Showing posts from 2016

Jesus and Aleppo

I’m in the middle of Matthew 14 right now.   The first chunk is the story of John the Baptizer’s death — how the paranoid ruler Herod, outraged at being called out on his sin by John — threw him into prison and then had him killed.   It’s a story that is frustrating in how senseless the evil seems to be.   It also feels familiar, 2000 years later.  There aren’t many days that go by without headlines of death and destruction brought about by terrorists — evil for the simple sake of causing fear and panic to gain power.  Gunshots fired, bombs, trucks crashing into innocent people — these have all become commonplace in our world.  Sometimes the terror strikes close to home — in America, in France, in Germany, in these places that we share history and linguistic heritage with.  Sometimes it’s further away psychologically — in the Middle East, in the refugee crisis, in the devastated city of Aleppo and the heart wrenching messages from its citizens.   So Jesus’s response to the mur

Package retrieval day

Some days are complicated. I knew that I had a package from my family waiting in the post office in Dujiangyan (an hour and a half, two buses from my campus.)  Miriam and I will be heading into DJY on Saturday to celebrate Christmas with the city team, but I was feeling really anxious about leaving the package sitting in the post office because sometimes Things Happen. And since I don't teach on Mondays, and am happily procrastinating on my remaining homework till after I'm done giving and grading finals, I decided today was the perfect day for a trip into the city. Retrieval of that package went quite smoothly.  Buses all came and went as they ought, the round trip took about exactly three hours, and the whole process only cost me 8 yuan (a little over a dollar.) My package is under my tree.  ...I crack myself up. :) That was package number one. Package number two is something that a friend of a friend sent to me.  Over the past week, there's been a series o


Usually when I’m writing a blog post, I have a fairly clear idea of what I want to say and write it; maybe there’s a little editing involved, but it’s pretty straightforward.   Not so with trying to write a reflection about 2016.  Nothing about this year was simple or straightforward.  I’ve written and scrapped more versions of this post than I care to remember.  Summarizing this year isn’t terribly difficult, but reflecting on it…. that has proven a challenge.  So this post is probably going to ramble all over the place.  It’s much more for my own benefit, to get the words out, than any sort of literary masterpiece (i.e., don’t feel obligated to read.) 2016 summarized: January - March:   All of the drama and all of the feelings about all of the things all of the time. #exhaustion #coffee #somuchcoffee  April - June:   Looming knowledge of upcoming goodbyes and trying to reconcile myself to that. July - August:   Constant transition: Bloomington to Wheaton

Advent reflections: tears, love, and dreams

Back in the day, I used to laugh at how easily my mom cried.  Give us a slightly sentimental moment in the movie we were watching and we'd glance over to see her eyes filled with tears, which we thought was hilarious.  I didn't believe in crying about anything, except for leaving camp and saying a few long-term goodbyes.  And chopping onions.     That's changed.* I was chagrined a year and a half ago when Chris and Elizabeth walked into their apartment to find me sitting on their couch with tears streaming down my face.  There was no tragedy.  I had been watching Catching Fire , the sequel to The Hunger Games .  I can pretty much be counted on to cry at anything that involves the thought of saying goodbye, a homecoming, or a crowd of people with passionate feelings about a cause. All those tears still take me by surprise more often than not, because I still think of myself as someone who doesn't cry.   A few of the students from my first year.  :) Ton

This (Charmed) Life

“Do you love this life?” my student Anny asked me as we stood in her classroom this morning, chatting during the ten minute break.  Her question surprised me, partly because it’s something I’ve been contemplating anyway. “Yes,” I told her.  “Yes, definitely.” There are, to be sure, hard parts about my life and about living here, as there are about any life anywhere.  There are language barriers, culture differences, distracted or apathetic students, logistics to juggle.  There’s the lonely nature of grief, intensified by being hundreds if not thousands of miles away from most of my friends and communities.   But my life is so good that it stuns me.   Recently the phrase this charmed life has been stuck in my mind every time I think about how to describe this season of life.  I get to do a job that I love at a beautiful school with students who bring no end of laughter into my days.  There are Christmas lights hanging in my living room and over my bed.  I’


I have many ideas for blog posts brewing in my mind, but it seemed like time for something lighthearted.  And I realized that I haven't shared quotes in a long time. So, prepare yourself.   "What do you think I'm made of, Abby?  Not money!!" ~ Miriam "Coffee house yourself." ~ Gordon [debating what to do for the New Year's performance] Solene:  "But if we sing in Chinese, it will make them --" *ready to say happy * Moding: "Confused!" "I feel like I could be a good bird." ~ Miriam re: whistling skills "It's like a thermos, it keeps cold things hot and hot things cold.... waiiiiiit...." ~ me [about her very rural hometown] "Most people have never seen a living foreigner!" ~ one of Miriam's students Rebecca: *giving her speech*  "So you know about the harm, why do you stay up so late?" Rox: *screaming from the back of the classroom*  "I can't c

A day in the life

Recently some friends asked me to talk  about  what a normal day for me is like.  Here it is, in maybe more detail than you wanted to know.   Today is a pretty representative day of what “normal” is here.   Roughly what my living room table looks like during the week.  I live my life in a web of words. 6:45 am — I wake up to my phone BLARING the opening notes of Hamilton.   Because, like a genius, I left the volume the entire way up.   It’s still completely dark outside. 7:00 am — My second, you actually need to think about getting up now alarm goes off.  I set a timer for five minutes and then I’ll get up.  However, I’m very awake, thanks to my pal Aaron Burr screaming at me first thing.  Once I get up, and begin stumbling around my apartment in a very WALL-E-esque fashion, I have about 20 minutes to get dressed and ready for classes and to eat breakfast (yogurt, which comes in a container with its own spoon.  For those of you familiar with Chinese yogurt, notice I said

Thanksgivings from Thanksgiving

Today was a pretty full day, because it's that time in the semester -- life is busy, not in a bad way so much as in an inevitable way.  We're rapidly hurling towards the end of the semester.  (When did that  happen?)  We'll celebrate Thanksgiving more formally on Saturday with the city team in DJY (yay!) but today was ordinary for the most part, as far as such things go, here at Chuan Wai. Which is to say, I've also hit the point in the semester where living in China feels normal (most of the time) and I'm not really sure what about my daily life is going to prove interesting to friends in other places.  (Maybe I'll write a post trying to explain daily life and normal, but not today.) I thought about Thanksgiving last year and how very grateful I am that I did make it home after all.  I wonder about what's happening with my story-telling bus friend, Daniel, and hope that the Father has sent other people into his life who've listened to him and had ch


Anyone who's hung out with me much since this summer knows that I've listened to Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical  Hamilton many many times.  Which means, of course, that my mind has been busy applying its lyrics to all sorts of situations in my daily life. Every time I navigate the crowded stretch of campus between my apartment and my office, every time I'm in a metro station, crossing paths with hundreds of people who I'll probably never see again, every time I meet new students at English Corner and spend time talking with them on WeChat afterwards, every time I fly and see the evidence of civilization beyond my imagination stretching out below, I find myself resonating with the panic-stricken words of Charles Lee in the song Stay Alive : "But there's so many of them!" There are so many  people here.  So much more work than I can begin to do -- at this school, in this city, this province, this country, this world.  When I think about the

On Thinking (or not.)

As Miriam and I discuss issues that have come up with our students, in and out of the classroom, a common theme has become blatantly apparent: they don't think. This has nothing to do with intelligence.  They are smart; they all made it to college in China, which is no small feat, and they're all capable of speaking at least two languages, so.  I'm not saying that they are stupid. And of course there are a few who are good at thinking deeply, who do question what they hear in the news and are interested in global events and initiate discussions and keep conversations going and keep us learning.  They're a rarity, though.  We notice and wonder at these students. But.  In general. They don't think.  We are constantly challenging them to go beyond answers they can find in a textbook and to talk about their own opinions.  And then to consider another side of the issue.  To think about real world issues (this week, problems that women face globally -- lack of

it's good

There are days  (or weekends) that are just a joy, not because of anything spectacularly extraordinary happening, but simply because here, now, in this place, life is good.   City team chill time post taco feast. There’s bus rides to DJY, which means a chance to listen to music, and happiness that hits when the next song that comes up is the version of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate that Tyler made for me, and all of the memories of the terrible, intense, crazy, wonderful, exhausting, confounding, tear-filled, sleep-deprived months that February and March (and maybe April too…?) were.  Memories of riding aro und Bloomington and walking around Bloomington and how desperately wrecked life felt for so many people all at once, like a night that lasted for weeks and weeks.  But morning came.  And I think, God is good. Then Boyhood Bravery comes up on shuffle and listening to that I think about all of the adventures that were packed into the last half of my time in Bloomington, t