I’m still alive

I write so much for my weekly response papers, I hardly know how to write more for my blog. And as for life material to write about, each day seems like a week. Where to begin?

Since a lot of what I’m writing for class is for the most part similar to blogging/journaling, I may post now and then from my assignments.

For today, just an update on daily life. I work now 6-10am weekday mornings cleaning toilets, windows, doorknobs, carpet, and hard floor at a nearby music school. God really surprised me with this one! I had said to a friend an early morning cleaning job would be perfect while at seminary more than 8 months ago. Then, when I got here, I started applying for everything. Nobody was calling me, and I started to resign myself to possibly not working this semester, when this job (I’d given up on them long ago) called me! She said she was a bit surprised to receive a Stanford grad’s application for this job… but she was interested because I mentioned my ranch work experience in the cover letter.

It has been such a blessing. I have time to process class/life/church and pray, sing, listen to audiobooks while I scrub and vacuum.

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An Old Beginning, in a New Place

The morning I left Missoula, one of the most generous and encouraging women I know sent me off with a box of cake, raisins, and chocolate (YUM!) and these words: "I hope you’ll start your blog up again. You’ll have a diary forever."

So, here I am again.

I’m still reeling from the sheer joy of the road trip with my mom from Missoula to Philadelphia – listening to sermons, reading visions from Revelation and Ezekiel out loud to each other, enjoying the antics of Lord Peter Wimsey – and the amusing frustrations (do Turnpikes/Toll Roads do ANYTHING productive aside from creating jobs and swindling poor naive Montanans?).

And reeling from Orientation.

I’ve sat through four Stanford Orientations. "You are the future." "You are the leaders." "You are smart." "You are talented." "You are special." "These are going to be the best four years of your life." Each year, as I gained tiny slivers of the wisdom , the cheese turned my stomach more and more until all I wanted to do was scream, "Meaninglessness of meaninglessness! Vapor of vapors! Vanity of vanities! … The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to any of us?"

Then this year’s Orientation: "You are sinners." "You are servants." "Seek only His glory." "You will suffer."

"You are sinners saved by Grace."

Phew! I have the freedom to be honest, no more need to pretend. I am a sinner, a failure. I am weak in my body, weak in my mind, weak in my soul. And yet, for some reason, He has brought me here to study His Word, to be mentored by wise counselors, to serve Him and others in any way I can, and most importantly, to fulfill that primary goal of the Christian life: to glorify God more.

Prayer requests: "Let [me] not become conceited, provoking [others], envying [others]" (Galatians 5:26). There are so many gifted people here with wonderful ministries. Pray for that I will rejoice with them for the gifts they have that I don’t. And when I have the opportunities to use my gifts, pray I will do so humbly, with full knowledge that "unless the Lord builds the house, the builders build in vain" (Psalm 127:1).

What can I be praying for you about this week?

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Happy Pheasant Day

Just taught Oliver Twist and was struck by how perfectly one of the characters embodies the spirit of secular thanksgiving. Underneath a floorboard in the attic he hides his little box of treasures, and when no one is looking he pulls them out to fondle them lovingly. ” They are mine,” he says, “my little property, my comfort in my old age.”

For attendance today I had my students share what they are thankful for. None of the answers were surprising: health, youth, family, friends, life.

Without Christ working in our hearts, what choice do we have but to cling, as Fagin did, to our treasures?

But Elisabeth Elliot beautifully expresses the alternative of faith: “The growth of all living green things wonderfully represents the process of receiving and relinquishing, gaining and losing, living and dying. The seed falls into the ground, dies as the new shoot sprouts up. There must be a splitting and a breaking in order for a bud to form. The bud ‘lets go’ when the flower forms. The calyx lets go of the flower…

There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops. If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to let it go when the time comes or unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used, we stunt the growth of the soul.

Think of the self that God has given as an acorn. It is a marvelous little thing, a perfect shape, perfectly designed for its purpose, perfectly functional. Think of the grand glory of an oak tree. Gods intention when He made the acorn was the oak tree. His intention for us is ‘…the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ Many deaths must go into our reaching that measure, many letting-goes. When we look at the oak tree, you dont feel the ‘loss’ is a very great loss. The more you perceive Gods purpose in your life, the less terrible will the losses seem.”

Human nature is to cling to our treasure (health, reputation, loved ones, whatever) brandishing scissors at any who threaten it. But in Christ, we are sprouting into a new nature as that old nature dies. The cracking and splitting and withering and dying hurts so. Yet, oh the glory into which we are growing!

I will have a feast of pheasants tonight with my minority students, no turkeys in the market. Love and miss you all! I have to type blog posts on my phone again, which is why I havent for so long.

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The Feast of the Sacrifice

Called Eid by English speaking Muslims and Corban Festival by Chinese Muslims (like Uyghur, Kazak, Kyrgyz, etc.)its the biggest holiday of a Muslims year. We got 3 days off for Corban Festival and 7 days for National Day together!A 10 day holiday.

I went to my students home in Yarkant, which happens to be the highest security part of Xinjiang due to violence during the summer. There is no internet or text messaging for a several hundred kilometer diameter circle. There are police everywhere, apparently paranoid that I was a journalist, but they always calmed down when they saw my work visa and learned I was just a teacher. One of my students got really freaked out and angry when we were pulled over and ID checked and told me to just pretend I cant speak Chinese. Given the machine guns and yelling I couldnt have even if I wanted to (which I didnt, she just wanted to shame the police).

Aside from ID checks and morning antiterrorist propaganda playing loudly throughout the neighborhood, oh and no internet, and no traditional sama dancing and lamb slaughtering in the public square, I was able to experience some aspects of the festival.

First, the slaughtering of the family sheep. Everyone dresses in brand new fancy clothes. Then Dad and the teenage sons tie the sheeps legs and plop him in the front yard. Uncle puts some big work pants over his fancy slacks and chooses a knife. Everyone crouches down and puts a hand on the sheep, except of course for the foreigner, she believes weird things not like us. Uncle thanks the beast for its sacrifice and dedicates it to Allah, then saws its head nearly off. Mom and Sis look away while the blood spurts and the body kicks and Dad scolds Little Bro for giggling at the sounds the sheep makes as it dies. Then Uncle cuts a hole in the leg and starts blowing the corpse up like a balloon. The foreigner watches the process like she has t do it herself next.

Then, 3 days of eating at every relatives, friends, coworkers etc. home you can get to.

I have attached a few pictures of the kind of spreads we grazed from.

The Feast of the Sacrifice is in honor of Abrahams near sacrifice of his son Ishmael at Allahs bidding. Allah provided a sheep. I have heard the story several times from different students and it varies greatly.

I have found the best way to explain Easter is to start with this holiday and share about the centuries of Days of Atonement Israel performed without which Jesus death would have no context. I read Leviticus on this day and reflected on all the history and prophecies bound up in John the Baptists words of recognition, “Behold, the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

I also witnessed family drama and heartache during that week and prayed that God would transform this families feuding into peace through the message of the gospel, as he has done so miraculously in my family!My heart aches for the Uyghur people on so many levels and I will pray for them always.

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An Evening in the Life of Mo

For those who like photos. And these are action shots, too!

This is our weekly "English Corner", held every Friday night for whoever wants to come and improve their English.

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Five Loaves of Bread

It’s Spiritual Formation week at Velvet Ashes and the wisdom of the prompt post far surpasses anything I shall share here. Click and read, you won’t regret it: http://velvetashes.com/the-grove-spiritual-formation/?utm_source=Velvet+Ashes+Subscribers&utm_campaign=4e53308190-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_be1f75b629-4e53308190-41627749

I found myself hungrily reading the five festival books of the Old Testament this month. Now seems a good time to try to share the much-needed nutrition each of them has provided me.

First, I saw in Esther that God creates us, even to the last detail, with special care for the path we will tread. Because we are human like Esther, we wind up wherever we are by making mistakes. We follow guidance contrary to God’s Law. We pursue what we believe will give us happiness and security in this world. But wherever we are when God invites us to act on behalf of His Kingdom, He does not highlight the unlawful things we did to get there. The story highlights something else: All that we need to act is knowledge of what must be done.

God gave me Esther because He wanted me to be aware of the unbelief clouding my thinking, the imperfection of the counsel I received, the reprehensibility of my actions. But He was also clear: None of that changes the fact that He wants to use me. There will be really good sounding arguments against following His commands. The cost will seem too dear. I will not have the courage. But I am a daughter of God. He demands to use me.

God gave me Song of Songs to remind me not to feel ashamed at the ease with which my heart merges to another’s. There is no guilt in my longing to love and be loved in return. There is nothing bad about my desires to touch and be touched. He designed me to do just these things.

But He also knows my poor blind eyes see these things as ends in themselves rather than the means He made them to a much greater end. I need to be taught how to merge my heart to another’s as it was meant to merge, to love as He loves, to embrace as I was made to embrace. The cycles of pain and separation in the poem remind me these are not lessons learned easily. Nor can they be mastered in one season of my life.

God gave me Ruth when I was grieving the loss of my longed for husband and sons. He needed to teach me to look away for a moment from what I had lost, as Naomi took so long to do, and see those people and blessings who are still in my life, never ceasing to demonstrate God’s hesed love to me.

God gave me Lamentations to guide the flow of my tears. I lacked the audacity to accuse God for authoring my suffering. And yet, I needed to acknowledge He chose this path for me. I lacked the courage to accept responsibility for my rebellion. But I needed to know true hope is born through repentance. And it can only be strengthened by remembrance of God’s relentless pursuit of and steadfast love to sinners.

But the comfort of Ecclesiastes was the sweetest comfort of all. Ecclesiastes continued to loosen the grip of my fingers on the wind by showing me how I have already begun to let go. The Teacher fearlessly pursued his heart and his mind down every path they seduced him towards. He wholeheartedly became Romeo. Then Nietzsche. Then Gandhi. But he discovered once you have had a taste of true reality, any other reality you begin to live will always betray itself with the bitter taste of vanity.

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” is not a heavy command I must exert all my feeble powers to try to fulfill. It is a love I cannot escape, a memory I cannot forget, a taste I will never be able to wash out of my mouth.

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Miracles

I am going to share just two of the miracles I witnessed this summer because they have shaped my idea of what mentorship means. Our true mentor is the Holy Spirit. But the amazing beauty of his mentorship is that he doesn’t like to divide us up and commune with us one-on-one, he loves to link us together and channel his wisdom and love to flow from one of us to another.

Miracle 1: an email

I was just leaving Shenzhen at the end of July when I received an email from a woman whose love and encouragement got me through the tough years of my childhood and whose continued prayers and encouragement have been getting me through my tough times in China. She shared an amazing story. During a time of deep confusion for me around a relationship with a man, the Holy Spirit alerted her to my need for prayer. As she prayed for me daily, she became more and more deeply acquainted with the specifics of the situation. One day, my mom visited her, and she mentioned something of what the Holy Spirit had asked her to pray about regarding me. My mom, who was one of the few people who I had talked to about the situation, was amazed. I had told this dear mentor nothing, and yet her prayers corresponded exactly in time and situation to my struggles.

The email in July shared all the details she had known without me telling her, and how she had been praying daily about them.

I cried for about an hour, crossing the city of Shenzhen in a bus. Throughout all my confusion in that relationship, I had been struggling with guilt that this was a struggle at all. There are Christians being tortured all over the world, and here I am bringing boy troubles before the Throne? But our mentor had something to show both of us. He wanted to show me his care is infinite, he is with me, and my boy troubles matter to him. He wanted to show her that his care is nearer than ever, her prayers matter, and he is lovingly at work in all situations.

Miracle 2: a chance encounter

I hope you recognize the tongue-in-cheek when you hear me use the word "chance". I ran into a student in Shenzhen whose contact information I had lost in a phone crash. Over a year ago, I ignored the advice of my colleagues and became friends with her. She shared so much pain with me. I did my best to offer the only comfort I have: the gospel. She didn’t want anything to do with it.

Fast forward a year. I run into her. She shares that she lived for some months in the city center with a Christian family. She finally realized her true problem is her enslavement to sin. She wants to be free. She wants to worship.

Because she lives too far from the Christians I worship with, I took her to a church near her home. After the service, they plugged both of us into a small group. I had to leave Shenzhen a few days later, but she is constantly in my prayers. Let her be in yours too!

Two-minute Check-in on my life

Some of you reading this know me, and are curious how I am doing. Well, I am back at school, teaching my students things like how to (fake) beat each other to death and understand Shakespearean wordplay. I’m still reeling from my first break-up/heartbreak/whatever you want to call it and learning that it is good to ask God audacious questions like:

"Why didn’t you give me clearer guidance?" (to which he replied Psalm 32:9)

and "I thought you were supposed to be sanctifying me! I was trying to so hard to follow you, and look what a mess I made!" (to which he gave me the story of Abram and Sarai and their misadventures with a Pharoah and slave girl from Egypt)

and "What did David mean when he said, ‘Against you, and you only, have I sinned’? It still feels like the one I’ve sinned against most is Steven." (still wrestling with that one)

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