Tag Archives: wholeness

A life of gratitude

Over a year and a half ago now, we lost a wonderful man.  He was a deacon at our church, a playful, yet wise soul, and he happened to be the husband of the pastor I work with at church.  A month or so after he died the family sent out thank you notes with his photo and the caption read, “Just another day in paradise.”

That phrase was Pete’s response more often than not to the casual question, “how are you doing today?” It was maybe 20% conceit and 80% truth–you see, Pete was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.  He’d needed to ride in a wheelchair, and he had lots of body parts that didn’t work the way they once did after many years of living with the disease.

But if you got Pete talking on the subject of “paradise,” he’d almost always follow that up with something about his life being “an embarrassment of riches,” and that was something I know he meant with his whole heart.  Even from his vantage point in his wheelchair, his body failing, Pete could see that what was important, even lavish was his own very life and the people in it, and they made that life worth living every single day.

Pete
Pete, rolling through life with style.

Around the time our daughter Lucia was diagnosed with a terminal, genetic, progressive disease of the brain, my husband heard a radio broadcast about other kids with a similar rare disease, to which parents mentioned two lifestyle options–you can either fight like hell seeking a cure, they encouraged, or you can sit in a corner and mourn this terrible disease.

But if you’re any reader of this blog, you know that my husband and I have tried to make way for at least a third option, one that kind of reminds me of how Pete lived his life.  Because, although to some extent everyday is a struggle with and for our daughter Lucia, everyday it also somehow just as it should be.  Pete’s perspective on an “embarrassment of riches” truly resonates now that we’ve had four years with a daughter we were never guaranteed.  And that perspective, on the days where she’s struggling to keep any food down or inexplicably crying in pain, makes all the difference.

Cinderella
Lucia, also rolls through life with style.                                                                                                   Pictured here in her Cinderella Halloween costume that her nana made for her.

I guess the lifestyle philosophy I’ve learned from Pete, my life, my daughter and others around me goes something like this–you either wake up convinced that the world is not as it should be, or you trust that there’s some wisdom, some perspective, some peace to be found in acceptance of this precious life you’ve been given, and you go about living it not with resignation, but with gratitude.  And gratitude, somehow, makes everything whole.

That’s what I saw and learned when I interacted with Pete, that he wasn’t papering over the difficulties and playing Pollyanna, but that in his wrestling, he’d found his way to sincere gratitude and that gratitude permeated every corner of his life.  Someone noted the other day that even when I tell them about the difficult times with Lucia, I’m usually smiling.  How can that be true? they wondered.

Because life with Lucia is a gift, plain and simple.  And life with Pete was a gift, too.  

Even on the roughest days, I can’t help but see life lived with Lucia as “another day in paradise,” “an embarrassment of riches.”  It’s not trite, just true.  And just as Pete taught me, I try to share that life of gratitude with others.

You can find my colleague, Beth Scibienski’s book, Who is God When We Hurt? that chronicles her life with Pete, her caregiving, her faith, and her grief by clicking here.

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Virtual Coffee Date

South Lake Park
A weekend stroll in South Lake Park, Nanning.  All photos by Evan Schneider.

If we were having coffee this morning, I would tell you that we’re entering the fourth week of my course at the seminary, and it’s already been such an incredibly rewarding, exciting experience.  The most fulfilling part is that I don’t feel like I have to sell the students on the fact that culture, family, and ministry go together.  They believe that twenty-first century ministry is all about embracing and negotiating difference, and they’ve been so affirming over email, coffee, and in person that this is a course that they need: praise God!

I would also admit that when it comes to my dissertation, I’ve been working hard, but it feels like the writing is being cobbled together, and all the cracks are showing.  I’m trying to be brave and believe that even in academia, we can let some of these cracks show, learn from one another, and find grace in life’s seemingly most unyielding moments.  I’ll let you know how that one works out…

Souvenirs

It’s Chinese New Year in my other home these days, and despite the fireworks and the fanfares, for the foster families in Guangxi it’s often a difficult time of year as the weather turns wet, cold, and unrelenting.  A wise NGO worker I knew once pointed out that for children in orphanages this is the loneliest time of year, when they’re reminded they have no family to celebrate, no grandparents to travel home to.  I’m praying for protection and warmth and possibility for the foster families and healing, love, and peace for all the children.  Happy Year of the Snake!

As for me and God, we’re just hanging out.  No agendas, just me accepting and reveling in God’s unconditional love.

This week I realized that despite how wonderfully God is integrating my academic and my spiritual lives in this course at the seminary, in conversations with colleagues and professors, and even in my dissertation writing, I had become restless.  In my prayers, I was setting an agenda for the time I was carving out.  Instead of simply rejoicing with God, I’d moved on in my mind to what was next, to how this all could possibly be so neatly integrated in a future in which I’d be forced to choose between academia and ministry.

The temple rooftops in Kunming, Yunnan.
The temple rooftops in Kunming, Yunnan.

But it’s not my job, it’s never been my job, to hold all those pieces together…it’s God’s.

And I hear God saying firmly, let me do my job and just let me be with you.  (It’s a thrilling revelation by the way, when you realize the almighty God just wants to be with you!)  And when I let God pour God’s peace into me, filling me to the brim, I’m not only reminded that my plans and agendas are the stuff of this world, but also that God’s peace makes me a better pastor and professor.  It’s funny how God volunteers to carry our burdens but we’re the ones who keep snatching them away.

When I look back on God’s deft work in just one month of 2013 here, I am amazed at what God can do!  I’m amazed at how God led me to simple, integrating goals that were refusing agendas from the very first days of this year, and how those represent God’s hand and God’s promise to continue integrating all these different parts of my call in powerful ways.  I’m amazed at how whole I feel here in this place when months ago, just returning from China and listless, I wondered if that was even worth praying for.

It’s amazing how productive God can be if we just leave the agendas, the goals, and the making us whole thing to God.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

On the Princeton campus, glimpses of green.

I didn’t write about it, but last week my world, and it’s positively because I’m still betwixt somewhere between China and this country, came crashing down.

And I wept, and worried, and wondered what solace I could find in this place and these people who seem so far removed from anything of the experience I had in China, from the people who sometimes only seem to live on in my heart, but who I know from the wonders of technology continue to suffer, create, and go on in a way I never could in a life so much more valiant than my own.

And I struggled with what it means to love and minister without presence, what it means to leave people behind, how much these feelings are about me and my need to assess and feel my own impact in this world, and where God’s call is in this moment.

I shouldn’t write struggled, past tense, because I’m still struggling.

Fall leaves on the Princeton Seminary campus.

But I’ve been encouraged by your comments, your grace with me during this time, your encouragement that reverse culture shock is a messy, nonlinear process, and that narratives of struggle, like my own, can be meaningful to others, despite our disparate paths.

I guess that’s where I’m led this morning–to see that Jesus’ healing is the opposite of judgement, that we don’t grow by covering up our faults and our failings, but rather by bearing our scars to one another and finding that miraculously, by grace, in our imperfections, we find ourselves whole.

The choke holds I assert on myself when I find my own needs bubbling up in the midst of my fears and my prayers for my friends in China just don’t get me any closer to that wholeness.  And the older I get, I find the people I most admire in this life are not the ones who have these linear narratives of autonomy, success, and brilliance, but those who resolve to live in the space where mistakes are always imminent, where brokenness is the real human condition, and triumph is wholly and unabashedly attributed to God’s goodness rather than individual expertise.

So I’m feeling pretty good about being broken this morning, like both my dear friends in China and my understanding friends in this country.  The more I see how deeply we all need God’s restorative grace, the less alone I feel, and the more I can’t help but think we’re all inexplicably bound together in this wonderful, holy pursuit of our God in this life.

New York skyline at dusk.

And that, my friends, feels pretty much like the opposite of crashing.

So, thank you for catching me, once again.