Tag Archives: praise

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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Virtual Coffee Date

Princeton University campus.  Gest Asian Studies library.  My photo.
Princeton University campus. Gest Asian Studies library. My photo.

It’s bad blogger etiquette, isn’t it, to post about this season of fullness and never fill one another in on what the true challenges and joys are, and generally how it’s going?  

For me, fullness is a mixed blessing.  It’s been finishing the writing and revising of my dissertation on Sunday mornings, which has been necessary and fulfilling, but has taken us away from our dear church community and made me wander a bit from God.  So fullness, ironically, in the vein of confession, has included a spiritual desert for me, in which I’ve been reticent to go to God with all of my worries and concern, for fear of finding answers that I haven’t wanted to hear or face.  Fullness, though, has also been the everyday work of plodding along with life, filled with the everyday joy of seeing our daughter and our family grow together.  It’s included brave car trips with a screaming baby, on the end of which we were fortunately met by treasured friends.

I’m starting to come to terms with the idea (and this was evident to me as I peered through tears writing the acknowledgements to my dissertation in the wee hours of another Sunday morning feeling so humbled by so many people who had a hand in it) that when we are in the blessing and sacred presence of others, despite our own penchants to push God away, God is never far away at all.  I am amazed that despite my tendency to drift in this season, God keeps close through the ministry of others.  As our pastor reminded us this Sunday, “that’s how God gets things done.”

I’ve been so focused on getting my own things done in this season of fulness that I often forget how faithfully God has stood beside me at this time and all along.  In returning to acknowledge God, it makes sense that my first action, before repentance even, would be praise.  Even as this makes cognitive sense to me, I’m still struggling a bit this morning.  I pray that I find those words of praise even as my spirit is weak.

Where has God stood beside you in your life?  What is God doing for you now?  How is your season of fullness coming along?

On unconditional love

Since Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about unconditional love.  

Do you have someone in your life who loves you unconditionally, for whom you could do no wrong, or even if you did, every wrong would be and is forgivable?  Do you have someone who knows all your faults and flaws and seems to love you the more for them?  Do you know someone whose love for you is constant, not based on what you do or what you achieve, but comes from a seemingly endless and otherworldly source?

If so, how do you respond to such love?

As I continued to ponder unconditional love, it occurred to me that there seems to be but one human response to it, which is fear.  When you discover that someone loves you unconditionally, you also discover that such love cannot be earned, achieved, or repaid, and it’s a scary feeling to find  yourself forever indebted to another.  That fear can turn toward denial and betrayal as we try to run as far away from such love as we can, in order that we can establish our own independence and find a life free from obligation or humility.

It’s what happened to Judas, Pilate, even to Peter.

Spring on the Princeton University campus.
Spring on the Princeton University campus.

But if we recognize our own humanity, our own futility, and instead of running, revel in the awe and wonder that such love exists, and turn to acceptance as opposed to denial, the only response to such love is praise.

We are not like the women at the tomb that morning who did not know that he had arisen and yet, faithfully returned.  We are children of the promise, filled with the knowledge that his command to love one another at that fateful last supper would be fulfilled by his ultimate act of unconditional love on the cross.  

We love because He first loved us.  May we spend our lives pondering not only that love, but how to serve Him with a life full of praise.

Feeling our way to God

This is a post I wrote for our church newsletter to give our community some direction and comfort while grieving.  I hope that in whatever circumstance you find yourself this morning it may offer a reflection and a respite from your troubles.

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All photos by Evan Schneider, taken at Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ.

Have you ever noticed the psalms and the psalmist are a veritable jumble of human emotions?  When I first began personally reading through the Bible, I was vexed by the range of seemingly “unchristian” feelings in the psalms—despair, sorrow, rage, and vengeance—juxtaposed with the more expected and accepted—praise, wonder, and jubilation.  I didn’t understand how laments, cries of anger and defeat, even one’s heaping of curses upon one’s enemy, could be included in a Bible we hold to be the word of God, and wholly Holy.

But over the years, I’ve come to find great comfort in the fact that nearly 70% of the psalms begin with lament, that the Bible is full of unseemly, broken characters who are vindictive, fearful, and impulsive, and that the psalms are not made obsolete by the death of Jesus, but all the more powerful, prophetic, and complete.  For instance, I once heard a sermon about the fateful words that Jesus cries from the cross, lamenting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 45-46).  If Jesus is God, how could he, of all people, lose faith? we might ask.  If God forsake Jesus, surely God may forsake us, we might fear.

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However, in that sermon, the pastor drew attention to the fact that when Jesus spoke these words, he was actually quoting Psalm 22, a psalm that like so many, begins in lament and despair and then winds its way to praise and adoration.  While the psalmist complains that God does not answer (verse 2), and he is but a worm, despised by others (v. 6), he also recalls that it was God who took him from his mother’s womb and kept him safe on his mother’s breast (v. 9).  The psalmist remarks that dogs surround him (16), and much as Jesus experienced, “for my clothing they cast lots” (18).  Yet, throughout the psalm, he cries out to God (2; 11; 19), and finally, feeling that God has heard him and rescued him (21), he turns to praise (23).  He asks that the Lord be glorified by all (27), and promises that he will live for God (29).

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By quoting a psalm so meandering and mixed emotionally, Jesus reminds us that to be human is to feel.  To be human is to feel despair, anger, and fear, but the end of Christian life is not death, but resurrection—a sign that God never forsakes us.  It’s comforting to realize that Jesus lamented, and also powerful to see that those cries to God echo a tradition that claims hope found in the midst of suffering, even death.  When you’re weary, I invite you to turn to the psalms and embrace your emotions as the psalmists did, wandering the paths of the heart to faith.  I invite you to ruminate on the fact that your wholly human self may be the best instrument to knowing our Holy God, that no emotions are “unchristian” or alien to our God, and that the God who invites us to lament and question, also promises resurrection and healing.

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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?

On community

When I came back from China I was really hurting.

I miss my life there, I would tell people with great drama, but it was how I felt, as though something had been ripped from me, because I’d had friends who knew my heart even though we spoke another language together.  I’d seen strength of character like no other in the foster mothers I’d met, and I wasn’t all that hopeful that I’d find it again in this land of affluence and privilege.

Statues in Paris, France.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
Statues in Paris, France. All photos by Evan Schneider.

But I was drawing these lines around communities the way God never does.

It was easier for me to compartmentalize and think in binaries: China was a place where great struggle and sacrifice produced something real and holy, whereas in the United States, life was hollow and stuffy, less shot through with God’s work, because there was less need, less contrast.

It wasn’t true, of course, but it seemed to make the ups and downs of culture shock more justifiable.  But I was insulating myself from life here by thinking and dreaming about China and logging many hours in Mandarin on skype.  Although I gradually reentered the world of academia and my husband I began to reconnect with friends and find a church community, deep down I still doubted whether these communities would ever compare to what I had in China.

Prayer candles in a cathedral.
Prayer candles in a cathedral.

This past weekend, my husband and I took a great leap and joined a church community that has gently, yet firmly demonstrated God’s faithfulness over the months of culture shock in this land.  What’s so powerful to me is that over those months, I haven’t particularly mentioned my doubts and fears to many people there.  We’ve told people that we spent time in China, but I haven’t asked for their prayers.  I didn’t really know how when sometimes the very prospect of being in community here seemed the last thing I wanted.

But as I’ve listened to the prayers of this community over the last few months, I’ve noticed something.  Before I went to China, I used to lead prayers of the people in my previous congregation, separating the joys from the concerns, but the people at our new church let them bravely comingle.  They don’t seem to worry that the praise of one might smart in the wounds of the suffering, or that great needs might rain on the parade of another’s blessing.  And that’s what life is like, what hope is like, not some naive optimism, but a conviction that suffering exists, and yet, God is very much present.

I realized, I’d been doing it all wrong.  

Not just the prayers of the people, but this theology of parsing the real from the ordinary, the needy from the privileged, and of course, the praise from the pain.  It makes sense to me now that as much as I’d seen and experienced God in China, China itself had become a hollow idol threatening to separate me from the real people in front of me.

Sacre Coeur at night.
Sacre Coeur at night.

This Sunday there was a family in front of us who’d lost a mother and a grandmother and there were painful tears shed as they asked for prayers of comfort and support from the church.  But there were also their arms draped around one another’s shoulders, and deep, heartfelt prayers of praise to a God who they know to be real, powerful, and present because they have each other, their friends, and their church community.

As Evan and I joined the church, nearly every member of this tight-knit family came and congratulated us, personally welcoming us to their community.  How people show that kind of hospitality and peace and love in the midst of loss is the best testimony I have to a God who is real, and who embodies hope and holism and life over death!  It’s that honesty in which people lay their hearts before community, but also the practice of hope and resurrection that’s healed me and freed me even though the people in the pews didn’t particularly understand my struggle or my pain.

Atop a grave marker in a Paris cemetery.
Atop a grave marker in a Paris cemetery.

Thank God they didn’t draw lines around their community.  Thank God there is room at the table.  And thank God for great, audacious hope in the midst of suffering.

Amen.

The God of Abundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I rejoiced.

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

I don’t think abundance is fleeting.

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

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

Amen.