Woman, Why Are You Crying?

“Woman, why are you crying?”

Mary Magdalene, outside the empty tomb of Jesus, in the Gospel of John, faces this question twice, in the midst of her visible, open process of lamentation and despair. The first time, she answers to two angels, seated where His body had been.

They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.

The second time, she answers to Jesus Himself – unknowingly. Thinking the inquirer is actually a gardener she replies, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.

Jesus, in the flesh, softly says to her, “Mary.”

Instantly, she understands it is Him. Jesus. He calls her, gently and tenderly. And she knows, in the depths of her soul, without a doubt, that she is not alone anymore.

Redemption has been made possible.

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This week has felt like one large, collective grieving process. Our grief isn’t about “my team” losing an election. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. Nor is this a pity party for not getting what I want.

Friends, this is about the flagrant, blatant, no longer concealable brokenness of the world.

Hate, fear, separation, division, isolation, racism, poverty, anger, misogyny.

Injustices that Jesus warned of are currently and actively alive, celebrated, and promoted. With every fiber of my being, this breaks my heart. I recognize that many individuals don’t believe in the rhetoric, act, or spread of hate. But, given the circumstances of our society, we must ask ourselves, with raw, vulnerable transparency, “what are we actually doing about it?”

Friends, what do our lives stand for?

Leaders should reflect the values, vision, and hopes that we carry. It felt, in the deep corners of my heart, that the selection of a man that campaigned on exclusion, judgement, and malice affirmed this kind of approach to leadership.

Tears fell.

They continue to fall, like Mary, because though I know redemption is possible, there is murky water to sort through first.

First and foremost, we must process and recognize our own ignorance, privilege, and perpetuation. How can we advocate for our brothers and sisters without considering our own existing fortune, predispositions, and assumptions?

Then, we must actively engage. Participate. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Not shy away from the beckoning challenges of brokenness. It’s easy to hide in our bedrooms, busy schedules, or commitments. It’s tempting to fill days with echo chambers, simply living a comfortable life because we can. But, in doing so, we miss an invitation to grow, to change, and to speak out for what is right.

As we begin conversations, we must enter with peace. With compassion. This could be the hardest murky water to dive into and swim within. Compassion requires a willingness to see from a perspective of another. Willingly, we remove our own blind spots in exchange for empathy. This is what makes real love so damn radical.

As this repetitive, painful process of pursuing social justice occurs, I think – I hope – this kind of courage will lead us to deeper healing and optimism and also, justice. Real, living justice. The kind, I think, that Mary is crying for when she is searching for Jesus.

Needing a burst of sunshine and energy in my heart, I called a former of student of mine, Zahara, on this slow Sunday morning. As I sipped my lukewarm coffee in a bold-red adirondack chair, she told me of her recent success in school and how she would soon be starting student-teaching with a group of nursery students in a small, rural Rwandan community. For the sixth-straight day, I cried, because she is living proof that when justice occurs in the practical lives of our people, the joy is unescapable, the transformation indescribable.

Zahara also spoke of a current famine taking hold in the Eastern part of the country. Her mother,  a subsistence farmer, is having difficulty finding food. The seeds have been planted, but it’s not clear when they will grow and harvest can take place. Her words echoed exactly, I believe, what our country faces in the aftermath of our political process. She said, “It is difficult to see the food. We are trying. We are cultivating something.”

We are cultivating something. But, what will it be?

Innumerable phone calls, text messages, hugs, emails, and conversations filled my week, and for that, I have reason to hope that we are not alone. I also made a list in my journal called “We Are Going to Be Okay” with ways in which I can see God moving and promising something better than this pool of hate that has been accepted. My list included snippets of moments with refugee women throughout the week, meals shared with loved ones, and the beauty of the trees all around us. For those that reached out this week, I say thank you. Thank you for your love, your resilience, and your grounding pursuit of standing together, even in times of uncertainty. 

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Lastly, in just another example of the hope we can hold onto, I heard a small portion of Maya Angelou’s inaugural poem for Bill Clinton in 1993. Later, I read the entire text (see below), and realized that her word were my prayer. And so, I share it in earnest, hoping that you too, even in tears, will continue to believe in us.

I’m sad. I’m broken. I’m concerned. But, I am not done. This, well, this is only the beginning. May love be our sword, may hope be our compass. Let’s do this.

A Rock, A River, A Tree Hosts to species long since departed, Marked the mastodon, The dinosaur, who left dried tokens Of their sojourn here On our planet floor, Any broad alarm of their hastening doom Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages. But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully, Come, you may stand upon my Back and face your distant destiny, But seek no haven in my shadow. I will give you no hiding place down here. You, created only a little lower than The angels, have crouched too long in The bruising darkness Have lain too long Face down in ignorance. Your mouths spilling words Armed for slaughter. The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me, But do not hide your face. Across the wall of the world, A River sings a beautiful song, Come, rest here by my side. Each of you, a bordered country, Delicate and strangely made proud, Yet thrusting perpetually under siege. Your armed struggles for profit Have left collars of waste upon My shore, currents of debris upon my breast. Yet today I call you to my riverside, If you will study war no more. Come, Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs The Creator gave to me when I and the Tree and the rock were one. Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your Brow and when you yet knew you still Knew nothing. The River sang and sings on. There is a true yearning to respond to The singing River and the wise Rock. So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew The African, the Native American, the Sioux, The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh, The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, The Privileged, the Homeless, the Teacher. They hear. They all hear The speaking of the Tree. Today, the first and last of every Tree Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River. Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River. Each of you, descendant of some passed On traveller, has been paid for. You, who gave me my first name, you, Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then Forced on bloody feet, Left me to the employment of Other seekers — desperate for gain, Starving for gold. You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot, You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought, Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare Praying for a dream. Here, root yourselves beside me. I am that Tree planted by the River, Which will not be moved. I, the Rock, I, the River, I, the Tree I am yours — your passages have been paid. Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need For this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, but if faced With courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream. Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands, Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever To fear, yoked eternally To brutishness. The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day You may have the courage To look up and out and upon me, the Rock, the River, the Tree, your country. No less to Midas than the mendicant. No less to you now than the mastodon then. Here, on the pulse of this new day You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister’s eyes, into Your brother’s face, your country And say simply Very simply With hope Good morning. – Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning” 

the urban-rural divide.

Yet you Lord, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

My imagination has frequently run wild as I’ve imagined God’s hand shaping all of us, like a potter perfecting their craft.

I say “all” because without a doubt in my mind, we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The pads of His fingers shape us, smooth us, even as muddy clay gets underneath His fingernails. We are formed, created, unlike anyone that has ever come before or will come after us.

For years, I think, this has given me a hidden joy as I have met and made friends with all kinds of people.

I think to myself, “what can this person teach me?” or more directly, “how did God make this person unique?” These questions have made me a bit gentler, a bit softer even, when a person annoys the hell out of me. Let’s be real, we’re human.

With the same, intense curiosity though, I’ve often also thought about the formation we experience through the lives we live. This references the old “nature vs. nurture” debate in some ways; to what extent are we formed by biology and also by the experiences we have as we age? We are born with a set of circumstances, and our lives ebb and flow differently, based on the culture we are surrounded by.

Culture is a large word – and there is a big chunk of it that is invisible to the human eye. About a year ago, I stumbled upon this chart that outlines the construction of our culture through the lense and degree of visibility.

Foundations of Culture

 

Genuinely, I think this could be a transformative tool in entering conversations this year – particularly in light of political strife, tension, and emotion.I happened to review this chart a couple of weeks ago as I was creating curriculum to use with refugee and immigrant populations in Denver. It also so happens, a week later, that I traveled to middle rural America – seemingly another country, far from my safe haven in Colorado.

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For the first time this year, I saw “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” signs and I got a bit nervous. On the back of my car, I have a couple key bumper stickers, namely one from the Human Rights Campaign and the US Peace Corps. As I sped through vast grasslands and corn fields, I held the steering wheel tightly and thought, “oh gosh, they’re gonna think I’m some hippie.”

I was traveling to Oklahoma to visit my grandparents and honestly, it was a nice, lovely escape from the city. It also, metaphorically speaking, woke me up. 

As I settled into this small pan-handle community for a week, I took lots of walks thinking about what it would be like to live life here (or in any other rural community in the United States).

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I began to consider the urban-rural divide. Lately, we’ve hyper-focused on the racial, economic, or political divide in the United States, but I would also argue that the urban-rural split is the root of these other fractured conversations and movements in our country. Frankly, living in an urban or rural area can be like living in another country altogether.

The American Communities Project has put together a map that illustrates the divisions of our country and alludes to the potential impact this has on education, age, and opportunities available to different populations.

I took a screenshot so you can get a sense of what they have tried to capture – communities ranging from “Aging Farmlands” to “Graying America” to “Evangelical Hubs.”

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Let’s consider the urban and rural divisions.

In the marked urban areas there are 153 counties with 140 million people.

In the designated rural areas there are 936 counties with 30 million people.

Y’all, that’s a difference of 110 million people!

And that’s not all.

Completion of higher-level education (say, a Bachelor’s degree) is at 35% in the suburbs; 32% in big cities; 20% in rural America; and finally, less than 15% in “working class country. (citation was found via a story by “Meet the Press”)

This results in a proverbial ceiling for higher-paying jobs, resulting in less investment by both the public and private sectors. Essentially, what happens, is that because of a lack in education completion and job creation, economic growth is stunted. Communities are slowly, but surely, dying. And, because they might be underrepresented and also less exposed to other parts of the country (and world), these populations are relatively isolated. This happens in Rwanda too – this definitely, is not just an American problem.

To be sure, this is not my world. It’s the opposite, actually. I live in Denver – perhaps the fastest growing city in the U.S.A. right now. I also went to one of Colorado’s best school districts as I grew up, could attend any college I wanted, and because of the high-attention to critical thinking emphasized by my small, liberal-arts college, I was able to explore and consider issues in the world that others may not have the opportunity to do.

I’m not better, I’m privileged. And there is a difference. Sometimes, it might take some time away from your own boundaries to understand this a bit more fully.

I have really struggled to understand the anger that some Americans feel right now, namely in their preference for Trump in this circus of a 2016 election. It seems many individuals and communities feel slighted in some way; namely in the relation to the economic circumstances of their lives – and honestly, I don’t blame them. So, in turn, this anger is funneled into the hope that a political giant (read: Trump) can “save” them. As I walked, drove, and spent time away from the confines of my American country (ahem, Denver), I can see how people might think differently than me. Look at the cultural chart again: the deepest parts of our formation come from where we live, what we do, and the development of our perspective of the world. And so, perhaps my push for civil rights and human dignity doesn’t strike a chord with other populations because they have been busy trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

It’s not an issue of being more “enlightened” than other people either– it’s just recognizing the opportunity (and yes, privilege you’ve had in your life). Perhaps, we should all step back, and take time to consider the kinds of privilege we carry around with us. We don’t have to always feel guilty, but we do have to be aware.

Because awareness, at its best, should propel us to action. Action means trying to understand each other and developing initiatives, policy, and movements that benefit Americans. All of us. Each and everyone. Not that top 1%. Not the middle class. Not the poor. Everybody, y’all.

I’m privileged in my skin color, in my education levels, in my economic status, in my job, in the family system I have always had, and in my place of birth.

However, because of other areas, like gender, or orientation, I have been slighted or under-represented.

We all have these dichotomies; areas of both privilege and lack thereof.

I’m not saying I agree with the rhetoric of a particular political candidate. What I’m saying, is that our political ties run deeper than just what appears on the surface.

Our country has big problems, y’all. They extend to the tensions we have in race, in money, and certainly, in the places that we live. Until we begin to re-work a system that does not work for all of us, I’m not sure how our country can keep moving forward.

I didn’t leave Oklahoma without hope, however. At the United Methodist church in town, I had the opportunity to talk with church leaders who cared deeply about their communities and how to represent them and serve them – in and out of their church. One woman, an immigrant from Mexico, talked through tears about her journey as an immigrant woman in this country. She alluded to being treated terribly, horrifically, and yet, still believing in what this country has to offer. This, my friends, is what makes America great. When people, different from us, can still hold optimism close to the pursuit of American ideals of equality and freedom. We can do it. My, my, I hope we can do it.

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solidarity

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

With every headline of violence, bombs and gunshots; with each story of continued injustice; with repeated syllables of hateful rhetoric, my heart breaks all over again.

Last month, on a visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to touch the glass that protects the foundational documents of our country: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. My fingerprints left a stain and smudge; layered over thousands of other visitors who did the very same thing.

I peered closely in the dim lighting to catch the words: all men are created equal

Sighing heavily, I wonder what power our words still have.

We hang our hats on freedom, and yet can’t swallow the idea of equality.

We raise the colors of red, white, and blue but become squeamish when we talk about the reality that #blacklivesmatter.

Diversity is welcome – but only if we can put a quota on categories and markers – as if a “token” individual for a given race is the solution to acknowledging the prevalence of power structures built and ingrained into the fabrics of our systems.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, National Mall, Washington D.C. 2016

Tears fall heavy tonight as I remember the simultaneous power and confusion I felt when I saw the documents that laid the so-called “foundations” of our country. How have we gotten so far off track?

Tears come unceasingly as I think about the families of people who have died – throughout our history – because of who they are.

I cry because though slavery has ended we are perpetuating slavery by another name.

We are killing each other.

I’ve held no gun, but there is blood on my hands.

For any injustice I have left unsaid; for times I have been a recipient of white privilege without even the smallest inkling of recognition; and for the assumptions I have at times built in my own mind about who people are because of the identities they carry –

I’m sorry.

My mom tells a story from when I was just 2 and visiting in the waiting room of a pediatric office. We walked inside and as we sat down, I looked across the way and saw another child, around my same age.

With glee, curiosity, and enthusiasm, I shouted to my mother,

“Look! A chocolate baby!”

I don’t tell this story because it’s endearing; I tell it because even as a young girl, I could see a difference and acknowledge it.

The difference isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s the reaction to it.

Blackness is something to be celebrated; a legacy of men, women, and groups of people advocating for necessary, mandated rights to be free in our country. It is an identity, one full of roots, history, and culture that is permeated with strength and the tradition of overcoming adversity. And yet, “to be black” in America today is not something I can even begin to wrestle with. “Black” is a socially-based racial term, used loosely and accepting the separation of equality that it brings.

Yes, uphold diversity, but do not diversify the value, respect, and civil rights that each person holds individually and collectively. 

It’s not as if being white isn’t an identity too, but understand that “being white” has been the norm for human societies since the beginning of existence. To “celebrate” whiteness is a lot like cheering for a proverbial NFL team that wins the Super bowl every, single year. It’s the norm and our society structure is built to support this.

As I grew into a young woman in my late teens and early 20’s, I would literally lose myself in books about social movements – especially the Civil Rights of the 50’s & 60’s. I cared far more about Rosa Parks than I ever did about the Spice Girls.

And when I began to become educated, not just in school, but in life and in my faith, I learned about the real oppression happening to other races outside of being “white.”

I saw it, I watched it, and I grew increasingly sickened by it.

To this day, Divine and I often talk about her skin color specifically; she was told on many occasions in her life that she was “ugly” because of her dark skin and that her beauty would never come from her physical appearance.

“To be white,” she once said to me while visiting her family in Rwanda, “is to hold many treasures and coins to life.”

When you hear something like that, you can’t help but examine your own fixed position in the world. You wonder, “why, why was I born like this?”

God has a plan, they say, and though we must live in the tension of not knowing everything, it’s true that we are in the places, times, and seasons for a reason.

So, why don’t we speak truth? Why don’t we take a stand? Why don’t we do the hard thing and look in the mirror, seeking our own bias and positions of power that we may have missed before?

I firmly, and resiliently believe that God does not stand for racial segregation, oppression, violence, separation, and hate. More than that, I think the same is true for anyone – for any living, breathing, human life. Yes, all lives matter, but we can’t acknowledge that fully until everyone – I mean, everyone – obtains real, living equality.

No more lip service. It’s time to stand in solidarity. It’s time to speak truth.

I have committed myself to retracting myself from this endowed, inherited legacy of privilege. It’s sticky. It’s messy. I don’t always know how to weave myself out.

But I will not stop.
I cannot stop.

Jesus’ greatest command was love. Our country’s greatest command was equality.

Can’t we strive for these together? Can we, together, recognize our brothers and sisters in the communities we live within?

Jesus,

Forgive our ignorance. Forgive our disunity. Forgive our separations.

I pray for peace. The kind of peace that trespasses all understanding – the kind of peace that can only heal these kinds of wounds.

Please, please, please come. Make this stop. Please. Make it stop.

We love you. I love you. 

Amen.

you were found living in the wild sun

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It might be sometime around 26 years and 50-some-odd days that adulthood strikes and blood is drawn.

It’s somewhere between washing down the distasteful toilet stains with a dirty sponge and the third stack of open bills on the counter table. Thank goodness it’s pay day.

Baking, with a glass of white wine in hand, country music echoes softly in the background, humming just loud enough to become lost in thoughts of weekends, work, and both wasteful and wishful thinking. You are placing jiffy muffin mix with milk and an egg, by the way, so it’s not like you can even pretend to have the Martha-Steward-Suzie-Homemaker sort of thing down. You just know how to stir mix from a box. Congratulations to you, too.

For some of us, spouses sit idly by, staring through a television glass screen; for others, home is a more solitary experience, an island away from the rest of the world.

Adulthood is decisions staring at you in the face, health care purchases, and the clarification of a Roth IRA. Apparently, it’s not the same as a traditional account. Who knew?

Adulthood is full of those kinds of things – responsibilities, maturity, and ownership.

Maybe it comes a bit early – 24, 25 – or a bit late, 29, 30 – but eventually, it will come.

But the weird thing, I think, is that adulthood is becoming redefined, redrawn, and re-understood. So little has it anything to do with age anymore. The last few months have brought new friends (median age? 40) with my younger friends focused on their long visions of successful careers in Congress. Seriously.

It’s like we don’t even take that transition seriously anymore.

In fact, at the office the other day, a friend of mine jokingly remarked,

“it’s not like it’s we’re adults…”

I snorted, “oh girl, please, you are definitely an adult.”

“Whatever! I am not. Are you?”

“Um. You know, uhmm…I don’t know. I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m mature enough. I’m a kid, I tell ya. I silly, dorky, little kid.”

Instead of actually embracing our sense of coming of age here we are actually rejecting it.

Is it possible that we could very well be adults that are debunking the associations of adulthood itself?

Let’s take the word at face value. Adulthood.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the word as, “the period in the human lifespan in which full physical and intellectual maturity have been attained.”

I hate the definition. Hate, yes, a very strong word, because it implies that we are somehow a finished or complete product. Um, have you met a human lately?

I think adulthood is something along the lines of, “the full acceptance of self-strengths, character weaknesses, with a full willingness to realize potential, limitations, and the ever-present opportunity for growth.”

I get it. It’s fluffy and soft and cheesy. But I think it fits this new kind of adult we are seeing more and more. And hey, get this. It’s not like America has the monopoly on this cultural and transitional shift. Even in Rwanda, it’s happening. Women and men – in their mid-to-late twenties move away from their families but not solely because of marriage (the typical occurrence for young adults in the country). Other interests are at stake and they are deconstructing the cultural norms of a place even in resistance to what’s acceptable, appropriate, or expected. Even in smaller villages – where there is no city to easily escape too – questions are being asked. And of course, it doesn’t mean that moving away qualifies a person as adult-eligible. Not even close. However, leaving your parents is the first paradigm shift in a framing of a new worldview – outside of your parents – which is the first mortar to brick experience in the young adult maturity process.

And so it’s confusing. I’m not really sure what I am half the time. I think even my married friends wonder themselves, too. Which goes to show, age, marital status, and gender have nothing to do with it. Maybe one day, you wake up and voila! Things are different. Maybe. But I can’t be sure. I’m clearly no expert.

All I know is that in the same evening that I began packing for a summer away for training in ministry, I placed my large pack on the top of a shelf, smothering a smaller bag of notes. Initially forgetting the bag of notes even existed, I went back to remove the bullying black bag. I dumped the notes on my bed. I sifted through a few of the 8th grade classics: about girl drama, friend fights, and math anxiety. Goodness, I had a lot of worries. About 5 notes in, I found two that made the entire bag worth keeping.

A note from my grandmother,

01/05/2003

Dear Heather,

Enclosed is your really big or best birthday present from me. I totally forgot to give you this but once you see it, you will why it is yours. Love you, Grandma Genevra

And it’s killing me. Because this would have been around my 14th birthday. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the gift was. But it had to have been something special.

A note to Santa (from me),

1999

Dear Santa,

I can’t believe it Christmas is coming! I have been waiting all year for it and I realize that it has come rapidly. My early Christmas present from my parents was what I’ve REALLY wanted for a long time. I got a dog named Buddy who is just  so delectable and loveable. Anyway, I have wanted several things this year. Here is some: Clothes (any kind!!), CDs (I really want these. Some I want are: Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, NOW5, NSYNC, and 98 degrees), jewelry, movies (basically anything with Julia Roberts), books (chapter books), & beanie babies.

I am really thankful for all this and I am thankful for the holiday seasons because I get a bunch of things that a lot of unfortunate people won’t ever get. Once again, thanks so much and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

Thank you, Heather Newell

PS: Some people told me that Santa Clause is just your parents, but I don’t think that is true. Thank you for all you do. Please watch over my family and Buddy.

I wrote (or received) both of these at important stages in life. One was before I was even a pre-teen, and the other (the one from my grandmother) comes from just a couple months after my parents divorced and a couple days after becoming 14.

When you compare where I am now with the girl who existed in these blocks of time, then yes, easy answer, I am an adult. I no longer believe in Santa. Or the beanie babies.

But the notes – all hundreds of them in this silly little paper bag – show our capabilities of developing and changing over the years (or not). I like to think of myself as moving in that direction. Yet, for any of us, there is nothing wrong with where we are at. Where person A decides to start their life is going to be different from Person B….C….and so on. As humans we can be so united, but we also are granted the liberties and freedoms of reason to live the life we feel led to do. So that’s exactly what we must take control of.

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There’s this great band. Their like, indie-rock, which makes me about .0000001% cooler as a person, right? Anyway, when I first heard their song ‘Equestrian’ they had me sold. Hook, line, and sinker.

They sing this fantastic song and frankly, it’s the perfect tune for adventure. Next time you find yourself driving up a mountain road, with gravel scraping and crawling amidst the wheel edges, put it on and you’ll feel like you are flying.

The best line, you were found living in the wild sun, tells me what adulthood could be – should be – like.

It’s not something to be hastily suspicious of. Instead, let it come. But come as you are. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t need a 5-year plan. But come honestly, and adulthood will show you a darn good reflection of the first part of your life. When you start having a voice, maybe it’s then where your adulthood begins to matter. When you start laying the stakes you have in the world. When you start sharing, embracing, and speaking truth.

Adult or not, days pass, years pass, and we move forward in time. Live fully, joyfully, and love the days you have. We don’t have so many, you know.

When the light crept up in the hills
I headed off for home
Memories of times spent away
Vanish into the sun
You were found
Living in the wild son
In the wild living with the wild ones
You were found living in the wild sun


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something borrowed, something new

Bring something old, something borrowed, something new.

You can leave the banana beer at home.

A flower girl or two will be a definite plus, but you won’t need anyone to carry the traditional agaseke full of seed to represent a new life.

A cow exchange can probably wait, but do throw the bouquet. Rumor has it, the girl on the receiving end will be the next to marry.

Even before the wedding it’s different. Out that way, long negotiations full of fanta, riddles, and family meetings often take place before a bride can really have permission to marry her sheri (lover). Over on this side of the pond, some men ask the bride’s father’s permission for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Some don’t.

In our country, weddings might look like this:

In Rwanda you get a little more of this:

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I found myself at a wedding last week, giving a speech in front of 273 people (or something like that) thinking, wowThis is different.

It wasn’t just any wedding either; this was LAUREN’S wedding. You know, Lauren, one of my best friends from college. Lover of all things St. Louis, dedicated fan of a plethora of super heroes, and an old field hockey teammate of mine back from Hendrix. It was an honor to be there – an even bigger honor to witness her become a wife and support her on the big day. I mean, just look at this happy, gorgeous girl.

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laurena

The thing is, I hadn’t been to an American wedding in oh….well, a long time. I was overjoyed to see those American wedding traditions that I sure did miss. The ring exchange. The father-daughter dance. And the entire experience that is the reception. Of course, every wedding is extremely different, but American weddings tend to have some overarching themes that tell us a lot about our culture.

While I’m entering something like month 5 of being home, the context for a wedding was yet another adjustment.

Every wedding that I have been to in the last couple of years – and trust me when I say there were many – involved at least three separate and distinct ceremonies (civil, religious, and traditional), intense family involvement, ceremonial gift-giving, and often some kind of reference to a cow. Yep. Cows. In fact, the music video above – from Rwanda – is a song all about the cultural representation of the familial exchange of cow and bride. It’s a big deal. You can note 2:02 in the Rwandan wedding video above – it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Lauren’s wedding didn’t have a cow, had only one marriage ceremony, and while family involvement was key, I am pretty certain Lauren and Stephen’s families did not sit formally to meet each other multiple times, sharing “riddles’ to engage in a dialogue to negotiate the terms of uniting families. Somehow, I just don’t think that happened.

And so, as I stood front and center with Michelle to give our maid-and-matron-of-honor speech, I couldn’t help but just take it all in for both the similarities and differences. Somehow I had gone from this:

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to this:

bridesmaid

in the span of a year.

The dresses, food, music, ceremony, vows, order, and atmosphere are completely and utterly different from each other.

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Nothing quite captures a village wedding, but really, it’s equally hard to explain what it felt like to stand by my best friends and send off one of our hey girl hey girls into marriage.

It was special.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re taking part in Rwanda, America, or another random part of the world, weddings are always fun (well, I should say usually), important, and unique for that bride and groom. Maybe that’s the best part of them – you bring in so many variances of culture and values while also coupling this with your own personal tastes and relationship that create a day that truly is your own.

I attended something like 15 weddings in a couple years in Rwanda, and so I feel pretty well versed in the topic. Now that I think about it, it’s quite possible that I attended more weddings in two years in Rwanda than I had previously my entire life back home. That’ll blow your mind a bit, won’t it?

I love weddings. I think I always will. And if wedding season from my last year in Rwanda is any indication, well then I’ll be in for quite a ride this go-around back in the US.

And if you’re even more curious, here’s a little more of a look – from real weddings I attended in Rwanda – into what the wedding thing kind of looks like in a different part of the world.