Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back


As 2014 draws to a close, I have been reflecting on the lessons I have learned this year. This year I began leading a small group, have visited women in situations of exploitation, become more involved in my Sunday fellowship, have been volunteering my time to help refugees living in my area, made new friends, deepened friendships, continued studying Chinese, and traveled to four different countries.  I have learned many lessons (big and small) through each of these experiences.  One overarching principle/lessons has been evident in all of these areas: FAITHFULNESS.

2014 gave me a deeper understanding of His faithfulness.  He is faithful to fulfill everything He promised us in Scripture.  He was faithful to provide financial resources in situations where there seemed like no way out.  I saw Him work on people’s hearts and help them better understand their worth in His eyes.  I can’t even count the number of times He provided me wisdom and guidance as I was facing a challenge.  He faithfully pursued me and showed me the depths of His love.  He faithfully forgave me when I fell short.  He intervened in difficult situations and has helped people reconcile.

He also, lovingly, showed me that I am human and I will make mistakes.  I am not called to be perfect.  I am called to be faithful to do what He has asked me to do.  Success is not defined by the outcomes that I can see.  I need to remember that He is always working behind the scenes.  He is ultimately in control so I do not need to worry about all of the details outside of my control; He will take care of that.  I am responsible for showing up, engaging the situation, asking for His guidance. 

2014 was a great year.  Can’t wait to see what lessons I will learn in 2015 and how next year will teach me more about His character.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Holy Night




I spent last night having a bonfire with a great group of friends.  After finishing our hot coco and roasting marshmallows, we began singing our favorite Christmas carols.  There was something so magical about proclaiming the truth of His birth.  It was such a powerful worship experience of all of us.  We were blessed to sing these powerful songs while seeing the starts bright in the sky (a rarity here).  It was a Christmas Eve miracle. 

This month I have been reflecting on the powerful lyrics of Oh Holy Night, particularly the third verse.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Though injustice is all around us, love and peace are stronger.  Because of His birth love, peace and love will overcome all evil.  He came to overcome sin and its consequences.  His incarnation will break chains and will restore us to correct relationship.  He came to reconcile us to Himself.  He also allows us to be reconciled (restored to correct relationship) with each other. Though there are problems now, they will not exist forever.  He is more powerful than any divisions we can create. So powerful.

When it is easy to become overwhelmed with all the darkness, I can proclaim the truth that in His name all oppression will cease!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Cookies

This week I baked and decorated cookies with my local friends. Angel, this adorable 5 year old, really enjoyed this Christmas tradition. Enjoy some of the highlights from our day.
video
video

Friday, December 12, 2014

798 Art District.

I live close to Beijing's famous 798 Art District. Today I meet at friend for coffee in 798 and took a few pictures of the art instillations I passed.  I like the creativity of these local artists.











Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Rest


In my small group we have been discussion rest.  It is one of those concept that everyone seems to agree is important and vital to a healthy life, but very hard to implement.  Rest is a discipline, a practice.  Rest is not just disengaging and relaxing, but creating the space to hear from Him.

I am not very good at resting.  I live in a city with 23 million people who are eagerly striving for more. It is very easy to become so busy and worn out.  Practicing rest is countercultural.  The principle of Sabbath called the people of Israel to rest one day at week.  Sabbath teaches us to rely on His provision in our lives.  It is easy for me to always be thinking about other people, checking email, or worrying about a problem.  In learning to rest I am learning to trust His provision and power in these situations. It is not very easy to do and I have to admit that I have not been very successful so far in making rest a regular pattern in my life.  I hope to grow more in this area so that I can grow more in Him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Delight


On Sunday we had a discussion about G-d’s delight in us.  He made us and He is proud of His creation! We are often thankful for the large things in our lives and forget to find delight in the normal (possibly mundane) aspects of life.  I like this practice of finding joy in the little things.  So, here’s some of things that I take delight in:
                Traveling
                Reading a good book
                Swimming
                Reading a book on the beach
                Cheap massages (thank you Asia!)
                Baking
                Good conversations
                My friends and family
                Smoothies
                Watching cheesy movies
                Learning something new
                Fresh flowers
                Blue skies
                Riding my scooter
                Playing games
                Laughter
                Mexican food


What delights you? 

Monday, August 18, 2014

All Hands on Deck


While I was back in the States I heard from multiple people how much they admire my cross-culture work.  A few people said that “I could never do that.”  While I have been called to live overseas and serve a particular group of disadvantaged people, that does not mean that I am better than anyone else.  My calling looks different than yours, but that is the point! There are over 1.7 billion people on the planet. Imagine how boring life would be if everyone was the same.  He uniquely created each individual on planet earth.  We were created differently and that diversity is amazing.

He created me with a certain set of skills, abilities, and dreams which allow me to live overseas.  He has created you with unique dreams, skills, and abilities.  He calls each of us to use our gifts to influence those around us.  You have the ability to positively effect the lives of those around you.  Are you good at math or science?  Great! We need those people to help design buildings, plan cities, take care of our sick, and make sure that the budget is in line.  Those are important skills that should not be overlook because they are not as “intriguing” as living in a foreign country. 

We need people to serve where they are called, to realize that their vocation is just as important as any other.  For the Kingdom to effect reach each society we need believers purposely working in education, government, fine arts, health care, family care, church, and business.  We need dedicated people working in each of these spheres of society so we can see positive transformation.

Hopefully this is encouraging to you.  You are already in a position to impact those around you.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

San Francisco

This week I was able to spend a few days in San Francisco with my friend Linda.  I enjoyed sightseeing and was surprised how often I hear and spoke Chinese. 









Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mixed Emotions

While I have been in California talking with different groups of people about my cross-cultural work, I have frequently been asked how I process my experiences interacting with the women I visit.  Honestly, each time I visit with the women I feel a wide range of emotions.  I am saddened by the injustice of the situation.  I can feel angry when hearing their stories of past hurts and exploitation.  I am in awe of these women and their strength. They are able to survive in horrible situations and somehow maintain a decently positive outlook on life.  I greatly admire their strength and courage.  I respect them and their desire to provide for their families.  I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that this problem is systemic and cannot be easily fixed.  Often times I am joyful because we had a great conversation with the women.  I am thankful that I can speak truth into their lives.  I am thankful that He has provided me the opportunity to love on these women.  I am grateful for everything that I learned from them.  Most importantly, I am hopeful.  These women are loved by the Creator of the universe.  He has a plan for them and is pursuing them.  I get to be apart of their stories and long for the day when they can know Him personally. I am thankful that He loves these women much more than I do and that His is and will be faithful to them!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Abundance

Lately I have been reflecting on His abundance.  In my heart I know that His love is overflowing. But I often get stuck in my head being consumed by little details.  When I stop and think logically, I know that He is more powerful than all the details that I worry about. However, my default thought pattern is not to focus on His omnipotence but take care of all the minor things that are on my mind.

This weekend we sang the Sunday School classic "His Banner Over Me is Love."  As I was singing the chorus, I was struck by the discrepancy between the lyrics and my thought pattern.  I know that He covers me with His banner of love and prepares a lavish banquet for me.  I realized that I tend to operate under the impression that I have been given a humble meal of peanut butter and jelly, not a banquet in my honor. 

The image that correctly reflects His all consuming love and provision for me is the "Be Our Guest" scene from Beauty and the Beast.

 I like this image because in the scene Belle is overwhelmed with all of the entertainment to watch, the delectable food to consume, and the company of new friends.  She was under stimulation overload. That is what I should feel when I think of His abundance.  When I think about His love there is too much to focus on at one time.  I am constantly discovering new aspects of His character.  I want to become a person who focuses on my provision, not my problems.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Self-Control

This week I have been listening to a Graham Cooke teaching about the Fruit of the Spirit. One particular quote jumped out at me.  Graham defines self-control as "believing the best about someone." I had never heard self-control defined that way.  Typically I would describe self-control as restraining my actions or the things I would say out loud.  Never before had I considered self-control as a check on my thoughts, feelings, or heart attitude. 

I find this definition simple but very powerful. It is not about external actions. It is about the posture of our heart.  G-d is equally as concerned with the thoughts of my heart and my internal attitude as He is about my actions towards other people.  Galatians 5:22-23 lists the attributes of the Spirit and the majority of them have to do with the posture of our hearts.  It is equally exciting and challenging to know that He is constantly wanting us to become more like Him in very thought and deed.

This quote has inspired me to be more in control of my thoughts.  Internally I need to believe the best about each person in my life.  I need to recognize the good qualities in each person, even if there is something challenging in our relationship at the moment.  I hope this new approach in my thinking will help me become a better person, friend, and leader.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Beam of Light


Last week as I was visiting Holly* and was immediately overwhelmed by her beaming smile.  In the four months I have known Holly, I have yet to see her without an infectious smile.  She has a zest for life, has yet to be jaded by her working environment.  As we were talking, I was realizing that Holly’s joy is in direct contrast to her surroundings.  In the midst of a dark place with little hope, she exudes joy and reminds me that there is more to each person than their current circumstances.  She is content in the middle of a sticky situation, and I greatly admire her courage and tenacity. As our time ended, I celebrated the fact that His joy can be found even in the scariest of places.  I thanked Him for reminding me that no matter what problems we face, we can choose peace and joy.  I ask that this shining light not be diminished by her circumstances, that she continue to bring joy to each person she encounters.

*Name has been change to protect her identity.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

出去 (Going Out)


This week I finished reading Leslie T. Chang's book, Factory Girls.  Factory Girls follows the stories of three teenagers who 出去, left their rural farming village to find factory work in the big city. This booked fascinated me on so many levels.  As an ex-pat I identified with the girl's struggles to establish relationships in a foreign place.  As a history/political science student I was fascinated reading the consequences of globalization when examined from the perspective of the person working in the factories that produce Nike shoes, Apple computers, and designer handbags.

Chang spent three years in the factory town of Dongguan, building relationships with the migrant workers and visiting as many factories as possible.  In the book she details each women's journey: changing jobs multiple times a year, losing contact with everyone you know when your cell phone is stolen, and changing family dynamics as they begin earning more money then their parents.  

Though I made notes throughout the book, two quotes have helped me better understand the world in which these young women live and how it parallels the lives of the women I befriend.
  •  "To stay outside and work your entire life is better than staying home."  Failure is returning home, not being able to make it in the city. Working 10-12 hour days with little time off does not matter when you are achieving success and earning more money in the city than your entire family can earn back home. [This parallels the American Dream, the ideal that through hard work and effort each generation can surpass the achievement and success of their parents.] As I have established friendships with migrant women in my city and see the demands of their jobs, I have often though "this is just not worth it." After reading this book I feel I better understand the thinking of these women and their desire to succeed.
  • "In the end we must rely on ourselves." The women who work in exploitative situations are incredibly strong, determined, and gifted women. They have the strength and courage to make a living in an extremely harsh environment. I am constantly amazed by their determination to succeed in the big city and provide for their families back in the countryside. Their ability to survive, however, comes at a price. Understandably, these women must learn to protect themselves, their hearts and emotions. High, thick walls have been built. Most of the women do not trust very easily because of failed relationships. Past hurts have taught them that other people take advantage of you, trick you, and that people ultimately cannot be trusted. You cannot rely on anyone other than yourself. While this helps them survive in their current work environment, I know that this is not the truth. We were created for community, friendship, to be in a supportive network. I ask our loving Father to guide me as I build relationships with these women. I ask that my actions will help correct the lie that people cannot be trusted. Most importantly, I long for the day when each of these precious women discover the blessing of community and healthy relationships.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Just Peacemaking

Over the weekend beloved Fuller professor Dr. Glen Stassen passed away.  I took Dr. Stassen's Ethics course while at Fuller and have been profoundly impacted by his teachings.  Dr. Stassen's ability to research complex passages and explain then in a digestible manner allowed me to experience the Word in new way.  I highlighted, marked and underlined so many sentences in his book, Kingdom Ethics, that it is almost unreadable now.  Dr. Stassen is best known for his work with Just Peacemaking (http://justpeacemaking.org/the-practices/) and his scholarly work on the Sermon on the Mount.

The principles I learned in his class will remain with me forever. My biggest take away from Dr. Stassen's teachings is the Kingdom principle of reconciliation.  His heart is for people to be brought back into right relationship with Himself, each other, and the world around them.  J. reached out to people who were rejected by society.  He stayed at Zacchaeus' house as a sign that even the most hated person in town is worthy of love and a relationship with the Creator.  The Kingdom is about restoring relationships, bringing those outside back into the love found in right relationships.

Kingdom Ethics helped me better understand love.  One of my favorite lines from the books: "Love sees with compassion and enters into the situation of those in bondage (or enmity)."  I am so thankful for his wisdom that helped me prepare for a life of working overseas with amazing organizations that reach out to those on the margins of society.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Second Chances





 
I was introduced to this song on Easter Sunday and have had it playing non-stop ever since.  I absolutely love the powerful words of this song that highlight the redemption of the Cross!  Because of His sacrificial death, we have restored relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth. 

I love Rend Collective's lyrics which reminds us that:
        Everything is redeemable through His blood. 
        There is always forgiveness for our mistakes when we seek Him.
        Hope restarts at the Cross.  He has victory over our circumstances.
       

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Human Condition

22 million people, 8 million cars, and immeasurable numbers of buses, cyclists, and pedestrians.  To say that this city has a traffic problem is a gross understatement.


No one is their best self when stuck in a traffic jam after a long day at work. Knowing this fact in my head has not helped my attitude.  I have found myself easily frustrated with the sheer amount of people on the road.  I have found myself judging traffic patterns, saying things like: "This would never happen in America.....if everyone would follow the rules we would move quicker......why do people always do that?"  Without meaning to I was judging a culture and people I love so much.  I was comparing my new culture to the one I grew up with, focusing on the negatives.

One day when I was riding my bike to language school and grumbling to myself about bad drivers and how no one actually stops at the lights, He gently whispered one word to me: selfishness.  Every single human being is selfish and is only looking out for their own good, myself included.  People are born selfish.  Parents do not need to teach their children how to look out for themselves, focus on their own interests.  It's the opposite.  Parents exert a tremendous amount of energy teaching their children to set aside their own interests and consider other's.

I do not even want to know the number of times a day I only consider my own interests.  He knows that number, which is way too high, and He uses my grumbling to highlight an area that I really need to grow in.  He gave me a supernatural glimpse into traffic and then called me to be less selfish. Now, anytime I see a bad traffic situation or someone running a light, I am reminded that I need to be less selfish and that my actions effect other people.  A crowded bus is a call to live out the Fruit of the S.  I always need to be showing people more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring is Coming

Cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Bright colors on a hazy day.




 Food cart in front of the bus stop where commuters grab breakfast on the way to work.

 Street cleaner hard at work.


Water delivery service.


Catching up with old friends during the morning commute.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

TV in China

It never ceases to amaze me with American tv shows or movies become popular in China.  This fall theaters were showing the new Hunger Games movie alongside the Smurfs sequel.  While the most popular tv shows do not always reflect a positive light on American culture, I am thankful for the connection point it does bring.  While guest lecturing at a university class I used the cast of the Big Bang Theory to explain what a "well-rounded" individual (hint, no one on that show).

For a little bit of fun I thought I would share some of the most watched American shows and their Chinese names.

The Big Bang Theory (生活大爆炸)- "Life Big Bang"
Homeland (国土安全)- "National Safety"
Criminal Minds (犯罪心理)- "Crime Psychology"
Prison Break (越狱)- "Climb Over Prison"
Modern Family (摩登家庭)- "Fashionable Family"
Dexter (嗜血法医)- "Blood Addict Forensic Detective"
The Crazy Ones (病人病活)- "Sick People, Sick Life"
The Vampire Diaries (吸血鬼日记)- "Vampire Diary"
Saturday Night Live (周六夜现场)- "Saturday Night On the Spot"
Mad Men (广告狂人)- "Advertisement Madman"
Breaking Bad (绝命毒老)- "Hopeless Life Poison Teacher"
2 Broke Girls (破产姐妹)- "Bankrupt Sisters"
Hostages (人质)- "Hostage"

Most of the translated titles accurately describe the plot of the show.  Though I have not watched a single episode, from what I gather "Hopeless Life Poison Teacher" is a pretty accurate description of a show about a cancer stricken teacher who produces meth.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

How to Inspire?

Today I read a blog post by Rachel Goble, the director of the The Sold Project which works with children in Thailand.  Rachel wrote a blog called Let's Stop Empowering and Start Inspiring.  Rachel's words have challenged me to think about my own work.  One of my guiding principles as I reach out to women in exploitation is to help empower them to make decisions to better their lives.  I have been forming relationships and directing conversations with the end goal of helping empower women to make bold life choices.  Rachel writes that the word empower implies that "I have the power and you do not.  Therefore, let me give you the power."  These words deeply impacted me.  I want to help the people I work with recognize their own power, not be another person in their life to say "I have power and you do not."  I want to help each person see this innate, G-d given worth which cannot be taken away.  Her words have challenged me to think about how my actions are viewed by people who have been told their entire lives that they are not powerful enough to effect change.

Instead of empowering, Rachel believes that we should start inspiring others.  I agree that when people are inspired they tap into the creativity and artistry of our Creator.  Inspiring people to pursue their dreams means recognizing that people have had dreams, goals, and the power to grow all along. The question running through my mind all day is "How do I actually help inspire others?"  How do I go about helping people explore their creative potential, especially when a lot of the women I encounter have no control over their lives? The only answer I have come up with is listening.  Releasing potential is not something visible, something that can be easily identified.  It takes time and a deep level of trust to being to explore.  It takes time.

Honestly, I have no clue how to go about inspiring those around me.  I know it will take time, dedication, patience, and lots of pryrs.  I am thankful that my eyes have been opened to this concept so that I can better serve those around me.