Will You Choose to Listen?

Today, I’ve been reflecting on my life. I’ve been reading scripture and praying through God’s promises as I make the most of a “sick day” (Thank you, China and your toxic environment! ;) ). Earlier this morning I was also fortunate to have some conversations with friends that challenged me to think, to dream, and to get excited about living out my calling.

Some people realize early on what they “want to be when they grow up.” I didn’t. I always changed my mind. There were a million things I could see myself doing from being a firefighter (ha!), to being a doctor, to being President. When I went to college, I thought I finally had it figured out.

I was wrong.

God shook me up, and wow! As much as I’ve gone through some hard times of uncertainty, I wouldn’t trade any of it. God let things get messy as He showed me who I am as His daughter. And, that, my friends, is beautiful. The messy lives we live as humans redeemed in Christ show a picture of great love.

Part of living out a Christian walk involves intentionality. I’ve been challenged to be more intentional with my time and resources. It’s not enough to just go through the motions. I want my life to count. Don’t you?

So, in my pondering and seeking, I thought more about my current state of life in this sweet season. While I am still no closer to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up (at least not in the specific vocational way), I am at peace with the fact that I’m called to be a daughter of God. I want to live out that calling in a meaningful way.

I’ve only got 40 more days in this country that holds part of my heart (Did you know that? I’ve been bad about blogging and haven’t shared much. More on that in a later post!). I’ve thought about what I have been able to do here and how God has used me. Overall, I think I’ve been faithful, but there’s one area where I’m struggling.

Chinabridge

I recently realized that I need to be better about listening. I need to be prepared for my schedule to be altered and for interruptions to come up. Things in China don’t typically happen by the schedule I desire, but it annoys me more than it should. I have a pretty full schedule, so it makes sense that I quickly go from one thing to the next. However, I sometimes believe I can’t slow down when I actually can. I can listen to the needs around me. I can pay attention to people and offer more than a quick hello.

Something I’ve even resorted to has been pretending that I can’t speak Chinese. Honestly, my Chinese is not at a high level by any means, but I can speak enough to have simple conversations.

A few weeks ago, I was leaving a kindergarten job and a lady approached me on the sidewalk. She didn’t attempt to use English, so I figured she only spoke Chinese. Being tired, I completely tuned her out when she spoke and then told her I didn’t understand. I don’t even know what she asked. I didn’t listen because I didn’t want to.

Looking back, I realize I should have used my energy to at least try to hear her. I could have probably figured out what she was saying, but I was lazy. There are times when I should ignore people who try talking to me in China, like the construction workers who yell “helloooooo!” at me from their work site, or the creepy cars who drive past the campus, stopping and gawking. This lady, though, didn’t deserve to be ignored. I should have listened.

How often do we pretend we don’t hear people? How often do we listen only to pretend we didn’t actually hear? As I think about these questions, I keep going back to needs around the world. We hear there are people starving. We hear that millions of people are affected by AIDS every year. We hear that there are people in our cities and towns all across America (not to mention all over the world) who are victims of human trafficking.

We hear the statistics, but do we actually listen? Or, do we pretend that we don’t understand? On an even more local scale, think about people around you on a regular basis. Do people in your life have needs that you aren’t even bothering to notice because you’re too preoccupied by your own life? I’ve been there, but I want to change. God’s been teaching me what it means to really love.

Right now, I am making a commitment to listening. To stopping to both hear and listen to the needs around me. Will you join me?

When I think about the way we ignore needs around us, I am brought back to lyrics from “Keep Changing the World” by MIKESCHAIR.

Here are the lyrics to the beginning.

Something here is wrong
There are children without homes
But we just move along
To take care of our own

There’s so much suffering
Just outside our door
A cry so deafening
Oh, we just can’t ignore

 

The first few lines are convicting. How can we really just live our lives as if there aren’t huge needs all over the world? Children are without homes. That alone is heartbreaking enough to spur me on to act.

We, as individuals, cannot change the world ourselves, but God can. He can use us. It all starts with listening. Listen to the needs around you. Listen to the way God’s stirring your heart. Listen as He shows you His plans and purposes.

 

When the Burden Becomes Too Much To Bear

EmilyandGraceWow – Lately, life has been hard, yet so sweet. I am thankful for the Lord’s provision because even though I don’t always understand what He’s doing at the time, I know he is working for my good. (The same thing goes for you… trust Him. It will change your life!) Things are coming together in such a beautiful way.

Have you ever had seasons like this? Seasons where you are blown away over and over again by what God is doing? This has been the past 8 months or so for me. It’s been a journey, to say the least. Maybe this is why my students constantly tell me I have a colorful life. Hearing, “You have such a colorful life, teacher!” never gets old.

I tend to get discouraged by the low points, yet these incredible high points I’ve had lately have made it all worth it. For me, the high points may not even be what the world would consider significant. Sometimes it’s scripture references that speak directly to the longings of my heart or the people I know God has placed in my life for a specific reason. I have been praying for a clearer picture of what God is doing around me and He keeps answering by showing me connections.

In my daily life, I teach. A lot. My main job in China is being a university English teacher. On top of that I work at several private training schools and kindergartens. Some days, I go from singing “Open, Shut Them” in the morning to moderating class debates about societal changes affecting marriage and whether it’s better to establish a career before marriage or vice-versa in the afternoon. The classes are all quite different in nature, but it keeps things interesting.

I enjoy teaching younger kids because it’s kind of fun to sing and dance with them, yet I appreciate the way teaching college allows me to have relevant conversations with my students. When I first began teaching in China, I didn’t realize how much class content could tie back to life truths I desperately hope my students realize.

From my experience (while not too vast, but still significant), I have noticed that education on issues relating to health is majorly lacking in China. I have come to recognize how privileged I am to have grown up in America where health class was required and I knew the basics at a young age. Some of that can be attributed to having great parents, but I still believe schooling played a role. I’m not saying Chinese schools don’t have health education, but what they have seems to be lacking when college students don’t know basic information.

It’s not uncommon to hear comments like, “You shouldn’t eat meat or you’ll get fat.” Or, “You shouldn’t keep pets because you can get AIDS from dogs.” There is sometimes validity to their health claims, but it’s often misconstrued. Sure, if you gorge on meat and processed junk without eating fruits and vegetables, you probably will get fat. However, you’re not going to get AIDS from dogs. Sorry, you just aren’t.

The way girls seem to have anxiety over the possibility of “getting fat” and wanting to “lose weight” breaks my heart. Being a proponent of a healthy lifestyle, I am always supportive when someone wants to get into better shape. I think it’s great to eat cleaner and exercise more to lose weight, but only when it positively affects your health. Many of the girls here are around 80 pounds and still attempt weight loss. On top of that, they aren’t doing it in a healthy way. Jason

I can’t begin to tell you have many times I’ve been with a Chinese girl who said she was skipping a meal because she wanted to lose weight. They seem to have no concept of a food pyramid or calories. There’s no discussion of BMIs and how we should aim for healthy bodies instead of thin ones. I do what I can to encourage them, but I think they brush my comments off because as I foreigner I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been struggling to teach listening class because the textbook brings up issue after issue that I feel compelled to address. From AIDS, to fasting, to weight loss, to eating disorders, I’ve done a lot of lecturing lately. And really, whose idea was it to teach fasting as having health benefits to impressionable young girls? I am all for fasting as a spiritual discipline, but putting it forth as a good option for weight loss and to improve your health in this setting just isn’t wise.

As much as I try to lecture the students and show my genuine love and concern for them, I realize that I am only one person. I cannot change the system alone. I cannot provide adequate health education to each of my 400+ college students when my job is to teach English. There’s just too much ground to cover and not enough time. That’s when I remember that while the burden is heavy, God is strong enough to bear it.

God is in control. I am not. I am faithfully teaching and doing my part. While I feel a deep brokenness for my students, I realize that I am called to be obedient in what God has given me and that is all I can do. God can and will take care of the rest.

It’s humbling to know that I can’t just fix the problems I see. Being somewhat of a go-getter, I like to see a need and then meet it. This time, though, I have to trust that God is working. What I can do, though, is pour out the love He has filled me with and show my students that they are valuable and they are loved.

Craving Community

Community.

Fellowship.

Friendship.

People to love.

Hearts to connect.

I love it. All of it. Even the hard parts of living in community bring us closer to understanding God’s abundant, beautiful grace.

Fellowship2

Community is not something I think I really appreciated until recently. I remember being in college doing all kinds of dreaming and scheming about how awesome the future was going to be. I figured I’d have some good friends and a good church, but I didn’t think too much about how I’d be affected by them. My mind was more concerned with the cool places I’d visit and the neat things I’d do while serving the Lord.

The problem with my tunnel vision mindset was that I thought about doing a lot of great things for the Lord while having a strong relationship with Him, but I missed the “loving your neighbor” factor. It’s one thing to “love your neighbor” by being friendly and doing nice things. It’s another to actually know them on a deep level. I’ve grown to recognize that when Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he means to know them. Jesus wants us to pour into their lives and to experience something real.

Fellowship3

It’s not enough to see all these great projects you’re going to accomplish. Projects can be good, but loving people instead of projects is even better. I know I haven’t always done well with this, but I hope to change. I think God’s already been working in my heart, which is why I’m writing the post.

Back in college, I spent some time living in a house off campus with 10 other Christian girls. We were each so different, with our own interests, majors, and ministries off campus, yet we were united under one thing: Christ. I remember prior to the start of the new semester when we were all finally in the house together, we had a meeting. We talked about the mission of the house and a few of us shared verses that we felt could be part of how we’d live missionally together.

I shared John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” It’s a good verse that I’m finally starting to grasp. Even more, I love what Jesus said right before that in verse 12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” 

CommunityWhen I think back to that meeting and my heart’s intent, I think I really did want to love and serve the girls in my house. Yet, I know that I didn’t truly understand what it meant to love them – what it meant to lay down my life. Laying down our lives the way Jesus did is an act of sacrifice. It means lacking comfort and losing the right to be selfish.

I think I just didn’t “get it” the way I do now.

Now, after experiencing about six months of real, authentic fellowship back home in Iowa, I miss it. I miss the people I call friends. I miss being able to be real – to laugh together – to cry – to know they’re really praying for me – and to just be. Just doing life together is what real community is all about.

Earlier today I was just talking with a good friend about this, and he agreed, having been feeling a similar craving for community.

I think I’ve come to a place in my Christian walk where I’m less concerned with having an adventurous life and more concerned with the souls around me. At one point I had all these dreams of traveling the world and seeing all kinds of amazing places. I even figured I could do the solo backpacking thing. While I still could, I am not necessarily convinced I should.

Fellowship4

I’m not saying I’ve given up on having a fun life, either. When I’m in community with people, we have a whole lot of fun! That could include traveling or doing adventurous things, but I don’t want to sacrifice community for the sake of fulfilling a “bucket list” of things I do alone.

For this season in China, I am trying to live in community, even with the knowledge that my time here is temporary. I have a handful of really good friends. I am so thankful for them. Yet, there is still something I long for about the community I have back home.

This is all to say that community is good. It’s necessary. Please, embrace it.

A Conquered Fear

Friends, I have news!

This is pretty big news, and it isn’t the fact that I ate duck tongue last night at dinner…which is a whole ‘nother story in itself! I have to commend my small group for getting me to eat duck tongue. The best way to get me to try the less Westernized-looking dishes on the table is to give me a very small bowl of rice and then continually say, “eat, eat.” I picked at the vegetables, gorged on peanuts, and ate my rice as slowly as humanly possible, yet that still wasn’t enough for my gracious hosts.

After eating meat that I didn’t bother asking about (because honestly, it’s sometimes better not to know), I asked about the insect-looking thing that was now being held by my chopsticks. “Oh, it’s just duck tongue. It’s delicious,” was the reply. Just duck tongue…great. It wasn’t that bad. I tend to like the “strange food,” but I usually wouldn’t make the choice to order it myself.

Okay, back to the real news…

I conquered a major fear.

I now use the restroom in the English Building on campus.

Wild, I know.

Now, before you start to move that mouse and click away from the page, hear me out. This is big news. And, I’ll now explain as much as I can, but there are some things you have to experience to really get. (I thought about taking photos of this restroom to hammer the point across, but each time I’ve wanted to do so, there have been people there…and as you read more, you’ll realize why that just wouldn’t fly.)

To those of you who have been blessed to have spent the entirety of your life in the Western world, you may have never come across the lovely creation known as the squat toilet (or, squatty potty). When I first came to China, the whole squatting situation scared me. Soon, I actually grew to appreciate this type of bathroom.

When you have to carry your toilet paper (which is actually just a little kleenex package) with you, you realize there’s no way you’re going to have enough toilet paper to put down on a seat. And, let’s be real here, there is not a chance I’m going to put my butt down on a dirty, grimy toilet seat, thank you very much. Enter the squat toilet – the perfect invention to keep things clean(ish) and still let you do the job.

The only time I don’t particularly appreciate the squat toilet (or any toilet for that matter) is when there is no door to the bathroom stall. That’s right. There are bathrooms in the world where you can’t just shut the door and have a bit of privacy! Eek!

So, that was my dilemma with the English Building restroom. It had squat toilets, but lacked doors…

During the entire 2012-2013 school year, I rationed my water intake while I taught. I could only drink half a bottle over each 2-hour class period so that I could hold it until I got back to my apartment during the lunch break. I was ridiculous.

Now, I’m even more ridiculous. I use those doorless squatty potties like champ. Not only do I use them, but I appreciate them. I must admit that the first few times I entered the deep waters of the open squat toilet experience, I was a bit hesitant. It felt way awkward. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone.

I soon realized that it’s better to just act like it’s the most natural thing in the world to use the restroom while your students can see you. In fact, I’ve had some good conversations with former students while using the restroom in the English Building. Who would have thought?!

So, there you have it. I conquered a fear and it feels great. Maybe this is a little TMI, but ya know, I wouldn’t be myself if I wasn’t keeping it real for you. ;)

 

I Just Needed to Write

I’ve been planning to write a new post for about a month now, but I just haven’t been able to pour the fullness of my heart out onto the blog. Journal entries have been piling up and it’s not like I ever run out of thoughts in my racing mind, yet still, I struggle. Something I know now more than I did one month ago is that God is good. He is. Face the facts now. He is good and He loves you.

That about sums up what I’ve been learning. God has a plan. He is in control. Even if it doesn’t make sense at the time, it’s best to trust him.

Six or seven months ago, when I was first faced with a difficult decision, God told me to trust. He revealed to me that this was going to be a season of trust. So, I tried to trust. I listened to His guidance and confirmations through the Word.

As time went by, more areas of my life were brought to the surface. I was either going to hold on to them tightly or release, knowing they’d be in good hands. I chose to release. Now, none of this was easy. I wondered why passions I once had were now gone, why I was going to have to leave family and friends I so deeply cared about, and why I had feelings I couldn’t shake. I doubted. I wondered why God would give me so many good things, only to take them away again. Continue Reading…