Saturday, December 27

I'm in Kentucky with my family, visiting my sister's family. So many interesting things to photograph here! Pictures of the nephew to come later. :)

Monday, December 22

listening, reflecting

Thanks to reading (and discussing with a great group of people) Jesus Wants to Save Christians, I've been thinking more about hearing the voice and the cry of those around me. That's what my bus trip in July did for me. The people I met broke through my walls and got to my heart. That's what talking to the homeless (on a day when my defenses aren't too high) will do for me, too.

I went to Church Under the Bridge yesterday and spent most of the time talking to a homeless guy who I usually see at the ARCH. He loves to talk, to joke, to relate to people. He talked about how the people are so grabby with the free stuff (they were giving away mittens, hats, etc.), so we talked a little about how change in people's lives only really comes through relationship. He said, "You're right. You've got to listen a lot." He's a hurricane Ike evacuee who's only been in Austin a little while. I wanted to take him to coffee, but everybody else I knew had left at that point and I was so cold all I really wanted to do was go home. I leave encounters like that knowing I've got to respond, but I'm still unsure of (or perhaps unwilling to recognize?) the next step.

Some other things that I've been reflecting on the past few days:
  • My friend wrote about being in the defrosting (what I'm calling listening) stage she's in on her blog.
  • Another friend linked to this photo Advent calendar from the Hubble telescope that will leave you in awe.

Saturday, December 13

a random list of things

  • There is a car wreath (a car that has a wreath on the front) that I see frequently on my way home. As a rule, I think car wreaths are tacky, but they still make me smile.
  • On Thanksgiving day, I took a morning walk and saw a couple getting ready to go somewhere on their motorcycle. They had their chihuahua ready to ride in a little jacket and pink goggles. Not kidding.
  • I laughed til I cried a few times over Thanksgiving and it was great.
  • My grandmother can't remember how to say "latte." I made my sister one while she was visiting and Mimi asked her how she liked the "lotta." Laura had no idea what she was talking about and I had to translate.
  • I asked Mimi for WD40 the other day to fix the squeaky door and she said she didn't have any, but she did have some 409. I explained what I needed it for and that 409 wasn't going to work. She then remembered what WD40 was and found me some.
  • Even though I write down funny things about Mimi, I do think it's amazing that she still does everything she does at 87.
  • I called Pep Boys last week to get a rebate situation worked out and got a guy that had some sort of British accent! He was super kind and called me "madam." I loved it.
  • Rachael is probably the reason I make lists like these on my blog.

Sunday, December 7

photos from the road

I already posted these pictures to facebook, but I thought I'd post them here too. They're from my trip to Abilene and the Whitharral farm over Thanksgiving. I always tell myself I'm going to stop and take some pictures along the road, so this time I stopped at a few places. The top two are from the family cotton farm.

This weekend was full of fun holiday gatherings - a pancake lunch at "my" house, watching Love, Actually with good friends and holiday drinks last night, and the church Christmas potluck/ornament making party tonight. I am enjoying the season!

Thursday, November 27

letter to North Korea

Heavenly Lake, at the top of Chang Bai Mountain, on the border between North Korea and China.

North Korea, you are in my thoughts today. While I celebrate my second Thanksgiving feast of the week with plenty of food to spare, you hurt with children that are much shorter than your brothers in the South because you don't have enough food for your people. The scraps my relatives took home to their dogs would be a welcome meal for you.

North Korea, I knew nothing about you just 6 years ago, but I have come to love you without even setting feet on your soil. My eyes have seen you across the river; my hands have touched the leaves of your branches as a tourist on a bamboo raft; my heart has been broken in hearing your stories. I've wept at the injustice that is life within your borders. I pray for you and long to learn from your people, you diamonds that are being formed out of the pressure in the dark and hidden places.

North Korea, I don't know how life will lead me next. I don't know if I'll ever cross the river to experience the chill of your winter, the relief of your spring, the green of your summer, or make kimchi with your fall harvest of cabbage, but the lump in my throat and the tears welling up in my eyes tell me that my heart is with you. You are my sisters and my brothers, my aunts and my uncles, my grandparents, my teachers, my friends.

North Korea, you have my permission to reclaim the parts of my heart that I've closed off out of fear that my hopes may never be realized. I've tried controlling our future together, but I know that release is the best way to open the future up. My life has been shaped by knowing Koreans - your brothers and sisters - south, north, east, and west of your borders. The world has been taught to fear you or to pity you, but rarely to love you. I love you and am telling you tonight that whatever is in store for us, I can't forget you.

Inspired by this letter to Africa that I saw back in August.

Wednesday, November 26

Early Thanksgiving

My sister, her husband, and my nephew came to Austin as part of their whirlwind Texas Thanksgiving visit. Laura brought the Chinese outfit I bought for Wesley before he was born and we took a few (or a lot) of pictures.

This one is a favorite. He looks like he's learned some Tai Chi moves inspired by the Chinese outfit.

They took off this morning for more visits, but I'll see them again this weekend in Abilene and on the farm, so you might be seeing some more pictures! My grandmother said today after they left that she thinks Wesley is pretty much all things good. (That's not exactly what she said, but I can't remember the list of adjectives she used.)

Sunday, November 23

bothered but not alone

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?
-Ray Bradbury
I've kind of been trying to avoid being bothered lately. At least, I have put myself into positions where I go through daily routines and not much more. I guess I kinda feel like I deserve to live for a little while without being bothered, but then I look at pictures like the ones I looked at this morning of refugees from the Congo and I realize again that I need to be bothered. My worship this morning was different, like I've learned it can be when I'm remembering other people and not worshiping for my own sake.

Tonight, after an introspective walk just before dusk, I was feeling like one of the boats in this picture (taken in Qingdao, China) - beached, stacked up and not doing what it's meant for. I was writing about that in my journal, not even understanding my own feelings, when my friend in California called. I got to know this friend in China and we are on the same page in so many ways. Her call came at the exact time I needed it. We talked for an hour and 17 minutes, but it just seemed like a few. I couldn't ask for anything more than a nice long talk with a friend who understands what I can't even really put into words.

Have you heard the story that Jason Upton tells about Martin Luther King Jr. in connection with his song "Not Alone"? May those of you who are feeling bothered, confused, or stuck on the beach when you're meant to be on the sea, know that you're not alone.

Monday, November 17

Advent Conspiracy

I linked to this last year and thought as we're quickly approaching (or already in) the holiday season, it would be a good time to remind us about this again. This video does a good job.

Go to the Advent Conspiracy site for more inspiration!

Saturday, November 15

Stand Down

I haven't taken any pictures in a while, so I took a few at Stand Down today. It's an event to give haircuts, blankets, clothes, food, entertainment, etc. for the homeless and others who need it.

I didn't roam around too much. Mostly just watched this gospel group perform. They were fun.

I asked these two kids to ask their dad if I could take a picture of them. He gave me the okay and they were quite willing to pose a little for me! After I took a few pics, they asked me to give them a few pushes on the swings.

school stories

The part I love about substitute teaching is meeting new kids almost every day. If I'm working as an inclusion teacher, I also get to learn from the different teaching styles of teachers. I'm getting way more chances to learn from other teachers than I ever have before.

The younger the kids are, the more fun stories I take away from the day. A few weeks ago, I subbed in two different kindergarten classes for three days. There was one kid named Happy-Ethan. At first I thought that was some kind of mistake, but that was what he went by and that name, written with the hyphen, was what the teacher had written on his nametag. When I called him to stand up to help me with calendar time, one little girl in the circle said in a high voice, "Isn't he so cute?" And, of course, he was.

In the other kindergarten class, there was a kid named Jameer. I called him Jameel by mistake and he said, "You can't call me that! That's my Daddy's name!" In that same class, there was a girl named Breanna. I said her name too quickly when I was calling her out to come sit down and missed the last a. She said (with her hand on her hip), "Did you just call me Breahn? That's my twin BROTHER'S name!" I had no idea that it was so popular to name family members only one letter apart.

In that class, there was also a little girl who would take every chance she got when I was squatted down to her height to play with my hair. It felt so nice I didn't want to get up again, but I would soon have to deal with another situation somewhere in the classroom.

This week, I'm in the same second grade classroom all week long. It'll be nice not searching for jobs every day, but I'll miss the variety too.

Saturday, November 8

post-election thoughts

I read two blogs this morning dealing with post-election thoughts. One of the writers I know, the other I don't. I recommend reading both if you have a few minutes.

The first reminds us of the global perspective of our presidential election and how many people of the world feel like their prayers have been answered. I think that's an important perspective that we Americans are often quick to forget.

The second, which is a blog I came across through links from other blogs, addresses the fact that we were able to peacefully elect a black man 43 years after black people were killed even trying to vote.

Since my allegiance isn't first to my country, I didn't get too worked up about this election, but I happily soaked in the excitement and hope that was in the air on Tuesday night: white people at The Tavern who commented that the cameras focused on the black people in the audience, saying that they deserved it, it was their time. Honking in the streets. Collectively knowing that we were witnessing history. The next night at church, hearing the disappointment from many and fear from some. I'm still not sure how to reconcile the two of those, but I know that there is a lesson for us, especially us evangelicals, in it.

Saturday, November 1

inside looking out

In January, I posted these pictures on my blog that I took at Christmas. I didn't think about it at the time, but looking back, I realize they represented my feelings as someone on the outside looking in.

Now that daylight savings time is over and we're in the beginning of November, the holiday season is here again. Over the course of this year, I feel like I've stepped into the house of American culture again in many ways and am now on the inside looking out. It's not a good or a bad thing, just a different perspective. This time, the rooms are different and the foundation's not as sturdy, but in many ways I'm back to where I started from. I took the pictures above from this inside perspective.

I'm thinking about this quote again, that I first quoted back in June, by Richard Rohr:
We have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place there. We have to move out of business as usual and remain on the threshold where we are betwixt and between. There, the old world is left behind, but we're not sure of the new one yet. That's a good space. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It's the realm where God can best get at us because we are out of the way. In sacred space the old world is able to fall apart, and the new world is able to be revealed. If we don't find liminal space in our lives, we start idolizing normalcy.

Tuesday, October 21

a dangerous question

I don't usually post things here that are political, but this is a topic I wonder about from time to time and just read/heard some interesting perspectives on it the past few days.

From Wendell Berry (an amazing writer/thinker who was way before his time on sustainable agriculture and all related things):
Mexicans cross the border because our way of life is extravagant; because our way of life is extravagant, we have no place for them - or won't have for very long. A generous immigration policy would be contradicted by our fundamentally ungenerous way of life.
- "A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey," in the book What Are People For?

Just after I read this, I happened to hear the same line of thinking in this YouTube video. (I found the video after searching for something by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who wrote a great book about working to erase the division between black and white churches that I just read.) The woman at the end of the panel describes America as hoarding all the resources in the world then drawing a line around them and not letting other people come in.

I realize that immigration is a touchy subject, but how do we reconcile what we are as America with how we're called to treat the poor, the aliens, the oppressed?

Monday, October 13

6 random things

I normally don't do things like this, but since I was a kid who always (well, almost always) followed the rules and my middle school English teacher tagged me to do this, I feel some sort of responsibility to do it. I am going to break the rules a little bit, though, and not tag anyone else.

1. I am not a vegetarian yet, but I am finding myself cooking more veggie meals and ordering the all veggie options from a menu if there's a choice. It usually sounds the yummiest.

2. I don't talk a lot, so sometimes people think I'm being judgmental and aloof when I really just don't have a lot to say.

3. I was called opinionated last week and it surprised me, but I guess I am getting more opinionated as I age. :)

4. Since I grew up in Texas, I should speak Spanish, but I don't. I took German in high school and college because I wanted to be different, but have forgotten all that. I can speak Korean conversationally and enough Chinese to take a cab and get what I need at the market.

5. I was a single issue voter for the past few elections, but now I've realized that even those single issues aren't as black and white as they seem.

6. I really want to live in a place that has four distinct seasons again. I miss cool and cold weather a lot.


People know me at the homeless shelter. Few know my name, but they smile when I come in. We shoot the breeze. Sometimes they get mad at me for following the rules and not checking mail after 4:00 or not being able to help them with what they need, but that's rare. One time a guy asked for the monthly schedule of programs and I didn't know where it was, so I told him that. He got a little angry, but then later he heard me tell someone else that I was a volunteer and he came up and apologized that he'd gotten mad.

Last week, a guy that I sometimes chat with came up and asked me why I kept coming. He's smiling and inquisitive and asked some great questions. I told him that I'm there to learn, that I want to be able to identify with people who are different than me. I said that the poor, middle class and rich keep to their own circles and we need to mix up those circles in order to be aware of the problems of the world and learn what we can do about those problems. I told him it made me sad to go into schools on the East side and see only black and hispanic kids.

We talked about the main problems of the homeless. He told me the main problem was drug addiction. Another guy came up and told us that 90% of the people on the streets are there because they want to be, and he was one of them. He was proud of that. The first guy told me that he had kids and an ex-wife and was just there at the shelter temporarily because of a bad decision.

I love that this guy came up to me and started asking questions. I think we can make progress - probably only to a certain extent, but still some kind of progress - by being curious about the lives of others and building relationships with people who are different from us.

I don't volunteer a lot of information except in response to questions. Too many of us don't step out of ourselves for long enough to ask the questions of others that show we're interested. We'll talk about ourselves, but we won't learn what we can from those who are different around us. Or maybe, to give us some credit, we're afraid of being too curious. I can tell you though, that I'm glad for guys like this who ask questions.

Monday, September 29


And then their return to the pays natal, where the same old willows swept the same ragged lawns, where the same old prarie arose and bloomed as negligence permitted. Home. What kinder place could there be on earth, and why did it seem to them all like exile? Oh, to be passing anonymously through an impersonal landscape! Oh, not to know every stump and stone, not to remember how the fields of Queen Anne's lace figured in the childish happiness they had offered to their father's hopes, God bless him.
That odd capacity for destitution, as if by nature we ought to have so much more than nature gives us. As if we are shockingly unclothed when we lack the complacencies of ordinary life. In destitution, even of feeling or purpose, a human being is more hauntingly human and vulnerable to kindnesses because there is the sense that things should be otherwise, and then the thought of what is wanting and what alleviation would be, and how the soul could be put at ease, restored. At home. But the soul finds its own home if it ever has a home at all.

- Home, Marilynne Robinson

This is the companion novel to Gilead, which I raved about a few years ago here, here, and here. Home doesn't have the same feel with words that just made me sit in wonder with Gilead, but it's a good book for sure. This piece of the book is resonating with me now as I still struggle at times not to feel as I'm in exile in my home, as I am feeling vulnerable in many ways, but trying to allow my soul to find its home.

(By the way, I had to look up pays natal. It means native land.)

Sunday, September 28

waiting for a bloom

A few weeks ago, the night blooming cirrus on Mimi's front porch was ready to bloom. Mimi invited her friend over, estimating it would start to open around 10:30 PM. She chilled red wine (yes, she chills red wine) in preparation for the little party. I came home around that time and found them on the front porch, in the dark, but with a flashlight that they used to check on the progress of the bloom from time to time.
I had to work the next day, so I decided to go to bed around midnight, after taking a few pictures. I found out the next morning that they stayed up until 2 AM and it never opened. They had different opinions on why it didn't open. It was the night before hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast, so one theory was that it was because it could sense some bad weather was coming. The other thought was that it had just been too hot for it too open.
I took this picture the next morning. This was as far as it got. There are now quite a few more blooms that may end up opening, so we might have another viewing party in a week or so.

Saturday, September 27

a world planted in pennies

But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.
-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I'm becoming more and more convinced that "healthy poverty and simplicity" is where it's at. I'm in the middle, or perhaps just at the very beginning, of a reawakening to what it could be to live simply, to actually identify with the poor and the marginalized of society, to love them, learn from them and see the image of God in them.

I recently finished reading the Bible in a year and am now taking a little more time with a few books. Parts of Isaiah that speak to our responsibility to the poor are leaping off the page. I had no idea that I have skimmed over all that just to get to the sections like the calling in chapter 6 and the prophecies about the Messiah later in the book. How could I have read this Bible my whole life and missed these huge themes?

Yesterday at the homeless shelter, there was a young woman who came up to the desk to tell me she felt like she was going crazy. She had been evicted from her apartment, was separated from her kids, and it sounded like she was with a guy just because he was providing her some protection. At first I just gave her the numbers for two shelters that take women. One of which she had already checked and they were full. I asked some of the people who work there for more ideas, and we tried calling a few other places, but had no success. This has happened a few times before and always makes me sad. There has to be something that can be done for women who aren't abused and don't have kids, or don't have their kids with them. If nothing is there, I must be a part of the solution.

Saturday, September 20

pictures, produce, pizza

I'm overdue for some pictures up here. I have only taken a few with my new (used, bought from a friend) camera anyway, and haven't really experimented with the settings like I need to in order to learn how to use it. But, I can't post the few I have taken because I can't upload them to my computer since I had a little computer trouble and had to have all the stuff on my hard drive reinstalled. For some reason, the installation CD isn't working. Hopefully I'll find a way to fix that soon.

Today I went to Boggy Creek Farm. I didn't get there until after noon, so most of the produce was gone, but I did buy the last of their tiny tomatoes, some goat cheese and milk, and local honey! I'm gonna have to go back when I have more of a choice of veggies.

While on the East side of town, I made a point to visit East Side Pies, a pizza place I just heard about. I got a big "Girther" (gorgonzola, onion, avocado, and bacon) and brought it home even though Mimi had already said she was making mac and cheese with turkey leftovers for lunch. I asked her if she still had room for pizza and she told me no, but then she took a look at it and said "well, maybe a little." Then, an hour ago, she came in and asked if we could have pizza for dinner. I told her she sure could, but I wasn't going to have any. She asked me to heat hers up for her, then. I guess she considers pizza reheating outside her area of expertise.

Friday, September 12

the best of the season

I'm at the conclusion of my first week back at substitute teaching, in Austin this semester instead of Dripping Springs. Today was an early release day in preparation for hurricane Ike, which we are not likely to feel much effect from in the way of weather here in Austin, but we are expected to receive quite a few evacuees here, so the schools let out early to help with the expected traffic.

The rest of the afternoon became a little solo celebration to cap off the week with a walk in the near 100 degree heat and then a nice spontaneous nap on the floor after sit-ups. I made some kimbap (California rolls) for dinner and then settled down into a comfy spot on the bed to finish up Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It's a book about living almost totally off of local, homegrown foods. The end of the book documents winter, eating primarily what they have put away at the end of summer. Inside, with the air on, I almost had the feeling that it was winter here too, but then Mimi came back to her bedroom and turns on the TV. I'm generally not in the mood to tolerate much TV noise, especially at the level that she broadcasts it, so I moved myself and my book to the front porch, where the weather was still very warm, even mid September, anticipating sunset. So I was brought back to the reality of Texas summer, the summer that won't give way to the season other people in the world know as fall.

I've cultivated a longing for fall more in the past few years of living in a place with four seasons. Reading Animal, Vegetable, Mineral has reminded me of how it's nice to live more in accordance with the seasons. I had very little appreciation for seasonal fruits and vegetables until I lived in a place on the other side of the world where I learned to shop according to what's most bountiful and colorful at the market.

Tonight on the front porch, the cicadas were buzzing loudly, reminding me of one or two of the middle school boys I've been teaching this week who have some sort of primal need to make noise just for the sake of seeing who will respond to it. The sky began to noticably glow almost suddenly and I felt encased in the end of summer bliss, deciding that is the best of what Texas has to offer at this point in the season and enjoying it is good.

Wednesday, September 3

plans at 3 A.M.

A few weeks ago, Mimi (my grandmother) saw something in the weekend section of the paper about Katz's being open all night long. She found me in my room and said "The paper says you can get a Reuben and cheesecake at 3 A.M. when you get the craving! We should do that sometime!"

So, now I'm wondering if that's something we should schedule or if I should expect a nudge one night to wake up and drive up 6th Street for a snack. :)

Tuesday, September 2

Jesus for President

The book Jesus for President turned out to be less about politics and more of a radical restructuring to the way I think. Here's one quote that might illustrate that:

"The distinctly human question is not about how we should vote but about how we should live. The decision we make in each future election is no more important than how we vote every day. We vote every day for companies, for people, and we put money toward "campaigns." We need to think of the faces behind the scenes. Who are the masters and the Caesars that we pledge allegiance to by the way we live and through the things we put our trust in? We vote every day with our feet, our hands, our lips, and our wallets. We are to vote for the poor. We are to vote for the peacemakers. We are to vote for the marginalized, the oppressed, the most vulnerable of our society. These are the ones Jesus voted for, those whom every empire had left behind, those whom no millionaire politician will represent."
- Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

You can read a little more about the book and see some appendices at their website:

Through this book and others, and through experiences in my life the past few months, God is doing something in me that I'm not sure what to do with yet. I know it won't let me go, so it's not that I'm afraid of losing the passion for change and identification with the poor so much as I'm just wondering where it will lead and how I need to respond.

Wednesday, August 27

a long absence

While I don't have a job to keep me busy (waiting to start getting calls to sub), my main excuse for not posting is that my computer is fried at the moment. I am working on getting it back into a usable condition, but in the meantime am using the internet at the public library every few days. I got a library card just for this purpose, but have also found quite a few books calling out to me from the shelves. So, I checked out a small stack, mostly on a Christian response to politics, which was sparked in me from borrowing a friend's copy of Jesus for President. I've never had an interest in politics before, really, beyond trying to decide (usually last minute) who to vote for, so I have a lot to learn.

Sunday, August 10

another Mimi quote

I'm watching the Olympics when my grandmother comes in at the lead in to the women's floor routines and says, after watching for a minute, "I don't have the stickability to be that kind of an athlete."

I turn my head and crack a big smile. I mean, she's 87!

Tuesday, August 5

West Texas Wind

I went to Abilene for a few days to see my parents. My Dad has some visiting scientists from Bosnia, so we took a little trip up the interstate to get close to the windmills. There are different farms. I think we visited this one.

Wind, oil, and cotton.

The cotton was in bloom.

A cotton gin in the background.

On the way home, we ate at Allen's, a homestyle cafe in Sweetwater, where they had this great cash register. We sat down at a table by ourselves and they brought out a huge amount of food - fried chicken, meatloaf, and lots and lots of vegetable dishes, plus rolls and cobbler. Soon, two other couples came in and filled up our table and we all shared the food, family style. When we left, one of the visiting scientists paid for us because he was so impressed with the place.

Tuesday, July 29

morning at the ARCH

"I stake the time I'm grateful to have, the energies I'm glad to direct." - Annie Dillard

This morning, I went to the ARCH, the Austin homeless shelter for the second time. The first was Saturday for a volunteer orientation. I sat around for a while talking to people before the volunteer coordinator came down to show me what to do.

I discussed how hard it is to learn Chinese with a homeless client who had carefully painted on eyebrows. (I got asked a lot about what I do, so that led to me telling them I'm a teacher, but not currently teaching in Austin....)

I commented on how nice the building is to a guy and he said, "Yeah, but you know some people get too comfortable here, with this life and this place." He then went on to tell me that he wasn't one who was going to get too comfortable with it.

My first job was to check mail for people. Anyone can give out the center's address, and then their mail goes on file until they can pick it up. The clients were mostly so polite and patient as I learned the system and searched through the filed mail for theirs.

My second job was to go upstairs behind the soap and toothpaste counter to hand that out as needed. I also got a few requests for hydrogen peroxide, lotion and razors. We had the peroxide, but no lotion or razors. They give away what they get from donations.

They have an art class that started just as I was leaving. The clients can submit their artwork at the annual Art From the Streets show and earn the money from the sale. One guy commented on his way to the restroom "I know there are no starving artists in here! We might call them the gluttonous artists instead."

It's true that for most homeless the food is not an issue. Finding affordable housing is a problem, along with other barriers to employment that the homeless face. I'm glad that the shelter has made it easy for me to volunteer and learn more about the city I'm living in.

Thursday, July 24

bus culture, part three

In Winston-Salem, the station after the traumatic ride, I found myself hoping to go to a sauna when I got to my destination. I only thought about it for a second, of course realizing that I was in America where there are no public sauna/bath houses. I was associating this kind of long public overnight travel with China, where I often end in a city where I can clean up in a steamy public bath.

During the wait for the next bus, a girl who had been on the same bus as me sat down beside me and told me she thought the curly headed guy she had been smoking with outside was cute. We decided we wanted some coffee, so we started to head out and she asked her crush to accompany us. On the next bus, less than an hour after our coffee trip, these two are sitting side by side, parts of their body intertwined. And she had just told me that you have to be careful around these guys you meet on the bus! For some reason, this makes me long for the redemption of the world.

The new couple is sitting behind a girl (who didn't look like a girl) talking about how she was going home to her wife and kids. The girl she called her wife was waiting at the next station for her and we got to witness their affectionate reunion.

I leave the oblivious new couple to get off the bus and wait for my last bus to Danville. I meet Calvin, a good looking, well dressed guy who looks at the vending machine but doesn't buy anything. He asks me if I know where he can look for a job. I don't know anything, of course, about jobs here, but I really wish I could help him.

An old man comes in and asks for my help to buy him a sausage biscuit from the vending machine. It won't take his $5 bill, so I use my $2 to buy it for him, but I open it to an empty door and it eats my money. I offer him my last two pieces of zucchini bread, but he says he's diabetic and can't eat it. A girl comes back with change for him and he proceeds to eat the sausage biscuit (which I successfully buy) and a Pepsi.

I arrive at my destination a little tired and am treated to a tasty Wendy's salad. I am glad for this experience of a part of my culture that I usually distance myself from. I know that I need to do something besides write three blog posts about the experience. This is on my top ten list of experiences from my year in America. I am meant to live more simply, to be more intentional about how I interact with people, to realize I'm entitled to a lot less than I think I am. I wonder if I could have learned these same lessons in China, or if I had to learn them as a part of my own culture first.

Tuesday, July 15

bus culture, part two

On the next bus, I sit next to a single mom and her three kids. They are so cute with their big blue eyes. I get to hold the youngest (5 months old) while the mom takes the girl to the restroom, and again at a stop where the mom takes a smoke break.

There's a little more variety than your standard bus riders on this one. I notice a girl reading a book in Russian, a guy who gets off the bus speaking with some kind of British accent and another guy who has an iPod (the only one I saw on the bus) and is reading a book on debating two different views of Calvinism.

Our bus getting in to Wythville at 4 AM is a little late and it's really cold outside, so those of us waiting on our next bus go into the waiting box (it's not so much a room). We are told that all the buses are late tonight, and we hear stories of people that have been waiting for 9 hours. So, we're thinking we might be here for a while when one of the guys that's catching the same bus I am goes out to double check on the bus that's out there. He comes back in saying, "That's our bus, y'all! (He's got a feminine lilt to his voice.)

So, I follow him out to the bus. The bus driver takes his ticket, but informs me that the bus is full. I tell him, politely, that I have had this ticket for two weeks, have two more buses to connect with after this one, and I would be happy to sit on the floor. He looks at me disapprovingly, saying "It's illegal in this state to sit on the floor of a bus. People who have tickets have to wait all the time."

I decide to wait until the bus leaves to see if he'll change his mind and I start to pray. The next bus wasn't scheduled to come for another 7 hours, so I don't want to give up yet. Right before he leaves, he turns around and tells me he'll let me sit on the steps beside him. Answer to prayer number two!

I load my bag, he takes my ticket, and he tells me that he considers the seat I'm getting "the best seat on the bus." It's where he often sits when he's riding. (So apparently he breaks that law anyway?) He quickly warns me that he will not tolerate it if I fall asleep and lean backwards on him.

It's dark and cold. I don't want to fall asleep, for fear that he'll have to take unwanted action against me, so I pull out my iPod. The white screen light comes on and he raises his voice at me, saying that is distracting. I say, "Yes, sir." I turn the iPod over so that the light shines onto the floor as I try to adjust the volume. He tells me that if I shine that light one more time he's going to kick me off. So, I spend the next hour and a half listening to a chapter of a book I've already listened to, but I can't really understand it anyway, because the volume is too low. I feel like a middle school student who is on the teacher's bad side and can't do anything right.

We pull into the station and I'm relieved to get off that bus. I get my bags and go into the station to wait for the next bus. While I'm sitting in the station, I hear people behind me talking about that poor girl who had to sit on the floor and how mean that driver was to her. One lady says, "He must have come from a hard home life." I smile, glad to have some people on my side.

Friday, July 11

bus culture, part one

Last week, I took a long bus ride from Louisville, Kentucky to Danville, Virginia. What would have taken about 8 hours to drive took about two and a half times that on the bus. It was the cheapest way to go, though, if I bought the ticket 2 weeks in advance - just $55. I had a feeling from the time I purchased the ticket online that it was going to be a memorable journey.

My brother-in-law, sister, and nephew dropped me off at the downtown bus station. I got my ticket from the counter and waited, praying for any connections that God wanted me to make. I began to realize from the outset that I need to live more in the world, instead of separating myself from the world that these bus passengers live in.

I got two seats to myself on the first bus, sitting behind a cute 2 year old and her mom who each had a candy necklace. I kept getting sweet peeks around the chair from the little girl. Behind me, there was an army guy returning to his base.

Beside the army guy was a big middle aged white guy with a few teeth missing who told us that he extradites federal prisoners. He talks about the days when he drove trucks, telling us that he would drink RC for energy. The black guy in front of him turns around and asks,
"RC? How old you is? That was WAY back in the day!"

The extraditer goes on to tell us about his 22 year old daughter. Her 26 year old boyfriend and three kids have moved in with her. The extraditer doesn't approve of the relationship and so they aren't talking at the moment. The black guy in front declares that he is going to be "Dr. Phil on Wheels" and give him some advice. He says that he doesn't have any business messing with his daughter's life now that she's old enough to have her own life. His job is just to love her, not judge her decisions. Not bad advice, actually.

We all get off the bus in Nashville where I have a two hour layover. I say bye to the extraditer and start to think about dinner. The food in the "restaurant" at the station looks pretty sad, so I go outside to check out other options. There aren't any in sight, but one of the guys at the corner tells me if I walk up a few blocks, cross the bridge, and turn right, I'll find a McDonald's. I leave
my big backpack at the station in between rows of seats and pray that Jesus will be like my travelling partner and watch over my luggage while I go to get food. When I get back, after more than 30 minutes, it's still there. I feel his companionship and I know that he's answered my prayer!


Last night, I found some kind of cute gray and baby blue worm that is attached to some kind of cocoon crawling on the bathtub. I caught it on a sheet of paper and took it into the kitchen where my Grandmother was working on a wordfind. She reached for her magnifying glass to take a closer look.

I was going to take it outside to let it fend for itself, but she said, "Well, do you want to put it under something and watch it do whatever it has planned next?" She suggested a mesh sieve, but it didn't work, so we settled on a small glass turned upside down. Before going to bed, she reported that it had climbed to the top of the glass and was waiting there.

This morning, I came back from my walk to find that she had added three pieces of cat food for it to "nibble on." Later came another report that it had climbed over the pieces of food and maybe eaten something. At lunch, she pointed out the newest addition to the habitat: a tiny branch with ball moss in case it wanted to hang and finish developing the cocoon.

I taught with a past retirement age woman in China one semester who taught me about childlike wonder when she took joy in spring. Mimi is taking me back there again.

Thursday, July 10

not the only fish in the sea

I just finished reading Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, which is a book I highly recommend. I also took a 20 hour bus journey last week that put me in a culture that I normally don't experience. I will try to post some about that later. So, I am thinking about how I can make changes in my life that is currently more self-centered than it should be.

My birthday is coming up and my Grandmother, whom I am living with, is trying to get me to decide where and when I want to go out for my birthday dinner, which is always the solution to celebrating birthdays in her sphere. For some reason, I'm not looking forward to this mostly me-centered birthday dinner. For my thirtieth birthday, I was in China, teaching. My friends and students remembered me and it was nice. Last year, I was traveling and got birthday wishes through e-mail, and I was mostly happy to be experiencing a new city and not have a me-centered day, because my traveling partner didn't know it was my birthday. After these birthdays, though, I've felt like something was lacking from the day and have felt selfish for thinking that.

This year, instead of looking for more, I'd like to do less. I'd like to do something that is less about me and more about others, especially people of a lower economic status. I remember my Mom telling me once, I think after I had finished looking at what I wanted to look at in a department store and was ready to go home, that I was not the only fish in the sea (I think I was bugging her while she was finishing her shopping).

Any bright ideas about how to spend a day loving the other fish in the sea?

back in the saddle

I've been away for a while and haven't gotten around to posting when I've had internet access, but I'm back in Austin again, and catching up. My Mom and I drove up to Kentucky to meet my Dad, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew for a week. We went to the Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis (Mom's request) on the way up.

My nephew is 10 months now, which is a fun age. He's learning so much and is really fun to be around.

I didn't take any good pictures of Kentucky this time, but there are pics from my previous Kentucky trips here, here, here, here, here and here. The last two links are my favorites that I've posted of Kentucky, I think.

Sunday, June 15

Everything Belongs

I recently finished reading Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. Much of the book spoke to where I am, or where I need to be.

On being spiritually hungry:
"The rich can satisfy their loneliness and longing in false ways, in quick fixes that avoid the necessary learning. In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of the pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. That's why the poor have a head start. They can't resort to an instant fix to any problem: aspirin, a trip, or some entertainment. They remain empty whether they want to or not."

On being nothing:
"When we are nothing, we are in a fine position to receive everything from God. If we look at all the great religious traditions, we see they use those words. The Franciscan word would be poverty. The Carmelite word would be nada, nihil - nothingness. The Buddhists speak of emptiness. Jesus preferred to talk in images so he spoke of the desert. The desert is where we are voluntarily understimulated. No feedback. No new data. That's why he says go to the closet. That's where we stop living out of other people's response to us. We can then say, I am not who you think I am. Nor am I whom you need me to be. I must be nothing in order to be open to all of reality and new reality."

On thresholds (where I got my threshold reference in the previous post):
"We have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place there. We have to move out of business as usual and remain on the threshold where we are betwixt and between. There, the old world is left behind, but we're not sure of the new one yet. That's a good space. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It's the realm where God can best get at us because we are out of the way. In sacred space the old world is able to fall apart, and the new world is able to be revealed. If we don't find liminal space in our lives, we start idolizing normalcy."

(I do believe this is some kind of record...three posts in one day? I'm making up for lost time!)

understanding and being understood

If I were less of a transient, there are a lot of things I would never understand about life. If I had chosen a more normal lifestyle, I wouldn't be so dependent on people. Sometimes I want to go back to Asia just so I can have a more normal life. I can be a full time student or get a full time job, have a schedule, ride my bike or take the bus, have my own cell phone and not inconvenience others. It's easy to get around on public transportation and it's really inexpensive to buy a SIM card to put in your phone and use for however long you're there. I have been using my Mom's cell phone here. She told me today that she bought a pay-as-you-go phone, which is really what I should have done so she could keep her phone. She's also paying for short term insurance for me. My Dad bought my Gramaw's car for me to use while I'm here. I live at my Grandmother's house when I'm not visiting somewhere else.

Of course, I could have all of those things almost as easily (without imposition to others) if I chose to stay here, too. I could get a normal job with normal insurance, not have to worry about a 2 year phone contract, and find my own place to live. And, although rare, there are times when I have considered that in the last 10 months.

I'm really blessed to have a family that can take care of me in those ways and I'm really thankful for them. They also support me, even though they'd rather me stay here and be more normal.

I talked to a friend tonight who is in much of the same situation as I am. She came back to the States a few months after me and wants to go back to the same place I do. We're both struggling with plugging in to our communities here, using other people's cars and issues with cell phones. I got to see her in LA when I went through, which was a huge blessing. It's nice to be able to talk to someone who understands where you are and where you want to be. We prayed together at the end of the conversation and it was so good. We prayed for provision for things we need, to be able to be committed to being here while we're here - to have the right balance of keeping our hearts set on going back but also really being here too.

I am waiting on financial support to go back, but I believe that God is using this waiting period to prepare me as well as prepare the people who are sending me, and making us one team. I actually believe he could pour the money down right now if the time were right. Purification, pruning, teaching, being dependent on him are all things I have to learn and can learn best in this threshold place - where I've left one room and am on the verge of being in another place, but not yet.

I watched this on CNN last night and I cried, unexpectedly, a few times. Because of scenes of reconciliation and hope. Because I'm drawn to this country in a way that I don't think I could have manufactured on my own.

I consider it a luxury to be understood, but I think it's a luxury that we're all entitled to - perhaps for some of us to the extent that we are willing to understand.

with us

We watched Rob Bell's rain video at church this morning. It gives perspective on the heart of our Father, and how trials, storms, the times we cry out to God are times when God draws us close. We often think he's forgotten us or can't hear our cries, but they are times when he treasures being close to us and loving us.

I can look back at recent and not-so-recent times that I've felt alone, but then gotten perspective on how God has been close and tender with me in those times. A good reminder that he's with us.

Wednesday, June 11

Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
-John LeCarre

Thursday, June 5

some lessons learned on the trip

I've been back on US soil for two weeks now, about five days of that being in LA, which doesn't really count, because it was still part of the trip. Anyhow, about time I should post a little about the trip to China.

It was excellent in so many ways. I got to spend some quality time with people and learn from them, which was just what needed to happen. I think the reasons for me going back at that time might even become more clear later, but for now, here are some of the things I got to learn.
  • My first morning in Shanghai, I bought baozi (dumplings) and soy milk from a street vendor. While my Chinese is very limited, I fooled that guy into thinking that I could speak it well. When I got to Yanji and got to speak Korean, I remembered that I love to speak those two languages. It gives me a new fuel to study and find opportunities to speak them here.
  • I wanted to be an encouragement to others, but I received much more encouragement from the friends I met there. It's just good to be with people who share the same vision and realize I still fit in there.
  • I felt God's presence and help in small, yet very real ways.
  • I felt a renewed importance to prepare well for the future, to be pure in heart, to live more simply, to love more, to work for unity. Real challenges for me.
  • I was reminded that the journey (this waiting time in particular) is part of the plan. It's not a stall in the plan.
For the many of the same reasons that it is hard for me to be in the States, I know I need to be here for a little while longer. (My new target date to leave is November unless something really incredible happens.) I need to pour myself into the reasons that I can see for being here and hope that if there are any other purposes for me to be here that I'll be able to see those as I go.

And then God answered: "Write this. Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run.
This vision-message is a witness pointing to what's coming.
It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn't lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait. It's on its way. It will come right on time.
(Habakkuk 2:2,3)

Thursday, May 29

pictures to tide you over

I know how you've all been on pins and needles to hear more about the trip to China. I have a few thoughts brewing in my head but have been procrastinating about sending out my next newsletter and updating the blog. I subbed today in the time I had planned to get some of that done, so I have an excuse, at least for today. Anyway, I've been back at what is sorta my "home base" in Austin four days now, so I'm as settled as I'm going to get. In the meantime though, here are a few pictures from China.

A Chinese tractor moving a tree.

My breakfast one day in Beijing.

I love Beijing yogurt!

A construction site near Qinghua University, Beijing.

My friend and I rode (my first time) in a tiny two seat taxi. Not sure what they are called. You sit behind the driver, facing backwards. He can't go very fast, but he's cheaper than a real taxi.

Monday, May 12

the earthquake

I didn't know about the earthquake until I saw it on Yahoo news last night. I'm way up in Northeastern China, and we didn't feel anything. I am amazed that it was felt all the way from to Beijing, though, so it was a strong one. Keep all those people in mind who've been affected. This could be an open door for their needs to be met in great ways.

Thursday, May 8

short and sweet

Fan dancers in the morning at a park in Shanghai.

One of the great things to observe in China is the morning routines of people at parks. Fan dancers, tai chi, people hitting themselves, people walking backwards, couples jogging hand in hand, and other forms of exercise.

Always on the lookout for Chinglish.

Small town street scenes.

I am in China for a short visit (using a return ticket that was going to expire if I didn't use it), getting to visit friends and ex-students. My main goal in coming was to encourage those I got to meet with, but it has turned out (as I hoped it would) that I am getting a clearer picture of what the future might hold as well.

Friday, May 2

the nephew

This is where we went with your meal money, Mom. I had a portabello sandwich and sweet potato fries and it was yummy.

He's amazing, isn't he? A smiley, happy 8 month old baby.

Kentucky after a rain

Looking out the window of the plane from Dallas to Louisville.

Kentucky surprised me. I didn't expect it to still be so spring-y there. It's green and blooming. Texas's spring is so short and was more than a month ago.

I had a nice time relaxing with my sister and her family, and am now in Shanghai, getting ready to fly to Yanji this afternoon - excited to see my friends there!