Tag Archives: prayer

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.

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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.

Children’s Day

Today is Children’s Day in China and all over the world.

A Chinese child flies a kite in the park.

Children are squealing with delight as they run around in the city courtyard below our highrise this morning, and yesterday we had the privilege of passing out cakes and red bean buns to the twenty-two disabled children being fostered in a rural community a few hours out of the capital city of Guangxi.  I’m so heartened by those kids being fostered, loved, and accepted not only by the foster mothers, but by whole families and communities.

But the future is not so bright for all the children of China.  

A recent article in the Xinhua news highlighted Guangxi as just one area of China where children are being left behind in the countryside to be cared for by their grandparents while their parents flee to find work in the cities, and the harsh consequences of those family breakdowns.

And the future is comparably complicated for children in Africa, and other parts of the developing world.

The dynamics of international adoption are never simple, but a recent report from the African Child Forum shows a sophisticated understanding of international adoption and development, namely that, “Adoption can save the lives of individual children and give them unique opportunities to live healthy and prosperous lives, but it does little to address the problems that led to the child’s orphan status in the first place” (Fortin Anaylsis May 30, 2012).

I can’t offer a simple solution today.  I’ve written previously about cultural differences that make even such a seemingly noncontroversial phrase, such as “in the best interests of children,” quite contextual.  I’ve also discussed with some frequency on this blog the relationship between birth planing policies and international adoption, as well as  the portrayal of Chinese children in the media. And I’ve tried to balance these more political discussions with ones that reflect the hope that foster mothers’ in China inspire.

But I can say today that despite the bleak news, and the complexity of working for change in the face of cultural differences and a legacy of misunderstandings, I’m still filled with hope.

The author with a foster child.

A few months ago, one of our foster mothers had been neglecting the two foster children in her care due to her increasing age and a host of other complicated reasons.  And so, the children were moved.  One child was sent back to the orphanage, her age and her problems too advanced for any new family to take on.  And my heart broke.

But the other child, only two years old, was placed in a new family.  When we visited the family a month after the switch, I noticed something different about this child.  She was smiling.  I realized that in all the time I’d known this little autistic girl, I’d never seen a smile cross her face.  In fact, I’d never seen her quite look another adult in the eyes, but here she was, playing with her foster mother, who held her as they both giggled, snuggled, smiled, and laughed.

Yesterday the orphanage monitor praised this woman and her husband’s dedication to their two foster children, and the same smile crossed her face, but this time, tears also slipped from her eyes.

That had been my reaction, too, when I saw those precious smiles for the first time.  Big fat, flowing tears of joy.

So friends, you see, even as there is much to lament, there is much to hope for today when it comes to the world’s children.

Pray with me for their future, for their present, but most of all for them to experience the love of a family and for them to know, no matter who they are or what they’ve been through that they are worthy of unconditional, tears-of-joy kind of love, the kind that really exists not just in heaven, but here on earth, and my they all know it in their lifetime. 

All photos by Evan Schneider.

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.