After three and a half years, here's what I'd tell myself back at the beginning.

There will be too many students for you to know them all.  It's okay. They will see you and yell hello, hold your hand, or slip away with an awkward laugh -- it's okay. By the time you're done, you'll have taught thirty-seven classes of students, well over a thousand individuals. You won't remember all their names, but you taught them and graded them, listened to them and laughed with them, scolded and encouraged them, and it is enough.
You'll dream of old students sometimes, despite the intervening years, and they will remember you, too. You'll walk the streets of Beijing, talk about their jobs, eat meals together.   It doesn't always end on the last day of class.
You will laugh, and cry, and panic, and want to give up, and want to throw a textbook at some of your students. But you'll settle for throwing chalk, and laughing, and laughing, and laughing. It will get easier,  but there will …

At the end of 2018

Here I am, thinking about what to write at the end of 2018 (and feeling like a time traveller since I'm in China for it this year!)

"What will you do tonight for the new year?" Phila asked me this morning, and rolled her eyes when I suggested sleeping.  So now I'm trying to remember what all has happened this year.

A year ago, I had just surprised Susan and Natalie (and quite a few other people) by showing up for Nat and Jason's wedding and I was in Virginia, hanging out with the Wilsons before going back to PA to finish off the surprises.  This year I'm looking forward to being in Thailand soon before heading back to the US briefly for Abbie's wedding.  The past year has been full of travel and transition, despite the stability of living in the same apartment and keeping the same campus team.  I feel extraordinarily privileged to live the life that I do, to get to call so many places home and so many people my favorites, but the continual transitioning f…

The Magic Happens

Every time I get a new group of students, I experience some anxiety and dread.  With several hundred new names and faces to learn, I always wonder how is this going to happen? and for the first few weeks, it feels pretty impossible.  This year brought a record-breaking number of new students (322, I believe) and my assurance to students that love grows and isn't a limited resource that I'll run out of as I get to know more of them come out of a place of trust rather than a tangible reality.  Goodness knows that I don't feel at the beginning of the year like I'm going to be able to get to know all of them or like I have anywhere nearly enough love to go around.

And yet...

Right around this point in the semester, week five or week six, I start to feel the shift.  All of a sudden, classroom discipline gets much smoother because I have a handle on the names of the more active (read: more likely to cause trouble) students and can call them out without much disruption to the…

Hard to Find

[So, by way of prologue, this post is maybe a little different than my norm -- maybe a little more personal, maybe a little more in-depth, and maybe not something I would bother posting on my blog if life was different and more friends could have already observed for themselves the underlying themes of what I'm about to say.  One of the tricky parts of a long distance relationship is figuring out how to honor the relationship and let it be a reality even when most people can't see what's going on in it.]

It's a confounding thing to me when I simply can't find the words to even begin to express what's in my heart.  Yet that's where I've been for months, my mind full of different ways to begin but with no idea what to say in the middle or at the end, because it feels to me that there aren't enough words in the world for this story.

Let me begin here: When I was a child, I loved Little Pilgrim's Progress with a vast and fierce love.  My parents bou…

The Woods of the Shadow of Death

In Humanities 101, we memorized John Donne's Holy Sonnet X.  I no longer can quote the whole thing, yet I often find the opening and closing lines running through my mind.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Audrey Assad has done a beautiful musical adaptation of this poem.  It's utterly appropriate right now. 

This year has brought the death of several dear saints, and while I rejoice for them ending their races well, I mourn for our loss. 

Saturday (morning in the US, evening in China) brought the horrific news of a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  While shootings in America have become a sickeningly common occurrence in my own living memory, there's something especially awful to me about this one, happening in the region…

New Students

I'm a little embarrassed at how quiet my blog has been this semester.  It's not for lack of stories, certainly; more for lack of time and any functioning brain cells left at the end of the day.  The fall semester has swung out of the season of me feeling like I was waiting for everything to start into the jam-packed busyness that I normally associate with spring semester. 

Mom and Ben came and traveled with me and met a lot of my dear friends and students.

I have about 320 new students this year.  It's a lot of new names and faces to learn, especially when I only teach each of them once a week.  They're a fun and friendly bunch, eager to talk and learn and share stories and eat meals together.  Each of the three years that I've taught at Chuan Wai I've been in a different building and different department -- this year gives me the furthest walk from my apartment to the building where I teach (about ten minutes) and the most sophisticated technology (basically sm…


Appropriately enough, the first time I remember hearing Jon Foreman's song Southbound Train was while Depreena and I were on the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

I guess they'll say I've grown
I know more than I wanted to know
I've said more than I wanted to say

I'm headed home

Yeah, but I'm not so sure
That home is a place
You can still get to by train

So I'm looking out the window

And I'm drifting off to sleep
With my face pressed up against the pane
With the rhythm of my heart
And the ringing in my ears
It's the rhythm of the southbound train.

Coming back to China for what is, in all likelihood, my last year to live here, the lyrics feel even more true.  Beyond my favorite flippant answer of "wherever my phone charger is plugged in," I'm not sure how to answer when people ask where home is.

Western Pennsylvania.



My parents' house.


The Powells' house.

Chiang Mai.


And that's just to …