running to be still

While living abroad I fell in love with a few things that I mentioned in my Rwanda blog once, twice, or maybe just too many times to count. And no, for once I’m not going to talk about weird things like Velveeta cheese or banana beer that became staples in my life. Yes, you can sigh with relief. No, seriously. I fell in love with:

  1. Running.
  2. Time for reflection.
  3. And most importantly, Jesus.

It’s not like I didn’t enjoy or “love” these things before I left. It’s just. Things are different now.

*

I’ve been an athlete since I could walk. Of course, playing things like soccer (ahem, football), field hockey, and softball lends itself to mandatory running. Certainly I did it. I had to. You can imagine the horror I faced when we’d all receive our summer Hendrix field hockey workouts that included types of running I had never even heard of.

What the heck is a fartleck run? Intervals? Are you kidding me?

Yet, when you live in a small community as the only foreigner you find that you have to do something that allows you a mental break – even if for a short while. I never thought “my thing” would be running. But I’ll never forget the first day I laced up my sneakers, ran about a mile, came home and was totally, utterly, and completely satisfied with myself.

They say it takes 20-something days to make a habit and I did. I logged all of my runs – every which one – for a year and a half. I ran 4, 5, sometimes 6 days a week. I ran short, long, and medium distances. I visited other towns, found new footpaths amidst the bananas, and weaved through bean fields perched atop the rolling green hills of the East.

I don’t know when, but I became a running covert. I am proudly no longer a running-hater.

my sturdy shoes that took me many, many places on those rural roads.

my sturdy shoes that took me many, many places on those rural roads.

*

My time alone started the minute the guzzling 4-wheel Peace Corps Jeep drove on out of my village. That first day the staff kindly took me to my house, removed my bags from the top of the car, did a 2-minute walk-through and bid farewell. Both of my Sara(h)s were the next to be dropped off at their respective sites and when I hugged them goodbye I held on tight. What the hell had I done????

It rained the first day I moved to my community and I was alone in my house. Really, truly alone. No distractions. Just me.

It took a great deal of time, but I came to appreciate the time for reflection that I was allotted while in the Peace Corps. Of course, like anyone in the Peace Corps, I had my days of watching Downtown Abbey endlessly and working my way through all seasons of The Office. But the best days alone were spent listening to music, writing, cooking, and cleaning. Sounds simple, right? It was – and that’s exactly it. A life in Peace Corps tends to slow you down – even if you are insanely extroverted like myself. You learn to enjoy time with yourself. And for me, this time allowed me to think. To learn. To daydream, quite honestly. Soon, I craved this time. My weekends were usually quite full – whether I was visiting my students, coaching, or cooking for my friends – but I always looked forward to the time the sun would set and I would peacefully be in my little home with time to just be.

It’s hard to explain fully but essentially, life slowed down a lot for me in the last couple of years and so it’s strange to be back home and already re-adjusting back to constant movement, productivity, with limited time to just enjoy reflecting and appreciating the quiet moments of solitude you can take. We just don’t.

my living room. where I spent a great deal of time relaxing, reading, writing, and just taking life a little more slowly.

my living room. where I spent a great deal of time relaxing, reading, writing, and just taking life a little more slowly.

*

1 John 4:12

No one has ever seen God but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

John’s words above encompass exactly how Jesus captivated me in Rwanda.

It wasn’t the love I tried to offer my new friends, students, neighbors, and fellow volunteers. Actually, I fell in love with Jesus because I saw Jesus in other people.

I can’t even begin to explain, list, or describe all of the examples.

However, the constant was that in homes and places with very little there was actually often an abundance of Jesus. Does this mean every Rwandan was kind? Oh no. Does it mean that all Rwandans are Christian? Absolutely not. But nearly every day I lived there, I would be with Rwandans who graciously provided for me despite the fact that in terms of materials and resources, they had few.

A cup of warm tea in the morning. A plate of beans and bananas after a long day of teaching. A small amount of money when I couldn’t afford electricity. A bag of vegetables when I missed market day. More than that, hugs when I cried. Smiles of gratitude for my visit. Questions about who I was – and joy that I had come.

When you go through experiences like this you can’t help but ask, think, and wonder: where is this love coming from?

I loved Jesus when I came to Rwanda. I really did.

But as time went on, as I slowly learned to dance at church, as I was asked challenging questions about my beliefs from Divine (and in turn, asked her the same kinds of things), that love evolved. It became different. I wanted it more, I needed it more. I saw difficult things in that country. I saw horrible, awful things that have redirected the kind of life I want to live. It’s not okay that people around the world are hungry. It’s not okay that we can do pretty much anything on our cell phones and people still can’t access clean water. Accessibility really is everything – that is poverty. And yet, people believe. People hope. More often than that, people wake up in Rwanda and trust that things can be better. Why?

Because of Jesus.

That will challenge your faith. That will make you ask questions. That will lead you to answers. That will give you confidence. And apparently, after a couple of years, you will be much more passionate about identifying as a Christian than you really ever have been.

Who knew?

outside my church, where I attended most Sundays.

outside my church, where I attended most Sundays.

Divine, at a place the community posted inspiring messages or announcements they wanted the congregation to read.

Divine, at a place the community posted inspiring messages or announcements they wanted the congregation to read.

*

I’m talking about these three things that I fell in love with over the course of my life in Rwanda because it’s what I’ve been thinking about lately in terms of preparing myself for the Lenten season.

I want to integrate these things into my life here because it’s where I have consistently found a strong sense of joy and peace.

For this time of preparing for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I am taking Sabbath on Sundays. My Sabbath might look a little different than a traditional time of rest, but I figure “resting” looks quite different for everyone.

So, on Sundays, after church, I’ll be going on “dates” with God. Certainly, if I’m bold enough to join match.com I can make time for Jesus as well.

I’ll be turning off my phone, my computer, and removing the distractions that are always present in the week. I’ll turn them off for the afternoon and take time to run, think, and pray.

Today, I ran an hour to a quiet part of a nearby state park. There, I laid in the field for nearly an hour contemplating different ideas on my heart and just being. People absolutely thought I was being a weirdo, but really, that’s nothing new. After, I ran an hour back home. I listened to my favorite worship songs the entire way. It was incredible the kind of push they gave me as my legs starting to become achy and tired as I neared the 12th mile. Home.

My “Sunday Sabbaths” might last only a few hours. But the idea is to slow down and take the time to relax fully in Jesus. This, my friends, is rejuvenation.

This time of Lent is often about “giving up” something. Coffee, chocolate, curse words, or cans of soda are popular choices. I like to think of this time as a period of letting go. Maybe taking on something, sure, but I think it’s perhaps more important to let go of what is distracting us from living fully.

I’m letting go of control. I’m letting go of worry. I’m letting go of distractions.

But the fruit of the spirit is LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS, and SELF CONTROL. (Galatians 5:22)

the altar.

the altar.

come.

come.

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