November – 2012.
Grainy, thick air flies into the tin roof of heavens far beyond us. Our tin roof is holey, old, and rusted over; once destroyed by the intensity of a late fall storm, the school failed to have the sector fill the gaps, openings, and cuts. The melodic pounding of sole-shoed feet along with the beating of the faded drum commands the cracked cemented, gray floors of my classroom. These strong feet – belonging to my students – direct the air in a circulatory motion, the dust too, and it blends together as one.
My own hands are a mix of cheap white chalk and sandy residue from desks left unclean and untouched since the coming of heavy rains. I clap anyway, acutely aware that I can wash later when I get back home. Eventually – at some point – I’ll be clean. That has become my mantra, it seems.
I grin as Zahara sings her song. It is the one she always leads her class in; the one she is often singing underneath her breath when I visit her at home. Sometimes she is cooking over the fire and humming. Other times, it’s less noticeable, like when she sweeps away trash towards the banana plantations. I can’t make out her wording entirely, but I know she is singing that particular song. I only know some meanings of words. Much later, when I would know the translation, when I would know her, and when I would know her story, I would also realize with great depth the meaning of these precious moments.
My students are gathered in a circle. Zahara has her eyes closed and yet is leading the spontaneous creation of a student-filled choir. Everyone knows this song, it seems. When she opens her eyes to everyone singing along with equal enthusiasm, her grin overwhelms her face and I see untainted joy written all over her heart. The girl loves to sing.
From then on, that song would carry special meaning in my heart. It was one of those songs that just take you back to somewhere else (somewhere special) no matter where you may be.
Muririmbire Uwiteka (Prayer Song for Rwanda; We Sing of the Lord)
Muririmbir’ Uwiteka indirimbo nshya kuk’aje gukora ibitangaza mu gihugu cyacu (we sing of the Lord a new song because He has come to give miracles in our country)
Ikiganza cye cy’iburyo n’ukuboko kwe kwera (at the right and holy hand)
Abizanishije agakiza k’u Rwanda (salvation has come to Rwanda)
Yibutse imbabazi ze (we remember your forgiveness & mercy)
Yibuts’umurava we (we remember your determination)
Abigirira igihugu cyacu cy’u Rwanda (these things you have for our country, Rwanda)
Abo kumpera z’isi bose (It will exist in all the world)
Babonye agakiza kacu (our salvation has been found)
Bati koko u Rwanda rufite Imana (they can say that Rwanda really has God)
Banya Rwanda mwe mwese muhaguruke turirimbe (all Rwandans will stand up to sing)
Dore Uwiteka aje atugana (Look! The Lord has gone before us)
Aje kutumara agahinda (He has taken out our sorrow & grief)
Adukuyeho ibyaha (He has removed sin)
Muze tumusange araturuhura
Muze tumusanganire n’ijwi ri’impundi (We go to meet the sounds & shouts of joy)
Yemwe misozi mwese (we join like mountains together)
Namwe bibaye ni muze (And you, you have done all of these things)
September – 2015.
I glided into Christian Life Assembly this Sunday in a navy blue dress and a sweaty head of hair. My house was only 20 minutes way, but a Sunday walk around Kigali isn’t like a short jaunt around the block. The sun is scorching across the sky, and the hills are unafraid to make you work for every step. I was about 5 minutes late and so worship had already started. I could hear Muririmbe Uwiteka as I was approaching the church from the parking lot, and I could hardly contain my pace. Zahara’s song!
I thought of those sweet memories in my class, when the students would sing that song and press their hands and feet in a collided motion to fill the room with praise for God.
I thought of Zahara’s voice – always recognizable, always beautiful.
As the song continued, and I realized I had actually begun to understand the full meaning of the song, I thought of the good works God has done (and is doing) in Rwanda specifically, and truly, honestly, I feel an overwhelming blessing in my heart to get to be a part of it. I think of Zahara’s changing life, the other girls, the other stories I have woven and out of, the women I am meeting now, and I can’t help but say thank you. I don’t why me or how or how my life has continually led me to stories in this place, but I’m glad it has.
As for me, I can’t recall any epic singing events. Zahara’s voice far outshines anything I have ever put to tune. I’ve had my share of karaoke glory moments (Sweet Home Alabama in Ghana; Heartbreaker at Hendrix; and It’s Raining Men in high school) and of course, who wouldn’t agree – singing is fun! Even though the Lord didn’t gift my vocal chords with a sound of harmony, we still sing.
We can sing for the things He has done – sometimes, most especially, the things we thought could never change. This morning, as this song swelled in my heart, I sang for the ways God has changed my heart most recently and most dramatically.
Last fall, a close family member probed and asked, “So, do you want to get married…ever?”
I pursed my lips and scoffed, “We’ll see, maybe, I mean…I’ve got so many other things going on…”
It’s far easier to play it off, to act like you don’t care, to play “the strong card” as you will.
Yeah. That was always the excuse. Busyness, independence, strength. These things aren’t bad. Especially when the right one truly, genuinely hasn’t been presented in your life. There is truly nothing wrong with singleness or waiting to be married, or perhaps, never getting married should that be the plan for your life.
But, that’s not really what I am talking about. I had a bad attitude, y’all.
I will completely admit that I didn’t even think of marriage as a good thing. I simply used these other excuses to mask my own fears, hesitancies, and skepticisms. My hard-lined approach left me bitter, doubtful, and in preference to do things on my own. At least if I got hurt, I could handle it. I could stay “in control”.
It would be easy to blame my family history. It’s tempting, isn’t it? Let me just look at the long listing of divorce in my family and say, nah, I don’t think so. But how fair, really, is that? Can I really stay bound to the historical, problematic chronic divorce problem?
It would also be equally easy to turn to the shifting of our society’s expectations of the modern day woman. Only problem there? Well, eventually, the age will come. You will grow up. And husband or not, it’s probably important at some point to examine what you think and why. Just because marriage isn’t working on large-scale levels in the United States, for example, doesn’t mean I have to completely check out of the idea myself. Salvaging potential hurt or pain, I promise, is no way to live.
Layer by layer, piece by piece, my heart changed. God did this.
It took time, it took a lot of hurt, a lot of confession, a lot of forgiveness, and whole load of grace.
In summation: not only did He free me from my family’s past – He promised me – I’m not kidding here – that one of the purposes I have in my life is to restore family brokenness. It’s hard to explain how this was revealed (my goodness it was so intimate), but as my own burdens, sins, and lies of the world were let go, I was free to understand that my life would be and could be something different. We aren’t only products of our environments, my friends. We are products of hope, too. Of Him, if you surrender. And woo, that is so sweet.
First, He had to show me the depth of my weakness. Oh, it’s far down. Independence is one thing; assuming you can do ALL things without God – that’s another. I had been operating on Heather-control for so long that it felt weird to hand over the reins. It was like when you give the keys of your car to the rightful owner. You hold onto them just long enough…and finally, you let go. Then, you get in the passenger side, and soon enough, you are just enjoying the ride, waving your hands on the side, wishing it had been this way the entire time.
He taught me about partnership, submission and the true beauty of being a woman. Submission wasn’t what I presumed it to be; it’s more about honor, respect, and genuine love. I was intimidated to let go of control – especially to a man! – and really, that was rooted in a great need to control. He called me to places as an “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” and was challenged in acts of selflessness in doing so. I could give the control over. Over and over again, I would. I will.
I started seeking positive marital examples and asking many, many questions to women (from all over!). These discussions are my souls’ sweet spot, as I love and thrive in sharing cross-cultural relationship experiences with women. Led to conversations with Mexican, American, and Rwandan women, I learned that marriage is about God, shared life, and healthy sacrifice. It’s hard. But it’s life.
One Mexican women said it so simply, “just talk.”
Late this last summer, a wise woman spoke boldly and surprisingly into my life: “…don’t worry about that husband of yours. He’s there.” She hardly knew me, and she definitely didn’t know the way God had changed me in those months. She couldn’t have known. Yet, I remember hearing that, and the way it felt. For the first time, in my entire 26-ish years, I believed it. I believed it.
That’s the miracle of my perspective on marriage – and it’s the miracle of my faith too. It just clicked, and you begin to have a different kind of heart that is full of different kinds of things from before.
When asked about a marriage a year ago, I had resigned myself to isolation, identity confusion, and loneliness.
The issue was far beyond even the understanding of marriage – it was my understanding of God. I didn’t believe Him. I didn’t believe who He was. And I’m telling you, when you begin to believe and trust in His power, His great (and good) love, and honestly, His graciousness, your heart will be compelled to change.
He has spared me from so much. There are many, many moments – especially with men – that things could have gone so differently. He saved me then, and He is saving me now. In a fully committed relationship to Him it’s kind of amazing how a fully committed relationship to a husband now seems completely, totally, and actually possible. Dare I say, exciting?
I’m grinning as I write that. That’s kind of perfect.
So, about that song.
Zahara still sings it. She sang it just a couple of weeks ago when I saw her.
I sing it too.
I sing it, I think about the way God has come in Rwanda and changed this country – a true bringing of freedom and hope – and I remember what He has so recently done in my heart.
We sing a new song, we sing of praises, because we have new life, new hearts, and things have changed.
This is just one way, of so many, that He keeps pressing into my heart and challenging me to think something different. It’s weird. But, it’s fun too. I’m not sure what’s next, but I’m keeping my eyes open because truthfully, you never ever know.