised how freeing it is to rule out the pressure of living anyone else’s life but yours.  We simply can’t be anyone else or live anyone else’s life but our own and by embracing that fact, suddenly a bit of the dissonance clears and we are free to focus on what we’ve been given, what we are thankful for, and what we might want to change.

Lately I’ve been trying to be passionately committed to embracing my own life as it is.  And when I look around with eyes for only my life, I realize how richly God has blessed me and how thrilled I am to be living this life that is uniquely my own.  I try (though I don’t always succeed) at even embracing the hard stuff, the bad with the good, praising God for it all.  And when I reflect on who God has uniquely called me to be in this life, there’s also some wonder in the clarity.  Things that do not help me fulfill that purpose can fall by the wayside; things that can help me serve God more fully can be added.

Try it this weekend.

Take a few moments to let the lives of others’ around you fade into the background and focus on embracing  your life as it is.  What can you see that perhaps went unnoticed before?  Where is God fiercely, actively, passionately loving you in your life now? How can you better serve God with the life and the resources you have?  How can you maintain that attitude of gratitude everyday?

Learning contentment

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. –Philippians 4:10-13

For a variety of reasons, my morning runs on the canal path have been a bit slower as of late.

The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer. Photo by Evan Schneider.

That’s not like me.

My type of running is usually a 3-4 mile sprint in which I push myself to the ultimate limit for thirty minutes, cramming in a brisk workout in an equally jam-packed day.  I’ve never been good at pacing myself out there on the trail, and when I’m out of shape and trying to get back to the grind, I have to remind myself over and over not to push, lest I get injured or expend the limited energy that I have.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for us to push ourselves in life, but jogging this new rhythm, I’ve started noticing things I never saw at the breakneck pace– a hornet’s nest precariously dangling from a slight branch, a plush feather falling to the path, birds, turtles, snakes, and the ever-so-slight glimpses of fall in the reddening of the trees’ leaves.

I’ve started learning something like contentment in all circumstances.

Things are far from perfect, and yet God seems to be opening my eyes to the wisdom and gift of a slower pace, the grace that peeks out when we’re willing to take it in, and the goodness that is God beneath the ups and downs of this world.  Underneath contentment lies acceptance, and under acceptance, a deep, firm layer of mutual trust between God and me that seems to know no end.  It’s like firmament or insulation from this rough and tumble world, this world that pushes, that runs along at breakneck pace…

The first glimpses of fall.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The first glimpses of fall. Photo by Evan Schneider.

But I’m discovering that we don’t have to.

We are meant to notice, we are meant to praise.  We are meant to live in God’s grace and lift up God’s glorious name in all circumstances.  Paul writes above that he has learned “the secret…of having plenty and of being in need,” and that secret is confidence, faith, and trust in God.  And I think when it’s at it’s best, it’s mutual.  As I trust God more with my life, with everything in it, I feel God trusting me to minister to others, to follow my call, and to speak words of wisdom in times of trial.

I’m discovering the depth of what it means to be content, to remain steadfast in our hope and faith in God, despite the wavers of this world.  And I’m discovering the overflowing gratitude that comes from it (I think it no coincidence that the verses previous to the ones from Paul in Philippians 4 are the ones that call us to rejoice and to focus on the true, the honorable, the pure, the just, the pleasing, that which is worthy of excellence and praise [Phil. 4:4-8]).

God is so good.

Skyping on the balcony with a friend in China.  My photo.
Skyping on the balcony with a friend in China. My photo.

Contentment is not a trite command to push ourselves to be positive in times of sorrow, but an invitation to notice the grace in this fallen world, and to take heart and trust that God is with us in all circumstances.

How is God teaching you about contentment today?

Hitting our stride

My husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary of marriage in Paris this May.

Paris at sunset.  Photo by Jeremy Wance.
Paris at sunset. Photo by Jeremy Wance.

I usually let him lay low as far as this blog is concerned.  He’s the kind of guy who has plenty of opinions, but is also content to let me play the public internet persona…though his tidbits of wisdom still sneak in from time to time.

I wanted to write about marriage from a personal point of view, though, not because my husband and I are above the vulnerabilities of any other couple (and believe me it’s scary out there), but because especially when we’re feeling vulnerable I think it’s important to share our joys with one another, too.  I wanted to share what we’ve learned in a short period of time, which is enough to tell any newlyweds that it gets better, much better than you could imagine.

Many moons ago, we weren’t really the types who saw ourselves getting married, and I remember wondering even as I said the words, “I do,” how anyone in their right mind could promise forever and eternity, especially someone like me who had only lived twenty-six years up until that point.

But I’ve come to believe that marriage is a lot like faith–we promise impossible things, not because we’re capable of them, but because we believe that through practicing faith, we grow to be faithful.  We believe that our faithfulness, our devotion, and our love mean more to marriage than our abilities, our faults, or our failures.  I believe that a healthy marriage, like a healthy faith, relies on grace, mercy, and love.

At the top of a minaret in Cairo, Egypt.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
At the top of a minaret in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I haven’t always had that kind of faith.  

The first few years we were married, things were kind of rough, and our relationship teetered because of imbalances in careers, contentment, and expectations.  We weren’t very graceful with one another most of the time.  We were just trying to hold things together so they wouldn’t fall apart.

Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s not so much about holding things together, as practicing trust, compassion, and understanding.  It’s a bit of a slight of hand–when things feel like pushing a boulder uphill, it’s usually the pushing that’s not helping.  But when things look effortless, there’s a lot of building, trusting, and caring that’s going on behind the scenes.

A few years ago I remember sitting in a classroom in China, where my Chinese teacher outlined marriage patterns in their culture.  She drew a little chart where she demonstrated that men with Ph.Ds marry women with masters degrees, men with masters marry women with bachelors, and men with bachelors marry women with a high school education.  She pointed out that my position as a female doctor would be very lonely in their society, where men are still threatened by women’s academic success and earning power.

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Crowds at night. Photo by Evan Schneider.

As I walked home that day, threading the e-bikes and seas of people, I realized how much I had taken my husband’s undying support for my academic goals for granted.  He’s never once begrudged me my success or my dreams, in fact, he’s always there right behind me, supporting and encouraging me (it’s not like the man is an underachiever, though, I mean the man has two masters).  The point is, when I wasn’t looking my husband was investing in not just me, but our marriage, silently and without fanfare, but in one of the most meaningful ways.

I’ve found someone with whom I share a passion for travel, for service, and for justice.  And I’ve grown as I’ve let this person shape me, too, with his love for China, his passion for learning, and his commitment to community.  My goal these days is to outdo my husband in my respect for him and in trusting his love for me, to rejoice with him as he excels in his new job, and to challenge him to achieve his goals as well.

Lately I’ve been so filled with gratitude that I enjoy spending time with this guy just as much, if not more than we were first met.  It’s a thrilling thing to be–and I know this is cheesy–falling in love with your husband more and more everyday.  But it’s also a sobering thing to choose that love and commitment day after day especially at the moments when it would be easier to say something prideful, spiteful, or just walk away.

In front of the dragon's neck rice terraces, Guangxi, China. Photo by Kelly Raffety.
In front of the dragon’s neck rice terraces, Guangxi, China. Photo by Kelly Raffety.

I guess that’s how one promises forever, one day at a time, until ten, twenty, thirty years have passed before you know it.

For now, I’m satisfied with five.  I feel like we’re finally hitting our stride, and I’m in for the long haul.

Why I don’t regret the regrets

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” ― poem by Mary Jean Irion*

When I hear people proclaim the motto “no regrets,” I can’t help thinking that it’s a little prideful, short-sighted, and disingenuous.

I’m not advocating for living life on the bench, or engaging in some sort of flagellation that leaves not only the body, but the soul with real wounds.  And I appreciate the zealousness of trying to live life with vigor and intent.

But I think a healthy dose of introspection, when it comes to our mistakes, can also be enlightening.

With a foster family in Hubei.
With a foster family in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.

Last night, as I realized that it’s been almost a year since we left our life in China, all I could think is if I had it to do over again, I would have spent more time at the feet of the foster mothers, hearing the trials of their lives during the Cultural Revolution, the story of each baby they’d raised, and their fears about the future.

I wish I’d looked out the window more often at those soaring karst peaks and endless fields of green rice paddies, because who knows when I’ll see them again?

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I wish I’d accepted every invitation to a bowl of rice noodles, a strange feast of chicken feet, or a home out in the countryside without running water or electricity.  It was in these places that I saw life lived with an irrepressible human spirit…and ate some of the best dumplings of my life.

With a dear friend.
With a dear friend.

I wish I’d told my friends all my fears and hopes and dreams, because I treasure the secrets they shared with me.  I recall them and revisit them like precious gems when I miss their friendship and their confidence.

I wish I’d made far more trips to the market, taken many more jogs around South Lake, and sat many more hours peering into the square from our balcony, and all despite the sticky heat.

Beside South Lake Park in Nanning, China.
Beside South Lake Park in Nanning, China.**

In short, I wish I’d slowed down to only love the people in front of me and nothing more.  I wish I’d treasured the normal days, for one knows not how many there will be.  I wish I’d known how extraordinary China and its people were before I left it.

One might call them regrets.

But I’m also left with gratitude for the simple joys God afforded me while I was there and some wisdom for living this life tomorrow.

*Special thanks to my friend, Kate, for posting this poem the other day.
**Bottom three photos by Evan Schneider.**

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.