Showing posts from 2018

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 …

Summer 2018

Another summer has spun to its end, seven weeks going by at a dizzying speed, crammed full of time with people I love and conversations, taking classes and writing papers, playing and traveling, crying and laughing, eating good food and soaking in the beauty of America, drinking sazeracs and arguing about English grammar, taking pictures and reading books.

There was a lot of time with a lot of people who I didn't take pictures of at all, and there wasn't enough time to see everyone I wanted to see.  (Of course!)

One of my sisters got engaged.  (We're getting old!)

This morning, as I boarded my first flight, Susan sent me a message to check out Jonathan Gabriel Masters' album The Spirit and the Bride. It's well worth the listen and comes neatly full circle to how I left Bloomington at the start of my three year stint in China, on a bus to Wheaton, listening to Josh Garrels' Love & War & The Sea In Between.

Although this will be my fourth year of teaching…

Growing Up & the End of Revelation

I was talking with some teammates the other day about growing up.It’s been far more difficult — and far better — than I expected.As a child, I assumed that maturity was a threshold of sorts, and then I was somewhat disappointed and confounded as I got older to discover that it’s a slow (and often painful) process — not a magical transformation.Andrew Peterson hit the nail on the head:
After all these years, I would’ve thought that all my fears were laid to rest But I still get scared And I thought that all my struggles would be victories by now But I confess That the mess is there.(After All These Years)
I found that adults often don’t feel particular competent and that nearly everyone has days when they want to crawl into a blanket fort and let the real adults deal with the problems of the world.
Yet… although I certainly share in a nostalgic longing to return to the naïveté of childhood at times, I find myself increasingly grateful that I get to keep changing and growing.Being an adult soun…

when they listen

So yeah, I have scribbled reminders to myself on an index card of four things that I want to blog about sometime fairly soon.  Thoughtful sorts of things.

But then something like this happens and I wanted to share it before it gets lost in the shuffle. 

There are days (many of them) when I and other teachers wonder how much attention our students are really paying to what we actually teach them.

And then there are days like today, when I received the following messages from a student.

hello Hannah today when i took the subway i found a sign and i felt uncertain i can't make sure whether the expression is right the chinese in the picture means don't lean on it
Why, you may ask, is this so noteworthy?
First of all, one of the things I've told my students a few times during the course of this year is to pay attention to the English that's around them and think about it.  English is becoming more and more prevalent in China, and my students spend hours and years of their life …

handling a fire, Sichuan style

Let’s talk about where I live for a moment, shall we?A few weeks ago I had my students brainstorm topics that I might mention when introducing Sichuan to those of you who haven’t had the privilege of being here in person.Some of their ideas included pandas, spicy, mahjong, and mountains.These are indeed some of the first things that I think of when I consider elements of the particular culture of Sichuan.Other students got even more specific — and garnered laughs from classmates — by adding Sichuanese, the dialect (which is similar to, but noticeably different from, Mandarin.)
Allow me to add another element: laid-back.Casual would also be an appropriate term.
This is my second year living in Sichuan and, to be honest, a lot of my everyday life has come to feel pretty normal to me.It was fun to have Laura visiting a couple of weeks ago and to get a glimpse of it through her eyes, a little bit of a throwback to my semester in Xiamen, when everything was new.I’m used to seeing the int…