Dear Connie,

When I approached you about being interviewed for The Messy Middle I wrote, “I feel sad to write what I’m going to write. I don’t want you to die, ever. And I don’t think you want to die ever either, but here we are. The end of your time in Nanchang is nearer than I want to admit.” I said I wanted to do just what I’m doing now: write what you mean to me personally, what you’ve meant to our organization, and the legacy you leave.

Your answer surprised me. After saying you were touched and game you wrote: Actually, I’m not sure what you would say about me personally AT ALL… I didn’t realize that you really knew that much about me and my work and what I’ve done here in Nanchang. I know I’ve been here a long time and that says a lot in itself but much more than that, you haven’t been here, seen it or talked to my students and leaders in person… 

Connie, I don’t want to overplay my hand. I know you, probably more than you realize, but in this line of scattered work (and with the internet now, scattered lives) we are impacted, touched, taught by those who are at a distance.

Here is what I’ll take from knowing you from a distance all these years:

  • Be yourself. Connie, when you moved to China, all your hugging, well, let’s just say some wondered how that was going to go over in a culture that’s not big on hugging. But because it flowed so utterly and completely from the core of your being … it works.
  • Look for what can be built on and build there. You’ve taken group work to a new level (I hate group work, and even I might like your projects. Girl, that is high praise from me!). You’ve built into the speech contest process in China in ways that have impacted The. Entire. System (are you kidding me?!). You’ve taught leadership using movies and soup. In all of these, you took something that was already in play, you didn’t totally start from scratch, you started with the loaves and fishes given to you and fed the multitudes.
  • Love. Begin and End there.  Several years ago when I was in a different director position I sent out an email to all those in the program. I ended saying it might sound cheesy but “I love you and I really mean it” (This is not something men in leadership would do and I know it can make some people feel uncomfortable and may look weak.). You were the only person to write back and say, “Amy, never apologize for saying you love someone. I love you too.” The only one. That email went to lots and lots of people. Connie, of all the lessons you have embodied over the years, this is the most important.

In terms of our organization, most obviously you have had massive impact in the teaching arena (see part one of our interview). It would be easy to stop there, but you and I aren’t interested in easy, are we =)? Connie, the greatest contribution made is simply your presence. You are not the kind of person who fits in a simple box. This has been wonderful, infuriating, stretching, challenging in the good way, and pushed those of us who have worked with you to not settle for rote or pat answers. It is to our benefit that you have put up with us when we (at times) made you to feel other or unwelcome.  It would have been to our detriment to force you to conform on things that in the end didn’t matter all that much.

Love, begin and end there, eh?

Connie, again I’ll say it, I don’t want you to leave. But I smile at the thought of our savior greeting you with his arms wide open, ready to hug you and whispering in your ear, “Well done good and faithful servant. Well done.”

I’ll be praying for your physical pain and that the Lord will be gracious and allow you to finish the next semester in your beloved Nanchang.

Love, Amy

p.s. Connie, when I had the idea for this week, I wanted to bless you because I love you and it’s important to say goodbye (even though it is HARD). Thanks for being game. Truly. I’ve heard from several who haven’t commented publicly how much this series has impacted them.

If you haven’t already, please share with Connie as you feel lead.

***************

In case you missed any of Beginning and Endings Week — if you have a chance, go back and read through the comments. You might want to take your shoes off, once again the Spirit has been at work and humbly this has become holy ground.

Amy

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  1. Katie Boelema Spohr December 7, 2012 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Hi Connie,

    While I don’t know you very well, (you may not even remember who I am!), I would look at your picture every day for four years as I went up and down the staircase to my room at the mac. Most people might not look at those photos very often, and after a while they can tend to blend into the surroundings, but often I would study them, and read the names as I would go up and down. I always thought it was so cool that your picture was up not once, but twice. In one your hair had these black and gold spikey hair accessories (or maybe that was your real hair dyed?). While I didn’t know you at first, I always thought that simply because of them and the giant smile on your face, you must love life fully and with abandon. As I came to know more about you (mostly through my teammates Debbie and Tamah) your coolness was cemented in my brain. One year had the courage to talk to you about your work in Nanchang (I was facinated (and still am) with your library project–I love libraries). In 2010 during conference I remember talking with you about language learning as I was struggling with whether or not to go to language school. I will never forget what you told me, that I shouldn’t worry about it, if I was meant to go then that was fine, but that the Father could use me wherever I was and however I was regardless of my abilities. Then you shared with me how the Father used your not knowing chinese to further the kingdom. While I am no longer in China, this is still a message that I carry with me, that the Father can use me how I am, and create wonderful results if I give myself over to him. This is in fact a lesson I needed to remind myself of tonight. As I write this tears are streaming down my face, for a variety of reasons. I wiil lift up before the Father for a miracle for you. It isn’t fair that your time in China might end, but you have done more than most of us have been able to. While I wouldn’t have traded any of my teammates for anyone, and as much as I love Beijing, I still wish I could have been on your team and gotten to know you better and learned from you. Sometimes I think that in heaven we are going to have one heck of an reunion with the people who have touched and impacted our lives. Thank you for touching mine, probably without even knowing it. I will look forward to getting a big hug from you someday in Heaven. In the meantime fight the good fight of faith dear sister, we are all lifting you up as you battle.

    • Connie Gibson December 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      Hi Katie, How wonderful to know your thoughts. I appreciate your sharing. Debbie and Tamah are both wonderful and precious friends. Although I have no idea what they might tell you about me, I know they are both very special and kind and would shine a good light on anyone they talked about, so I thank them.

      You mentioned that I said you shouldn’t worry about whether you went to language school or not: “If I were meant to go then that was fine, but that the Father could use me wherever I was and however I was regardless of my abilities.” I’m very sorry but I don’t remember this conversation, but I do believe that our abilities are secondary to our obedience and that if Father wants us to do something or go somewhere then He will provide the opportunities as well as the strength and ability. Many times we just get too hung up on ourselves, worrying about our own strengths and weaknesses, when our true concern should be placed on our “listening skills” and our “heart placement”. When we do things because the Father tells us what to do, and not because someone else’s opinion is dictating the sequences of our life’s journey, then He will also provide the wherewithal to do it.

      I deeply appreciate your prayers for my healing and my obedience to follow Him wherever He is leading me. Connie

  2. Kim Todd December 7, 2012 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Connie, your reach has been far. Here in Ningxia, each year at speech competition time, Nick works with a promising student from the farthest western province. The student consistently makes it as far as Beijing. He knows you by name and respects you. Thanks for serving not only your own, but also our students so well.

    • Connie Gibson December 8, 2012 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Thank you Kim. I do believe that I am here to serve China, not just my own university or provincial students, but from everywhere. I do what I can when I can, including teaching teachers and coaches from other schools… As many of our precious students in China as possible, need to become good English learners, with a reasonable understanding of our culture, and well trained to become excellent public speakers. It will take ALL of us, doing our best, to accomplish that with such a huge population. Unless we have a huge multitude of Chinese students who know our culture, know our language and have a good friendly and loving relationship with us (their foreign teachers), then how will we help to break down the barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice that exist both ways? Most Americans will never learn Chinese for various reasons, it is difficult… I am a great example of that! But maybe we can start by doing our part to love, not only our own students, but students all around China as well, working together to build bridges of understanding and tear down the walls that separate us. I am still here in Beijing at the contest. I leave for home tomorrow… did he come and introduce himself to me? Thanks. Connie

  3. Charlie Brainer December 7, 2012 at 10:23 am - Reply

    I really enjoyed this three part series. Thanks, Amy and Connie, for doing this. It’s a blessing for all of us who have entered in.

    Connie – you have been an inspiration to me for many years, not just for all that you were able to accomplish with your students and for English education in the Province, but most of all for demonstrating before us that the “greatest of these is love.” I have often referred to the example you have given us when I have wanted to illustrate to young teachers the power of God’s love over all else in their lives. Even earlier this fall in the course I was teaching I brought up how radiating love can triumph even over cultural norms (e.g no hugging) and used you as an example. The Christ in you has been equally evident to the fruit seller in the morning market and the high ranking official in Beijing. Three cheers for living a life fully and well!

    Charlie

    • Connie Gibson December 8, 2012 at 6:28 pm - Reply

      Thank you Charlie… I deeply appreciate your kind words. Connie

  4. Nancy Koch December 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    My Dearest Sister and Best Friend Connie,

    You have always been there for me through thick and thin. You have always been an inspiration to me. You have always believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. You care for other people like no other. I am very proud of you and proud to call you my sister. How lucky am I to have a sister and best friend as you! You are truly the most wonderful and amazing person I have ever known. When you moved away and went to China, it was very hard to see you go. But, I know that God had a great plan for you and called you to China for a greater purpose. I have missed you terribly when you are gone and very glad for the time we can spend together when you come home to the states. I have many stories to tell but have a hard time choosing just one. You have flown all the way from China just to be with me when I was going through hard times. You will move mountains just to help others that need it. You are one of the most giving and generous people I know. Our mother taught us to love others for who they are and be accepting and understanding of others because we may not know where they came from or what they have been through. You have taken that to a whole other level. I remember when you got your start as ‘Connie Mom II” here in the states. Everyone and anyone was welcome and got your famous ‘Hugs’. I have always experienced the hugs and couldn’t imagine you without them. It comes to you by nature. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for you and all that you are. I am truly blessed by God to have you in my life. I am looking forward to you coming home and have for a very long time. I also know the great pain that you will be going through to leave the China you have grown to love. I will always be here for you as you have always been there for me. Till the end my dear sister! I will not say goodbye ever, but until we see each other again. I love you and respect you with all my heart.

    Your sister and best friend,

    Nancy

    • Connie Gibson December 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm - Reply

      My Dear Precious Sister Nancy… there are NO WORDS I can possibly use to properly respond to what you have written! Besides, how can I see thru cascading sheets of tears, tears of joy for the friendship we have grown over the years. Not all sisters become best friends, but we have and my gratitude for you and your expression of love touches my heart deeply.

      I still remember when you were born. I was about 15 years old and I felt like you were my own daughter in many ways, not just my tiny sister. When I went away to college we were so far apart in every way and I missed you and the distance that was created between us. There was no one else I wanted more than you to be my beautiful little flower girl! You did a wonderful job at that task and you continue to be a diligent worker and excellent employee for whomever you work for. Two of my favorite pictures of all time are the one with you as my flower girl and I’m bending over to kiss you and talk with you, and the other one is of the two of us laughing hysterically together at your wedding.

      I know you have missed me while I have been in China these last 12.5 years and we haven’t been able to spend nearly as much time together as we both would like, but you are right little sister, God had bigger plans for me and He still does. Whether together or apart, we have suffered thru some very difficult times, both individually and as a family. But God has always been faithful to us and He always will. The beauty for me, even in the pain, is that for those we have lost, Grandma, our sister Shirley, Mom, Richard (whom you so lovingly sat beside with Kathy, while going thru his last days and final stages of cancer), is that we will be reunited in Heaven again someday. Thank you too, along with Kathy, for always being there for/with June as she walked thru her loss of Bobbie.

      One of the most beautiful things I will always appreciate about our family, you’ve already mentioned, is how mom taught us how to love and accept others unconditionally – her greatest gift to us girls – the other thing is our ability to laugh and to laugh hard. We’ve needed the gift of laughter for all the reasons we alone know. The Bible says that laughter is good for the soul and great medicine! I truly believe that! Thank you for all of the wonderful memories and times of laughter you and I have shared. They will never be forgotten.

      You, my dear precious sister and best friend Nancy, mean more to me than I can possibly put into words. Just know that I love you, always have, always will. Life, or death, will never take that away! Connie

  5. Debbie Marshall December 8, 2012 at 2:17 am - Reply

    Connie,
    We met in the Orange County Airport to go to APU together. I knew then, you were going far and I was going to be part of your team, not in a visible way, but as a member of your “personal pit crew”. Through these last 12 years, most of us on the crew still don’t know each other, except by rumor, but we’ve had the privileged of running along side you for short bursts to do small tasks to help you stay on your great goal of pouring out the love you have been given, to those the Father has drawn you to. Yes, yes, I hear your correction. I am also an English teacher, but sometimes “the correct way” [to those to whom the Father has drawn you] just doesn’t cut it. It’s too formal, tooooo correct, too task oriented and not enough person oriented. And that’s what you are Connie, oriented to the people. Each person, as well as the group. Not “either/or”, but “Both/And”. No holes barred, aim for the best, and don’t take NO-WAY for an answer. When the outpouring of our Father’s love is the goal, you have been the one to hold the vision ever before you and we, your pit crew, applaud you. For lifting His Name and loving heart high. For inventing means, when there were no means. For persevering. For making each of us feel that our small contribution put you over the top, and in place to finish well. You make us feel like we are part of your win, even though you are the one who has slugged it out in prayer and loving persistence, day by week by month by year. And thank you very much for carefully restraining your contempt for our lack of excellence, so none of us would be burned by the power of your acceleration as you fly into the gates of resistance and complacence and every sort of grasping, on both sides of the ocean. I love China too, as you do, and I bless you and thank you and LOVE you, for taking up the baton, and running the daylights out of taking The Love into China as well as into all of our lives. Thanks Connie. With love

    • Avatar photo
      Amy December 8, 2012 at 6:04 am - Reply

      Running the daylights out of … love it!

    • Connie Gibson December 8, 2012 at 8:13 pm - Reply

      Dear Debbie, thank you for ALWAYS being there when others weren’t … for me AND my family! You and Barb are true “life savers”, without the sugar but plenty sweet, and it’s all REAL, not artificial in any way! You have always come thru for me and stood in the gap when it was needed. Having you on my team or “personal pit crew” is a rich blessing from the Father!

      You helped fill up my emotional tires when the air was escaping, either due to a slow leak or a major blow out was occurring. Yes, you ran along side of me – ALWAYS, even if we were 6,000 miles away from each other. It’s true you were just one of the many crew members that supported me and were on my team, but certainly a critical and important one! I couldn’t have done without you and I still can’t!!!

      Thank you Debbie for being such an important part of my life! Thank you for sitting with me at the dentist’s office, the imaging center, the oncologist’s office and taking me where I needed to go when I couldn’t drive. Thank you for helping me understand and properly order the ‘right things’ for my protocol (even the yucky ‘green stuff’-it’s great to have your own personal nurse!).

      And most of all, thank you for being there for my sons and their families, even when I’m gone, whether in China or in Heaven!!! I KNOW you will always be there for me, and for them! Thank you Dear friend!!!

  6. Patty Stallings December 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    Dear Connie,
    What fun to read all you have done in the past 12.5 years! I knew you are an amazing educator, but WOW! And yet, what still impacts me most is WHO you are. You bring love and comfort and extraordinary encouragement with you just by walking into a room. You reflect the heart of the One who loves us with abandon and sees far beyond who we are to who He created us to be. Yours has been a life well lived and I know He delights in you. I can’t even imagine how much anticipation is growing in His heart as He prepares to welcome His beautiful daughter home. Thank you for showing us how to live a life that pleases Him!
    Much love,
    Patty

  7. Connie Gibson December 9, 2012 at 7:35 am - Reply

    Thank you Patty… your life shines brightly in my life as well! Thank you for taking time to read and to respond. I love you and your precious family. Connie

  8. Ron Cline December 14, 2012 at 5:35 am - Reply

    Hi Connie…my friendship with you goes back before any of the stuff you talked about with Amy. Before the cancer, before China, before teaching, before the boys, before the husband…way back to those fun, wonderful days at college. That’s the only Connie I knew and the only Connie I still know. I can still see that incredible smile from the fun loving, “I can do it all” girl that everyone loved to be around. Sounds like not much has changed! Good!
    I love you girl and pray God’s blessings on you everyday!
    Ron

    • Connie Gibson December 14, 2012 at 8:29 am - Reply

      Thank you Ron… it’s true not much has changed and yet it’s also true, everything has changed. How blessed I am to have so many memories throughout my life, especially those from long long ago when I first met you, our drive from the Bay Area down to APU, the great life I had there and the many adventures I’ve had since. Thank you for being a part of those memories. I pray that you and your entire family are doing well… Returned blessings to all of you as well. Connie

  9. Cathy December 15, 2012 at 12:16 am - Reply

    Connie, all I could say is that you are a great MOM! Although we’ve only known each other for one semester, which is surely not enough time to know a person very well, yet I’ve learned quite a lot from you—- your understanding of life, your thoughts, your behaviors. Some of your lessons given to me are the ones I’ve already read about,but I didn’t get the true meaning of them. I know those ideas, and I can use these ideas when it comes to exams, to advising people who have come across such similar situations, but I couldn’t really get it until your teaching us, I feel that my brain has been trained. My thoughts have changed a lot. Dark clouds within me seem to be cleared up, and I feel like being baptized. Each time I’ll get something new. You are a life book; you update. Like what you’ve said, each time you read the Bible you’ll get something new. That’s quite true. I really appreciate for all your telling me. In my little world, you are the first teacher who influence me very much, especially in such a short time. We all love you, but you’re leaving for the U.S., we all feel sorry for that. Anyway, we hope you will feel better and better day by day. And most of all, you know that, be happy!!!

    • Connie Gibson December 16, 2012 at 7:27 am - Reply

      Thank you so much Cathy. I’m very thankful that you are in my class this year. I hope I will be back next semester so that I am able to have a few more months with you before my “formal” and final departure for the States in June. At least I am hoping that my test results come out good enough for me to finish one more semester. Have a Merry Christmas and Spring Festival holiday. See you when I get back the end of February. I love you Cathy! Mom

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