legendary yeti hunters

Somewhere between 28,000 and 35,000 feet in the air, Tasha, the United Airlines flight attendant with perfectly placed hot-pink lipstick, brought me a lukewarm cup of airplane coffee (read: sludgy, ground-heavy brews) along with a can of soda water.

Sweet angel, Tasha. This was my second drink serving, after all, so I felt more than a little high maintenance, particularly on a relatively short flight from Denver to Houston. I don’t think frequent flyer miles ever make it okay to ask for two beverages twice, but hey, to each their own, right?

Huddled against the foggy window in row 28, I gently received my much welcomed goodies with thanks and enthusiasm. I happened to be in the midst of budget tracking for a project application and was in need of a serious energy re-boot. The two beverages piled close to my computer; nudging closely with the stickers covering the external part of my laptop; decorated on the outside of my silver HP are company brands ranging from Great Divide Brewing Company, Elephant Energy, and Stranahan’s Whiskey. Computer sticker bling is all the rage these days.

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This particular journey was taking me to Texas (and then Arkansas!) to meet with Michelle and the rest of my college crew, The Hey Girl Heys, for our 5th college reunion. Yes, 5th. That’s wild.

In the span of a few days I would attend one of Michelle’s classes at seminary, drive 8 hours on Texas highway (getting slightly, a little lost), eat a salad at Whole Hog, chat for hours with my favorite people in the world, engage in an excessive photo shoot around the Hendrix campus, and bake bread with current students. Just to name a few things.

Towards the end, Houston flooding would redirect our travels through Memphis. It was crazy, but unexpected travel, rental car woes, and road trip barriers are significantly easier to handle when you have a buddy along with for the ride. Plus, Memphis meant a short trip out to Moscow, Tennessee to visit Michelle’s grandparents until we could both catch a flight back to our respective homes. Which, incidentally, also meant an encounter with delicious fried chicken. That’s right, I broke my vegetarian ways for an evening to enjoy the sweet, succulent Southern delicacy. No regrets – for the most part. Bathroom trips were a bit rough for the next few days, but what a small, small price to pay for fine cuisine.

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Reunion weekend at Hendrix was full of meaning. Things like unrequited laughter. Things like undefinable comfort-ability. Gentle moments would strike me like a surprising, late spring rain shower; fleeting and yet so peaceful. There were so many times – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – where I couldn’t help but smile and relish in gratitude for how nourished I felt. It was my first visit since graduating in 2011 and though so much has changed, it was so easy to fall back into our friendships again. We traversed through the Pecan Court; ate in the notorious cafeteria, and hugged Hendrix staples, like Ms. Mimi, one of the ladies who has worked in the cafeteria for years. She remembered our names – all of our names – and that’s just a small slice of what it’s like to be a student (and returning student) to our campus. It is home. And these people, my friends, they are home too. They always have been.

There’s a feeling you get when you find “your people” and lucky me, I have a good inkling of who those people, ahem, weirdos, are in the world.

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This particular story, though, isn’t about them. It’s actually about those dang stickers on the front of my computer.

Working on a plane is a lot like becoming lost in time itself; time becomes irrelevant. As soon as I had started crushing and typing away with the used, little, black buttons, we were landing in Houston.

Welcome to Houston…the temperature outside is a brisk 78 degrees.

I hastily put my computer, headphones, and trash away, as I knew I would be in hurry to get off the plane. Michelle was picking me up and we would head directly to her night class on “Moral Theology.” Our plane landed, taxied the runway, and arrived at our gate. We herded ourselves to baggage claim and the waiting game began.

Baggage claim has always struck me as an oddly wonderful “third place” in our world; we aren’t yet home, and yet we aren’t at our starting points either in whatever journey we may be taking. We are in transition, and it’s like you can sense the angst people feel in those spots.

Disconcerted, anxious, and often, impatient.

I wasn’t any different. I tapped my foot repeatedly. Come on, come on, come on…surely the bags would be here already. 15 minutes passed. What was going on…?

I didn’t have much time to contemplate as an elder gentleman interrupted my train of thought.

“Excuse me, ma’am, may I speak with you for just a moment?”

I looked at him quizzically. But let’s be real, when have I ever said “no” to talking with someone. I responded with a non-committal “sure” as I moved to side of the growing crowds around the carousel.

“I wanted to talk with you about the stickers on the front of your computer. The one that has a brown color with a Yeti on the front. It says, “I Believe.”

He was right. In fact, I have two Great Divide Brewing stickers tacked on the back of my HP; one is of mountains, the other is from their current branding with a large Yeti and the text reading, “I believe.”

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It’s tongue-in-cheek, of course, but this man obviously missed the memo. Though Great Divide is well known (and ranked as the 7th best brewery on the planet), their branding is recognizable only to their consumers. I guess this guy must have been a Budweiser fan, or something.

I cleared my throat, expecting this man was going to proselytize me at baggage claim . As I prepared to explain that I do deeply love and know Jesus he stopped and interjected –

“The thing is this – you should believe. Yetis are real. Take a look, you won’t believe this.”

He proceeded to take out a hard-bound forest green book. The cover was inscribed with his name. Upon opening, I realized that the book was a scholarly work from this man. And, the scholarly work was his research to prove that Yeti’s (you know, as in the Abominable Snowman) were true. Oh boy. This man wasn’t preaching any kind of gospel – he was actually affirming my sticker on my computer, thinking I actually did believe in Yeti’s.

Um. Awkward.

“I’ve done extensive work on the subject and you have to understand, Yetis are alive and they even exist in America! If you follow my website and links on my business card you will be able to learn more. I just got back from Oklahoma on a tracking trip. You’d be surprised. Please, contact me, and I would be happy to talk further and show you things you might be curious about.”

At this point, in deference to shock, I smiled and let the man give me his card.

A yeti hunter. I literally met a Yeti hunter at the Houston airport who thought that I believed in Yetis too – all because of a bumper sticker for craft beer on the back of my computer. I mean, I didn’t realize that unicorns were mythical creatures until I was 18, but still. Yetis?

Life is weird.

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I don’t believe in Yetis.

Not even close. But if airports, baggage, travels, road trips, reunions, and friends have taught me anything, it’s that everyone believes in something. For those that think they don’t believe in something, you do.

So what is it? What is that you believe? And, do you believe in it so much that you would stop a complete stranger to tell them about it?

I ask myself these very questions because they are important ones.

Our beliefs are just the beginning, however.

Your actions tell the story of your beliefs.

I’ve heard that in Jewish tradition, your actions are a testament to your theology – not your words.

May our lives – not just our beliefs – tell the stories of our hearts and the unrelenting passions that carry us forward. Whether it’s about love, redemption, or in the random case of Houston airports, Yetis.

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time travel, airports & coffee.

Dreary rains pour over me in a sea cluster of grey, black, and colorless shirts. Clicks of business shoe heels touch well-traveled floor granite and briefcases are flung around like global economic bibles near security checkpoints. 8 hours and 34 minutes after dipping deep into Kigali’s night sky, we have arrived in Belgium.

Exiting my sparsely populated plane (I was blessed to have a solo row for the long journey), I see a family of 6 – presumably refugees. I have an eye for that kind of thing; it touches a deep corner of my heart, like a tiny pinch on your rib cage from your brother unexpectedly. In this colorless plot of the world, I sense their wonder. Bewilderment. The grandmother, in blue sneakers and a beige scarf, limps along with an untied shoe. She doesn’t speak Kinyarwanda as I had thought; a thick French utterance leaves her lips; she is likely from Congo. Her fabric tells enough of her story to assume as much. I watch and pray as they receive a special UN Belgium escort. Bye. I think about the kind of transition they are going through – from Africa, to who knows where, and I wonder what lies ahead for them. I sigh, and continue my walk through Belgium’s airport at the ungodly hour of 5:34 am.

This is a weird world you enter – airports.

A bit dazed myself, I carry my orange African fabric bag and slowly look around. Belgium Indie tunes resonate the stale hallways – I have over 6 hours to kill while in the density of my travels home. Coffee. It seems like a logical place to start.

As it always does in a multitude of the world’s travel caves, corners, and transit areas, I see a Starbucks. As I meander closer, I have a moment of Aha; when I left Rwanda two years ago, upon completing my Peace Corps service, I had visited this very Starbucks. I imagine, though I am a completely different woman these days, I ordered my usual drink: a grande Americano. Hold the sugar. Hold the milk. I like it black.

When I passed through here in that season, I was resigned to the fact that I didn’t think I would see Rwanda again. That’s funny. And a good reminder – we think we know what we are doing. God always has these incredible plans stored up. We have no clue. Live into life. I am consistently reminded of this, it seems.

The sun has yet to rise and so I am aim for an onset of energy with a simultaneous burst of European sunshine. Two Pellegrino’s later, still no sun. That early equatorial razor-beam of a sun that I am used to may be a distant memory in this overwhelming dreariness. It certainly doesn’t get any more illusionary when I dig into the most recent reports of Belgium craziness; the entire city, shut down! Searching for terrorists! My, oh my.

I shake my head as a young Belgian fellow fills in the gaps; a man-hunt is on, and so the city is up in a tizzy. I’m grateful to be inside, I suppose, but flabbergasted that frankly, this crap, keeps happening. Such is the world.

I watch travelers rush by to drain my blankness and speechlessness; some are still and recluse in the morning’s quietness, while others are already off and blazing. We glide through these intermediary spaces so easily that it feels oh so defiant to time itself. An illusion. Or something.

Time moves exactly the same – whether we pretend to exist outside of it here in places like planes, airports, and waiting rooms. You could be chasing time zones as a persistent globetrotter – or, alternatively, you could be a time-grinder on the daily.

In the tensions of two worlds – none of which I can assure you are European, I feel lost for a bit; as if a giant pause button has been pressed and I am wading through a series of strange commercials. In these transient hours, I am full of memories of what is behind and before me. I am just a random girl, at a random café, in a random city, on this random day.

Or am I?

Nothing is really that arbitrary, I have learned. That’s what traveling, culture, and people have taught me. That’s what God has shown me. So, even in strange existences of time, I will keep the coffee flowing, my eyes peeled, pushing through tensions of time, past, present, and future. Our feet travel exactly to where we need to go. Let them.

Plus, let’s be real. Airports are great for people-watching.

Just hours later, as I prepared for boarding, it would be me that was questioned for suspicious behavior – namely about my bag. In my 6 hour lay-over, I occupied part of that time by emptying, reorganizing, and repacking my large duffle. Oops. Probably not the best idea. I think that I’m the observant one, when really, as it turns out, there are those watching me. What, what, is this place that we live in? One can never be sure.
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skies & stories

To any airport nerds out there: I’m with you! Baggage claim, terminals, café stops, and gates are my jam.

Need to arrive early for a flight? Fine by me. More time to explore, people watch, and make new friends.

It’s strange, I know, but the love of airports and planes is just one of many reasons that I love traveling.

On a recent flight from Kenya to Rwanda (one that I barely made from 2+hours stuck in insane Nairobi traffic…) I sat next to a sharply intelligent, young, Ugandan medi-physicist who lives in Bahrain, in the Middle East. We exchanged typical flight partner pleasantries as you awkwardly squeeze together like little sardines. The airline attendants gave their routine speeches and we settled in for the journey. This man, inquisitive and open, like myself, shared that he is feeling led to move back to Africa, his “homeland”. He is researching cancer treatments in Bahrain – and is only one of two Ugandans specialized at this point in doing so. I asked about this “calling” home and he spoke directly and assuredly –

“God will show me, I’m sure.”

I tilted and nodded my head slightly. “That’s great…are you by chance a Christian?”

He chuckled sardonically. “No, I’m Muslim.”

He wasn’t defensive; either was I. This created the opportunity for both of us to feel comfortable to delve further into a conversation that most people could dread having.

I was undeterred, however. I wanted to respect this man, but not convolute the truth of my relationship with God. Essentially, be clear. That’s a semi-messy challenge if I have ever seen one – don’t you think?

He was quick to speak and said that he grew up in a house full of Christians. Religion had been shoved down his throat, he admitted. He clarified his experience specifically,

I’ve read the Bible back and forth. I know the laws. I know your theology. I know what Christianity stands for. Growing up, I knew I was a Muslim. It’s not that different, you know. We worship the same God.”

I disagreed – but before I could continue, the crickety cart of snacks came through the crowded 2-foot aisle. I asked for both a cup of coffee and soda water. “Sorry,” the flight attendant muttered, “there is not coffee.

Woah. What. Of all times…!

I took the soda water gratefully, and turned back towards my new friend. He changed the topic and pressed further into his own faith curiosity and asked about my “religious background.” I took a sip, and shared.

Well, let me start by saying that for me, God isn’t a religion. It’s the purpose of my life.

From a family of divorce, I just wanted something that would stick together and church seemed to have it. At first, the God I followed was demanding of perfectionism, deeds, and self-promotion. I saw a lot of brokenness, poverty, and suffering and figured the antidote was good works. Later, I conceived of a God that was much more free-flowing; love-all, do-all, we all got a bit of truth. Nobody had it all figured out…right?

He stared at me compassionately as I articulated my testimony. I hadn’t expected to give this on a plane; but I suppose in the skies is just as well as anywhere else.

Life in Rwanda dramatically impacted my experience with God – and I changed. I was kept safe (sometimes explainable only by miracles!), surrounded by love, and met people that spoke of the Spirit of God unlike I had heard before. Echoes of Jesus and his ministry became real and tangible. Yet, I was at times obsessed with goodness. Instead of God’s love consistently fueling my actions – it was sometimes my desire to be accepted, do well, and find approval in the world. I was doing all the right things, but not always with the right motivation. He was using me, I am sure, but spiritually, I never felt good enough. I could FEEL the power of God around me; I could SEE the fruits of faith; but a fear of vulnerability kept more from total surrender to this God I was witnessing work.

God wasn’t done. He would press vulnerability into me like the mashing of sweet potatoes in the fall. A friend that would challenge my entire belief system, life, and identity entered my life. Divine, God-fearing, funny, and kind, became a close friend in Rwanda. She taught me about being a Rwandan woman, about the complexities of this country, and ultimately, what was required to be a part of my small, rural community. It was strangely one of the easiest friendships I had ever had. We had no reason to relate (culturally, economically, emotionally, and geographically) but a foundation of trust was instant. She demonstrated to me what raw vulnerability could be like from the beginning.

Something happened along the way and the openness I was feeling with Divine became a replacement for God. I felt so safe in that relationship that I placed it on a pedestal and felt identity-less without it. I became confused. Our relationship slipped into romantic involvement and for the next weeks, months, and yes, even years, would be uncertain about my heart and who I was. I tried dealing with this confusion by excessively exercising, under-eating, and ignoring any inclination for God in my heart. I could do figure this all out, I told myself. I could fix this.

I took a deep breath. That’s a lot to tell someone on a plane.

“Wow….you have quite a story here…”

I cut him off. If he wanted the story, he was certainly going to get it.

That wasn’t the end. I didn’t figure it out by myself.

I surrendered my life to God – and then (and only then!) could anything make sense. God found me this summer, drew me up, and showered forgiveness, grace, and promise unlike I had ever known to be possible. The life of Jesus and the importance of the resurrection began to make sense for the first time; with God’s people there could be no saving themselves. In my life, there could be no peace from my own work. So, we need Jesus. I needed Jesus. He wants us that badly. When I resigned to defining my own identity, finally – that in fact, I couldn’t figure it out – He met me in that very real place of weakness, submission, and brokenness and took care of everything else. For idolatry, for sexual immorality, for selfishness, for anger, for sin – I asked for forgiveness. It sounds crazy, but in those sweet moments with God, I saw the gospel alive and I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit come to life. It’s real. God’s real. I am still the same, messed up, woman. But, I have been made new. The confusion that so long had ruled my life, reigns no more. I know who I am. I acknowledge the imperfections of my humanness and surrender to serve God anyway. He chose me first, after all.

I released a sigh. “Yes, now….yeah. That’s my story with God. As much as I can really summarize, anyway.”

Surprised with this kind of candidness, I think, he graciously thanked me for sharing. I was exhausted, surprised that I shared so much, surprised that he had listened. I thanked him also for giving me the space and the respect to give a personal testimony like that – all in the comforts of Seats 10A and 10B.

You talk a lot about Jesus.” He pauses for a single moment.

“And while I appreciate your story, I still don’t quite understand what you mean by ‘encountering Jesus’ and ultimately, why you would need Jesus to find God. I hear Christians praying TO Jesus and I find this incredibly confusing. Don’t you think God might be offended by the fact that you would need to go through Jesus to get through Him?

Woah. Now we’re getting serious. This is the core of the Christian faith – why the gospel?

(Where’s the coffee when you need it?)

If there was no Jesus,” I slowly say, “there could not be reconciliation. God did not to reconcile Himself – He needs us to be reconciled to Him. He is perfect. Unable to reconcile ourselves amidst our own depravity, Jesus was God’s gift, heart, and love for the world. He gave Jesus all authority and thus He was both man and God –

But see! How is that possible?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know! I can’t tell or explain everything perfectly. But, I can tell you that Jesus was sent to free us. Evil swarms the world and without any point of grace, we will be lost to it.”

You see, that’s where we differ. I follow God. I follow His commands. I seek to submit to Him and He works in my life.”

It was around this time I could sense we would have to agree to disagree. The flight was coming to an end, our seatbelts needed to be fastened.

A life with Jesus recognizes that your power is limited. It’s all from Him – He’s the one that found you in the first place. Jesus – and then knowing God – has far less to do with your own actions as much as it does as allowing Him to work in your life. It’s seeing His glory in everything – not our own. It’s a faith unlike any others. It’s less about you, more about Him.”

I stopped there. I recognized there wasn’t much more I could say. And, really, that was okay. This passenger-neighbor of mine again thanked me for the conversation. He kept it simple,

Perhaps we’ll meet again. You aren’t like a lot of Christians that I know.”

I had no idea what the heck that meant, but okie dokie, then.

Exiting the tarmac that cool Rwandan evening, I found my bags and glided onto the back of a moto.

I recounted this conversation in my head (did I say everything right? Was my theology sound? Did I glorify God?). I found myself laughing aloud. I had prayed specifically for opportunities to share my faith – only then did I realize that of course, it would happen on a plane. Less about getting it all right, I was honest and spoke truth. Less about forcing someone to think the same, I gave glory to God.

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In the skies, I guess, anything can happen. Conversations can lead to deep testimonies or small musings over tea. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to throw your ideas around in other people’s faces – but you can share, humbly and definitely, what has happened in your life. It’s your story.

Not everyone will listen. Not everyone cares. But if you are faithful, you will get a chance. People want to know why the gospel or why faith or why (fill in the blank). You never know when you might need to be heard.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Romans 6: 3-4

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Life in Dulles – Welcome to the VLOG World

The force of just how small I am in this world hit me like a door in the face as I entered Denver International Airport (DIA) today.

Man, I thought, I’m crazy. 

Dad’s gold Ford truck hummed haphazardly away from curbside check-in and suddenly, it was me and my 4 bags full of American goodies, clothing, and books.

For some, “getting real” looks like a down payment on a house, or a car, or that feeling of when you spend the night in your first grown-up apartment. I guess for me it’s taking multiple international flights with all my big girl stuff and dreams full of tamed idealism so that I can live in Rwanda for a few months and see what micro finance in education actually looks like on the ground.

This ain’t no Peace Corps thang. While Peace Corps is beyond tough when it comes to adjusting with integration and life style changes, on some level you always have a safety net of support that’s there. Sure, it’s not always the best, but it’s there.

For the first time in….well, ever, I feel totally, completely grown up. I’m an adult. All of this is in my hands. Finances, food, health, and work. It’s on me.

I realized today as we soared high above the beautiful American landscape that for me to be “successful” this summer I will have to believe in what I am doing. Not just now, but as the process unfolds.

Like a small piece of malleable clay, I need to be open to learning and change as a student ought to be.

But, I need be also assertive, strong, and confident in what I know, who I am, where my beliefs guide me, and what I think.

This, my friends, is the real sign of adulthood.

Which….feels a bit ironic considering the first episode of my “vlog” that I’ll be using throughout the summer as I work everything in my fellowship, live in the city, and experience Rwanda again, albeit differently.

It’s certainly not the most “adult-esque” or mature thing I have ever done, but hey, even with adulthood comes the right to always be silly.

Episode 1 – The Lion Queen – Life In Dulles