Tag Archives: wisdom

Who could have imagined?

Yesterday a woman who works at Barnes & Noble walked right up to Lucia and greeted her–she knew her but she didn’t know me.  One of Lucia’s favorite nurses, determined that she wouldn’t become isolated with our recent move to the country, regularly takes her on outings to book stores, walking trails, parks, and libraries, and this woman had read books with my child many times!

One day when I was working from home and a friend stopped by the house, Lucia was out on one of these excursions unbeknownst to me.  The friend was a little disappointed.

Lucia has her own social life, I chuckled.  Who would have imagined?  I thought.

Indeed, I think it’s easy given Lucia’s diagnosis, physical, and cognitive challenges to presume that she lives a limited life, but this is so far from the truth.  Precisely because we’ve been forced to rely on nurses, doctors, and therapists to help us care for our medically complicated child, Lucia’s social network has certainly widened beyond the typical two and a half year old.

At the outpatient facility where Lucia does her therapy she’s not usually interested in toys, but she always cranes her neck to see the other children running and jumping and shouting.  This morning Lucia’s nurse, having just returned from China, brought her a Chinese children’s book and Lucia cocked her head to listen as the two of us yammered on in Mandarin about her trip.  Several months ago, one of her nurses put her hair in Jamaican braids!

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Lucia taking a nap on the D& R Canal in NJ.  My photo.

I think about the incredible richness of the life Lucia leads and I am in awe.  Our minds, our predictions, our perceptions of life with disability often fail to see beyond the presumed downside of dependence, medical necessity, and constant care.  But Lucia’s needs have, in such a good way, forced us all to expand our very limited social circles and our very limited notions of what life with disabilities entails.

A month or so ago when I spoke on the phone with a parent advocate about Lucia’s impending transition out of the state’s early intervention program and into school, she compassionately yet inaccurately projected another presumption onto me:  “Oh I’m sure your heart is just breaking at the thought of her going to school all day, on that big bus.  I’m sure it is so hard to see her go.”

Perhaps it would be hard to see Lucia get on that bus if she hadn’t already been living her life so fully.  But knowing how much Lucia enjoys all of these people, adventures, and diversity in her life, my husband and I are decidedly eager and excited for her to start school.  Perhaps another thing all these doctors visits, nurses, and therapists have prepared us for is trusting others with our kid, knowing it’s so important to share her rather than shelter her from the world.

When I look in awe upon Lucia’s full life, I cannot fathom the wisdom of God.  This is precisely the life I would want for my child, and yet, who could have imagined this life in particular?  Who could have imagined this village that God has provided, this little social butterfly despite her lack of words and gestures?  Who could have imagined that it would take the world and its limitless possibilities to help us see how Lucia has expanded all of our lives?  Who could imagine that a life with disabilities could be so rich and nuanced and bold and grand?

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Every time I look at this photo of Lucia I can’t help but smile. (My photo.)

Well, God, of course.  

And thank God for that!

That little pause

I’ve probably let you know in spurts that sometimes it feels like summer, the presumed magical pause for many of us, has been on overdrive over here.  With summer teaching for me, makeup medical appointments for Lucia, and moving for the three of us, it’s easy to see where the time has gone.

I’ve been blogging about this book draft that I’m eager to get out to publishers, and I’ve been a bit critical of myself along the way.  You see, I wish I’d had it out to publishers like in June.  That was really unrealistic, but you know how when you just want to get something off your plate and out into the world so you can move forward with other tasks and ideas?

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Photo credit: Terry League.

But yesterday, with the last class of the semester complete, no meetings on my schedule, and lovely light ahead of me, I had a free morning.  And instead of cramming it with burdened and anxious writing, I let my mind wander.  A colleague of mine had suggested another scholar who could be an interlocutor for me on the ideas of vulnerability, kinship, and need that are shaping my book.  And so I sat there for several hours without an agenda–I read and I wrote, dialoging back and forth with this other scholar about my ideas, without an end in sight.

And it was good.

It was good to be creative, to let go of the aims and simply pursue the thoughts and the ideas and trust that they would matter.  I think I eventually ended up with some insights that will help revise the little parts of my introduction that need revision.

But maybe not.

And the strange math of the week is that I still feel that I’ve accumulated something really valuable.  It’s the type of wild exploration that I’ve been begging my students to risk doing, despite the confines of their cramped summer semester.  “Dare to dream big,” I’ve said.  “Go for that big idea, take risks,” I’ve goaded them in their writing.

But I’ve got to live by my own wisdom.  I’ve got to carve space out for these creative pauses that excite, entice, and beckon without ulterior motives.  It’s the stuff of believing in the creative process, I think, but also believing in yourself.  Trusting yourself to manage this precious time that you’ve been given and valuing that good ideas need room to breathe, that a lot of the best stuff seeps out of us when we’re willing to work for it, wait for it, wrestle with it, and knead it a bit.

Another thing that I’ve been telling my students that I think goes hand in hand with these pauses is urging them not to turn in upon themselves and cower when the world rejects them.  I’ve told them that their worth can’t come from these things they think or produce or accomplish but rather who they know, trust, and love themselves to be.

And suddenly it makes sense to me.

If I truly believe that, too, then I’ll value and allow myself that morning in a coffee shop to simply think and wander because I’m not the sum of my accomplishments or my successes, but rather an artist whose thoughts and wisdom and goodness need to be lived out daily.  While I tell my students stuff like this all the time, I think it’s been a long time coming for me to admit that I’m a bit of an artist when it comes to words and ideas–that I’m a thinker and a dreamer, someone who likes to spin and sew and create with thoughts.

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Light pouring into my empty office in our new house.  My photo.

So thank you, dear students.  It seems I’ve learned something really valuable from you this semester.  It seems I’ve been reignited with the fire and excitement that comes from thinking.  It seems I’ve been given the freedom to explore again rather than put everything I do to a purpose, a publication, a deeper success.

And that feels good.

Thanks for giving to me this small, sweet truth.  And I’ll do my very best to honor it with a pause every once in awhile and believe in myself just a bit more.

How to embrace summer strokes

There is this thing we do, especially over in academia, but also in life, where we presume that complicated, busy, and grandiose is better.

Especially in my professional corner of the world, people often speak in belabored language and write long-winded sentences, and it’s all emperors new clothes until we realize that nobody can actually understand what we’re saying, no matter how profound it may be.

In my personal life, that version of over-complicated also takes the form of swimming upstream, presuming that every moment needs to be set to a purpose, and that things like pause and sabbath, leisurely strolls, or even hearty laughs defy the Protestant ethic in a decidedly unfaithful way.  

But surely that’s not what God intended for us…especially in the summer!

I have to admit that I once looked at offices that recognized summer hours–leaving early on Fridays–as flat out lazy.  Sure, summers are afforded teachers for restoration given the demands of the academic year, but I always felt a little guilty about that, too.  Indeed, for professors, summers are not breaks or vacations, but our best research and writing is supposed to be scrunched into these three hot summer months.

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Summer on the D&R canal.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

But I’m starting to see the wisdom in simple, summer strokes, going with the flow, and finding a rhythm in this slower season of life that embraces restoration, intention, and the sacred pause.

When my writing time was cut in half these past few weeks because of nursing vacancies, I initially panicked, but as I let my pen wander between lofty goals of articles and future plans, ordinary blog posts like these, and my book project, somehow my productivity multiplied.  Somehow in the slower strokes of summer, the steady motions of my pen, however pedantic, became productive.

I’ve taken walks these past few weeks just to take walks.  I’ve read books just because they’re fun or because they speak to a deep but unexplored interest.  And I’m still plotting a spur of the moment (is that completely paradoxical?) trip to the beach, just me and Lucia, before the summer ends.

The less I’ve tried to fight this slower pace, the more meaningful it has become.  

And slow spirituality?  Oh yes.  

At church this past Sunday, when I had all the reason to worry about which word needed to be preached to our desperate and hurting world, the kids on our mission trip, coming off their retreat from their own realities and their own summer strokes, were spouting this wisdom about not necessarily getting to see a job completed but doing your part, or loving the person in front of you.  And that was precisely the word that God had prepared.

The second we start to believe that God can’t do anything with ordinary lives is the second we’ve lost faith in the extraordinary God we serve.  But the moment we start to trust in the slow, deep work of God, when we trust in the abundance of God’s divine work in the world, when we go with the flow, if you will, all those seemingly singular actions, persons, and moments start to add up.  We start to see them as not incidental or momentary or fleeting, but the real stuff of life and faith.  What if we treated sabbaths not as the mere moments between what we really matters, but as life-giving rhythms for our ordinary lives?

I know summer can’t last forever, but I’m aching to hold onto its cadence as long as possible.

The benediction this Sunday, reprinted below, came from Paul’s letter to the Romans, paraphrased.  May your “ordinary, sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life” slow down just a bit this week to encounter and embrace God’s extraordinary brush strokes upon it:

So here’s what I want you to do as God helps you.  Take your everyday, ordinary life–Your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life–and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God.  Amen.

Getting older

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I had a dear friend come out to visit me a few weeks ago.  Several times while we were hanging out she looked me straight in the eye and said things like,

“I miss these conversations.”  

“I like talking this way with you.”  

“I’m having such a great time this weekend.”

It was so poignant to reflect in the midst of the moment upon the moment, finding it to be so true and so real, savoring it before it had even passed.

A couple months ago I had seen the meme above on Facebook and realized how often I have been reflecting with my spiritual director on living in the moment and how delicious it is to look upon our moments in life and realize in those very moments how blessed we truly are.

I think on that line in the Bible, in the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21), where Jesus, being asked how to inherit the kingdom of heaven, before answering, looks squarely at such a tortured, faithful man, and loves him.  “Jesus looked at him and he loved him.”

That same friend and I will turn 35 this year, and it feels decidedly old to do so.  It feels like ages have passed.  And given all that passage of time, I’m so thankful for her willingness to look on me and love me.

When we were young, we thought everything was ahead of us.  But now that we’re literally greying and wrinkling, we find that life is not so much ahead of us, but within us, beside us, amongst us. To me, this is the wisdom and the beauty of getting older–that we don’t miss anything because we are so resolved to live the life that already is.

How do you savor the moment even before it has passed?                                                                            What does it mean to you, to be getting older?

Faith Begins by Letting Go

A few weeks ago, I preached a sermon on the trust psalms, particularly Psalm 27, entitled, “Trust, Perseverance, and Doggedness.”  When I went hunting for a closing hymn for the service, I stumbled upon a relatively new one entitled, “Faith Begins by Letting Go.”

While I ended up selecting it for the service, I felt a bit puzzled by the title, the lyrics, and the sentiment.  The first stanza is as follows:

Faith begins by letting go 
Giving up what had seemed sure 
Taking risks and pressing on 
Though the way feels less secure 
Pilgrimage both right and odd 
Trusting all our life to God

I wasn’t sure I believed that faith begins by letting go of our foundation, taking risks, and that one’s pilgrimage should feel “both right and odd.”  Still, something about the hymn seemed to resonate with the content of my sermon, especially the ode to one of the great contemporary spiritual writers, Anne Lamott, on perfectionism and they way in which our writing cramps up around our wounds as in life.

These past few weeks I’ve encountered my own cramps and struggles to write, and am starting to believe in this whole wisdom of letting go.

You see I was having a lot of trouble getting my thoughts to find substance and clarity on the page, writing and rewriting pages and pages of an article on my research with foster mothers in China.  I kept thinking that despite my frustrations, I needed to have faith that these meanderings, however seemingly futile, had some semblance of progress and that I would eventually find my way if I kept at it.

However, this morning during my prayer time I realized that in the writing process, I’d started to lose the joy and excitement that is so genuine to my work with families in China. And I decided to give myself the freedom to reflect freely on what I learned and what I love about the families I worked with.  In a away, I decided to free myself from the burden of writing something smart and relevant and pertinent to the academy and instead tap back into what these families, this culture, and these people taught me about God and life.

And suddenly I was at no lack for thoughts, ideas, and even words on the page.  

I recalled, rather crudely, what these foster mothers had taught me about my own neediness for God and for others, and that true kinship, true family, is not about blood, choice, or even love, but our deep need for one another.

I love that as I yielded to venture away from what I think I know or how I think I should say it, God let me back to my own need for God and others, and this great sense of unity that in my deepest being I have for my vocation as both a scholar and a minister.

I’m so thankful for the wisdom of letting go today–not only because it’s getting me closer to getting this article down on the page, but because it’s taking me to a revelation that I couldn’t have found on my own, by my own strength, might, or wisdom.  It’s making clear my need to rely on God and others for insight, faith, encouragement, grace, and communion.

And despite how scary that is, it’s an an amazing place to be.

10 Things I Learned from 2013

I admit that I sometimes go back and read my blog posts.

I don’t think it’s because I’m a narcissist(?), but more because I’m woefully forgetful!

Rolling hills over Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Rolling hills over Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ. Photo by Evan Schneider.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that I often have to revisit the same lessons many times to make sense of who God is and where God is calling me, and thank God, God stays faithfully the same.  So with November waning, December looming, and 2014 on the horizon, I wanted to take a moment to revisit some of those lessons.  

Perhaps you’re like me, and it takes a few times for something to stick.  Perhaps you’re like me, and reminders of God’s grace and provision, can never be too frequent or too poignant.  So I invite you to revisit some of these posts from 2013, and share your lessons in the comments.  What have you learned?  Where are you growing?  And where are you headed?

1.  “Called to this life.”  Jan. 25, 2013.

I’m reminded that it is in God that the multifaceted call I’ve received finds its unity.  This gives me confidence and reassurance when others question, or I begin to question the integration or the practicalness of my own call.  It is we who often put limits on God, not the other way around!

2.  “Cracks are all there is.”  Feb. 1, 2013.

I’m reminded that there are really only two ways to live in this world–the one in which we try to prevent others from seeing our imperfections, and the other in which we lay them bare and resolve to love others and ourselves just as God made us.  How liberating it is to live into the second truth and to let God shine through the cracks.

Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo.
Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo. Photo by Ben Robinson.

3.  “I’m not busy.”  Mar. 15, 2013.

I think this may have been one of the greatest revelations of my year, and I’m so glad it came relatively early!  I find myself repeating these words to others and myself when I am tempted to let the competitive, swimming upstream tendencies in my career or my life to get the best of me.  And I find deep wisdom and comfort in never being too busy to listen to those in front of me.

4.  “Holy everything”  April 6, 2013.

Thanks to yet another excellent sermon at my church, I began to reflect on what it means to be Easter people, to undergo profound internal change, and yet to still experience great brokenness, pain, and death in this world.  For me, holy everything amounts to witnessing and testifying to the holiness of the cross, and the holiness in you and me, in the triumphant and the everyday.

5.  “Outside the walls” May 9, 2013.

Yong River. Guangxi, Nanning.
Yong River. Guangxi, Nanning.

I wrote: “Perhaps this is where my anthropology meets my theology so nearly, neatly, and dearly–in the enmeshing of the sacred and the profane in the everyday lives of people in culture, relationship, and meaning-making.  Real salvation is transcendent in that it seeps out of our pores to touch everyone we meet and everything we do.  And so I think theological education has to change to respond to not only this reality, but this Truth.  It has to equip all these people who are going to be outside the walls of the Church institution, and who will be ambassadors of faith and hope and love in this world.”

6.  “On community” June 4, 2013.

I reflected on how deeply our new church community had ministered to me despite the lines I’d been trying to draw between experiences of God in China and back in the United States during our transition.  

7.  “Each other’s miracles” July 13, 2013.

I wrote: “What if instead of contemplating the origins of disease, asking how the bus driver got lung cancer, or quibbling with the details of disaster, wondering why people bother to live in Oklahoma which is so prone to tornados, we contemplated the length that Christ went for us on the cross, the underservedness of our own grace, and the abundance of grace in a world that’s often so graceless?  And then what if we committed to being not the one who speaks, but the one who prays, not the one who solves or fixes or even heals, but the one who recognizes, beholds, and reveres deep need?  What if we found a way to acknowledge great hurt, but live with great hope?  What if we were one another’s comfort, one another’s grace, each other’s miracles?”

8.  “The God of all of us” Aug. 3, 2013.

A mosque in Cairo, Egypt.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
A mosque in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I realized that I often give up on those closest to me, friends and family who have been burned by the church and believe that God is not for them.  If I believe that God truly is the God of all of us and doesn’t give up on any of us, how do I reflect that with my life?

9.  “Learning contentment” Sept. 10, 2013.

I reflected on what it truly means to be content in all circumstances, to find a deep acceptance of what God has given and an even deeper praise for all that God has gone, no matter the ups, downs, or delays in life.

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.

10.  “Redefining Success” Oct. 17, 2013.

Along those lines of learning contentment, I thought about how empowering, meaningful, and important it is to redefine success in a world in which its often bound up with pride, trampling others, and being number one.  I believe that even in academia, it’s possible to live with the sense that being a child of God and doing one’s best constitute the ultimate contentment and satisfaction.

 

 

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.**

Thinkers Abound

When I hit the button to publish yesterday’s entry on thinking and advent, I’ll admit that I wondered if I’d just alerted the universe that I’m far less competent than I appear and whether I’d be able to live with the thought that my last post wasn’t really about advent at all, but yet another version of navel-gazing in a process of cultural shock that needs to end soon before all my readers abandon ship!

And then I read this little essay in the opinion section of the New York Times by Pico Iyer, where he talks about how he managed to distort the very paradise God had laid before him…with his mind.

The Delaware Raritan Canal in the fall. All photos by Evan Schneider.

Iyer writes,

“Yet still it’s uncanny how often we let ourselves out of the Garden by worrying about something that, if it did happen, would quicken us into a response much more practical than worry. All the real challenges of my, or any, life — the forest fire that did indeed destroy my home and everything in it; the car crash that suddenly robbed dozens of us of a cherished friend; my 13-year-old daughter’s diagnosis of cancer in its third stage — came out of the blue; they’re just what I had never thought to worry about (even as I was anguishing over whether they’d serve spinach when my friend visited the retreat house). And every time some kind of calamity has come into my life, I and everyone around me have responded with activity, unexpected strength, even an all but unnatural calm.

It’s only when we’re living in the future, the realm of “what if,” that we brilliantly incapacitate ourselves.”

Of course when you worry like that it’s simply miraculous to find others around you responding with unexpected strength to the real disasters…but why worry?  As Iyer continues, “Nowadays my one, obviously flimsy, response to all this is to try to bypass the mind if I can’t control it and at least not take my anxiety so seriously.”  

I was heartened: thinkers abound!  I’m not the only one who struggles with control!  (I knew this, but I guess I had to see it in the NYT to be truly comforted…)  Iyer even mentions that he does his best writing when he’s not even thinking about writing–how’s that for a dissertating strategy?  Confounding but true, I think.  And he concludes the essay by recognizing that we’re fallen creatures, grasping for something larger than ourselves:

“We worry only about exactly those things we can never do anything about. And then that very fact becomes something else we worry about. The cycle goes on and on until we let the mind give over to something larger — wiser — than itself.”

The gates of Princeton University on a fine autumn day.

Are you a thinker?  Does your mind undo the paradise and the blessings God faithfully throws your way?  So how do you let your “mind giver over to something larger — wiser –than itself?”

On contrasts and convictions

Often the contrast between Oklahoma, where we’ve found ourselves these last few weeks, and China, where we made our life for the past two years couldn’t be starker.

In China, the world seemed all too rich, too raw, charged with spirits and tragedies too great for me to bear.  I lived in a place and a time where children were the ones who had to shake the dust from their shoes and trudge on, or lived in cribs in stark rooms instead of the arms of revelatory love and goodness, or worse, might be left to waste away, so invisible and insignificant to a society and a people who worship modernity and progress–two gods that march relentlessly forward, crushing the least of these.

In Oklahoma, we’re surrounded by our three beautiful nieces, who lack for nothing, and in the summer, they spend their days swimming, playing games, and running in the grass.  A different kind of modernity or progress–the expanse of homes and fields and food and plenty–renders me speechless and a stranger in my own land.

Of course, it’s not all children in Oklahoma or in China who live in these contrasts.

And in fact, there are moments when both cultures seem more similar in their strangeness to me, than expected!

Oklahoma truly has a culture all its own.

That’s what came to mind the other evening as I sat on my uncle’s porch, surrounded by my husband’s extended family, and still trying to sink into an unfamiliar place and make sense of this life interrupted that we seem to be living as of late.

Looking around that certain uncle’s living room, covered in taxidermy, or the sprawling fields brown and parched from a lack of rain, or listening to the chatter on the porch about the second amendment, oil, politics, and brush fires, all made me aware of a shared history, and a connection to one another and the land, that make me feel as though I’ll forever be a stranger in this place.

But something I read this evening convicted me of those meandering thoughts, and it was this line, from a fellow blogger, about how all of us, “chicken man, terrified gay teen, self-righteous pastor, Lesbian Activist, and me, we are all [God’s] kids.”

You see, I not only find my thoughts at times to be critical of my family and friends here, and I also didn’t like the way the words that came out of my mouth sounded in a conversation where people from different worlds attempted to build a common story.

I was reminded that something I deign to call knowledge or wisdom smacks of righteousness when it presumes to know better than the simple people in this place.   And that my own life experiences in China these past few years, when it comes to understanding mission and the Church, are not to be wielded as a yardstick with which to measure others’ breadth of international knowledge, but rather a helpful reminder of how much larger God’s work is than my ideologies or my words can ever presume to teach.

Truth be told, it is so difficult for me to capture those years in China in casual conversations with friends, family, and strangers.  If these days are teaching me anything, it’s that there are no casual conversations.  And that, as Oswald Chambers puts it, “As long as you think that you are of value to [God,] He cannot choose you, because you have purposes of your own to serve.  But if you will allow Him to take you to the end of your own self-sufficiency, then He can choose you to go with Him ‘to Jerusalem.’ (Luke 18:31)”

Those urges to be self-sufficient, to regard myself above others, or dismiss the meaningfulness of these Oklahoma moments for the China ones, claw at me.

But so does the Lord, urging me to be better, to be humbler, to be like a child, ever reliant on God’s purpose, God’s wisdom, and the conviction that we are all children of God, in China, in Oklahoma, and everywhere on this earth.

On Simplicity

Flashback photos from our January trip to Egypt. My husband photographing me by the Red Sea. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I’ve been savoring Richard Rohr‘s Simplicity, lingering over the pages for nearly two years (you’ll notice my nightstand rarely changes).

Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my lack of speed when it comes to free reading, but Rohr’s is a book that has been so meaningful to me that I’ve read it repeatedly and with frequency, often returning to chapters after months away, yet feeling as though they’ve gained new meaning with the passing of time.

I had never even heard of Rohr before I came to China.  

I picked the book up at a closing sale in Colorado, a couple days before we left the country.  And in this new one, I rediscovered the contemplative life and the radicalness of Jesus’ life.

Greeting minority Christians in Yunnan, Nov. 2011. Photo by Leslie Santee.

Rohr writes passionately on the importance of women’s leadership in the Church today, on the great wisdom to be found in great humility, and on the simplicity of letting go.  A couple days ago I sat with an intelligent Chinese friend of mine, a woman with great gifts for ministry and leadership in the Church.  She mentioned a fascination with Catholic spiritual formation, and I immediately brought up Rohr’s name.

And then it occurred to me that after two years of reveling in this wisdom, it was nigh time to pass it on.  I’d leave this little paperback with my friend, hoping it would encourage her to share her gifts, hoping that as Rohr believes and has led me to do so as well, that out of contemplation comes action.

Inside a mosque in Cairo. Photo by Ben Robinson.

And so I’ve been tearing through these last few chapters with newfound vigor and appreciation for Rohr’s teachings.  Rohr writes,

I think this is the clear meaning of the story in chapter 25 of Matthew: the people were suddenly to discover Christ in the least of their brothers and sisters, and not just in other charismatics, not just with other evangelicals.  Otherwise, all you have is collective self-love.  Then the group is, so to speak, just an extension of my own ego.  This is evident in the need to use the same Christian jargon as I do, so that we can be together.  But this isn’t the freedom of the children of God.  Such people will never unite or reconcile anything, because their life at the bottom keeps getting smaller and smaller.  Real Christians are able to discover and love Christ in the not-me, the totally other–but this always means taking a step beyond previous boundaries…

I chose the story of the rich young man to demonstrate the change we seek has to be very concrete, very immediate, and very practical.  Otherwise it’s an intellectual thing.  Jesus asks the rich young man to move from here to there–and he meant economically.  For most of us this means turning to people who are different from us.  This the only thing that can liberate us from our egocentric attitude.  Maybe this means that as younger men and women we go to the elderly, or maybe as healthy persons we go to the physically and mentally handicapped, or if we’re homophobic we work in an AIDS hospital…

I believe that circumstances change us, not sermons.  We’ve changed when we’ve moved to a new place and when we expose ourselves to the truth of a different standpoint, one that’s not our own.  What else is metanoia, or conversion, supposed to mean in the New Testament?  It means to go to a different place; and this practical step will see to it that our growth as Christians is something real, something earthbound.  Otherwise there is always the danger that our so-called love of Christ will be just a disguised love of self.

–Richard Rohr, Simplicity, p. 154-155

With parents in Yunnan province. Photo by Leslie Santee.

Although I’ve been a Christian for decades, this transformation of living in a different place, seeing the world through different eyes, and being faced with a new reality, has taught me more about God than many of those years combined.  And as Rohr suggests, it’s the freedom of letting go of what I thought I knew, and seeing Christ in the least of these, and in those who were formerly strangers, that has made all the difference.